Sometimes, the best movie from Hollywood is the one that explores the past. We love to learn more about famous events in history and see how some of the world’s most important people overcame troubles to earn the success we celebrate today.
But how many of these movies are accurate? We realize that filmmakers might take a little creative license when it comes to telling their stories – but how much is too much? Here, we explore some of the most known history movies and examine their accuracy.
Grab the popcorn!
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
In 2018, young audiences got the chance to witness a movie about the life of Freddy Mercury and Queen. While older readers might remember his adventures, it was a treat for younger people to learn more about the iconic singer. But was Bohemian Rhapsody accurate?
For the most part, the story hit on truthful and relevant beats pertaining to his life. While some dialogue was adjusted and timing was condensed, it was generally a truth biopic. Perhaps the biggest change was the fact that Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS two years after the Live Aid concert, and not before.
Shakespeare In Love (1999)
Just because he’s one of the most interesting historical men in the world, it doesn’t mean his film is accurate! The fact is, we know quite little about playwright William Shakespeare, and so it’s quite possible Shakespeare In Love bends the truth quite a bit.
According to its official description, the movie openly tells the audience that it explores the fictional relationship between Shakespear and a young woman. So, although it’s based on a real person, we can agree about the events in the movie itself never happening.
Grace of Monaco (2014)
Grace Kelly definitely deserved more than 2014’s Grace of Monaco. While the actress-turned-Royal had a pretty interesting life, the movie adaptation didn’t make the effort to stick to her real story!
The ‘crisis’ between her and Charles de Gaulle was nothing about a blockade in Monaco, it was actually about taxes – not exactly very Hollywood! Also, there was never a passionate speech about the country: that was added for dramatic effect.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Ok, so we’re in 1588 and the Spanish Armada is preparing to invade England. While that much might be true in 2014’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, it turns out that about the only thing that is!
Of course, it’s hard to decipher exactly what happened all those hundreds of years ago, but there is no evidence of a relationship between the Queen and Walter Raleigh. According to Raleigh’s journal, the Spanish never sunk a single ship. While we might not know for sure what happened, we’re confident that this movie doesn’t give the truth justice.
The Revenant (2015)
It’s the movie that finally got Leo his Oscar! While his performance was certainly captivating, how truthful is the tale of Hugh Glass in 1823? Well, it turns out that Glass was actually mauled by a bear and left for dead by his group. Wow.
Hollywood intervened a bit and wrote the motivation about avenging the death of his son by the hands of Fitzgerald. This is to give the story more of a drive and keep us wanting more from the character by producing a satisfying end. We think it worked!
The Blind Side (2009)
The Blind Side stars Sandra Bullock as the caring foster mother of NFL player Michael Oher. While the film was actually based on the 2006 book, just how accurate was the movie in portraying some of the events that took place?
Well, let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth! Oher spoke about the movie and said he liked it, but only ‘as a movie’. Perhaps there was a little too much artistic license to be had in the development? While the journey might have changed on screen, we all know the happy ending was the same.
While it may look like a fictional epic film, there are elements of Zach Snyder’s 300 that do relate to history. Sparta was a real place and King Leonidas did hold the Persian army back with only 300 men. But history fans will know that’s basically the only thing it has going for it.
Xerxes, obviously, was a normal man in all historical accounts. The movie seems to portray him as some meta-human giant, which we know cannot be the case.
The Patriot (2000)
We don’t think The Patriot ever tries to be completely accurate in its retelling of the American Revolution. While Gibson’s Benjamin Martin faces off against the British Colonel Tavington, they often discuss the ‘rules of war’. The only problem? They didn’t exist!
The ‘rules of war’ were established in the Geneva Convention around 80 years after the events of the American Revolution. This means they played with some of the key elements of warfare and how people interacted with each other. Still, it made for some entertaining cinema!
Argo was widely responsible for Ben Affleck’s ‘comeback’ to Hollywood after a series of disappointing films. It may look like the idea of staging a fake movie to smuggle six American diplomats out of the Iranian Embassy might be fake, but that’s 100% historically accurate!
Where Argo takes creative license is how the operation actually happened. According to the real Tony Mendez, the operation went off ‘smooth as silk’. So, that tense ending was just for dramatic effect.
The Last Samurai (2003)
There’s basically only one aspect of The Last Samurai that is historically accurate, and that is the Japanese bringing in foreign military advisors during the Satsuma Rebellion. However, it wasn’t an American as the movie might have you think. History claims that the assistance was from the French.
Also, the idea that Cruise’ Nathan Algren could become a master in such a short period is, well, unlikely to say the least. It would require months, even years, of training to make sure he reached the standard.
It looks like Mel Gibson is back with the historically inaccurate epic movies! Here he is again in Braveheart, where he dons a kilt and adopts a Scottish accent. So, while William Wallace was a Scotsman who rebelled against the king, were other parts accurate? Let’s take a look.
There’s a moment in the movie where Wallace uses nunchucks at the battle, which were never used in Medevil Scotland. Also, the famous last fight on Stirling bridge should have taken place, well, on a bridge.
A Beautiful Mind (2002)
A Beautiful Mind tells the story of the amazing John Nash, but some of the facts in the case might be a little less than amazing. For one, the levels of his schizophrenia get largely misinterpreted. The incidents that would ever make him an unlikely character are pretty much ignored.
There’s another heartwarming scene where Nash looks at his wife with a loving stare. The only problem? The couple had divorced 31 years earlier! While there are some incidents in the story that weren’t accurate, A Beautiful Mind is still a beautiful movie.
The Sound of Music (1965)
We feel bad criticizing everyone’s favorite childhood musical film, but we need to address the facts and not the over-romanticized version of events! In actuality, they only became the Von Trapp Family Choir after their bank collapsed.
In her memoir, Maria confessed that she didn’t actually marry George for love, but instead for the love of the children. The details in The Sound of Music might not match history, but it’s still one of our favorite things.
We’re back with another Russel Crowe movie that challenges the perceptions of history. While Commodus was an unlikeable character, most historical evidence suggests that he was actually much worse than the movie made out.
There were many things that Gladiator left out that might have been too squirmish for audiences. Finally, the final fight between Commodus and Maximus is exciting, it’s not really what happened. Commodus was actually strangled in a bath by Narcissus. Still, it doesn’t stop the film from being one of our favorites.
10,000 BC (2008)
You might not remember 2008’s 10,000 BC – don’t worry, you’re not missing much. The film scored 8% on Rotten Tomatoes and much of that is due to the various historical inaccuracies. Let’s take a look at some of them.
For one, humans didn’t domesticate horses until about 4,000 years after the film took place. Also, the film shows us mammoths building the Pyramids, which clearly didn’t’ happen since they were part of the Ice Age 8,000 years BEFORE the pyramids.
The Greatest Showman (2017)
The Hollywood version of P.T. Barnum’s life is pretty different from what actually happened – but we might just prefer it like that! While the film was a positive musical, the real character was a little more, well, not very nice.
Barnum, was a lot more bigoted and prejudice than the film would make out. During the years of freakshows, the magician would often travel with African American slaves. Yeah, we’ll go for the Hollywood version this time, thanks!
While critics may love Amadeus, history buffs out there might have something to say about the whole thing. From basically the start of the movie, history is changed in order to accommodate the plot of Mozart and his musical life.
In fact, the real-life version of Salieri wasn’t the angry and jealous bachelor the movie portrays. He was actually a father of eight children. Salieri invited Mozart to the opening of his opera, The Magic Flute – so they had to like each other a bit!
Bonnie & Clyde (1967)
Even though the name of Bonnie & Clyde is known across the world, let’s hope people dig a little deeper into the history of these two robbers! If the 1967 movie is anything to go by, then we don’t know much about their true story.
These two didn’t rob from the rich to give to the poor, as the Robin Hood-esque film would have you believe. They actually robbed banks and kept the money for themselves. Not quite as charming as the Hollywood version would have you think!
Ok, so everyone can agree that the RMS Titanic sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean in April 1912. But how accurate is the 1997 film adaptation, starring Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet? Well, it turns out that its two major characters never existed!
Sure, it’s likely that two of the 3,327 had the name Rose or Jack, but these people would have likely never met had they been members of different classes. There’s no way that First Class would have mingled with Third Class passengers.
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
Mary Queen of Scots shouldn’t exactly be held with high esteem when it comes to its historical accuracy. First off, while we appreciate the moves towards diversity in cinema, there’s no reason why a historical film should bow to pressure and present an inaccurate portrayal of the country at the time.
Another big error: the two queens never actually met in person. They were never even friends like the film suggests. However, seeing two women writing passive-aggressive notes to each other might not have been as entertaining.
Cool Runnings (1993)
We all love a good sports movie, and Cool Runnings is as cool as you can get. While it might have been ‘based on a true story’, it seems that the filmmakers took a few liberties with how they wanted to story to appear on the screen.
Although the first-ever Jamaican bobsled team did compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics, their backstories were completely faked. Still, the results were real and that’s enough to remain somewhat truthful.
The Imitation Game (2014)
While The Imitation Game definitely shows some admirable parts of history, we cracked the code for ourselves and found some inaccuracies in the film. First, Alan Turing never actually met John Cairncross, the colleague who was actually a Soviet Spy.
The subplot of Turning getting blackmailed by Cairncross for his homosexuality was entirely made up. It turns out that Detective Nock and his suspicions of Turing were also added for enhanced drama. Still, we enjoyed learning more about this code-cracker!
Dallas Buyer’s Club (2014)
Here’s the historic film that earned Matthew McConaughey his Oscar. While his character of Ron Woodroof was real, as well as the HIV diagnosis he lived with in the film, Hollywood definitely put pen to paper when framing the story.
It seems that Jennifer Garner’s character never existed. Woodroof’s doctor was actually a man called Steve Pounders. This, as well as a few of the dialogue scenes in the film, were entirely fabricated. Still, it didn’t stop it from being a fantastic film!
This film from the 1970s might be considered an epic biopic on Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, but it’s far from accurate. Filmmakers clearly realized that his life wasn’t that interesting halfway through the research, so they had to add a few extra scenes.
For one, they had Robert Wagner appear as a zombie dressed as Adolf Hitler – which definitely didn’t happen. Second, former Beatle Ringo Starr played the Pop and the film even includes a battle on a spaceship. Yeah, we think this is fake.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
The Hurt Locker had a lot of things going for it and even earned director Kathryn Bigelow the first female Best Director Oscar. But just because a movie is well-crafted, does it mean it’s accurate? Far from it!
According to Iraq War veteran Kate Hoit, the streets of Baghdad were ‘clean. Almost too clean’. Also, the soldiers were wearing the wrong kind of uniforms based on their unit of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). They need a costume change!
The King’s Speech (2010)
Another historical drama that earned its main star an Oscar. The King’s Speech stars Colin Firth as King George VI who must overcome a stammer with extensive speech therapy. According to The Daily Beast, a few things were exaggerated.
First, the King’s stutter was never as bad as the film portrayed. Second, he had started working with Lionel Logue much earlier than the movie suggested. And for calling him Bertie? There’s no way Lionel would be allowed to do that!
Schindler’s List (1993)
When you consider how Steven Spielberg makes some of the best films ever made, it’s a shame to consider that one of his Oscar-winning films is inaccurate. Apparently, one survivor criticized Spielberg for not going far enough with the portrayal of how terrible Auschwitz was.
Aside from that, there’s no historical evidence that the Jews Oscar Schindler rescued even went to Auschwitz. It’s more likely they went somewhere else and not the famous Polish concentration camp in the film.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973 and 2003)
The movie (and its 1973 original) tells the story of a group of friends who have a run in with Leatherface, the dreaded killer and his clan of cannibals. Could this be a historical tale, like it was suggested?
Well, no. It turns out that the entire story was fictionalized. During the 1970s, director Tobe Hooper wanted to highlight the use of misinformation and how it can be used in our everyday world by our governments. He was highlighting the scandals of Watergate and the Vietnam War.
Captain Phillips (2013)
Look at me. Look at me. I am the historically inaccurate film now. That’s according to the crew members onboard the MV Maersk Alabama. After the film came out, they were surprised to see Richard Phillips receive such a flattering portrayal by the director.
Apparently, he was a lot more aloof and sullen than the film made out. In fact, it was his irresponsible behavior that allowed the pirates to jump aboard the ship in the first place! That’s quite a mischaracterization, indeed.
The Theory of Everything (2014)
The Theory of Everything tells a pretty linear story of Dr. Stephen Hawking and his life – from his academic success to his diagnosis of ALS. There are a few personal aspects that were polished for the film.
According to Travelling to Infinity, the autobiography in which the movie is based, Hawking’s separation with Jane is not as ‘sad, but mutual’ as it was depicted. Jane wrote that it was actually a lot more bitter and one-sided than the movie.
This Disney animated film certainly took a few liberties when it came to retelling the story of the 17th-century hero. For starters, Pocahontas wasn’t her real name – it was a nickname! And then there’s the relationship between her and John Smith…
History has shown that Pocahontas, whose real name was actually Amonute, would have been only 10 or 11 years old that the time. This means their entire relationship was likely fictionalized by the Disney writers to make it more romantic. Hopefully.
J. Edgar (2011)
This Clint Eastwood biopic stars Leonardo di Caprio as J. Edgar Hoover, the man who formed the FBI and single-handedly saved the USA from the invasion of communism. Except he didn’t.
Sources and historical resources will show that there was actually a massive amount of people involved in Hoover’s attack on the Red Menace. As well as communism, Hoover also raged war against liberals, black nationalists, senators, and federal judges. So yeah, he was a bit more aggressive than the movie made him look.
Anonymous tells the story of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, and how it implies that he is, in fact, the real author of all of Shakespeare’s plays. While this is just the right kind of drama for the cinema, it didn’t ring well with Shakspeare fans.
It turns out that many of the claims in Anonymous stem far from the actual events that took place. The movie also completely ignores hard evidence that proves Shakespeare was the actual author of the plays and poems. Still, it’s an exciting work of fiction!
Marie Antoinette (2006)
This 2006 drama starring Kirsten Stewart has been described as ‘Gossip Girl in the 18-Century’. While it’s a fun name to have, it might explain where the movie lies in terms of its historical accuracy.
Audiences can enjoy the fancy clothes and extravagant parties in the film, but that’s probably the only thing truthful about it! Director Sofia Coppola used colors that weren’t available at the time. What’s more, there is no evidence that Marie Antoinette ever said her famous line, “Let them eat cake!”
This Steven Spielberg drama is based on the true story of a slave ship in 1839. The film depicts the resulting Supreme Court Case that spreads the truth rather thin when it comes to its heroes. Unfortunately, the film seems to invent quite a few white, male heroes…
In Amistad, John Quincy Adams is the character who fights for the freedom of African refugees. While he did do that, there’s a lot more to the story that isn’t explored. Also, it seems to leave out the fact that people would pay 12 cents to look at the slaves.
Here’s another Disney film that takes a story and changes the characters slightly to fit a narrative. In the 1992 film, a bunch of newsboys go on strike to protest the increased profits of the newspaper moguls.
While the events did actually happen, the characters are far from historically accurate. For example, Christian Bale plays a character called Jack Kelly. He never actually existed, and instead was written as an amalgamation of a bunch of strikers.
Ron Howard directs this racing drama about two racecar drivers: the cocky British James Hunt and the Austrian Niki Lauda. While the film has an exciting rivalry between the two of them, this wasn’t exactly the case.
Truthfully, Hunt and Lauda were actually good friends for most of their lives and even shared an apartment together in London. While we think that the rivalry was good added drama, it would have been just as interesting to see them compete as the friends they were!
Oliver Stone’s 3-hour epic biopic on America’s 35th president definitely plays with the truth. The movie opens with a merger between documentary footage and recreations for the sense of drama. The problem? It includes some famous – and debunked – conspiracy theories.
One of the most famous conspiracy theories surrounding JFK and his death is the idea of the ‘magic bullet’. Theorists out there suggest that there had to be another shooter out there because of the curvature of the bullet. This has been proven incorrect, and yet perpetrated by the movie.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
We all know the story of Pearl Harbor if we went to our high school history class! When Michael Bay decided to direct a re-telling in 2001, there were a few errors along the way. First, the wardrobe choices by the director didn’t match the times and were more glamorous than what they would have actually been.
Other accuracies lie in the construction of the military plane and how Affleck’s ‘Rafe’ was ever allowed in a British hospital. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why the film scored badly on Rotten Tomatoes.