Movies love to advertise that they are “based on a true story,” but what does that really mean? Apparently, it means that you can take something that really happened, add a whole bunch of drama and embellishment, cut out the parts you don’t want, and boom… you’ve got yourself a hit movie. These internet users spoke out about some of our favorite movies that are wildly inaccurate despite being “based on a true story.” Read on to see if any of your favorites are on the list.
What the film’s about: An English settler exploring the New World falls in love with a young Native American woman called Pocahontas. The film follows their romance, and their attempts to make peace between the English colonists and the Powhatan tribe.
What happened in real life: For starters, Pocahontas wasn’t her actual name. It was a nickname given to her, meaning “playful one”. Her real name was Amonute, or Matoaka, which was used in more private settings. And the romance between her and John Smith? It’s unlikely, considering that Pocahontas was said to have been 10 or 11 years old in 1607. The film also propagates the “Good Indian” trope by basing its storyline on what is largely believed to be a lie told by Smith of Pocahontas saving his life and falling in love with him.
What the film’s about: Under the guise of filming a science fiction film, a CIA agent, Tony Mendez, rescues six Americans in Tehran, Iran during the US hostage crisis in 1979.
What happened in real life: Although much of the movie downplays Canada’s involvement, in real life it was an integral part of the rescue mission. The six Americans were housed in the Tehran residences of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, and Canadian diplomat John Sheardown, who doesn’t warrant an appearance in the movie. Unlike the movie, the Canadians weren’t just “innkeepers”, providing the Americans with a safe base of operations. They obtained copies of visas by sending people in and out of Iran, coached the six Americans on sounding Canadian, and Taylor’s wife personally purchased three sets of airline tickets for them. With that being said, the movie’s thrilling airport scene, which is filled with last-minute complications involving authorisation of the group’s tickets and the discovery of their identities, was all made up. According to the real life Mendez, the trip was “as smooth as silk” and the team encountered no major difficulties. Other inaccuracies related to the film were pointed out in a series of tweets by the CIA.
3. Cool Runnings
What the film’s about: Four Jamaican sprinters who failed to qualify for the 1988 Summer Olympics enlist the help of a disgraced coach to start the first Jamaican bobsleigh team.
What happened in real life: While it’s based on a true story, Cool Runnings had a huge flair for creative license. The characters, for example, are mostly fictional. There was no coach named Irving “Irv” Blitzer, and the real team actually had several trainers. They also weren’t failed sprinters, but were recruited from the Army by two Americans, George Finch and William Maloney, who were interested in push cart racing and bobsledding. During the Olympics, the movie infers that the Jamaicans are outcasts who are ridiculed by the other teams. In reality they received a warm reception, were immensely popular, and even borrowed equipment from other teams. There’s a whole bunch of other inaccuracies too, including the difference in the aftermath of the crash scene, and the fact that the Jamaican team were never close to being a medal contender.
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
What the film’s about: While traveling to Texas, a group of friends fall victim to a man called Leatherface and his gruesome family of cannibals.
What happened in real life: Although The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was marketed as a true story, its plot is entirely fictional. According to director Tobe Hooper, the misinformation was a deliberate attempt in response to being “lied to the government about things that were going on all over the world”, including Watergate, the 1973 oil crisis, and the Vietnam War. With that being said, the character of Leatherface was inspired by the crimes of real-life murderer Ed Gein, who fashioned trophies and keepsakes from human bones and skin. With the recent remake of the 1974 movie, people still continue to debate the authenticity of Leatherface, so much so that some prisons have had to squash rumours about the existence of such a person.
5. The Greatest Showman
What the film’s about: An ambitious entrepreneur and showman by the name of PT Barnum creates a circus full of living curiosities that becomes a worldwide sensation.
What happened in real life: The Greatest Showman glosses over much of Barnum’s problematic past, namely his exploitation of marginalised groups to draw crowds. It makes no mention of Joice Heith, an elderly black woman whom Barnum leased and marketed as George Washington’s 161-year-old nursemaid. She was brought on tour, despite being unwell, completely blind, and unable to movie easily, while contributing vastly to Barnum’s initial success as a showman. Even though Heith died just months after becoming part of Barnum’s show, he sought to profit off her death by hosting a live autopsy for paying customers. The film also plays up the romance between Jenny Lind and Barnum who, in reality, kept things strictly professional between them. Meanwhile the characters played by Zac Efron and Zendaya are pure fiction, and are used as an attempt to discuss the racial tensions of the era. This falls short, however, considering that Barnum, who is portrayed as being tolerant of their relationship, continually presented racist stereotypes when promoting and displaying his “living curiosities” in real life.
What the film’s about: Antonio Salieri, a classical composer, becomes jealous of his younger rival’s success and talent. His jealously soon turns into revenge as he confesses to the murder of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
What happened in real life: The entire storyline of the movie revolves around this alleged rivalry between Mozart and Salieri. But there’s no clear proof of any sort of bitterness between these two composers in real life. For example in one of Mozart’s letters he mentions picking up Salieri and his wife on his way to a performance, which, at the very least, suggests being on amicable terms. The only rumours of a supposed feud come from Alexander Pushkin’s play written in 1830 which depicted the murder of Mozart by Salieri.
What the film’s about: A financially desperate car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard, hires two criminals to kidnap his wife in order to collect ransom money from her wealthy father. Things don’t go exactly as planned when the thugs shoot a state trooper and two eyewitnesses, resulting in an investigation by a suspicious police chief.
What happened in real life: Declarations of factual basis were immediately presented in the opening title card of Fargo which stated that the kidnapping, string of murders, and wood chipper incident took place in Minnesota in 1987. But after the story was incorrectly linked to the crimes of T. Eugene Thompson in 2015, the Coen Brothers set the record straight, saying that “[Fargo] is completely made up. Or, as we like to say, the only thing true about it is that it’s a story.” Even so, the events depicted in the film have been confirmed by the Coens to be linked to two real-life crimes: A General Motors employee who committed fraud by toying with serial numbers, and the murder of Helle Crafts, whose body was disposed of in a wood chipper.
What the film’s about: King Leonidas leads his 300-strong army of Spartans into battle against the force of 300,000 Persians at Thermopylae.
What happened in real life: Easily the biggest liberty that 300 takes is in reference to the Spartan army. While there were 300 Spartan soldiers at the Battle of Thermopylae, the film fails to mention the 7,000 other Greeks who were allied to Sparta. King Leonidas also makes a historically inaccurate statement when he tries to insult the Greeks by referring to them as “boy lovers”. Ironically, the Spartans practiced a form of pederasty in their education system as a means of turning a boy into a warrior. Other inaccuracies include the lack of body armour on the Spartans, the inclusion of charging elephants and rhinos used by the Persians, and the portrayal of King Xerxes as a hairless giant covered in gold chains and piercings.
– Alexander Boschkov, Facebook
What the film’s about: An orphan named Anya is believed by two con men to share a startling likeness to the last surviving child of the Russian royal family. They seek out the Dowager Empress to claim a reward while Rasputin, a dangerous sorcerer, tries to stop them.
What happened in real life: In 1917 Anastasia, the daughter of Russian Tsar Nicholas II, and her family were placed under house arrest during the February Revolution. After a year of imprisonment, Anastasia and her family were executed by Bolshevik troops in a basement in Ekaterinburg. Owing to the fact that the family’s bodies were buried in two unmarked graves that weren’t discovered for several years, there was speculation that Anastasia and her brother Alexi had survived. The fairytale mystery, however, came to an end when DNA testing of bone fragments matched those of the two missing Romanov children. Contrary to what the movie shows, Rasputin wasn’t directly responsible for the Romanov’s fate. He was close to the family, acting as a holy man that attempted to relieve Alexei’s hemophilia, and was later murdered by Felix Yussupov.
10. The Blind Side
What the film’s about: Homeless teen Michael Oher is taken in by Leigh Anne Tuohy and her husband Sean. They eventually become his legal guardians, and help Michael realise his potential as a football player.
What happened in real life: The Blind Side greatly simplifies Michael’s adoption by the Tuohy family. Unlike in the movie, Leigh Anne doesn’t immediately offer Michael a place to stay after encountering him on the roadside. She did take him shopping for clothes the next day, but it took months before Michael was welcomed into the Tuohy home. During this period Michael stayed with Tony Henderson, the school’s custodian, as well as a number of other families who aren’t mentioned. For dramatic flair, the film chose to dumb down Michael’s knowledge of football, a decision which the real life Michael wasn’t too happy about. Ultimately he believed The Blind Side was a poor representation of his life, and blamed it on his downgrading as a player.
– Kristin Johnston, Facebook
What the film’s about: On board the Titanic, two passengers from different social classes become romantically involved. After the ship collides with an iceberg, the pair struggle to stay alive.
What happened in real life: Although Titanic was never intended to be a faithful interpretation of historical events, it did play a role in spreading some inaccurate truths. For example, the character of William McMaster Murdoch, who is based on a real-life person, is shown to be shooting passengers in a panicked state before killing himself. Eyewitness reports tell a completely different story, praising his heroic efforts in organising the launch of lifeboats during the last few hours before the Titantic sank. Murdoch’s relatives were outraged by the inaccurate portrayal which resulted in a personal apology from one of the producers. Another point worth mentioning is the film’s depiction of third-class passengers being forcibly held below decks, preventing them from reaching lifeboats. Although the gates did exist, there is no historical evidence of this happening. Instead they were used to prevent the spread of infectious diseases between different classes, meaning that Jack and Rose had little chance of meeting in real life.
– Amelia K Tumlin, Facebook
12. The Patriot
What the film’s about: Benjamin Martin is a widowed farmer with a brave but brutal military past. After his eldest son is ruthlessly murdered by a British officer, he takes up the challenge of leading the American Revolution.
What happened in real life: The misleading portrayal of British soldiers in The Patriot generated the most controversy. The church arson scene in particular, where the redcoats lock up innocent civilians and set the building on fire, gave the impression of the British acting like bloodthirsty barbarians. This extends to the film’s villain Tavington, who is presented as a brutal and unforgiving soldier. The problem is there’s no historical evidence to support anything like this happening during the American Revolution. Additionally the hero of the film, Benjamin Martin, is formed from several real-life counterparts, including one man who actively slaughtered Indians for fun and regularly raped his female slaves. But as pointed out by director Spike Lee, the issue of slavery is one The Patriot ultimately chooses to completely sidestep.
What the film’s about: A Scottish rebel called William Wallace begins a revolt against King Edward I of England after the love of his life is slaughtered.
What happened in real life: Put simply, the timeline and sequence of events in Braveheart don’t make any historical sense. The film opens with King Edward conquering Scotland following the death of Alexander III in 1280. In reality, King Alexander III ruled until 1286 and the rebellion led that Wallace leads happens later in 1296. If we’re still following the film’s timeline, we see Isabella of France, who is married to Edward II, fall pregnant with Edward III after engaging in an affair with Wallace. This is another made up storyline considering that Isabella was not only nine years old at the time, but was living in France. Other inaccuracies include the blue face paint and kilts worn by the Scottish, which most likely didn’t exist in real Wallace’s time, as well as the Battle of Stirling Bridge being portrayed on a field instead of an actual bridge. Wallace was also never called “Braveheart” – that was a title given to Robert the Bruce, a Scottish hero who is portrayed as a traitor in the film.