Pearl Harbor – Bogus
Some movies based on the attack on Pearl Harbor have been pretty accurate. However, Michael Bay’s 2001 war epic isn’t one of them. In fact, critics seemed to pan the film, not because of its quality, but because of how many inaccuracies it had.
One scene that critics took issue with sees Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnet’s characters hold off a Japanese raid when in reality, over 90 American pilots were thought to be involved at that moment. Not to mention the fact that the Japanese never deliberately aimed at hospitals.
12 Years a Slave – Legit
For a movie as harrowing and deeply distressing as 12 Years a Slave, its hard to believe that the movie is actually historically accurate. Steve McQueen’s award-winning film refused to sugarcoat the horrors that Solomon Northup faced during his time in captivity.
It was a brutally honest depiction of what it was like to be a slave in America during this terrible period of history. Other details such as the way slaves were punished and their day-to-day lives were how it really happened.
Apocalypto – Bogus
One of the most authentic elements of Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto is the fact that all of the characters speak ancient Mayan. However, it turns out that the barbaric way that the Mayan characters were depicted was more like that of the Aztecs.
Human sacrifice was something that the Mayans didn’t frequently do. Probably the biggest historical issue with the movie is when the Spaniards appear at the end of the movie. However, they didn’t actually arrive in Mexico until approximately 400 years after the collapse of the Mayan empire.
Tora! Tora! Tora! – Legit
One movie based on the attack on Pearl Harbor that is regarded as factually accurate is 1970’s Tora! Tora! Tora! This film managed to give a pretty good look at both sides of the battle in order to paint a clear picture of what actually happened, and why.
Not only did the directors shed a light on the mistakes that the US military made, but it also humanized Japanese soldiers, which was something that the American public had rarely seen on screen.
10,000 BC – Bogus
Even though Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 BC is probably one of the worst movies on this list, we can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if there was a bit more historical accuracy.
For a start, there is no way that people during that time period would have used wooly mammoths to help build pyramids. Of course, it’s also worth noting that pyramids wouldn’t be built for another 8,000 years. Metallic tools also were not used during this time period.
The Last Emperor – Legit
Making a movie about a period that is historically vague and also shows the rapid transition from opulence to poverty is an extremely difficult task. Despite the numerous accounts about the story, Bernardo Bertolucci managed to create a fairly accurate portrayal of the rise and fall of China’s last emperor.
Not only did he get the visually extravagant design of the Emperor right, but it also goes into detail about the cutthroat politics of the era.
Cool Runnings – Bogus
Here’s one thing that’s definitely true about 1993’s Cool Runnings: Jamaica did compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics for the very first time. However, that’s pretty much where the facts turn into fiction. Some of the historical inaccuracies of the movie include the fact that none of the bobsledders were actually failed sprinters.
Although the team is looked down upon by opponents in the movie, team Jamaica actually received a relatively warm reception in 1988. Also, unlike the movie, they finished 24th out of 26 teams.
Schindler’s List – Legit
There is no denying that Schindler’s List stays true to the facts, for the most part. While Steven Spielberg wasn’t interested in making a by-the-numbers depiction of the Holocaust, he did want to evoke the feeling of what it was like do be Jewish in Germany during this tragic period in human history.
Some characters from the real story are slightly altered, but make no mistake about it: Oscar Schindler was real and what he did was too. Many survivors praised the movie for its accuracy.
The Last Samurai – Bogus
What makes The Last Samurai one of the most historically bogus films on this list is the fact that its premise alone is a lie. Although Japan has hired foreign military advisors in the past, it has never hired an American.
It is also extremely unlikely that a retired Civil War veteran would be able to become a samurai. There are scenes of Tom Cruise’s character teaching Japanese soldiers how to shoot firearms, even though in reality, the Japanese had already been well versed in firing muskets.
Apollo 13 – Legit
Seeing that the story of Apollo 13 is pretty incredible in itself, many who aren’t familiar with the story would be justified in not believing the events of the movie! However, that is a testament to how accurate the film is, depicting the crew who lost an oxygen tank on their lunar mission and had to orbit around the Moon before successfully returning back to Earth.
Director Ron Howard was determined to recreate every detail of the story with complete accuracy and he was successful.
Gladiator – Bogus
Gladiator is certainly an epic tale of a general who is betrayed, only to get his revenge after his heroics in the Colosseum. However, there are plenty of historical inaccuracies in this movie, especially since Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus, is an amalgamation of a few Roman figures.
Also, while Commodus kills his father in the movie, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius actually died from chickenpox. In fact, Commodus was a beloved ruler and probably not as grotesque as Joaquin Phoenix’s version of the character.
Spotlight – Legit
One of the most recent films to win the Academy Award for Best Picture was 2016’s Spotlight. This movie focuses on a team of journalists who successfully expose the Catholic church and are awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
According to blog Information is Beautiful, approximately three-quarters of the film is historically accurate. Some of the muddy differences between the movie and reality include the fact that the Spotlight team carried on publishing follow-up reports for the next two years.
Braveheart – Bogus
There was a time when Mel Gibson was arguably the biggest name in Hollywood. This was especially true after he directed Braveheart, which went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Unlike in the movie, Isabella of France never actually had an affair with William Wallace and there was a major discrepancy in the timeline.
But maybe the biggest inaccuracy of the movie is the fact that William Wallace was never actually referred to as “Braveheart” in real life. It was Robert the Bruce who was actually given the title.
The Lion in Winter – Legit
One medieval movie that is believed to have got its facts straight is 1968’s The Lion in Winter. Although it suffers from a bit of sensationalism in the way people talked and dressed, it makes sense seeing as it focuses on the royal figures of the time.
The film seems to be dead-on when it comes to the complex politics of the era. Director James Goldman painted a clear picture of how hard it was for Richard the Lionheart to hang onto his crown.
Shakespeare in Love – Bogus
Seeing that historians have long debated whether or not William Shakespeare was actually a real person or not, it might seem difficult, if not impossible, to bring some sort of story about the famous writer to the big screen.
Shakespeare in Love stars Joseph Fiennes as a young, poor Shakespeare and the story is set in an alternate reality where his inspiration for “Romeo and Juliet” came from a romance he has with Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, Viola de Lesseps.
Zodiac – Legit
While many crime mysteries are rooted in fiction, virtually every detail of David Fincher’s Zodiac is true, which is a remarkable achievement. According to film essayist Daniel Netzel, Fincher worked hard to make sure that San Francisco looked exactly like it did during the time the movie is set.
Apparently, designers even managed to dress up the actors who played murder victims in the clothes that their real-life counterparts were wearing during the crime. Every character is also based on real-life figures in the story.
300 – Bogus
Arguably the most inaccurate portrayal of a historical event is Zack Snyder’s 300. Although the movie is, unsurprisingly, about the 300 Spartans who took on a 300,000-strong Persian army, the movie never mentioned that 7,000 Greek soldiers were also assisting Sparta during that battle.
Other details such as the Persians using rhinos and elephants in battle and the Spartans’ lack of armor are just not true. And although Xerxes is a gigantic God-like figure covered in chains and piercings, he most likely wasn’t in reality. This…is…inaccurate!
Das Boot – Legit
Out of all of the movies that have focused on submarine warfare, 1981’s Das Boot seems to encapsulate it the best, and for a good reason. Not only did it clearly paint the horrors of fighting between submarines, but it also showed how stressful it could be inside a submarine, which often crammed in way too many soldiers.
Director Wolfgang Peterson is responsible for capturing this claustrophobic atmosphere through his camera trickery. The characters were also completely based on real-life soldiers.
Gangs of New York – Bogus
Martin Scorcese has been both praised and criticized for the historical accuracy in his film Gangs of New York. Although Bill the Butcher is supposedly based on the real-life figure William Poole, there is no indication that the latter committed the same sort of crimes that Daniel Day Lewis’s character did in real-life.
However, the way that the studio recreated the feel of mid-19th century New York City has been lauded by many critics.
Titanic – Bogus
Ultimately, James Cameron never intended to make a to-the-book depiction of what unfolded on the Titanic during the early 20th century. Not only are Jack and Rose, amongst other characters, completely fictional, but they probably never would have met due their difference in class.
One character who is believed to have been depicted completely wrong was William McMaster Murdoch, who was believed to have put numerous passengers on lifeboats as opposed to having shot some in the movie. His family demanded a formal apology from the producers.
Gettysburg – Legit
There is no denying that the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War is rich with detail and key moments. This has something to do with why the 1993 film about the battle is a staggering 254 minutes long!
What makes this war epic so compelling is director Ronald F. Maxwell’s determination to present all sides of the conflict and the horrific mess they found themselves in, not to mention the high points and pitfalls on the battlefield.
The Patriot – Bogus
The fact that the main character of Benjamin Martin is a composite of four historical figures is enough of a hint that The Patriot took liberties when it came to historical accuracy. However, that’s only scratching the surface.
Historians took issue with how the British are depicted as barbaric individuals who in reality wouldn’t have locked up civilians in a building before setting it on fire. Director Spike Lee also criticized the film for completely overlooking the significance that slavery had during this historical period.
Argo – Bogus
While Argo won the Academy Award for Best Picture, it’s certainly not winning any awards for historical accuracy any time soon. The movie focuses on CIA agent Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck), who goes to Iran to rescue six Americans during 1979 under the ruse that he is filming a movie.
Some of the inaccuracies in Argo include how integral Canada was in rescuing the six hostages. Moreover, the real Tony Mendez claimed that the return home was nowhere near as stressful as the airport scene suggested.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – Legit
While there are plenty of historical inaccuracies in this film, including not many real characters, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World also has plenty of aesthetic qualities that came straight out of a history book.
Everything from costumes and the ships to the sounds of the battles are exactly what it would have been like. While the film’s story might not be dead-on, the attention to detail certainly is.
U-571 – Bogus
This nautical World War II epic was so fraught with inaccuracies that even British Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed it was “an affront to the real sailors.” In the film, which is based on the true story of Operation Primrose, the German submarine U-571 was captured by disguised Americans who were trying to get their hands on the infamous Enigma cipher machine.
In reality, however, the captured submarine was the U-110 and the brave men who undertook the mission were British – the USA hadn’t even entered the war at the time.
Saving Private Ryan – Legit
It seems like Steven Spielberg has a talent for making historical movies that are extremely accurate to real life and Saving Private Ryan is a great example. 2018 marked the movie’s 20th anniversary and at an event that celebrated the movie’s milestone, many praised it for its realistic portrayal of a true World War II story.
“Since its premiere in 1998, Saving Private Ryan has become a kind of exemplar…of what it means to generate realism in Hollywood,” historian Rob Citino said at the event.
The Great Escape – Bogus
This WWII hero story quickly became one of America’s favorites. But while the characters in this movie are based on real men, they are quite actually fictitious. Many changes were made to increase the appeal of this film to an American audience.
The actual escape attempt did happen, but American personnel were almost nonexistent in the process – the majority of the real heroes were Canadian. The production even called in Canadian pilot and mining engineer Wally Floody, the real-life “tunnel king,” as a technical advisor for the film.
Lincoln – Legit
The Abraham Lincoln of this film is not the Lincoln that most people grew up studying – at least not Americans. But Steven Spielberg set out to show his audience the truth, however difficult to digest, in this film.
Far from the more common portrayal of a confident and good-natured man who fearlessly led the North during the American Civil War, this Lincoln and the era itself was torn apart by hostility from his own Congress and the constituents beyond – either for trying to do too much, or too little.
Enemy At The Gates – Bogus
This story of the Battle of Stalingrad follows a sniper versus sniper legend whose only historical source is Soviet propaganda, making it questionable right from the start. Though the tension of war succeeds in being highly palpable for the audience, this sniper duel may have never happened.
Although sniper Vasily Zaytsev was as real as any of us and his exploits were truly impressive, the movie portrays him as influential enough to change the course of the entire battle – which is simply not true. To top that off, the man deployed to kill him – Major Erwin König – has no record of even existing.
Zodiac – Legit
Accuracy is notoriously David Fincher’s middle name. He spends an obsessive amount of time doing his research, and actors under his direction remember him for driving them crazy over the details even if it costs them hundreds of takes.
For Zodiac, Fincher spent months personally interviewing witnesses, family members, detectives, and suspects, building an archive of his own case material. He double-checked every element of the production from the time of day to costume stitching, ensuring that everything was just right.
Remember The Titans – Bogus
Although nothing can disprove the emotional impact of this beloved Disney hit, Remember the Titans is quite a stretch from reality. In the film, Denzel Washington’s integrated bunch takes on the fight against prejudice and the opposing football teams – winning both T.C. Williams High’s inaugural 1971 season.
The school and the fight were real, but the racial tension was blown out of proportion according to former players and teachers at the Virginia school, who have said that there were no protesters or racist girlfriends.
Marie Antoinette – Bogus
If this film set out to portray the negligence of French royalty and its court in the era leading up to the French Revolution, it certainly succeeded. The notorious spoilings and immaturity of Marie Antoinette and her courtly companions were fairly represented here.
But reducing her and all courtly matters down to their taste for expensive desserts and fashion, which actually lay in the shadow of political turmoil, is inaccurate. And while the movie is a sight for sore eyes, many of the movie’s colors depict edible and wearable dyes that didn’t yet exist.
All The President’s Men – Legit
Although the two Washington Post journalists responsible for breaking the Watergate scandal story – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward – were the most reliable sources for a movie, their work together had driven them so far apart that they refused to cooperate on its behalf.
But after two separate scripts were drafted by each, director Alan J. Pakula along with star Robert Redford and Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee took the best of both to create All The President’s Men. It was a bumpy road, but eventually, they achieved an almost perfect outcome.
Alexander – Bogus
The redeeming qualities of this film must be noted: its production crew engineered a realistic portrayal of the era, from the costumes and weaponry to the iconic phalanx formation and even the city of Babylon itself. The battle of Gaugamela was incredibly accurate. But a few glaring inaccuracies still raise hairs.
For one, the movie uses the word “Greek” interchangeably with “Macedonian” though the two were actually distinct from each other, with Macedonia as Greece’s conqueror at the time. Also, the final battle against the Indians at Hydaspes would never have been fought in a forest using a phalanx, and the major wounds shown here were actually from other battles. And lastly, the heavy focus on Alexander’s sexuality was highly dramatized – in his time, it wasn’t a big deal.
A Night to Remember – Legit
Despite being heavily overshadowed by the 1997 version of this historical legend, the real events of the sinking of the H.M.S. Titanic were more realistically portrayed in the old 1958 film known by far fewer people, A Night To Remember. Though the advanced technology that came into cinematography over the next many decades, along with actual exploration of the ship’s wreckage, allowed Cameron the epic film he produced, it was more focused on a love story that never happened.
On the other hand, with many survivors of the disaster still alive during its production, the first film was able to achieve more accuracy – it even enlisted Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, first-class passenger Edith Russel, and second class passenger Lawrence Beesley as technical advisors for the movie.
The Revenant – Bogus
When it comes to the Old West and stories from the remote mountains, little was written down (little was available to write things down on!) and so historical accuracy is like a needle in a haystack. But when it comes to the saga of Hugh Glass, it seems hard to believe – because it is.
Though an epically beautiful film with some truth, its ending is far from accurate – Glass never had a wife, never got his revenge, and in the end, even showed mercy to the men who abandoned him.
Ironclad – Bogus
Epic as this film and the haunting portrayal of King John by actor Paul Giamatti may be, this story almost opposes many historical accounts of the time. Rather than an unwavering rivalry between John and the Templars as the film depicts, there was actually mostly cooperation.
In real life, John awarded the Templars special privileges such as exemption from taxes and property protection. The movie is even set in 1215 when the Templars famously let John use their London headquarters where he frequently stayed as a treasury for the crown jewels and top-secret documents.
Black Family That Used to Own Thriving Beach Resort Wants It Back
More than 100 years ago, Willa and Charles Bruce came from New Mexico to what would eventually become the city of Manhattan Beach. The Bruces were among the first Black families to settle in that area. In 1912, they bought a plot of land on the sun-kissed Southern California coast. Their goal was simple: create a nice beach resort for other black people. However, city officials soon killed off their business and now, their descendants want their land back.
A Beautiful 20th Century Beach Resort
When Willa and Charles bought the beautiful oceanside lot, they set out to build a resort where other Black families could freely eat, dance, swim, and lounge without becoming the subject of racist harassment. Things were going great for a while, and there were red trolley cars trundling to and from the buzzing metropolis of Los Angeles all day long.
The early 20th century in Southern California offered great opportunities and plenty of land, ripe for development. With that hunger for success, came conflicting interests, and the racist harassment came despite the success of the beach resort. Just 12 years after they had bought the land, the Bruces were shut down by city officials who condemned the land in 1924 because they needed it for a public park.
Of course, the family fought that decision through litigation, but they didn’t succeed. The city paid them $14,500 and the Bruces were forced to leave their beach and business behind.
Descendants Still Seek Restitution
Anthony Bruce, 38, is one of the descendants of the entrepreneurial Black family who seeks justice for his relatives. He remembers visiting the California land that his family once owned and is determined to make things right. Other descendants of the Bruce family gather at “Bruce’s Beach” to show their legacy and claim what they believe is theirs.
Los Angeles-based historian, Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson, has written about the Bruces and other similar families in a book. She hopes to spread awareness of the fact that African-American civil rights aren’t just about political or economic power, but that recreation was historically also “part of the struggle.”
More often than not, we watch films because we want some form of escapism – to travel away to a world full of mystery and wonder. However, there are some movies that focus on real-life moments in history and turn them into these awesome epics for the big screen. While directors have creative license, sometimes they go too far with which details are true and which ones are full-blown lies. Here are some historical movies that are either extremely inaccurate or dead-on with their facts. For the sake of this article, we have labeled historically accurate movies as “legit” and inaccurate ones as “bogus,” because we’re cool like that.