Fictional Movie And TV Battles That Were Inspired By Real History

List Rules
Vote up the battles with surprising historical inspiration.

Few cinematic experiences are as exhilarating, or as terrifying, as the battle. These moments, when two forces square off against one another, are frequently excuses for film studios and directors to show off just what movies can do, and there is often nothing quite like the adrenaline rush one gets while sitting in a movie theater as such moments unfold across the big screen.

Battles are particularly important for both historical dramas and for science fiction and fantasy. In many cases, even battles that are fictional draw on established facts, which helps to ground them in the plausible world of reality rather than simply in the fantastic.


  • The 'Interceptor' Uses A Maneuver Called 'Clubhauling' When Fighting The 'Black Pearl'
    Photo: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl / Buena Vista Pictures

    Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movie series has come to be seen as the epitome of swashbuckling adventure, thanks in no small part to Johnny Depp’s masterful performance as Captain Jack Sparrow. However, while these films aren’t particularly known for their historical accuracy, there are a few choice moments where the filmmakers did their homework.

    For example, in the film The Curse of the Black Pearl, the ship Interceptor is being pursued by the Black Pearl and, in an effort to escape, they drop anchor and turn. It’s a thrilling moment, and it’s also one founded in history. This was a technique called “clubhauling.” However, it was one which was only undertaken in the most dire of circumstances, as it would require leaving the anchor behind, something most captains, rightly, were very hesitant to do.

    Available On:

    subscription

  • The Last Victory Of The Roman Empire Was Turned Into The Battle Of The Pelennor Fields
    Photo: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King / New Line Cinema

    Anyone who has read the Lord of the Rings books or seen Peter Jackson’s film trilogy adaptation knows the importance of armed conflict to the world of Middle-earth. In one of the most beloved scenes in both versions, the city of Minas Tirith is besieged by the forces of Mordor, including orcs and the men known as the Haradrim and the Easterlings. Ultimately, thanks to the timely arrival of the men of Rohan and Aragorn with his reinforcements (including, in the film version, the Army of the Dead), they are able to turn the tide, though King Théoden of Rohan dies during the battle, crushed beneath his own horse.

    In both Tolkien’s book and the film version, the battle has a great deal in common with the famous Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451 CE, in which the forces of the Roman Empire, along with their allies, did battle against the Huns. While there are some key differences between the two battles - the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was, among other things, a siege of a fortified city, while the Catalaunian Plains was not - they also share a number of things in common. They both involved a conflict between East and West, which subsequently came to be seen as pivotal to the salvation of the latter. Furthermore, in both instances, a key player - Théoden in The Lord of the Rings and Theodoric I in real history - perished because of their horse.

    Available On:

    subscription

  • 3
    79 VOTES

    Ramsay Bolton Uses An Ancient Roman Battle Technique To Circle His Enemies During The Battle Of The Bastards

    Ramsay Bolton Uses An Ancient Roman Battle Technique To Circle His Enemies During The Battle Of The Bastards
    Photo: Game of Thrones / HBO

    In Game of Thrones, few battles were more hotly anticipated - and dreaded - by fans than the climactic showdown between Ramsay Bolton and Jon Snow, two bastards who were vying for control of the north. The aptly titled Battle of the Bastards saw their forces come together and, in one of the most notable moments in the episode, Ramsay’s forces manage to encircle Jon’s and, if not for the timely arrival of forces from the Vale, the Lord Commander would certainly have perished.

    As with so many other aspects of the series, this one is drawn from real history - in this instance, the Battle of Cannae, a notable battle fought between the Carthaginians and the Romans in 216 BCE. In this conflict, a Roman army significantly larger than the one commanded by Carthage was encircled by their enemies - led by the formidable Hannibal - and slaughtered. For the Romans, unlike for Jon Snow, there would be no rescue.

  • George Lucas Used Stock Footage Of WWII Fighter Aces To Create X-Wings
    Photo: Star Wars: A New Hope / 20th Century Fox

    From the very beginning of the Star Wars saga, military technology was a major part of its appeal. Who could forget, for example, the X-Wings the Rebels use in their attacks against the Empire? One of the most memorable scenes has agile ships launching an attack on the much larger and slower Death Star. 

    As with so much of Star Wars iconography, the X-Wings had their roots in Lucas’s many passions, including World War II films. In fact, the scene in which the fighters attack the Death Star is drawn almost directly from a newsreel of World War II training footage. Likewise, the exhilarating yet devastating scene of an X-Wing going up in flames during the attack is drawn from one marine’s footage of a kamikaze attack. One of the effects artists, Paul Huston, remarked:

    [An artist] would show me a shot of a Japanese Zero flying left to right in front of a conning tower of an aircraft carrier and say, “The aircraft carrier is the Death Star, the Zero is an X-Wing. Do a board like that.”

  • 5
    55 VOTES

    The Red Wedding In 'Game of Thrones' Was Based On An Event Known As The Black Dinner

    The Red Wedding In 'Game of Thrones' Was Based On An Event Known As The Black Dinner
    Photo: HBO

    In the world of Game of Thrones, battles take place not just outside but also inside, as the infamous Red Wedding attests. Viewers of the show were shocked, horrified, and traumatized by this event, which saw some of the show’s most beloved characters, including Robb Stark and his mother, Catelyn, slain as a result of the perfidy of Tywin Lannister and Roose Bolton. 

    This scene is made all the more unsettling because of its basis in real history, which was an event known as the Black Dinner. This infamous event took place in 15th-century Scotland when Earl William Douglas and his son were invited for a dinner with the king, at which they were presented with a black bull’s head, the symbol of death, then dragged out into a courtyard, given a swift trial, and executed. It remains unclear just who was responsible for the event and, unlike the Red Wedding, it wasn’t necessarily an event to reshape the fate of the kingdom itself.

  • Thomas Cochrane Really Tied A Lantern To A Barrel So His Ship The HMS 'Speedy' Could Escape Just Like Jack Aubrey
    Photo: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World / 20th Century Fox

    Though largely fictional, the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is the type of epic historical drama that has deep roots in the actual past. In large part, this stems from its basis on the books by Patrick O’Brian, which featured a great deal of detail. In one of the film’s most notable scenes, Jack Aubrey, the captain of the ship Surprise, puts a lantern onto a raft in order to draw the attention of the much larger, and thus much more dangerous, ship known as the Acheron. 

    This particular incident has its basis in actual naval history. Russell Crowe’s Captain Jack Aubrey is largely based on the real figure of Thomas Cochrane, who experienced many exploits during the Napoleonic Wars. In one notable instance, he was able to escape a pursuing ship by tying lights to a smaller ship, letting his pursuer take off after this decoy. There was one key difference in their exploits, however. Cochrane’s ship was named HMS Speedy.

    Available On:

    subscription