Hollywood often gets history completely wrong, and biopics in particular often make their subjects look better, like when The Patriot ignored the fact that Mel Gibson’s character was a murderer and a rapist. All the films on this list of the most inaccurate historical movies have major historical problems. These inaccurate movies based on true stories change all sorts of things, from the gruesome tactics used in the real William Wallace’s execution to the way Roman emperors died in Gladiator.
The movies based on true stories that are wrong include Braveheart, JFK, and Pocahontas, all of which take major liberties with the facts. In the case of Gladiator, one of the historical advisors even quit because of all the problems. Some of the movies make intentional choices to change history, like in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet or Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. But viewers who aren’t up on their history might not realize all the problems with a movie like 10,000 BC, which shows wooly mammoths building the pyramids.
Here’s your chance to weigh in on the most historically inaccurate movies of all time.
A Beautiful Mind is another award-winning movie based on a true story that leaves out quite a lot. John Nash, played by Russell Crowe in the movie, had a number of sexual relationships with men, including one that got him fired from his job in 1954. On top of that, Nash abandoned his first son, refusing to marry the boy's mother because her working-class background felt beneath him.
And while the film glorifies Nash's relationship with Alicia, played by Jennifer Connelly, it fails to mention the time Nash threw her to the ground at a mathematics department picnic or the fact that the two divorced in 1963.
The Patriot tells the story of the American Revolution through the eyes of a vengeful father played by Mel Gibson. He joins the war when his son, played by Heath Ledger, is murdered by a British officer. But in the hyper-patriotic retelling, the British become as evil as the Nazis. In one scene the British soldiers burns down a church full of women and children. In another, a British Colonel breaks the rules of engagement by shooting a child. There is no evidence that the British committed these acts during the American Revolution.
But one character got a much rosier portrayal. Mel Gibson’s character was based on Francis Marion, known as “The Swamp Fox,” and he doesn’t exactly make a sympathetic hero. He married his cousin, hunted Native Americans for sport, and raped his female slaves. And here’s another twist: the movie ends with a battle where Mel Gibson defeats his nemesis—even though the Americans lost the skirmish that it’s based on.
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The main love story in Braveheart, between William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson) and Isabella, has a few historical problems, since Isabella was only three years old at the time the film is set. And that’s only the beginning of the problems with Braveheart. The Scots didn’t wear kilts in the thirteenth century, for starters, and England was actually at peace with Scotland when the film takes place. The entire execution scene is much tamer than what William Wallace actually endured, which included having his penis sliced off and his beating heart pulled from his chest.
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Gladiator won the Oscar for Best Picture—so apparently the Academy doesn’t consider historical accuracy when handing out awards. The movie was so problematic that one of the historians hired to consult on the film’s history left because the script was so wrong and another asked not to be mentioned in the credits. Among the many historical problems, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was not killed by his son, Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix. He actually died of chickenpox, which is way less dramatic.
In the movie, Commodus came off as an incestuous creep when history portrays him as a well-liked ruler. And he wasn’t murdered in the arena—he was killed in the bath by a wrestler. Which seems like a pretty awesome thing to include in a movie!
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