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.
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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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It doesn’t get much worse than mammoths building the pyramids. In the 2008 movie 10,000 BC, the historical inaccuracies are everywhere. The epic follows a mammoth hunter who is apparently a time-traveler, since the Egyptian pyramids were build around 2400 BC. The movie journeys from the ice age to the Egyptian age with no mention of the millennia in between, showing mammoths in the Nile Valley building the pyramids. The time-travelers have also somehow discovered ships, horseback riding, and steel, thousands of years before any existed. At some point, you just have to give up and start laughing.
Disney makes a lot of changes to their movies, like removing the most tragic parts of the Beauty and the Beast story or dropping the necrophilia and rape from Sleeping Beauty. And Pocahontas is no exception. Pocahontas was a real person, and she did not have a romantic relationship with John Smith—that would have been creepy, since Pocahontas was only ten years old when the English arrived in Virginia. The cheerful Disney ending, which shows a reconciliation between the Natives and the English, is also completely wrong, as English settlers attacked and wiped out Native populations.
And although Pocahontas did decide to stay with her people when John Smith returned to England, that’s not where the story ended. She was kidnapped by the English who took her across the Atlantic as a curiosity for the English court, where she was forced to marry an Englishman named John Rolfe. Not exactly a Disney ending.
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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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