Movies that got history embarrassingly wrong

Movies that got history embarrassingly wrong

Let's be honest here, Hollywood has never stuck to the facts. Whether it's an epic war film, a light-hearted cartoon or vivacious musical production, when it comes to historical facts, Tinseltown often has it all wrong. Embarrassingly so in fact. However, while most of the time we can forgive them for their mistakes and sit back to enjoy the story, sometimes their blunders are just too monstrous to ignore.

For instance, when movie bosses got the fashion of a whole era disastrously wrong, when they forgot that a rather important historical army had 6,700 additional soldiers, or when they changed a straight king into a homosexual. Come on guys, we know that real life can be a little less exciting than movieland and that sometimes the blockbuster happy ending that's needed just doesn't turn up, but are you serious?

1. Braveheart

Braveheart is basically infamous now for its historical blunders bringing many people to ponder why they didn't fire the researcher. Perhaps the biggest mistake is when Wallace seduces King Edward II’s Wife, Isabella of France who was a little girl at the time in real life. Or when the Battle of Stirling Bridge didn't featured a bridge. Or maybe it was the time the Scottish painted their faces (a tradition they'd given up hundreds of years previously) and wore kilts, which weren't invented until well in the 17th century, and tartan, which was only worn highland tribes far to the north. I could go on, but we don't have time. Luckily, despite its gaffes, a lot of people love Braveheart to this very day, so they must have done something right.

2. Pocahontas

Real life isn't often a cartoon complete with a happy ending, so you can hardly blame Disney for twisting the facts to fit their family-friendly identity. However, this led them to pull a love story out of nowhere when they put Native American Pocahontas and British settler John Smith tomorrow together in their 1995 film. While it makes for a rather enjoyable love story, in real life Pocahontas was only 10 or 11 years old when she threw herself on the explorer to save his life, so the romance that blossomed between them in the move afterwards simply wasn't going to happen in reality. For any massively disappointed fans out there, rest assured that the two were friends and the young woman often visited the Jamestown settlement bringing gifts and once saving the settlers from an ambush. Oh, and she did actually marry someone called John! It was just John Rolfe, not Smith.

3. U-571

Americans have done some great things in their time, but unfortunately capturing the U-110 was definitely not one of them. U-571 shows a German submarine commandeered by disguised American submariners who attempt to break the codes and capture an Enigma cipher machine, but in reality it was actually British and Polish soldiers who did all of the work - there were no Americans involved whatever. In fact, the Americans hadn't even entered the war at the point in which it was taken. Needless to say, the Brits weren't happy with what went down with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair labelling U-571 “an affront to the real sailors.”

4. Alexander

This epic film about Alexander the Great's life was so historically controversial that director Oliver Stone was almost slapped with a lawsuit for it. So why were people rubbed up the wrong way about it? Aside from the fact that several events in the king'  life were compressed, distorted and some of his actions were attributed to different individuals, many people's main quibble with the film was that it suggested Alexander was gay. This led group of 25 lawyers to threaten a lawsuit, with Yannis Varnakos stating: "We are not saying that we are against gays, but we are saying that the production company should make it clear to the audience that this film is pure fiction and not a true depiction of the life of Alexander."

5. JFK

Of course, no one really knows exactly what happened in the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy and conspiracy theories regularly fly around even nowadays, so any film had to be given some artistic license. But 1991 film JFK took the cake when they contradicted known facts of the case, even suggesting that the FBI and CIA conspired to kill Kennedy. One of the main mistakes shows suspect David Ferries breaking down and confessing to assisting in the murder; in reality he adamantly denied involvement and even offered to take a lie detector test to prove it. In addition, it declines to show that key witness Perry Russo was drugged before his testimony. These outrageous errors led Gerald Ford and David Belin, two prominent members of the Warren Commission (the official body that concluded Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman in the assassination) to name the film "a desecration to the memory of President Kennedy" and "a fraudulent misrepresentation of the truth to the American public".

6. Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love was a fabulous film and anyone with a romantic bone in their body loved it - but it was not one for historical accuracy in the slightest. The story suggests that Shakespeare was inspired to write Romeo and Juliet after falling for his own forbidden love. However, the movie ignores that fact that, rather than being inspired by a lady love, the English playwright actually just stole the story from another writer. In fact, he has been accused of plagiarism by many who cite Arthur Brooke's 1562 The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet as his source material. Not only this, but historians claim that there was no girl in the famous writer's life who Juliet was based on. On a related note of historical inaccuracy, critics take issue with the fact that there are no black characters in the Hollywood masterpiece (London had a surprisingly large black population at the time) and the scene in which Queen Elizabeth goes to a public theatre (apparently, any plays she attended would have been in her court).

7. Dirty Dancing

No one can deny that Dirty Dancing is an absolute classic and that Patrick Swayze was a fox. Nonetheless, the 1987 romantic drama dance film wasn't perfect. To prove this, have a little look at the fashion in the film, which is set in the 1960s. While we adore the big hair and denim shorts, most of the looks seen in the movie weren't made popular until the 1980s, meaning that Baby was ridiculously ahead of her time - or the filmmakers got their time periods a little off. Never mind though, we still had the Time of Our Lives.

8. 300

It's immediately obvious that Zack Syner's breakout box office hit 300 prioritised drama over hsitory - but did you know how much? Historians were up in arms after it portrayed 300 Spartans holding a narrow pass in Thermopylae singlehandedly against a vast Persian army. Don't worry - they did manage to hold Thermopylae successfully in real life. However, they were helped out by alliances with other Greek city-states, pushing their ranks to around 7,000. Still very impressive, but ultimately not quite the same battle that is portrayed in the movie.

9. Enigma

Enigma was the 2001 espionage thriller that the tale of how German messages were encrypted during World War II. It wasn't a bad movie, but there was no denying it had its issues. Namely that it doesn't bother to mention Alan Turing, who played a pivotal role in cracking the intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis. Could they have done it without him? Who knows, but Churchchill himself even said that Turing shortened the war by two years, so we're guessing no.

10. Erin Brockovich

Hands up if you were inspired by Erin Brockovich - and even more wowed when you found out she was a real legal clerk who took down a huge corporate company which tainted a public water supply and polluted a whole town with illness. However, the film rather conveniently forgot the nitty gritty situation left after the case was won. According to reports, the single mother's firm convinced the residents of Hinkley to settle through private arbitration, which meant that things could be done in secret and the lawyers weren't accountable to anyone. Six months later, the victims received their money, but it wasn't nearly as much as they had expected because the law firm had taken an extra million for themselves for "expenses". A disappointing ending to a heroic movie.

Don't some of these just make you want to bang your head against a table repeatedly? On the bright side, even if research into historical fact was outrageous, at least we got 10 pretty awesome films out of it. We can pardon them, but can the historians out there?