So the movie Belle comes out in the U.S. today, and in case you haven’t heard of it, you’re in for a real (if extraordinarily historically innacurate) treat.
It’s an entire film based on the 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of Admiral John Lindsay and an enslaved African woman in his household known as Maria Belle. Dido was sent to live with her uncle, William Murray, the 1st Earl of Mansfield, where she was brought up as a free gentlewoman while her uncle made some really crucial and ground-breaking rulings on the legality of slavery in Britain.
That’s all very interesting, but it also happens to be pretty much everything we know about this woman, except that she spent about thirty years at Kenwood House, where her treatment and standing is essentially unknown, and later married.
But the problem is, that’s not a very interesting story, right? So why not fill in the details of her life and turn it into a 104-minute extravaganza!?!?! Which is what they did, in case you were curious. Because sometimes the true stories that movies are based on aren’t nearly exciting enough to get butts in seats. So you gotta fill in some tantalizing details, just like these other movies that made our list of the most offensively inaccurate historical movies of all time. Enjoy!
Other than the constant singing and the friendly woodland creatures, which were totally accurate to real life, probably the most egregious inaccuracy in this Disney film was the fact that a love affair sprouted up between Pocahontas and the settler John Smith. Especially considering she was only ten or eleven years old at the time. Yikes.
It’s hard to know what’s fact and what’s fiction in the mystery surrounding John F. Kennedy’s death, but Oliver Stone’s 1991 film made more than a few people pretty angry when he gave weight to one conspiracy theory over the others. The movie says that agencies as high up as the FBI and CIA conspired to kill Kennedy, and that even Lyndon Johnson was responsible for assisting with the cover-up. And even with the real-life events that it does depict, it gets them wrong, showing suspects confessing who didn’t, and neglecting to reveal that some other confessions were obtained under drugging and hypnosis.
Ah yes, where to begin? This movie was based on the real-life Battle of Thermopylae, but most aspects of the Spartan culture were portrayed incorrectly. For one thing, they didn’t go roaring into battle almost entirely naked; they wore bronze armor, and for another, the Persian king Xerxes was presumably a real-sized man, not an eight-foot tall oiled up behemoth sent her to dazzle you with his shiny shiny skin.
4. American Hustle
There are a bunch of issues, such as the fact that the character Christian Bale portrayed had absolutely no qualms about the scams he was running on people, and that the real story behind Abscam was more about political corruption than a character-filled caper. But the real problem between the movie and history was that in the original version, Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar.
Aside from the fact that the character that Russell Crowe plays never existed in real life, there are some other issues as well. Namely, that the emperor Commodus was pretty well-regarded and actually reigned for thirteen years, versus the few months or maybe couple years that Joaquin Phoenix held the throne in the film. And when he did eventually die, it wasn’t in the ring, but in the bath at the hand of a wrestler named Narcissus.
6. Marie Antoinette
Obviously there were some costuming choices for this film that were made in opposition to what actually took place, but the main inaccuracy has to do with Marie and her husband Louis’ inability to conceive. In the movie, it created a conflict because Louis is afraid of sex and refuses to have it, but in reality their delay in producing an heir was because Louis had phimosis, a condition in which the foreskin of the penis cannot be fully retracted. It was later fixed with an operation, and the two of them did ultimately have children.
The second of many films on this list to involve Mel Gibson, Braveheart took some especially egregious liberties with history. The list is long, but historians’ main problem with the story is that Scotland’s William Wallace has an affair with King Edward II’s wife, Isabella of Spain…who as it happened, was only two or three years old at the time. Just a teensy detail.
8. The Impossible
This film about the 2005 tsunami was extremely powerful and difficult to sit through, but it becomes less so if you try to do any research about it. Look around as much as you want, but it’s pretty hard to find any details of what actually happened, aside from the fact that the real-life couple was Spanish while the actors who played them in the movie were English.
9. The Patriot
Hello again, Mel Gibson! Couldn’t help but notice you made another inaccurate movie, this time about a Revolutionary War hero. In the film, he’s portrayed as a heroic, intelligent family man, but in real life, he was a slave-owner who didn’t get married until after the war, and spent some of his days raping and murdering native Cherokee peoples. Fun!
10. Won’t Back Down
This movie bills itself as a pro-teacher movie about ‘beating the system’, but when one of our editors started digging around in the true story, she found that it was essentially a propaganda film to discredit teacher’s unions. So it’s not true…at all. It’s the true story of something that might have happened if a set of circumstances took place…except they never did.
11. Shakespeare In Love
We hardly know anything about William Shakespeare himself, so any interpretation of his motives is essentially fair game. But in this particular retelling, it shows Shakespeare being inspired to write Romeo And Juliet by his own real-life romance, allowing it to instruct him as to the ending as he went. Except we know that Shakespeare borrowed heavily from (some would even say plagiarized) other sources for that particular play, and many others, so the theory that it’s an autobiography of sorts is highly inaccurate.
12. Pearl Harbor
I know, I know. How could a movie starring the impeccable Ben Affleck ever be inaccurate or crappy? Well, you start with allowing Rafe and his fighter pilot friend Danny to shoot down dozens of planes during the initial attack, even though those stationed in Hawaii that day hit far fewer. Then you send Rafe and Danny to Japan as bomber pilots, even though that makes absolutely no sense and never happened in real life, and have a crippled FDR stand up out of his wheelchair. (Because DRAMA.)
13. Elizabeth: The Golden Age
For one thing, Mary Queen of Scots was actually French, and not the Brit she was portrayed as in the film, and for another, Queen Elizabeth was almost twenty years too young in the depiction. The movie takes place in 1585, when Queen Elizabeth was fifty-two, but she was played by Cate Blanchett, who was only thirty-six at the time of filming. And for another thing, Elizabeth couldn’t have been courted by Ivan the Terrible during that period, because he died in 1584. Whoops!
14. They Died With Their Boots On
This film is often cited as one of the most ridiculous as far as inaccuracies, and it follows Civil War hero George Custer through his career, up to the Battle Of The Little Bighorn, where he would eventually lose his own life, along with two hundred of his men. First of all, it gives Custer a better record than he actually has, and implies that one of his military promotions came about solely as an administrative mistake, which isn’t true. It also shows him turning to alcohol in 1865, which is unlikely given that he’d sworn it off in 1862 after ‘an embarrassing incident’.
And then there’s the way the relationship with between the whites and the Native Americans were portrayed, with Custer shown as a sympathetic war hero who sacrifices himself to a battle he knows is hopeless, surrounded by one-dimensional Native American characters. Whereas in reality, Custer’s actions appear to have been driven by ignorance and arrogance and an underestimation of his enemy.