Historical Inaccuracies From 11 Oscar-Winning Movies That Will Change The Way You See Them
Over the course of the Academy Awards' 88-year history, the Oscar has gone to its fair share of movies that were based on true events. The word "based" is extremely important here, though — many of the awards show's Best Picture nominees may be based on real people and true events, but they're certainly not documentaries. That's a category all its own. No, these films take liberties with their stories in hopes of making things more entertaining for the audience. And since many of them ended up going home with a little gold man, it seems that plan worked. Even at the expense of many history class teachings, being that all of these Best Picture Oscar winners are filled with historical inaccuracies.
Hate to break it to you, but Jack Dawson didn't really go down with the Titanic, and Maria von Trapp wasn't actually spinning in the Alps. And hope you have some free time on your hands, since there's a very long list of inaccuracies when it comes to Mel Gibson's take on William Wallace in Braveheart. Let's just say, no kilt in Scotland is big enough to cover up these historical inaccuracies.
When it comes to these eleven films, some of them only differ from the truth slightly, while others basically rewrite history. These historical epics were clearly heavy on the epic and light on the historical. Either way, these films show you can be wrong and still feel right to Academy voters.
1. Titanic (1997)
James Cameron's movie was never meant to be an historical account of the Titanic's actual sinking, but he did include some real life historical figures on his boat including "The Unsinkable" Molly Brown, who did really commandeer a lifeboat, and the ship's builder, Thomas Andrews, who reportedly did go down with the ship. But, in the case of Titanic's First Officer William Murdoch, who commits suicide after shooting one of the passengers on board, the movie couldn't be more wrong.
His family felt that the scene was not only inaccurate, but would tarnish Murdoch's reputation as a hero who, according to historians, helped others get to safety before losing his own life. "If someone says to you somebody in the family committed suicide when he hadn't, you take objection," his nephew, Scott Murdoch told the BBC.
In the end, the movie apologized to the Murdoch family by giving them a £5,000 donation for the William Murdoch Memorial Prize at the Dalbeattie High School in his homeland of Scotland.
2. Sound of Music (1965)
This Julie Andrews film was the story of Maria von Trapp set to the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein. But even though it was based on von Trapp's memoir, in which she explains how she and her family flee from the Nazis, the movie did alter a few things for the musical including Maria's maiden name, the names and ages of the children and just how many she was the governess to. In actuality, Maria was brought in to help tutor George von Trapp's sick daughter, not all seven children. And sorry to burst anyone's bubble, but the Von Trapp family did not escape by walking over the Alps. Instead, according to Prologue Magazine, the family escaped by hopping on a train to Italy, making one more stop in London before arriving in the United States.
3. Shakespeare In Love (1998)
The makers of this romantic dramedy inspired by William Shakespeare never intended to make a biographical film, which is a good thing since it definitely got some things wrong. Queen Elizabeth I coming to see Shakespeare's play is a little unbelievable being that if she was to see this show, it most definitely would have been in her own court. The Queen does not go to you, you come to her. The movie also has fun with the timeline, showing that after writing Romeo and Juliet in 1593, Shakespeare writes Twelfth Night. But in real life, that play was written seven years after Romeo and Juliet.
These may seem small, but there were also some other key details that were lost in this translation. In the movie, Shakespeare is a poor playwright working on what would become Romeo and Juliet — though here it's called Romeo and Ethel, The Pirate's Daughter which I'm sorry to say was never a possible title. Mainly because "Romeo and Juliet" actually was a thing before Shakespeare.
According to American Repertory Theater, The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet was a popular 1562 narrative poem by Arthur Brooke that obviously inspired Shakespeare, not his affair with Gwyneth Paltrow's Viola. But, no matter, since as writer Tom Stoppard told the New York Times, "This film is entertainment, which doesn't require it to be justified in the light of historical theory."
4. Braveheart (1995)
They may never take William Wallace's freedom, but Mel Gibson could certainly take his story and run with it. The film about the Scottish warrior who led his people in the First War of Scottish Independence against Edward I of England was actually inspired by a 15th century epic poem, The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie, that many historians have claimed is not very accurate. The name of the poem's author may give some clue to why: Blind Harry.
But, the writer of the film, Randall Wallace (no relation), also seemed to fill in some blanks with impossible details including William Wallace's affair with Princess Isabella, who would have been three years old at the time. But the mistakes don't stop there. That plaid kilt Gibson wears wasn't designed until 300 years after the movie takes place. This film has been cited as one of the most historically inaccurate movies of all time, so maybe just enjoy the epicness of it all and don't get too bogged down by any of the "facts."
5. Gladiator (2000)
This was the first of Russell Crowe's back-to-back Best Picture wins, and the first to get its history a little mixed up. This is surprising, being that director Ridley Scott hired historical consultants to help get the Roman Empire right in this story of a man's journey from general to slave. Though it was reported that at least one consultant allegedly left the film because of changes being made to the script.
Maximus was not a real person, but historical figures do make their way into the film and some of their biography has been changed for entertainment purposes. Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius did die, but he wasn't killed by his son, Commodus, it was in battle. Commodus also was not murdered in the gladiator arena, he was killed in the bath by the wrestler Narcissus. The film also portrays Commodus' reign has been short, when in fact, he was in charge for 12 years. Roman historian Allen Ward also noted that there were battles in the film that never happened, that German shepherd we see was not a breed during this time and that there are Latin inscriptions with incorrect grammar throughout the film.
6. Argo (2012)
This Ben Affleck-directed thriller looks at the so-crazy-it-can't-be-real tale of how the CIA used a fake sci-fi movie to get Americans out of Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis. But, the movie may have oversold America's role in the escape at the expense of our Canadian friends. A CTV News story out of Vancouver claims Argo "fiddles with the facts" by allegedly minimizing the Canadian authorities who helped. President Jimmy Carter agreed, telling CNN, "90 percent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA." Carter, who was president during the hostage crisis, does however say the movie is great. Inaccurate, but great.
7. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Director Ron Howard made it clear that this movie about a mathematician John Nash was never meant to be a literal interpretation of his life. "I thought it was my job to try and put the audience inside this character's head, and try to offer some insight," Howard told About.com. Perhaps this is why Nash's own life differs so much from the movie version starring Crowe.
Besides the Nobel Laureate in Economics' wife, Alicia, most other characters in the film are made up for artistic purposes, while Nash's eldest son from a previous marriage doesn't even appear in the movie. Nash's schizophrenia reportedly happened later in his life, but in the film, he begins having hallucinations while in grad school. Hallucinations some say are totally inaccurate to the disease.
The movie wasn't explicit about Nash's alleged homosexual experiences and the claims of anti-semitism, both of which are referenced in Nash's biography, and some critics said those elements should have been in the film. However, Nash's wife denied that neither claim about Nash was true on 60 Minutes. All in all, If you're looking to know more about Nash's actual life, probably better off checking out the PBS documentary A Brilliant Madness.
8. The Hurt Locker (2009)
Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to ever win a Best Picture Oscar with a war film that wasn't the first to fudge some of its details. The film looks at the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team during the Iraq War, but Iraq War veteran, Kate Hoit claimed the movie doesn't paint an accurate picture of what went on there. Hoit told the Huffington Post shortly after The Hurt Locker's release that the streets of Baghdad in the film, set in 2004, were "clean, almost too clean" and that the soldiers are allegedly wearing the wrong uniforms. "How hard would it have been to get this correct?" she asked.
Hoit also said that there is no way the bomb squad would be in the streets alone dismantling an explosive, they would always have some backup to protect them. But in her opinion, this is only one of many protocols that the movie gets wrong, mentioning that no one would be drinking alcohol in a war zone or rolling up their sleeves in a combat zone. She also warns that one of the most heartwarming moments in the film — Jeremy Renner's character's attempt to find out what happened to an Israeli boy — was "total crap."
"While I watched that scene I automatically thought, there isn't a soldier in the world who would leave their base and run through Baghdad unless they were trying to commit suicide," Hoit wrote. Though, Hoit does admit even with its inaccuracies it is more believable than other recent war movies. She's definitely not a fan of the Ryan Phillippe movie Stop-Loss.
9. Amadeus (1984)
This Milos Forman film looks at the rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the composer Antoni Salieiri — even hypothesizing that Salieiri was behind Mozart's death at the age of 35. In reality, this rivalry seems to have been created long after his passing and was likely a result of the warring German and Italian schools of music. As Flavorwire points out, Salieiri was later hired by Mozart's wife to be the tutor of their son. Probably not something you'd do if he was the one who killed your husband.
The Guardian also points out that the first historical inaccuracy comes seconds into Amadeus with Salieiri cutting his own throat — a rumor spread by Ludwig van Beethoven's nephew, Karl, that has never been verified. They also take umbrage with the film's portrayal of Salieiri being a "sexually frustrated, dried-up old bachelor," being that he had eight children by his wife, and perhaps a mistress. Though, they do feel the film Mozart's annoying personality right. Yep, the real Mozart likely did have a passion for potty humor.
10. The King's Speech (2010)
The story of King George VI (Colin Firth) and his stammer may have been a feel good movie, but it was also a bit of an exaggerated one. As The Daily Beast points out, George VI started working with his speech therapist Lionel Logue much earlier than the film shows and that George VI's stutter was never quite as bad as it appears in the film. "In fact, it was relatively mild," the site reported, "and when he was concentrating hard on what he was saying it disappeared altogether."
They also say it is "highly unlikely" that Logue would have called the King by his nickname "Bertie" or cursed in front of him. George is royalty, after all.
11. Schindler's List (1993)
When you think Best Picture Oscar winners, this Steven Spielberg movie about Oskar Schindler, a businessman and Nazi Party member who ends up saving hundreds of Jews from extermination, is probably who comes to mind. But, it should be said the film's portrayal is not entirely factual. In a 1994 letter to the editor at The New York Times, one Holocaust survivor claimed there were many inaccuracies in Schindler's List , including the fact that Schindler's jews were unlikely to have arrived at the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers. Though, the writer points out other mistakes about the actual setup of the gas chambers, he does say the film does get at what it was like in those camps. "It is impossible to portray in a movie the horror of Auschwitz or any other death camp," he writes. "But Mr. Spielberg's film gives a new generation at least an inkling of what the Holocaust was about."
The Jewish Chronicle Online though disagreed, writing in a 2013 piece that Spielberg's film was the most prolific movie about the Holocaust, giving some a history lesson that is not entirely correct. Specifically, the writer claimed that the film "embed[s] a narrative of Jewish weakness and passivity, in which Jews were nearly always portrayed as undeserving victims," since the focus of the film is not on those who suffer, but those who are in charge. They also mention that the film's focus on survivors, instead of the six million who were lost, and the film's rather cheery ending "gave a distorted view of the Holocaust."
While these historical errors shouldn't stop you from enjoying these films, it should encourage you to perhaps open a book before sourcing any of these movies in a history paper.
Images: Paramount Pictures; Giphy (10)