History is fascinating.
Examining years gone by and humanity’s efforts to grow, adapt and change over time often makes for some of cinema’s most compelling tales, so it’s no wonder that some of the biggest blockbusters ever made were historical epics.
The problem is, Hollywood often gets so caught up in the storytelling aspect that they forget to actually depict things as they were.
So, whether we’re talking about wonky facts, skewed timelines or the simple bastardization of truth, here are 7 movies guilty of disregarding their own historical basis.
7 – Apocalypto (2006)
Mel Gibson’s historical epic might have gone over well with critics, but its historical accuracy was practically non-existent.
Apocalypto doesn’t specify exactly when it’s set, but there’s still several wildly inaccurate points and elements used throughout the movie.
The largest of these indiscretions is the general depiction of the Mayans’ way of life. Protagonist Jaguar Paw lives in a small jungle hunting village, something which would have been historically unlikely at best. The Mayans were a mostly agricultural people, and their architecture was far more sophisticated than the stick huts depicted in the movie.
There’s also the matter of the ritual sacrifice – something which drives Apocalypto‘s whole plot – which seemingly wasn’t something the Mayans ever did. This is actually more in line with the Aztecs, who were from an entirely different era.
There’s also the matter of Apocalypto‘s ending, which (spoiler alert) sees the arrival of Spaniards, something which didn’t happen until roughly 400 years after the movie’s apparent setting.
6 – 300 (2006)
Frank Miller’s 300 was based on the comic book series of the same name, and the movie has its roots there far more than it does in actual history. But, as both are retellings of the Battle of Thermopylae, it seems only fair that they’re held under the same historical microscope as other so-called “historical” movies.
While the Spartans’ armour – or blatant lack thereof – might seem cool, in reality, Spartan warriors are documented as going into battle wearing full iron armour.
There’s then the matter of the Persians. While in 300, they’re depicting as weird, other-worldly slave-drivers, the reality of the Persian Empire mostly forbid the ownership of slaves due to Zoroastrian beliefs. Ironically, Sparta actually likely possessed more slaves than Xerxes.
Still, 300‘s historical liberties shouldn’t take away from what a fantastic piece of cinema it is, so don’t let its inclusion on this list ruin it for you.
5 – U-571 (2000)
For those with an interest in more modern military history, U-571 is somewhat infamous for its wildly inaccurate story.
The movie’s plot details the US Navy’s recovery of a German Enigma machine, something which never actually happened in real life.
In fact, U-571‘s plot was so blatantly disrespectful to the British Forces (that had, in fact, intercepted and cracked the Enigma code years before the film’s setting) that the British government addressed the fictional story, and petitioned the US government to release a statement acknowledging its lack of accuracy.
It’s worth noting that at the time of America’s intervention in WWII, the British had already been decoding German codes for years, and the movie’s attempts to repaint history in a more American light was obvious and incredibly misguided.
4 – Gladiator (2000)
Despite being one of the most popular historical epics ever made, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator has its fair share of historical inaccuracies.
Early on in the movie, Emperor Marcus Aurelius is murdered by his son Commodus, when in reality, Aurelius died a far less glamorous death – he was killed by chickenpox.
There’s also the matter of Commodus’ rule, which in the movie is depicted as a short-lived dictatorship, when in fact Commodus was a popular ruler of the Roman Empire for over a decade before becoming increasingly unhinged. He also didn’t die fighting in the Colosseum, but was instead strangled in the bath by his wrestling partner Narcissus.
Honestly, we’d pay to see that alternate ending.
3 – Alexander (2004)
Alexander the Great achieved a staggering amount in his short life. Condensing his 32 years of achievements into one three-hour movie wasn’t ever going to do him any justice, but in 2004’s Alexander, it actually ended up as an insult to his memory and his historical significance.
The sheer amount of creative liberties taken with history is more than we can chronicle here, so let’s just explain the movie’s approach to depicting Alexander the Great’s many achievements.
A handful of the Macedonian General’s greatest battles were condensed in the name of streamlining the narrative, and the events of his life were jumbled and moved around to suit some vague, inexplicable purpose.
Sadly, the result doesn’t even make for a particularly good movie, and even three different director’s cut releases weren’t enough to sway critics to Alexander‘s side.
2 – Pocahontas (1995)
Disney have a habit of taking traditional folklore and historical tales and scrubbing them up a little to make the stories more family-friendly.
Nowhere is this practice more evident than in 1995’s Pocahontas, a fictionalised version of John Smith’s encounter with a young Powhatan woman.
Historically, John Smith’s encounter with Pocahontas is actually believed to have happened when she was only 10 or 11 years old, something which Disney’s willingness to literally romanticize the tale warranted an obvious change.
There’s plenty of other small tweaks and changes to the facts surrounding both Pocahontas and John Smith, but the biggest is their imagined romance – something which 100% did not happen in any existing historical account.
It’s worth mentioning that Disney did at least capture the playful, compassionate spirit that Pocahontas is said to have had, so there, at least, they did the real-life historical figure some justice.
1 – 10,000 BC
This one takes the top spot for reasons that will soon become very, very clear, but let’s start by saying that a movie set thousands of years before any historical records really begin was never going to be entirely accurate, and it would be unreasonable to hold 10,000 BC to too high a standard of historical accuracy.
That said, it’s time to pick apart the movie’s biggest historical crimes.
10,000 BC is set – you guessed it – approximately 12,000 years ago. Although our specific knowledge of that period isn’t extensive, the movie decided to go against even the small amount of facts we have about the era it’s set in.
One of the worst moments comes courtesy of desert dwelling woolly mammoths, which is ridiculous enough even before they are enlisted to help build the pyramids. Yes, those pyramids – here displayed as being built approximately 8,000 years before their documented construction.
There’s also the small matter of the tools used in the film. Despite its mesolithic setting, metal tools were used, despite their earliest use being approximated at around 6,000 years later.
10,000 BC‘s crimes are somewhat small in nature, but the fact that they’re so many thousand years away from any sort of accuracy should ensure that it’s consider more fantasy than history.
And that’s the list. Don’t forget to subscribe to get our quality content straight tt your inbox, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram @corneroffilm!