Movies Based On True Stories That Are Mostly False – Part 2

Posted on 2 Oct 00:00

Movies have formed a vital part of human entertainment for the past century. Whether in single episodes or films in a movie franchise, we really enjoy watching movies. They raise our spirits and take us to the past, making us connect with the events and the setting. Most films are either adapted or based on something. True-life stories form a significant part of the 'something' that production teams adapt the movies from or base them on. Unfortunately, most of these movies end up being false. Chronological errors there, personality misrepresentation here, omissions, and other liberties make the films historically inaccurate. 

1)  Pearl Harbor (2001)

Pearl Harbor is a 2001 romantic war drama film whose director is Michael Bay and produced by Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer from Randell Wallace’s screenplay. The film's storyline revolves around a fictionalized story of Pearl Harbor that was attacked by the Japanese on July 7th, 1941. The movie tells of a love story that rises amid the attack, the aftermath, and the Doolittle Raid.

Director:  Michael Bay

CastBen Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hartnett, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight, Colm Feore, and Alec Baldwin are the movie's starring actors.

Awards and Nominations: The film received many nominations from different organizations like the Golden Globe, Academy Awards, Golden Raspberry Awards, Stinkers Bad Movies Awards, and Taurus World Stunt Awards. It earned two awards; the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing and MTV Award for Best Action Sequence.

Inaccuracies:  Like other historical drama movies, Pearl Harbor stirred many debates because of the producer and director's liberties, which led to historical inaccuracies. For instance, although the film features the true-life story of two Army lieutenants Affleck (First lieutenant Rafe McCawley), and Hartnett (First Lieutenant (later Captain) Daniel "Danny" Walker), only their names are real. Their personalities, as presented by the movie, widely differ from who they are in real life. The Japanese are also rendered as war-hungry savages, a distorted portrait. The film uses the radios unrealistically and quite differently from how they were used on the war day. Generally, the actions on the day of the war are exaggerated, and only the spirit reflects in the film. The attack's facts are not all represented, and even those portrayed are inaccurately represented.

2.  Marie Antoinette (2006)

Many movie buffs love the 2006 'Marie Antoinette' film that is primarily false despite being based on a true-life story. The movie features Queen Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Caroline Dunst) in the years before and during the French Revolution. France and Austria are rival countries, and Antoinette’s mother sends her to marry the Dauphin of France (Jason Francesco Schwartzman), who later becomes King Louis XV of France and Antoinette’s husband. The mission behind all this is to seal the peace between the two countries. The movie portrays all the events surrounding  how she accepts her mother's proposal, how she grows her family, and how her resulting royal family is affected by the war.

Director:  Sofia Coppola

Cast:  Kirsten Dunst and Jason Schwartzman.

Awards and Nominations:  The movie was nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Production Design awards, all of which it won.

Inaccuracies:  Despite being an artistic masterpiece, Marie Antoinette is grossly inaccurate. The story has its basis on Stefan Zweig's biography 'Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman', but it's far from what the book says. Marie is portrayed as a teenage girl who wants to go partying in extravagant clothes instead of calming as a woman. That is not true. Another factor contributing to inaccuracies in the movie is the costumes' use. The queen in the film pays exorbitantly for them, something that is exaggerated for the French Antoinette. Antoinette did have an affair with Count Ferson (Jamie Dornan), and it continued until the king and queen were killed, as the movie depicts. However, everything around the relationship is unrealistic. The places where the queen goes are all falsely presented. Coppola took responsibility for all these errors, saying that he was just trying to make things realistic and believable. Audiences received the movie well, but unfortunately, it is misleading.

3.  Apocalypto (2006)

The 2006 epic historical adventure was written by Mel Gibson who also produced, and directed. The setting is Yucatán, Mexico, and the year is 1502. It centers on Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), a hunter, whose origin is Mesoamerica. Paw and his fellow tribesmen are captured by an invading force, forcing them to set on a journey to the Mayan City (depicted as an 'unknown world) at a time when Maya’s civilization is going downhill. In Mayan City, they are to be used for human sacrifice. Paw hides his wife and child, promising to come back as he and sets out for the Mayan City.

Director:  Mel Gibson.

Cast:  Rudy Youngblood, Raoul Trujillo, Mayra Sérbulo take up the leading roles.

Awards and Nominations:  The film received Academy Awards nominations for Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Makeup. It won the Imagen awards for Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and FAITA Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor.

Inaccuracies:  Despite accolades, 'Apocalypto' received mixed reactions because of its errors. This classic film represents a time when the Mayans are not civilized; it's impossible that they were not practicing agriculture as Gibson portrays them. Also, Jaguar Paw, in the movie, lives in the forest, and that is quite unrealistic. When the invading force attacks Paw and his tribesmen, the Mayan people are far advanced. The forests are either maintained, manicured, or owned by specific people. It is impossible that the real Paw lives in the forest at this time. The costumes used in the film are also inaccurate. The women put on conservative clothes that barely cover their breasts, something that the civilized Mayans would not do. The film presents men to be used for sacrificial rituals and women being sold as slaves. There is no historical evidence for this. 

4.  Captain Phillips (2013)

'Captain Phillips' is one of the classic movies in the film industry but is primarily false. The 2013 biographical drama-thriller features a mariner, Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), who is taken hostage by the Somali pirates led by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi). Phillip’s and Stephan Talty’s 2010 'A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy seals, and Dangerous Days at Sea' book form the screenplay that Billy Ray writes and Paul Greengrass uses to direct the movie.

DirectorPaul Greengrass.

Cast: Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) and Barkhad Abdi (Abduwali Muse).   

Awards and Nominations:  The film was nominated for many awards, including the Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing.  It received several awards, including the Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor in Supporting Role, and Best Breakthrough Performance – Male awards, all won by Barkhad Abdi.

Inaccuracies:  Although this movie is influenced by the actual 2009 Maersk Alabama Hijacking, it’s far from reality. The movie presents Captain Phillips as 'the big leader.' In reality, he isn't that. One of the crew members who worked closely with him told the Guardian that no one wanted to sail with Phillips, who the film presents as heroic. Also, Greengrass overlooked the role of some crew members such as engineer Mike Perry. In the movie, he appears in minor parts and has a meager role, while the truth is he is the 'real hero' in the entire hijacking. It was he who held the chief pirate as a bargaining chip for Phillips. Though the film portrays Captain Phillips as a hero, his crew members blame him for the gross irresponsibility that led to the attack. For instance, he received multiple warnings (more than fifty emails) against moving close to the Somali Coast as many ships had been attacked. Instead of keeping at least 600 miles distance as recommended, Phillips kept 235 miles. These and other liberties make the movie inaccurate.

5.  Amistad (1997)

The 1997 historical drama film, 'Amistad',despite its basis on a true story, it is highly inaccurate. The film’s story revolves around a slave captor’s ship named 'La Amistad'. The setting begins at the Cuba Coast, and the year is 1839. Mende tribesmen from Sierra Leone are abducted to work as slaves, but they get control of the ship abroad. The film also follows the international legal battle at Washington, of a U.S. revenue cutter that captures them. The U.S Supreme Court finally resolved the case in 1841.

Director:  Steven Spielberg

Cast:  Morgan Freeman (Theodore Joadson), Anthony Hopkins (John Quincy Adams), Djimon Hounsou (Sengbe Pieh/Joseph Cinque), and Matthew McConaughey (Roger Sherman Baldwin).

Awards and Nominations:  Amistad film received many nominations, including Best Cinematography, Best Actor, and Best Sound. It also won other awards such as Best Cinematography, Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture, and Best Supporting Actor awards.

Inaccuracies:  Despite its basis being on a true story in the 1987 book 'Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt' and Its impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy, Amistad has lots of inaccuracies. What the film suggests as the final verdict is far different from reality. The  U.S. Supreme Court decided to reverse District and Circuit decrees regarding the Africans' conveyance back to Africa. Although they were to be rendered free, the U.S. government would never be responsible for ferrying them back to Africa. They had arrived on American soil as free people and not slaves. The film also unfairly summarizes Adam's closing speech before the Supreme Court and what Justice Joseph Story reads as the final verdict. In the movie, a Royal Navy schooner calls a fellow officer 'ensign,' a term that the Royal Navy has never used. The film portrays the complex white historical figures as noble and never reveals their evil and racist treatment of the blacks. The Amistad Africans have to pay their white defenders and friends, but the movie overlooks this.

6.  Amadeus (1984)

Many movie goers love this classic 1984 period biographical drama film whose setting is Austria's Vienna as the 18th century nears its end. The fictionalized story centers on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce), from the moment he leaves Salzburg. Mozart plays excellent music that forms the film's soundtrack. Despite the superb music, Mozart has a fictional rivalry with Antonio Salieri (Antonio Salieri), an Italian composer.

Director:  Miloš Forman using Peter Sheffer’s screenplay that Peter adopted from his Amadeus stage play. 

CastF. Murray Abraham (Antonio Salieri) and Tom Hulce (Mozart).

Awards and Nominations:  Amadeus was a tremendous success in the market and was nominated for 53 awards and earned 40, including eight Academy Awards, such as the Academy Award for Best Picture, four Golden Globe Awards, and four BAFTA Awards.

Inaccuracies:  The film has attracted critics from historical humanitarians following its many historical inaccuracies. First, the film positions Salieri to be commissioning Mozart’s requiem. Many people, however, have come to agree that the commissioner was a count who wanted to commemorate his late wife and secretly plotted to plagiarize the music and claim its ownership. The film also involves Salieri in writing the requiem as Mozart nears his death. The truth is, Mozart told a man called Süssmayr how to complete the requiem when he was dying. Also, the rivalry that Forman creates between the Italians and Germans is indeed false. Although the film portrays Salieri to have killed Mozart, nobody thinks that he really did it.

7)  The Sound of Music (1959)

'The Sound of Music' is one of the oldest movies remembered in legend despite its historical discrepancies.  The 1965 musical drama was adapted from Rodgers Richard’s stage musical, 'The Sound of Music'. The film is based on the 1949 memoir 'The Story of the Trapp Family Singers' by Maria von Trapp. She is sent to the villa of a retired naval officer who is a widower to govern his seven kids. The governess brings love and music to the family, marries the family, and together with the seven children, they pull through their home's loss to the Nazis.

Director:  Robert Wise is the producer and the director.

CastJulie Andrews and Christopher Plummer are the film's main actors.

Awards and Nominations:  The film saw success upon release. It was nominated for many roles and won several, including Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Picture.

Inaccuracies:  The movie has lots of errors. First, when the family escaped the country, they did so with nine children. The film shows the family moving with seven children. Second, the movie alters the children's names, sexes, and ages from what they truly were. The postulant came to the family to be Maria’s tutor, and not the seven children’s governess as the film makes it appear. The movie presents Maria to be helping the family to enjoy music, while in reality, the von Trapps was already a musically-inclined family, and Maria only taught them to be better singers. These are the major discrepancies that render 'The Sound of Music' as mostly false.


Many movies we enjoy watching are mostly false despite being based on true stories.

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