When it comes to making great movies, sometimes you just can't do any better than real life. Sometimes you can't create a story that's any more amazing than the things people have actually done. However, quite often, those stories aren't perfect, and then a movie that tries to improve on the reality ends up losing much of what made the real events special.
This weekend, we'll see Andrew Garfield portray Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge. Doss was a real man, and, for the most part, the film does appear to stay close to the reality of the situation. But not every movie about real wars has been so good about that. Not every movie here is actually based on a true story, but they all contain true events that didn't quite unfold the way they were shown on screen. Starting with:
Saving Private Ryan
The quest for Matt Damon's Private Ryan so that he may be brought home alive to his grieving mother never really happened. However, D-Day absolutely did. The invasion of France was one of the largest military action's ever undertaken, but if you were to base your knowledge on what happened in the movie Saving Private Ryan, you'd think that the US was the only nation involved. However, the taking of Omaha Beach included British and Canadian forces as well as free French. None of them are ever seen or spoken to during or after the invasion. They risked their lives just as much, it would have been nice to show them a little on-screen consideration.
The Hurt Locker
The Hurt Locker won Best Picture, so surely that means its depiction of a bomb disposal team in a war zone was an accurate one, right? Not so much. While the attitudes of some of the characters likely don't make for the best Explosive Ordinance Disposal teams, from a more fact-based standpoint we can say that EOD squads don't work as three man teams who take action without communications equipment. The teams are usually about twice that size and the idea of them working without communications gear is just nuts. The Hurt Locker is praised by many for everything it got right about being in Iraq, but it missed that part.
Glory is a great movie with great performances. However, the characters they create are all wrong. Most of the characters that we get to know in Glory, like those played by Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, are runaway slaves. However, the regiment that was depicted in the movie, the 84th Massachusetts, was made up of free blacks, not runaways from the south. It makes for a better movie if those who have experienced slavery are the ones doing the fighting against those that want to save the institution, but that's just not how it happened.
Saying that there are factual inaccuracies in a Michael Bay movie is probably not the craziest thing ever said. Finding them in Pearl Harbor isn't exactly difficult, and while the vast majority of the characters in the movie are meant to be fictional, one of them does something in the film that is just too ridiculous for words. Ben Affleck's character joins the Eagle Squadron, which existed for American volunteers who wanted to fight in the Royal Air Force prior to America's involvement in World War II. The problem is that active duty members of the American Air Force were not allowed to join it. It's a minor conflict to join the active militaries of two different countries, especially when one of them isn't a party to a war yet.
The Great Escape
The events of The Great Escape actually happened. Early in the morning on March 25, 1944, 76 men crawled through a tunnel they had built and escaped a German POW camp. The thing was, they were all English. Steve McQueen's character of Virgil Hilts didn't exist, at all. There was no motorcycle chase through the countryside. All of that was added because in 1963, even more so than today, studios were afraid that a Hollywood movie without Americans in it would fail at the box office. The tale is perfectly amazing, and tragic, without making the star of the picture a guy who didn't actually do a damn thing.
Battle of the Bulge
Along with the invasion of France at D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge was one of the turning points of World War II. However, you'd have a completely inaccurate view of what the actual battle looked like, which is sort of a big deal when your movie is named after the battle. The battle was launched from the Ardennes Forest area of Europe, and yet the battle takes place primarily on flat, open terrain. The weather is also remarkably lovely during the fights in the movie, something that would not have actually been the case considering the battle took place in December and January.
Where does one even begin with this one? U-571 is so inaccurate that it actually offends people. English people, to be precise. The film depicts the American capture of a German submarine in order to obtain an Enigma machine so that the Allies can attempt to break the German codes. Americans never came close to being the ones that achieved this huge success. The British captured the first Enigma machine in May of 1941, before the U.S. was even involved in World War II. The events of U-571 don't even take place until a year later, so even if the events of the film were true, they're also unnecessary.