Movies based on historical events, or done as period pieces, frequently play fast and loose with actual history. This is something we can usually deal with, but sometimes it just goes too far. Sometimes movies don't so much as bend historical fact to suit their plot as they snap it into several pieces and bury it in the backyard.
Many of these movies are pure fiction, and some are purported to be based on actual events. However, in every case, there is at least one moment which is so blatantly in conflict with historical fact that we're forced to stand up and call bullshit right there in the theater. Here are seven times when our suspension of disbelief was broken by reality. How often does this happen to you?
Shakespeare in Love
Yes, the entire plot of Shakespeare in Love is a fictionalized version of the playwright's actual life. There was no character like the one portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow in the film. We can deal with that. But is it too much to ask to get the order of the plays right? At the end of Shakespeare in Love, the Queen of England commissions a play from William "for Twelfth Night." Since the plot of the play Twelfth Night shares plot elements with the movie we've just seen, we all smile at the connection. The problem is that Shakespeare apparently didn't get the play done in time for the holiday, or the next five for that matter. Nearly a dozen plays, and a several years, separate Twelfth Night from Romeo and Juliet. The queen was probably ticked off.
The Shawshank Redemption
Movie posters of beautiful actresses play an important role in the story of The Shawshank Redemption. The original novella title of Stephen King's story even includes Rita Hayworth's name. However, the most important poster in the movie is the last one, the poster of Raquel Welch in a fur bikini from the movie One Million Years B.C. It's that poster which is on the wall when Andy Dufresne escapes from Shawshank Prison, which, Red tells us in voice over, took place in 1966. The only problem is that One Million Years B.C. didn't come out in the States until 1967. We're sort of movie fans here, so this is important. It's not like the movie couldn't have kept him in prison a few more months. Maybe they released the poster super early?
Pirates of the Caribbean
The exact timeline of the Pirates of the Caribbean films has never been specifically dealt with on screen. However, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is actually given a specific date by the crew of taking place in 1750. As such, the earlier trilogy takes place at some point prior to that. This is a problem because the nation of Singapore is referenced in the first film, and traveled to in the third, and that's impossible, because colonial Singapore wasn't founded, or named that, until 1819. If Jack Sparrow had been there prior to the first movie, he would have simply found himself in one corner of the Empire of Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah II. Clearly, he's never been there.
Leap! is a silly little animated movie that is mostly harmless, and while it will likely be overlooked by audiences, there were a couple of elements in the background which cannot be overlooked. The movie is set in 1884, which is already a problem because, upon our first look at Paris, we see the Eiffel Tower, in mid-construction. This is a project which did not begin until 1887. Later on in the film, some important scenes take place around the still-under-construction Statue of Liberty. Here, the dates work out closely enough, as the statue did not begin its journey to America until 1885, but there's another problem... the statue is green. The Statue of Liberty is made primarily of copper and as such its original color was, well, copper colored. The green came about through oxidization of the copper, which took decades to occur.
Steven Spielberg's Lincoln is a great movie with a stellar performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, regardless of the fact that it's full of factual errors. We can still overlook many of them, because they're not important and everything else about the film is damn good. However, there's a little matter of the 13th Amendment. The passage of the Constitutional Amendment banning slavery within the United States was a fairly important moment in the history of this nation, and as such, it would have been nice to see it represented properly. For some reason, the movie felt -- probably to create tension -- that it was necessary for two Congressmen from Connecticut to vote against the amendment. Except the Congressional record is clear and in actuality, everybody from the state voted in favor. Who exactly did Connecticut piss off?
Yeah, ok, so bashing an animated Disney movie for its historical inaccuracy is way too easy. Still, there's a reason that most Disney movies aren't actually based on actual events. There are numerous historical problems with Pocahontas, but the one we're going to hit this movie for is one that informs everything else. While there's some question as to whether or not the story of Pocahontas saving the life of John Smith is true at all, if it is true, the woman was all of 11 years old when it happened. It makes everything about the fictional romance with the 27-year-old John Smith that much more bizarre. Maybe, if you have to age up your character by a decade to make your story less creepy, it's a sign that your story is a bad idea.
Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor is, well, terrible. Just about the only historical fact shown in the film is the fact that there was actually an attack by Japan on a Hawaiian Naval base in the 1940s. However, there's one specific element in this movie that needs to be addressed because not only is it inaccurate, it's ridiculous. In one scene Jon Voight, playing President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in an attempt to explain to his generals just how serious he is about attacking Japan, gets out of his wheelchair and stands up. FDR was paralyzed, he didn't have a sprained ankle. The attempt at this amazingly dramatic moment just falls flat for anybody who has a basic understanding of the facts.
CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.
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