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12 Movies Based On Real-Life Events That Toned Down The Most Disturbing Parts

Sometimes you can't fit everything into a movie...and sometimes the filmmakers are simply sparing the audience the disturbing details.

Movies based on true stories have a special draw. Viewers love to see a theatrical take on true events, but sometimes we're led to believe that EVERYTHING that happened in the "true story" was included.

Surprised moviegoers reacting to a film

Realistically, a lot of details have to be cut out to keep movies a reasonable length. And sometimes those details can change the whole tone of the story.

1. Take 1997's Anastasia, for example. In real life, Duchess Anastasia Romanov didn't get the fairy-tale ending her animated film counterpart did.

A woman in the snow

The film's ending shows Anastasia going off with her love interest, Dimitri, and living happily ever after, once she's finally reconnected with her family.

An animated man and a woman dance on a boat

However, as you likely know, the real story of Anastasia Romanov is quite different. She was executed in 1918 by Bolshevik revolutionaries, along with her three sisters, her little brother, and her parents, after her father, Nicholas II, was forced to abdicate the throne.

Tsarevich Alexei Romanov and three grand duchesses of Russia after the abdication of their father, Tsar Nicholas II Romanov, in Tsarskoye Selo, Russia, March 1917

2. And if you think 1997's Titanic wasn't full of enough drama and tragedy, there are some even more horrific details that were left out of the film.

Jonathan Hyde as Bruce Ismay in a lifeboat as the "Titanic" sinks in the background

While the movie focuses on the fictional character of Rose, around 1,500 real people died in the tragedy. Many of those bodies were never recovered, but one that was recovered was that of Scottish violinist John Law Humes.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack and Kate Winslet as Rose in "Titanic" in the water

Two weeks after the sinking, Humes — who was on the ship as his final performance before going home to his pregnant fiancé — was actually billed for alterations to his musician's uniform by the company that hired him to work on the Titanic. Even knowing his tragic fate, they still forwarded the bill to his next of kin.

RMS "Titanic" circa April 10, 1912

3. 2000's Remember the Titans tells the true story of coach Herman Boone, a high school football coach who led a newly integrated high school team to victory. In the epilogue of the film, we learn he went on to coach the team "for five more years."

Denzel Washington lying on the grass talking to a football player

However, the true story that inspired this heartwarming movie has a far darker ending, which explains why he stopped coaching: In 1979, Boone was fired on allegations of verbal and physical abuse of students.

US Rep JC Watts Jr looks on as former Alexandria, Virginia, high school football coaches Bill Yoast and Herman Boone discuss the film "Remember the Titans" at a podium

And in 2014, Boone said he wouldn't change a thing he did: "I don't know if anything needed to be changed, because what I thought we did, we did for the benefit of mankind."

Herman Boone, the football coach depicted by Denzel Washington in the movie "Remember the Titans," speaking at Kutztown University

4. 2009's The Blind Side is another inspiring sports movie based on the true story of Michael Oher, who rose to NFL fame after being adopted.

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The plot of the movie heavily relies on Oher's football knowledge and the skills he developed during his time at the Tuohy family home.

Tackle Michael Oher of the Carolina Panther addresses the media prior to Super Bowl 50 at the San Jose Convention Center

However, Oher wasn't thrilled with his depiction in the film, writing in his 2014 memoir: "I felt like it portrayed me as dumb, instead of as a kid who had never had consistent academic instruction and ended up thriving once he got it."

Michael Oher onstage with ESPN announcer Erin Andrews during media interview at Radio City Music Hall

5. In 2000's Erin Brockovich, the main character fights to bring truth to light for the people of Hinkley, California, after their water supply is contaminated with chromium — just like the real-life person the story is based on.

Erin Brockovich, played by Julia Roberts in the movie "Erin Brockovich," sitting by a pool at her home

But the Julia Roberts–led film leaves the happy ending at a legal victory, whereas the story unfortunately didn't end there for the real-life residents of the California town.

Julia Roberts in 1997 smiling

In 2010, the original, underground chromium plume was found to have continued to grow — a decade and a half after the IRL trial.

Erin Brockovich standing in front of a photograph of herself at the opening of "The Boomer List: Photographs by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders"

6. 2012's Argo, a critically acclaimed film starring Ben Affleck, was based on a 1979 political incident in which hostages were saved during the Iran hostage crisis under the guise of a film being made.

Ben Affleck with the award for Best Film for "Argo" in the press room at the 2013 British Academy Film Awards

The movie hails the CIA for leading the charge in getting the hostages home, but that wasn't how it actually played out.

President Jimmy Carter, Vice President Walter Mondale, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown after disembarking from their helicopter to meet about Iran hostage crisis

Jimmy Carter — who was president during the real-life events — praised the film as "great" but also noted that it was historically inaccurate, going on to credit Canada's ambassador for making it all possible.

President Carter waves as he boards a helicopter on the White House lawn to fly to Camp David, Maryland

7. Director Ron Howard cleaned up John Nash Jr.'s story in 2001's A Beautiful Mind.

John Nash in a suit and bow tie at the Governors Ball following the 74th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood

The film looks at the schizophrenic mathematician's life and his romance with a student, which is billed as his one-true-love relationship.

John Nash and actor Russell Crowe

Among the details left out about the Nobel Prize winner's life were his relationships (with men and with the mother of his child), his career (in defense, but not at the Pentagon), and his divorce.

John Nash and wife Alicia Nash pose for a photo on August 9, 2014, in Princeton, New Jersey

8. P.T. Barnum was NOT a great guy, so naturally, there was a lot of ~finessing~ done in 2017's The Greatest Showman.

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As one example, the character of Lettie Lutz, known as the "Bearded Lady," was based on Annie Jones. The film suggested the "freaks" lived together happily ever after as a big, beautiful found family — but such was not the case.

Portrait of Annie Jones, the Bearded Girl (1865–1902), standing with her mother in the 1870s

Ending up in Barnum's circus as "the Infant Esau" — allegedly earning up to $150 a week as a child — she broke away at one point during her adult life to advocate for the rights of circus performers.

Annie Jones-Elliot, a bearded woman

9. 1965's The Sound of Music addresses the emergence of Nazis in Austria in 1938, but tones their presence down. By minimizing the imagery, it downplays the severity to fit the tone of the film.

The actors playing members of the Von Trapp family in a promotional portrait for "The Sound of Music"

The real-life von Trapps managed to escape the day before Austria's borders were closed by the Nazis.

Julie Andrews as the young nun Maria, teaching the von Trapp children to sing in the musical film "The Sound of Music," 1965

There were also three more von Trapp kids than the movie depicted. In addition, they all had different names from those in the film, and Maria was a tutor for just ONE of the kids, not for all of them.

Julie Andrews played Maria, a governess to the von Trapp children

10. Disney's 1995 film Pocahontas sells a sweet love story between the titular character and John Smith.

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While Pocahontas did marry an Englishman (John Rolfe), it wasn't John Smith, who was around 17 years older than she was when they crossed paths.

Portrait of Pocahontas, who saved John Smith, leader of the Virginia colonists, from being executed by her father, Powhatan

Oh, and John Smith was by no means a good guy. "Smith's diplomacy often turned violent taking food and destroying villages," ruining the once-amicable relationship between the English and the Powhatan Indians at Jamestown, Virginia.

Illustration of Captain John Smith subduing the Indian Chief Powhatan

11. 1998's The Prince of Egypt was actually banned in Egypt because of its portrayal of a prophet. Outraged Egyptians also felt that it misled audiences about Egyptian history.

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It has been argued that the film's depiction of Hebrew slaves was historically inaccurate in that their circumstances were not associated with the idea of slavery in the modern world — which is not to say that slavery and forced labor didn't exist in the area at the time.

A view of the historical Saqqara region, which is home to the majority of historical artifacts from ancient Egypt, in Giza, Egypt, on January 26, 2023

Many Egyptians have also noted inaccuracies in the size and position of landmarks around Egypt in the fictionalized take.

Pyramids in Egypt

12. And finally: Disney's 1998 animated take on Mulan also changed some details of the story, but with 2020's live-action remake, the studio took steps toward the true story.

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For one, Mulan fought Rouran invaders, not the Hunns, as she did in the animated version. She was believed to have served between 10 and 15 years in the army before declining a government position and retiring to her village, where she revealed her true identity.

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Different tellings of the story give different endings. In some, Mulan's father dies before she returns to him. In others, she's taken captive or even takes her own life. And in some, historians argue the story is actually a culmination of folklore, and not based on facts at all.

An illustration of Mulan, a legendary figure from ancient China who takes her aged father's place in the army and fights for 12 years, gaining high merit while refusing any reward

What other "based on a true story" movies tell only part of the tale, leaving out some of the dark truth? Let's discuss in the comments.

Correction: This post has been updated to further clarify the plot of The Sound of Music.