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21 Surprisingly Inaccurate Movies That Are Based On True Stories

You might be surprised to hear how much of Cool Runnings is made up.

Recently we asked the BuzzFeed Community to share the worst inaccuracies they've seen in movies that claim to be based on true stories. Here are some of the worst offenders.

1. Pocahontas

Walt Disney, Hulton Archive / Getty Images

What the film's about: An English settler exploring the New World falls in love with a young Native American woman called Pocahontas. The film follows their romance, and their attempts to make peace between the English colonists and the Powhatan tribe.

What happened in real life: For starters, Pocahontas wasn't her actual name. It was a nickname given to her, meaning "playful one". Her real name was Amonute, or Matoaka, which was used in more private settings. And the romance between her and John Smith? It's unlikely, considering that Pocahontas was said to have been 10 or 11 years old in 1607. The film also propagates the "Good Indian" trope by basing its storyline on what is largely believed to be a lie told by Smith of Pocahontas saving his life and falling in love with him.


2. Argo

Warner Bros. Pictures, CIA/ Public Domain / Via

What the film's about: Under the guise of filming a science fiction film, a CIA agent, Tony Mendez, rescues six Americans in Tehran, Iran during the US hostage crisis in 1979.

What happened in real life: Although much of the movie downplays Canada's involvement, in real life it was an integral part of the rescue mission. The six Americans were housed in the Tehran residences of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, and Canadian diplomat John Sheardown, who doesn't warrant an appearance in the movie. Unlike the movie, the Canadians weren't just "innkeepers", providing the Americans with a safe base of operations. They obtained copies of visas by sending people in and out of Iran, coached the six Americans on sounding Canadian, and Taylor's wife personally purchased three sets of airline tickets for them. With that being said, the movie's thrilling airport scene, which is filled with last-minute complications involving authorisation of the group's tickets and the discovery of their identities, was all made up. According to the real life Mendez, the trip was "as smooth as silk" and the team encountered no major difficulties. Other inaccuracies related to the film were pointed out in a series of tweets by the CIA.


3. Cool Runnings

Walt Disney Pictures, David Yarrow / Getty Images

What the film's about: Four Jamaican sprinters who failed to qualify for the 1988 Summer Olympics enlist the help of a disgraced coach to start the first Jamaican bobsleigh team.

What happened in real life: While it's based on a true story, Cool Runnings had a huge flair for creative license. The characters, for example, are mostly fictional. There was no coach named Irving "Irv" Blitzer, and the real team actually had several trainers. They also weren't failed sprinters, but were recruited from the Army by two Americans, George Finch and William Maloney, who were interested in push cart racing and bobsledding. During the Olympics, the movie infers that the Jamaicans are outcasts who are ridiculed by the other teams. In reality they received a warm reception, were immensely popular, and even borrowed equipment from other teams. There's a whole bunch of other inaccuracies too, including the difference in the aftermath of the crash scene, and the fact that the Jamaican team were never close to being a medal contender.


4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

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What the film's about: While traveling to Texas, a group of friends fall victim to a man called Leatherface and his gruesome family of cannibals.

What happened in real life: Although The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was marketed as a true story, its plot is entirely fictional. According to director Tobe Hooper, the misinformation was a deliberate attempt in response to being "lied to the government about things that were going on all over the world", including Watergate, the 1973 oil crisis, and the Vietnam War. With that being said, the character of Leatherface was inspired by the crimes of real-life murderer Ed Gein, who fashioned trophies and keepsakes from human bones and skin. With the recent remake of the 1974 movie, people still continue to debate the authenticity of Leatherface, so much so that some prisons have had to squash rumours about the existence of such a person.


5. Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Universal Pictures, Nicholas Hilliard/ Library of Congress, Washington, D.C./ Public Domain / Via

What the film's about: Set during "The Golden Age" of England, a mature Queen Elizabeth I finds her rule challenged by the Spanish Armada. As she prepares to go to war, she struggles to balance her royal duties with her unexpected romance with Sir Walter Raleigh.

What happened in real life: An early inconsistency is the discussion of Elizabeth's relationship with Raleigh. The story sets the tone of Elizabeth going to great lengths to continue her love affair. In reality, the Queen was often referred to as the Virgin Queen as she strived to place the needs of the state above her own romantic desires. This makes their love story unlikely, especially considering that there's also no evidence to suggest a real-life romance between them. Additionally, Raleigh is positioned as a dashing hero who sails directly into the Spanish fleet alone. The real Raleigh was actually instructed to stay on shore to organise land defences, while Sir Francis Drake and Lord Howard of Effingham, who don't appear in the film, were in charge of leading the English fleet.


6. Braveheart

20th Century Fox,

What the film's about: A Scottish rebel called William Wallace begins a revolt against King Edward I of England after the love of his life is slaughtered.

What happened in real life: Put simply, the timeline and sequence of events in Braveheart don't make any historical sense. The film opens with King Edward conquering Scotland following the death of Alexander III in 1280. In reality, King Alexander III ruled until 1286 and the rebellion led that Wallace leads happens later in 1296. If we're still following the film's timeline, we see Isabella of France, who is married to Edward II, fall pregnant with Edward III after engaging in an affair with Wallace. This is another made up storyline considering that Isabella was not only nine years old at the time, but was living in France. Other inaccuracies include the blue face paint and kilts worn by the Scottish, which most likely didn't exist in real Wallace's time, as well as the Battle of Stirling Bridge being portrayed on a field instead of an actual bridge. Wallace was also never called "Braveheart" – that was a title given to Robert the Bruce, a Scottish hero who is portrayed as a traitor in the film.


7. The Greatest Showman

20th Century Fox, Harvard Library/ Public Domain / Via

What the film's about: An ambitious entrepreneur and showman by the name of PT Barnum creates a circus full of living curiosities that becomes a worldwide sensation.

What happened in real life: The Greatest Showman glosses over much of Barnum's problematic past, namely his exploitation of marginalised groups to draw crowds. It makes no mention of Joice Heith, an elderly black woman whom Barnum leased and marketed as George Washington's 161-year-old nursemaid. She was brought on tour, despite being unwell, completely blind, and unable to movie easily, while contributing vastly to Barnum's initial success as a showman. Even though Heith died just months after becoming part of Barnum's show, he sought to profit off her death by hosting a live autopsy for paying customers. The film also plays up the romance between Jenny Lind and Barnum who, in reality, kept things strictly professional between them. Meanwhile the characters played by Zac Efron and Zendaya are pure fiction, and are used as an attempt to discuss the racial tensions of the era. This falls short, however, considering that Barnum, who is portrayed as being tolerant of their relationship, continually presented racist stereotypes when promoting and displaying his "living curiosities" in real life.


8. Artemisia

Miramax Zoë, Artemisia Gentileschi/ Public Domain / Via

What the film's about: Artemisia is the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, a renowned Italian painter, and is encouraged by her father to follow his trade. She soon falls in love with Agostini Tassi, one of her father's students, who is unfairly charged with rape allegations after being caught in bed with Artemisia.

What happened in real life: While the film chooses to portray Artemisia and Tassi as consensual lovers, the reality is far from that. In 1612 Tassi was charged and convicted of the rape of Artemisia. According to the transcript of the trial, Artemisia had testified under oath and torture that she had been raped, whereas in the movie she denies the rape allegations. Tassi is also shown to influence Artemisia's art through his ability to visualise landscapes. This isn't true, considering that none of Artemisia's works focused on landscapes, or, as the film suggests, images of the nude male body.


9. Amadeus

Orion Pictures, Barbara Krafft/ Public Domain / Via

What the film's about: Antonio Salieri, a classical composer, becomes jealous of his younger rival's success and talent. His jealously soon turns into revenge as he confesses to the murder of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

What happened in real life: The entire storyline of the movie revolves around this alleged rivalry between Mozart and Salieri. But there's no clear proof of any sort of bitterness between these two composers in real life. For example in one of Mozart's letters he mentions picking up Salieri and his wife on his way to a performance, which, at the very least, suggests being on amicable terms. The only rumours of a supposed feud come from Alexander Pushkin's play written in 1830 which depicted the murder of Mozart by Salieri.


10. Captain Phillips

Columbia Pictures, Pete Souza/White House / Via

What the film's about: While sailing off the coast of the Horn of Africa, Captain Richard Phillips and his crew aboard the MV Maersk Alabama are hijacked by Somali pirates. Phillips gives himself up to protect the ship, and is taken hostage by Abduwali Muse, the pirate leader.

What happened in real life: Crew members aboard the real life MV Maersk Alabama paint a much different picture of the supposedly-heroic Captain Phillips. The sailors, who have filed a lawsuit against Maersk Line and the Waterman Steamship Corp, have said that "Phillips wasn't the big leader like he is in the movie", and was renowned for his bad reputation as a sullen and self-righteous captain. Although the movie packages the captain as giving himself up for the safety of the crew, their suit claims that it was actually Phillips' irresponsible behaviour and failure to adhere to safety warnings that contributed to the attack.


11. Fargo

Gramercy Pictures, Supershabashnyi / Getty Images

What the film's about: A financially desperate car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard, hires two criminals to kidnap his wife in order to collect ransom money from her wealthy father. Things don't go exactly as planned when the thugs shoot a state trooper and two eyewitnesses, resulting in an investigation by a suspicious police chief.

What happened in real life: Declarations of factual basis were immediately presented in the opening title card of Fargo which stated that the kidnapping, string of murders, and wood chipper incident took place in Minnesota in 1987. But after the story was incorrectly linked to the crimes of T. Eugene Thompson in 2015, the Coen Brothers set the record straight, saying that "[Fargo] is completely made up. Or, as we like to say, the only thing true about it is that it's a story." Even so, the events depicted in the film have been confirmed by the Coens to be linked to two real-life crimes: A General Motors employee who committed fraud by toying with serial numbers, and the murder of Helle Crafts, whose body was disposed of in a wood chipper.


12. 300

Warner Bros. Pictures, National Museums Scotland/ Creative Commons / Via

What the film's about: King Leonidas leads his 300-strong army of Spartans into battle against the force of 300,000 Persians at Thermopylae.

What happened in real life: Easily the biggest liberty that 300 takes is in reference to the Spartan army. While there were 300 Spartan soldiers at the Battle of Thermopylae, the film fails to mention the 7,000 other Greeks who were allied to Sparta. King Leonidas also makes a historically inaccurate statement when he tries to insult the Greeks by referring to them as "boy lovers". Ironically, the Spartans practiced a form of pederasty in their education system as a means of turning a boy into a warrior. Other inaccuracies include the lack of body armour on the Spartans, the inclusion of charging elephants and rhinos used by the Persians, and the portrayal of King Xerxes as a hairless giant covered in gold chains and piercings.

– Alexander Boschkov, Facebook

13. Anastasia

20th Century Fox, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress / Via

What the film's about: An orphan named Anya is believed by two con men to share a startling likeness to the last surviving child of the Russian royal family. They seek out the Dowager Empress to claim a reward while Rasputin, a dangerous sorcerer, tries to stop them.

What happened in real life: In 1917 Anastasia, the daughter of Russian Tsar Nicholas II, and her family were placed under house arrest during the February Revolution. After a year of imprisonment, Anastasia and her family were executed by Bolshevik troops in a basement in Ekaterinburg. Owing to the fact that the family's bodies were buried in two unmarked graves that weren't discovered for several years, there was speculation that Anastasia and her brother Alexi had survived. The fairytale mystery, however, came to an end when DNA testing of bone fragments matched those of the two missing Romanov children. Contrary to what the movie shows, Rasputin wasn't directly responsible for the Romanov's fate. He was close to the family, acting as a holy man that attempted to relieve Alexei's hemophilia, and was later murdered by Felix Yussupov.


14. A Beautiful Mind

DreamWorks Pictures, Peter Badge/ Creative Commons / Via

What the film's about: After publishing an acclaimed paper on game theory, John Nash, a brilliant mathematician, is invited to the Pentagon to conduct secret work in cryptography. Nash begins to suffer from intense hallucinations that take a toll on his life's work and his family. He later learns he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and struggles to deal with the effects of his condition.

What happened in real life: A Beautiful Mind generally remains faithful to the biography it was based on. It does, however, have some glaring omissions, including Nash's sexuality and relationships with other men, an illegitimate son, and the deterioration of his marriage to Alicia. For example, Nash doesn't use his Nobel Prize acceptance speech to pay tribute to his wife. In reality Nash was not asked to speak, but later gave a short speech at party without mentioning Alicia. It's also important to note that the real John Nash never experienced visual hallucinations. His symptoms mainly presented themselves as delusions, with some auditory hallucinations like hearing voices.


15. The Revenant

20th Century Fox, Public Domain / Via

What the film's about: During a fur trading expedition in 1823, an explorer by the name of Hugh Glass is left for dead by members of his hunting team after being mauled by a bear. Spurred on by the murder of his son, Glass embarks on a mission of survival and revenge.

What happened in real life: Although The Revenant is based on a real-life incident that happened in 1823, it's worth noting that Glass never spoke or wrote about a bear attack. Instead his story was published in a literary magazine and newspapers in 1825, meaning there's not much historical merit to back it up in the first place. There's also no evidence to suggest Glass had a Pawnee wife, let alone a half-Pawnee son who was murdered by John Fitzgerald, which makes the theme of revenge in the movie redundant. According to historians, Glass did go looking for Fitzgerald and John Bridger, the men who abandoned him in the movie, but eventually forgave them and moved on with his life.


16. The Blind Side

Warner Bros. Pictures, Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images, John Shearer / Getty Images

What the film's about: Homeless teen Michael Oher is taken in by Leigh Anne Tuohy and her husband Sean. They eventually become his legal guardians, and help Michael realise his potential as a football player.

What happened in real life: The Blind Side greatly simplifies Michael's adoption by the Tuohy family. Unlike in the movie, Leigh Anne doesn't immediately offer Michael a place to stay after encountering him on the roadside. She did take him shopping for clothes the next day, but it took months before Michael was welcomed into the Tuohy home. During this period Michael stayed with Tony Henderson, the school's custodian, as well as a number of other families who aren't mentioned. For dramatic flair, the film chose to dumb down Michael's knowledge of football, a decision which the real life Michael wasn't too happy about. Ultimately he believed The Blind Side was a poor representation of his life, and blamed it on his downgrading as a player.

– Kristin Johnston, Facebook

17. Titanic

20th Century Fox, Francis Godolphin Osbourne/ Public Domain / Via

What the film's about: On board the Titanic, two passengers from different social classes become romantically involved. After the ship collides with an iceberg, the pair struggle to stay alive.

What happened in real life: Although Titanic was never intended to be a faithful interpretation of historical events, it did play a role in spreading some inaccurate truths. For example, the character of William McMaster Murdoch, who is based on a real-life person, is shown to be shooting passengers in a panicked state before killing himself. Eyewitness reports tell a completely different story, praising his heroic efforts in organising the launch of lifeboats during the last few hours before the Titantic sank. Murdoch's relatives were outraged by the inaccurate portrayal which resulted in a personal apology from one of the producers. Another point worth mentioning is the film's depiction of third-class passengers being forcibly held below decks, preventing them from reaching lifeboats. Although the gates did exist, there is no historical evidence of this happening. Instead they were used to prevent the spread of infectious diseases between different classes, meaning that Jack and Rose had little chance of meeting in real life.

– Amelia K Tumlin, Facebook

18. The Patriot

Columbia Pictures, James Dabney McCabe/ Public Domain / Via

What the film's about: Benjamin Martin is a widowed farmer with a brave but brutal military past. After his eldest son is ruthlessly murdered by a British officer, he takes up the challenge of leading the American Revolution.

What happened in real life: The misleading portrayal of British soldiers in The Patriot generated the most controversy. The church arson scene in particular, where the redcoats lock up innocent civilians and set the building on fire, gave the impression of the British acting like bloodthirsty barbarians. This extends to the film's villain Tavington, who is presented as a brutal and unforgiving soldier. The problem is there's no historical evidence to support anything like this happening during the American Revolution. Additionally the hero of the film, Benjamin Martin, is formed from several real-life counterparts, including one man who actively slaughtered Indians for fun and regularly raped his female slaves. But as pointed out by director Spike Lee, the issue of slavery is one The Patriot ultimately chooses to completely sidestep.


19. Pearl Harbour

Buena Vista Pictures, US Navy/ Public Domain / Via

What the film's about: Two childhood friends, Rafe and Danny, become caught up in the raging events of World War II as they enlist in the US Air Force and become pilots. Soon enough they both become involved with the same woman, and are reunited in Hawaii just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

What happened in real life: Despite Pearl Harbour being a box office success, it mainly received negative reviews from critics citing its many historical inaccuracies. There were small errors made, like the characters smoking Marlboro Lights which weren't available until 1972, to bigger mistakes like portraying one of the pilots as dyslexic when his real life counterpart wasn't. Another controversial example is the scene where Danny and Rafe heroically hold off the attacking Japanese by themselves. In reality there were as many as 90 American men thought to be in the air during the raid. Japanese bombers also didn't deliberately aim for hospitals and medical professionals, and Admiral Kimmel was only notified of an enemy submarine attack until after the bombs began falling. There are too many to list, but it's worth reading up on if you're interested.


20. The Theory Of Everything

Universal Pictures, NASA/ Creative Commons / Via

What the film's about: The life of celebrated physicist, Stephen Hawking, is chronicled, including his academic achievements, relationship to Jane Hawking, and his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

What happened in real life: While the film doesn't stray too far from Jane's book, Travelling to Infinity, it does romanticise a number of key points in their relationship. Although Jane and Stephen are shown to disagree about their beliefs in religion, they still challenge one another in intellectual debates about God's existence. At one point Stephen even admits to the possibility of a higher existence. In her book, however, Jane writes of those conversations becoming more "personal, divisive, and hurtful" as Stephen's atheism intensified over the years. When Stephen decides to leave Jane for Elaine, his nurse, the movie depicts their separation as sad but mutual. This is not at all how Jane describes it in her memoir. Elaine and her husband accompanied the Hawkings on a vacation where a heated argument erupted. Afterwards, Stephen announced his decision to live with Elaine. Besides Jane and Stephen's relationship, there are also some inaccuracies with Stephen's diagnosis and the manner by which Jane finds out about it.


21. The Imitation Game

The Weinstein Company, Creative Commons / Via

What the film's about: Alan Turing and a team of fellow mathematicians are hired by the British Government to decrypt German messages sent by the Enigima machine during World War II.

What happened in real life: The main premise of The Imitation Game is Turing's invention of Christopher, a code-breaking machine named after his childhood love. In reality, the machine that broke the Enigma code was called the Bombe. It was built by both Turing and Gordon Welchman, who is not depicted in the film, and was based on an earlier design by Polish cryptology experts. Additionally a major theme of the movie revolves around Turing's hidden sexuality. One plot point involves John Cairncross threatening to expose him, but this is pure fiction considering that they worked in separate units at Bletchley Park and most likely never met. There was also controversy over the inaccurate portrayal of Alastair Denniston, Turning's relationship with Joan Clarke, and the implications the movie made about Turing's death.


Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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