They say that history can be stranger than fiction, so it’s no wonder so many hit movies return to the past for their characters and drama. But no matter how much modern filmmaker may try to stay faithful to the source, some incredible mistakes, changes, or downright insane inaccuracies always slip through. Here are 10 Famous Movies That Got History Wrong.
The songs are as classic as any Disney hit, but the story of Pocahontas and John Smith’s romance is where this story departs from history. Mainly, because the Native American girl in question was only 10 years old when John Smith arrived in the New World. Thankfully, there was absolutely no romance between them, just friendship – which kind of makes Disney’s decision to turn it into a love story for the ages especially weird.
The Roman epic actually did a good job of portraying the idea of ancient Rome, but made its biggest mistake in casting the villain as a helpless, weak Emperor. The real Commodus was so insane a ruler, he deserved to be the star. Renaming himself as the new Hercules, renaming Rome after himself, and each of the months for his own names, Commodus even took to the gladiator arena himself, killing countless exotic animals, battling other slaves, and clubbing the poor to death. The crowds were stunned and confused, obviously, but it was the fact that he paid himself from Rome’s treasury to appear that led to his assassination – not by a proud gladiator, but a wrestler, during a bath.
As over-the-top as the movie got, Quentin Tarantino made sure that audiences would find the scenes of slaves being forced to fight to the death were as horrifying as they really had been. Except that… they probably never happened. Tarantino named the movie “Mandingo” as one of his favorites, but no American historians have found any proof that slave owners would ever engage in the practice, since it doesn’t even make economic sense in the larger slave trade. We guess that’s good news, since… it was all pretty terrible.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Being rich in the 1800s really was the life, and for Elizabeth Swann, it even means red hot coals are slid into bed with her to cook her feet as she slept. In reality, bed warmers were filled with warm, not hot coals, and only used to… well, warm the bed before the sleeper got into it. But it’s really the smallest mistake the movie makes – it even has skeleton pirates.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Every fan of Indiana Jones remembers his standoff with Nazi soldier, threatening to blow up the Ark with a bazooka over his shoulder. But when you realize that the movie’s set in 1936, and Germany was still years away from designing the first rudimentary anti-tank rocket launchers, it would be just as historically accurate if Indy was holding a raygun.
Guns are the culprit yet again, but it’s the small detail here that baffles us. In the opening sequence, the police can be seen arming up with pistols and shotguns. Shotguns, loaded with plastic shotgun shells. Since the guns of the era would have used BRASS shells, and plastic ones weren’t invented until 1960, this mistake seems like an almost impossible one to make.
Disney got off the hook by setting their story centuries in the past, and thousands of miles from their usual locales, but the historical mistakes followed. Not only is the writing Mulan paints onto her arm Simplifed Chinese – created and implemented in 1950 (at the beginning, leading up to the matchmaker scene) – but the parts of the Great Wall of China featured in the movie weren’t built until the 1300s, when the other medieval Disney princesses were being kissed by prince charmings.
There are plenty of small anachronisms to point out in the movie, from zippers to American accents and even wild boars roaming the wilderness, when they weren’t brought to North America until the turn of the 20th Century. But our favorite is the idea that a hunter could be mauled by a bear in the dead of winter, when nearly all North American bears are hibernating.