The words “based on a true story” might be the biggest five-word lie in the history of film. Over the years, countless movies have taken true stories and fictionalized them beyond recognition. The truth is… the truth isn’t usually all that exciting. However, every once in awhile, a story comes along that is both incredible and true.
If you can believe it, there are even stories, or at least elements of stories, that are so fascinating and true that filmmakers and TV show creators are forced to leave them out of their retellings because they are too unbelievable. Maybe the public won’t be able to register the events properly, leading them to doubt the validity of the film as a whole, or maybe film-goers will simply write it off as creative license on the part of the director. Whatever the reasons, these details are said to be true but they were left out because they would be distracting at some level.
Now, compare that to all the extra stuff that directors add into a true story. Most true tales around us are so inflated with fiction that we, as film fans, are basically programmed to watch skeptically when we take in true stories. Perhaps what makes it so hilarious is that, sometimes, it goes the other way. Sometimes directors think, “nah, nobody’s going to believe that happened. Let’s just leave it out to make it more believable.” Well let’s count them down, the details so unbelievable that even Hollywood didn’t think we would believe them. Here are 15 true details that were taken out of films for being too unbelievable.
15. No Maggots In The Revenant
In The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio gets smashed by a massive bear, but maybe you already heard about that little part. Some people even say that scene was a little rapey, but some people are idiots. Well anyways, the actual story of Hugh Glass’ journey included a detail that was interestingly left out of the film, especially because the detail is one of the grosser parts of the entire story. Legend has it that after Glass was schooled by that bear, he needed to fix himself up, a process that included using maggots to eat away the dead and dying flesh around his injuries to prevent gangrene. The reason the filmmakers left it out was because they believed there were no maggots in the wintertime. Well, where do they all go? Maggots go into a little bit of hibernation, burrowing into warm places in the earth (usually with earthworms) and hide out until the warmer weather hits when they hatch into flies. Leo even said there were flies but no maggots. Isn’t that interesting? Impossible, but interesting. Seems like they left out the maggots because they didn’t quite understand them.
14. Statue Head In Cloverfield
When the giant monster in Cloverfield comes out of the water, the first thing it does is smack Lady Liberty’s head right off her shoulders. In one of the cooler cinematic monster sequences, there needed to be some changes made to make the shot more believable for audiences. When the special effects team sat down to create the image, they made a to-scale model of the Statue of Liberty’s head and rolled it down the street. This was actually the scene that was in the original teaser trailer that was first released, the same teaser that was mocked because the head looked too small. Well, in the end, the Internet armchair architects/experts won the battle. The design team decided to increase the statue’s head size by 50% to make it look more believable to the viewers, who actually had no clue what they were talking about. Meh, it looks awesome either way.
13. Whale Calls in Big Miracle
Remember that weird movie with Jim from The Office, Drew Barrymore and those whales who were trapped under the ice in Alaska? Well, as you probably know, it’s a true story, but some of the details were changed from the true story. The movie suggests that two adult whales and one baby were trapped with only one air hole in sight. After a united global effort to free them, the two adults swam away happily (though sadly the baby didn’t seem to make it). In the film, the local Inupiat suggest killing the whales and eating them. Harsh, right? Not really. The Inupiat didn’t want to kill the whales because they were hungry, they wanted to kill them to put them out of their misery. While the movie only mentioned a few cuts and bruises the whales received from the ice, the truth is they suffered major, debilitating injuries under there. The most unbelievable detail of all? To help guide and direct them from above the ice, an “expert” used recorded whale sounds, but not just any whale sounds, friggin’ killer whale sounds. So not only were these poor whales trapped within a maze of ice, they were thinking that an apex predator was trapped down there with them. No one could possibly believe that an idiot like that would earn money or even be able to dress himself, so they left it out of the film. It’s also very unlikely that the whales survived. Sorry.
12. Intelligence In Lone Survivor
While it’s not necessarily clear why this detail was left out, it’s probably because the average viewer wouldn’t believe, or wouldn’t even want to believe it. Either way, in Lone Survivor, starring Marky Mark Wahlberg, a troop of Navy SEALS sneaking up on the Taliban is discovered by a few goat herders in the countryside. The film shows that the SEALS let the goat herders go on their merry way. Soon after, the SEALS are discovered and picked off one by one by the Taliban forces. So what was left out from the real story? Well, apparently, this goat herder tactic is something that is used quite often by the Taliban. They use these farmers as scouts and sniff out the area. Either the farmers come back and report their findings to the Taliban, leading to an attack on the intruders if there are some, or the herders don’t come back and the Taliban attacks the intruders. So no matter what the decision, these SEALS were going to be attacked.
11. Machismo in Valkyrie
There are stories about men being tough guys and then there are stories about Claus von Stauffenberg. The manly von Stauffenberg was the guy portrayed by Tom Cruise in the movie Valkyrie, which told the story of the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler. Well, in the film, von Stauffenberg is shot up in the beginning and he loses a hand, some fingers and an eye. He gets some work done at the hospital and everything is good, but apparently there is a crazy part to that story that the director, Bryan Singer, thought was too unbelievable to keep in. Word has it that in order to stay sharp and keep his wits about him while he was in the hospital, von Stauffenberg demanded that no painkillers were used during the multiple amputations on his hands. I’m hurting just writing that.
10. More Dog Deaths In Eight Below
The details that were left out of Disney’s Eight Below weren’t really omitted because they were too unbelievable, but they were left out because they were too damn sad for people to believe. In this film, a remake of the earlier film Antarctica, eight dogs were left to fend for themselves over the harsh winter with six dogs surviving until Paul Walker could return. In reality, it was 15 dogs who were left behind. Instead of only one dog dying while still chained up, like in Eight Below, seven dogs were unable to break free from their chains. Instead of six dogs miraculously surviving, only two survived in real life. Frankly, we’re glad these details were left out.
9. Skipped Whippings In 12 Years a Slave
This one is another case of it being unclear why this very true detail was left out, but the slave owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), was actually much crueller than the movie, 12 Years a Slave, depicts him. Perhaps because it can be difficult to comprehend evil when it is at its purest form, the filmmakers left out one of the worst habits that Epps had. In addition to making his slaves dance to the point of physical exhaustion, as shown in the film, called “dancing moods”, Epps would also get “whipping moods”, which were much worse. In these times, a usually drunk Epps would run around his property whipping random slaves and causing them to run away from him. This was all just a game for the sick and twisted mad man, a game the filmmakers saw as too cruel to show on screen it seems.
8. Easy Execution In Braveheart
To think that Braveheart, the very violent-if not historically inaccurate-film was actually watered down a bit might surprise you. Well, it’s true. The ending in particular, the death and execution of William Wallace (Mel Gibson), was much less violent than the real events. In the real world, documents suggest that Wallace was first hanged, then stretched, then disemboweled. It wasn’t as easy as getting your head chopped off, pshh. That’s child’s play for the real Wallace. After all that fun, the poor guy was dragged around the town behind a horse, Achilles-style.
7. Missing Domestic Abuse In Straight Outta Compton
Despite the conflicting stories and out-of-court settlements, the fact that Dr. Dre has had his fair share of domestic disputes is undisputed. So why, oh why, did the minds behind Straight Outta Compton choose to leave this information out? The official reason is that the story is Ice Cube‘s, another member of NWA, version of Dr. Dre. We can reason that it was left out because it would drastically change the appearance of one of the characters for the viewers. In real life, Dr. Dre can be loved because people can separate his life from his music, or that people can dispute that any domestic violence took place, but when it’s showed on screen, the audience would be unable to ignore it. Dr. Dre would be a villain.
6. A Higher Jump In The Wire
Not a movie, we’re well aware. But when something is too good to be true, you have to include it, plus The Wire is so intense it might as well be a movie. In season five, everybody’s favorite, Omar, finds himself cornered on the fourth floor of a building with nowhere to go. Grabbing life by the horns, Omar leaps out of the building and down to the ground below, surviving and leaving everyone watching furrowing their brow wondering what the hell they just watched. The truth is that Omar is based on a real dude, well, actually, a couple of real dudes, and one of those real dudes did this in real life and survived. But there’s more. This real dude actually jumped off the sixth floor. The director decided that since no one would believe the sixth floor he would move it down to the fourth.
5. Homosexuality In A Beautiful Mind
There’s no doubt that much of A Beautiful Mind is fictionalized for the big screen, but there is one element that the filmmakers specifically avoided, and that is the fact that John Nash had homosexual encounters. Why this was left out is anybody’s guess, but, as is often the case in Hollywood, sexuality confuses audiences. There is, shockingly, still a large portion of the population who struggle to relate to people if they don’t have the same sexuality as them, so many filmmakers avoid discussing it all together. We can’t be sure if this is why it was left out of A Beautiful Mind, but it wouldn’t surprise us if it were.
4. More Dumb Guards In Public Enemies
In one of the most ridiculous scenes ever, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), in Public Enemies, whittles a fake gun out of wood and then proceeds to break out of jail by convincing three of the guards that it’s a real gun. While this may sound crazy, the actual true account is actually much crazier. The story goes that Dillinger didn’t just convince three guards it was real, he convinced 17 guards. That’s a whole lot of stupid, so much stupid that the director, Michael Mann, decided that film-goers just wouldn’t believe it, so he whittled that number down to three. It must have been awfully easy to be a criminal back then.
3. Untimely Death Of Pocahontas
Disney always changes details in their adaptations, so don’t act surprised. But this one was changed so little kids wouldn’t be left emotionally scarred, not really because it was too unbelievable—though it is unbelievable. In the movie Pocahontas II, Pocahontas is brought back to England and paraded around happily. Not quite the truth. While she was paraded around, she was used as advertising the trade opportunities and wonders of the new world. Worse than that, Disney forgot to mention that soon after leaving England, the 21-year old Pocahontas fell extremely ill and died. Her and John Smith never had little Pocahnti; they never lived happily ever after. Stick that in your childhood pipe and smoke it.
2. The Athletic Side In The Imitation Game
The thinking here is that a nerd could never be an athlete. Just couldn’t happen. There’s no possible way that Alan Turing, the guy who did some stuff and broke some Nazi military codes in WWII and was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952, could also be athletic, that just wouldn’t fit in with the Hollywood narrative. No one would believe that. Well it’s true; this guy was an everyman. He nearly qualified for the Olympics in 1948 in the marathon, he saved the world from the Nazis, women loved him, and men loved him. He was a real gem.
1. Sponsorships In Gladiator
In today’s entertainment industry, sports players have sponsors and give plugs whenever they can. Remember when Peyton Manning said he was “going to drink a lot of Budweiser”? Yeah, you get it. Well this is the kind of sellouts we have today. It would be weird to have seen that sort of thing in a period film like Gladiator though, right? Well originally, Russell Crowe‘s character was going to be sponsored by a specific brand of olive oil, but the filmmakers scrapped it in fear of making it look like a satire. The craziest part about this is that it’s actually the way it was back then. Roman Gladiators were sponsored by products. They were vehicles for advertising. They even had their own merchandise. Yet, since people would never have believed it, so this detail was canned.