Everyone loves movies that inspire them to reach new and great heights, and no movies do that better than movies based on true stories. When we sit in the darkened theater, a large soda slipped into the hole in the armrest, a big bag of popcorn nestled carefully on our lap, we countdown the trailers and commercials, eagerly awaiting the amazing story that will make us laugh, cry, and most importantly, believe in humanity again.
Movies that tell us about the real lives of real people help us better understand the world we live in. They help fill in pieces of history - would you have ever known about the guy who invented intermittent windshield wipers if Greg Kinnear didn't star in the movie based on his life? OK, bad choice, no one saw that movie, but you get the point.
The thing with movies based on real events is that sometimes... well, all the time... the movie fudges some stuff to make the whole thing work better. Real life tends to be messy and filled with moments that don't really connect to anything, and in a movie, everything needs to have a purpose. Sometimes, the person a movie is based on has some qualities that the audience may not like, so those qualities get erased. A lot of stuff gets taken out of the real story in order to make the retelling work better for you and me.
Here, to break your heart a bit, are fifteen movies based on true stories, and the lies they told.
15 Pocahontas - Pocahontas Was Actually A Child, And Died By 21
Pocahontas, the Disney animated movie starring the voices of Mel Gibson, Christian Bale, and Irene Bedard as the titular character, is loved by millions of kids and parents. It is rare for Disney to make one of their animated movies about true events, and Pocahontas may give us a clue as to why.
The movie tells the story of a young Native American woman who saves a British dude named John Smith from being slaughtered by her dad's tribe in the early 1600s. The two go on to have a beautiful romance. Aside from the talking animals and tree, there's plenty of stuff that Pocahontas got wrong.
For one thing, the actual Pocahontas, whose real name was Matoaka, was only ten or eleven when John Smith came to America. Smith, who is portrayed as a genial kind of fella was, in reality, a real meanie, and he more than likely made up the whole story about Pocahontas saving his life. Three years after John Smith returned to England, Pocahontas was captured by colonists who forced her to convert to Christianity and married her off to John Rolfe. Instead of a happy life, Pocahontas lived in fear and died when she was just 21.
14 The King and I - Real Woman Was A Con Artist
The King and I, the classic 1956 film based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, is a family favorite to this day, even with the very not Asian Yul Brynner playing the king of Siam with the help of some yellow makeup (for which he won an Academy Award). The story is straight out of a fairy tale - the lowly Welsh teacher moving into the palace to teach the angry king's kids, only for the two total opposites to fall in love. The best part is, the whole thing has catchy tunes to help the story along.
In reality, Anna Leonowens, whose memoirs the whole thing is taken from, was a con-artist who tricked the people of Siam into thinking she was a member of the British high society. She and the real King Mongkut and Anna never fell in love either - Anna did teach his children though, all eighty of them. She also taught the King's thirty-nine wives.
13 Dallas Buyers Club - Made Up Several Major Characters (And Left Others Out)
Dallas Buyers Club is, without question, a great movie about Ron Woodroof, an AIDS patient in the 1980s who smuggled in pharmaceutical drugs that the FDA had not approved but were believed to help deal with the symptoms of the horrible disease. The movie was a huge critical and commercial hit, with stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto both winning Academy Awards for their acting.
Still, some - much - of the movie is fake. Leto's character, Rayon, was made up for the film, as was Jennifer Garner's character of Dr. Eve Saks. If you walked away from the movie thinking that Woodroof was homophobic before he was diagnosed with HIV, no one would blame you, but according to people who knew him, Woodroof was the exact opposite. Friends and family explain Woodroof, who passed away in 1992, as a kind and articulate man. He also had a daughter who was completely left out of the movie.
12 The Revenant - Didn't Really Hunt Down His Friends
The Revenant is the kind of movie the world loves; a crazy but true story starring two hot actors - Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy - where the director's vision was so absolute that the movie was nearly impossible to make, with stories of the crew only being able to film by natural light to DiCaprio having to eat raw bison liver to an actor being dragged naked through the snow.
We love movies like this so much that the world rewarded The Revenant with a box office take of over half a billion dollars and twelve Academy Award nominations of which it won three, with DiCaprio taking home his first Oscar. But how much of the movie based on a true story was true? Not much.
First off, the man DiCaprio played, Hugh Glass, didn't have a son. Matter of fact, he never had any children. While Glass was attacked by a bear and buried by his pals who thought he was dead, he never hunted them down and killed them to get revenge. He did track them down, but all he wanted was his stuff back, which they happily handed over. I guess a movie where DiCaprio hunts down Hardy for an apology just wouldn't sell.
11 The Danish Girl - Wasn't The First Gender Reassignment Recipient
Before he stood around looking uncomfortable and mumbling under his breath in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Eddie Redmayne was nominated for an Academy Award for The Danish Girl, the movie based on the true story of Danish painter Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex reassignment surgery, and her wife Gerda Wegener.
Along with a long list of accolades, The Danish Girl turned Alicia Vikander, who played Wegener, into not just a movie star, but an Academy Award-winning movie star. One thing the movie wasn't praised for was its ability to stay true to the story, mainly because it barely even tried.
While most of the people in the movie were invented to tell the story, the biggest lie in The Danish Girl is that Elbe was not the first person to attempt gender reassignment surgery - that honor went to Dora Richter, whose story and successful series of surgeries is what led Elbe to move forward with her own attempt.
10 Straight Outta Compton - Left Out A Founding N.W.A. Member
There's no arguing that F. Gary Gray's film Straight Outta Compton is a well-made telling of the story of one of the most important musical groups in American history, but just how close to reality is it?
If you guessed "not very close" you win!
The movie about the creation, rise, and collapse of N.W.A. focused on Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre, the three best-known members of the band, and their friendship that turned ugly as Eazy-E came to trust the group's manager, Jerry Heller, more than his bandmates.
The movie is great, but it really plays with the truth in some shocking ways. For one thing, it completely ignores Dr. Dre's tendency to abuse women in his younger days, including a journalist who he choked and tried to throw down a flight of stairs. Another thing left out of the movie is Arabian Prince, a founding member of N.W.A. who appears on the band's first album - he's even on the album cover. For whatever reason, Arabian Prince is never even mentioned in the film.
9 Argo - Made It Seem Like A One Man Show
Ben Affleck's Argo, based on the true story of CIA agent Tony Mendez and his part in helping six Americans escape from Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis, is a fantastic film filled with great actors, including Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman.
If you watched the movie, you would think that Mendez did all the coolness alone, taking on a Herculean task and pulling it off with James Bond level awesomeness, right down to the very cool escape on an airport tarmac.
In reality, the majority of the work to get the six Americans out of Iran was done by Canadian agents, including Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor whose home the Americans hid in for months.
Comic book fans were also let down when the movie shows off the fake concept art for the fake movie that is being used as the cover to help the six Americans escape, but never names the artist who created those images - Jack Kirby, the man who co-created Captain America, the Fantastic Four and just about every other superhero who we know and love today.
8 Dennis The Menace - Very Different Childhoods
In 1993, families around the world turned Dennis the Menace, the movie based on the popular Hank Ketcham newspaper comic strip, into a massive hit that grossed more than the now classic Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie, as with the comic, is actually based on a real person, Dennis Ketcham - Hank's real life son, but the lives of the famous Dennis and the real Dennis couldn't have been any different.
Where Dennis the Menace grew up with two loving parents, Dennis Ketcham lost his mother to a drug overdose when he was just twelve. While Dennis the Menace spent his days causing his neighbor Mister Wilson endless grief with his fun childhood antics, Dennis Ketcham was sent off to boarding school. While Dennis the Menace is forever a little kid who loves each day of his life, Dennis Ketcham fought in Vietnam and now suffers from PTSD.
7 Munich - Left Out Major Details
Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest film directors of all time, and Munich is one of the many movies that shows us why. The movie, which stars Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, and Geoffrey Rush, tells the true story of Yuval Aviv, a Mossad agent who, along with fellow agents, is tasked by the Israeli government to track down and assassinate members of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist organization who kidnapped and murdered eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
While no one questions the quality of the film, there are some problems with the historical accuracy of Munich. While the film shows Aviv to be working with a small group of Mossad agents, in reality, the team that was ordered to hunt down the members of Black September was pretty large. And while the movie posits that the assassinations ended because the Mossad agents began to lose their nerve as things got deeper and deeper, in truth the Israeli government ended the mission after the Lillehammer affair where an innocent Moroccan waiter was killed.
6 Rudy - Pivotal Moment Never Actually Happened
Everyone loves Rudy, the college football movie starring Sean Astin and based on the true story of Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger. As the movie tells us, Rudy was a dude who dreamed of playing college ball for Notre Dame, but his high school grades and his family's financial situation made that dream all but impossible. After the untimely death of his best pal, Rudy focuses on reaching his dream, and after three years he finally gets accepted to the prestigious college.
Finally at Notre Dame, Rudy is able to join the football team, but the coach doesn't dig him, mainly because he knows that Rudy has no chance of being a very good player. Still, Rudy's teammates, in a scene that makes any man cry, refuse to take the field without Rudy, and soon enough, Rudy is allowed to take part in one play.
In reality, Rudy's teammates didn't all go and turn in their jerseys until the coach agreed to let the little guy play. That just didn't happen.
5 Foxcatcher - Ending Wasn't Nearly As Calm
Foxcatcher is the kind of movie that can change a career, and maybe that was what Steve Carell, best known for comedies, was hoping for. Whether it worked for him we don't know yet, but between this film and The Big Short, it is impossible to ignore Carrell's fantastic dramatic work.
In Foxcatcher, Carrell plays John Eleuthère du Pont, American multimillionaire, philanthropist, wrestling enthusiast and murderer. In the movie, as in real life, du Pont hires the Olympic medal-winning wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz (played by Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum respectively) to lead his private wrestling team. As things don't go the way du Pont had hoped, he becomes angry, leading to his shooting and killing Dave Schultz.
While the movie shows du Pont peacefully turning himself over to the police after he murdered Schultz, in reality, du Pont holed up heavily armed in a windowless, steel-lined bomb shelter built inside the du Pont mansion, leading to a two-day standoff with a 30-man SWAT team.
4 American Sniper - Stretched The Truth (But So Did The Real Guy)
Clint Eastwood's film starring Bradley Cooper tells the "true" story of Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in the history of the US military. The movie, based on Kyle's autobiography, was a massive box office hit and was nominated for six Academy Awards.
In the book, Kyle briefly mentions an Iraqi sniper named Mustafa. In reality, Mustafa and Kyle never faced off, but in the movie the two do have a moment that ends with Kyle killing Mustafa, shooting him from 2100 yards away. The movie also shows Kyle's pal Ryan "Biggles" Job die shortly after being shot by Mustafa when in reality Job lived for a number of years after being shot (though he did die during an operation that was needed because of the wounds he sustained in Iraq). Oh, and the character "the Butcher" was completely made up for the movie.
To be fair to the movie, Kyle had a tendency to lie about his own life - he claimed to have killed dozens of looters and carjackers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and to have knocked out Jesse Ventura. Both claims were later proven false.
3 Good Morning, Vietnam - Real Guy Wasn't As Wacky As Robin Williams
Good Morning, Vietnam is one of Robin Willams' best films, and considering the movies Williams starred in, that is really saying something. The movie is based on the life of Adrian Cronauer, a DJ on Armed Forces Radio Service stationed in, you guessed it, Vietnam. Can you guess when he was stationed in Vietnam? Yup, during the Vietnam War.
In the movie, we see Cronauer break a whole lot of rules to bring entertainment to the US soldiers, and since Williams is playing the role, the entertainment is extremely entertaining. While the higher-ups aren't fans of Cronauer, the troops are, so there is little they can do.
But then a Vietnamese pal of Cronauer's goes and blow up a bar frequented by US troops, giving the higher-ups the opening they need to kick Cronauer off the air and out of the country.
In reality, Cronauer was nowhere near as wacky as Williams played him, and he was never thrown off of the Armed Forces Radio or kicked out of Vietnam - Cronauer left the country when his tour of duty was up.
2 300 - Number Of Troops Was Way Off
Zack Snyder's 300, based on the graphic novel by comic book icon Frank Miller, is a great movie filled with amazing cinematography, fantastic action, and dudes who make me feel really bad about eating an entire pizza for dinner tonight.
The movie tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartans, lead by King Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler) fought to the death against the 800,000 members Persian army lead by Xerxes. While a lot of the movie is historically accurate (when a Persian told the Spartans that their arrows would blot out the sun, one of the Spartans really did respond with "Then we will fight in the shade" which is just awesome as hell) a whole lot more isn't.
For one thing, while they were heavily outnumbered, there were plenty more than 300 men ready to die for Greece that day. Along with the 300 Spartans were 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans stationed at the Hot Gates, with another 7000 or so Greeks blocking other paths into Greece. And while they were outnumbered by the Persians, the real size of the Persian army was closer to 150,000.
Still, the movie is awesome.
1 The Conjuring 2 - Real-Life Couple Had Little To Do With The Real Case
The Conjuring series of movies, based on the paranormal cases of Ed and Loraine Warren - as played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga - are gigantic hits with horror fans and general audiences. These movies are so popular that they have spawned a group of spin-offs based on the freaky demons the Warrens have faced, including Annabelle - who now has two movies of her own - and the forthcoming Nun movie.
In the second Conjuring film, the Warrens head off to jolly old England to help a poor family dealing with a nasty ghost who tends to possess the youngest daughter. The movie is filled with slow burn frights, quick jump scares and most important to making a good movie, great character moments. It is also filled with a lot of lies.
When I say lies, I'm not saying the paranormal stuff is made up - though much of it, like the Crooked Man, is - I mean just how much the Warrens had to do with what is a very real story. While The Conjuring 2 makes it look like Ed and Loraine saved the day, in truth, the couple visited the frightened family for a little over 24 hours and left without doing much of anything.