There are always a few historical inaccuracies in biopics, but sometimes they push the line between harmless exaggeration and straight-out fiction. All life stories have to be condensed into a feature film’s running time, but there is a vast difference between some harmless embellishments and absolute fabrication.
These biopics that pushed the boundaries of accuracy beyond just a little innocent enhancement to some of the least historically correct movies of all time.
Night and Day, True and False
Cole Porter was a witty songwriter/composer whose life inspired the movie Night and Day. The debonaire Cary Grant played Porter as a cheerful descendant of an affluent family whose love of music sabotaged his Yale law studies. Happily, however, Porter enjoyed much professional success and married Linda Lee Porter (Alexis Smith).
Night and Day seemed like a fairy tale, which was far from the truth. In real life, Cole Porter was gay, and Linda was an older divorcee when she met Cole. A riding injury was similarly glossed over, as well as Mr. Porter’s subsequent alcoholism.
The Buddy Holly Story — With Some Nasty Surprises
Buddy Holly was played by Gary Busey, who won an Oscar nomination for his representation of the rock-and-roll trailblazer. He even sang some of Buddy Holly’s songs in the movie. There weren’t many historical inaccuracies as far as Buddy Holly’s portrayal, but his band, the Crickets, was another story.
Joe B. Mauldin was renamed Ray Bob Simmons, while drummer J.I. Allison was became “Jesse Charles.” The latter was also portrayed as a racist, which he did not take kindly. “I thought it was a horrible movie,” he said. “I didn’t see anything that was correct. I imagine it was made up.”
Lisztomania — The Twilight Zone Version
“Lisztomania” was a term coined by Heinrich Heine to describe the craziness that ensued when 19th century composer Franz Liszt performed his music on stage in a concert. His wildly enthusiastic fans adored the man and the music he composed.
However, in the bizarre movie Lisztomania, Franz Liszt flew to Earth in a spaceship in order to battle Richard Wagner, a Frankenstein-esque machine gun-toting Nazi. Roger Daltrey of the Who played Mr. Liszt, and the movie included a cameo by Ringo Starr as the Pope, among other freakishly outlandish happenings. Needless to say, historical accuracy may not have been the goal of this movie.
Amadeus the Clown
Speaking of composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was, of course, a brilliant composer whose works will be treasured for all time. However, in the movie depicting his life, Amadeus, Mozart (played by Tom Hulce) was a bumbling clown with astonishing musical talent.
Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) was an Italian composer who was portrayed as jealous of Mozart and a sexually frustrated snob. While Salieri attempted to spoil Mozart’s success in the movie, in reality, the two seemed to be friends. They worked together on a cantata and rode together to the premiere of Mozart’s Magic Flute.
The Runaways Run Away From the Truth
The Runaways was adapted from singer Cherie Currie’s memoir, Neon Angel, about her time in an all-female rock band in the 70s. Bandmate Joan Jett was the executive producer of the movie. Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart play Currie and Jett, respectively.
The plot of the movie was conspicuously softened by writer and director Floria Sigismondi, leaving out band member Michael Steele and the rape of Currie by her sister’s boyfriend. Another band member, bassist Jackie Fuchs, was also raped by Kim Fowley, the band’s creator, and she refused to be named in or have anything to do with the film.
Stoned — The Fake Murder Mystery
Brian Jones was a Rolling Stones guitarist who was unceremoniously kicked out of the band in 1969 when his drug and alcohol use turned so excessive that even the Rolling Stones couldn’t handle it anymore. Jones later drowned in a swimming pool after overdosing.
However, in the movie Stoned, there was a conspiracy theory that a builder named Frank Thorogood killed Jones because of a quietly seething class resentment. In reality, there is almost no evidence to support this speculative murder.
CBGB — The Club of a Boob?
CBGB is a 2013 movie based on Hilly Kristal’s epic music club, which was known for featuring famous acts like the Ramones, Talking Heads, Television, Patti Smith and Blondie. In real life, Hilly was a generous man who gave of himself whenever he could while also being a brilliant businessman.
In the film, however, when Kristal was introduced, he had already failed at his first two clubs. CBGB depicted Kristal as a fool incapable of accomplishing anything. Obviously, this is in stark contrast to his ability to successfully run one of the world’s most famous clubs.
Bohemian Rhapsody — With Embellishments
In the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie Mercury divulged that he was HIV-positive to the band during rehearsals for Live Aid in 1985. The group wasn’t even speaking terms in the movie by that point and hadn’t performed together in years until then.
In reality, Freddie didn’t even know about his HIV status until 1986 or 1987, and Live Aid was not a reunion, as the band had been touring The Works all over the world until eight weeks before the offer for Live Aid.
Beyond the Sea — Beyond the Teenage Years
Beyond the Sea was based on the life of actor and singer Bobby Darin. It was co-written, co-produced and directed by Kevin Spacey, who also played the lead role. Kate Bosworth played Darin’s wife, Sandra Dee.
Beyond the Sea was a bomb at the box office, but Spacey did receive a Golden Globe nomination and praise for using his own singing voice in the movie. Some critics were quick to point out the age discrepancy between teenage Bobby Darin in his prime and 45-year old Kevin Spacey, however.
The Doors — Jim Morrison the Toddler?
In the 1991 film The Doors, Val Kilmer played lead singer Jim Morrison of the eponymous band as they took America by storm in the 1960s. The film included Morrison’s use of recreational drugs, his hippie lifestyle and obsession with death.
When the film was released, it failed to gross more than its production budget, and Morrison’s bandmates were decidedly unhappy about how the film portrayed him. Toward the end of the movie, Kilmer’s character became increasingly confrontational and difficult, while in real life, Jim Morrison never threw tantrums for any reason.
A Beautiful Mind
In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash had a strong bond with his wife, Alicia Larde, and visual hallucinations brought on by schizophrenia. In reality, however, while Nash did suffer from schizophrenia and mental illnesses, he never experienced visual hallucinations, and he had a strained and abusive relationship with his wife.
The movie didn’t just skirt the truth, but actively downplayed the horrors of domestic violence. John Nash once threw Alicia to the ground and stepped on her neck at a mathematics department picnic, which is decidedly not romantic.
Marie Antoinette’s Reality Check
In the movie Marie Antoinette, there are many inaccuracies to choose from. For instance, while some of the clothing choices are historically accurate, while others are intentionally not. In one famous scene, a pair of converse sneakers can be seen.
In real life, Marie Antoinette’s relationship with Louis-Auguste also took seven years to take off, not the mere months the movie depicts. In reality, the couple didn’t even share a bedroom, much less a bed. The politics surrounding their marriage and the impending collapse of the monarchy were also largely avoided.
Patch Adams vs. Robin Williams
As many of the movies the legendary Robin Williams starred in, the character he portrayed in Patch Adams was more like himself than anybody else. Remember Aladdin’s genie? Good Morning Vietnam’s DJ? All Robin Williams, all the time.
When Robin Williams took on Patch Adams’ character, he became less of a man who dedicated his work and life to humanitarian efforts and more of a … clown who put bedpans on his head. In the words of the real Patch Adams, “It made my children cry.” Now that’s just not funny.
Pain & Gain — A Torturous Comedy?
In an extremely bad judgment call, Michael Bay created a comedy out of the horrific true story of two deplorable criminals viciously torturing a man for an entire month before attempting to murder him. Sounds funny, right? Pain & Gain has been described, at best, as cruel and inaccurate.
Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg played gang members who tortured and tried to kill victim Victor Kershaw, played by Tony Shalhoub. At the end of the movie, it was revealed to the tune of “Gangsters Paradise” that some of these real-life men died in prison.
The Elephant Man
While The Elephant Man is faithful to the memoirs of Frederick Treves, it turns out that the memoir itself isn’t historically correct. The main character, Joseph Merrick, is even given the wrong name in the movie, being referred to as “John.”
Merrick is also made out to be the piteous and helpless victim of a series of carnival showmen, becoming a slave to their whims. However, in reality, Joseph Merrick was a savvy businessman who made a living from his work.
The Social Network Fail
The Social Network was a movie about Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook, which did not happen because Mark wanted to get back with an ex-girlfriend like the movie depicts. By the time Zuckerberg was making Facebook, he was already dating the woman he would later marry.
According to Mark Zuckerberg himself, “The only thing the movie got right was [my] wardrobe.” Many people aren’t fond of Mr. Zuck because of his policies on privacy and politics, but at least Facebook wasn’t created in an attempt to score a date.
The movie 300 is about the Battle of Thermopylae during the Persian invasion of Ancient Greece. According to director Zack Snyder, “The events are 90 percent accurate. It’s just in the visualization that it’s crazy.” That’s a bit of an understatement.
For starters, the actual army of the Greek forces numbered more like 5,000 to 6,000, not 300. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a “battle rhinos.” The list goes on — there was no upholding of democracy, no malformed betrayer, no pierced gargantuan villain.
Straight Outta Compton — Straight-Up Lies?
Like many biopics on still-living celebrities, rose-colored glasses were steadfastly locked on for Straight Outta Compton. While Ice Cube nonchalantly penned Friday and Snoop and Dre dreamt up “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” on the fly, the relationships in it were whitewashed.
Dre’s history of violence against women, especially his vicious assault on journalist Dee Barnes, is covered up. When Ms. Barnes publicly criticized the film, Dre responded with a public apology to “all the women I’ve hurt.”
From the opening scene depicting two soldiers reciting the Gettysburg Address from memory, Lincoln embellished for dramatic effect. The lines they read weren’t even popularized until years down the road. However, the largest inaccuracy was something that was left out completely.
While Lincoln did oppose and eventually abolish slavery, his views on race were more complex. In 1858, he actively argued that whites were racially superior, and while his exposure to Frederick Douglass and other black intellectuals seemingly raised his opinion of black people, it’s not clear what his later views on race were. He definitely was not the civil rights prophet depicted in the film, however.
The Untouchables Doesn’t Touch the Truth
The Untouchables was a film about a team of law enforcement officials that brought down Al Capone. While it’s fun film, it’s not terribly accurate. For starters, protagonist Elliot Ness’ so-called Untouchables didn’t actually capture Al Capone.
While Ness’ raids on Capone’s warehouses were real, they were intended as a distraction while the real heroes closed in on the gangster: the IRS. The movie tries to combine the tax investigation with Ness’, but really, he had nothing to do with it. What’s more, while the Ness in the movie doesn’t drink, the one in real life was an alcoholic.
Were Bonnie and Clyde Even Together?
The 1967 film Bonny and Clyde depicts its criminal protagonists as romantically linked, but in reality, there’s no evidence that the two were a couple. However, even more inaccurate than their relationship status is the film’s portrayal of the two as modern Robin Hoods who only stole from large, corporate-owned banks.
This is the exact opposite of the truth, as the real Bonnie and Clyde focused on tiny grocery stores and gas stations due to their greater vulnerability. All of the murdering they did was glossed over, too.
Alexander the Inaccurate
While Oliver Stone’s film about the life of Alexander the Great is certainly long, it failed to tell most of the Macedonian conqueror’s story. For instance, the Persian army Alexander faced was portrayed as full of unhygienic, disorganized dullards that were defeated without a hitch, when in reality, the Persians were one of the most advanced civilizations in the world at the time.
Historians were also upset about Rosario Dawson being cast to play Alexander the Great’s Iranian wife. One such historian even said that it would be the same as “… having Lucy Liu portraying Queen Victoria of Britain.”
Birdman of Alcatraz — A Birdbrained Idea For A Movie
In the movie Birdman of Alcatraz, Robert Stroud was portrayed as an animal lover who has a way with birds. In reality, however, Stroud was anything but the gentle soul depicted in the film.
Stroud was originally arrested for murder, and he continued to violently assault other prisoners and staff while incarcerated. He was also a clinically diagnosed psychopath. He lost access to his birds after it was revealed that he’d used some of the equipment intended to take care of them to brew alcohol.
The Iron Lady
The Iron Lady is about the life and legacy of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but it’s debatable whether the movie did her any justice. There are several events in the movie that Ms. Thatcher simply wasn’t around for, like when one of her advisers was killed in a car bombing.
According to the biographer who wrote the book that the movie is based on, the real story behind Thatcher never made it on screen. People who knew the later prime minister also disagree with the movie’s portrayal of her.
The Steve Jobs Movies
At one point, Hollywood seemingly had an informal competition for who could make a better Steve Jobs biopic. First came Jobs with Ashton Kutcher, which was critically panned, and then Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, which was marginally better but still inaccurate.
Steve Wozniak took issue with his character’s minimal role in the creation of Apple and Jobs being made to look like a technical wizard. The latter was also made to look like a mean, ruthless boss who was unkind to everyone around him, which people said was not true in reality.
Braveheart portrays the life of William Wallace, a Scottish rebel against the King of England whose real-life nickname wasn’t “Braveheart” at all. While the kilts and war paint on the faces of battling men were both about 300 years off, almost the entire timeline is wrong.
The age of Isabella of France and her relationship to Wallace were both historically inaccurate, and Wallace himself was not a commoner who was raised by extended family. The movie is almost entirely made up.
The Blind Side Is the Color White
The Blind Side tells the story of Michael Oher, a black child who grew up in poverty before being adopted by white parents who encourage him to pursue his dreams of professional success in football.
In reality, while Leigh and Sean Tuohy did adopt Michael Oher, they weren’t responsible for Oher’s football success, as he’d had scouts following him since before he was adopted. The movie ignores Oher’s hard work and talent to instead focus on the inaccurate idea of his adopted parents pushing him to success.
The King’s Speech (Impediment)
The King’s Speech is the story of King George VI and his struggle to overcome his stutter, which seemingly kept him from fulfilling his royal duties. In reality, however, the king’s stutter was of little importance or concern to anyone, as he could already deliver an entire speech with no stutter at all if he concentrated.
Edward VIII was also portrayed as a bully, while the duke and duchess were made out as spoiled dolts. According to one critic at The Collider, “It’s like if James Cameron had a pterodactyl sink the Titanic instead of an iceberg.”
Cobb Misses the Mark
The movie Cobb centers on the story of the sportswriter Al Stump meeting with Ty Cobb in order to author his biography. It sounds innocent enough, but Stump is then unwittingly cast into a hellish ordeal filled with murder, alcoholism and racism.
Cobb is portrayed as a crazy person with no friends or family left. In reality, Ty Cobb never once killed a person, nor was he racist or the least bit violent. The only thing that the movie Cobb seemed to get right was that Ty did sort of resemble Tommy Lee Jones later in life.
Perhaps the number one historically inaccurate movie on this list is Disney’s Pocohantas. The actual Pocahontas was seized and held for ransom by English colonists in 1613, but Disney decided that she and John Smith should have a consensual love affair instead.
In reality, Pocahontas was forced to convert to Christianity and married John Rolfe at 17 years old. The following year, she gave birth to a son, and two or three years after that, she died of unknown causes. That’s pretty far from falling in love and teaching a naive white man about nature through song.