12 Movies Based On Even Wilder True Events5 min read
Movies based on true stories have a special draw. Viewers love to see a theatrical take on true events, but sometimes we’re led to believe that EVERYTHING that happened in the “true story” was included.
Realistically, a lot of details have to be cut out to keep movies a reasonable length. And sometimes those details can change the whole tone of the story.
Take 1997’s Anastasia, for example. In real life, Duchess Anastasia Romanov didn’t get the fairy-tale ending her animated film counterpart did.
The film’s ending shows Anastasia going off with her love interest, Dimitri, and living happily ever after, once she’s finally reconnected with her family.
However, as you likely know, the real story of Anastasia Romanov is quite different. She was executed in 1918 by Bolshevik revolutionaries, along with her three sisters, her little brother, and her parents, after her father, Nicholas II, was forced to abdicate the throne.
And if you think 1997’s Titanic wasn’t full of enough drama and tragedy, there are some even more horrific details that were left out of the film.
While the movie focuses on the fictional character of Rose, around 1,500 real people died in the tragedy. Many of those bodies were never recovered, but one that was recovered was that of Scottish violinist John Law Humes.
Two weeks after the sinking, Humes — who was on the ship as his final performance before going home to his pregnant fiancé — was actually billed for alterations to his musician’s uniform by the company that hired him to work on the Titanic. Even knowing his tragic fate, they still forwarded the bill to his next of kin.
2000’s Remember the Titans tells the true story of coach Herman Boone, a high school football coach who led a newly integrated high school team to victory. In the epilogue of the film, we learn he went on to coach the team “for five more years.”
However, the true story that inspired this heartwarming movie has a far darker ending, which explains why he stopped coaching: In 1979, Boone was fired on allegations of verbal and physical abuse of students.
And in 2014, Boone said he wouldn’t change a thing he did: “I don’t know if anything needed to be changed, because what I thought we did, we did for the benefit of mankind.”
The plot of the movie heavily relies on Oher’s football knowledge and the skills he developed during his time at the Tuohy family home.
However, Oher wasn’t thrilled with his depiction in the film, writing in his 2014 memoir: “I felt like it portrayed me as dumb, instead of as a kid who had never had consistent academic instruction and ended up thriving once he got it.”
In 2000’s Erin Brockovich, the main character fights to bring truth to light for the people of Hinkley, California, after their water supply is contaminated with chromium — just like the real-life person the story is based on.
But the Julia Roberts–led film leaves the happy ending at a legal victory, whereas the story unfortunately didn’t end there for the real-life residents of the California town.
In 2010, the original, underground chromium plume was found to have continued to grow — a decade and a half after the IRL trial.
2012’s Argo, a critically acclaimed film starring Ben Affleck, was based on a 1979 political incident in which hostages were saved during the Iran hostage crisis under the guise of a film being made.
The movie hails the CIA for leading the charge in getting the hostages home, but that wasn’t how it actually played out.
Jimmy Carter — who was president during the real-life events — praised the film as “great” but also noted that it was historically inaccurate, going on to credit Canada’s ambassador for making it all possible.
Director Ron Howard cleaned up John Nash Jr.’s story in 2001’s A Beautiful Mind.
The film looks at the schizophrenic mathematician’s life and his romance with a student, which is billed as his one-true-love relationship.
Among the details left out about the Nobel Prize winner’s life were his relationships (with men and with the mother of his child), his career (in defense, but not at the Pentagon), and his divorce.
As one example, the character of Lettie Lutz, known as the “Bearded Lady,” was based on Annie Jones. The film suggested the “freaks” lived together happily ever after as a big, beautiful found family — but such was not the case.
Ending up in Barnum’s circus as “the Infant Esau” — allegedly earning up to $150 a week as a child — she broke away at one point during her adult life to advocate for the rights of circus performers.
1965’s The Sound of Music addresses the emergence of Nazis in Austria in 1938 but tones it way down. By minimizing the imagery that would be seen, it downplays the severity of the situation and lightly edits with history to fit with the tone of the film.
There were also three more von Trapp kids than the movie depicted. In addition, they all had different names from those in the film, and Maria was a tutor for just ONE of the kids, not for all of them.
While Pocahontas did marry an Englishman (John Rolfe), it wasn’t John Smith, who was around 17 years older than she was when they crossed paths.
Oh, and John Smith was by no means a good guy. “Smith’s diplomacy often turned violent taking food and destroying villages,” ruining the once-amicable relationship between the English and the Powhatan Indians at Jamestown, Virginia.
It has been argued that the film’s depiction of Hebrew slaves was historically inaccurate in that their circumstances were not associated with the idea of slavery in the modern world — which is not to say that slavery and forced labor didn’t exist in the area at the time.
Many Egyptians have also noted inaccuracies in the size and position of landmarks around Egypt in the fictionalized take.
And finally: Disney’s 1998 animated take on Mulan also changed some details of the story, but with 2020’s live-action remake, the studio took steps toward the true story.
For one, Mulan fought Rouran invaders, not the Hunns, as she did in the animated version. She was believed to have served between 10 and 15 years in the army before declining a government position and retiring to her village, where she revealed her true identity.
Different tellings of the story give different endings. In some, Mulan’s father dies before she returns to him. In others, she’s taken captive or even takes her own life. And in some, historians argue the story is actually a culmination of folklore, and not based on facts at all.
What other “based on a true story” movies tell only part of the tale, leaving out some of the dark truth? Let’s discuss in the comments.