5 of the most historically inaccurate movies ever

5 of the most historically inaccurate movies ever

Facts, schmacts! You won’t want to look to Hollywood for history trivia – here’s why.

Shakespeare in Love

Academics in Shakespeare and Renaissance history found so many glaring errors in the much-beloved romance Shakespeare in Love. Nothing was accurate, from the props to the ways the characters talked. It was basically like the 1990s dating scene, except set in Elizabethan England. Shakespeare is also seen writing a play called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter. If only that play were real – sounds like a masterpiece!

The Patriot

Mel Gibson’s revolutionary war drama is filled with a bunch of events that never took place. The most glaring addition is a scene in which civilians are locked in a church that is then set on fire by British troops. Gibson’s character constantly accuses the monstrous British troops of breaking the “rules of war,” even though there weren’t any at the time. Also, the film showed few slaves, and those it did represent were upbeat. And the “bundling bag” Heath Ledger’s character is sewn into – so he can spend the night with his girlfriend without having sex – is an inaccurate depiction of this traditional practice: Bundling did occur, but it was typically the woman who wore the bag.


Ben Affleck’s Argo won the Best Picture Oscar, but it wouldn’t win any history awards. The movie’s premise, that a fake movie production was created to rescue six Americans from Iran, is true. But the film completely downplays Canada’s involvement and help – even though that nation took all the credit at the time to avoid any repercussions about CIA involvement. Plus, the real-life airport scene actually went as smoothly as hoped, and most of the tense airport hijinks in the film’s climax never took place.

The Last Samurai

This action film starring Tom Cruise takes place in Japan during the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion over the nation’s westernisation. His character is fictional – there was no American Civil War veteran present to help out. The movie also includes ninjas, a group that was no longer active during this time period. And the fight scenes feature swords, ignoring the guns and rifles that were also in use at the time.


Braveheart depicts late 13th- and early 14th-century Scottish rebellions against English rule. These battles occurred, but not in the way director Mel Gibson depicts them. In the movie, the warrior William Wallace (played by Gibson) is shown being raised as a farmer, but it seems that he was born into Scottish aristocracy. The movie’s Wallace is inspired to fight the English because they killed his wife, but historical records don’t mention her. In fact, very little is known about the real William Wallace.

Written by Molly Penington. This article first appeared in Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription offer.

Image: Shutterstock

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