13 Most Inaccurate Biopics Of All Time

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Historical biopics have a manner of luring in a loyal audience, scoring critical praise and winning stacks of accolades. All too often, these biopics miss the mark when considering historical fact. Historical fiction is one thing, but pawning something off as a “true” story, and changing the story for the sake of dramatic effect is a bit of a dupe. It’s so easy to take liberties with a story that needs a little “jazzing up,” but some of these films go so far out of bounds to manipulate history, they need to be held in check. Here are 13 we’re wagging a finger at.

13. Jobs

Ashton Kutcher seems obsessed with being taken seriously as an actor. And kudos to Ashton for having two pretty stellar modes on-screen: goofy and not goofy. In Jobs, we get not goofy Ashton at his best, in his coveted turn as Steve Jobs, but the film was so surface level it begged other writers and producers to scoff with a hard sigh through the nose, and get to work on a legitimate Jobs biopic. Jobs paints Steve as a cool dude who invented some cool stuff, but if never dives into what produced the products so many Apple loyalists consider life-essential. We never really see the drug-fueled, wife-leavin’, “I have kids?” Steve Jobs, painting the most accurate picture of who the man really was. Steve Jobs wasn’t just an edgy innovator… he was an impatient jerk. The new Danny Boyle biopic, Steve Jobs, is far more accurate.

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12. 300

Fair enough, this was supposed to be a highly stylized, revisionist retelling of a famous historical event that occurred so long ago, there really isn’t much more than legend, lore and myth to recreate the story. However, there’s enough of what is known about the battle at Thermopylae to point a hard finger at this film, and say, “Zack Snyder! Get a grip, man!? That’s grossly inaccurate!” 300 has been the catalyst to Zack Snyder calling the shots in some huge movies, and all of them falling a little flat. Like that pancake that didn’t get the right amount of baking soda in the mix… and looking back, 300, his directorial flagship, is no exception. The liberties taken with Xerxes were completely absurd, and then biggest lure of the film, “the Spartan look,” was just as absurd. These dudes wore armor in battle, not leather straps.

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11. The King’s Speech

No. Please. Not The King’s Speech!? It can’t be on this list. What a heartbreaker. Colin Firth led us down the historical trail, and through the trials of King George VI of Great Britain, the legendary king who was unable to speak without a distracting stammer. So, what did Tom Hooper, and Hollywood do wrong in telling us this story? To put the compliment in front of the criticism, yes, King George did struggle with a stutter, and he overcame it; however, he did not overcome it just in the nick of time to promote the potential British war effort in World War II. The film leads us down this path for the sake of drama. Nope. King George got over his speech impediment some 12 years prior to the outbreak of the second World War, and he aptly opened the 1927 Parliament session with no stammer.

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10. The Social Network

We can toss David Fincher’s The Social Network into the category of subjects who really like their own biopics. It’s always dangerous to tell a story about someone who is still alive, and suggest that everything within the script is true and accurate. The subject is likely to refute certain happenings. Yes, there are a few things in The Social Network that are accurate, like… Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, enduring some teenage/early 20s controversy. And yes, Mark Zuckerberg was sued by people who felt they were integral to the process of bringing Facebook to fruition. But, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t go on a programming binge, and find inspiration to screw people over because some cold-hearted Harvard chick dumped him. Mark himself had a good laugh over the catalyst of the story line. Other embellishments, and historical changes occur throughout the film.

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9. The Untouchables

Kevin Costner as Elliot Ness? Eh. Don’t know about that one… but at least Elliot Ness existed. The character played by Sean Connery, Malone, was complete and total fiction. So, how off is The Untouchables? There really was a group that was put together by Ness known as The Untouchables, and they did play an important role in ruffling the feathers of organized crime boss, Al Capone, in Chicago. Yes, they became the nemesis of Capone and his cronies; however, Elliot Ness was not the sweetheart as portrayed by Kevin Costner. He was a hard-nosed, Prohibition enforcer who was rumored to like the drink, and love the ladies, but he did not kill Frank Nitti. And unlike the film, he had nothing to do with the trial following the arrest of Capone. Ness ventured to Cleveland to bust up corruption schemes.

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8. The Doors

Like The Social Network, Oliver Stone directed a biopic about people who were still living. Well, not Jim Morrison, but The Doors themselves? Still living. In Stone’s largely fictional work, The Doors, he tossed Val Kilmer into the role of Lizard King, Jim Morrison, and then ventured into what he might have thought was the pysche of Morrison himself, because so many of the things portrayed in the film never actually happened. Yes, Morrison was an odd guy, but according to his former band mates, he wasn’t drunk all the time, and he wasn’t prone to acts of physical violence like locking people in closets and then setting the closet on fire. According to John Densmore, the drummer for The Doors, things were beyond inaccurate — they were completely fictitious. What is it with Oliver Stone and historical speculation? It’s like a pastime for that guy.


7. The Blind Side

Micheal Oher is an NFL offensive tackle who is tired of the movie that was made about his life. In the film, Michael is portrayed as a despondent, aimless, directionless and hopeless teenager with a great heart. He is taken into the home of a white family, and raised as one of their own, where they encourage him to get out on the football field and put his size to use. In reality, Michael’s athletic prowess was already in full effect when he was welcomed into the home of Sean and Leigh Ann Tuohy. It seemed that Sandra Bullock’s people were so bent on her scoring an Oscar for the role, nobody decided to ask if the elements of the story were accurate. The script itself is chock-full of inaccuracies, from misquoted Biblical scriptures to scenes that allegedly occurred between Oher and the Tuohy family. At least Sandy got her Oscar.

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6. Elizabeth: The Golden Age

We have no problem with Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth, but in Elizabeth: The Golden Age…? The-36-year-old, timeless beauty, playing a queen in her early 50s as time passes? That’s a bit of a stretch. A huge stretch once we start seeing Cate in armor, looking better than ever. But, these things are easily overlooked when there are far more glaring historical inaccuracies to focus on. Like its predecessor, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, ventures off the historical map to tell a romantic and inspiring story of the former monarch. Some of the inaccuracies: No, Queen Elizabeth never led troops into a battle; no, gentlemen suitors were not presented to the Elizabeth in her early 50s in an effort to marry and conceive; no, the Babington assassination plot did not involve such a close call. The list goes on and on.

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5. Pain & Gain

This was an entertaining romp into absurdity, wasn’t it? A perfect example of the Michael Bay adage: Why let a few facts get in the way of a good movie? Pain & Gain starred Mark Wahlberg, Dwyane Johnson and Anthony Mackie in the historical roles, though some characters were combined in an effort to tell the story for screen. The story was inspired by true events, and these events were heinous. Still, the film is portrayed as a comedy of errors, and audiences found themselves laughing at the boneheads as they attempted to kill the character of Victor Kershaw. In real life, Victor Kershaw was based off the fight-for-life plight of Marc Schiller, who was never contacted about the making of the film. Regardless of the misplaced intent, and lovable idiots portrayed by the three criminals in the film, the real men were pure evil. Nothing funny about it.

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4. We Bought a Zoo

Yes, this story really happened. And if you want to see the zoo, you’ll find it… in Devon, England. No. Not in California. And no, you won’t find an American version of Benjamin Mee. Therein lies the first historical inaccuracy of this biopic. Benjamin Mee is British, and the wildlife park he purchased was based on interest, rather than his wife dying. Yeah, that’s the real bummer, isn’t it? The catalytic seed for the film We Bought a Zoo is grossly inaccurate. It is true that Benjamin’s wife passed away, but her death occurred some two years after he purchased the property, and the family moved in. The wildlife park had been open for a year at the time of her passing. Nah, we’re not too bitter about this one taking liberties, because it wasn’t like we were expecting more than fluff to begin.

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3. Amadeus

Getting into the nitty gritty of this list, we need to pick on three films that were big-time award winners, yet boasted some terrible, historical inaccuracies. Regarding the tale of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart… Amadeus. What the film does right: the music; the mystique. Sadly, the film is built upon a foundation from the perspective of fellow composer, Antonio Salieri. The film makes it out to seem that Salieri was the lifelong nemesis of Mozart. There is some truth to the rivalry, and the established Salieri taking a few early shots at Mozart, but after failed attempts at hating the young prodigy, Salieri came to befriend Mozart, and the two became colleagues. They wrote stuff together. Just before Mozart died, he penned a letter recounting time spent with Salieri and his wife socially at the opera.

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2. A Beautiful Mind

Ron Howard scored some serious Oscar gold for this film, and in terms of filmmaking, he knocked it out of the park. In terms of telling a historically accurate story…? He left a lot to be desired. Let’s address the subject of the film, John Nash. In the film, it is suggested — and portrayed — that John Nash, suffered from bouts of paranoia and schizophrenia that led to visual hallucinations. Nash has suffered from these conditions, but his hallucinations never came from the eyes, only the ears. Digging deeper, and into the land of gross historical faux pas: John Nash never worked for the government or military, he never made a speech after winning his Nobel Prize and he never took medication after 1970. So, why all of this for the sake of the film? You simply don’t have a film without adding these subplots and variables.

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1. Braveheart

Where to begin with Braveheart? We could have an entire list devoted to the historical inaccuracies of this film alone, but… it’s still so dang good when Mel Gibson is being gutted, and musters the (external) intestinal fortitude to scream, “FREEEEEDDDDOOOOOMMMM!” So. Let’s start with the kilts, shall we? The fact: the men of Scotland didn’t wear them for another 400 years. Sticking to costume inaccuracies: how about English soldiers being uniformed and protected with armor? This was the 13th century, and made to look more like the 17th. There are historical inaccuracies in Braveheart regarding battles, relationships (William Wallace never met, much less slept with and impregnated Isabelle of France), Edward II’s sexuality — he may have enjoyed the company of women and men, but he fathered five children — and Robert the Bruce betraying Wallace. That didn’t happen. Wallace’s death? Pretty accurate. Drawn, gutted, quartered.

© 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett Collection

James Sheldon