They say that reality is better than fiction. But sometimes, writers take creative liberties for the sake of crafting a juicier story, especially when it comes to biopics. In these cases, moviegoers will typically see the disclaimer “based on a true story” pop up on the big screen, as if everything the audience will be seeing on film is true to life.
But unfortunately, that's not really the case as many movie scenes are exaggerated or even worse, certain events are completely erased or altered for the sake of making an Emmy or Oscar winning film. In these cases, moviegoers might not even be aware that they're seeing a fictionalized version of real events until they check Wikipedia after the credits roll.
A Tense Relationship in "The King’s Speech"
The 2010 film “The King’s Speech” led audiences to believe that King George VI and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, had a difficult relationship. But in real life, the two of them were quite cordial towards each other. The film only made it seem like there was tension between them to keep audiences captivated.
"Zodiac" Didn't Mention a Plot to Find the Criminal
The 2007 film “Zodiac,” failed to mention that director Tom Hanson did the 1971 film “The Zodiac Killer,” to catch the real murderer. During the San Francisco premiere, Hanson had audiences enter a motorcycle giveaway contest in the lobby by writing on cards. What people didn’t realize was that Hanson was collecting writing samples to compare to the real-life Zodiac Killer.
Wallace Wasn't Really a Farmer in "Braveheart"
William Wallace was portrayed by Mel Gibson as a simple farmer who eventually fought and gave up his life fighting in the name of freedom in 1995’s “Braveheart.” But Wallace was actually a noble who turned against the English monarchy in real life.
"Masterminds" Criminals Locked Themselves Out of Their Truck
In 1997, a group of thieves tried robbing millions from Loomis Fargo, and the 2016 film “Masterminds” turned the heist into a comedy. But during an LRM Online interview, David Ghantt, who was one of the thieves, shared that he and his cohorts had locked themselves out of the van that had the stolen loot inside.
Elizabeth Was Older Than She Appeared in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
In the 2007 film, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” Elizabeth was portrayed as having a ton of suitors in 1585. But that is highly unlikely as she would have been 52 at the time and past her child bearing years. Elizabeth didn’t flirt with Walter Raleigh either, as the film suggested.
The Plot of "Amadeus" is Based on Rumors
According to the 1984 film “Amadeus,” music composer Antonio Salieri is so jealous of Amadeus Mozart’s musical talent, that he murders him. But this plot was taken from rumors. In reality, documents suggest that Salieri and Mozart had nothing but respect for one another.
Marion From "The Patriot" Didn't Have Any Children
In the 2000 film, “The Patriot,” Mel Gibson portrayed Francis Marion, aka Swamp Fox, as some kind of heroic family man fighting against the British in the Revolutionary War. But the real-life Marion was a sadistic killer who had no children.
"Shakespeare in Love" Changes the Inspiration for "Romeo and Juliet"
In the 1998 film, “Shakespeare in Love,” a young William Shakespeare falls in love with Viola, who’s hand is promised for marriage to Lord Wessex. But Shakespeare didn’t need to fall in love to write “Romeo and Juliet.” The play was inspired by an originally Italian story.
"Pocahontas" Was Aged-Up For the Movie
The romance seen between Pocahontas and John Smith in the animated 1995 film “Pocahontas” was false. Pocahontas was only 12 years old when John Smith and the other colonists arrived in the North American continent. She did however marry John Rolfe who was English, but that was later in her life.
The Motive in "The Revenant" Was Fictionalized
The 2015 film “The Revenant” showed that trapper Hugh Glass’s companions killed his son. This was written so that actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s character would be driven to seek revenge. But Glass really was attacked by a bear and left for dead by his “friends.”
"Cool Runnings" Isn't Based on Fact
1993’s “Cool Runnings” is almost entirely made up. For starters, the Jamaican bobsledders weren’t the only Caribbean team in attendance at the 1988 Olympics. Also, many of the characters in the film never even existed and the real-life athletes were actually liked and respected unlike the ones in the movie.
"Bonnie and Clyde" Weren't Bank Robbers
The 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde” and the newspapers from the 1930s claimed that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were banker robbers who made out with tons of cash. In reality, the criminal couple only targeted small stores during their crime spree.
"Fargo" Wasn't Really Based on a True Story
“This is a true story” was seen at the beginning of the 1996 film, “Fargo,” but at the end, audiences read the disclosure that said: “All persons fictitious.” The film’s directors, the Coen brothers assumed that audiences were more likely to believe in the film it they thought everything was real. But the only two events that really did happen were that General Motors financial employees attempted fraud and that a husband tried using a wood chipper to get rid of his wife.
Turing Was Nicer Than He Seemed in "The Imitation Game"
Although Alan Turing worked on cracking the Enigma code used by the Germans in WWII in the 2014 film “The Imitation Game,” the real-life Turing didn’t start working on the code until after Gordon Welchman tried cracking it. Also, actor Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed Turing in a way that made him seem a tad off-putting. But the real Turing was reportedly a friendly and approachable guy.
Michael Oher Wrote a Book to Set the Record Straight About "The Blind Side"
Michael Oher wasn’t a reserved, lonely, and uptight kind of guy like he was portrayed in the 2009 film “The Blind Side.” Oher disliked the way he was portrayed in the movie so much that he wrote a book to give a thorough look into who he was and what his life was like before he got adopted by the Tuohy family. His book tackles a few misconceptions the movie didn't address. He even told ESPN.com, "People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie. They don't really see the skills and the kind of player I am. That's why I get downgraded so much, because of something off the field."
"A Beautiful Mind" Exaggerated Nash's Illness
In the film “A Beautiful Mind,” audiences saw John Nash experiencing visual hallucinations of Russian spies running after him. Actor Russell Crowe did a great job portraying his character’s schizophrenic breakdown. But in real-life, Nash experienced auditory hallucinations only, and likely never had any experiences similar to what was portrayed in the famous film.
"Into the Wild" Could Have Had a More Tragic End
If the film “Into the Wild” had been shot after 2013, famous hiker Chris McCandless’s storyline would have been tragic. After spending years hiking through areas of North America, McCandless reportedly got very sick after ingesting pea grass, which he had mistaken for potato seeds. At the time, this was considered safe, and McCandless's official cause of death was deemed to be starvation. But in 2013, it was confirmed that both of these plants were toxic.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" Fabricated Freddie Mercury's Love Life
The 2018 film “Bohemian Rhapsody” suggested that Freddie Mercury met his lover Jim Hutton at a party after the latter approached the Queen singer. But Hutton told The Times of London that Mercury had offered him a drink at a club, and he turned him down. But the two of them met again at a later time and fell in love.
Emperor Commodus from "Gladiator" Didn't Actually Kill His Father
In the 2000 film “Gladiator,” Joaquin Phoenix’s Emperor Commodus was seen as a cold-hearted villain who enjoyed hurting humans and animals. And while history shows that this was true, he didn’t actually kill his father to take the throne like the film suggests.
"The Favourite" Leaves Out Churchill and Queen Anne's Fallout
The 2018 film “The Favourite” portrayed the fallout between Queen Anne and her ex-adviser, Sarah Churchill. But it didn’t reveal just how bad things got between these two in real life. What really happened was that Churchill wrote a series of hurtful and homophobic poems about Queen Anne, which severed their bond forever.
"The Strangers" Was Based On Fact, But Highly Fictionalized
The horror flick “The Strangers” was inspired by director Bryan Bertino’s personal experiences as a kid. It turns out that thieves were breaking into neighborhood homes by knocking on people’s doors and getting them to answer. He recalled that one night, strangers came knocking on his door when he and his sister were home alone. But that's about the extent of the film's basis in reality.
"Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" Misses Bundy's Girlfriend's Suspicions
The Netflix film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” starring Zac Efron as real-life serial killer Ted Bundy had one discrepancy. Bundy’s real-life girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall suspected him after she saw a police sketch and discovered that the suspect’s car was identical to his. In fact, she called the cops, but they had already questioned Bundy and ruled him out as a suspect. Big mistake.
"JFK" is Based on False Theories
The film “JFK” emphasizes two theories about the tragic end of President John F. Kennedy's life, which were later proven false. One was that Vice President Lyndon Johnson was involved in JFK’s assassination. The other was that the shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t alone. But the film didn't provide enough real life evidence to prove either theory correct.
"Can You Ever Forgive Me?" Left Out Lee Israel's Motivation
Melissa McCarthy played author Lee Israel in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” The film portrays Israel as forging and selling letters from famous dead writers. But they don’t explain that Israel did this in real life because her career and reputation were destroyed after she wrote a controversial biography of cosmetics guru Estee Lauder, despite being bribed to stop writing it.
Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary Never Met, Unlike in "Mary Queen of Scots"
The tense scenes portrayed by actresses Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie in “Mary Queen of Scots” were pure fiction for a very simple reason. Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary never met. Also, Mary lived in France for so many years that she would have returned to Scotland sporting a French accent.
"Argo" Was More Thrilling Than the Real Life Events It Was Based On
“Argo” was a political thriller in need of something thrilling, so the writers made the whole suspenseful airport scene far more suspenseful than it really was. In reality, every passenger made it to the plane safely. The film also gave the United States credit for the rescue mission, but in reality, it was Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor who deserved all the credit.
"The Greatest Showman" Glossed Over P.T. Barnum's Racism
Zac Efron and Zendaya’s characters were added to “The Greatest Showman” to demonstrate how racist people were during P.T. Barnum’s era. But in real life, Barnum used Joice Heth, a black woman, in his shows whom he presented as George Washington’s 161-year-old nursemaid. Shortly after Heth died of health complications, Barnum sold tickets so audiences could witness her autopsy, so he was also guilty of the racism that was present during that era.
Names Were Changed in "Saving Private Ryan"
In “Saving Private Ryan,” Tom Hanks played Captain Miller, who led troops into a war zone looking for Private Ryan to bring him home to his grieving mother who lost her other kids in the war. Hanks’ character was inspired by Father Francis L. Sampson, a priest who led a mission to find Fritz Niland, aka the real-life Private Ryan.
"Goodfellas" Left Out an Embarrassing Scam
“Goodfellas” was a biopic about mobsters, particularly the real-life Henry Hill. The only thing is that the film never mentioned Hill’s involvement in the Boston College basketball point-shaving scandal, where the mafia fixed games in order to win at gambling. The scam eventually failed and many mobsters lost a lot of money.
A Scene From "Pearl Harbor" Never Really Happened
The 2001 film “Pearl Harbor” starring Ben Affleck has a ridiculous scene which shows United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, aka FDR, getting up from his wheelchair to motivate the troops. Also, the ships and planes used in the film were not historically accurate.
"The Sound of Music's" Final Scene Was Fictionalized
In the classic 1965 film “The Sound of Music,” the Von Trapps hike through the Swiss alps and escape Austria just in time. But the real-life Von Trapps didn’t actually hike. They just took a train to safety.
"10,000 B.C." Shouldn't Have Featured Any Pyramids
There were various historical hiccups in the 2008 film “10,000 B.C.” But the most obvious mistakes were the Egyptian pyramids seen in the movie because the first pyramids weren’t built until the year 2500 B.C.
"300" Isn't Historically Accurate
Zack Snyder took a serious detour into fiction in the 2006 film “300.” For one thing, Spartans didn’t just wear skimpy outfits and capes. They used full body armor. Also, King Xerxes was not a giant. But this action movie was never meant to be entirely based on fact.
"Captain Phillips" Wasn't As Nice As Tom Hanks Portrayed Him to Be
Actor Tom Hanks played “Captain Phillips” in the 2013 film of the same name as a brave leader who put the needs of others before his own. But the mariner’s real-life crew didn’t see him that way. In fact, a couple of them sued Phillips claiming that his unconventional decisions often put their lives in jeopardy.
"Kundun" Leaves Out Some Details of Tibetan History
Martin Scorsese’s 1997 film “Kundun,” which is about the life of Tenzin Gyatso, aka, the 14th Dalai Lama, portrays Tibetans as non-violent. But before China invaded Tibet, the Tibetan monks tortured their human slaves. This major historical fact, however, was kept out of the film.
"Gandhi" Had Some Shocking Ideas
The 1982 film, “Gandhi,” pictured Mahatma Gandhi as the epitome of morality. But he often slept naked in the same bed as much younger women, including his grandniece Manu. These events caused some of Ghandi's staff to resign. He also claimed that Black people were less than human and "live like animals" in his early writings. But these shocking tidbits weren’t included in the movie.
"The Miracle Worker" Left Out Helen Keller's Bad Ideas
The 1962 film “The Miracle Worker,” portrayed Anne Sullivan, who tutored Helen Keller on reading, writing and later, self-confidence and friendship. But the film didn’t mention that Keller, who was blind, deaf and an incredible inspiration to many, also favored the ideas of eugenics. In other words, she believed that it was necessary to filter out imperfections in people by refusing infants life-saving medical procedures.
Coach Boone From "Remember the Titans" Was a Bully
The 2000 film “Remember the Titans” was about a football team with black and white players who came together under the guidance of coach Herman Boone, who was played by Denzel Washington. What the film didn’t show was that Boone was a mean, verbally and physically abusive coach, regardless of who was black or white.
"The Doors" Version of Jim Morrison Didn't Exist
Oliver Stone took quite a few liberties in regards to the 1991 biopic “The Doors.” According to real-life Doors drummer John Densmore, the film made “a beautiful impressionistic painting of the times.” Keyboardist Ray Manzarek claimed that Stone made up his own dark version of Jim Morrison, but the real Morrison wasn’t like that at all.
"The Social Network" Made Zuckerberg the Bad Guy
Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a thief who was overly arrogant and willing to exploit Eduardo Saverin’s ethics. But what actually happened was that Zuckerberg was highly invested in the Facebook project and it was Saverin himself who wasted the company’s money at New York parties.
"The Theory of Everything" Ignored Jane Hawking's Memoir
The real Jane Hawking wrote a memoir called “Music to Move the Stars” in 1999 where she talked about the difficult parts of being married to her ex-husband, Stephen Hawking, whom she described as controlling. But the 2014 film, “The Theory of Everything,” focuses more on their love story and ignores the abusive side of the relationship.
"The Iron Lady" Left Out Many of Thatcher's Beliefs
The 2011 biopic, “The Iron Lady,” starred Meryl Streep as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The film touched on a lot of Thatcher’s traits, but failed to show that she was extremely racist and homophobic. The Section 28 legislation she passed as part of the Local Government Act of 1988 banned the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities in Britain and banned discussions of same-sex relationships in schools.
Lincoln Wasn't as Progressive as He Seemed in "Lincoln"
The 2012 biopic “Lincoln” focused a lot on U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s struggles to get the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, to pass. But the film didn’t show that Lincoln wasn’t entirely anti-slavery. In fact, he wrote: "There is a physical difference between the white and black races that will for ever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality."
James Brown Stole A Famous Song From His Girlfriend in "Get On Up"
The 2014 James Brown biopic, “Get On Up,” did reflect the musician’s marital assault history. But it neglected to show that Brown stole the song “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” from Betty Jean Newsome who was his girlfriend at the time.
"Walk the Line" Failed to Mention That Johnny Cash Started a Forest Fire
The 2005 biopic “Walk the Line” never mentioned that Johnny Cash caused a forest fire by accident while trying to start a campfire in 1965. The flames burned three entire forested mountain regions. And when a judge told Cash that he drove off 49 of 53 endangered condors, he replied, "I don't care about your damn yellow buzzards."
"Straight Outta Compton" Left Out Dr. Dre's Crimes
The 2015 film “Straight Outta Compton,” focused on N.W.A., a hip hop group from Compton, California, and its band members Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, and Ice Cube, as they dealt with racism while struggling to make it big in the music industry. But when the movie was released, music journalist Dee Barnes discussed being assaulted by Dr. Dre in 1991. The film didn’t mention this incident at all, but that was most likely because Dr. Dre was the film’s producer.
"Patch Adams" Relied Too Much On Comedy
The late Robin Williams portrayed Patch Adams in the 1998 film of the same name. But while Williams made the film comedic with his good humor, the real Adams claimed that the film masked his humanitarian work with comedy.
"Marie Antoinette" Exaggerated the Queen's Love Affair
The 2006 film “Marie Antoinette” ignores the political side of French Queen Marie Antoinette and focuses more on her royal life. But it didn’t really show how complicated her courtship with Louis-Auguste was. For one thing, it took seven years, not months like the film suggests, for anything to happen in the bedroom.
A Chainsaw Wasn't Used by the Man Who Inspired "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s” opening disclosure claims that the film is based on true events. In reality, Ed Gein, the inspiration behind Leatherface, was a murderer who used his victim’s flesh to make household objects. Director Tobe Hooper decided that a chainsaw would become Leatherface’s weapon of choice after spotting one at a store.
"A Beautiful Mind" Left Out One of Nash's Relationships
The 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind” was about John Nash struggling with mental illness and falling in love, but it didn’t mention that he may have been a closeted gay man. Despite his wife denying the gay allegations, the film was also criticized for leaving out Nash’s relationship with nurse Eleanor Stier, whom he fathered a son with. This relationship may have been left out of the film because of the negative fact that Nash left Stier when he learned that she was pregnant.