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Historical Villain Upgrade / Live-Action Films

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Historical Villain Upgrades in live-action movies.


Examples using real people

General examples:

  • Most film adaptations of The Three Musketeers combine this with Adaptational Villainy and make Cardinal Richelieu the primary antagonist, turning him into an evil, would-be usurper. In real life, Richelieu is considered a national hero in France since his actions were responsible for not only helping turn the nation into a 17th century superpower, but also saving it from being encircled and destroyed by the rival Habsburgs. In the books, even the musketeers acknowledge that he's a loyal and dedicated servant of France.
  • Most Wyatt Earp films do this to the Cowboys. The conflict between the Earp clan and the Cowboys was not nearly so black and white as usually depicted. The Cowboys were a loose group of cattle rustlers who had a lot of support in the community, rather than a violent gang tearing the town apart. There were also politicalnote  and business interests at play to further complicate matters.
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    • Most of the Cowboys in Tombstone receive this treatment. In particular, the film shows Ringo as a remorseless killer who is the lethal counterpart to Doc Holliday. Historic research, however, can only point to him committing one murder. At one point in his life, he even served as a town marshal, and was to all accounts a conscientious and efficient lawman.
    • My Darling Clementine depicts the Clantons as murdering James Earp minutes after the Earp brothers ride into Tombstone and actively seeking a fight with Wyatt throughout the movie.
    • Even Lawrence Kasdan's Wyatt Earp, much more Gray and Grey Morality overall, falls victim to this: it depicts Curly Bill Brocious as deliberately murdering Marshal Fred White, when by all accounts (including Wyatt's) White's death was a drunken accident. The equivalent scene in Tombstone is much closer to what happened.
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    • Mary Doria Russell's novel Epitaph is a notable aversion, casting the Cowboys, and Curly Bill and Sheriff Behan in particular, as Affably Evil criminals who are more opportunistic than outright villains. The only exception is Johnny Ringo, whose portrayal as a psychopath with a Hair-Trigger Temper is very similar to Tombstone's.
    • The converse happens in Doc, which depicts Wyatt as a sociopathic thug who stages the O.K. Corral as a cold-blooded murder, with plans of using the gunfight to further his political career.

Specific movies:

  • 300 does this with a lot of people. Word of God insists that these are all simply the embellishments of an Unreliable Narrator:
    • In reality, the Persian Empire was one of the most cultured and progressive civilizations of its era. In the film they're a numberless horde of Faceless Goons, containing an elite faction of monster ninjas, a Giant Mook cannibal ogre, and a demonic executioner with sawblades for arms, firebomb-flinging sorcerers, and a bevvy of unwholesome diplomats covered in gold piercings.
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    • Xerxes' invasion of Greece was slightly more than just an unprovoked land grab, as the invasion was in part a reaction to Greek military support of the Ionian Revolt against the Persian Empire.
    • Xerxes himself is reimagined as a nine-foot Scary Black Man covered in gold chains, who calls himself a god and spends his spare time in a smoky harem tent of horrors. The real Xerxes called himself King of Kings but never claimed to be a God-Emperor. There is obviously no historical recording of a harem filled with amputees and opium-smoking donkey demons. Physically, he was a normal looking Persian with a beard and a tall hat. Compare this and this.
    • The Spartan Ephors are transformed from the equivalent of five Senators who run the Spartan government into deformed molester priests who betray their people. This seems to be a result of Character combination, as there was a group of priests who betrayed the Greek armies called the Branchidae (or at least were accused of having done so, the sources are sketchy). However, they weren't Spartans or governors of any city-state.
    • Artemisia in 300: Rise of an Empire also received this treatment. The historical Artemisia was the queen of one of Xerxes' many satraps that took his side during the war, but the one in the movie is not only more ruthless and brutal than the real one could ever be, but she is pretty much the Dragon-in-Chief, manipulating Xerxes to wage war against Greece as part of her own personal vendetta against them. This largely reflects her treatment by Greek contemporaries, who didn't like that she 1) was of Greek ancestry but worked against the Greeks and 2) was a badass Action Girl. They accused her of weird things like killing her husband and sons so that she could make dynasty of women satraps. Fortunately Herodotus, the writer of the most famous history regarding the Persian Wars, was from Halicarnassus and thus favorably disposed towards Artemisia.
  • In American Sniper, Chris Kyle is dogged throughout his career by his Arch-Enemy Mustafa, a Syrian sniper and former Olympic medallist, who he defeats in an epic sniper duel across Baghdad just before shipping back home for good. In reality, there was a Syrian sniper and former medallist called Mustafa in Iraq, but Kyle never crossed paths with him, and if he did he couldn't possibly have known, and he's mentioned in Kyle's book a grand total of once. Kyle didn't even kill him, a different Navy Seal sniper did, or rather, the other sniper shot someone they were all fairly sure was Mustafa, since it's not like the body had an ID on it. Presumably, the filmmakers decided Kyle needed a nemesis for the sake of drama, and Mustafa was too attractive an Evil Counterpart to pass up.
  • Amistad:
    • President Martin Van Buren, though the film does show that he's effectively being blackmailed by John C. Calhoun into going to the lengths that he does.
    • Lewis Tappan as well. After the appeal, Tappan says the Amistad Africans may be better off as martyrs, after which Joadson admonishes him as not caring about the slaves, but only about ending slavery. The real Tappan was famously known as an uncompromising anti-slavery extremist, who supported full legal rights (including gun ownership and voting) and advocated mass intermarriage to create a country without prejudice.
  • Anonymous effectively turned William Shakespeare into an illiterate drunkard and the true killer of Christopher Marlowe.
  • Octavian was a Magnificent Bastard in Antony and Cleopatra — a scarily competent Chessmaster, a reasonably proficient strategist and the only man in Asia Minor who can resist Cleopatra. It is pretty much stated that Octy will rule the world better than Antony would have. It is his portrayal as totally inept that is objected to, especially when he was one of the more (possibly the most) competent Emperors.
  • Downplayed in Argo with the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who is portrayed as an cruel, despotic puppet of the West who lived in uncaring luxury as his country deteriorated. The Shah was a complex figure: in one hand, those individual accounts are true as he did silence opposition through his secret police; on the other hand, he was also a liberal and secular ruler that advocated for women's rights because of his Western influence. Though in all fairness, depicting him as The Caligula makes sense for the movie as it gives the Iranians a reason to be upset and start the revolution.
  • In a truly bizarre example, Around the World in 80 Days (2004) has as its Big Bad Lord Kelvin, a physicist responsible for formulating the first and second laws of thermodynamics, discovering the concept of absolute zero temperature (and getting the resulting scale named after him to boot), and many other worthy scientific achievements. He received his knighthood for his work on the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, including several inventions used in the project. The film turns him into a sniveling, conniving backstabber who attempts to stop Phineas Fogg out of little more than professional jealousy.
  • Assassin's Creed (2016): The real Knights Templar were a powerful military force and a financial powerhouse of the time, and were involved in The Crusades where a lot of questionable things were done. There is however absolutely no evidence whatsoever that they ever decided to try and rob humanity of free will.
  • Bonnie and Clyde does this to real-life Texas Ranger Frank Hamer. Did Hamer set-up the ambush that killed Bonnie and Clyde? Yes. Was it inevitable that a movie focusing on them would villainize Hamer? Probably. Was he a bumbling, sociopathic Jerkass who tracks down the protagonists to avenge a petty humiliation? Not so much. Needless to say, Hamer's relatives weren't happy and sued Warner Bros. over his portrayal.
  • Done in Braveheart with Robert the Bruce and Edward I "Longshanks", although the Bruce quickly goes the way of The Atoner. The trope is possibly lampshaded given that the narrator's opening monologue admits that "Historians from England will say I am a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes." Nonetheless, many Scots were quite upset by the film, since Robert the Bruce is an even greater national hero than Wallace.
  • In Bridge of Spies, East German attorney Wolfgang Vogel is depicted as a loyal Communist apparatchik who helps an innocent American (Frederic Pryor) solely to get a leg up for East Germany with the Soviet Union. According to Pryor, the Real Life Vogel was actually loyal to his client and did his best to represent Pryor's interests. Vogel successfully brokered prisoner exchanges that let thousands of people escape to the West.
  • Cinderella Man depicts heavyweight boxer Max Baer as a brutish thug who brags about having killed two men in the ring. In reality, Baer is remembered as a Nice Guy with a lighthearted personality and was celebrated as an American hero for his defeat of Nazi Germany's champion Max Schmeling while wearing a Star of David on his trunks. Although one of his opponents did die in the ring with him, the opponent had the flu beforehand and the incident haunted Baer for the rest of his life, to the point where he regularly gave money to the opponent's family. Baer's son, Max Baer, Jr., who later became famous on his own account as Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies, was outspoken in his criticism of the portrayal.
  • The scandal-ridden film Cleopatra (the one with Elizabeth Taylor) has Octavian as its main antagonist, and he's portrayed as pathetic, tantrum-prone to a homicidal degree and totally unfit to rule. This film did not earn many points with the historical community, to say the least.
  • The HBO TV film Conspiracy (2001) (about the Wannsee Conference) gives one of these to Gerhard Klopfer. Whilst undoubtedly a foul racist and war criminal in Real Life, Conspiracy turns it Up to Eleven: The film-Klopfer is morbidly obese, lecherous, ugly (hint: he's portrayed by Ian McNeice, who also played Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in the Dune miniseries), does unpleasant impressions of gassed Jews, is so disgusting as to make the other Nazis uncomfortable and is even hinted to be a pedophile. Klopfer was ordinary looking, with no evidence of the rest existing.
  • Dances with Wolves gives this treatment to the Pawnee. They are portrayed as violent savages who wage a war of aggression against the Sioux and even attack their own white allies. While the Pawnee could be brutal in real life, they weren't any worse than most of the other tribes in the area, and they joined forces with the American military because they were being displaced by the Sioux.
  • The film Dangerous Beauty depicts Veronica Franco as being accused of witchcraft and being tried by the Roman Inquisition. That really did happen. The film, however, also depicts the Inquisition as frothing-at-the-mouth witch-hunters determined in advance not only to convict Franco, but prepared to believe that Venetian society was rife with witchcraft, and eager to conduct mass burnings of witches. This portrayal of the Inquisition as lunatic witch-hunters is quite common and appears in many works. It is also totally false. In reality, the official position of the Catholic Church was that accusations of witchcraft were almost invariably superstitious nonsense; the Church generally tried to suppress witch-hunts. When the Inquisition did investigate charges of witchcraft and put suspected witches on trial, it was almost always because public hysteria had broken out, and some person, such as Veronica Franco, had been accused, and the Church wanted to put a stop to the nonsense before things got out of hand. By conducting an official investigation and clearing the accused, the Church could usually calm the situation and end the panic. The real witch-burning hysteria in Europe occurred in predominantly Protestant northern Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. So while Dangerous Beauty correctly portrays the Inquisition as dismissing the charges against Franco, it also portrays this as an incredible occurrence resulting from the heroic intervention of the entire Venetian senate. In reality, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Inquisition would dismiss the charges, or acquit her, because that's what the Inquisition normally did with witchcraft charges. Heresy charges definitely were another story, however.
  • Dracula Untold depicts Mehmed the Conqueror as wanting to forcibly convert all of Europe to Islam. The historical Mehmed was well known for his religious tolerance. He instituted the Ottoman Millet, under which the Empire's various religious minorities could conduct themselves according to their own legal codes, and allowed the Byzantine Church to continue functioning after he conquered Constantinople.
  • Tom Norman, who exhibited Joseph Merrick at his freak show, was by most accounts fairly humane — he was conflated, both in the David Lynch and Bernard Pomerance versions of The Elephant Man with a different manager (identity unclear) who robbed him and abandoned him in Belgium. The Real Life Merrick had nothing but praise for Norman.
  • In Enemy at the Gates, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Jude Law, despite featuring the defending Soviets as the good guys (it is their country being invaded after all), pretty much the whole Soviet military gets this treatment.
    • Soviet sailors are shown beating or shooting evacuees who rush ships (in reality the Soviet Navy made several desperate but heroic evacuation attempts — unfortunately too late into the siege).
    • The infamous NKVD penal troops are shown mowing down as many Red Army troops as the Germans (in reality, while deserters were shot, this rarely happened in battles as depicted, since troops obviously run back and forth during urban combat) and aren't shown engaging the Germans (despite the fact that the largest unit, the 10th NKVD Rifle Division, suffered a 90% casualty rate and have a monument in Volgograd for it).
    • The Red Army's defending troops are hardly better, portrayed as their own worst enemy and utterly failed by the Soviet political philosophy, as opposed to the reality where their casualties were directly tied to the high competence, equal-or-better training, and in some cases ruthlessness of the German military operating on foreign soil. Unsurprisingly the film did badly both in Russia (where veterans of the battle tried and failed to have it banned) and Germany.
  • Werwolf, Nazi resistance after WWII was, in fact, just a bunch of unskilled and inefficient partisans, who were quickly destroyed in a few months, but in Lars von Trier's film Europa, they are portrayed as a mighty underground network with spies everywhere, assassinating occupational leaders, committing large-scale terrorist acts, and generally being a serious threat to the Allies.
  • While Frost/Nixon avoids casting Richard Nixon in an overly negative light, his chief of staff Jack Brennan is not so lucky. In the film, he comes across as a humorless military man who has no problem bullying and outright threatening people in order to protect the image of the president. At one point, he even shuts down production to stop Nixon saying something bad and threatens to ruin Frost if he makes him look bad. The real Brennan, a former Marine, is known to friends and colleagues for his friendly, good-natured personality, with Diane Sawyer describing him as "The funniest man you'll ever meet." Frost described him as a "wonderful man" and even said Brennan and his colleagues could have talked Nixon out of Watergate in the first place had they been his staff.
  • In Gone with the Wind, the "Yankees" (Northerners) are a faceless mass of soldiers and later politicians (the infamous "carpetbaggers") invading happy Southern land. The one Yankee soldier to appear onscreen was a deserter shot by Scarlett before he could rob and (it is implied) rape her. As you might expect, the film kind of glosses over the whole slavery thing (unlike the book).
  • The Great Warrior Skanderbeg does this to some supporting characters:
    • The Venetians are portrayed as treasonous and corrupt collaborators to the Ottoman Empire, hoping to take down the Albanians so they can invade Europe. While it is historically true that Venice was very cuttroat towards other nations on their side (like the Byzantine Empire for instance), since they really did wage war against Albania while briefly siding with the Ottomans, they were also enemies with the latter having fought a number of wars for hegemony over the Mediterranean.
    • The Despot of Serbia is The Corrupter to Skanderbeg's nephew Hamza, whom he tells that he will be passed over as his heir once his uncle begets a son of his own and ends up being pushed to the Ottomans' side. Though Serbia was an Turkish vassal at the time, there is no evidence to suggest any monarch interacted with Hamza and he most likely made the decision to betray the Albanians on his own.
  • The Imitation Game portrays Commander Alastair Denniston (played by Evil Brit role expert Charles Dance) as a rigid, snarky Jerkass who holds Alan Turing in barely-concealed contempt and tries shutting down his Christopher project. This doesn't tally with the real Denniston, who had a cordial-to-friendly relationship with Turing. Denniston's family was not pleased with his portrayal.
  • Salman Rushdie received this treatment in the movie International Guerillas where he is turned into a sadistic Diabolical Mastermind that tortures Muslims and conspires to destroy Islam just so he can build brothels and casinos around the world. The real one was just a writer that wrote a book which the Iranian government found blasphemous and issued a fatwa against his life. Needless to say, Rushdie wasn't a fan of the movie.
  • In the Heart of the Sea: Captain George Pollard is portrayed as an arrogant, power-abusing martinet. He is shown to hold contempt towards his first mate, steers his ship recklessly into a storm, angrily tirades his own nephew for questioning his careless decisions, and ultimately carries an angry vendetta against the whale which sunk his ship. In reality, there is no evidence of there having been any tension between Pollard and first mate Chase, and Pollard appears to have often consulted Chase and his second mate Matthew Joy for their opinion; perhaps too much, as the mates often did not make the best of choices. While the ship did get caught in a storm not long after leaving Nantucket, it was not due to Pollard arrogantly thinking they could pass through it, and he certainly did not blame Chase for it afterwards. There is a moment described in the book where Pollard apparently reprimanded his young cousin when he tried for privilege on behalf of being family, but this was over his nephew hoping to be excused from duty due to seasickness (which many of the young sailors were suffering from), not him standing up to Pollard on behalf of the whole crew. The film turns what was an understandable and somewhat comical moment into a sinister one. Lastly, it was Chase, not Pollard, who by all evidence seems to have carried out a personal vendetta to find the whale (contrary to what is shown in the film, where Chase has an epiphany and decides to give up whaling). All who served under Pollard had only kind words to say about him, and many felt it unfair when he was forced to retire from the sea after wrecking his second ship.
  • King Arthur does this to Cerdic and Cynric, the first and second kings of Wessex; a particularly impressive feat, given that almost no accurate information on them exists due to the Saxons not keeping written records until well after they had died. It is pretty much certain (given that he succeeded him) that Cynric did not die several minutes before his father, however. Both they and Arthur are associated with the Battle of Badon Hill, which functions as the film's climax, despite the fact that no one will likely ever know if they were there, if they fought Arthur, or if Arthur existed at all.
  • Kingdom of Heaven:
    • Even in the Muslim accounts of the war, Guy de Lusignan was never portrayed as the foppish, racist douche-bag he is here. Certainly, the historical Guy most likely held many of the views concerning Muslims he expresses in the film, but then so would have the vast majority of other figures, including those the enlightened heroes of the film were based on.
    • The Patriarch of Jerusalem, who is portrayed as a cowardly, self-absorbed jerk, blinded by his faith, and mostly spending his time on spreading prejudice against the Muslims. In reality, while almost everything we know about him comes from the writings of his rivals, we still know that it was him along with Balian who negotiated the surrender of Jerusalem and they rounded up the money to ransom the citizens who couldn't afford to ransom themselves. As for his cowardice, he along with Balian offered themselves as ransom for those who they couldn't afford to ransom, which Saladin declined.
  • Lawrence of Arabia is generally good about portraying its characters, both British and Arab, in a morally complex light, but it nonetheless takes significant dramatic license that doesn't reflect well on the historical figures:
    • In Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence and his Arab guide encounter Sherif Ali (Emir Feisal's younger brother) at a well while traveling to meet Feisal. Lawrence treats the encounter as a comic interlude, with Ali traveling in a Paper-Thin Disguise with his servant pretending to be him, and the incident occurs without any hostility or bloodshed. In the movie, Sherif Ali (a fictional Composite Character and member of the Harith clan) murders Lawrence's guide for drinking at a well within Harith territory. This scene deeply offended many Arab viewers, especially Ali's descendants, who attempted to sue Columbia Pictures over the scene.
    • The movie's treatment of General Edmund Allenby drew similar criticism. The real Allenby was a skilled general who was friendly with Lawrence and much more sympathetic to the Arabs than the film suggests. For instance, he served as Egypt's High Commissioner in the early '20s and threatened to resign if London didn't grant Egypt independence. In the movie he's equal parts Armchair Military and Manipulative Bastard who hides behind his military duties to excuse his actions. Screenwriter Robert Bolt wrote that he respected Allenby and tried to make him a sympathetic character, but it's not especially evident in the finished movie.
    • Auda abu Tayi's son was also enraged by the film's portrayal of his father as driven purely by greed and plunder rather than any attachment to the Arab cause, which is a Flanderization of his actual motives. Notably, while in real life Auda pledged allegiance to Emir Feisal and the Arab Revolt relatively early in the fighting, in the movie he doesn't join them until the expedition against Aqaba, and only because Lawrence (falsely) promises that the city contains a hoard of gold. The filmmakers also ignore that he refused repeated attempts by the Turks to bribe him to their side, which undermines the idea that he only fought for profit.
  • Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, receives a big one in the 1938 film Marie Antoinette. The real Orléans was a genuine believer in the principles of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Montesquieu, who used his position to foster support for liberalism and democratic reform. He was initially supportive of The French Revolution, but eventually turned against its excesses, saved several people from being executed, and was eventually guillotined himself. In the movie, however, Orléans is, in fact, the primary orchestrator of the entire Revolution, which he cooked up as part of an insidious plot to seize the throne, after failing to seduce Marie Antoinette. During the so-called "Affair of the Diamond Necklace", he becomes a full-blown Diabolical Mastermind, using forgery and impersonation to frame the Queen for fraud. Eventually, he maliciously casts the deciding vote in favor of executing Louis XVI, before being executed offscreen by the rabble (he did vote in favor of it, but was hardly the decider, though some people did take that as an attempt by him to get rid of the king and seize the crown for himself). The recent French film, The Lady and the Duke has a more sympathetic portrayal of the Duke of Orleans, seeing him as someone way out of his depth in revolutionary politics.
  • This was the major complaint about Moneyball, given that it wasn't all that "historical" and all of the guys being portrayed as villains were still around and able to come to their own defense. Perhaps no one got it worse than the team's scouting director, Grady Fuson, who was portrayed being fired for insubordination after almost physically assaulting Billy Beane over his disagreement with Beane's sabermetrics strategies. In reality, Fuson voluntarily left the A's for another job with the Texas Rangers (in fact, the A's forced the Rangers to compensate them for losing him).
  • The Universal Horror film The Mummy (1932) and its later remake The Mummy Trilogy do this to Imhotep. The historical Imhotep was a priest, official, and architect mostly known for inventing the pyramid, not for messing with Pharaoh's mistress and being buried alive to torment meddling Westerners thousands of years later. However, since both film versions also lived approximately 3300 years after the time of the historical Imhotep, it's possible to interpret this Imhotep as just a different guy with the same name as the historical figure.
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: The Dragon Emperor is almost the same as the real Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Ch'in Dynasty, who if anything was even worse than the one in the movie. They simply adds supernatural powers to him — and a plan to Take Over the World with his animated Terracota army (QSH pretty much took over the known world when he was alive, the result was that what was once a dozen of independent states were forever unified in a single state, China). The writers didn't take the risk of having the movie Banned in China for having its founder as a villain and called him Emperor Han.
  • Olga portrays Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas as a pro-Nazi dictator that effectively sentences the title character - a Jewish communist woman - to death by deporting her back to Germany, while she is pregnant, no less, to spite her husband, who was Vargas' political enemy. While its known that in real life, Vargas enjoyed friendly ties with the Third Reich and he definitely ruled as a dictator, he also persecuted far-right groups such as the Integralists (a fascist party trying to emulate the Nazis) almost as much as communists and ultimately sided with the Allies during World War II. In addition, he implemented several worker-friendly policies (in spite of his hatred of communism) that earned him the nickname "Father of the Poor".
  • Outlaw King: Downplayed as per King Edward I, and somewhat played straight with Edward, Prince of Wales.
    • In clear contrast to previous and stereotypical depictions of Edward I, he has visible moments of being a Reasonable Authority Figure and the Only Sane Man in his court. He will, at most instances, try to give his opponents a chance to redeem themselves to him and profess their loyalty. If they fail/backstab him, however, he will punish them—utterly and without scruples. Much of his brutal actions and policies, accurate to history, remain consistent with this.
    • On the other hand, Prince Edward (based on records) is actually Out of Focus in historical records during this period. It cannot be credibly established whether he played a major role in the Scottish campaigns under his father (especially since scholarly consensus suggest he is textbook Idle Rich at best). In this film, he is seen to be actively making the effort to contribute to the war project—if ineffectually. There's no evidence for the real Prince Edward being this sadistic, neither then or later as king. He in fact frequently delegated his duties and was a reluctant ruler. The real man was well known for generosity toward his household staff and chatting with commoners, something people during the era criticized.
  • Tavington from The Patriot. While Banastre Tarleton, the historical Colonel Tavington, was notoriously ruthless (c.f. his actions at the Waxhaws Massacre and his fervent support for the Slave Trade as an MP), the film greatly exaggerates his actual misdeeds. Some of the worst atrocities presented in the film were in fact inspired by the ones committed in World War 2: erasing entire villages, locking all the townsfolk into their church and burning it down.
  • Pearl Harbor, by Michael Bay, was panned by historians for its severe inaccuracies regarding the actual Pearl Harbor attack, particularly due to its heavy vilifying of the Japanese, which showcases their planes deliberately attacking and gunning down civilians (which Chuichi Nagumo, leader of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, had explicitly forbidden them to do in real life), blowing up civilian buildings and attacking much of the actual town itself (again, something they had been forbidden to do historically), and launching suicidal kamikaze attacks on American forces (a tactic they didn't adopt until the last year or so of the War, although there was a single kamikaze attack at Pearl Harbor). It gets even weirder when the same film later has LC James Doolittle telling his men to do kamikaze dives against the Japanese if they run out of fuel, and this is portrayed as a glorious thing to do.
    • Though, this is also somewhat subverted, as the real life Imperial Japanese military was, in reality, far far worse than the movie seems to suggest. Throughout the entire war, the Imperial Japanese had committed a very long list of extremely brutal atrocities, none of which are even mentioned in the film. If the filmmakers wanted to, they could have simply made references to much worse real life war crimes, such as the Nanking Massacre, or even, since the Doolittle Raid is also in the movie, show the Japanese army ravaging the Chinese provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangxi in retaliation for the raid, instead of inventing crimes like the attack on the hospital. This could have easily painted them as the bad guys to the audience without having to sacrifice historical accuracy.
  • Blackbeard in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a sorcerer who enslaves and zombifies people to serve on his crew. In reality, Blackbeard was just a fairly successful pirate captain with a regular crew of fellow pirates.
  • Dan Devine from Rudy. In the film, he was the jerkass Notre Dame head coach who wouldn't let Rudy play at all, only relenting after the entire team threatened to walk. In real life, he was the one who suggested that Rudy play! Dan Devine was a consultant on the film, and was actually ok with having himself portrayed this way, as they needed a villain, it was felt.
  • The Scorpion King, who gets both a Historical Hero Upgrade and a Historical Villain Upgrade throughout the film series, and resembles the real man only in name and general location — although very little is known about the real-life Scorpion King, even if he was real at all. The Scorpion King's direct-to-DVD prequel gives this treatment to Sargon the Magnificent.
  • Shadow of the Vampire, a fictionalized movie about the making of Nosferatu, depicts Max Schreck, the actor who played Graf Orlok, as a real vampire who kills multiple people.
  • Sink the Bismarck! depicts Admiral Günther Lütjens, the commander of the task force the Bismarck was part of, as a dedicated supporter of the Nazis. In reality, Lütjens had a far less positive opinion of the Nazi regime: he ignored the Nuremburg Laws during his time as the Kriegsmarine's chief of personnel, wrote a letter of protest to the Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy regarding Kristallnacht, deliberately greeted everyone — up to and including Hitler himself — with the traditional German naval salute rather than the Nazi salute, and wore his Imperial Navy dagger on his uniform because it didn't have a swastika emblem.
  • The Social Network portrays Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a really pompous asswipe (at best), while the real Zuckerberg wasn't anything near that description despite his alleged stealing of Facebook from the Winkelvoss twins and the few reports of his one or two Jerkass moments. Oh yeah, and the whole "facemash.com" debacle.
  • While The Sound of Music certainly doesn't depict Georg von Trapp as a bad person, it still depicts him as considerably stricter and more distant than he was in reality. The real Von Trapp children were disturbed by how their father was portrayed and asked producers to soften him a bit.
  • In Sully, the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board that runs throughout the film against the title character and his co-pilot was singled out by industry experts, those involved in the famous Hudson landing and the NTSB itself as being highly exaggerated and unrealistic, so much so that one investigator came out to say that the film had smeared his reputation by portraying him as an Obstructive Bureaucrat. Clint Eastwood has also admitted in interviews that the film needed a villain, and the NTSB were the logical candidates (the NTSB themselves claim they were never contacted or approached prior to the film's release). The list of inaccuracies with the real-life events are numerous:
    • The investigators are portrayed as dogged and determined to find fault with Sully, repeatedly contradicting their accounts and immediately suggesting one or both pilots were drinking while flying. In real-life, both pilots were tested for drugs and alcohol immediately after the crash and found nothing. Additionally, all of the investigators were not based on any real-life person — in stark contrast to the rest of the film, where real-life participants are repeatedly singled-out and given focus. Sullenberger even requested that Eastwood change their names, as he felt the plot wasn't fair to them.
    • Mere days after the incident, the NTSB tells both pilots that they've not only done multiple simulations of the flight and already know they're lying about the experience. The flight simulations were done months later in real-life, with the support of the plane's manufacturer, and bolstered the actual NTSB's thoughts that both pilots made the right choice under their circumstances.
    • The film strongly suggests that the NTSB believes the investigation is a waste of time, and repeatedly belittles and insults Sully and his co-pilot Skiles, both in private meetings and the hearing (not to mention it's implied that manipulated the tests to get a result they want without telling anyone else). In real-life (and as discussed in Sullenberger's memoir Highest Duty), not only did they treat the pilots amicably, but they already suspected (even with preliminary information) that their actions were the right call, a thought that was only bolstered when the hearings happened months later.
    • As referenced in Highest Duty, the only time Sully ignored procedures during the flight (turning on auxiliary power early on once he realized something was wrong, as opposed to waiting and running through multiple checklists) is only barely referenced in the film, and was singled-out in real life by the investigators as the best thing he could have done under the circumstances.
    • There are numerous differences between the film's version of the hearing and the actual version of events. NTSB hearings take place in a room with six people months after the fact, whereas in the film, it seemingly happens just a few days (weeks at best) after the incident, at which point the NTSB has seemingly made up its mind. The pilots only hear the cockpit recording for the first time while sitting in the hearing room, whereas Sully and Skiles had the opportunity to listen to it privately before the hearing in reality, as is standard in NTSB investigation. The simulation pilots in the film (all of whom are stated to have years of experience) all assume to a T that a pilot would divert to the nearest airstrip immediately without either diagnosing their problem, coordinating with air traffic control or figuring out what's happened. The film also suggests that the NTSB is in collusion with insurance companies, and is working with them to get a predetermined result ("pilot error") so that their investigation can wrap up quickly. Sully has to suggest the 35-second delay in the film, whereas the NTSB instituted the delay themselves during the actual simulations.
  • In James Cameron's Titanic, pretty much every crew member other than Captain Smith is depicted as, at best, incompetent or easily duped and evil at worst. Harold Lowe might be an exception, seeing as he is the one crew member who tries to make space in his lifeboat and rescue the people in the water. The ship's first officer, William Murdoch, is portrayed shooting two innocent men to prevent them from boarding a lifeboat, and subsequently putting a bullet through his own brain out of guilt. This portrayal was so at odds with the historical record that a studio executive traveled to Murdoch's hometown, apologized, and made a donation to boost the local high school's William Murdoch Memorial Prize, and Cameron himself later apologized in the DVD commentary. This was still nothing compared to his portrayal in the famously horrid animated feature Titanic: The Legend Goes On, in which he's a Stupid Evil Jerkass who at times seems as though he's trying to get as many people killed as possible.
  • Among various other historical inaccuracies in U571, the film portrays a German U-boat crew gunning down defenceless sailors that are stranded in the North Atlantic. Never mind that in Real Life such an instance had only occurred once throughout the entire war and it was far more common for German sailors to assist all survivors. (Which was only good sense: a captured enemy can be interrogated, used as a bargaining chip, or sometimes even convinced to switch sides; a corpse cannot. Also, the Allies would have responded in kind as retaliation.) Such a courtesy only came to an end when it became apparent Allied forces would attack U-boats on sight, regardless of whether they were carrying rescued merchant men.
  • The Untouchables:
    • While Al Capone certainly was a ruthless mobster in real life, he wasn't as bad as he's depicted in this movie. The film's Capone has no problem with killing kids, but the real Capone tried to avoid hurting bystanders and if some did get hurt, he'd pay their hospital bills.
    • Frank Nitti really was one of Capone's top henchmen, but he wasn't quite the monstrous cold-blooded killer the movie portrays him as.
  • Wonder Woman (2017): General Erich Ludendorff is reimagined as a bloodthirsty, Psycho Serum-snorting General Ripper, who murders the rest of the German general staff to stop them from recommending an armistice to the Kaiser and then tries to launch a chemical attack on London. In real life, while Ludendorff was a imperialist and warmonger, he never resorted to backstabbing his rival generals and he actually supported the armistice albeit out of pragmatism since Germany was running out of supplies and men. Interestingly, the real Ludendorff became more villainous after the war ended as he became an early supporter of Nazism, supported violence against the Weimar government, accused German Jews of sabotaging the German war effort, and denounced the armistice as an insult to national pride. However, this is a moot point, since he dies in 1918 in this movie, before the war even ends.
  • Comparatively mild case in The Young Victoria, where King Leopold I of Belgium is portrayed as a pushy manipulator trying to use his nephew Prince Albert to gain control over the eponymous Victoria. In reality, Leopold was Victoria's favourite uncle. Also, while Sir John Conroy was by no means a friendly personality, even he would never dare manhandle the future monarch of the United Kingdom.
  • Zulu: The film makes a Composite Character out of Private Henry Hook. In real life, he was a model soldier who won the Victoria Cross for his bravery. In the film, he is combined with the convict soldiers who were also at the battle, turning him into a cowardly and lazy malingerer who rises to the occasion and becomes a hero by the end of the film.

In-Universe examples

  • The entire premise of Maleficent is that Fantastic Racism between humans and fairies has given rise to many widespread works of anti-Maleficent propaganda (namely Disney's own Sleeping Beauty) and the events depicted here are the story as it truly happened. Lord knows who at Disney gave the okay on this concept, considering how notoriously protective they are of their animated canon.


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