It's not unusual to see the words 'based on a true story' plastered around movie posters and mentioned in promotional junkets. Indeed, if you want to win an Oscar, it seems that your movie HAS to at least have the most threadbare connection to an actual historical event.
Of course, there's a whole lot of difference between what a movie claims is true and what is actually true. Often, Hollywood will soup up a story to make it more interesting, or omit certain distasteful real life facts which detract from their creative and/or marketing vision. Here are 5 such films.
Now, let's not pretend for a second Rocky is a historically accurate film - I mean, in Rocky 4 Paulie has a robotic wife for goodness sake - but the original inspiration for the incomprehensible boxer did come from a real man - Chuck Wepner.
Wepner was a real-life boxer who once fought Muhammad Ali earlier in his career. Apparently, this tale inspired Sylvester Stallone so much, he used it as inspiration for his character of Rocky.
However, Sly wisely decided to omit some of Wepner's later 'achievements.' After his bout with Ali, Wepner fell on hard times and tried to make ends meet by partaking in bizarre boxing matches, the most famous of which was against Victor the Wrestling Bear.
Now, that isn't the name of some big Russian guy they call 'the bear,' Victor was quite literally a bear. A declawed, almost entirely blind bear.
Wepner fought him twice over this 'career.' The first time Victor claimed victory within five minutes, while the second time Wepner was immediately thrown out of the ring and onto a nearby dinner table.
Following this, Wepner's career plummeted even further, and he was arrested numerous times for various drug offenses.
Personally, I'm not sure if Rocky would have been better or worse if it included Sylvester Stallone fighting a bear.
Braveheart is, of course, the tale of William Wallace, a Scottish freedom fighter who takes on the dastardly English in the 13th century. Since its release, it has become an anthem for Scottish independence, and even spawned a monument featuring Mel Gibson as Wallace.
However, the fact the movie was set in Scotland is the only historical fact this movie really got right. The producers of Braveheart decided to gloss over some details - like the fact Wallace probably originally fought as a mercenary FOR the English and was a member of the landed gentry - while shifting around history to accommodate others. For example, Scots did not widely wear kilts until 500 years after the events of Braveheart, while they hadn't painted their faces with woad for more than 1,000 years.
This led historian Sharon Krossa to compare Braveheart to a "film about Colonial America showing the colonial men wearing 20th century business suits, but with the jackets worn back-to-front."
And what about the film's insinuation that Wallace may have impregnated the English king's daughter-in-law, Isabella? Well, at the time of the film's events she was only three years old AND was living in France. Basically Mel Gibson certainly exercised his creative FREEEEEEEDOM with this film.
Seven Years in Tibet
Seven Years in Tibet is the rather heart-warming tale of an Austrian mountaineer, Heinrich Harrer (played by Brad Pitt), who heads to Tibet for a picturesque adventure. Along the way, he ends up tutoring the young Dalai Lama before eventually being thrown into a British POW camp merely for having German citizenship.
At least, that's how the movie, which was based on Harrer's autobiography, explained it. However, in reality, Harrer was a Nazi, and I'm not talking one of those Oscar Shindler types of Nazis - y'know the ones who've signed up to the mailing list, but are basically nice guys.
Harrer was a member of the SS with a rank equivalent to that of a sergeant, meaning he took the whole National Socialism thing pretty damn seriously. Indeed, he was even photographed with Hitler and asked Heinrich Himmler for permission before he could marry.
This information only came to light in 1997, just before the movie's released. I wonder why the film's producers failed to mention all this when they were marketing the movie...
The Last King of Scotland
Fans of Braveheart who went to see The Last King of Scotland expecting another ahistorical medieval highland romp were probably sorely disappointed by the modern historical drama.
Instead, The Last King of Scotland claims to present the odd relationship between Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and his Scottish personal physician, Nicholas Garrigan.
The film presents Garrigan as a somewhat naive and adventurous medical school graduate who wins the confidence of Amin primarily because he's from Scotland. Soon, he begins to fear for his life as Amin's murderous tendencies become apparent (oh, he also impregnated Amin's wife), forcing Garrigan to become involved in the plot to assassinate the brutal dictator.
The Last King of Scotland claims to 'based on a true story' but almost immediately its Hollywood version of events falls apart. Firstly, there wasn't a Scottish doctor called Nicholas Garrigan on Amin's staff, although there was an English colonial officer called Bob Astles from which Garrigan's character was based.
Unfortunately, the movie decided to omit that Astles was known as 'the White Rat' to the Ugandan people and was perhaps the second most feared man in the country - after Amin. This exact culpability for crimes is contested, but he has claimed he turned a blind eye to many of Amin's crimes, stating:
I kept my eyes shut, I said nothing about what I saw, which is what they liked.
Ultimately, he tried to flee to Kenya but he was eventually returned to Uganda to stand trial for crimes ranging from murder to corruption. Despite being acquitted, he still spent 6 and a half years in prison and eventually returned to Britain.
Ben Affleck's recent political drama, Argo, also claimed to be based on an incredible real-life story. The film explores the CIA's plan to smuggle out Americans who in hiding during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981.
To do this, it's claimed the CIA's top extractor, Tony Mendez, fabricated a Canadian film production which is used as a cover to bring the American embassy workers to freedom.
The story of Argo - or the Canadian Caper, as it became known - is certainly an exciting and interesting one, but unfortunately, it seems the plan just went too well for Hollywood.
The film depicts the plan as almost falling apart at several points, especially when the Americans were trying to pass through airport security. Indeed, it even shows a scene in which the plane carrying the fleeing Americans is dramatically chased down the tarmac. Yeah, none of this happened. The plan actually went off without a hitch, and was probably rather unexciting to witness. As one of the fleeing embassy workers, Mark Lijek, later stated:
Fortunately for us, there were very few Revolutionary Guards in the area. It is why we turned up for a flight at 5.30 in the morning; even they weren't zealous enough to be there that early. The truth is the immigration officers barely looked at us and we were processed out in the regular way. We got on the flight to Zurich and then we were taken to the US ambassador's residence in Bern. It was that straightforward.
Furthermore, Argo greatly downplayed the role of the Canadian embassy in the plan, who actually took a leading role, while the film's suggestion the British and New Zealand embassies turned away the fleeing Americans was also untrue. Both embassies assisted the US workers in reaching the Canadian embassy, and their depiction in the film caused a bit of a ruckus with former embassy staff.
Do you mind if Hollywood movies change the truth to make a more exciting/palatable movie?