Historical fiction and non-fiction movies give us an impossible opportunity. They allow us to see the important decisions and people that shaped our modern world. They also help us to better understand our ancestors, and sometimes, ourselves.
But it’s tough for filmmakers and writers to nail the past down truthfully to the very last detail! In fact, even some of the most critically acclaimed movies let small, historical mistakes and anachronisms make it into the final version of the film. Take these 20 popular movies below, for instance…
1. Braveheart: William Wallace and his band of Scots fought for independence from the British in kilts, but in Wallace’s day, Scottish warriors donned leine croiche’s—tunics dyed yellow with horse urine.
2. The Aviator: In a scene set in 1928, Leonardo DiCaprio as the neurotic Howard Hughes ordered 10 chocolate chip cookies. But Ruth Graves Wakefield of Toll House Inn didn’t invent the dessert until the ’30s!
3. Titanic: That wasn’t DiCaprio’s only historical mistake! As the beloved Jack Dawson, he claimed his father ice fished on Lake Wissota—a lake created by a dam built in 1917, five years after the Titanic sank.
4. Back to the Future: Stop the presses—a movie about time travel wasn’t historically accurate! Marty played a Gibson ES335 guitar at the Under the Sea dance (set in 1955) but Gibson released that model in 1958.
5. Malcolm X: When Malcolm’s house gets firebombed in this Spike Lee film, he shouts for someone to call 911. But that emergency service wasn’t established until 1968, three years after his assassination.
6. Forrest Gump: No one tell Forrest, but his shares in Apple must’ve been fakes! The letter he received in the movie thanking him for his investment was dated 1975—six years before Apple went public.
7. Saving Private Ryan: C’mon, Tom! As Captain Miller, he leaned on a motorcycle after taking damage, but Ural didn’t release that hog model—the Ural M-63—until 1963, 20 years after the movie was set.
8. Django Unchained: Django donned slick shades in his bloody quest for revenge, but sunglasses were rare in the United States until 1929. Darn it, Tarantino!
9. Raiders of the Lost Ark: While Indy’s distracted by a vest-wearing monkey, a man in blue jeans and a t-shirt strolls right through the 1930s, Middle Eastern setting. Whoops!
10. The Last Crusade: Apparently, when it came to Indy, Spielberg couldn’t get his history right! In the 1938 setting, the doctor and his dad race to make sure a book isn’t burned—but most book burnings took place in 1933!
11. Pirates of the Caribbean: Somehow, Captain Hector Barbossa got his hands on a juicy granny smith apple, long before Australian grandmother Maria Ann Smith first cultivated them in 1868.
12. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End: British statesman Sir Stamford Raffles didn’t earn a statute in Singapore for “founding” the country until 1819. However, the pirates mentioned the country in the film—and go there years before it was discovered.
13. No Country For Old Men: A Carl’s Jr. snuck into the background of a shot in the award-winning film, but the franchise hadn’t made it to El Paso by 1980 when the film took place.
14. The Untouchables: The maple leaves decorating liquor crates in one scene of the 1987 film weren’t designed until 1965—30 years after the movie was supposed to take place.
15. Troy: Ancient Greeks invented parasols in the 5th century BCE, but Paris nonetheless attached a beautiful pink umbrella to his chariot 800 years early.
16. Gladiator: Maximus’s captors call him “The Spaniard,” but no one in the film’s 180 A.D. setting would’ve known what that meant. Spaniard is an Old French word first used in the 14th century.
17. Captain America: The First Avenger: The U.S. Army segregated soldiers until the Korean War, but that didn’t stop Captain America from fighting in the front lines of World War II with a diverse battalion.
18. The Green Mile: When authorities sentenced John Coffey to death by electric chair, the inmate should’ve jumped for joy. Louisiana didn’t adopt the chair for executions until 1940, five years after the movie was set. Before then, it was death by hanging!
19. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: When Azeem handed Robin Hood a telescope, the film set in 1194 took a huge leap into the future. Hans Lippershey didn’t invent the telescope for another 400 years!
20. Beyond the Sea: Presidential candidates weren’t assigned Secret Service agents until after Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Robert F. Kennedy. Yet in the film, Secret Service agents protect ol’ RFK himself!