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. Again in Gladiator, there is an epic scene depicting the intense “Battle of Carthage” in the Colosseum, and one of the chariots is turned over. However, once the dust settles, you can see a gas cylinder in the back of the chariot.
18. 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.
19. 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!
20. 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!
21. 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!
22. The Dark Knight, starring Christian Bale as Batman and Heath Ledger as The Joker, was a critically acclaimed movie with a cult following, though it would seem that one of the journalists at The Gotham Times might have trouble with spelling and grammar. Can you spot the mistake?
23. In The Usual Suspects, moments before they rob the police car, a Boeing 747 with four engines can be spotted in the landing shots. But when the plane is shown from behind, its only got two engines and fewer main landing gears, making it more likely to be a Boeing 767.
24. American Sniper got mixed reviews when it came out, though one scene was driving everybody crazy. That’s right. The plastic baby. After Chris (Bradley Cooper) feeds his baby daughter, it becomes very clear that the baby he’s holding is in fact made entirely of plastic. Look closely and you’ll see—that’s not a real infant, but an unoriginal Christmas gift.
25. Gone With The Wind, the timeless classic still very much enjoyed today, happens to contain a few very visible mistakes as well. In one scene, Ashley is brought back wounded from the raid where Scarlett’s husband Mr Kennedy was killed. Melanie grabs a gas lamp to follow the man carrying Ashley to the bedroom… where you can see an electrical cord hanging down from it.
26. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman were both praised for their roles in the iconic Shawshank Redemption, where the characters plot a prison break through a hole they dug themselves and covered it with a poster of the film One Million Years B.C. However, this movie only came out after the characters escaped prison.
27. When a gun is about to go off in Alfred Hitchcock’s renowned 1959 film, North by Northwest, a child has his fingers in his ears before shots are even fired. Maybe this child is psychic!
28. In The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and Scarecrow are fighting trees, Scarecrow gets hit by a bunch of apples. But if you quickly look down at Dorothy’s feet during the very next scene, you can see that she is wearing black shoes, as opposed to her red, ruby slippers.
29. When astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead by his crew in The Martian, they have no choice but to leave him behind on Mars so they can escape a storm in time. In the scene where Mark is trying to fix his vehicle, there is actually a person walking around wearing a tank top in the background. Life on Mars is real after all!
30. Another Tarantino movie, another list of fresh mistakes. About to receive a life-saving shot of adrenaline in Pulp Fiction, Uma Thurman gets a red mark on her chest, which is where the needle must go. Once the shot was given, the red mark disappears.
31. Jack Sparrow, dressed like a 1960’s hippie sex symbol, is the hilarious protagonist of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Though his character was always dressed to the nines, we’re not quite sure where he got his Adidas headpiece since they weren’t really around during this time…
32. Actor Laurie Goode says he was as shocked as anyone to see that George Lucas used this now infamous take. It is one of the most popular mistakes in the Star Wars film franchise: the head-banging Stormtrooper in A New Hope.
33. In fact, the Star Wars franchise didn’t seem to have an eye for detail as the films are practically all filled with mistakes. People’s clothes regularly disappear and reappear, or just switch sides altogether. This scene, where Lando Calrissian wishes Han Solo luck before they each head off to the final battle, Empire Lando’s clothes magically flipped.
34. While we’re on the subject of indecisive wardrobes, the German Feldwebel in Inglourious Basterds, who gets beaten to death with a baseball bat, has a badge over his left breast pocket that tends to be quite magical too.
35. Halloween, the spooky classic of the fall is set in a fictional town in the Midwest. The thing is, towns in the Midwest, fictional or not, don’t usually have palm trees. Bonus fact: though set in Illinois, all of the cars also have California license plates.
36. Despite New York City being home to Spiderman when he fights Sandman, you can clearly see the Cleveland Terminal Tower in the background… as he balances on the Chicago L tracks.
37. When the T-1000 is driving the truck in Terminator 2, he appears to drive off a bridge as the windshield comes off. However, in the next scene, the windshield is back on. Is the truck a Terminator as well… ?
38. We can all admit that the stunts in Top Gun were incredible, but not at all realistic. It’s too bad that in the real world, if Maverick and Goose flew their planes that close together (with one upside down), the wings would likely crash into each other and a deadly collision would quickly follow.
39. And finally, during the final battle at the end of The Avengers, Captain America’s costume gets a tear near the waist. In the next shot, however, it’s apparently fixed itself. Pretty cool skills, superhero outfit!