We get it, though: historical accuracy was never an option.
1. Braveheart (1995)
Let's begin with an epic that no list of historical inaccuracies would be complete without: Mel Gibson's Braveheart. While it's an engaging piece of cinema with passionate speeches and grandiose battles, its association with actual history is tangential at best. Firstly, the portrayal of William Wallace as a highlander clad in a tartan kilt is centuries off, given that the tartan kilt did not make an appearance until around the 16th century, a good 300 years after Wallace's time. Furthermore, the depiction of the Battle of Stirling Bridge without, well, the actual bridge is a glaring oversight. It's like calling a movie Titanic and forgetting the ship.
2. The Patriot (2000)
Another Mel Gibson classic, The Patriot, might have stirred our emotions, but it also played fast and loose with historical facts. Gibson's character, Benjamin Martin, was based on Francis Marion, the real-life Swamp Fox of the American Revolution. However, the film conveniently omits Marion's slave ownership and paints him as a family man opposing slavery. The biggest historical stretch, though, might be the film's depiction of British soldiers as ruthless, church-burning monsters, a claim that has no historical basis.
3. 300 (2006)
300 is a visually stunning film that has spawned a thousand gym memes, but accurate history, it is not. The film takes considerable liberties with the Battle of Thermopylae. King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans did fight against a larger Persian force, but they weren't alone. They were part of a larger Greek force of about 7000. The Persians' number wasn't in the millions, as the film suggests, but closer to 100,000 – 150,000. The portrayal of Xerxes as an 8-foot-tall, nose-pierced, god-king is laughably incorrect. Also, the Spartan soldiers wore full body armor in battle, not just capes and speedos.
4. 10,000 BC (2008)
If you've seen 10,000 BC, you'll understand why it's included in this list. The film depicts the construction of the Egyptian pyramids in, well, 10,000 BC. The problem? The pyramids weren't built until around 2,600 BC. That's about 7,400 years off the mark, give or take a century. Add to that the appearance of domesticated horses and chickens, which weren't around in that era, and you've got a prehistoric mess that even a saber-toothed tiger couldn't clean up.
5. Alexander (2004)
Oliver Stone's Alexander made a heroic attempt to chronicle the life of Alexander the Great, but unfortunately, the factual bloopers are as grand as Alexander's conquests. First off, Angelina Jolie, playing Alexander's mother Olympias, is made to appear as a snake-worshipping witch, when there's no historical evidence to suggest this. Additionally, the movie has Alexander openly flaunting his bisexuality. While there were rumors about his sexual orientation, no historical documentation confirms this. Moreover, the Battle of Gaugamela, shown as fought in the harsh daylight, actually took place in early morning hours to avoid the heat. Finally, Alexander's death, portrayed as a result of poisoning in the film, remains a mystery in real life with multiple theories, including natural causes.
6. Gladiator (2000)
Ridley Scott's Gladiator is an undeniable cinematic masterpiece but falls short when it comes to historical accuracy. The protagonist Maximus Decimus Meridius, played by Russell Crowe, is entirely fictional, as is Commodus' depiction as an inept, whiny emperor. In reality, Commodus ruled for a good 12 years and was known for his athleticism. The film portrays Commodus' death in a gladiatorial combat, whereas he was actually assassinated in his bath. Additionally, the movie showcases an early version of the Praetorian Guard, Rome's Imperial bodyguards, as corrupt and loyal only to the highest bidder, which is a gross misrepresentation.
7. King Arthur (2004)
The 2004 film King Arthur makes a brave attempt to depict a historically accurate Arthur, but ends up muddling things more. The film is set in the late Roman Empire and posits Arthur as a Roman officer. The problem? The Arthurian legend originates from the Middle Ages, centuries later. The movie's Saxon invaders also arrive too early on the scene. And let's not forget Guinevere, who appears as a skilled warrior woman. While it's a cool concept, it's not one found in any historical texts about the period.
8. Pocahontas (1995)
Disney's Pocahontas might be an entertaining animation, but it's a historical mishmash. In the film, Pocahontas is a young woman when she meets John Smith, whereas in reality, she was about 10 or 11 years old (that's some stuff they clearly couldn't show you though.) Their romantic relationship is also a fabrication, as the real Pocahontas married John Rolfe, not Smith. Plus, the villainous governor Ratcliffe is shown leading the Jamestown expedition and causing conflict with the Native Americans, when in fact, he arrived later and was more of an unfortunate leader than a villain.
9. The Last Samurai (2003)
The Last Samurai provides a fictional account of an American military advisor embracing the Samurai culture he was originally hired to destroy. While the film beautifully showcases the Bushido code and the Samurai way of life, it misses the mark historically. Firstly, the character of Nathan Algren, played by Tom Cruise, is entirely fictional. The Satsuma Rebellion, which forms the movie's climax, involved many more samurai, not just a band of warriors. Also, the Samurai were not the Luddites they are shown to be. By the late 19th century, they had actually started adopting Western weaponry and tactics. Lastly, the portrayal of Emperor Meiji as a weak puppet controlled by his advisors is highly inaccurate; he was actually a strong, modernizing leader.
10. Troy (2004)
The epic movie Troy promises a thrilling tale of love, honor, and war, but it stumbles on the historical front – equally epically. A glaring inconsistency is that the whole Trojan War supposedly lasted ten years, not a few weeks as shown in the movie. The mighty Achilles, played by Brad Pitt, is killed by an arrow to his heel from Paris. However, in the original mythology, Achilles was made invulnerable as a baby by being dipped in the River Styx, except for his heel, which is where Paris ultimately strikes him – a nuance completely missed in the film. The characters' costumes and weapons also resemble Roman designs more than ancient Greek, probably a case of mistaken identity by the wardrobe department.
11. Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
This film offers a dramatic look at the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but several inaccuracies pop up. The film shows Sir Walter Raleigh as the Queen's romantic interest, but in reality, their relationship was likely more platonic than passionate. The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, is shown as a direct response to a failed assassination attempt on Elizabeth, which oversimplifies the complex political scenario of the time. The Spanish Armada, a critical part of the movie, is shown as a nighttime battle, while the actual combat took place during the day.
12. The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
The Other Boleyn Girl presents an intriguing tale of romance and rivalry between the Boleyn sisters for the love of King Henry VIII. However, it's more fiction than fact. The film depicts Anne and Mary Boleyn as close in age and growing up together. In reality, Mary was likely the elder sister, and Anne spent a significant part of her youth in the Netherlands and France. The dramatic scene of Anne's miscarriage, causing Henry to cast her off immediately, is also distorted. Anne did suffer a miscarriage, but it was not the immediate cause of her downfall.