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Top 10 Common Things Movies and TV Get Wrong About History

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden

Those who get history wrong, are doomed to repeat it. For this list, we’re looking at the most frequent inconsistencies and inaccuracies in films and television shows depicting historical events, people, and things. Join WatchMojo as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Most Common Things Movies and TV Get Wrong About History.

Check out the voting page for this list and add your picks: https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top%2010%20Most%20Common%20Things%20Movies%20And%20TV%20Get%20Wrong%20About%20History Special thanks to our user bobbylashley18 suggesting this idea!


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Script written by Garrett Alden

Top 10 Most Common Things Movies and TV Get Wrong About History

Those who get history wrong, are doomed to repeat it. Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Common Things Movies and TV Get Wrong About History.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most frequent inconsistencies and inaccuracies in films and television shows depicting historical events, people, and things.

#10: When Certain Events Happened

Hollywood regularly features stories where stated dates don’t line up with their actual historical ones. Although the last few centuries are generally pretty safe, the likelihood of errors often increases the further back something is set, with events often placed in the wrong year, decade, century, or, in extreme cases, millennium. In other cases, events that should take place many years apart take place in closer or farther proximity. This is likely due to artistic license, or telling the story that those in charge want to tell, and sometimes they even have people meet each other who never met in real life, or who weren’t alive at the same time.

#9: Customs & Traditions

Every culture across the world has a host of traditions and idiosyncrasies that give them a distinct identity all their own. However, films and shows often gloss over these behaviors, get them wrong, or omit them completely, in favor of having the characters act like people from modern day. While this is sometimes the result of ignorance on the part of the creators, in other cases it’s to make the characters feel more relatable - or else it’s to avoid stopping the narrative to explain the custom to the audience.

#8: The Appropriate Clothing & Music of the Period

How characters are dressed and the music they listen to can help establish the time and place of a period in history. However, movies and TV regularly get them wrong. People will wear clothing that was not commonly worn during the period of the story, or in some cases hadn’t even been invented yet, such as the kilts worn in “Braveheart.” Songs are even more egregious, though, as when songs were written, particularly those from the last century, is usually well documented and easy to look up online. In most cases, Hollywood seems to shoot for establishing the mood of a time period, rather than to make it accurate.

#7: The Technology That Did or Didn't Exist

While outfits and music are a bit understandable, technological mistakes seem a bit more egregious in our minds. Characters will often use tools and other technology that won’t be created for years. In many cases, the creators of the media in question will have the characters use the technology due to convenience, or to make a cool scene, such as the use of dynamite in “Django Unchained.” This is especially bad when it comes to more modern technology, like computers, since the documentation on their creation is significantly easier to find.

#6: A Character’s Motivation

Much like their customs, historical figures are often given modernizations to make them more palatable to current day audiences. Heroes are shown to fight for freedom and equality, which are ideals prized by people today, when they were far more likely to pursue things for reasons like nationalism, protecting their families, or just to stay alive. Meanwhile, antagonists and villains are usually played up as being completely irredeemable when they often had more depth to their motives than simply doing evil things for their own sake.

#5: A Person’s Personality

Not only does Hollywood alter people’s motives, but they also mess up their personalities. Though historical figures’ personalities can be difficult to discern the farther back in time we look, some things are generally known about famed, ancient people and Hollywood rarely gets them right, or consistent, often amplifying one personality trait. Cleopatra, for example, is usually portrayed as a seductress, despite having more to her character than that. Even more recent historical figures are not immune to having their characters warped for the sake of a good story either.

#4: How Old Someone Was During a Certain Period

Hollywood has a real problem with getting the age of characters right, regardless of whether they’re real or fictional. It can be very distracting sometimes for those in the know to see historical people who are years or decades older or younger than they should be during a certain period. Still, we understand that casting is often the result of the ability of the actor and not necessarily historical accuracy. Sometimes, though, it’s clearly the result of revisionism, such as Pocahontas, who is drawn as a teenager or young adult in the Disney film, but was actually only a preteen during the real-life events depicted in the movie.

#3: Accents & Language

Historical media made for English-speaking audiences almost always have the characters speaking modern English in English or American accents, regardless of time period the story is set in or the culture of the people speaking. Part of the reason for this is the need to make the film more palatable and/or understandable to English speaking audiences; after all, there are plenty of people who think that subtitles distract from the action onscreen. Also, it’s just so much easier to get actors to speak an accent of their own language, rather than another language entirely.

#2: The Skin Color of a Person or Whole Civilization

Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record with racial anything, do they? Historical films and shows often feature characters that are depicted by actors who are not the correct race for the location or the time. Either they’ve cast all white people, in that classic Hollywood whitewashing maneuver, or else they’re arguably too racially diverse, featuring people of color during a time and place when it would’ve been bizarre. In either case, historical revisionism is often the culprit, though ambivalence, ignorance, and political correctness (or a lack thereof) are other common causes.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

Inaccurate Gender Roles

Made-Up Happy Endings

#1: Which Person Accomplished What

What’s the point of making your mark on history, if they’re just going to get it wrong later on? Hollywood will often give credit to people, groups, or countries that didn’t do whatever it is they said they did. In other cases, a person’s accomplishments are multiplied or exaggerated. Though this is sometimes a case of myth or rumor becoming more well-known than the facts, in most cases, it’s used to glorify the subject of the story, whether it be a person or a country, to make them appear more impressive or heroic.

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