Top five war movies that strayed a bit too far from history

There is an extensive list of high-quality movies based around real battles and wars, and many of them gain some of their credibility from a close attention to historical accuracy. However, there is no shortage of titles that deviate dramatically from their factual basis.

From ancient Sparta to the Vietnam War, directors have gotten more than a few details wrong in their dramatic depictions of the past. Here are five war movies that strayed a little too far from the actual wars they were based upon.

Kingdom Of Heaven

Ridley Scott is no stranger to creative license in historical films, but his crusades epic, Kingdom of Heaven, was exceptionally far from reality.

The movie’s protagonist, Balian, was not the heroic figure Scott portrayed him as. For example, the film shows the surrender of Jerusalem as a decision reached by Saladin and Balian while meeting in respectful negations.

In reality, Saladin, the defender of Jerusalem bartered for his surrender by threatening to kill 5000 innocent Muslim slaves and burning down both the Mosque al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. Also, Balian was only in the city by accident, as he was trying to flee from the battle when he was trapped there during the siege.

The Hurt Locker

This award-winning and critically acclaimed war drama is an excellent movie with some exceptional performances. The accuracy of the events depicted, however, has subsequently been called into question.

Firstly, the bomb disposal unit is seen putting the lives of soldiers and civilians at risk in a way that would never have been acceptable in a real war zone.

The protagonist apparently defused 870 bombs. This is also highly unrealistic, as it would have required an average of three every day, not normal for a bomb disposal’s expertise.

Veterans of the Iraq war have criticized the melodramatic tone of the movie as a whole and the disrespectful attitude of the hero towards his superiors.


The iconic 300 movie was a visually stunning depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae. While it was technically based on historical events, this depiction of the conflict strays considerably from the facts.

Significantly more than 300 defenders were fighting alone against the Persians. The famous band of Spartans was part of a much larger force, estimated to number more than 5000 men. They were in turn supported by Athenian soldiers arriving by sea. During the final stand, historians estimate the Persians were facing a group of roughly 1400 Greeks. Of this force, the majority were not from Sparta, and there would have been more had Leonidas not wanted to hold back a reserve force.

Pearl Harbor

It is one of the most widely ridiculed historically inaccurate movies ever. The movie was a controversial depiction of the Pearl Harbor attacks and left both critics and historians less than impressed.

The narrative follows the real events of the assault on December 7, 1941. Director Michael Bay not only embellished the story considerably but made numerous evident mistakes in maintaining historical accuracy throughout.

For example, the appearance of a crop dusting plane in a scene which is supposedly in 1923 is completely out of place, as the US Department of Agriculture did not issue those planes until three years later. Branded Marlboro Lights are seen at least once, although that brand was not introduced until the 1970s. Air conditioning is in use in the White House that was not installed until the 1950s, and Japanese Zero fighters were depicted as green when they were, in reality, gray.

Other inconsistencies saw Japanese planes attacking airfields and targeting medical staff, neither of which happened.

The Green Berets

This movie, set during the Vietnam War, was originally intended to sway the public in America towards a more positive attitude to the conflict.

Starring John Wayne, the makers of this critically panned film hoped to show that the war was justified. The final cut was riddled with historical inaccuracies, and the movie was poorly received.

The Vietnamese Jungle was replaced with pine trees, and the ground primarily consisted of a red clay never found in the area in which the movie was depicted. John Wayne was too old and overweight to have been allowed into the army and can be seen on several occasions holding his rifle the wrong way round.

Malcolm Higgins

Malcolm Higgins is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE