For better or for worse, historical accuracy is often given up for entertainment purposes in military movies. Even the military movies most people think are accurate contain information that is misleading to viewers. Here are five major military movies that contain misleading and inaccurate historical information.
1. The Imitation Game (2014)
This 2014 historical biopic follows mathematical genius and cryptologist Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his role in breaking the German Enigma Code during the Second World War.
Based on the 1983 Biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, the movie focuses on Turing’s role in building the machine that would eventually break the German Enigma Code. The movie would have the viewer believe that Turing single-handedly thought up the concept of this machine and then physically built it by hand.
In reality, however, an earlier version of Turing’s machine (nicknamed Bombe) had previously been invented by Polish cryptologists before Turing had even started working for the British Government.
Similarly, The Imitation Game would have its viewers believe that Turing was single-handedly responsible for the invention of Bombe, when in reality it was a joint effort by himself and fellow mathematician cryptologist Gordon Welchman. Interestingly enough, Welchman was not even mentioned in the film.
2. Darkest Hour (2017)
Darkest Hour is another historical biopic that follows Winston Churchill’s (Garry Oldman) first few weeks in office throughout May 1940. The movie focuses on whether or not Churchill and the British people should stand up to Hitler and fight or accept peace negotiations.
The most famous scene in Darkest Hour is the scene where Churchill rides the tube and asks his fellow Londoners whether he should accept peace negotiations or not. Following this ride, Churchill goes into Parliament and immediately delivers his famous “we shall fight on the beaches” speech which received a standing ovation.
The history of this dramatization is quite different than the movie would have viewers believe. For starters, there is absolutely no evidence that Churchill ever rode the tube to ask Londoners what route should be taken. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten states that Churchill would “often go AWOL [during this time], disappear and pop up in London with ordinary people.”
Military historian and Churchill biographer Ashley Jackson, however, states that in his opinion, Churchill was so sure of himself and his choice that he would never ask the local population their opinion.
Similarly, the famous “fight on the beaches” scene is also highly misleading. For starters, the movie had the viewers believe that Churchill gave this speech in Parliament on May 28, 1940, when in reality it was given June 4, 1940.
This scene in Darkest Hour was depicted pretty much as Churchill had remembered it in his own memoir, standing ovation and all. In reality, it was remembered differently. According to Hugh Dalton, Churchill’s intentions were met with “enthusiasm” and a “mummer of approval,” but not the thunderous applause and standing ovation Churchill and Darkest Hour depict.
3. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Arguably one of the best and most accurate military dramas of all time, Saving Private Ryan follows Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) and his soldiers behind enemy lines to find Private James Ryan (Matt Damon). Private Ryan’s three brothers had all previously been killed in action and the U.S. military wanted to send Private Ryan home to his family.
Although the movie doesn’t have too many historical inaccuracies, there are some notable minor ones. For starters, the squad’s journey in enemy territory takes place practically in complete daylight. For obvious reasons, this is very dangerous and any movement that was happening would have happened once it was dark.
Similarly, during this mission, the squad is often chatting and are seen with their helmets off. Again, for safety reasons, this would have been a very irregular practice. Nonetheless, Saving Private Ryan remains one of the best visual depictions of D-Day during the Second World War.
4. The Patriot (2000)
The Patriot is an American Revolution epic that follows South Carolina’s Benjamin Martin’s (Mel Gibson) journey throughout the war. Originally a pacifist and veteran of the French and Indian War, Benjamin Martin becomes a patriot militia leader once his son is killed.
Although a fictional character, Benjamin Martin is said to be based on real historical people including Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, Daniel Morgan, and Francis Marion. Although Benjamin Martin freed slaves in The Patriot, the reality of the situation was that both Thomas Sumter and Francis Marion owned slaves.
Slavery in general was another misleading topic shown in The Patriot. Viewers who do not have extensive historical backgrounds might think that slavery was nearly nonexistent in the American Revolution. The issue of slavery is nearly eliminated from The Patriot.
The one African American character that The Patriot features, named Occam (Jay Arlen Jones), fights with Martin’s militia in return for his freedom. Historically, however, African Americans during the Revolutionary War had a better chance of obtaining freedom by fighting with the Loyalists.
5. Flyboys (2006)
The last movie on our list that is misleading for viewers is Flyboys. The movie follows a group of American men who go to France to enlist in the French Air Force prior to America entering the First World War.
The most glaring inaccuracy is the combination of the Lafayette Escadrille with the Lafayette Flying Corps. The Lafayette Escadrille was formed in 1915 with only a handful of novice American aviators joining.
However, as word spread that Americans were able to fly in Europe, more men volunteered their time and went to France. Unable to accommodate these new volunteers within the original unit, French Air Service leaders formed Lafayette Flying Corps.
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Flyboys made it seem that only a small number of Americans volunteered to fight in France during the First World War. Flyboys covers 1916 to America’s entrance to the war in 1917 and took over the Lafayette Escadrille. Flyboys would have the viewers believe that there was only a handful of American pilots in France in 1917, when in reality, hundreds of Americans were already flying overseas.