Leonidas at Thermopylae by Jacques-Louis David (1814) Louvre Museum (Public Domain)

The Greatest History Movie Blunders Ever Made


Hollywood producers and directors have never once been praised for rigorously sticking to the facts and whether it's a medieval epic or a modern war film they generally fail when it comes to relaying what actually happened, historically. Their premise is that facts should never ever get in the way of a good story and while in some cases reality has only been tweaked, often the facts are twisted beyond all recognition and the portrayal of history is simply too ridiculous to ignore.

Alexander the Great in the Temple of Jerusalem by Sebastiano Conca (1736) Museo del Prado (Public Domain)

Alexander the Great in the Temple of Jerusalem by Sebastiano Conca (1736) Museo del Prado ( Public Domain )


This epic war film depicting the story of Alexander the Great is a great example of both really bad directing and editing. Already at the opening of the movie, when the narrator Ptolemy opens his story of Alexander, the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria is shown fully operational, even though the building was completed during the reign of Ptolemy's son, Ptolemy II Philadelphos, after the first Ptolemy's death.

A drawing of the Pharos of Alexandria by German archaeologist Prof. H. Thiersch (1909). (Public Domain)

A drawing of the Pharos of Alexandria  by German archaeologist Prof. H. Thiersch (1909). ( Public Domain )

Alexander draping a cloak over the dead king Darius, who is clearly breathing, is a rookie mistake in directing, as was the scene when a young Alexander tamed a horse and rides off bareback, while the actor's feet are in stirrups. Then when Alexander gave his pre-battle speech at Gaugamela some of the shots are flipped making all of the phalanx pikemen left-handed.

However, the most controversial error almost landed director Oliver Stone with a lawsuit for suggesting Alexander was bisexual, under Greek libel law. A group of 25 lawyers led by Yannis Varnakos threatened to sue the director and said: “We are not saying that we are against gays, but we are saying that the production company should make it clear to the audience that this film is pure fiction and not a true depiction of the life of Alexander.”

The Trial of William Wallace at Westminster by Daniel Maclise (1870) (Public Domain)

The Trial of William Wallace at Westminster by Daniel Maclise (1870) ( Public Domain)


Mel Gibson’s hair raising and emotion charging Braveheart is a mixed bag of historical blunders but perhaps the biggest mistake is when William Wallace seduced King Edward II’s Wife, Isabella of France. If this happened in real life then the Scottish hero was a pedophile, as Isabella was only a little girl at the time.  


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Ashley Cowie  is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history .

Top Image : Leonidas at Thermopylae by Jacques-Louis David (1814) Louvre Museum ( Public Domain )

By Ashley Cowie

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