40 Major Mistakes That You Probably Missed In Your Favorite War Movies

War films, by their very nature, purport to recreate true stories or at least take place against the backdrops of past real-life events. Yet it’s unlikely that everything you see on screen is 100 percent historically accurate. After all, movie producers would perhaps argue that people primarily head to theaters to be entertained – and so the needs of the story are more important than accuracy. But sometimes the factual liberties taken in the name of art can lead to the most absurd mistakes.

40. 1917 (2019)

Sam Mendes was motivated to make drama 1917 after his ex-soldier grandpa regaled the director with tales about WWI. But writer Cathy Tempelsman claimed in The New York Times that Mendes has crafted “a dangerously misleading picture of the war.” Why? Because, Tempelsman stated, 1917 suggests that the military chiefs cared about losing 1,600 troops. In reality, she wrote, “British high command sent hundreds of thousands of their young men to die.”

39. Midway (2019)

Midway claims to tell the tale of the pivotal Battle of Midway, which took place between June 3 and 6 in 1942. But for Military Times editor J.D. Simkins, Roland Emmerich’s action movie completely missed the mark. Among the writer’s main criticisms was, as Simkins stated on Twitter, the director’s blatant disregard for “basic American history and geography.” Ouch!

38. The Great Escape (1963)

In 2019 ABC News claimed that The Great Escape is “riddled with fiction.” And among the falsities in John Sturges’ beloved WWII adventure are the characters attempting to steal a German aircraft and that famous motorcycle jump to liberty. In real life, too, the recaptured prisoners were executed during the course of weeks, unlike the accelerated timeline seen on screen.

37. Braveheart (1995)

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Mel Gibson took home the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for biopic Braveheart – and the movie scooped three more Academy Awards as well. But when it comes to historical accuracy, this epic drama is left wanting. The Times has claimed that the picture includes a “litany of fibs.” Perhaps the worst of the bunch is that Braveheart’s depiction of the 1297 Battle of Stirling Bridge doesn’t even have a bridge in it.

36. Schindler’s List (1993)

In 2004 historian David Crowe wrote, “Schindler had almost nothing to do with the list.” The professor also contended that Steven Spielberg’s WWII drama Schindler’s List is “theatre, and not in an historically accurate way.” Crowe additionally claimed in his book Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities and the True Story Behind the List that Schindler couldn’t have created the list because he was serving time in prison for bribery charges when it was written.

35. The Thin Red Line (1998)

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Two decades after releasing his previous film, director Terence Malick returned to theaters with The Thin Red Line. Yet while his WWII movie won plenty of praise and seven Oscar nominations, it left historians displeased. For one thing, Kenneth Jackson complained in Perspectives on History that Malick’s drama presented an idyllic Guadalcanal. This was far from the “tropical hell” that the real soldiers endured. Jackson concluded, “The Thin Red Line… is not the place to learn about the Pacific War.”

34. Born on the Fourth Of July (1989)

Tom Cruise picked up an Oscar nomination for his role as Ron Kovic in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July. But two veterans who served with the real-life Kovic in Vietnam debate some of the events depicted in the biopic. Specifically, Rudy Molina Jr. and Dennis Kleppen told The Seattle Times in 2012 that Kovic was never left isolated during the firefight that resulted in him being paralyzed.

33. Glory (1989)

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In 1990 professor and Civil War expert Joseph Glatthaar told the LA Times that Glory is mostly accurate – but still has a couple of historical hiccups. The first issue is that the whipping scene in Edward Zwick’s drama wouldn’t have happened. That’s because the practice was illegal at the time, according to Glatthaar. The second problem is the presence of a sergeant major who didn’t exist in real life.

32. We Were Soldiers (2002)

The writers of the book that We Were Soldiers is based on, veterans Hal Moore and Joe Galloway, claimed that the action flick is roughly 70 percent accurate. But Hamilton College history professor Maurice Isserman thinks otherwise. So in 2002 Isserman wrote in the Utica Observer-Dispatch that the film’s depiction of the battle of Ia Drang – and its outcome – was entirely fictional. The historian said this was because director Randal Wallace evidently found the “historical truth inconvenient.”

31. The Imitation Game (2014)

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The Guardian labeled The Imitation Game’s attempt at historical accuracy a “garbled mess.” The paper’s main issue with Morten Tyldum’s biopic of Alan Turing was that the film “accused [Turing] of being a traitor.” This is in reference to a scene in which Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) agrees under duress to assist a Soviet spy. The Guardian called this “wholly imaginary and deeply offensive.”

30. The Last Samurai (2003)

In 2020 U.K. network Sky added a disclaimer to its description of The Last Samurai. This stated that Edward Zwick’s action flick contains “outdated attitudes, language and cultural depictions which may cause offence today.” The picture also ended up on Complex’s list of the “most racist movies.” Why? Because of its “white savior” storyline – likely made even worse because, historically, no U.S. Civil War vets actually featured in Japan’s Satsuma Rebellion of 1877.

29. 300 (2006)

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Zack Snyder’s 300 was inspired by the real-life Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. But while the action film depicts Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas fighting with just 300 men, in reality he had more like 7,000 at his disposal. And in the final standoff, Leonidas’ famous 300 were backed up by more than 1,000 other men. Mind you, the invading Persian army did still have a massive numbers advantage, with perhaps as many as 300,000 troops.

28. The Monuments Men (2014)

George Clooney directed, co-wrote and co-starred in WWII caper The Monuments Men. The film tells the true-life tale of the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives division seeking out art that the Nazis had pinched from the Allies. But according to The Guardian, Clooney and co don’t get all of the facts straight. Specifically, the movie makes a big deal about the Soviets trying to take various artworks from the Monuments team. But this is a turn of events that never took place.

27. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

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In 1958 The Bridge on the River Kwai took home seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director for David Lean. Yet while the adventure movie tells a tale about WWII prisoners of war who, in real life, did indeed construct a formidable bridge in Thailand, the picture doesn’t always stick to the facts. The film memorably ends, for instance, with the collapse of the titular bridge. In reality, though, the bridge remains intact to this very day.

26. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Robin Williams played army radio host Adrian Cronauer in Barry Levinson’s comedy Good Morning, Vietnam. And guess what? He was inspired by a real-life army DJ called Adrian Cronauer. But that’s mostly where the similarities end. As USA Today reported, the actual Cronauer said to the American Veterans Center in 2008, “If I had done stuff that Robin Williams did in that movie, I’d still be in Leavenworth.”

25. Paths of Glory (1957)

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Stanley Kubrick brought WWI vividly to life with his gritty trench warfare drama, Paths of Glory. For the ending, though, the director employed a touch of Hollywood wish fulfillment. That’s because the film’s villain is based on a real general named Géraud Réveilhac. But while in Paths of Glory the character soon receives his just desserts, the man actually got off scot free. And later he even received one of the highest honors that can be bestowed in France.

24. They Died with Their Boots On (1941)

The Guardian wrote that Raoul Walsh’s They Died with Their Boots On contains more mistakes “than bullets flew at the Battle of Little Bighorn.” The historical inaccuracies include incorrect dates and failing to depict incidents in the proper order. But even more concerning is the biopic’s positioning of General Custer (played by Errol Flynn) as a protector of Native American rights. According to history, it was Custer who brought about the Great Sioux War.

23. K19: The Widowmaker (2002)

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The National Geographic Society is renowned for its adherence to factual accuracy. But even though the organization put its weight behind Kathryn Bigelow’s K-19: The Widowmaker, the thriller still features a couple of historical clangers. Take, for example, the helicopter that hovers above the titular submarine during an extended action sequence. This didn’t happen in real life because, well, there were no choppers on American battleships at that time.

22. Valkyrie (2008)

Historian Antony Beevor admitted that he thought seeing Tom Cruise play a German officer in thriller Valkyrie was “bound to be a hoot.” But his mirth soon turned to frustration when, as he wrote in The Guardian, the filmmakers “felt compelled to improve on history.” His biggest complaint? That director Bryan Singer created the sense that the plan to kill Hitler almost worked – when in fact it was an outright failure.

21. The Dam Busters (1955)

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In The Dam Busters, wing commander Guy Gibson (played by Richard Todd) is inspired to create a crucial piece of technology after seeing women dancing in a club. But while this might make for a nice sequence in Michael Anderson’s drama, it didn’t actually happen. In fact, the device used by the squadron was actually dreamed up by someone from the ministry of aircraft production named Ben Lockspeiser.

20. U-571 (2000)

Director Jonathan Mostow’s U-571 was so controversial that even the contemporary British Prime Minister denounced the WWII movie. The action flick tells the story of a U.S. submarine crew who successfully seize an Enigma coding machine. In actual fact, however, it was the Brits who got hold of the device – over half a year before America even joined the Second World War.

19. Dunkirk (2017)

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Historian Antony Beevor had a number of issues with Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning WWII drama Dunkirk. Writing for The Guardian in 2018, Beevor decried the movie’s “miles of empty, pristine beaches” that should have been filled with “400,000 men and their discarded equipment.” Plus, he said, the Royal Navy actually saved more men than the civilian ships – something the finished film doesn’t suggest.

18. American Sniper (2014)

The antagonist in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper is an Iraqi gunman named Mustafa, played by Sammy Sheik. In the Iraq War-set movie, Mustafa and Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle fight it out until one of them dies. Yet in Kyle’s own autobiography, he wrote, “I never saw [Mustafa], but other snipers later killed an Iraqi sniper we think was him.”

17. Windtalkers (2002)

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John Woo actioner Windtalkers shows how two WWII Marines act as protectors for Navajo code talkers. According to The Baltimore Sun, however, those who were there at the time debate the accuracy of this “true” story. A surviving code talker, Chester Nez, even reportedly said, “I didn’t have anyone following me, nor did I see guys who did.”

16. Enemy at the Gates (2001)

In Enemy at the Gates, Jean-Jacques Annaud tells a tale of battling snipers in Russia during WWII. Yet while the movie’s producers had apparently paid up on the basis of it being inspired by true events, historian Antony Beevor discovered that it is, in fact, fiction. “The whole story of the sniper duel… had been a clever figment of Soviet propaganda,” Beevor wrote in The Guardian in 2018.

15. Darkest Hour (2017)

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Gary Oldman took home an Oscar for his performance as Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. Yet this WWII drama still managed to provoke the ire of Antony Beevor. This is partly because the film features a scene set in the subway – despite the fact that Churchill never once visited the place. On top of this, the movie sees the British leader repeatedly inside underground bunkers – even though the events are set before the German bombing campaign started.

14. The Hurt Locker (2008)

The Hurt Locker won six Academy Awards, including one for best film and one for its director, Kathryn Bigelow. Inevitably, however, not everybody was impressed with how the Iraq War thriller turned out. In particular, Paul Rieckhoff, a veteran who actually served in Iraq, told NPR in 2010 that the opening scene “just doesn’t make sense.” In addition, he said that the moment when one character goes into Baghdad dressed in civvies is “completely ridiculous.”

13. Flyboys (2006)

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As the title suggests, Tony Bill’s Flyboys centers around a team of fighter pilots during WWI. And such a plot line naturally calls for plenty of aircraft and in-air action. Unfortunately, though, the drama heavily features Fokker Triplane fighters – which reportedly weren’t used much during the period depicted in the film. Many of the planes on screen are also for some reason painted red. But that being said, producer Dean Devlin has apparently admitted that this was for aesthetic rather than historical reasons.

12. The Patriot (2000)

British journalist Andrew Marr reportedly called The Patriot, an American Revolution drama from director Roland Emmerich, “a stinker.” Why? Well, Marr apparently pointed out that during the war many African Americans actually sided with the British – and not with “their white rebel ‘brothers,’” as seen in the film. He also seemingly disapproved of the portrayal of the Brits and the lack of any mention of the supporting French armies.

11. Jarhead (2005)

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Former Marine Nathaniel Fick gave his opinion of Jarhead to Slate in 2005. Fick in fact commended directer Sam Mendes for getting “much of the big stuff right.” He pulled no punches, however, on other aspects of the Gulf War drama. Specifically, he questioned the accuracy of men being left behind, a Marine dying during training without consequences and the celebratory antics of the soldiers.

10. The Green Berets (1968)

According to The Guardian, John Wayne and Ray Kellogg’s The Green Berets is little more than “propaganda.” The U.S. Department of Defense apparently even had final approval over its script. So it’s perhaps not surprising that while the film seemingly sees American soldiers solely performing good deeds during the Vietnam War, this was sometimes far from the case in real life.

9. Pearl Harbor (2001)

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Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor hit movie screens in May 2001. But before it had even been released, The Guardian reported that the film had angered veterans who’d survived the attack. The main grievance seemed to be that the WWII flick implies that just a couple of pilots fought the Japanese that day. In real life, however, it was closer to 90. Veteran Ray Emory said, “[The movie] doesn’t make me proud.”

8. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge’s producer Bill Mechanic told People magazine in 2017 that he believed he and director Mel Gibson accurately portrayed the events as they actually happened in WWII. He did confess, however, that their drama took liberties with parts of the backstory and chronology. “If you’re a slave to the complete facts, then you’re not making a movie that is compelling,” he said.

7. Battle of the Bulge (1965)

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In real life, the Battle of the Bulge took place in December 1944 under a blanket of snow. It also saw soldiers going head to head in an Ardennes forest. Yet in Ken Annakin’s 1965 WWII drama Battle of the Bulge, some scenes show no snow whatsoever. Similarly, the backdrop to the fight appears to be significantly less tree-lined than a forest would have been.

6. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Saving Private Ryan, from director Steven Spielberg, is of course celebrated for its visceral opening sequence. But at one point in this graphic WWII adventure, a sniper shoots an opposing sharpshooter in the eye directly through the other man’s gun scope. And a show called History Buffs highlighted in a YouTube video that this shot would be impossible in real life owing to the trajectory of such a bullet traveling through the air.

5. Red Tails (2012)

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Anthony Hemingway’s action flick Red Tails is based on the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen during WWII. And at one point in the film, it’s claimed that not one bomber the fighters were protecting was taken out by enemy fire. In 2007, however, the Associated Press announced that an Air Force report said otherwise. Specifically, it stated that the Tuskegee Airmen had lost no fewer than 25 bombers in this way.

4. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

When people think of Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam drama Full Metal Jacket, they probably hear R. Lee Ermey’s terrifying Gunnery Sergeant. But while Ermey dominates the film, it seems that not everything about his portrayal is realistic. In particular, Popular Mechanics magazine wrote in 2013 that “military experts” said boot camps such as this one would more likely have been run by three drill instructors instead of just one.

3. G.I. Jane (1997)

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At one point in G.I. Jane, a helicopter is seen flying towards battle – with nothing in its rocket launchers. Yet in one way, at least, Ridley Scott’s action picture was ahead of its time. After all, the war movie sees Demi Moore’s Jordan O’Neill trying to pass through Navy SEAL-like training – but there has still yet to be a female Navy SEAL in real life.

2. Fury (2014)

Bill Betts, a veteran who served in WWII, spoke to The Guardian in 2014 about David Ayer’s tank actioner Fury. And while he admitted that the movie is “very realistic,” Betts did also say that the finale was one step too far. “In reality, [the Germans] would have been battle-hardened and fanatical troops who would have easily taken out an immobile Sherman tank using Panzerfausts,” he said.

1. The Longest Day (1962)

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Ken Annakin and John Wayne each make second appearances on our list, this time with D-Day action flick The Longest Day. This time around, though, it’s a technical goof that raised eyebrows. Here, one character wears a Distinguished Flying Cross. But the website Movie Mistakes claims that the medal shown on camera is both the wrong type of medal and the wrong way up.

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