I think a great example of this is the movie The Thirteenth Warrior. I'm sure that, to a lot of people, this was a brain dead, generic medieval warrior movie. However, I think the premise (taken from Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead) was actually pretty cool. The goal was to create a very loose retelling of the Beowulf epic, combined with the theory of neanderthal survival into the Dark Ages and told from the prospective of real life Arab historian Ahmad ibn Fadlan. For me, the very idea stirs the imagination and even though there are loads of historical inaccuracies (the Vikings using weapons and armour from all sorts of inappropriate places and time periods, a total misrepresentation of Viking vs. Arab horses, etc.) I think these were probably intentional. The concept is a mashup of a whole bunch of mythical, historical and biological stuff so such inaccuracies only add to the charm. A great example is how the Norsemen are represented as filthy. While in truth they were just as, or more, clean than most peoples during the period, the story is told from the perspective of Ahmad. All we know is how he saw things, not things as they actually were.
Other movies however, do not far as well. They misrepresent history but for no good purpose. The movies on this list rob the viewer of a glimpse of another time period and offer a vision or message that is either completely uninteresting, or downright stupid. There are countless movies that could easily have made this list like Rob Roy or Pathfinder which I did not include for various reasons. Rob Roy is inaccurate but is faithful to the book and is also totally awesome. Pathfinder is inaccurate but it's so terrible in general that I don't find its inaccuracy to be all that annoying. I find its very existence annoying and therefore it would be a candidate for films that I generally despise. Kingdom of Heaven was a million times better but I find its inaccuracies to be extremely annoying. Hence, it's on the list.
Why isn't Alexander on the list? Well, although that movie is bad (and inaccurate) what annoys me most is that the movie was boring and horrible, not that it was inaccurate. Hence, it's not on the list. One dishonourable mention I have to give out is to King Arthur. In some ways, it should almost be number one because it tries to make mythical ideas seem plausible and that they might be based in fact. It then totally screws this up by creating something that's just as unbelievable as the myth but without any of the charm and personality of the legends. However, again, this film has way worse going on in it than mere historical inaccuracy. Three out of the five movies here take place in the medieval period because it's the time period I most care about. Also, movies that take place in the ancient world (Gladiator, Troy, Spartacus, etc.) usually do better for some reason.
I enjoyed Braveheart when I first saw it and I can still bring myself to watch it every so often. Unlike Oliver Stone's Alexander (whose movies have a real penchant for fucking up all manner of history be it classical, political or rock music), the inaccuracies drag down a film that's still entertaining. It's probably because the movie feels less like it's trying to be a bones to balls accurate representation of the past. The weapons and armour are pretty much dead wrong and it looks like it takes place in the Iron Age or something, rather than 100 years AFTER Kingdom of Heaven (I know it takes place in Scotland and all, but the English should look more impressive at least).
But what really annoys me is how they messed up the battles. The Battle of Stirling Bridge (depicted sans bridge and river in the movie) was way more than a bunch of screaming men charging at each other. It's stuff like this that propagates the myth that there was no such thing as military strategy between the Romans and Napolean. The movie also does a terrible job of portraying Wallace as a great tactician, as his bright idea is to “use spears... long spears...” to impale cavalry. A critical observer might rightly ask, “Why hadn't the Scots done this before? Did they not have axes? Is there something in their water making them stupid?” The technique of using schiltrons demanded a lot of training and preparation because they were expected to remain in a variety of formations and move around both offensively and defensively as the situation needed. It was hardly the “Quick, pick up these sharpened logs before they figure out what's going on!” approach depicted in the movie. Moreover, in reality, Wallace also used the schiltrons during the Battle of Falkirk where, in the movie, they are suspiciously absent. My guess is that they didn't want to show them at that point in the movie because it was Wallace's major defeat and they didn't want to make it seem like a bad idea or something.
But this brings me to another point. One of the main reasons he lost was because of the presence of Welsh longbowmen, something that was totally unprecedented and for which it is understandable Wallace had not prepared for. Wouldn't it have been cool to see Wallace, a man already established as a great leader and bringing something new to the battlefield, only to be beaten by another secret weapon that was the fruit of Edward's brutal conquest of the Celtic peoples? But no, it'd be better to see him simply betrayed by his friends (including Moray which I don't even have the time to go into) and see a bunch of idiots mob the field. This also robs us of a more accurate glimpse into Edward I who was also a brilliant military commander. His victories weren't entirely dependent on his huge bankroll that allowed him to pay people not to fight him.
But the worst is the relationship between Wallace and the Princess of Wales. The possibility of such a thing happening is beyond ridiculous. They never sent her unprotected into Scotland to talk to Wallace, she never went up to the tower of London to talk to him, she never met him in person. It's more likely she would have had an affair with Robert the Bruce. “But she didn't meet him either”, you might say. EXACTLY. To top it all off, the movie tries to give the viewer the impression that the whole Plantagenet line dies with Edward I as she's carrying Wallace's kid and she plans to depose Edward II. Well, it's true that Isabella did depose her husband but you'd be wrong to think her son was any friend to the Scots. Edward III spent the first few years of his rule removing power from his mom, executing her lover and then testing out the newly completed English longbowmen armies on his northern neighbours. The only reason he didn't finish the job and take over Scotland entirely is because he had bigger fish to fry: France. He just wanted to kill as many Scots as possible with minimal effort so they wouldn't bother him when he went away.
The cherry on top of this mess is the ending scene, which is not only unhistorical but also nonsensical. In it, Robert the Bruce stands before his army, preparing to go have his crown endorsed by the English. He then decides that he's not going to suffer this indignity and leads his men to charge the fields of Bannockburn, where, we are told, they win their freedom. First of all, if Robert the Bruce was successfully crowned king, and the English supported it, they would have, by definition, won their freedom. The Simpsons' equivalent of this would be the McBain scene, “I surrender!”, “Not so fast.”
Oh, and they also fucked up the longbowmen.
4. Kingdom of Heaven
Ridley Scott and the scriptwriter William Monahan have made statements that they are aware of their film's inaccuracies, but that they had to be done because without them, we wouldn't understand the truth about the period. Yeah, you need to misrepresent the past so that people won't misunderstand the past. Makes perfect sense. This is the biggest insult to the intelligence of the audience and merely shows that Ridely Scott, the supposed artist, is willing to cow tow to the lowest common denominator like everybody else.
3. The Passion of the Christ
So, why is this film on the list? Basically, because of popular assumptions about it. As movies have developed, budgets have grown and special effects have improved, films become more realistic (or at least more visually powerful which, for some, translates into realism). Take Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Don't get me wrong I like this movie, but I know that when this first came out (and even to his day) audiences felt like they were getting a more authentic experience because it was “up to date.” That this Robin Hood was more true to life or the legend because it looked totally bitchin' when he shot that guy in the face. In reality, it's no more true, just more amped up and 90sesque (again, I think the movie is awesome). The same is true, only far more so, with the Passion of the Christ. For example, because everybody is running around speaking Latin and Aramaic, people assume that it's probably the most accurate film about the period.
I even met someone who thought it was the duty of all humanity to watch this film so we could truly feel Christ's pain and sacrifice. Like it was goddamn Schindler's List or something. Let me tell you something: religious or not, if you think you're closer to understanding and feeling Christ's suffering because you watched a movie, you might need more help than modern medicine can provide. You need to go to Abu Ghraiband and receive a waterboarding or something.
2. The New World
Don't get me wrong, the Europeans were pretty cruel and immoral in their invasion of the Americas. It's a huge issue that takes way too long to deal with properly so I'll just say: yes, the Europeans weren't very nice to the natives. I know this, you know this, everyone knows this (even the racists who think it was justified know this). However, it is this message that predominates this spectacularly boring film at the expense of historical accuracy.
I could go on about this forever, but the point is that the movie is historically inaccurate because Terrence Malick wanted to say more about European colonisation than would fit into the events of the film. The full scope of European cruelty and greed couldn't be seen in the real events, so the solution is to make all the European problems a result of the fact that they were basically immoral and not, you know, embarking on a mission that was difficult and dangerous by its own nature. And forget about his portrayal of the natives as peaceful and with no concept of ownership. In real life, they attacked the town within a few weeks of its founding without provocation! I'm not saying they were wrong for not wanting the Europeans there but the film omits these facts for the sake of its unhistorical message. I've got way more to say but it would take too long. Suffice it to say, this film annoys me.
As you may have gathered, a big thing that annoys me is the sacrifice of history because of some kind of message the filmmaker wants to spread. Kingdom of Heaven, the Passion of the Christ and the New World exploit historical people and events for the political and religious statements they are trying to make. What annoys me further is that they are not up front about this and allow their films to masquerade as fact when they know full well that it's complete bullshit. If you want to railroad the past to prove some ill-advised and uneducated opinions, at least have the balls to own up to it.
Simply put, the movie got everything from both history and the book completely wrong and just about any medieval movie would be better. And that's saying something because most of them suck. And could somebody please tell me why they keep casting Gerard Butler in various period films in which he is never Scottish? The hypothetical man now cries: “Sean Connery is Scottish and he's been in many period films where he's English and even Russian!” I know. It works because he's a good actor with stage presence. I don't buy Butler as a Geat, Dracula, a Spartan King or the Phantom of the Opera. Even the idea of him as a modern man who travels through time and would fit in the medieval period seems hard to swallow. The only film I could imagine liking him in is a biopic about Gerard Butler, and his daily activities of eating, sleeping, getting his mail and starring in movies as a time and space displaced Scotsmen. I don't have much to say about Timeline other than it is the epitome of historical crap films and there is absolutely no excuse. The only book they would have had to crack to make a decent film is the very one it was supposed to have been based on.