When a movie says it's "based on a true story," we understand that not every detail can be exactly like it was in reality. Sometimes they have to merge characters or alter events to make the story move faster, otherwise those things would get pretty boring. Nobody wants to see an Elvis biopic that's 30 percent pooping scenes and 30 percent sleeping on piles of money. (Or maybe we do, but just a little.)
So, sometimes they change things for good reason -- and other times they just flat-out lie and make real people look like evil, cowardly, petty douchebags for the heck of it. For instance ...
5The Crazy Crewman in Titanic Was a Hero in Real Life
What You Saw in the Movie:
In James Cameron's Titanic, First Officer William Murdoch is the weasel-faced crew member who accepts a bribe from the film's villain, kills two people and shoots himself in the head. Seriously, you can tell he's going to do all that from the beginning just by looking at this guy's face:
And afterward, he's going to steal Christmas.
After the ship hits the iceberg and starts sinking, we see Murdoch taking money from Kate Winslet's rich, evil boyfriend (Billy Zane) in exchange for a spot in a lifeboat. Murdoch later throws the money in Zane's face, but still, a good guy wouldn't have taken it in the first place. Later, the crew is trying to keep the desperate passengers from rushing to the lifeboats when someone tries to get past them ... and Murdoch kills him.
"You'll all get your turn! Well, not you, obviously."
At the same time, another passenger is accidentally pushed forward. In the confusion, Murdoch kills him, too. Ashamed of what he has done, Murdoch turns the gun to his head and blows his brains out right there (when he could have just waited, like, five more minutes and let the ocean do the job for him).
But in Real Life ...
For all the insane amount of work James Cameron put into getting the Titanic to look just right, he didn't seem to give much of a crap about how he portrayed the real people in it. William Murdoch was really the name of the first officer of the Titanic, but other than that, they are completely different people: Not only was he not a coward and a murderer, but he actually saved people's lives. There's even a plaque to his memory in his hometown in Scotland, where he's remembered as a hero.
Notice how nowhere in there does it say "shooting poor people."
According to historians, Murdoch did everything possible to save people, guiding them to lifeboats and throwing deck chairs overboard for those in the water to cling to. He didn't commit suicide -- he drowned doing his job.
If he did shoot a pistol (and we don't know for sure that he did), it was into the air and only to "stop a potential riot." As for the bribe: That isn't even an exaggeration of anything, it's just completely made up.
The movie version wasn't worthy of that mustache.
After the movie's depiction of Murdoch caused an outrage in his hometown, Titanic producers apologized by donating $8,000 to the Murdoch Memorial Fund (a hefty sum, considering the movie only made $2.1 billion worldwide). The vice president of 20th Century Fox visited Scotland to apologize to Murdoch's family personally, but even then insisted they were all just reading the movie wrong, claiming that "I believe he was portrayed as a hero in the film."
"Wait, you mean he's not the blond guy? Oh shit."
And then, finally, James Cameron did make a change for the 3-D version of Titanic released in 2012 that made the movie more accurate: He changed the stars in the sky.