#3. The Sound of Music -- The Father Was Kind, and Maria Had a Bad Temper
20th Century Fox
Georg von Trapp, a cold Austrian war hero who treats his children like they're his regiment, hires a nun nanny (a nunny?) named Maria to take care of his half-dozen devil-kids. Against Captain von Trapp's wishes, the cheerful Maria brings joy and music into the lives of the ungrateful little bastards. Pretty soon, the captain falls for Maria, and the whole family merrily skips over the Swiss Alps to escape the Nazis.
20th Century Fox
And the captain punched Hitler right in the jaw.
The movie portrays Captain von Trapp as an ogre who can't stand the thought of his children liking that newfangled hip-hop. The actual von Trapp children didn't appreciate this portrayal, since their father was a kind man who greatly enjoyed musical activities with his kids -- he even rocked the violin during family concerts. On the other hand, the real Maria wasn't quite as endearing as her onscreen persona. In a 2003 interview, one of the real von Trapp children confessed that she had a "terrible temper ... from one moment to the next, you didn't know what hit her."
20th Century Fox
Neither did little Gretl on the right, when Maria clocked her with the guitar.
And while the movie couple married right before the Nazis rolled in, the marriage actually occurred 10 years earlier, and, according to Maria, it was of convenience: "I really and truly was not in love ... I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children." What? Jesus, Maria, no. That's illegal.
Finally, the famous escape scene involves the entire family secretly trekking 300 miles on foot across the Swiss Alps to freedom, when in fact they literally just hopped on a train without any trouble. As one of the kids stated: "We did tell people that we were going to America to sing. And we did not climb over mountains with all our heavy suitcases and instruments. We left by train, pretending nothing."
20th Century Fox
It's just as well, since the hills out of town led straight into Germany.
#2. Gangster Squad -- Mickey Cohen Was Caught for Tax Evasion, Not Murder
The gangster squad was a special unit created for the LAPD in the '40s that specialized in unorthodox (read: illegal as shit) police practices. The movie covers the formation of the squad and their attempts to take down famed real-life mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, borrowing some of Mickey Rourke's makeup from Sin City). In the end, the squad catches Cohen after a brutal fight and avenges the murder of the team's beloved wire tapper, Conwell Keeler.
Ah, wire tappers. The government's true unsung heroes.
If Keeler had really been strangled to death in the '40s, it would have made it a little difficult for a journalist to interview him in 2011. Not only did Con Keeler outlive Cohen, but he was one of the last surviving members of the original squad.
St. Martin's Griffin
"Wait, they made me grow a pornstache for nothing?!" -Giovanni Ribisi, reading this article, right now.
But the biggest lie in the film involves the way Cohen was finally caught. The movie culminates in a giant shootout at his hotel in which dozens of gangsters are mowed down by Tommy guns in slow motion. The leader of the squad, Jack O'Mara (played by Josh Brolin), beats the crap out of Cohen and nabs his ass for murder on a one-way trip to Alcatraz, even slipping in a cool one-liner. In reality, there were no cool lines, because those are kinda hard to come up with when you're arresting someone for tax evasion.
The cops just dug through Cohen's trash incinerator, found some evidence, and confronted him about how he could afford to pay 50 grand to decorate his house, all while shooting zero bullets. Yes, it was his addiction to dick statues that finally did him in. Also, by the time Cohen went away for a really long time in 1961, O'Mara was retired, and he watched the trial as a civilian. We guess stumbling through burned garbage and reciting tax law didn't make for as climactic an ending.
#1. Public Enemies -- They Actually Made the Gangsters Look Less Badass
While we're on the topic of gangsters, this Johnny Depp/Michael Mann vehicle brought us the story of famed bank robber John Dillinger and how, out of all the enemies of the public, they crowned him #1. There are also a bunch of other gangsters in there, but who cares -- they were all pussies compared to Dillinger anyway, right?
The plural in "Enemies" refers to Dillinger, his massive gun, and his other massive gun.
If by "pussies" you mean "relentless badasses," then yes, they were gigantic pussies. In a complete inversion of what happened in Gangster Squad, this movie made the gangsters less awesome than in real life, for some reason. You'd think the director of Heat would know better.
In the movie, the first public enemy to get gunned down by the FBI is "Pretty Boy" Floyd, but that's doing the man's reputation a great disservice: Floyd was a durable bastard who died three months after Dillinger. They also left out the fact that his funeral was the largest in Oklahoma history, attracting an estimated 20,000 people.
This Land Press
It was like Woodstock, but with less crime.
The next one to get a shitty deal is "Baby Face" Nelson. In the movie, the agents chase down Nelson during a raid of Dillinger's hideout and send him and a bunch of others to the county jail in the sky. In reality, this was Nelson's most famous escape, and every single criminal got away unharmed. Dillinger and Baby Face went on to rob more banks, and again, Nelson wasn't killed until after Dillinger.
By then, he was Tween Face Nelson.
Even Dillinger himself got toned down: We've mentioned before that he didn't fool three prison guards with a wooden gun; he fooled 17. It's like they took reality and decided to give it a more down-to-earth, gritty reboot. You know, to make it more realistic.
For more true stories you may not have known about, check out The 23 Most Surprising (True) Facts About Awful People.
Related Reading: Speaking of things that got reality wrong, no one can replicate the results from Super Size Me. We believe a lot of oddly specific lies about foreigners, like that some of them have sex through sheets. And if you believe the Romans were all about orgies, you've bought into another lie.