Out of Time: 10 Notable Movie Anachronisms

Categories: Film and TV

William Wallace, a man 200 years ahead of his time.
Don't know if you've seen Captain America: The First Avenger yet (and if you haven't, you're missing out on some quality pectoral action). If so, you may have noticed a little historical revisionism, namely the presence of African-American troops fighting alongside whites (also that closed-circuit TV cameras were already in widespread use by 1943).

While black troops have fought -- with distinction -- in every one of America's wars, they were segregated from white combat troops until Korea. Captain America is hardly alone in ignoring this, as just about every WWII movie made since 1970 has also done so (Spike Lee famously criticized Clint Eastwood for not depicting black soldiers in 2008's Flags of Our Fathers, though not entirely fairly). And while The First Avenger's depiction of African-American front-line troops is inaccurate, how does it stack up against some more (or less) egregious examples of movie anachronisms?

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Even a casual perusal of the IMDb "Goofs" sections will turn up dozens of anachronisms for many well-known films. Any movie purporting to depict a famous historical event, for example, will likely have several (Torx bolts on Medieval swords, or modern vocabulary and slang), and some are just so crammed full of them it's not even worth bothering trying to list them all (10,000 B.C., Pirates of the Caribbean, Clash of the Titans), while some use anachronism for humorous/stylistic effect (A Knight's Tale, Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Most can be forgiven, I think, if the film is enjoyable overall.

Having said that, here are a few I've personally found interesting. As always, your mileage may vary (oh, and though Braveheart isn't listed here, I'll follow up the header pic by pointing out the kilt wasn't introduced to Scotland until two centuries after the events depicted in the film).

Raiders of the Lost Ark -- He's an archaeologist, not a cartographer
First of all, you'll get me to refer to this movie as "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark" when you get me to acknowledge Greedo shot first. Second, the nifty effect used when Indy is flying to Nepal and Egypt depicts borders and countries as they'd be found on a 1981 map, not a 1936 one: Thailand at the time was "Siam," while Jordan was "Transjordan," for example.

Don't get too attached to those glasses, Moe.
The Godfather -- Eisenhower Era Hippies

In what director Francis Ford Coppola referred to as sloppy unit work, some longhaired hippie types can be seen in the background as Michael exits his car on his visit to Las Vegas to see Fredo. Even allowing for Sin City's libidinous ways, such hair and dress likely would've prompted the LVPD to break out the truncheons back in the '50s.

Naturally, I can find no clips or pictures to support this. Trust me, it's there.

Kelly's Heroes -- Oddball

Like most WWII movies of its era, this bank heist film starring Clint Eastwood plays pretty fast and loose with the facts. Most of the time, they're only apparent to military history nerds who like to point out that Gutowski most likely wouldn't have been able to find ammo for his Mosin-Nagant 91/30, as if anyone cares. However, the bearded Oddball (Donald Sutherland), who constantly accuses those around him of spreading "negative waves," predates the Beat movement by about ten years.

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Beard by cracky
Beard by cracky

Two movies with noticeable anachronisms1.  Old Yeller- Old Yeller is set in 1860's Texas.  The dog Old Yeller is a yellow lab-mastiff mix.  The first yellow lab was not bred until 1898.

2.  Grownups- The opening scene is a junior high school basketball court, set in New Jersey in 1978.  On the basketball court is a three point line.  The three point line did not exist in amateur basketball until 1984.

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