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15 Obvious Movie Anachronisms

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Whether by choice, by laziness on the part of those on research duty, or by good old fashioned mistakes, film history is rife with historical anachronisms. Here are 15 of the most glaring and/or just plain interesting. (Go home, llamas, you’re on the wrong continent.)


It feels a bit weird to point out an anachronism in a movie about time travel. Nevertheless, Back to the Future’s Marty McFly, stuck in 1955, probably didn’t fix the DeLorean and hop forward to 1958 so he could pick up a Gibson ES-345 guitar (introduced that year) to use for his rockin’ rendition of “Johnny B. Goode” at Hill Valley High’s Enchantment Under the Sea dance. Probably.



Early on in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning war drama The Hurt Locker, Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) comments that a local man filming him is “getting ready to put me on YouTube.” Not unless that man is a time traveler: The Hurt Locker is set in 2004, and YouTube didn’t get its start until 2005. That’s not the movie’s only technological inaccuracy: an iPod Touch makes an appearance despite not being introduced until 2007, and Eldridge is seen playing Gears of War (released in 2006) on an Xbox 360 (released in 2005).


A map illustrating Indiana Jones’ travels in Raiders of the Lost Ark sees the intrepid archaeologist/explorer passing near Thailand on his way to Nepal—a bit odd, considering Raiders is set in 1936, and Thailand was called “Siam” until 1939.

4. THE AVIATOR (2004)

Though it’s weird to think of a time before chocolate chip cookies, they were in fact invented by Ruth Graves Wakefield in the 1930s. Which means that Howard Hughes—who ordered “10 chocolate chip cookies, medium chips, not too close to the outside” in a scene from The Aviator, which is set in 1928—will have to wait a while


Per Francis Ford Coppola on DVD commentary for The Godfather, it was insufficient attention paid during second unit shots that allowed this late 1940s/early 1950s crime drama to suffer an accidental invasion of the hippies. In a scene where Michael Corleone goes to Vegas, you can see a few distinctly out of place men hanging out in the background.

6. FORREST GUMP (1994)


Forrest Gump’s galumphing through 20th-century history took him to the Vietnam War, into President Kennedy’s White House, and into the orbit of Apple. Lieutenant Dan invested Gump’s shrimping money into the future tech behemoth, which would make Gump a millionaire if he still had the stock today. (And if he were, you know, real.) Except it looks like Lieutenant Dan got swindled; the letter Gump received from Apple thanking him for his investment is dated 1975, but Apple didn’t go public until 1980.

7. SUPER 8 (2011)

Had Rubik’s Cubes been introduced to U.S. shores back in 1979, when J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 was set? No. No they had not. A Sony Walkman put in an appearance in that same movie, and they were available domestically at the time, but they were so new that a gas station attendant out in Ohio probably wouldn’t have owned one.

8. BRAVEHEART (1995)


Though it’s one of the best known movies about Scottish history, Braveheart director/star Mel Gibson probably should have ditched Scotland’s most iconic piece of clothing, the kilt. (In favor of some other lower-body covering, obviously—Braveheart is R-rated, but it’s not that R-rated.) The modern-day kilt, according to Hugh Trevor-Roper’s The Highland Tradition of Scotland, “is unknown before the 18th century… [F]ar from being a traditional Highland dress, it was invented by an Englishman after the Union of 1707; and the differentiated ‘clan tartans’ are an even later invention.” Needless to say, 13th-century freedom fighter William Wallace would not have been wearing one.


The Canadian flag design painted on the side of some wooden crates in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables has only been in use since 1965. Before then—say, in the ‘30s, when The Untouchables was set—the flag was a mash-up of the Coat of Arms of Canada and the Union Jack.

10. GLADIATOR (2000)


In the big battle scene that kicks off Gladiator, one of Maximus’s soldiers is of the canine variety—specifically, a German shepherd. In our non-movie world, German shepherds didn’t come into existence as a breed until the late 1800s.

11. THE GREEN MILE (1999)

Though set in 1935, Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile has death by electric chair as Louisiana’s preferred method of execution. The chair would not replace the gallows in that state until the early 1940s.


An intentional anachronism, this time around: In a scene from Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, a pair of Converse sneakers can be seen next to more period-appropriate shoes. The goal, per Coppola, was to emphasize Marie Antoinette’s youth; “I didn’t want [the film] to be a history lesson, I wanted it to be more impressionist,” she said.

13. TROY (2004)

Staying in ancient times, we come to Troy—a (very) loose adaptation of Homer’s The Iliad. For this one, director Wolfgang Petersen took llamas, indigenous to South America, and spirited them all the way across an ocean to be plopped down in what is now Turkey. “It is impossible that there would have been llamas in Europe or Asia for at least another 2800 years,” The Guardian’s Alex von Tunzelmann commented. “Unless these ones were really good swimmers.”



In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Azeem (Morgan Freeman) chides Robin (Kevin Costner) for not knowing what a telescope is, asking him “How did your uneducated kind ever take Jerusalem?” But, while more technologically advanced than their British contemporaries, the Islamic world wasn’t that far ahead: telescopes weren’t invented until 1608, about 400 years after Prince of Thieves takes place.


Quadrophenia, the 1979 cult classic based on the album of the same name by The Who, has its share of anachronisms. Is that a movie marquee advertising Grease and Heaven Can Wait—both released in 1978—in a film set in 1965? And why is someone wearing a Motörhead shirt when the band didn't form until 1975? You know what? It’s rock ‘n’ roll. Just go with it.

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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:


Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.


A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.


Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.


A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.


A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0
5 Dubious Historical Antidotes for Poison (and What Actually Works)
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An artificial bezoar stone from Goa, India
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

When it comes to their health, humans will believe just about anything. In this extract from the new book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything, authors Lydia Kang, MD, and Nate Pedersen discuss some of the more questionable ways people once tried to protect themselves from poison—whether or not the methods actually worked.

Poison is everywhere. Naturally or unnaturally, it can be in the soil (arsenic), in the air (carbon monoxide), in your drinks (lead), and in your food (cyanide). With so much danger around, it’s no wonder humans have obsessed over finding a universal antidote—the one thing that could save us from all toxins. Imagine you’re a medieval prince about to inherit the throne. Chances are, there are a lot of power-hungry wannabes waiting in the wings. A little arsenic or hemlock might be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Just in case, best have an antidote on standby.

For millennia, a certain amount of magical thinking was employed when arming oneself against poison because science was inconveniently slow to catch up. So grab your handy unicorn horn and a bezoar, and let’s take a look.


Bezoars have been used for centuries as antidotes to poisons. A bezoar is solid mass of undigested food, plant fibers, or hair found in the digestive tracts of animals, including deer, porcupines, fish, and, yes, humans. Anyone with a cat is familiar with the less-cool feline version: hairballs.

Bezoars and other stone-like items created by animals often had a good story behind them. Legends told of deer that would eat poisonous snakes and become immune or cry tears that solidified into poison-curing stones. First-century Arabic author al-Birumi claimed bezoars could protect against one poison called “the snot of Satan,” which we hope never ever to encounter. By the 12th century, when Europe became plagued with, uh, plagues, the bezoar crept into pharmacopeias as panaceas and alexipharmics (poison antidotes).

Bezoars were a seductive notion for the rich and royal, who were at risk of assassination. The stones were often enclosed in bejeweled gold for display or worn as amulets. Indian bezoars, in particular, were sought for life-threatening fevers, poisonous bites, bleeding, jaundice, and melancholy. Consumers were also known to scrape off a bit of bezoar and add it to their drinks for heart health and kidney stones. These tonics were sometimes adulterated with toxic mercury or antimony, which caused vomiting and diarrhea, making buyers think they were effective.

But were they? One team of researchers soaked bezoars in an arsenic-laced solution and found that the stones absorbed the arsenic or that the poison was neutralized. Hard to say if it worked well enough to cure a fatal dose. Ambroise Paré, one of the preeminent French physicians of the 16th century, was also a doubter. The king’s cook, who’d been stealing silver, was given the choice between hanging or being Paré’s lab rat. He chose the latter. After the cook consumed poison, Paré looked on as a bezoar was stuffed down his throat. Six hours later, he died wracked with pain. Perhaps he chose ... poorly?


This antidote was named after Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus and Armenia Minor. Born in 134 BCE, he pretty much invented the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” by consuming poisons daily to prevent his own assassination. His royal home was stocked with stingray spines, toxic mushrooms, scorpions, mineral poisons, and a poisonous plant–filled garden. He was so unpoisonable that after his son took over his kingdom and he faced execution, he couldn’t even commit suicide by poison! He begged a guard to stab him to death. (It worked.)

Though the king’s actual recipe for the antidote is nowhere to be found, versions began to circulate after his death, and they became synonymous with the king himself. Compounds with lengthy and expensive ingredient lists prevailed, including iris, cardamom, anise, frankincense, myrrh, ginger, and saffron. In the first century, Pliny the Elder snarkily remarked, “The Mithridatic antidote is composed of fifty-four ingredients ... Which of the gods, in the name of Truth, fixed these absurd proportions? ... It is plainly a showy parade of the art, and a colossal boast of science.”

Showy or not, people would take the extensive mix of herbs, pound them together with honey, and eat a nut-sized portion to cure themselves. At least it endowed them with expensive-smelling breath.


An apothecary shop sign in the shape of a unicorn
An ivory pharmacy sign in the shape of a unicorn's head
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Unicorn horns have been considered a part of antidote legend since the mythical beast galloped into literature around 300 BCE. For centuries afterward, real earthly beasts would sacrifice their lives and their horns to slake our thirst for the miraculous, nonexistent animal, including rhinoceroses, narwhals, and oryx. Even fossilized ammonites were used. It was believed that drinking vessels made of such horns might neutralize poisons, and wounds could be cured by holding them close by. In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly used a unicorn horn to protect her from poisoning. Too bad it didn’t prevent her beheading.


Pearls have long been thought to be powerful antidotes. A beautiful, rare gem created by the homely oyster, a pearl is born out of annoyance (the mollusk secretes iridescent nacre to cover an irritant, like a parasite or grain of sand). Pretty as they are, they’re about as useful as the chalky antacid tablets on your bedside table; both are chiefly made of calcium carbonate. Good for a stomachache after some spicy food, but not exactly miraculous.

Pearl powder has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of diseases, and Ayurvedic physicians used it as an antidote in the Middle Ages. It was also reported to make people immortal. An old Taoist recipe recommended taking a long pearl and soaking it in malt, “serpent’s gall,” honeycomb, and pumice stone. When softened, it would be pulled like taffy and cut into bite-sized pieces to eat, and voilà! You would suddenly no longer need food to stay alive. Cleopatra famously drank down a large and costly pearl dissolved in wine vinegar, though in that case she wasn’t avoiding poison. She didn’t want to lose a bet with Antony—which might have fatally injured her pride.


Albarello vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
A vase for theriac, Italy, 1641
Wellcome Images // CC BY 4.0

Theriac was an herbal concoction created in the first century by Emperor Nero’s physician, Andromachus, who was reported to have Mithridates’s secret notes. It was a mashed formula of about 70 ingredients, including cinnamon, opium, rose, iris, lavender, and acacia in a honey base. In the 12th century, theriac made in Venice was branded as particularly special, and Venetian treacle (derived from a Middle English translation of theriac) became a hot commodity. Its public, dramatic production often attracted curious crowds.

By the 18th century, cheaper golden syrup was substituted for honey. As treacle began to lose its luster as a treatment, its definition as an herbal remedy disappeared from common vernacular. But the sweet syrup remained. Which is why when we think of treacle, we think of treacle tarts, not a fancy means of saving ourselves from a deathly poisoning.


Thankfully, science has brought us a wide range of antidotes for many items we shouldn’t be exposed to in dangerous quantities, if at all. N-acetylcysteine, fondly referred to as NAC by doctors, saves us from acetaminophen overdoses. Ethanol can treat antifreeze poisoning. Atropine, ironically one of the main components of plants in the toxic nightshade family (such as mandrake), can treat poisoning from some dangerous fertilizers and chemical nerve agents used as weapons. For years, poisonings were treated with emetics, though it turns out that plain old carbon—in the form of activated charcoal—can adsorb poisons (the poisons stick to the surface of the charcoal) in the digestive system before they’re dissolved and digested by the body.

As long as the natural world and its humans keep making things to kill us off, we’ll keep developing methods to not die untimely deaths.

We’ll just leave the fancy hairballs off the list.

The cover of the book Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
Workman Publishing

Excerpt from Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen/Workman Publishing. Used with permission.


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