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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.)

1. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)

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.

2. THE HURT LOCKER (2009)

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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).

3. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)

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

5. THE GODFATHER (1972)

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)

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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)

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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.

9. THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)

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)

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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.

12. MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006)

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.”

14. ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991)

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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.

15. QUADROPHENIA (1979)

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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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
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This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy comping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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