Spoiler alert: Pretty much none of it is accurate.
The “historical” movie Pompeii is out now, and just from the poster we've already learned that some residents of Pompeii missed out on the volcano eruption due to being distracted by intense makeout sessions. Once again, Hollywood has saved us from hours of boring reading by teaching us about lost civilizations through film, just like it did in these movies:
Lost Civilization: Sparta
Referenced Work: 300
What We Learned From The Movie: According to 300, life was pretty tough for the Spartans, especially the babies. If you were a Spartan baby and you didn't come out just perfect, you were hurled off a cliff into a giant pile of dead babies. And even if you did make it past the baby-cliff, the next 12 years of your life were spent training endlessly, after which you were told to live in the woods and kill other kids until you were 20. Then you could become a Spartan warrior. You’d think that, since the Spartans put so much trouble into training their warriors, they’d at least give them body armor before going to fight the Persians.
Biggest Attraction: The bottomless pit in the center of town was probably the coolest piece of construction in ancient Sparta. It was placed wide open in the center of the city, which, admittedly, was kind of dangerous, but on the other hand, it was perfect for throwing unwanted visitors into. Later on, the invention of the trapdoor would introduce a huge change to Spartan culture.
What Actually Happened: Well, the bottomless pit was made up, sadly, but then you probably already guessed that, because, if you think about it, it makes absolutely no fucking sense. A lot of the Spartan warrior stuff was true, though, including, horrifyingly, the baby-cliff. It's quite possible that they would have had a hell of a lot more than 300 people to fight with if they were just a tiny little bit more lax on these policies.
Lost Civilization: Algonquin Tribe
Referenced Work: Pocahontas
What We Learned From The Movie: It wasn't all that bad – sure, the white people and the Native Americans butted heads at first, but Pocahontas and John Smith's love for each other showed both cultures the error of their ways, and they agreed that war was not the answer. No scalping, no raping, no pillaging, no tricking the Indians into giving up their land for pieces of silverware. Actually, Colonial America was a pretty great place for a native!
Biggest Attraction: The wildlife, especially the raccoons. Nowadays, raccoons are usually rabies-infested little demons, but back then they were adorable creatures who could braid hair and befriend hummingbirds.
What Actually Happened: Raping, pillaging, and tricking the Indians into giving up their land. We’re pretty sure that Aladdin is a more realistic Disney movie than this.
Lost Civilization: Tokugawa Era Japan
Referenced Work: 47 Ronin
What We Learned From The Movie: A strict code of honor controlled Japan, the rules of which included ritual suicide to a warrior who failed in battle. When a samurai’s master died, they were banished and became an unemployed ronin. Either way, the samurais had pretty shitty retirement options.
Biggest Attraction: You’d think it’d be the dragons or the witches or the dozen other mystical creatures, but no, apparently we’re supposed to believe that Keanu Reeves’ character was the most spectacular thing back then. He plays the mysterious “half-breed,” a half-Japanese, half-white guy who people naturally assume is the product of forest demons.
What Actually Happened: There actually were 47 ronin who rose up to avenge the death of the master, but somehow they did it without witches, goblins, or a magical white guy.
Lost Civilization: The Mayans
Referenced Work: Apocalypto
What We Learned From The Movie: The murderous Mayans seem to spend all of their time brutally slaughtering their own people in sacrifice to the Gods. We know this is true because Mel Gibson made the movie, and he is definitely not a bloodthirsty racist.
Biggest Attraction: All they really had were pyramids and fields of rotting corpses, so…we’ll say the pyramids.
What Actually Happened: The Mayans weren’t quite the evil savages Mel Gibson made them out to be. For example, they knew better than to leave dead bodies everywhere and, yeah, they did do some sacrificing, but only to a select few, so it was kind of like winning the Mayan lottery. The terrible, terrible Mayan lottery.
Lost Civilization: Cavemen
Referenced Work: 10,000 B.C.
What We Learned From The Movie: English-speaking cavemen spent a shitload of time running from saber-toothed tigers and gigantic chickens. It was a difficult time to live in, but the hot wings were pretty awesome.
Biggest Attraction: The woolly mammoths, who somehow didn't die of heat exhaustion when they helped the humans build the pyramids in the desert.
What Actually Happened: The Egyptians built the pyramids 8,000 years later and, impressively, somehow did it without woolly mammoths (though the History Channel keeps telling us that aliens may have been involved).
Lost Civilization: Detroit
Referenced Work: RoboCop
What We Learned From The Movie: A bankrupt Detroit is overrun by crime, corporate greed, political corruption, societal apathy, and violence.
Biggest Attraction: Really, the only cool thing about dystopian Detroit is RoboCop - everything else is terrible. The city’s bankrupt, crime has run amok, and the people running the police force are so stupid that they decided it was more economically viable to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on one experimental robotic police officer than recruit six thousand new, regular police officers.
What Actually Happened: Sadly, RoboCop was pretty on-the-money when it came to Detroit. Even now, people are spending money to build a RoboCop statue instead of, you know, feeding the homeless or something.