Hollywood tends to take dramatic liberties when depicting historical events or figures. And with good reason.
At least during prep-pandemic times, moviegoers paid to go see movies on the big screen to be entertained, not lectured.
In some cases, a baddie's real life story contradicted with what was shown on screen.
This is purely conjecture, but some scripts introduce conflict without detailed exposition of a bad guy to avoid slow pacing.
So when it comes to historical villains and their accurate level of malevolence, it's complicated.
With Hollywood being just one example where a notorious "bad guy" was misinterpreted, Redditor Elytra__Firm wanted to explore more by asking:
"More so sports history, but the film Cinderella Man portrayed boxer Max Baer as a murderous psychopath who gladly killed two fighters in the ring. In reality, he was personally devastated by these deaths. In the one he was most directly responsible for, he ended up giving his winnings from his next few fights to the fighters family."
"Despite what was portrayed in Amadeus, and though in reality they were musical rivals, Antonio Salieri was actually friends with Wolfgang Mozart. In fact, years after Mozart's death, Salieri assisted with and helped finance his son Franz Xaver's musical education as a tribute to his late friend."
The Truth About Billy The Kid
"Billy the Kid wasn't a good guy by any means, but was a victim of negative propaganda by the press at the time. He was orphaned in his early teens and fell in with the wrong crowd."
"After a brief run in with the law (I think he was lookout for a small robbery, wasn't even part of the main crew) he didn't want to wait around 6 months or a year for a judge to make their way to the tiny little town, so he escaped jail and ran. What teenager would act differently? He ran to Arizona looking for work."
"In Arizona he found work, but was still one of the youngest there. A bully in a bar picked on him for weeks until Billy got fed up and shot him. On the run again he goes back to New Mexico."
"In New Mexico he resorts to stealing to be able to survive. He steals some horses from a prominent rancher. Instead of prosecuting him, the rancher hires him. Billy is thrilled, and works hard. He is happy because he has a legit job again."
"The rancher had a corrupt as sh*t rival who had the local law in his pocket (he was related to the sheriff). The rival rancher killed Billy's boss in the street. Billy and his fellow cowboys that loved their boss decided this was not OK, and the Lincoln County War started. Billy is the only one of the men on his side of the war to have been in every battle."
"Eventually, Billy felt he had accomplished his revenge mission, so he settled down with his best gal. Problem was, she was Mexican, and he was white. His girlfriend's brother didn't like Billy being with his sister, so he tipped off the law as to where Billy was hiding."
"The Lincoln county sheriff showed up in the middle of the night and shot Billy in the back."
"There is a lot more to it. For example, when Billy was in Lincoln County jail, he talked to the New Mexico Territory Governor. The Governor promised him a complete pardon if he'd be a witness in the trials of the people from the corrupt rancher. Billy agreed and testified. The governor then went back on his promise and left Billy to rot. So Billy killed the jailers and fled again. (That governor was too busy getting an ambassadorship and writing the book Ben Hur to keep his promises)"
Machiavelli Was No Saint, But...
"Machiavelli would be shocked and saddened to know his name is synonymous with tyranny and pure evil. Guy was a staunch supporter of Republics and a savvy politician."
"There are people surprised that his statue is up in Florence and shocked to see they actually admire him. When you learn more about him he's far more interesting then his historical reputation would have you believe."
Darius III and Xerxes
"Darius III and Xerxes. They're portrayed badly because of Alexander the Great and also the movie 300."
"Yeah, in reality their Kingdom was actually fairly progressive, when taking over lands, local leaders and religions were allowed to remain however advisory members were sent in to help update settlements with better economic and civic organizations and so on. Really they weren't that bad of a Kingdom (for that time periods standards) and the reason they fought the Greeks was because classically Greek cities had tried to rebel with the support of Greek mainland city states, which prompted war."
"History isn't so black and white as Hollywood wants it to be."
The Concerned Roman
"That Roman that gave Jesus vinegar to drink. Turns out that the roman military gave their soldiers a water/vinegar mix to drink as it was good for refilling salt levels after sweating. That means all the roman did was give jesus a sip of his own drink, not force him to drink vinegar as punishment/insult."
"While we're on the topic, Pontius Pilate. The dude actually thought Jesus was innocent, and tried everything in his power to punish him without outright killing him, to satisfy the high priests and the crowds they turned against Jesus. His only real sin was that he sold out Jesus to save his own skin, but only after nothing else worked."
A Case For Prince John
"The bad guy from Robin Hood was basically the steward of a kingdom his beloved brother haddn't even set foot on. While Richard the Lionheart was faffing about in the Crusades, John was running the kingdom and turning it into something that could sustain itself. While he was doing that, his useless brother gets his a** kidnapped so John has to raise taxes (cue Robin Hood) to bring back the 'rightful' king the people loved so much."
"So basically, Prince John runs England for his brother and people love his brother for it. Then said brother gets kidnapped so John Raises taxes to get him 'back' and becomes the bad guy in the eyes of the lords (and by extension the people) who want their rightful king back."
"The man eventually does become the rightful king, only to have all the lords hate him for the crime of investing money into the kingdom, as a result he signs the Magna Carta, limiting royal power."
"that said he wasnt a saint. The man did have a hand in the collapse of Norman France and wasted a lot of money and men trying reclaim the region. I'm not trying to say he was a 'good guy' per se, just not the bad guy for what people hate him for."
The Woman And Her Scalding Coffee
"A more modern example is the lady that famously sued McDonalds for their coffee being too hot in 1994. That lawsuit gets treated as an example of how oversaturated America is with litigation over small things. As it turns out, however, her situation was extremely justified. She suffered third degree burns that required skin grafting and had permanent disfigurement. Her labia fused together. Needless to say, McDonalds was serving their coffee far too hot and the case very well may have prevented future similar incidents."
"Edit: To the people saying it's her fault for spilling her coffee, here's a picture of her injuries (NSFW and NSFL). Does anybody really deserve those injuries for the simple mistake of spilling their coffee? Would you really expect third degree burns if you spilled coffee on yourself?"
"The Roman emperor Gaius Caesar, better known as Caligula."
"Hell of a smear campaign his enemies did. Most likely brought upon himself because of his intolerance to the Senates' corruption and/or lack of effectiveness. The crazy stories? Most likely made up or were wilful misrepresentation of something Caligula said. The story about him making his horse consul because he was 'crazy?' Misrepresentation of him mocking the senate by telling them his horse could do a better job."