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The 10 Most (and Least) Accurate Shows and Movies of 2022 (Ranked)

A professional historian tells you what’s really true in onscreen hits

spinner image Julia Roberts stars as Martha Mitchell in Gaslit, Quincy Isaiah stars as Magic Johnson in Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty and Viola Davis stars as Michelle Obama in The First Lady
(Left to right) Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell in "Gaslit," Quincy Isaiah as Magic Johnson in "Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty" and Viola Davis as Michelle Obama in "The First Lady."
Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Starz; Warrick Page/HBO; Jackson Lee Davis/Showtime

True-life tales are trending big-time, but how close does reel life come to real life? We rated 10 recent historical films and TV shows for accuracy. We’re talking history, not current events (so no WeCrashed, The Dropout or The Girl From Plainville). It must be a true story (sorry, Gilded Age and Downton Abbey). Third, it must pass the Aaron Sorkin Accuracy Test. Sorkin said of fact-based dramas, “It’s a painting, not a photograph.” He meant that no dramatization gets every detail exactly right — it’s not a documentary — but the broad picture should feel accurate.

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Here are the winners (and losers), scored from 1 to 10 on the Joe Friday Truth-o-Meter.

We Own This City (2022)

David Simon (Homicide) created this HBO limited series about Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force head Wayne Jenkins (brilliantly played by Jon Bernthal), who shakes down criminals (think Vic Mackie in The Shield), and the investigation that brings him down. As you might expect from a former journalist, the Jenkins story is very true to life — it’s the fictional “B” story about a Department of Justice civil rights investigation into the Baltimore PD that feels like a teacher lecturing students.

Joe Friday Truth-o-Meter rating: 10 of 10 for the Jenkins story, 3/10 for the rest, 8/10 overall

Watch it: on HBO/HBO Max

​​Five Days at Memorial (2022)

This harrowing and gripping series follows what happened at New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, when 2,000 people who took refuge there were stranded for five days without power and food. The first five episodes do a great job recreating what Katrina was like, often using real, visceral news footage. The major characters are real, and producer Sheri Fink interviewed 500 people and won a Pulitzer. She worked closely with show creators Carlton Cuse (Lost) and John Ridley (12 Years a Slave).

Joe Friday Truth-o-Meter rating: 9 of 10

Watch it: on Apple TV+

Operation Mincemeat (2021)

To trick Nazis into believing the Allies are going to invade Greece instead of Sicily in 1943, officers put fake invasion plans on a corpse dressed as a British officer and have the body wash ashore in Spain so Nazis will think they’ve discovered the plot. This insane scheme worked, and the movie gets the main story pretty much right (though the love triangle between two of the British officers directing the plan and their secretary is invented). A best seller about the operation, The Man Who Never Was, became a 1956 movie with a perfect 100 percent critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Joe Friday Truth-o-Meter rating: 8 of 10

Watch it: on Netflix

​​Women of the Movement (2022)

Chicago’s Emmett Till, 14, was visiting family in Mississippi in 1955 when he caught the attention of a white woman in a country store. Did he whistle at her? Do nothing at all? Accounts conflict. But by the time the story got back to her husband it was that Till had been sexually provocative in some way. He was kidnapped, tortured, killed, his body dumped in a river. His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, the centerpiece of the series, spent the rest of her life trying to get justice for her son and helped ignite the civil rights movement. This series is full of accuracies small (that’s Emmett’s real baby photo in the background in one scene) to large (Mobley did really demand an open casket so the world could see how these white men mutilated her son’s body).

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Joe Friday Truth-o-Meter rating: 8 of 10

Watch it: on (for free)

Becoming Elizabeth (2022)

If you’re looking for a real-life Game of Thrones fix (minus the dragons), this teen soap about the original Queen Elizabeth (Alicia von Rittberg) is your jam. It’s a modern — but not historically inaccurate — spin on Elizabeth’s uneasy relationships with her stepmother, Henry VIII’s widow Catherine Parr, and Catherine’s new husband, Thomas Seymour, flirt and predator to Elizabeth, 14. In the broad strokes the story is pretty accurate, as are the costumes and set design. Everybody is maybe a bit too pretty and too clean for an era when hygiene and health weren’t the best. Elizabeth, for example, had smallpox scars and bad teeth (she liked sweets, and there was no toothpaste back then).

Joe Friday Truth-o-Meter rating: 7 of 10

Watch it: on Starz

Gaslit (2022)

Fifty years after the break-in at the Watergate, Gaslit tells the story of a lesser-known figure from the scandal: Martha Mitchell (Julia Roberts), the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell (Sean Penn, unrecognizable in prosthetic makeup). When it sticks to Martha’s story, Gaslit scores for both accuracy and drama. An ex-FBI agent hired to spy on Mitchell rips a phone out of a wall to stop her from talking to a reporter. Crazy! And actually accurate.

Joe Friday Truth-o-Meter rating: 7 of 10

Watch it: on Starz

Winning Time (2022)

The locker room conversations aren’t word-for-word, but if you want to know what it felt like to be on an NBA team, watch this. The missteps — Jerry West as a rage-a-holic and young Jeannie Buss way more involved in the team  — were attempts to compress drama or sketch characters quickly. Former players (Kareem) and sportswriters (ESPN’s Michael Wilbon) protested. Pro tip to screenwriters: If you’re gonna portray living people, avoid ones with big social media followings. But this show mostly fulfills the Sorkin dictum: It fictionalizes some of the details but gets the big picture right, from Magic’s naïveté to Kareem’s aloofness.

Joe Friday Truth-o-Meter rating: 6 of 10

Watch it: on HBO/HBO Max

Julia (2022)

This series about TV chef and author Julia Child takes some liberties — like the scene where Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan tells her that Mastering the Art of French Cooking is anti-feminist: “You think you’re opening doors for women, expanding their horizons. They may be dreaming of France, but they’re stuck in front of a hot stove!” Never happened, and how the debate plays out is more how a person in 2022 might imagine it than it would have actually occurred.

Joe Friday Truth-o-Meter rating: 5 of 10

Watch it: on HBO/HBO Max

The First Lady (2022)

On the Sorkin scale, this bio-series about Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford and Michelle Obama falls between a bad impressionist painting and Salvador Dali surrealism. Much of the drama involves fictionalized private scenes. Yeah, Michelle Obama was uncomfortable with the early security in her husband’s presidential campaign, but there’s no evidence it played out as we see it onscreen. Ditto with Betty Ford in the White House dreaming about tropical vacations and swilling midday cocktails. Ridiculously fanciful.

Joe Friday Truth-o-Meter rating: 3 of 10

Watch it: on Showtime

​​The Offer (2022)

This deep dive into the making of The Godfather is a blast to watch, but it is about as historically accurate as, well, as The Godfather is about the mob. The basic story is true, but there’s a lot of fictionalizing. Start with the tension between producer Albert Ruddy (Miles Teller) and Paramount studio suit Barry Lapidus (played wonderfully by Colin Hanks, Tom Hanks’ son). Lapidus is made up, an “amalgam” of real people. The show also exaggerates the mob’s involvement in the making of the movie. If you’re looking for accuracy, let this one sleep with the fishes.

Joe Friday Truth-o-Meter rating: 3 of 10

Watch it: on Paramount+

AARP contributor Andrew Lewis holds a doctorate in American history and taught at Wesleyan University and Hamilton College before becoming The Hollywood Reporter’s books editor.

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