10 History Movies That Mostly Get It Right

"The Right Stuff"
Ed Harris initially shocked filmmakers with his strong resemblance to astronaut John Glenn. Warner Brothers/Getty Images

In 1983, director Philip Kaufman made "The Right Stuff," which chronicles the experiences of America's first astronauts, faithfully based on Tom Wolfe's popular book of the same name. Astronaut Scott Carpenter called the book "100 percent accurate." Astronaut Gordon Cooper clarified, "There may be things that didn't happen factually, but both [the book and movie] bring the reader, or viewer, closer to what the experience was like" [source: Blowen].

The filmmakers were able to accomplish impressive visuals on a relatively modest budget using creative special effects and without the sophisticated CGI of today, including a character shaking hands with former President John F. Kennedy. Kaufman said, "We were pioneering in that kind of insertion of actors into historical events. For example, we combined footage of the real Alan Shepard being loaded into the capsule with Scott Glenn doing it on the stage" [source: French and Kahn]. And by working with Dolby sound technicians, he sought to accurately simulate the flight experience for theater audiences. While filming, Kaufman drew from a collection of research material from the Navy and NASA that he kept in his trailer [source: French and Kahn].

Kaufman somewhat sidesteps controversy when he decides not to show whether astronaut Gus Grissom was responsible for a blown hatch on the Liberty Bell 7. And some of the inaccuracies in the film come from needing to consolidate events from the book. Historians also consider Kaufman's portrayal of former President Lyndon Johnson to be exaggerated.