‘42’: Baseball Rules
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20 True Things We Actually Learned From Movies and TV

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‘42’: Baseball Rules
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Movie Magic

Sure, no one is going to graduate from college exclusively watching a screen (unless it’s an online degree), but the truth is that “mindless” TV isn’t always a waste of our time, and neither are our favorite movies. Here are some times we actually gleaned useful (and correct) information from these popular media. 


Related: 50 Facts You Learned in School That Are Actually Lies

‘Vikings’: Norse History
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‘Vikings’: Norse History

While the popular TV show hasn’t stuck religiously to 9th century history, Professor Howard Williams, professor of archaeology at the University of Chester specialising in the early Middle Ages of Britain and North-West Europe, does admit, after pointing out where the show dives into pure fiction, “The show deserves considerable academic respect on multiple levels. The complexity of the societies shown deserves credit.” Many of the stories of Ragnar Lothbrok, his children Bjorn Ironside, Ubba, and Ivar the Boneless are more accurate than you might expect (and yes, those were real people). 


Related: 26 Stunning ‘Game of Thrones’ Locations You Can Visit

‘The Office
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‘The Office’: CPR Rhythm

Some of us have heard you can hum a song to keep a steady rhythm while performing CPR, but that became a memorable moment thanks to “The Office”  when Michael Scott (Steve Carell) sings the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” while practicing on a dummy. Though other songs that have 100-120 beats per minute also fit the bill (the newest song to make the cut is “Baby Shark”), fans of the show won’t forget this one. 


Related: Lifesaving Skills Worth Learning for Emergencies


‘Hercules’: Greek Mythology
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‘Hercules’: Greek Mythology

Yes, all the traditional players show up in the Disney feature film, including Hercules, Hades, Zeus, and others. Even minor players make an appearance, such as blacksmith to the gods, Hephaestus. Whether Hades had blue hair is debatable, of course.


Related: 25 Ways Disney Revolutionized Entertainment


‘A Night to Remember’
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‘A Night to Remember’: Titanic Details

William MacQuitty, the producer of the 1947 film “A Night to Remember,” was actually a Titanic survivor — so it was no surprise he tried to get the details right on this book adaptation of the last night of the fateful journey. He had sets built from the original blueprints of the shop and hired one of the surviving officers, Joseph Boxhall, to be the technical advisor. As for the 1997 “Titanic,” both movies fictionalize elements, but the older film (which hired real Titanic survivors as advisers) is largely seen as more accurate by historians.


Related: 21 Eerie Shipwrecks Around the World   


‘All the President’s Men’
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‘All the President’s Men’: Watergate

Given the involvement of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the journalists who broke the news that brought down President Richard Nixon, any changes to the story were largely cosmetic. But given that both Woodward and Bernstein contributed to their own, different drafts of the screenplay, director Alan J. Pakula and star Robert Redford merged all the versions with the approval of the ultimate fact checker — Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.


Related: 15 Presidents’ Net Worth, Before and After Taking Office


‘D2: The Mighty Ducks
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‘D2: The Mighty Ducks’: Greenland vs. Iceland

Thanks to the Disney movie about a pint-sized team of hockey players, we took away one useful factoid from an exchange between Coach Bombay (Emilio Estevez) and Icelandic trainer Maria (Maria Ellingsen) — Greenland isn’t green but largely covered with ice, while Iceland is much more hospitable. 


Related: Here's How to Visit Iceland Without Spending a Fortune

‘Pulp Fiction’: French McDonald’s
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‘Pulp Fiction’: French McDonald’s

Thanks to “Pulp Fiction,” we heard that a McDonald's Quarter Pounder is called a Royale with Cheese in France — which is close but not exactly right. Given that the country uses the metric system, the iconic McDonald’s sandwich doesn’t translate, but is known as a McRoyale.


Related: 25 Weird and Wonderful McDonald’s International Menu Favorites


Spider-Man
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‘Spider-Man’: Slander vs. Libel

J. Jonah Jameson (played by J.K. Simmons in the Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” trilogy) is a blustery, wisecracking boss who can’t be trusted. But when he says, “Slander is spoken. In print, it's libel," in the 2002 film, he may seem like he’s being flip — but he’s absolutely right. 


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‘Titanic’: Table Manners
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‘Titanic’: Table Manners

Ever wondered which fork to use at a fancy dinner party? While the movie can’t be trusted for historical verisimilitude, it does get this one detail absolutely right. When Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) seems flummoxed about what fork to use when he is invited to first-class dining, Molly Brown (Kathy Bates) tells him simply, "Just start from the outside and work your way in." That about sums it up, really.


Related: 15 Mistakes You’re Making When You’re Going Out to Eat

‘Good Will Hunting’:
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‘Good Will Hunting’: The Fields Medal

While most of us have heard of the Nobel Prize, what we’re likely less familiar with (unless we’re math geeks) is the Fields Medal. Awarded every four years to two, three, or four mathematicians under the age of 40, it’s considered a very big deal — and in the 1997 movie “Good Will Hunting,” MIT professor Gerald Lambeau (played by Stellan Skarsgård) is a former recipient.

‘Finding Nemo
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‘Finding Nemo’: Clown Fish Safety

Disney movies don’t always advertise when they’re actually giving audiences some real information amid the talking fish and fairytale princesses, but it happens. In the much-loved film “Finding Nemo,” we learn that Nemo lives in an anemone (which he adorably mispronounces). While anemones sting other fish, they make an exception for clown fish, with which they have a symbiotic relationship.


‘Miss Congeniality
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‘Miss Congeniality’: Self-Defense

It may have been played for laughs in “Miss Congeniality,” but Sandra Bullock’s undercover FBI agent delivers some useful (and accurate) tips on how to fight off a bad guy. Her demonstration of S.I.N.G. (solar plexus, instep, nose, groin) is surprisingly dead-on.

‘Legally Blonde’
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‘Legally Blonde’: Perm Directions

If you weren’t unlucky enough to actually have had a terrible perm yourself, you may have learned a helpful hint for better perm maintenance from Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) in the legal comedy. Knowing that you can’t wet your hair for at least 24 hours after getting a perm lest you deactivate the chemicals that set it allows the fledgling lawyer to prove a witness is lying. 

‘Renaissance Man’:
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‘Renaissance Man’: Simile vs. Metaphor

While the 1994 movie starring Danny DeVito wasn’t terribly memorable, there’s a chance some people took away one useful factoid. In explaining the difference between similes and metaphors, DeVito said simply, “Men are like dogs, men are dogs.” There’s a little more nuance to it than that, but that’s a memorable start. A simile is saying something is like something else using terms such as “like” or “as,” while a metaphor is often poetically saying something is something else — and while a simile is always a metaphor a metaphor isn’t always a simile.  

‘The Simpsons’: The Five Stages of Grief
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‘The Simpsons’: The Five Stages of Grief

While it would usually be safe to assume that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ analysis of the five stages of grief wouldn’t be comedy fodder, that’s underestimating “The Simpsons.” In one episode, Homer experiences denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance at a lightning-fast speed when he thinks he’s dying. 


Related: 7 Common Mental Health Issues Among Seniors

‘42’: Baseball Rules
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‘42’: Baseball Rules

While “42” tells the story of the first black Major League Baseball player, Jackie Robinson, it also has a factoid that only devoted baseball fans probably know. When a pitcher drops the ball with Jackie on base, the umpire called a “balk,” allowing all of the players to move up a base. Jackie scored a run, and viewers learned something new.

‘Forever Strong’:
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‘Forever Strong’: Rugby Rules

Rugby isn’t a popular sport in the U.S., but this 2008 movie might help you figure out at least one element. Based on a true story, the movie follows a rugby player who ends up teaching a team at the juvenile detention center. One of his tips? If someone gets tackled or falls, play continues, unlike in American football.


‘Scorpion’:
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‘Scorpion’: Jellyfish

While this short-lived TV series about a group of international super geniuses trying to save the world undoubtedly had more to share than this, fans might have learned that a group of jellyfish is called a “smack.”  

‘Full Metal Jacket’:
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‘Full Metal Jacket’: Military Boot Camp

While the horrifying murder of Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in “Full Metal Jacket” may cause you to forget much else in the movie, the factoids about military boot camp — from the screaming sergeants to the communal bathrooms — is, though sometimes exaggerated for effect, mostly accurate. If you’re wondering if the lack of bathroom stalls was just a cinematic device, guess again.

‘The Green Mile’: Execution Protocol
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‘The Green Mile’: Execution Protocol

It’s a detail we learn in a gruesome death in “The Green Mile,” but it isn’t fiction — the sponge placed on the top of the condemned person’s head needs to be wet, or the electrocution will be a brutal one. During real-life electrocutions, a sponge soaked in brine (salt and water) was placed on the head while another was usually attached to an electrode on the person’s leg. This was to help conduct electricity through the body and reduce the chance of burning and fire.