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The Raven, in theaters today, is a work of fiction in which real-life historical figure Edgar Allen Poe teams up with the police to catch a serial killer who's basing his crimes off of Poe's stories. It's kind of terrible, but it marks the return of an intermittently popular subgenre of movies where real people are depicted in wholly fictional circumstances - not just revisionist history, mind you, but circumstances in which they either demonstrably didn't find themselves in or never could have possibly found themselves in. For example, a few months from now Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will attempt to stretch a single joke - "Isn't it funny that this thing that totally sounds like a fake movie is a real movie!!??" - across an entire movie.
Here are four other movies about extremely real people doing extremely fake things. Enjoy!
Malcom McDowell is legendary Victorian Age science fiction author H.G. Wells, and in this amusing late-70s diversion it turns out he didn't just write The Time Machine ... he actually built one! Sadly, his genius for machinery both real and imagined does not translate to a genius at choosing friends - he subsequently discovers that one of his dinner guests (David Warner) is actually the serial-killer known to history as Jack The Ripper and that Jack has used the Time Machine to escape police capture and flee to the "present" of 1979. So Wells goes after him, and soon the two are playing time displaced cat and mouse in Carter-era San Francisco.
It's a clever little romp; the sort of premise-oriented sci fi that these days only recurs on episodic TV shows rather than movies. The central social commentary running gag - Wells, a forward-thinking progressive of his day in addition to being a futurist, is utterly flabbergasted by the actual future while the psychotic "Jack" feels right at home - plays a little heavy handed today, but the central pitch of a Back to The Future for backward-looking bibliophiles pays fun dividends.
Time After Time writer/director Nicholas Meyer is also a novelist, and he pitched in on the screenplay for this adaptation of his book; essentially a high grade work of Sherlock Holmes fan-fiction.
Purporting to tell the "true story" behind the ruse of Holmes' faked death, hiatus and resurrection; in this version Dr. Watson (Robert Duvall) is concerned that Holmes' (Nicol Williamson) theory of the seemingly innocent Professor Moriarty (Laurence Olivier) being a secret supervillain seems to have no basis in reality ... and it soon becomes clear that the great detective's cocaine habit has rendered him delusional and threatens to destroy his brilliant mind. The only hope to save Holmes' sanity: Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin), who not only helps break Holmes' addiction but also susses out the repressed source of his eccentric behavior as the three men team up to solve a mystery with international implications.
Folk history is so deeply ingrained in the Asian Martial-Arts cinema it's occasionally difficult to suss out if there are any trustworthy "facts" about some of the technically real people who keep popping up in them.
Case in point, this well regarded period superhero flick from Hong Kong action legend Tsui Hark is about a martial-artist (Donnie Yen) forced by a corrupt governor to hunt down the titular costumed vigilante/crimefighter (Yu Rongguang) in order to win freedom for his imprisoned son. Said son gets a curious amount of screentime, with his (or her, since the character is played by a young female wushu athlete) own fight scenes and subplots. Curious, that is, until various characters start making sure to constantly say his name out loud and in full: Wong Fei-Hung.