Why All Films Have That Disclaimer

January 9, 2020

Nearly all films have this disclaimer: "This is a work of fiction. any similarities to persons living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental." You've seen it many times, but you've probably never considered why it was there. Cheddar explains the surprising and unexpected history and reasoning behind this disclaimer.


MALE_1: If you've ever stay to the end of

MALE_1: an Avengers movie to see post-credit scene,

MALE_1: you might have noticed a few choice words

MALE_1: come up before the end of the credits.

MALE_1: [MUSIC] This is a work of fiction.

MALE_1: Any similarities to actual persons living or dead,

MALE_1: or actual events is purely coincidental.

MALE_1: [MUSIC] It's definitely not

MALE_1: the first time you've ever seen it,

MALE_1: it also appears in Star Wars,

MALE_1: and humorously in 500 Days of Summer,

MALE_1: and even more humorously at the beginning

MALE_1: of every episode of South Park.

MALE_1: Well, the gap between fiction and fact maybe why for

MALE_1: big blockbusters that involve superheroes or life savers,

MALE_1: the lines can get pretty blurry for other examples.

MALE_1: But then there are movies like Raging Bull

MALE_1: which was based on boxer Jake LaMotta's life.

MALE_1: It's an adaption of his memoir,

MALE_1: sure accounts of his life,

MALE_1: and Jake LaMotta himself is

MALE_1: credited as a consultant on the film.

MALE_1: Arguably, this film isn't at all divorced from reality,

MALE_1: yet it still had this disclaimer.

MALE_2: Of course, today these disclaimers are everywhere.

MALE_2: We have become numb to them,

MALE_2: but each one of them had a spark.

MALE_1: Hot Coffee has a warning because of a 1992 lawsuit.

MALE_1: The Miranda warning is read because of a 1966 case.

MALE_1: But in this case,

MALE_1: we can credit the addition of

MALE_1: this disclaimer to Rasputin.

MALE_1: [MUSIC] To understand the story,

MALE_1: first you must get to know the characters.

MALE_1: Grigori Rasputin born a peasant,

MALE_1: he became a self-proclaimed holy man,

MALE_1: and people believed him because he

MALE_1: was just so charismatic.

MALE_1: He became good friends with

MALE_1: the Russian Czar and Czarina because of

MALE_1: his magical ability to heal their son by prayer.

MALE_1: This afforded him great power over Russian politics and

MALE_1: made him a much loved and much hated man.

MALE_1: Much loved by women, particularly the Czarina,

MALE_1: whom he may have had an affair with

MALE_1: and hated by many people in Russia who

MALE_1: saw right through his bullshit, [NOISE] Felix Yusupov.

MALE_1: An extremely wealthy aristocrat,

MALE_1: Felix was a Russian prince.

MALE_1: He was married to Princess Irina of Russia,

MALE_1: niece of the previous Russian Czar.

MALE_1: He was also the leader of a group of noblemen that

MALE_1: hated Rasputin and wanted to see him murdered.

MALE_1: The story goes like this. [MUSIC]

MALE_2: And bear in mind that this

MALE_2: is up for debate as it's mostly

MALE_2: based off of Yusupov

MALE_2: first hand accounts as detailed in his memoir.

MALE_2: So it might be a little bit biased,

MALE_2: but not many details are known about

MALE_2: the actual events besides this.

MALE_1: [MUSIC] In December of 1916,

MALE_1: Yusupov invites Rasputin to his house.

MALE_1: He feeds Rasputin three poisoned cakes

MALE_1: while making awkward small talk.

MALE_1: You know, the way you do when you're waiting on

MALE_1: the man you poisoned to kill over and die,

MALE_1: except Rasputin doesn't kill over and die.

MALE_1: If anything, he looks healthier than he did before.

MALE_1: He asks for some wine to wash down the cake and even

MALE_1: after drinking three poisoned glasses,

MALE_1: he was still standing as though nothing had happened.

MALE_1: So Yusupov grabs gun so he could kill this man properly.

MALE_1: Rasputin is shot three times

MALE_1: [MUSIC] with one of the bullets landing in his head,

MALE_1: killing him for good.

MALE_1: His body is dumped in a local river but

MALE_1: his blood is found on

MALE_1: the back steps of the Yusupov residents.

MALE_1: So that ties Yusupov directly to the crime.

MALE_1: Though the Czar's were close with Rasputin,

MALE_1: they took mercy on Yusupov sentencing him

MALE_1: not to death but to be exiled from Russia.

MALE_1: Yusupov moves to Paris penniless.

MALE_1: So he decides to write a memoir of his life,

MALE_1: detailing the way he carried out the murder of Rasputin.


MALE_2: Which I must say is quite a lot of hubris.

MALE_2: It's one thing to murder somebody,

MALE_2: but then to publicly admit that you did it

MALE_2: with detail in a book you're selling,

MALE_2: I wish I had that kind of confidence.

MALE_2: Now, you may be asking yourself,

MALE_2: what does all this have to do with movies

MALE_2: and disclaimers about fact versus fiction.

MALE_2: Well, everything.

MALE_1: Flash forward 16 years and MGM

MALE_1: has just released Rasputin and the Empress,

MALE_1: a film all about Rasputin's life,

MALE_1: his many affairs and his death. [MUSIC]

MALE_3: [MUSIC] It has all the Barrymores in it,

MALE_3: not Drew Barrymore, but her grandfather and his siblings.

MALE_3: The film goes through the murder of Rasputin,

MALE_3: changing the names of the killers,

MALE_3: but very clearly intending to

MALE_3: tell the story of Felix Yusupov.

MALE_3: Yusupov did not like this.

MALE_3: He felt it was defamatory,

MALE_3: even though he takes full responsibility for killing

MALE_3: the guy by confessing to it in his memoir.

MALE_3: The thing about murdering someone is that no matter

MALE_3: how much you don't like how people describe he did it,

MALE_3: you can't make a case for libel,

MALE_3: or defamation because being

MALE_3: a murderer is already defamation of your name.

MALE_3: However, the film also included many scenes of

MALE_3: a woman who is married to Rasputin's murderer,

MALE_3: logical leap being that she was a stand-in for

MALE_3: Felix's real life wife, Irina.

MALE_3: In the movie, she gets hypnotized by Rasputin,

MALE_3: and in her trance-like state,

MALE_3: he takes advantage and rapes her.

MALE_3: [MUSIC] There was no truth to this.

MALE_3: Irina and Rasputin never actually met in real life,

MALE_3: and this scene was clearly a mistake on many levels.

MALE_3: But the scene did give the Yusupovs

MALE_3: alike to stand on in their defamation case,

MALE_3: not for Felix, but for his wife.

MALE_3: They were able to argue that

MALE_3: the film made Irina look like

MALE_3: she was unfit to be anyone's wife,

MALE_3: seeing as it implied that in real life,

MALE_3: she might have been unfaithful.

MALE_3: Worse yet, an MGM employee

MALE_3: brought this up during the process of making the film,

MALE_3: citing it as factually and accurate,

MALE_3: and suggesting that he could end up coming back to

MALE_3: haunt the studio in the form of a lawsuit.

MALE_3: Instead of listening to this employee,

MALE_3: the studio fired her.

MALE_3: And so Irina sued the studio and won.

MALE_3: Should have come about $125,000,

MALE_3: or when you account for inflation, about $29 million.

MALE_3: On top of that, the studio also had to take

MALE_3: the film out of circulation for decades,

MALE_3: and edit the scene out before being

MALE_3: able to show it ever again.

MALE_3: While on trial, one of the judges told MGM that

MALE_3: their biggest mistake was trying to

MALE_3: sell the film as a work, a fact.

MALE_3: They included a disclaimer that some of

MALE_3: the people depicted were still alive,

MALE_3: and therefore it was easy to make

MALE_3: logical guesses as to who was who.

MALE_3: The judge suggested that they might have been

MALE_3: saved if the opposite was stated,

MALE_3: that it wasn't an accurate portrayal

MALE_3: of any persons living,

MALE_3: or dead, and thus,

MALE_3: the disclaimer was born.

MALE_3: From then on, every studio knew not to make this mistake,

MALE_3: and so they started putting

MALE_3: this disclaimer on everything.

MALE_3: And that's still true even to this day.

MALE_3: Even when making movies about people who can do magic,

MALE_3: or shoe webs from their wrists.

MALE_3: But does the disclaimer really work in

MALE_3: situations where they're clearly

MALE_3: talking about a certain figure in history,

MALE_3: and marketing it as a biopic?

MALE_3: Lines can be kind of fuzzy.

MALE_3: In reality, this disclaimer is

MALE_3: just a bunch of words that state intentionality,

MALE_3: but that doesn't really make it legally binding.

MALE_3: And you can see this because even though

MALE_3: it appears in almost every film,

MALE_3: it hasn't protected every film from a lawsuit.

MALE_3: In the 1980s, there was a film called The Idolmaker,

MALE_3: which was loosely based on pop star Fabian's life,

MALE_3: but they didn't include him

MALE_3: in the process of making the film.

MALE_3: He took the studio to court and won,

MALE_3: making them formally apologize in two separate magazines,

MALE_3: and giving him seven percent of the film's earnings.

MALE_3: This disclaimer, while effective in many ways,

MALE_3: isn't a get out of jail free card.

MALE_3: So the next time you see

MALE_3: this disclaimer in one of your favorite films,

MALE_3: just know that you have the murder

MALE_3: of Rasputin to thank for it.