How Close Was Apocalypto to History?

Adventure films have always been attractive for the audience for their unique content and exceptional film making as well. Many adventure films have been released in Hollywood gaining global recognition and audience. Yet, these films are one of the most difficult ones to create because following the storyline while maintaining the adventurous genre is not an easy task.

An American adventure film that has been quite popular which has been among the audience and has become a box office success is Apocalypto. The film has been influenced with history which is why many people consider whether it is authentic or not.

About Apocalypto

Apocalypto was an adventure film released in 2006 which was based on historical events that has been produced and directed by Mel Gibson. The film has been one of the top ones by the director mainly since it has been based on somewhat true facts and figures. It was a box office success as it earned a hefty sum of $120 million worldwide on a budget of $40 million which was approximately 3 times as much as the budget. Stars of the film include Native American and Mexican actors such as Rudy Youngblood, Raoul Trujillo, Mayra Sérbulo, Dalia Hernández, Ian Uriel, and Gerardo Taracena.

The film has been set in the period of 1502 in the city of Mexico. The film plot shows the heroic journey of a young man and his fellow who are captured by an invading enemy force. It follows the civilization of Maya and the journey to Mayan city for human sacrifice. The film was not actually in English language but in Yucatec Mayan. Moreover, it shows all the ethnic tribes and people in the film depicted with Maya. The film has been significant in the career of the director because it was the last film he directed before he took a break of almost 10 years.

Gibson’s view on the film

Mel Gibson, Director and Producer of Apocalypto

Distorted view of History

According to some critics and experts on history, the film Apocalypto shows a distorted view of history rather than a crystal-clear image. Not everyone that sees the film is an expert on history which is why there is a high chance that people right away believe what they see. According to Mary Weismantel, professor of anthropology, the film shows major contradictions with reality of the Mayan culture. Although the Mayan people did practice warfare and had not a good attitude with the prisoners, the concept of wall paintings showing blue painted and decapitated prisoners was not there. However, the film did show this aspect multiple times.

According to an expert, tourists travel to Maya sites so as to read about the important ways in which the Mayas lived out their lives. Tourists also read the religious philosophies of Maya as well as about their ceremonies and events. However, the film Apocalypto showed a very negative side of the Mayas only. Despite the fact that the film has been planned in a way that it is entertaining and thrilling for the audience, it does cast an overly negative image which has sparked controversies amongst the Native Americans and Mexicans.

The Maya Maske of the Maya Culture

Racist Apocalypto

The Mayas were a great civilization for the fact that they came up with several important inventions that are relevant even today. This includes higher mathematics, concept of zero, and other information as well. However, the film by Gibson shows a completely evil side of the Mayas who are depicted as bloodthirsty, immoral, and evil. The film has actors which are asked to portray as their own ancestors in a negative manner.

Apocalypto Myths and Facts

When it comes to comparing the different types of myths and facts amongst the movie and the reality, the film comes under serious questions. Firstly, the film shows that the hero lives in a jungle and primarily does hunting to survive. However, the Mayan culture was the one where meat was rare and was only considered as a symbol of luxury. The Mayan people were more involved in the agriculture sector rather than going hunting.

The film shows that Mayan people lived in a very traditional manner with a very conventional living place as well. Apocalypto shows that the Maya villagers live in the different types of stick huts whereas in reality the Mayans had stone foundations and they often built in cleared plazas.

The film shows that Jaguar Paw and other captives are unaware of the place they are brought to despite being a city. However, not only was the Mayan settlement a far widespread one in terms of distance but it was also the one where there was a high level of political connectedness between the different organizations.

Another myth in the film was related to King being a bystander to two other individuals. However, The Maya Kings were actually seen as potent mediums in terms of communicating with their own ancestors.

Mayan Punishment – Authenticity

The movie shows a very cruel practice where the villagers are attacked by men from the city, the Maya Metropolis. The males were kept as captives who were used for sacrificial rituals which meant that the males would have to face a lot and suffer a painful death. On the other hand, females were sold as slaves. However, the history of Mayan culture does not provide any solid evidence of whether this used to actually happen, or it is just a myth.

In addition to that, the movie shows that hundreds of people are sacrificed at one single time. However, there is no data of a massacre like this in the Mayan culture. The movie shows that the Mayas relished torturing their captives but in actual history, it is shown that this was only the case for political opponents.

Connection with Aztecs

The movie shows quite much of the information which is not as true to the Mayan culture but depicts much of what was a part of the Aztec culture. For example, the movie shows that Jaguar Paw as well as the other captives were sacrificed in a particular manner through a column-shaped stone to please the gods. However, this was not a part of the Maya’s culture, but Aztecs definitely did it.

The large massacre and genocide of many people was not happening in Mayan culture, but historical evidence shows that Aztecs were sacrificing many people at one single time. There are many other details as well which are closely related to Aztec culture rather than the Mayan culture.

True or Not

Based on the different types of historical facts and figures as well as the analysis conducted by archaeologists about the movie, it was evident that there are serious flaws in the movie as compared to actual history. In many ways, it hurt the sentimental values of the Native Americans and Mexicans which is why the movie became controversial to a great extent.

According to the movie Director and Producer, Mel Gibson, the movie should not be a historical documentary. Although, it does depict a particular culture and even the dialogues are in their local language, but the director’s comment clearly states that the movie is not based on that culture rather it should just be taken on a lighter note for the purpose of entertainment. An expert said that if it is depicting the history, the film Apocalypto is just a torture for the facts.


Apocalypto grabs the attention of the audience right away which is why it has become successful as well. Audience said that this movie has been exceptionally powerful and has influenced them right to the mind. According to William Thomas, “A strange but entertaining mix of action, bloodletting, chin-rubbing and arthouse trimmings”.  Many critics also regarded it to be the best film of the year and displacing other memorable films such as the Titanic.

Although many still had controversies related to it, it was successful as well. As far as the question remains whether the film has been close to the history or not, the film is only a bit related to history but not all its facts are true.