Why Nearly Every Film Ends By Saying Its Fiction

Samuel Reason - August 28th, 2019

If you go through every film from modern memory you will see that it nearly always does end with a sort of variation of the following disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.” this even happens when the film is based on real-life events. So why does this boring legal message feature religiously on every film – there must be a reason right?

slate.com

The origins are quite bizarre, if you want to thank someone for it, then it would have to be Grigori Rasputin. This was the famous Russian mystic who was nearly impossible to assassinate, the last survivor of the doomed Romanovs. It all started when an unknown exiled Russian prince sued MGM in 1933, he argued that the American production did not depict Rasputin’s murder accurately at all. And guess what? The prince would know because he was the murderer.

In 1916, the wealthy and Oxford-educated Prince Felix Yusupov was one of the aristocrats that were outraged over the influence Rasputin – a peasant with charisma had over the czar and particularly his influence over the czarina. Yusupov simply invited him over for tea, gave him cyanide-laced cakes and shot him.

Somehow Yusupov got off lightly and was only exiled for the murder, which was quite lucky as it meant he was not slaughtered during the revolution. Rasputin and The Empress were released 16 years later, Yusupov was now penniless and heard about the film. He saw the production as being extremely defamatory, argued audiences would recognize him as the fictional assassin – but as he had already published in public that he was indeed the murderer, his libel case did not have much credit. Instead, he built a libel case around the movie had defamed his wife, due to a scene that portraited her being raped.

An MGM researcher had raised the point they could be sued for this scene, but she was promptly fired. Irina Yusupov successfully sued the studio and the jury found her in favor, awarding her about $125,000. It also meant the film had purged the offending scene for all time, which is why now every film has that disclaimer.

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