Top 10 Things Erin Brockovich Got Factually Right & Wrong
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Savannah Sher
You might be surprised by the things Erin Brockovich got factually right and wrong. For this list, we'll be looking at what was fact and what was fiction in this Hollywood drama. Our countdown includes Erin made $2 million, Erin's wardrobe, Erin was Miss Wichita, and more!
Have you ever wondered just how true this “based on a true story” film really was? Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Things Erin Brockovich Got Factually Right and Wrong.
For this list, we’ll be looking at what was fact and what was fiction in this Hollywood drama.
#10: Ed Masry Represented Erin Brockovich
One of the most important characters in the movie is Edward L. Masry, better known as Ed, who represents Erin as her lawyer after she’s injured in an accident and is unemployed. The action of the movie really begins when Erin loses the case and ends up working for him at his office, claiming that she’s desperate and he made her think she was going to win. But in real life, Masry wasn’t actually the one who acted as her lawyer in that initial case. It was his partner, Jim Vititoe. Did you know, however, that the real Ed Masry actually made a cameo appearance in the film? He’s sitting behind Julia Roberts in the diner scene!
#9: Hinkley Had Higher Cancer Rates
In the movie, Erin’s primary interest in the case comes when she finds out that the water in the town of Hinkley was contaminated with hexavalent chromium, which was said to be a carcinogen. But in reality, studies since have shown that the town didn’t actually suffer from higher cancer rates than was to be expected based on the region and demographics. There is some debate about this, but the California Cancer Registry said that the rates of the disease “remained unremarkable from 1988 to 2008,” which includes the period during which the film took place.
#8: Erin Made $2 Million
On-screen, after they win their case, Ed offers Erin a check for her bonus and tells her ominously that the number isn’t exactly what they had discussed. Before she gets a chance to look at it, however, she assumes that what he means is that it’s less than she had asked for. It turns out, though, that he’s actually increased her payout to a whopping $2 million. In fact, she did receive a massive windfall for her work, but it was even higher, at $2.5 million. We’d say she deserved it! Now if only she could learn to apologize...
#7: The Victims Had a Happy Ending
Of course, because it’s Hollywood, the ending of “Erin Brockovich” seems nicely wrapped up with a bow. The good guys win and the people of Hinkley receive a massive settlement totaling $333 million. While that number sounds big, many of the victims were unhappy with how the settlement was divided up and paid out. While it was supposed to be distributed based on how much each family’s health was affected, many thought there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the distribution of funds and claimed that their medical records were never even consulted. While some did receive large payouts, others inexplicably only received amounts in the tens of thousands of dollars.
#6: The Payout Amount
As previously mentioned, in the film Pacific Gas and Electric Company was ordered by a judge to pay a settlement of the victims of the water contamination a whopping $333 million. This number is accurate and was in fact historically groundbreaking. It became the highest settlement in the United States to be paid in the case of a direct-action lawsuit. It’s important to note that almost half of that amount, $133.6 million, actually went to Masry & Vititoe’s law firm and not to the actual victims of the contamination — which would explain some of their disappointment.
#5: Erin’s Swearing
One thing that sets Erin apart in the legal world in the film is her… well… creativity with words. She unabashedly curses and swears, no matter who she’s talking to and doesn’t apologize for her foul language. She’s also, as you can see in several scenes, a queen of sass. The real-life Erin Brockovich wrote a piece for CNBC and directly addressed the movie’s accuracy, as well as Julia Roberts’ Oscar-winning portrayal of her character. She said the movie was 98% accurate and of her swearing said, “Yes, I had a potty mouth in the movie and I still do.”
#4: Erin’s Wardrobe
Another way that Erin clearly didn’t fit in at the law firm was the way she dressed. In the film, she wore provocative outfits that weren’t what anyone was used to seeing in their stuffy workplace. In that same CNBC article, Brockovich confirmed that the wardrobe department got it right when dressing Julia Roberts, and said that she was surprised by the reactions she received about her clothes. She added, “I just dressed that way because it was fun and I liked it.” You do you Erin, clearly your clothes didn’t prevent you from doing your job! She did say on a separate occasion, however, that she didn’t intentionally use her cleavage to take advantage of anyone.
#3: Erin Was Miss Wichita
In the movie, we learn that Erin Brockovich was a beauty queen, even winning the title of Miss Wichita. While the real Erin Brockovich was from Kansas and was in fact a beauty queen, she didn’t win a title in her home state. The real pageant she won was Miss Pacific Coast, in 1981. So why would the filmmakers change the pageant she won? It wasn’t a mistake, and director Steven Soderbergh explained by saying that they opted to have her win in the state where she grew up, saying it would be “cute.”
#2: Serving the Lawyers Water from Hinkley
In one of the most memorable scenes from the film, Erin and Ed sit down with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company defense attorneys and try to negotiate a bigger settlement for their clients. Erin rattles off the names and ailments of some of the victims, demanding that the lawyers consider what they would think they deserved in that situation. She wraps things up by informing them sweetly that the water they’re drinking came straight from a well in Hinkley. The real Brokovich confirmed that this did in fact happen, though it was actually in a courtroom.
#1: Erin’s Incredible Memory
In a fan favorite scene, Erin is accused of not doing a thorough enough job on her research. It’s said that some of the files are missing phone numbers, to which Erin asks which numbers are missing. When prompted, she’s able to rattle off not just the phone number of the client in question, but their age, health history, and family members’ names as well. While we don’t know if this particular incident actually happened, the real Erin Brockovich does have a remarkable memory, and memorized the details about all of her clients. She has said that due to suffering from dyslexia, this was her way of managing the information.