Anytime we hear or see the words – “based on a true story” or “inspired by actual events” – we may find ourselves wanting to know more, or wanting to explore the real story. Many filmmakers take on reality and recreate it for audiences, and why not, you have ready-made stories with actual characters pulled from the headlines (or sometimes the sidelines). These may be stories or characters of tragedy, inspiration, or corruption, and many times these are the films that get recognized during awards season. Below you will find a sample list of A-Z biopics/true story films that offer at least a shade of real life for you to investigate.
All the President’s Men (1976) – The Scoop: Based on the real life adventures of Washington Post journalists uncovering a presidential scandal.
A Beautiful Mind (2001) – The Scoop: In 1947, when mathematical code-breaking genius John Nash gets caught in a web of intrigue and political deception, he battles paranoia and the chaos of the mind to survive his Pentagon “assignment.”
Cool Hand Luke (1967) – The Scoop: Written by Donn Pearce and based on his own experiences of working on a prison chain gang, the film centers on Luke Jackson, a prisoner who doesn’t play by the rules, and exhibits and unshakable will. Paul Newman takes on the title role.
Deep River Horizon (2016) – The scoop: In 2010, when an oil rig tragedy causes the worst ever biological disaster off the US Gulf Coast, you know that somehow a film will be made about it. This story follows the men and women who work against all odds to save those in harms way in spite of the danger they find themselves.
Erin Brockovich (2000) – The Scoop: A young woman becomes a consumer advocate of worldwide fame when she stands up for residents of a small California town who were being poisoned by drinking water.
First Man (2018) – The Scoop: When Americans race the Soviets to get to the Moon first in the Space Race, we’ll find out the inside story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to place his foot on the lunar surface. This is a true-life sci-fi journey.
Ghandi (1982) – The Scoop: Through patience and non-violence, a leader changes the course of his nation’s future.
Hotel Rwanda (2004) – The Scoop: Over 800,000 people were murdered in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, and this story captures the story of a man, Paul Rusesabagina, who worked to save over 1,200 refugees.
The Impossible (2012) – The Scoop: While vacationing in Thailand, a family comes face to face with an Indian Ocean tsunami. After being separated in the aftermath of the chaos and destruction, they must somehow find the will to survive, and reconnect in this literal sea of confusion, despair and pain.
JFK (1991) – The Scoop: Who really killed JFK? Check out this Oliver Stone legal/political/conspiracy masterpiece to get his take on the many possibilities.
The King’s Speech (2010) The Scoop: King George VI is a world leader, yet his inability to carry on a conversation without stuttering becomes a stumbling block to his leadership abilities.
Lincoln (2012) –The Scoop: Oscar-winner Daniel Day Lewis lights up the screen as U.S. President Abe Lincoln in a film that offers a snapshot of the man’s final months of life. Ending a war, abolishing slavery, leading a country, and maintaining peace in his own cabinet are all on his agenda as he faces the challenging times of the Civil War period.
The Mission (1986) — The Scoop: Starring Robert De Niro this story depicts the experiences of 18th-century Jesuits in South America.
Norma Rae (1979) — The Scoop: based on the true story of Crystal Lee Jordan; Sally Field is Norma Rae, the reluctant hero, and union organizer for a North Carolina textile mill where the health and safety of her coworkers are threatened.
One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest (1975) – The Scoop: While working as an orderly at a mental health facility in California, author Ken Kesey wrote the work based on his observations of how patients were treated while under the care of the facility.
The Passion of the Christ (2004) – The Scoop: Based on the final 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ, this foreign language film captures the pain, the suffering, and the selfless sacrifice that Jesus made for humanity’s sake. With three Oscar nominations, this became the highest grossing non-English (Latin) language film of all time (at that time). With such a universal story, language held no barriers.
Quiz Show (1994) – The Scoop: Based on the real-life American television quiz show scandals of the 1950s, this Oscar-caliber film was directed by Robert Redford.
Radio (2003) – The Scoop: When a developmentally challenged man becomes the inspiration for a high school football team and a racially divided community, we discover the power of friendship, and what it means to look beyond appearances.
Sully (2016) – The Scoop: When a flock of geese take down a passenger jet, it’s up to Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger to land the aircraft and save all on board. But this “Miracle on the Hudson” survival log is only part of the story.
United 93 (2006) – The Scoop: This film captures the story of what happened in the skies of September 11, 2001 when brave passengers took on hijackers during a terrorist attack.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) –The Scoop: The film is based on the infamous 1969 trial of seven defendants charged by the federal government with conspiracy and more, arising from the countercultural protests in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The trial transfixed the nation and sparked a conversation truth, justice and mistreatment of citizens by the U.S. government.
Valkyrie (2008) — The Scoop: On July 20, 1944 German army officers tried to enact a plot to assassinate President Adolf Hitler and use the Operation Valkyrie national emergency plan to take control of the country.
Walk the Line (2005) – The Scoop: Johnny Cash – singer, legend, tortured soul, trendsetter, man in black, and recipient of an honorary doctorate from Gardner-Webb University.
Malcolm X (1992) – The Scoop: When religion and politics come together, not everyone will be happy.
Young Guns (1988) – The Scoop: The Wild West was never the same when gun slinging outlaw Billy the Kid came to town. This origin story had a host of young movie stars and became a Summer hit. The action Western flick also spawned a 1990s sequel
Zodiac (2007) – The Scoop: How do you catch a serial killer? Teamwork and patience.
*So what are some of your favorite true-life films? Share them here, and let us know.
Buzz, F. (n.d.). Top 20 Movies Based on True Stories – Movies Talk. Retrieved September 20, 2016, from http://www.moviestalk.com/top-20-movies-based-on-true-stories/20/
Manning, N. T. (2021, September 20). The manning video collection [PDF].
Seddon, G. (2014, September 1). 50 greatest book movie adaptations | GamesRadar+. Retrieved from http://www.gamesradar.com/50-greatest-book-movie-adaptations/
Wood, J. (2013, June 26). Born on the Fourth of July – 15 Best True Story Movies | Complex. Retrieved from http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2013/06/the-15-best-movies-inspired-by-true-events/born-on-the-fourth-of-july
2 Comments Add yours