Movies Based On True Stories: 60 Of The Best!

Movies Based On True Stories

Movies based on true stories are very powerful the second you learn that it was all based on reality – so empower yourself with these 60 unbelievable true stories, turned into film! 

The movies on our list are very powerful the second you learn that it was all based on reality which makes the movie even more mind-boggling, serendipitous, inspiring, than anything you can think up in your head! Movies based on true stories prove that the only thing that makes a crazy plot point or character even more unbelievable is knowing you could actually come across that in your everyday life. 

Because imagine if you didn’t know that you crossed paths with the real-life version of J.Lo’s Ramona character from Hustlers, or the real-life version of Di Caprio’s character of Jordan Belfort, the former stockbroker who inspired the hit movie The Wolf of Wall Street.

From heartwarming classics like Titanics to dark films like Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, movies based on true stories transports you into history that can help you learn a thing or two along the way.

Check out these 60 movies based on true stories that are sure to make you feel so relatable to the characters! 

60 Movies Based On True Stories

1. The Theory of Everything

IMDb user rating: 7.7

Year: 2014

Director: James Marsh

The life of Stephen Hawking is portrayed on “The Theory of Everything,” which tells the story of the physicist who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative neuromuscular condition.  This biopic is based on his ex-wife’s memoir which opens up about Hawking’s relationship, his unforeseen diagnosis with ALS, and the inspiring work that blew the universe wide open. 

The Theory of Everything is one of those movies based on true stories except for one thing: Stephen and Jane didn’t meet until after he was already diagnosed.

2. Zodiac

Year: 2007

Director: David Fincher

Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal co-star in this historical thriller about the Zodiac serial killer. Critics applauded the film’s attention to historic detail about how the killer detailed his murders in letters to newspapers and police but was never caught. 

3. Adaptation

IMDb user rating: 7.7

Year: 2002

Director: Spike Jonze

“Adaptation,” is a film based on Kaufman’s experience with writer’s block as he tried to pen down a screenplay adapted from Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book “The Orchid Thief.” 

This is again one of those movies based on true stories except for some elements of fiction, including the creation of a twin brother for Kaufman. 

4. The Blind Side

IMDb user rating: 7.7

Year: 2009

Director: John Lee Hancock

The Blind Side movie is based on the true story of NFL star Michael Oher, a homeless black teenager taken in by a well-off white family in Tennessee before professionally succeeding in football. This box office hit was praised by the critics and Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for Best Actress—but other critics didn’t like how the film portrayed race. Micheal Oher said the film had a negative impact. 

5. 50/50

IMDb user rating: 7.7

Year: 2011

Director: Jonathan Levine

The writer of this movie based on true stories wrote the screenplay based on his own experience after he was diagnosed with cancer at 25. Reiser, the writer, said he survived the disease with the help of real-life friends like Seth Rogen, who also co-produced and starred in the movie opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who played the Reiser character.

6. Argo

IMDb user rating: 7.7

Year: 2012

Director: Ben Affleck

In “Argo,” the CIA creates a fake movie production company to rescue six Americans during the Iran revolution in 1979. 

This is again one of those movies based on true stories except for the fact that the film downplays Canada’s involvement in the rescue. Alan Arkin’s character was fictional, and the escape from Iran—which involved an array of complications at the airport in the film—was dramatized for film. 

7. The Social Network

IMDb user rating: 7.7

Year: 2010

Director: David Fincher

Director David Fincher teamed up with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”), who adapted the film from “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal,” scripted by Ben Mezrich. 

The film is a deep look at the turmoil surrounding the creation of Facebook and  the founder Mark Zuckerberg, who some say is not as angry in real life as he seems in the film. 

What the film did get right: the Winklevoss brothers did work with and sue Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin was Zuckerberg’s closest friend, and Sean Parker did play a critical advisory role.

8. 300

IMDb user rating: 7.7

Year: 2006

Director: Zack Snyder

The film portrays the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. when King Leonidas of Sparta (Gerard Butler) and 300 of his warriors—along with at least 1,100 Boeotians—fought against the entire Persian army. Director Zack Snyder claims it is historically accurate, but some critics disagree.

9. Zulu

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 1964

Director: Cy Endfield

“Zulu” is a re-creation of a true event, but some feel it exaggerates the importance of an unnecessary battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879 between 150 British soldiers who fought against 3,000 to 4,000 (the exact number is not clear) Zulu fighters in South Africa. 

10. Loving Vincent

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2017

Directors: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman

“Loving Vincent” is about the life and death of Vincent van Gogh which is depicted through transforming van Gogh’s works into a painted animation brought to life with added voices of famous people. 

The plot is based on the year after Vincent van Gogh’s suicide, as a postman delivers the artist’s last letter to his brother, Theo.

11. BlacKkKlansman

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2018

Director: Spike Lee

Director Spike Lee shows how Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado, infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan during an undercover investigation in the late 1970s. Stallworth (John David Washington) sends his white colleague (Adam Driver) to pretend to be him during in-person meetings while Stallworth himself fools KKK director David Duke (Topher Grace) on the phone. While most of the film is accurate, Stallworth said no actual bombing took place during his investigation. His love interest in the movie also was fictitious.

12. Pride

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2014

Directors: Matthew Warchus

Watching the Crown on Netflix? You’ll love this movie of activists who personally wanted to identify with the miners against what they felt were repressive, abusive tactics by Margaret Thatcher.

The movie is focused on the year 1984 for a group of British LGBT activists worked together to raise money for striking miners and their families during a gay pride march in London. 

13. The Longest Day

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 1962

Directors: Ken Annakin, Darryl F. Zanuck, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Gerd Oswald

This epic war film is one of those movies based on true stories such as the D-Day landing during World War II on June 6, 1944 in Normandy. The Longest Day is a black-and-white movie featuring an ensemble cast including John Wayne, Richard Burton, and Henry Fonda.

14. The World’s Fastest Indian

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2005

Director: Roger Donaldson

This film tells the story of Burt Munro, an aging New Zealander who rebuilt a 1920 Indian Twin Scout motorcycle that helped him set a world record for land speed at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967. The real Munro had children, though they were not mentioned in the film.

15. The Wind Rises

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2013

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

“The Wind Rises” is a controversial animated biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane, which Japan used during Pearl Harbor in World War II. The film shows Horikoshi’s skill and dedication as an engineer.

16. October Sky

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 1999

Director: Joe Johnston

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Homer H. Hickam Jr. in this drama based on the lives of four men in Coalwood, West Virginia, who experimented with creating their own rockets. In real life, Hickam became a NASA engineer and wrote “Rocket Boys.”

17. The Last Emperor

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 1987

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

The life of Puyi, the last emperor of China, is depicted in this biographical drama. In 1908, 3-year-old Puyi, became the Lord of Ten Thousand Years. The film follows the emperor throughout his life, including his childhood and imprisonment by Russia after World War II.

18. The Motorcycle Diaries

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2004

Director: Walter Salles

Based on the memoir of a 23-year-old Ernesto Guevara, “The Motorcycle Diaries” shows Guevara’s life in the years before he became known as Che, the internationally famous Marxist leader. The story follows a young Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado as they travel across South America.

19. Serpico

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 1973

Director: Sidney Lumet

Al Pacino plays the role of Frank Serpico, an officer with the New York Police Department. Serpico uncovers and exposes police corruption in the 1960s and 1970s. Like in the movie, his real-life efforts led to the creation of the Knapp Commission, which investigated the NYPD.

20. The French Connection

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 1971

Director: William Friedkin

The French Connection is a fictionalized crime thriller based on a work of real life partners—Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso—were portrayed as Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle and Buddy “Cloudy” Russo. The plot of the film is the detectives who search for a French heroin smuggler named Alain Charnier (whose name in real life was Jean Jehan).

21. Empire of the Sun

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 1987

Director: Steven Spielberg

The film tells the story of Jamie “Jim” Graham (Christian Bale), a spoiled young boy from a wealthy British family in Shanghai who becomes a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp during World War II and is later separated from his parents. The film follows Jim as he tries to survive on his own.

22. The Last of the Mohicans

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 1992

Director: Michael Mann

Set in 1757, “The Last of the Mohicans” depicts the French and Indian War in the Ohio River Valley. The film, written and directed by Michael Mann, is based on an 1826 novel by the same name. One historian applauded Mann’s attention to detail in costumes and liked his use of French and Indian language, but she criticized the historical accuracy of some of the dialogue.

23. Hidden Figures

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2016

Director: Theodore Melfi

“Hidden Figures” shines a light on three black female mathematicians—Katherine Goble (later Johnson), Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan—working at NASA during a time when racial segregation and workplace sexism were still the norm. The film is based on a nonfiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly—who consulted on the film—and centers on the story of Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) who confirmed, by hand, the formula that helped John Glenn make the first human trip around the Earth. Shetterly said that while the main plot of the movie is true, there were far more people who worked on the space projects than depicted in the movie.

24. Remember the Titans

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2000

Director: Boaz Yakin

Denzel Washington portrays Herman Boone, a black coach who led the first integrated football team at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1971. Washington portrayed Boone as an inspirational character, but some say the real-life Boone wasn’t quite so nice or the cause of the team’s success. The movie also claims that they only played white teams, but many other high school teams were integrated.

25. Changeling

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2008

Director: Clint Eastwood

The film was based on the events surrounding the 1928 Wineville Chicken Coop Murders in Mira Loma, California. Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, whose 9-year-old son goes missing. Collins is institutionalized by authorities when she declares that a boy claiming to be her son is an imposter. Screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski, a former journalist, pieced the story together from newspaper files and historical records from City Hall.

26. Donnie Brasco

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 1997

Director: Mike Newell

Donnie Brasco follows the true story behind a real-life FBI agent whose name was Joseph Pistone. Like in the film, Brasco goes undercover to infiltrate the Bonanno crime family.

27. The Big Short

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2015

Director: Adam McKay

“The Big Short” tells the backstory of how subprime mortgages led to the 2008 housing catastrophe—and subsequent financial crisis—and how signs of an impending crisis were ignored. The film is based on the nonfiction book of the same title written by Michael Lewis. While most names have been changed, the film stays true to the book’s description of the main characters and the timeline of events. What is true to life: Michael Burry (Christian Bale) was a stock market investor who went shoeless and listened to trash metal.

28. The Fighter

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2010

Director: David O. Russell

Mark Wahlberg stars as Micky Ward, a boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts, who turned his losing streak around and won the WBU light welterweight title in 2000. Ward’s family—a chain-smoking mother, seven sisters, and a crack-addicted half brother—are major forces in the film. Ward said the movie actually toned down the group.

29. American Gangster

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2007

Director: Ridley Scott

Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas, a drug lord from the 1970s. While the film portrayed Lucas descending into the jungles of Southeast Asia during Vietnam and smuggling drugs inside soldiers’ caskets, these events never actually happened.

30. Captain Phillips

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 2013

Director: Paul Greengrass

The film depicts the actions of Capt. Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), whose cargo ship was taken hostage by Somali pirates. It is based on Phillips’ memoir, “A Captain’s Duty.” Two things the movie fictionalized: Phillips and the crew did not trick one of the pirates with broken glass on the ground, and he did not feel sorry for any of the captors. Crew members aboard the real-life ship allege Phillips wasn’t the hero he made himself out to be.

31. Titanic

IMDb user rating: 7.8

Year: 1997

Director: James Cameron

Director James Cameron tells the story of the sinking of the Titanic. While the character or Margaret Brown (Kathy Bates)—who tried to get unfilled lifeboats to take on more people—is based on a real-life passenger, Jack and Rose (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) were Hollywood creations. Another fact: the violinist continued to play as the boat sank.

32. The Killing Fields

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 1984

Director: Roland Joffé

This biographical drama is based on the experiences of an American journalist, Sydney Schanberg, and his Cambodian fixer, Dith Pran, during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in 1984. The film stays true to real-life events, including the aftermath in Neak Loeung, a town the Americans accidentally bombed in 1973.

33. The Right Stuff

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 1983

Director: Philip Kaufman

The film tells the story of the Mercury Seven, the first astronauts of the United States space program. While the film—which is based on Tom Wolfe’s book of the same name—leaves out some controversy surrounding Virgil “Gus” Grissom, it sticks to historical facts about the space race.

34. Badlands

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 1973

Director: Terrence Malick

While the movie and character names are fictional, it is based on the murder spree of Charles Starkweather and his accomplice Caril Ann Fugate in 1958. Fugate, at 14 years old, didn’t murder anyone, but accompanied Starkweather as he killed 11 people in the Badlands of Wyoming and Nebraska.

35. My Left Foot

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 1989

Director: Jim Sheridan

Daniel-Day Lewis plays Christy Brown, an Irish man born with cerebral palsy who could only control his left foot. Brown grew up poor and mostly paralyzed, but he became a writer and painter. The film left out the not-so-happy ending with Brown’s real-life wife and nurse, Mary Carr.

36. The African Queen

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 1951

Director: John Huston

Katharine Hepburn plays Rosie, a missionary who chooses to stay in the Congo as the First World War starts. She receives her supplies from Charlie Allnutt (Humphrey Bogart) and his boat the “African Queen.” In real life, the boat was originally named the “Livingston.”

37. Bonnie and Clyde

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 1967

Director: Arthur Penn

The film follows the true story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, who went on a crime spree that ended after a six-month manhunt. The film accurately portrays Bonnie as a waitress in Texas who runs off with Clyde—already familiar with prison—and that the two become famous after a major shootout with police. In reality, it’s not clear just how involved Bonnie was with the actual shooting, or if she and Clyde were more than travel companions.

38. Spartacus

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 1960

Director: Stanley Kubrick

This epic historical drama is based on the life story of Spartacus, the leader of a slave revolt who died in 71 B.C., and the events of the Third Servile War. The film follows Spartacus as he leads thousands of former slaves as they defeat Roman attacks with early guerrilla warfare.

39. Glory

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 1989

Director: Edward Zwick

Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman play soldiers in the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Army—a unit made of free black volunteers—during the Civil War who are commanded by a white officer, Col. Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). The film tells the story of the unit’s efforts at the assault on Fort Wagner.

40. Letters from Iwo Jima

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 2006

Director: Clint Eastwood

The film tells the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers. It is based on two nonfiction books. While some characters are fictional, the overall battle, as well as some commanders, are based on actual people and events.

41. The Insider

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 1999

Director: Michael Mann

“The Insider” is based on the true story between Jeffrey Wigand, a research scientist at a major tobacco company, and a producer at CBS, Lowell Bergman, who helped Wigand speak out on the harmful effects of nicotine. The film is adapted from Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”

42. Ed Wood

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 1994

Director: Tim Burton

Director Tim Burton casts Johnny Depp as filmmaker Ed Wood. Burton portrayed Wood, who was an alcoholic and a womanizer, as a more sympathetic character in the film than he was in real life.

43. Straight Outta Compton

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 2015

Director: F. Gary Gray

This biopic tells the story of N.W.A., the controversial gangsta rap group that started in the 1980s whose members included Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube. The latter two were producers as was Eazy-E’s widow. Ice Cube is played by his actual son, O’Shea Jackson Jr. While some details are changed in the film, one fact is true: Dr. Dre did get Eazy-E to bail him out of jail, and Dre later produced a track for Eazy-E to return the favor.

44. Walk the Line

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 2005

Director: James Mangold

“Walk the Line” tells the story behind one of country music’s most famous love stories: Johnny Cash and June Carter. Johnny Cash’s daughter Kathy objected to how her mother—Cash’s first wife, who he had four children with—was portrayed in the film. Kathy Cash said her mother was supportive of the musician until he started using drugs and stopped coming home.

45. The Untouchables

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 1987

Director: Brian De Palma

Set during Prohibition in 1930, this drama is based on the story of crime boss Al Capone—who kept the liquor flowing in Chicago—and Eliot Ness, a Prohibition agent assigned to stop Capone. The film was based on a book co-authored by Ness with the same name.

46. Aguirre, the Wrath of God

IMDb user rating: 8

Year: 1972

Director: Werner Herzog

Herzog’s film is a fictionalized work based on Lope de Aguirre, a Spanish adventurer in the 16th century who sought El Dorado (the city of gold), and the failed expedition of the conquistador Gonzalo Pizarro. While the events in history are true, Herzog created the characters that appear in the movie.

47. Battleship Potemkin

IMDb user rating: 8

Year: 1925

Director: Sergei M. Eisenstein

This silent film is based on a mutiny that occurred in 1905 on the Russian battleship Potemkin. In the film, the crew revolted after they were given maggot-filled meat. However, many parts of the movie plot were embellished.

48. Stalag 17

IMDb user rating: 8

Year: 1953

Director(s): Billy Wilder

“Stalag 17” is a comedy war film set in a German prisoner-of-war camp. It was adapted from a based-on-real-life Broadway play written by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski—Air Force sergeants who were prisoners in Stalag 17B in Austria.

49. The Sea Inside

IMDb user rating: 8

Year: 2004

Director: Alejandro Amenábar

This heart-wrenching tale is based on the real-life battle of Ramón Sampedro, who fought for 30 years to get the right to end his life after an accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. The film shows various friends and family administering Sampedro cyanide poison and the life-ending event that he filmed.

50. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

IMDb user rating: 7.3

Year: 2019

Director: Marielle Heller

Two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks plays the role of Mister Rogers, based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod. 

Based on a 1998 Esquire article, A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood tells the story of a jaded magazine writer (Emmy winner Matthew Rhys) is assigned a profile of Fred Rogers, he overcomes his skepticism, learning about empathy, kindness, and decency from America’s most beloved neighbor. 

51. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

IMDb user rating: 6.6

Year: 2019

Director: Joe Berlinger

Told from the perspective of Ted Bundy’s ex-girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins), this dark biopic is the story of her refusing to believe the truth about him for years.

The movie mainly recounts the infamous serial killer’s “personal” life and long list of crimes as  Zac Efron takes on the role of evil and charismatic Bundy. Beware, this is an image you’ll see long after you turn off the lights.

52. Dunkirk

IMDb user rating: 7.9

Year: 2017

Director: Christopher Nolan

The evacuation of thousands of surrounded Allied troops on the beach of Dunkirk during World War II was kind of a miracle. Everything had to go just right to avoid total disaster. Oh, and if you’ve ever dreamed of Harry Styles in uniform, you’re welcome. The former boy band member/teen heartthrob makes his acting debut as a soldier with a bit of a mean streak.

53. Hustlers

IMDb user rating: 6.3

Year: 2019

Director:  Lorene Scafaria

Hustlers is inspired by a New York Magazine article about a group of New York City strippers who steal from the rich and take for themselves. Starring Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B, Lizzo, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, and Lili Reinhart, this is one movie you don’t want to miss.

54. On The Basis of Sex

IMDb user rating: 7.1

Year: 2018

Director:   Mimi Leder

Ruth Bader Ginsburg lovers will enjoy the biographical legal drama about everyone’s favorite Supreme Court justice and her unwavering fight for equality.

55. Miss Virginia

IMDb user rating: 6.9

Year: 2019

Director:   R.J. Daniel Hanna

Virginia Walden Ford (Uzo Aduba) is a single mother in Washington D.C., struggling to make ends meet. When she can’t afford to send her son to private school, Miss Virginia takes up a fight with the education system that has been mistreating minority children for decades.

56. The Wolf of Wall Street

IMDb user rating: 8.2

Year: 2013

Director: Martin Scorsese

Sex, drugs, and corruption (not much rock ‘n’ roll here)… Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is a stockbroker who goes off the rails and commits fraud after drug-soaked fraud. This was also the movie that broke the world record for cursing in a film.

57. 12 Years A Slave

IMDb user rating: 8.1

Year: 2013

Director: Steve McQueen

This film is an intense retelling of Soloman Northrup’s 1853 memoir. Born a free man in New York, Northrup was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War era. It’s another film that’s so much more than just a movie.

58. American Hustle

IMDb user rating: 7.2

Year: 2013

Director: David O. Russell

If you love scammer stories (let’s be honest, who doesn’t?), this is your next Friday night watch. Based on the FBI Abscam operation, two real life con artists (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) take down corrupt politicians (like Jeremy Renner). The all-star cast also includes Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, so add this to your list! 

59. Lincoln

IMDb user rating: 7.3

Year: 2012

Director:  Steven Spielberg

Is it possible that Daniel Day-Lewis brought Abraham Lincoln back to life? Okay, clearly not, but his acting is so perfect it’ll give you a serious pause. Here’s your history lesson: The year is 1865, and Lincoln is trying to bring the Civil War to an end but wants to make sure the 13th Amendment passes first.

60. 127 Hours

IMDb user rating: 7.5

Year: 2010

Director: Danny Boyle

Hiking through Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, Aron Ralston (James Franco) gets trapped under a boulder (with no escape). He has to amputate his arm and escape, or die. This is what nightmares are made of, so if you’re queasy, watch with a trustworthy friend who’ll tell you when **that** scene is coming up. 

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