Arts & Culture

30 Great Movies Based on a True Story

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

Pretty much any movie can be "based off a true story," but there are a select few that take real-life events and turn them into cinematic masterpieces. From The Wolf of Wall Street to Catch Me If You Can, here are 30 films based on true stories that are worth a watch.

The King's Speech (2010)

This Best Picture-winning film also brought Colin Firth the Best Actor Oscar for his complex portrayal of King George VI. Unexpectedly ascending the throne after his brother abdicates, the king is forced to find a solution for his life-long stutter with the help of an unconventional speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush).

Out of Africa (1985)

Based on the memoir by Baroness Karen von Blixen (also known as Isak Dinesen), the movie tells the story of a Danish aristocrat who buys a coffee plantation in Kenya, where she falls in love with an American big-game hunter played by Robert Redford. This Best-Picture winner has sumptuous scenery, Meryl Streep doing an accent, and, well, Robert Redford.

Ray (2004)

Based on the life of music legend Ray Charles, the film follows Charles (in an Oscar-winning performance by Jamie Foxx) as he makes his way in the music industry, overcoming racism and discrimination against his blindness to become a hit. But fame isn't without its drawbacks, and Charles must confront his own demons to ensure that his star doesn't burn out before its time.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

A skilled con man and forger, 17-year-old Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Loenardo di Caprio) becomes the most successful fraudster in the U.S. Pursued by FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), Abagnale has to resort to increasingly desperate gambits to stay one step ahead of the law.


Seabiscuit (2003)

A wealthy racehorse owner, a boxer-turned-jockey, and a dedicated trainer work together to turn a long-shot horse into victory in Depression-era America in this adaptation of one of the most successful thoroughbreds in American history.

Hidden Figures (2016)

Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson work as human computers at NASA in the 1960s, playing a vital role in the effort to send astronauts into space despite widespread, systematic discrimination.

Lincoln (2012)

Centered on the final period of Abraham Lincoln's life as he attempts to guide a nation torn by Civil War and ensure the passage of the 13th Amendment to ban slavery, this Steven Spielberg film stars Daniel Day-Lewis in an Academy Award-winning turn as the doomed president.

Elizabeth (1998)

One of the most iconic Queens of all time serves as the subject of this historical drama. Cate Blanchett earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance as Elizabeth I as she grew from a young princess caught in a succession struggle to a legendary monarch with the help of the master spy, Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Russh), her secret lover (Joseph Fiennes), and her own iron will.

Spotlight (2015)

What could have been a tedious procedural is instead a gripping ensemble thriller about a team of Boston Globe investigative reporters who uncover the decades-long effort by the Catholic church to suppress information about scores of abuse charges against priests.

Schindler's List (1993)


Businessman and Nazi party member Oskar Schindler works to save innocent lives when he protect the Jewish workers that staff his factory during World War II.

Frost/Nixon (2008)

Based on the play by Peter Morgan, which was in turn inspired by real events, this Oscar-nominated drama pits TV personality David Frost (Michael Sheen) against former president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) in a series of televised, on-on-one interviews that Nixon hopes to use to rehabilitate his reputation in a post-Watergate world while Frost tries to ferret out a news-making story that could revamp his career.

Capote (2005)

A towering performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman defines this film about Truman Capote, the author of Breakfast at Tiffany's, as he sets out to write a piece for the New Yorker about the brutal murder of a family in Kansas. He is accompanied by his good friend Harper Lee (author of To Kill a Mockingbird) and his work eventually becomes In Cold Blood.

Reversal of Fortune (1990)

Icy Claus von Bülow is convicted of the attempted murder of his wife, wealthy American socialite Sunny von Bülow in 1979, but after hiring Alan Dershowitz (upon whose book this movie is based), von Bülow's conviction is overturned and he is later acquitted. This story is simultaneously a saga of wealth and betrayal---which earned Jeremy Irons an Oscar for Best Actor---and a story of the American court system and the fundamental rights of all who stand accused of a crime.


All the President's Men (1976)

Despite grim warnings, two dogged reporters investigate a connection between a White House staff member and the attempted 1972 burglary of the Democratic Party Headquarters at Watergate, with the help of a mysterious source. Their reporting ultimately leads to the resignation of President Nixon.

Goodfellas (1990)

An adaptation of Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, Goodfellas chronicles the life of young Mafia mobster Henry Hill as he ruthlessly climbs his way to the top, oblivious to the effects his actions have on others and on himself.

Walk The Line (2005)

Based on the autobiographies of Johnny Cash, this film follows country musician (Joaquin Phoenix) from his youth through his ascent to stardom and his struggles with drugs, infidelity, and guilt over the childhood death of his brother. It's only with the help of June Carter (Reese Witherspoon, in an Oscar-winning performance) and her family that Cash is finally able to turn his life around

12 Years a Slave (2013)

A story of historic malevolence and survival, 12 Years a Slave portrays the cruelty of slavery in the South in the years before the Civil War through the eyes of a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery.

American Hustle (2013)

FBI ABSCAM investigation, American Hustle tells the story of two con men on a sting operation in New Jersey. From the dance moves to the double-crossing, the hustle of crime might bring everyone's world crashing down.


United 93 (2006)

United 93 recounts the events of September 11, 2001 as they took place on United Airlines Flight 93, one of four planes seized by Al-Qaeda terrorists. The film, which makes use of real 911 calls and other audio, follows the passengers as they decide to take action. Flight 93 was the only plane not to hit its intended target, but instead went down in a field in Pennsylvania.

Into the Wild (2007)

Based on the book by Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild tells the story of a Christopher McCandless, a recent Emory University graduate who gives up all of his material possessions and journeys alone out into the Alaskan wilderness.

Apollo 13 (1995)

Based on the scheduled Apollo 13 lunar mission in 1970, Ron Howard's film follows the story of three astronauts desperately struggling to bring their ship back into Earth's orbit after an oxygen tank explodes, threatening their survival.

Zodiac (2007)

Starring Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., and Jake Gyllenhaal, this 2007 mystery-thriller follows the investigation into the identity of the infamous 1960s Zodiac killer in San Francisco.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Based on the memoir of fraudulent stockbroker Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street makes crime look fun (or at least exhilarating) as Martin Scorcese's film follows the young broker's hedonistic lifestyle of sex, drugs, and white-collar crime.

The Aviator (2004)

Leonardo DiCaprio stars in this Academy Award winning biopic of the enigmatically brilliant billionaire Howard Hughes. From his early years as a film director and aviation enthusiast and following into his downward spiral into the mental illness and phobia that would define the tycoon's later years.


Erin Brockovich (2000)

Tough-talking Erin Brockovich becomes a clerk to a lawyer in a small California town, eventually becoming instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993.

127 Hours (2010)

James Franco stars as hiker Aron Ralston in this heartwrenching true story about an adventurer who finds himself trapped under a boulder for five days. Based on Ralston memoir, the film chronicles his agonizing decision to amputate his own arm in order to survive.

The Pianist (2002)

An adaptation of Wladyslaw Szpilman's autobiography, The Pianist follows a glamorous Jewish pianist who is forced into the Warsaw Ghetto, separated from his family, and made to hide in various locations in the city's ruins during the German occupation of Poland during World War II.

Gorillas In The Mist (1988)

Naturalist Diane Fossey moved to Rwanda to study gorillas and devoted herself to studying their family groups—and advocating for their protection from poaching. Sigourney Weaver gives a tour-de-force (and Oscar-nominated) performance as the passionate and enraged Fossey, and the sumptuous scenes of Africa will make you fall in love with the great apes and weep at the tragic fate that seems to befall everyone.

The Social Network (2010)

There's been no shortage of debate about exactly how closely this drama about the rise of uber-social network Facebook sticks to the facts, but this collaboration between screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher nonetheless taps into the intrigue and ingenuity that have become synonymous with the social media giant.


Hotel Rwanda (2004)

When Hutu military forces initiate a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda, hotel owner Paul Rusesabagina struggles to protect Tutsi refugees and his wife as the violence around them escalates into what is known as the Rwandan genocide.

*This story originally appeared on
*Minor edits have been made by the editors

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