Top 20 Movies Based on or Inspired by True Stories

Here are my top 20 movies based on or inspired by true stories and actual events:

20- Schindler’s List

Schindler's List is a 1993 American epic historical drama film directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg and scripted by Steven Zaillian. It is based on the novel Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally, an Australian novelist. The film is based on the life of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. It stars Liam Neeson as Schindler, Ralph Fiennes as Schutzstaffel (SS) officer Amon Goeth, and Ben Kingsley as Schindler's Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern.

19- Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can is a 2002 American biographical crime drama film based on the life of Frank Abagnale, who, before his 19th birthday, successfully performed cons worth millions of dollars by posing as a Pan American World Airways pilot, a Georgia doctor, and a Louisiana parish prosecutor. His primary crime was check fraud; he became so skillful that the FBI eventually turned to him for help in catching other check forgers. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, with Christopher Walken, Amy Adams, Martin Sheen, and Nathalie Baye in supporting roles.

Development for the film started in 1980 but did not progress until 1997 when the film rights to Abagnale’s book were purchased by Spielberg's DreamWorks. David Fincher, Gore Verbinski, Lasse Hallström, Miloš Forman and Cameron Crowe had all been possible candidates for director before Spielberg decided to direct. Filming took place from February to May 2002. The film was a financial and critical success, and the real Abagnale reacted positively to it.

18- Notorios

Notorious is a 2009 American biopic about the life of iconic hip hop star Christopher Wallace / Biggie Smalls / The Notorious B.I.G., who is played by Jamal Woolard. The film co-stars Angela Bassett as his mother Voletta Wallace, Derek Luke as Sean Combs, and Anthony Mackie as Tupac Shakur. Other roles include Naturi Naughton as Lil' Kim and Antonique Smith as Faith Evans.

The film was released in American theaters on January 16, 2009, by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

17- Casino

Casino is a 1995 crime drama film directed by Martin Scorsese. It is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Nicholas Pileggi, who also co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Scorsese.

Robert De Niro stars as Sam "Ace" Rothstein, a Jewish-American top gambling handicapper who is called by the Mob to oversee the day-to-day operations at the fictional Tangiers casino in Las Vegas. The story is based on Frank Rosenthal, who ran the Stardust, Fremont and the Hacienda casinos in Las Vegas for the Chicago Outfit from the 1970s until the early 1980s.

Joe Pesci plays Nicky Santoro, based on real-life mob enforcer Anthony Spilotro. Nicky is sent to Vegas to make sure that money from the Tangiers is skimmed off the top and that the mobsters in Vegas are kept in line. Sharon Stone plays Ginger, Ace's self-obsessed and devious wife, a role that earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

When released, Casino had the most uses of the word "f**k" (422) in a feature length film.

16- The Aviator

The Aviator is a 2004 American biographical drama film directed by Martin Scorsese, written by John Logan, produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King, and Charles Evans, Jr., and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn and Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner. The supporting cast features Ian Holm, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law as Errol Flynn, Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow, Willem Dafoe, Alan Alda, and Edward Herrmann. The film depicts the true story of aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, who later became the world's wealthiest man, drawing upon numerous sources including a biography by Charles Higham.[3] The picture centers on Hughes' life from the late 1920s to 1947, during which time he became a successful film producer and an aviation magnate while simultaneously growing more unstable due to severe obsessive-compulsive disorder exacerbated by airplane crashes.

The Aviator was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Scorsese, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor in a Leading Role for DiCaprio, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Alan Alda and Best Sound Mixing, and winning five for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Cate Blanchett. This achievement would not be matched for seven years until Martin Scorsese's film Hugo.

15- A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind is a 2001 American film based on the life of John Forbes Nash, Jr., a Nobel Laureate in Economics. The film was directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva Goldsman. It was inspired by a bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-nominated 1998 book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar. The film stars Russell Crowe, along with Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Christopher Plummer and Paul Bettany.

The story begins in the early years of a young schizophrenic prodigy named John Nash. Early in the movie, Nash begins developing paranoid schizophrenia and endures delusional episodes while painfully watching the loss and burden his condition brings on his wife and friends.

The film opened in US cinemas on December 21, 2001. It was well-received by critics, grossed over $170 million worldwide, and went on to win four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress. It was also nominated for Best Leading Actor, Best Editing, Best Makeup, and Best Score. The film has been criticized for its inaccurate portrayal of some aspects of Nash's life. The film fictionally portrayed his hallucinations as visual and auditory, when in fact they were exclusively auditory. Also, Nasar concluded that Nash's refusal to take drugs "may have been fortunate," since their side effects "would have made his gentle re-entry into the world of mathematics a near impossibility"; in the screenplay, however, just before he receives the Nobel Prize, Nash speaks of taking "newer medications."

14- Enemy at the Gates

Enemy at the Gates is a 2001 war film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, starring Jude Law, Joseph Fiennes and Ed Harris set during the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II.

The film's title is taken from William Craig's 1973 nonfiction book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, which describes the events surrounding the Battle of Stalingrad from 1942–1943. It is based on a duel mentioned in the book that developed between the legendary Soviet sniper Vasily Grigoryevich Zaitsev and his German counterpart, Major Erwin König, as they stalk each other during the battle. The movie is also partially based on the book War of the Rats.

13- Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a 1998 biographical film written by Michael Hirst, directed by Shekhar Kapur, and starring Cate Blanchett in the title role of Queen Elizabeth I of England, alongside Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, Sir John Gielgud and Richard Attenborough. Loosely based on the early years of Elizabeth's reign, in 2007, Blanchett reprised the role in the sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, covering the later part of her reign.

The film brought Australian actress Blanchett to international attention. She won several awards for her portrayal of Elizabeth, notably a BAFTA and a Golden Globe in 1998, while the film was also named the 1998 BAFTA Best British Film. Nominated in 7 categories in the 71st Academy Awards, including Best Film and Best Actress, it won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.

12- Ray

Ray is a 2004 biographical film focusing on 30 years of the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles. The independently produced film was directed by Taylor Hackford and starred Jamie Foxx in the title role; Foxx received an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.

Charles was set to attend an opening of the completed film, but he died before its premiere.

11- Apollo 13

Apollo 13 is a 1995 American drama film directed by Ron Howard. The film stars Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Kathleen Quinlan and Ed Harris. The screenplay by William Broyles, Jr. and Al Reinert, that dramatizes the 1970 lunar mission of the same name, is an adaptation of the book Lost Moon by astronaut Jim Lovell (the story's primary protagonist) and Jeffrey Kluger.

Released in the United States on June 30, 1995, Apollo 13 garnered critical acclaim and was nominated for many awards, most notably nine Academy Awards including Best Picture; it won for Best Film Editing and Best Sound Mixing. In total, the film grossed over $355 million worldwide during its theatrical releases.

10- The Social Network

The Social Network is a 2010 drama film about the founding of the internet social networking website Facebook and the resulting lawsuits. The film was directed by David Fincher and features an ensemble cast including Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Brenda Song, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella and Rooney Mara.

Aaron Sorkin adapted his screenplay from Ben Mezrich's 2009 nonfiction book The Accidental Billionaires. Sorkin also makes a cameo appearance as a would-be investor. No Facebook staff or employees, including founder Mark Zuckerberg, were involved with the project, although Eduardo Saverin was a consultant for Mezrich's story. The film is distributed by Columbia Pictures and was released on October 1, 2010, in the United States to critical acclaim.

9- Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down is a 2001 American war film co-produced and directed by Ridley Scott and based on the book of the same title by Mark Bowden that depicts the Battle of Mogadishu, a raid integral to the United States' effort to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

The movie features Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore, Ewan McGregor, Jeremy Piven, Eric Bana, Ewen Bremner, William Fichtner, Tom Hardy, Sam Shepard, Jason Isaacs, Glenn Morshower and Orlando Bloom. The film won Academy Awards for Best Film Editing and Sound in 2001.

8- Ali

Ali is a 2001 American biographical film directed by Michael Mann. The film tells the story of boxing icon Muhammad Ali from 1964 to 1974 featuring his capture as of the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston (Michael Bentt), his conversion to Islam, criticism of the Vietnam War, banishment from boxing, his return to fight Joe Frazier (James Toney) in 1971, and, lastly, his reclaiming the title from George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle fight of 1974. It also discusses the great social and political upheaval in the United States following the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

7- Gandhi

Gandhi is a 1982 biographical film based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi, who led the nonviolent resistance movement against British colonial rule in India during the first half of the 20th century. The film was directed by Richard Attenborough and stars Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. They both won Academy Awards for their work on the film. The film was also given the Academy Award for Best Picture and won eight Academy Awards in total.

It was an international co-production between production companies in India and the UK. The film premiered in New Delhi on 30 November 1982.

6- Into The Wild

Into the Wild is a 2007 American biographical drama survival film written and directed by Sean Penn. It is an adaptation of the 1996 non-fiction book of the same name by Jon Krakauer based on the travels of Christopher McCandless across North America and his life spent in the Alaskan wilderness in the early 1990s. The film stars Emile Hirsch as McCandless with Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt as his parents and also features Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, and Hal Holbrook.

5- Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda is a 2004 American drama film directed by Terry George. It was adapted from a screenplay written by both George and Keir Pearson. Based on real life events in 1994 Rwanda, the film stars Don Cheadle as hotelier Paul Rusesabagina, who attempts to save his fellow citizens from the ravages of the Rwandan Genocide. Veteran actors Joaquin Phoenix, Nick Nolte and Jean Reno also star in principal roles. The film, which has been called an African Schindler's List, documents Rusesabagina's acts to save the lives of his family and more than a thousand other refugees, by granting them shelter in the besieged Hôtel des Mille Collines. Hotel Rwanda explores genocide, political corruption, and the repercussions of violence.

The film premiered in theaters in limited release in the United States on December 22, 2004 and in wide release on February 4, 2005 grossing $23,530,892 in domestic ticket sales. It earned an additional $10,351,351 in business through international release to top out at a combined $33,882,243 in gross revenue. The film was technically considered a moderate financial success after its theatrical run, and was generally met with positive critical reviews before its initial screening in cinemas. The widescreen DVD edition of the film featuring the director's audio commentary among others, was released in the United States on April 12, 2005.

4- Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan is a 1998 American war film set during the invasion of Normandy in World War II. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Rodat. The film is notable for the intensity of its opening 27 minutes, which depict the Omaha beachhead assault of June 6, 1944. Afterwards, it follows Tom Hanks as Captain John H. Miller and several men (Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg, and Jeremy Davies) as they search for paratrooper Private James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), who is the last surviving brother of three fallen servicemen.

Rodat first came up with the film's story in 1994 when he saw a monument dedicated to four sons of Agnes Allison of Port Carbon, Pennsylvania. The brothers were killed in the American Civil War. Rodat decided to write a similar story set during World War II. The script was submitted to producer Mark Gordon, who then handed it to Hanks. It was finally given to Spielberg, who decided to direct. The film's premise is very loosely based on the real-life case of the Niland brothers.

Saving Private Ryan was well received by audiences and garnered considerable critical acclaim, winning several awards for film, cast, and crew as well as earning significant returns at the box office. The film grossed US$481.8 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing domestic film of the year. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated the film for eleven Academy Awards; Spielberg's direction won him a second Academy Award for Best Director. Saving Private Ryan was released on home video in May 1999, earning $44 million from sales.

3- Goodfellas

Goodfellas is a 1990 American crime film directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a film adaptation of the 1986 non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese. The film follows the rise and fall of Lucchese crime family associate Henry Hill and his friends over a period from 1955 to 1980.

Scorsese initially named the film Wise Guy, but postponed it, and later he and Pileggi changed the name to Goodfellas. To prepare for their roles in the film, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta often spoke with Pileggi, who shared research material left over from writing the book. According to Pesci, improvisation and ad-libbing came out of rehearsals where Scorsese gave the actors freedom to do whatever they wanted. The director made transcripts of these sessions, took the lines he liked best, and put them into a revised script the cast worked from during principal photography.

2- Braveheart

Braveheart is a 1995 epic historical drama film directed by and starring Mel Gibson. The film was written for the screen and then novelized by Randall Wallace. Gibson portrays Sir William Wallace, a 13th century Scottish knight who gained recognition when he came to the forefront of the First War of Scottish Independence by opposing King Edward I of England, also known as "Longshanks" (Patrick McGoohan).

The film won five Academy Awards at the 68th Academy Awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director, and had been nominated for an additional five.

1- Titanic

Titanic is a 1997 American epic romance and disaster film directed, written, co-produced, and co-edited by James Cameron. A fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson and Kate Winslet as Rose DeWitt Bukater, members of different social classes who fall in love aboard the ship during its ill-fated maiden voyage. Although the central roles and love story are fictitious, some characters are based on genuine historical figures. Gloria Stuart portrays the elderly Rose, who narrates the film in a modern-day framing device, and Billy Zane plays Cal Hockley, the overbearing fiancé of the younger Rose. Cameron saw the love story as a way to engage the audience with the real-life tragedy.

Production on the film began in 1995, when Cameron shot footage of the actual Titanic wreck. The modern scenes were shot on board the Akademik Mstislav Keldysh, which Cameron had used as a base when filming the actual wreck. A reconstruction of the Titanic was built at Playas de Rosarito, Baja California, and scale models and computer-generated imagery were also used to recreate the sinking. The film was partially funded by Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox – respectively, its American and international distributors – and at the time, it was the most expensive film ever made, with an estimated budget of US$200 million.

The film was originally scheduled to open on July 2, 1997; however, post-production delays pushed back its release to December 19 instead.Titanic was an enormous critical and commercial success. It was nominated for fourteen Academy Awards, eventually winning eleven, including Best Picture and Best Director. It became the highest-grossing film of all time, with a worldwide gross of over $1.8 billion, and remained so for twelve years until Cameron's next directorial effort, Avatar, surpassed it in 2010.Titanic is also ranked as the sixth best epic film of all time in AFI's 10 Top 10 by the American Film Institute. The film is due for theatrical re-release in 2012 after Cameron completes its conversion into 3-D.

Honorable Mentions:

The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave, 300, American Gangster, Erin Brockovich.

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Comments 4 comments

Donna Janelle profile image

Donna Janelle 6 years ago from Oklahoma

I love watching movies that are based on true stories! I haven't seen all of these and will have to add the ones I haven't seen to my list of movies to watch :)


christine 6 years ago

I've seen them all and I think Titanic was pretty good. It's hard to say which is the best. They are all excellent films.


brooke luth 5 years ago

i'v got to say men of honor should be on there best film i have evr seen in my life really i cryed all the way though x


john 2 years ago

A lot of movies I need to watch from this list.

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