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My Favorite Movies Based on a True Story

Updated on March 12, 2015
Cari Jean profile image

Cari Jean is a freelance writer and author. Her inspiring memoir "Having Faith" is available on Amazon. She resides in North Dakota.

There's just something about watching a movie, knowing that it is based on actual events, actual people and an actual time in history. Sure, there are times when things are added to make the actual story more dramatic but nonetheless, I love watching movies based on a true story. Here are some of my favorites.

Walk the Line

(2005) Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick

Walk the Line is based on the true story of legendary singer/songwriter, Johnny Cash and how he and June Carter met and eventually married. In the movie, Johnny is haunted by the memory of his brother who died in a tragic accident while cutting lumber. Johnny believes his father blames him for his brother's death and is convinced his father wished Johnny had died instead.

Along with struggling with a terrible relationship with his father, Johnny also struggles with drug and alcohol abuse and develops a serious drug addiction. During all of this Johnny is traveling the music scene with future wife, June Carter who has struggles of her own. She gets divorced twice - something she was harshly criticized for because of her Christian upbringing.

Eventually, June and her family are able to help Johnny with his drug addiction. Although the movie showed one scene of Johnny and June going to church together, it did not go on to show the strong faith in God that they had. Johnny and June became devout Christians, traveling extensively with famed evangelist, Billy Graham.

Johnny Cash died in September 2003, just four months after his wife had passed away.

8 Seconds

(1994) Starring: Luke Perry, Stephen Baldwin, Cynthia Geary, James Rebhorn, Carrie Snodgress

The movie, 8 Seconds, is based on the true story of Lane Frost - a World Champion Bull Rider.

Ever since Lane Frost was a young boy, he knew he wanted to ride bulls for a living. His dad had been a rodeo champion as well, but riding horses instead of bulls. In the movie, Lane and his father did not have a good relationship but in reality they had been very close and his father was very proud of Lane.

Lane meets, falls in love with and later marries Kellie Kyle - a barrel racer. When they first meet, Kellie tells her mom she didn't like bull riders much because they are "little men with big egos." To which her mom replied, "Lane seems kind of different."

Unlike many rodeo cowboys. Lane didn't drink, didn't fight, didn't swear and wore flowered shirts that his mom had sewn for him.

Lane Frost died in 1989 when he was attacked by a bull he had ridden at Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His best friend, Tuff Hedeman, went on to win the world championship that year, something that Lane had predicted before his death.

The Passion of the Christ

(2003) Starring: James Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Maia Morgenstern, Christo Jivkov, Francesco De Vito

The movie, The Passion of the Christ, is based on the true story of the time leading up to the death of Jesus on the cross. The movie begins in Gethsemane and ends with His resurrection.

As Jesus is seen carrying and struggling with the cross, there are many flashback scenes that show Jesus as a child and a young man. Through these scenes, one can see the strong relationship that Jesus has with his mother. In one scene as a small child, Jesus is shown falling down and his mother runs to make sure he is okay.

In the present, Jesus falls while carrying the cross and his mother wants to help him get up. He looks at her and says, "Mother, I have come to make all things new."

Many may argue that this movie is not actually based on a true story. Others who believe the movie to be somewhat truthful say that Jesus did not endure that kind of violence and that he did not become so disfigured. Others simply say this movie was an anti-Semitic attack.

But despite the many controversies surrounding this movie, those who see it and believe it to be true, agree that the movie is extremely powerful. The Passion of the Christ also serves as a reminder for Christians of how much Jesus suffered for us and that He did rise from the dead, conquering the grave once and for all.


(2004) Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris, Debra Winger

The move, Radio, is based on the true story of the friendship between high school football coach Harold Jones, and a young man, James Robert Kennedy, who is mentally challenged and known as "Radio."

The coach notices the young man as he and his high school football team are holding practice. He becomes angry at his team when he finds that some of the football players tied up Radio and locked him in a shed. Coach Jones decides to let Radio hang out with him and those on the team end up befriending Radio.

The coach discovers that Radio lives with his mother, who spends much of her time working, so Radio is left to fend for himself. The coach talks the high school principal into allowing Radio to hang out at the school, although he is never officially a student there.

The coach is criticized for allowing Radio to get so involved in the school and with some of the sports teams. It is the 1960s and it does not sit well with members of the community that Radio, who is black, gets special treatment.

When his daughter asks why Coach Jones is doing so much for Radio, the coach recounts a heartbreaking story that happened to him in his youth. He had the chance to help someone but failed to do so. Eventually Coach Jones surprises everyone by resigning as head coach.

In 2011, Radio celebrated his 64th birthday and still attends T.L. Hanna High School and helps with the football games.

The Soloist

(2009) Starring: Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr., Catherine Keener, Tom Hollander

The movie, The Soloist is based on the true story of Nathaniel Ayers, a gifted musician who struggles with schizophrenia and as a result of his illness, ends up homeless.

Steve Lopez becomes infatuated with Nathaniel after discovering he is a cello prodigy who once attended Julliard. He wonders how such a gifted person could end up homeless. He begins to realize that Nathaniel has a mental disorder. As a reporter for the L.A. Times, Lopez thinks Nathaniel's situation would make a good story.

The reporter's infatuation with Nathaniel becomes somewhat obsessive as he determines it's up to him to help Nathaniel find a home and get help for his condition.

Lopez doesn't succeed in helping to get Nathaniel medicated but he does convince him to stay at a place called the LAMP Community. LAMP is located on Skid Row in L.A. and is a place where those with mental illnesses can learn to become self-sufficient.

There is now The Nathaniel Anthony Ayers Foundation "for the artistically gifted mentally ill."

Actor Chad Allen
Actor Chad Allen | Source

End of the Spear

(2006) Starring: Louie Leonardo, Chad Allen, Jack Guzman

The movie, End of the Spear, is based on the true story of a group of Christian missionaries who travel to the jungles of Ecuador in the 1950s to evangelize the Waodani people. The Waodani were an isolated tribe who were known for their violence not only against outsiders but their own people. All five missionaries were speared to death by members of the tribe.

The story is told from the perspective of Steve Saint, the son of one of the missionaries who was killed. He was not deterred by the death of his father and he actually befriends Mincaye, a member of the Waodani tribe who had been involved in killing his father.

Through the years, Mincaye and Steve develop a very close friendship. Mincaye was there for Steve when his college-aged daughter died suddenly from a cerebral brain hemorrhage in 2000.

Jim Elliot was another missionary who was killed and the movie shows his sister, Rachael and his wife, Elisabeth returning to Ecuador to continue working with the Waodini after the missionaries were killed. Elisabeth went on to write the best-selling book, Through Gates of Splendor and became a popular Christian author and speaker.

Hiring actor Chad Allen, to play a Christian missionary was not without controversy due to the actor's gay status and stance on gay rights.

La Bamba

(1987) Starring: Lou Diamond Phillips, Esai Morales, Rosanna DeSoto

The movie, La Bamba, is based on the true story of rising rock star, Ritchie Valens whose young life was tragically cut short in a plane accident while on tour.

Richard Steven Valenzuela lives in poverty in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles in the 1950s. While in high school, he becomes known for playing the guitar and writing and singing music. Bob Keane, the owner of a recording company discovers Ritchie and Bob adds him to his record label.

One of Ritchie's first recordings is the song "Donna" which he wrote for his girlfriend. He also performs "Donna" during an appearance on American Bandstand.

In the movie and in real life, Ritchie had a fear of flying. While in junior high, there was a freak accident where two airplanes collided, landing in the schoolyard and killing his best friend. Ritchie had recurring dreams about the accident.

Despite his fear of flying, his manager, convinces him that it is the only way he can travel to his increasing number of appearances. One of these appearances is during the tour, The Winter Party Dance where he appeared with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.

All three of them were killed when the plane crashed on a flight from Clear Lake, Iowa to Fargo, North Dakota on a frigid night in the middle of a snowstorm.That day, February 3, 1959 has since been dubbed, "The day the music died" and is the subject of the hit song, "American Pie" by Don McLean.

March 3, 1980 cover of Sports Illustrated
March 3, 1980 cover of Sports Illustrated | Source


(2004) Starring: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Nathan West

This movie is based on the true story of the Miracle that happened during the 1980 winter Olympics when the United States hockey team beat the Russians in a pre-medal round. They went on to defeat Finland for the gold medal.

The movie focuses on Coach Herb Brooks, who won three collegiate championships while at the University of Minnesota. He had also been a member of the 1964 and 1968 U.S. Olympic hockey teams.

Coach Brooks has what seems like an impossible job of getting amateur and college hockey players who had played against one another to come together and form an Olympic team. While at first the team did not understand what the coach expected of them, they came to respect him greatly. He works his team so hard that others disapprove of the tactics he uses.

The climax of the movie takes place in Lake Placid, New York when the young, amateur American team beats the Soviet team - the best in the world at the time - by one goal (4-3). In the last seconds of the game, sportscaster Al Michaels yells into his microphone, "Eleven seconds, you've got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles?...YES!"

While Herb Brooks played an integral part in making the movie, he died in a car accident before the movie was released. The end of the movie states, "He never saw it. He lived it."


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    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 4 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      titi6601 - thanks! But I can't believe I forgot to add the move, "Amazing Grace" the true story about the man who ended the slave trade in Great Britain.

    • titi6601 profile image

      titi6601 4 years ago

      Great choice of movies!

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      mejf07300302 - thank you so much for your comment. I have heard of the movie Brian's Song but didn't really the details. It sounds like a great movie - one I will have to watch!

    • profile image

      mefajf07300302 6 years ago

      I love Radio and I love La Bamba BUT my favorite movie based on true story is Brian's song about Brian Piccolo who was stricken by cancer after becoming a pro football player showing his friends helping him through the struggles of cancer right before his death. Which he died June 16, 1970 at the age of 26. I read the book in school at least 4 times and then wanted to see the movie! Excellent movie and I love the story of Brian Piccolo so it was a great movie

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      conradofontanilla - thanks so much for your comment. I encourage you to follow your heart and do this if you think that you can. In the end it doesn't matter if anyone else is impressed - as long as you are at peace with yourself about the project.

    • conradofontanilla profile image

      conradofontanilla 6 years ago from Philippines

      I have been writing profiles. I might just try my hand at a biography with real-life conflicts, ups and downs. I might play up the events or thoughts a little bit. It might not be too taxing on the imagination but I think this is compensated for with the inspiration it might bring to some people. It might not catch the eyes of a producer or director but I could write the screenplay in my imagination.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Alicia - thanks so much for your comment. It's truly an amazing movie!

    • profile image

      Alicia Migliarini 6 years ago

      Miracle sounded awful when I first heard about it, because I thought that it would be a boring movie about a surprise hockey victory. I was so wrong. That movie was amazing, thank you for including it.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      James - it is always so great to hear from you! Hope you are doing well. Thanks so much for your comment. I don't think there will ever be another movie made about Jesus that compares to "The Passion." As for "8 Seconds" I think you would like it!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

      I have seen all of these except "8 Seconds." I will check that out based on your recommendation. Thank you for all of these excellent reviews. "The Passion of the Christ" is an epic achievement. It would be my favorite of these fine films.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      arunii - well at least you have seen the most important movie on this list!

    • arunii profile image

      arunii 6 years ago from Delhi

      I have seen only one movie which is The Passion of the Christ but try to watch more from ypur list

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      jayb23 - thanks so much for your comment. Hope you enjoy watching these movies when you get the chance!

    • jayb23 profile image

      jayb23 6 years ago from India

      Cari: Amazing collection...though I have to admit I haven't seen even one. Will watch them now. Bookmarking it now

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 6 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      ruffridyer - Passion of the Christ is hard to watch and I have heard of many who said they could never watch it again. Thanks for your comment.

    • profile image

      ruffridyer 6 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      So far I have seen Walk the Line, La bamba Miracle and Passion of the Christ.

      I liked each one but can't stand to see Passion again. Too painfull.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      mariasial - thanks so much for your comment. I hope you enjoy these movies!

    • mariasial profile image

      maria sial 7 years ago from united kingdom

      Thanks for your review i am really interested in true stories. I will definitely look at them

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      silly me - thanks so much for your comment. I know, sometimes when I'm watching it I'm not even aware that it is based on a true story but when I find out it is, it makes it even better and then I want to watch it again!

    • profile image

      silly me 7 years ago

      I love to see a great movie and find out afterwards that it was based on a true story - makes it even better. Though I have not seen all the movies you wrote about, the ones I have seen I greatly enjoyed! Great hub!

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Thanks, Elena for stopping by!

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 7 years ago from London, UK

      I am yet to see some of these. Thanks for including the reviews. Best Wishes.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      tony - thanks for your comment! Yes, Johnny Cash rocks and both Reese and Joaquin did a fantastic job in that movie.

    • tony0724 profile image

      tony0724 7 years ago from san diego calif

      Miracle was good. But " Walk the Line " is definitely my favorite. Both Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were excellent. And I am a rabid Johnny Cash fan anyway !

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      jpcmc - thanks so much for your comment. I almost forgot about the subtitles!

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 7 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      I saw The Passion of Christ. Even if I had to read subtitles (which I hate) I enjoyed it very much.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      TIPSTER2 - thanks for your comment - glad I could provide you with a different perspective on some of the movies.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      mindyjgirl - Thanks for your comment. I just couldn't leave that movie out - it had an impact on me and so many people around the world. EVERYONE should see it!

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      CMCastro - Thanks! Glad you stopped by!

    • profile image

      TIPSTER2 7 years ago

      You have presented a view of some of these movies that I had not considered especially "Radio" Great perspective thanks for pointing this out to me

    • mindyjgirl profile image

      Mindy 7 years ago from Cottage Grove, Oregon

      Awesome Cari! thanks for adding the passion of Christ, it was so real to me and I love the way Mel Gibson put it together :) Awesome!

    • CMCastro profile image

      Christina M. Castro 7 years ago from Baltimore,MD USA

      Good Choices, Cari Jean!

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      ballfan92 - thanks so much for stopping by!

    • ballfan92 profile image

      ballfan92 7 years ago

      Miracle and Passion of the Christ both really great movies, nice hub!

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Toronto Realtor - If you ever see Radio, I would love to know what you think of it. Movie makes me cry EVERY time.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      b4murray - Thanks for your comment! Reese Witherspoon did such a great job as June Carter - I really didn't care for her before then but can now appreciate what a good acress she is.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Eiddwen - thanks so much for your comment and for rating up! Truly appreciate it.

    • b4murray profile image

      b4murray 7 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great hub! I loved Walk the line...

      And I was once told I looked like Reese Witherspoon from walk the line. I wish LOL

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 7 years ago from Wales

      I also love true stories and this is agreat hub. Very well presented and informative.

      I rate up.

      Take care,


    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      suziecat7 - thanks for your comment. Movies based on true stories are truly more compelling and draws more emotion because you know someone actually went through what you see on the screen.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      TurtleDog - thanks for your comment. I have not seen The Fighter - there are so many good movies based on true stories.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Hyphenbird - thank you so much for your comment and encouraging words. I just had to include Passion of the Christ tho some people might disagree that it is based on a true story.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Ken - thanks for your comment. I think I mentioned End of the Spear on a hub that you wrote. I highly recommend it!

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      Pamela - thanks for your comment. I hope you enjoy the movies on this list that you haven't seen yet.

    • Cari Jean profile image

      Cari Jean 7 years ago from Bismarck, ND

      prairieprincess - thanks so much for your comment. Yes, the Passion of the Christ gives us a visual for what took place rather than trying to imagine what it was like as we read the words in the bible.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      A movie based on a true story is so much more compelling to watch. You have some great choices here - my favorite is "Radio".

    • TurtleDog profile image

      TurtleDog 7 years ago

      I love some of those movies. Will have to check out the others. I just saw "The Fighter" which was a very good true story too.

      Thanks for the post

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 7 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      These are great choices and make me want to pile up on the sofa and watch movies all day. I am glad you included the Passion Of The Christ. It is indeed based on a real life experience and that knowledge makes it even more poignant when I see it.

      You did a wonderful job in your reviews.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 7 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Great choices. The only one I haven't watched is "End Of The Spear", though I've seen snippets of it.

      Voted up & awesome.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 7 years ago from United States

      I like movies that are based on true stories also and have seen most of the ones listed. There are still a couple I will check out. Great hub!

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 7 years ago from Canada

      Great choices! I have seen some of these movies, and you have given me some others that I want to check out. I loved the Passion of the Christ ... so powerful beyond the words. It gave me a real picture of what Jesus went through for me. I also loved Walk the Line. Great hub!


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