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Rom-coms are great and all, but there's no better (slash more intense) feeling than getting to the end of a totally wild movie and seeing the words “based on a true story” pop up on your screen. With your jaw dropped, you whip out your phone and start frantically Googling to find out what actually happened. More often than not, the producers probably even had to cut a few details from the script to fit the plot into a reasonable feature-length film, and you gotta know all there is to know about this story!
The truth is, a lot of our favorite movies are inspired by 100 percent real events. I mean, who can forget Zac Efron taking on the role of the handsome and charming—yet completely evil—serial killer Ted Bundy? Or Timothée Chalamet rocking it as Henry V of England in the historical period piece The King? I guess it just goes to show that when it comes to writing fascinating tales of intrigue and deception, you literally cannot always make that sh*t up. So the next time you’re looking for a movie that's as entertaining as it is factual (because, come on, we don’t all have time to read the book first), all you need to do is ready the popcorn, ‘cause we’ve got you covered with these 65 excellent movies based on true stories. And yeah, they're all available to stream on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other platforms.
Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
Movies based on true stories aren't usually of the L-O-L variety, but Eddie Murphy DEFINITELY brings the lols (and the drama) in this movie about filmmaker slash stand-up comedian Rudy Ray Moore. Moore's on-stage alter ego is (you guessed it!) Dolemite. He starts to gain some notoriety with his outrageous character and decides he wants to make a kung-fu, anti-establishment movie, which, yes, sounds like a weird combination but trust me, it works. And Eddie Murphy is so damn good in this role you won't be able to just watch it once.
The Most Hated Woman In America (2017)
Ever heard of America's most notorious atheist? Well, her name is Madalyn Murray O'Hair and she's best known for launching a lawsuit back in the '60s that worked its way up to the supreme court and eventually made mandatory prayers in school illegal. It was honestly pretty bad ass considering she had, like, every Christian group working against her. But then things took a very dark turn when she started making bank off her notoriety and got kidnapped by a salty ex-employee who wanted her money.
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
If legal dramas are your thang, then this movie about seven people charged with trying to incite a riot at the 1969 protests at the Democratic National Convention has gotta be your next watch. It's directed by Aaron Sorkin (you know him from The West Wing, The Social Network, and Moneyball) so you KNOW it's going to be good.
22 July (2018)
The phrase "Norway's deadliest terror attack" may not mean anything to you right now, but it will after watching this heartbreaking movie. It's based on the very sad story of a right-wing extremist's attack on a political youth summer camp that killed 77 people. It's some heavy stuff, but definitely worth a watch, especially for any true crime buffs.
The Highwaymen (2019)
Okay, we all know the story of Bonnie and Clyde has been told to death. But what about the story of the two Texas rangers that trailed the murderous duo all around the South to track them down? It's a previously untold story that gets the Hollywood treatment with Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson playing the two determined rangers.
Kiss & Cry (2016)
This movie tells the story of 18-year-old Canadian figure skater Carley Allison and her battle against an extremely rare form of cancer—like, so rare there's a one in 3.5 BILLION chance of getting it. Allison decided to share her journey on YouTube and ended up inspiring millions of people along the way. I'm not saying this movie is going to make you bawl like a little baby, but, erm, maybe have some tissues on hand just in case!
First They Killed My Father (2017)
Full disclosure, this movie is not for the faint of heart. It's based on the memoirs of Cambodian-born human rights activist Loung Ung and tells the story of how, at the age of five, she was forced to train as a child soldier, and how she managed to eventually escape years later. Fun fact: it was directed by none other than Angelina Jolie.
Walk. Ride. Rodeo. (2019)
You don't even have to be a horse girl to love a good IRL horse-related story. This one's about competitive barrel racer Amberley Snyder who, after a very tragic car accident, is left paralyzed from the waist down. But she's a badass rider and doesn't let that stop her. Less than a year after her accident, she gets back in the saddle and starts winning again. If you need something inspirational, THIS. IS. IT.
The Laundromat (2019)
As if you need any reason to watch this other than Meryl Streep, let me tell you right now that it's also an insanely interesting story. It follows three people affected by the, let's just say, suspicious dealings of the law firm slash corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca. In case you're not familiar, they were the shady tax-avoiding company taken down by the infamous Panama Papers, which the movie covers, too.
Come Sunday (2018)
Any movie where someone starts questioning their long-held beliefs always gives me life. Evangelist pastor Carlton Pearson risks it all when he starts questioning the church's beliefs. The biggest issue comes when he says that hell doesn't exist the way we think it does, but instead is actually something that exists on earth thanks to human depravity and terrible behavior. He was called a heretic at the time but honestly, after the year we've had, he might be onto something.
Lost Girls (2020)
True-crime addicts, gather round, 'cause this story is based on the very real story of a serial killer operating in Long Island, New York, in the early 2000s—and yeah, his identity remains unknown to this day. The movie is based on a book by the same name that profiles his victims, the details of their disappearances, and how their bodies were ultimately discovered.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)
Watching the gorgeous Zac Efron play the skin-crawlingly evil serial killer Ted Bundy is both confusing and amazing. Like, somehow he even nails Bundy's dead eyes?! The movie follows the entire story of how Bundy became one of the most infamous killers ever (all the while hiding his crimes from his family), including the insane trial and his two (!!) escapes from police custody.
The Irishman (2019)
Okay, okay, I know this movie is well over three hours, but it's so worth it. Robert de Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a truck driver involved in organized crime who operated as a hitman and allegedly killed Jimmy Hoffa, the President of the Teamsters union.
The Imitation Game (2014)
Mathematician, cryptanalyst, and all-around granddaddy of artificial intelligence, Alan Turing was hired to decrypt German intelligence messages for the British government during WWII. Exciting, no? This true story also comes with some serious sadness, as Turing had to hide his then-illegal homosexuality.
Victoria and Abdul (2017)
British history fiends will have no problem taking a bite out of this one. It's all about England's Queen Victoria and the sweet maternal-like friendship she developed with her Indian-Muslim attendant Abdul Karim.
Everyone loves an underdog story, and this one's got Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, so it's pretty top-notch. It's adapted from a book by Michael Lewis about how the budget-conscious Oakland A's used data and stats to change the game of baseball. Even if you're not a big sports person, you'll love it, 'cause, I repeat, Brad Pitt.
The Social Network (2010)
Ever wondered how the website where your crazy relatives still get their news from came to be? Here you get Jesse Eisenberg playing Mark Zuckerberg and the beautiful Armie Hammer doing double-time as both of the Winklevoss twins to tell you all about it.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
If you're shocked about this one being based on a true story, you're not alone. (Though let the record show that the movie *did* take creative license with some key facts). The film was inspired by the unsolved 1991 murder of 34-year-old Kathy Page in Vidor, Texas. After no progress was made on catching her killer, Page’s father started putting up billboards along I-10 in the Vidor area calling out the police.
The Duchess (2008)
Based on the life of British high society's Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire, this movie's got Kiera Knightly, tight corsets, big hats, and even bigger hairdos.
Seven Years in Tibet (1997)
Heinrich Harrer's life was straight-up crazy. First of all, he was an Austrian mountaineer (as if that's a normal job) who ended up trapped in a British internment camp in India—from which he eventually escaped. He then fled across Tibet and casually became a tutor to and friend of the Dalai Lama.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)
What do you do when you're 13 years old and your village in Malawi is facing a drought and massive famine? Well, if you're William Kamkwamba, you build a freaking wind turbine that'll power a water pump and save everyone. BTW, this is Chiwetel Ejiofor's feature directorial debut, which is pretty cool.
Julie & Julia (2009)
This movie contrasts the life of chef Julia Child with that of New Yorker Julie Powell, who embarks on the self-inflicted project of cooking all 524 recipes in Child's cookbook in one year. Warning: it may make you feel extra lazy for not wanting to do anything other than reheat a slice of pizza.
The Two Popes (2019)
This movie is great for many reasons (Vatican scandals and cute old men friendships), but if nothing else, you need to watch it just to see how they select a new Pope, because the process is wayyyy more extensive than you'd think.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Erin Brockovich is a total badass who IRL took on the huge energy corporation PG&E after she discovered that their power plant was poisoning the water in Hinkley, California, and giving people cancer.
The King (2019)
It's got Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson dressed up in smokin' hot knights costumes, running medieval England...need I say more?
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
What do a Pan Am pilot, a Georgia doctor, and a Louisiana prosecutor have in common? They were just a few of the professions that teenage con artist Frank Abagnale (played by a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio) pretended to be as he scammed his way to riches.
Darkest Hour (2017)
Gary Oldman takes on the role of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during WWII and yeah, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, so it's def a must-see performance.
This is one of those wild stories that seems legit too crazy to be true. At five years old, Saroo Brierley accidentally got on a train that landed him 930 miles from his home in India. While his mother frantically searched for him, he was taken in by police, and then adopted by a couple in Australia. Twenty-five years later, he set out to find the family he once had, armed with very little information. Sorry, but I'm making you watch this one to find out how it ends.
The Blind Side (2009)
If Sandra Bullock isn't enough of a draw for you, the heartwarming story of how NFL star Michael Oher went from an impoverished teen to one of the most sought-after college football prospects should do the trick.
The Post (2017)
You've got two of America's most prized acting gems, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, starring alongside one another in a movie that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at what went on at The Washington Post before they decided to publish the top-secret Pentagon Papers.
A River Runs Through It (1992)
Warning: scenes of Brad Pitt fly fishing in a tank top may be too much for some people to handle. But if you can keep yourself together, you're in for a coming-of-age story set in Montana around the end of WWI and the Great Depression. It's based on a book written by Norman MacLean.
Molly’s Game (2017)
Former Olympian Molly Bloom decides to take her career in a slightly different direction: running an elite high-stakes poker ring for celebs, athletes, big business execs, and even mobsters. It seems like a totally great idea except for one tiny little problem: the FBI are 100% onto her.
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
The movie is based on the memoir of Susanna Kaysen, who, at 18 years old, was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and placed in a psychiatric ward.
The Dirt (2019)
Anyone who's a fan of Mötley Crüe is gonna love this biopic about how the band worked their way through the very high highs and super low lows of being rockstars in LA.
If you already think football is intense, just wait until you watch this. Will Smith stars in a movie about when the NFL was trying to suppress Dr. Bennet Omalu's research on CTE—you know, that terrifying brain degeneration disease professional football players get from sustaining repeated head injuries.
You know how we all assume the government is spying on us at all times? Well, that's largely thanks to Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked classified NSA documents that revealed mass (and illegal!) surveillance.
Escape From Alcatraz (1979)
Alcatraz may be a maximum security prison on its own island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, but somehow three prisoners managed to escape from it all at the same time. To this day, no one knows what happened to the real-life prisoners after they jumped into their makeshift raft in the middle of the night.
Brain on Fire (2016)
When New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan began suffering from a mysterious illness with no explanation, the many doctors she saw thought she was psychotic. But one doctor took a special interest and was able to diagnose and treat her incredibly rare auto-immune disorder.
The Little Hours (2017)
A super raunchy comedy about a 14th century convent full of nuns that are constantly trying to get it on with the farmhand may not exactly seem like the realest of stories, but The Little Hours was actually based on The Decameron, a collection of medieval Italian tales. And sure, maybe the f-bomb-loaded dialogue isn't technically historically accurate, but that's what makes this movie so great.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020)
The events portrayed in this movie aren't exactly historically accurate, but it is based on a play about a real music icon. Set in 1920s Chicago, legendary blues singer Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (Viola Davis) and her band come into a studio for a recording session. But tensions run high as the fiery artist butts heads with a young, ambitious trumpet player named Levee (Chadwick Boseman) who wants to be more than just an accompanying instrumentalist.
On the Basis of Sex (2018)
This biopic is about the O.G., the one, the only, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Felicity Jones plays a young RBG who is struggling as a woman in a male-dominated profession while balancing her home life as a new mother. But Ruth's career takes a turn when she gets on a major tax case, alongside her husband Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), that could change the conversation on gender discrimination.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson are three brilliant Black women who work for NASA. And this is the story of how they were the brains behind one of America's greatest scientific achievements: launching astronaut John Glenn into orbit.
Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
After getting offered a plea deal, William O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) becomes an FBI informant tasked with spying on the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. He keeps a close eye on their charismatic young leader, Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), as he rises to power and inspires more to join their movement. But as O'Neal grows more immersed and invested in the group, he faces an internal battle, debating whether he should or should not betray a community that has embraced him and taken him in as their own.
It's been 30 whole years since she starred in The Wizard of Oz, and now beloved American actress and singer Judy Garland (Renée Zellweger) goes to London for sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub. But while it's a joy to be on stage to reminisce with friends and fans, and while she begins a whirlwind romance with musician Mickey Deans, she has some issues to deal with, like being a present mother for her children.
Destiny (Constance Wu) works as a stripper to try and make ends meet and provide for her grandmother. But the money just isn't enough. That is until the club's top-earner Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) takes her under her wing. She learns a few tricks, and ultimately forms a crime ring with other dancers in the city, hustling wealthy Wall Street suits out of their money.
This Academy Award-winning film by Chloé Zhao is part documentary and part drama. It immerses audiences into the world of the modern American nomads and features real-life members of that community. Frances McDormand plays Fern, a woman in her sixties who lost everything in the Great Recession, so she's decided to upend her life and live as a van-dwelling nomad.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a stockbroker and trader who works his way up from getting an entry-level job at a Wall Street brokerage firm in 1987, to starting his own firm by the early 1990s while he's still in his 20s. They make millions by defrauding their wealthy investors and enjoy all the booze, sex, and drugs their hearts desire. But soon authorities catch on and are determined to shut their illegal operation down.
The Farewell (2019)
Billi (Awkwafina) and her immigrant family visit Changchun, China under the guise of her cousin's wedding. But in reality, they are there to say their goodbyes to her grandmother, who has been diagnosed with a disease that leaves her with only a few more weeks to live. The catch is that everyone knows, except her grandmother. And she struggles to keep this secret from the family matriarch.
Directed by Ava DuVernay, this historic biographical drama focuses on the three-month period in 1965 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) led a campaign to end Black voter suppression, despite violent opposition. His and his followers' efforts culminated in a march from Selma to Montgomery, which led to President Lyndon Johnson's signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law.
Frida is a biopic that traces the life of famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek). It delves into her career and artistry, her complicated relationships and love affairs, and her forward-thinking attitude regarding art, politics, and sex.
Get On Up (2014)
Chadwick Boseman plays music legend and Godfather of Soul James Brown as he goes on his journey from being born in extreme poverty to becoming one of the most influential artists of all time.
Alfonso Cuarón delivers a very personal, semi-autobiographical film based on his own upbringing in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. The movie is centered on Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a domestic helper who helps a couple raise their four kids. Things get complicated when the father runs away with his mistress, and Cleo finds out she's pregnant. The mother decides to get away from it all and take the children on vacation, inviting Cleo to join them.
The Theory of Everything (2014)
This film tells the love story of British physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane Wilde, and how their great romance has survived even after the then-21-year-old genius was diagnosed with motor neuron disease. Together, they overcame huge obstacles, defied the odds, and reached great heights in the fields of science and medicine.
Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) and his partner move from New York to San Francisco in the '70s. There, they make a life for themselves and Milk helps establish a sanctuary for members of the LGBTQ+ community. In 1977, he becomes the first openly gay person to be elected to public office as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. But after this great milestone, he's murdered.
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