Films are a great way to believe the unbelievable. Screenwriters know exactly what to do in order to get you to feel an whole range of human emotions. How do they do it? With their creativity and style? Well, it turns out life imitates art way less than art imitates life. The greatest stories ever told aren’t fairy tales or comic books – they are the real life adventures and exploits of real living people.
That is what makes the movies in this list so great – you would think that they are about the craziest of fantasies, when in fact they are actually all true! Some Hollywood directors prefer to tell the stories of real heroes and those who managed to pull through incredible adversity to get to where they are today. These stories sound incredible, a little too incredible. However, we fail to realize just how much the human body and mind is capable of when put to the ultimate test.
Sometimes we think that something is too much like a film, it doesn’t make sense or it can’t be real. Once again, we fail to realize that there is a reason the subject matter is brought on to the screen for our viewing pleasure – there is something unique about the experience, a true honest to goodness experience that we are attracted to see. There are stories like that of Vogue Editor Anna Wintour, that of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, as well as that of Frank Abagnale (who was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can – yes, that’s also based on actual events!). Some stories seem like they were taken from the wildest imagination of their creator, but they are in fact more real than the reality itself. If you don’t mind spoilers, check out these too good to be real movies.
Both the film and the book Moneyball are based on the true story of the Oakland Athletics MLB team and how they made their spectacular turnaround in the 2002. It tells the story of how the Athletics general manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) was the first team to use analytics and an evidence based approach to hiring new rookies, thus bringing them the championship, and creating a method which has been used i sports ever since.
The Devil Wears Prada
Based on the novel written by Lauren Weisberger, the film The Devil Wears Prada is a tell all of Weisberger’s experiences working as the personal assistant to Anna Wintour – the head of Vogue magazine. Wintour herself is considered to be one of the toughest people in the fashion industry, explaining why Meryl Streeps character in the movie, named Miranda Priestly, is so mean spirited and rough.
Catch Me If You Can
In the hit movie Catch Me if You Can, serial imposter Frank Abagnale pretends to be a whole plethora of people – from an airline pilot to a lawyer to even a doctor! This may sound too crazy to be true but Frank, who was played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie, actually did all of this and more. After spending several years in federal prison, the FBI finally gave him his freedom on the condition that he teach the FBI how he was able to defraud so many people.
The film that won Charlize Theron an Academy Award and shook viewers was actually based on the real life story of Aileen Wuornos. Aileen’s story begins when she is a former prostitute who becomes a serial killer. She is eventually caught, not before killing six men, and executed. Aileen pleaded that she killed the men in self-defense but the court didn’t believe her.
This movie chronicling the life of 1960’s era artist and painter Margaret Keane. She would typically draw and paint subjects with big, over the top, almost alien like eyes, something which would go on to become her trademark. However, the premise of the movie rests on the lawsuit she had against her husband, Walter Keane, who was taking credit for all of her hard work and energies.
The critically acclaimed film Joy is based off of the true story of the life of a woman named Joy Mangano who was both a businesswoman as well as an inventor, most notably inventing the Miracle Mop. The mop revolutionized cleaning by being a self wringing mop, and eventually sold her mop making company to the Home Shopping Network, which would go on to sell over $10 million in mops.
The Deepwater Horizon was a deep water drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico which, one day in 2010, exploded, killing 11 and injuring 17 others. What resulted was the worst man made accidental marine oil spill of all time. Oil reached everywhere from Florida to Alabama to Louisiana to Texas, devastating local industry there, and destroying natural habitats. The area was so polluted from this spill that there are even defects in the animals in the Gulf of Mexico to this day.
The Danish Girl
The film of The Danish Girl tells the story of the first person to ever undergo gender reassignment surgery. This person, born Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener, would eventually go on to become a woman in the medical sense. The movie portrays how she had to deal with being transgender even though she was married to another woman, and how her art influenced her to make her brave decision.
Starring Tobey Maguire as jockey Red Pollard, Seabiscuit is the movie about a thoroughbred racehorse who was one of the most winningest horses in all of American racehorse history. Thought to be a runt and too small to race or run quickly, he ended up beating all of the other racehorses in race after race, inspiring people. The horse did all of this during the great depression, and gave people hope that things will get better.
12 Years A Slave
The story of 12 Years A Slave centers around Solomon Northup, a free born black man in the early 1800s. Being born in New York State, Solomon was living his life in New York when he was kidnapped and forced into slavery in the south for 12 years, as was common practice when southern plantations needed new slaves. The New York State governor eventually heard of Solomon’s plight and was able to help Solomon escape back to freedom.
Walk The Line
Portraying world famous legendary country music star Johnny Cash, Joaquin Phoenix accurately portrays how Cash rose in prominence in the country music scene. It shows him going to perform his famous show in San Quentin prison, his relationship with June Carter Cash, and his descent into substance abuse which he eventually got out of after finding God. The movie was critically acclaimed by the press and was widely enjoyed by Johnny Cash’s family.
The film Hachi: A Dog’s Tale is the heartwarming true story of a dog named Hachiko in Japan. Hailing originally from Odate in the Akita prefecture of Japan, this dog (whose breed is also called Akita) was immortalized in film due to his strong loyalty to his owner. After his owner died, the dog would go to his grave and mourn. The dog would do this every day until the dog himself died nine years later.
The story of what was supposed to be the third manned United States Space mission to the moon, Apollo 13 experienced a catastrophic oxygen tank explosion. Using their advanced training and a lot of ingenuity, the astronauts were able to get back to earth safely. The film itself was actually filmed in what is known as the “vomit comet,” an airplane which simulates what happens when there is no gravity.
The Imitation Game
Starring British superstar actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, this is the story of how Turing built a machine to try and stop the Nazis. A mathematician and scientist, Turing was the first person to be able to break the enigma machine’s code. He then had the honor of deciding when to tell the British government when a German U-boat would hit a British ship. Due to having an alternative lifestyle, he was shunned from British history and imprisoned.
Gangs Of New York
The motion picture Gangs of New York is based on a book of the same name written in the early 1900’s. The story is set in the mid 1800s, and portrays the life of the average person in the impoverished Five Points neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, specifically the average person in a gang there. This included all manner of morally egregious behavior, such as saloons and gambling dens.
In the movie Hacksaw Ridge, Desmond Doss is an army medic and pacifist serving in the Pacific theatre of World War II. This true story shows how, despite not believing in war due to his religious, Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs, he still showed courage under fire and saved countless lives without firing a single shot at the Battle of Okinawa. Due to his heroism, Doss would go on to win the distinguished Medal of Honor.
Inspired by the true story of Iranian dissident Mehran Karimi Nasseri, The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks, shows the life of a man who is forced to live in New York’s JFK airport as he is not allowed neither into the US nor back to his home country. This is exactly what happened to Nasseri, who upon legally landing at Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Paris, was not allowed to enter France. He was also expelled from Iran so he could not return home. He ended up living in the airport for 18 years.
The movie American Gangster is the fictionalized re-telling of the story of Frank Lucas, a man who after the Vietnam war became a drug lord on the streets of New York. Originally from North Carolina, Lukas, played by Denzel Washington, would go directly to Vietnam and Cambodia to bring back opium and poppy and cocaine, which his gang would sell on the streets of many major cities.
The movie Titanic is a film adaptation of the tragedy which occurred to the ship of the same name in 1912. It details the sinking of this “unsinkable ship” in which over 1,500 people sank to their deaths, constituting one of the most deadly maritime incidents in modern history. Director James Cameron was driven to make the movie after watching an IMAX movie about the disaster. He said that he didn’t necessarily want to make the movie, he just wanted the studios to pay for his dive down there.
The founder is the amazing true story of Ray Krock. Krock was a business partner of two brothers named the McDonald’s brothers who asked him to help franchise out their burger restaurants. He did so well with not only sales but in standardizing everything so that it tasted exactly the same, that he ended up turning the company (after he bought it of course) into an international super-franchise. In fact, there is a McDonalds scale, where the number of Mcdonald’s in a country indicates how democratic it is.
Loosely based off of the story of two arms dealers who were contracted to supply the Afghan National Army with weapons by the United States Department of Defense, this comedy portrays how David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli got their starts in the arms business. They were eventually caught trying to sell Chinese made bullets to the US military, something which was illegal to do at that time.
Black mass is the story of Whitey Bulgar who was the boss of the Boston area Winter Hill gang. Bulgar, who was played by Jonny Depp, was in control of most of the organized crime in south Boston until a new gang, the North End Angiulo Brothers, came to town and started becoming a threat. Bulgar then went to the FBI to try and get them to bring down his rivals. Bulgar is now an old man sitting in jail for the rest of his life.
The Wolf Of Wall Street
In another one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s famous roles, he plays the character of a man named Jordan Belfort. The Wolf of Wall Street is Belfort’s actual life story. The entirety of the movie centers around how Belfort actually got rich relatively quickly by committing various acts of quasi-legal to illegal fraud as well as stock market manipulation. Spoiler alert: Belfort ended up going to jail for his crimes, but was released after 22 months in prison.
The hit film The Revenant is based off of the true story of the life of a man named Hugh Glass. Glass was a trader, explorer, and a frontiersman who was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by the people he was leading. However, it turns out he was still alive, and wound up crawling on his belly for over 200 miles until he reached the nearest outpost. For doing this, he has become a legend in the state of South Dakota.
Donnie Brasco is about a man named, you guessed it, Donnie Brasco, which was the alias name of an FBI agent named Joe Pistone. Played by Johnny Depp, Donnie Brasco portrays how Joe infiltrated and worked undercover with the Bonanno as well as the Colombo crime families. He helped prove to the FBI how crucial undercover work was, and was reportedly able to get so close due to his Sicilian heritage.
The crime movie Goodfellas is loosely based on Henry Hill, a New York City mobster who was associated with the Lucchese crime family between the years 1955 up until he became an FBI informant in 1980. Due to his becoming an informant, several high ranking mafia members were arrested and stopped in New York City, including James Burke and Paul Vario, along with 48 other people.
Oskar Schindler was a German Nazi Party member who saved approximately 1,200 Jews from perishing in the Holocaust by enabling the Jews to work in various factories that he owned. He even kept a list of all of them to keep a record of who he saved. Steven Spielberg directed the Oscar winning movie despite never having a degree in film. When he finally got his degree in film from UCLA, he submitted Schindler’s List for his final project and got an A.
The film The Pianist is a movie based on the exploits of the Jewish Polish Pianist and classical music composer Wladyslaw Szpilman. After surviving the German occupation of Poland and the blitzkrieg, Szpilman, who lightened the lives of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto by playing his music, was eventually smuggled out of the ghetto by a friendly Nazi officer who was against the mass murder of the Jews. Szpilman would eventually escape the Holocaust.
The movie Everest is based off of the incredible survivor of a mountain climber on Mt. Everest. After being left for dead in a snowstorm by his climbing party in 1996 on the slopes of the world’s tallest mountain, he managed somehow to survive the snowstorm and trek back down the mountain alone. This was despite the fact that he was blinded by the ultraviolet radiation that high up in the mountains.
Jackie Kennedy is portrayed in the recent film Jackie by the lovely Natalie Portman. The film is based on the life of Jackie Kennedy directly following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, then-US president and her husband. The film is based off of an interview Jackie did with Life magazine. Natalie’s performance was said to be very compelling, while the story itself had people see a new side of Jackie.
McFarland, USA is a Disney film that brought to life the true story of the track team at McFarland High School in the city of McFarland, California. The team’s story was of interest as they had a very impressive 24 ICF Central Section championship winning streak that lasted 26 years. The reason for the teams success was thought to have been thanks to the team’s coach, James White, who was portrayed by Kevin Costner.
The Bling Ring
The Bling Ring seemed like it was an act based on film and not the other way around. The film, however, is based on a group of eight young men and women who broke into several celebrities homes between October 2008 and August 2009 and proceeded to steal expensive items. The worth of the products they stole was somewhere in the $3 million mark. Some of the high-profile individuals who were targeted were Orlando Bloom, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton.
Beauty and the Beast
The live action version of the film Beauty and the Beast, which is based on the Disney film from many years ago, actually goes back to the true story of a young man who suffered from hypertrichosis, a rare genetic condition that had a large amount of hair grow on his body and face. The young man in question was brought to King Henry II of France’s court and later married to a woman named Catherine. He and Catherine had seven children, four of which inherited their father’s condition.
American Hustle is based on the very real events of a sting operation by the FBI. In the 70s and 80s, the FBI planted an Arab Sheikh in a situation where he would try and bribe his way to a fast-tracked citizenship into the US. The FBI used a real con man to track down the officials who helped the planted Sheikh get his expedited papers. All in all there were 19 people who were arrested in this sting operation, including a senator, mayor, and congressmen.
A moving tale of a boy who went missing and was adopted by a family and taken from India to Australia. While the story is incredible, it is very true. Saroo Brierley was five years old when he was separated from his family in India by being left in a train station by his brother for a period of time. Little Saroo ended up boarding the train and was taken to one of the biggest cities in India after a few days trip. He was found by an orphanage and eventually adopted by an Australian family that took him home. 25 years later, Saroo decided he needed to find his birth family and used Google Earth and Google Maps to find his way home.
The inspirational true story of three female African-American women who changed the course of history for women and women of color. The three women, who are portrayed in the Academy Award nominated film, were mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race with Russia. The women in question are Katherine Globe Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. The film shows the path these women took to help NASA despite being women in an all male field.
United 93 is a film based on the one air craft during the 2001 attacks that did not make it to its destination as the people on the plane were able to regain control of the plane after hijackers attempted to bring it down. The plane ended up crashing in Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board, but failed to get to the destination. The film, directed by Paul Greengrass, was created with every bit of information that the director could get his hands on.
Dallas Buyers Club
This story is based on the heart wrenching story of Ron Woodroof. Ron was a real AIDS patient in the 1980s, when the research regarding the disease was in its infancy and the treatment was all but experimental. Ron found a cocktail of medication that worked for him and brought it into Texas illegally to treat himself and other AIDS patients, known as the Dallas Buyers Club.
The Pursuit Of Happyness
Will Smith starred as Chris Gardner in the movie Pursuit of Happiness, chronicling the true story of Gardner and his rise from success. But he truly started from the bottom. He was homeless as he was both raising his son and working as an unpaid intern at a stock broking company. However, all of his hard work paid off, and today, Gardner is now one of the most successful futures traders in the world.
Directed by Angelina Jolie, Unbroken is the story of a brave American World War Two airman named Louis “Louie” Zamperini. An olympic track star before the war, he survived a plane crash in the pacific after his plane was shot down by enemy Japanese aircraft. He was then forced to survive for six weeks in a raft, until finally being picked up… by Japanese boats. He was then moved around Japanese prison and work camps for the next two years until his release.
The Blind Side
Carolina Panthers offensive Tackle Michael Oher has a fascinating story to tell. In high school, he was the child of an abusive mother, and lived in a very rough part of town in Mississippi. However, with the loving help of Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), a mother of one of his classmates, Oher was able to rise up and become a professional football player, overcoming what would have otherwise been insurmountable obstacles.