90 Best Movies Based on True Stories

90 Best Movies Based on True Stories

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Every now and then, a movie will come up with such incredible feats and unimaginable plot twists, you’ll swear it couldn’t be more unrealistic. Only in the movies, you think, can two murderers be spared for their vaudeville act or a person’s memory be reset each day. But just before the credits roll, a notice flashes onscreen: the events you just saw, outrageous as they may seem, were based on a true story. 

Sometimes, the announcement doesn’t even make it in the film and you find out, mouth agape, after the fact. Other times, you come in knowing that this is all true—it’s a biopic after all, or a docudrama—but you leave in fervent disbelief that any of this transpired in real life. Whatever the case may be, it’s undeniable that it takes a special kind of skill to make a movie out of actual events. So below, we’ve gathered the best movies you can watch right now that have their roots in reality.  

90. The Infiltrator (2016)

7.1

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Brad Furman

Actors

Amy Ryan, Andy Beckwith, Art Malik, Benjamin Bratt

Moods

A-list actors, Dramatic, Intense

Bryan Cranston, best known for his role as Walter White in the Breaking Bad series, stars as Robert Mazur, a federal agent, who goes undercover to infiltrate the trafficking network of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. With the film based on Mazur’s memoir, Bryan Cranston gives an impressive lead performance that captures the intense distress that deep cover can bring. Besides Cranston, co-stars Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, and an exceptional John Leguizamo are entirely persuasive and make the film experience enjoyable and intense. The Infiltrator is entertaining and maintains a good pace, with a great cast that makes it a true joy to watch, especially for those who enjoy stories based on real criminals. 

89. Shattered Glass (2003)

7.1

Country

Canada, United States, United States of America

Director

Billy Ray

Actors

Andrew Airlie, Bill Rowat, Brett Watson, Brittany Drisdelle

Moods

A-list actors, Challenging, Character-driven

Shattered Glass tells the unbelievably true story of Stephen Glass, a popular and promising young journalist at The New Republic. Stephen’s storytelling skills are sought out not just by his admiring colleagues but by other publications as well, so when a rival journalist from Forbes finds holes in one of Stephen’s stories, no one takes the accusation seriously at first—except perhaps for Charles Lane, Stephen’s editor. Immune to Stephen’s charms, Charles digs for the truth and tries, despite an alarming lack of support, to pursue what’s right.

Set in the ’90s, Shattered Glass may be a throwback to old-school journalism, but its ideas about the integrity of facts still hold water, especially in an age fraught with rampant disinformation.

88. The Divine Order (2017)

7.1

Country

Switzerland

Director

Female director, Petra Biondina Volpe

Actors

Bettina Stucky, Ella Rumpf, Marie Leuenberger, Marietta Jemmi

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Grown-up Comedy, Heart-warming

With a particularly empowering tenderness and resilience, The Divine Order explores a glossed-over chapter in history wherein Swiss women could not vote until 1971. The hillside Swiss farming village in which Nora Ruckstuhl lives seems picture-perfect. But under the village’s close-knit and idyllic surface, change is stirring. When an emerging sense of autonomy pushes Nora to question her identity beyond being a complacent housewife, she publicly declares herself in favor of women’s suffrage and draws attention from both outspoken opponents and quiet supporters.

As Nora discovers herself—what she does and doesn’t like; what her body looks like; what pleasure feels like—she also uncovers a yearning for better, for more: who is she not just as a spouse and mother, but also as a friend, a member of a greater community, an independent woman?

87. Becoming Astrid (2018)

7.1

Country

Denmark, Germany, Sweden

Director

Female director, Pernille Fischer Christensen

Actors

Alba August, Björn Gustafsson, Henrik Rafaelsen, Magnus Krepper

Moods

Inspiring, Lovely, True-story-based

This Swedish movie is the story of Astrid Lindgren, one of the most translated children book writers of all time. Her work of over 100 books includes Pippi Longstocking and The Brothers Lionheart.

Away from the quiet existence of the characters she would later create, Astrid had a turbulent life. Her troubles start when she falls for the editor of the paper she worked at when she was young, a man 30 years her senior. This results in an unwanted pregnancy and Astrid is pushed to immigrate.

86. Utøya: July 22 (2019)

7.1

Country

Norway

Director

Erik Poppe

Actors

Ada Eide, Aleksander Holmen, Andrea Berntzen, Brede Fristad

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Intense

This movie is different from a Netflix release about the same events. Actually, it’s different from any movie you’ve probably seen before. Depicting the terrorist attack that took 77 lives in 2011 in an island near Oslo, Norway, it’s made to make you feel as if you were part of the attack. It’s shot to resemble one take, and the time of the movie is the time it took the attack to unfold (so you’re witnessing it in real-time). While closely based on the accounts of two survivors, it follows a fictional character called Kaja who looks for her sister during the attacks. Utøya: July 22 pushes the limits of what you can watch in a movie but serves as a terrifying testament to the atrocity of a terrorist attack of such nature.

85. Apostasy (2017)

7.1

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Daniel Kokotajlo

Actors

Aqib Khan, Bronwyn James, Claire Hackett, Clare McGlinn

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Slow, Thought-provoking

This is a slow but well-made movie about a Jehovah’s Witness family, directed by a former member of the organization.

The family is made of Alex, her mother, and her older sister. Alex follows her mother and her religious teachings with the utmost loyalty, especially as she refuses a blood transfusion that is crucial to her health. Her older sister starts showing signs of independence by lying to her friends about her family’s faith and dating a Muslim man.

Apostasy is about family bonds versus belief bonds. It’s not a movie that judges or preaches, rather it simply portrays the complex situations that structured religion creates.

84. Bronson (2009)

7.1

Country

Denmark, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Nicolas Winding Refn

Actors

Amanda Burton, Hugh Ross, James Lance, Joe Tucker

Moods

Dark, Dramatic, Funny

From the director of Drive comes Bronson, the true story of a man who was sentenced to seven years in prison but ends up spending three decades in solitary confinement. Tom Hardy is phenomenal in this dark comedy. His character is so likable and you quickly feel sorry for what he is going through. No one can help him no matter how much he asks for it. Bronson has class, great acting, hilarious comedy, and a true story backing it up. There is nothing not to love about this film.

83. Swan Song (2021)

7.2

Country

United States, United States of America

Director

Todd Stephens

Actors

Annie Kitral, Brandon Lim, Bryant Carroll, Dave Sorboro

Moods

Heart-warming, Lovely, Slice-of-Life

In Swan Song, acclaimed actor Udo Kier stars as the real-life Pat Pitsenbarger, a local queer legend in the small town of Sandusky. He used to live a private but joyful life, beautifying socialities by day and performing in drag at night. But now the aging icon is resigned to live out his days in a bleak retirement home, where he takes part in feeble acts of rebellion to keep himself amused. This is bound to change when Pat returns to town on an oddly specific request. There, he makes peace with old friends and grabs at the chance to revive his inner beauty queen once more. 

It’s a simple story with a simple premise, but Swan Song is elevated by Krier’s powerful presence and director Todd Stephens’ obvious love for his hometown. Every diss Krier drops as the sassy Pat is to be savored, and every tribute Stephens makes to town life is to be admired. Filled, too, with colorful and euphoric moments that celebrate gay pride, Swan Song makes for quite the lovable film. 

82. Our Friend (2020)

7.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Actors

Ahna O'Reilly, Casey Affleck, Cherry Jones, Dakota Johnson

Moods

A-list actors, Depressing, Slice-of-Life

Dakota Johnson and Casey Affleck star in this comedy-drama as a small-town couple, one of whom gets diagnosed with a terminal illness. Their best friend (Jason Segel) puts his life on hold and moves in with them, picking up the husband when he faints at the hospital, shaving his head in solidarity with the wife, and even taking care of the dog who also gets sick.

It might seem like just another terminal illness drama, but Our Friend is based on a true story, and it’s as much about the illness as it is about how to be there for people, and reversely, the power of people being there for you.

81. The African Doctor

7.2

Country

Belgium, France

Director

Julien Rambaldi

Actors

Aissa Maiga, Bayron Lebli, Bernard Eylenbosch, Bwanga Pilipili

Moods

Feel-Good, Funny, Grown-up Comedy

In this French movie based on a true story, a med-school graduate from Congo is offered a job as the doctor to the president of Zaire. He refuses and chooses instead to move to a small town in France in hopes of getting French citizenship and securing a better future for his children.

The story, which starts in 1975, is set in a village where people had never seen a Black person. To that, Seyolo, the doctor, says: “so what? Now they will.”

The culture clash is both villagers-to-new-arrivals and the other way. Seyolo tells his family that he was hired in a village “north of Paris”, but all they hear is “Paris”, only to be shocked by the state of the rainy and muddy countryside village.

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