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.  

80. 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.

79. Before Night Falls (2000)

7.2

Country

Mexico, United States of America

Director

Julian Schnabel

Actors

Alfredo Villa, Andrea Di Stefano, Diahnne Abbott, Diego Luna

Moods

Dramatic, True-story-based

This emotionally rich biopic spans Reinaldo Arena’s lifetime, from his childhood and early embrace of the Cuban Revolution to his deportation via the notorious 1980 Mariel boatlift, and subsequent death in the United States. The story of Arenas’ life is told through using his own words, over director Julian Schabel’s beautifully crafted images. In his first-ever English-speaking role, Javier Bardem renders a strong dramatic performance for which he deservedly received wide acclaim. Before Night Falls is a finely crafted portrait of a creative yet self-destructive poet who has to face the clash between his identity and the political environment surrounding him.

78. Kill The Messenger (2014)

7.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Michael Cuesta

Actors

Andy Garcia, Barry Pepper, Dan Futterman, David de Vries

Moods

A-list actors, Thrilling, True-story-based

Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Town, Arrival) plays Gary Webb, a journalist in investigating the American government’s possible involvement in cocaine trafficking in Latin America. Based on a true story, it’s in the same vein as other recent movies on investigative journalism. Jeremy Renner’s performance is the main reason to watch this movie. Even as the story spins into deeper levels of complexity, he remains a coherent, steady point of reference. It was his chance to prove to directors that he can carry a big-budget movie and he nailed it.

77. Behind the Candelabra (2013)

7.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Steven Soderbergh

Actors

Amber Lee Ettinger, Anthony Crivello, Aussie Guevara, Austin Stowell

Moods

True-story-based

A dramatic recreation of the last 10 years in the life of famed pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas), told primarily from the perspective of his young lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film follows from naive young Thorson’s early introduction to Liberace through his 6-year romance and live-in relationship with the celebrated luminary. Coming from a broken home and multiple foster families, Thorson finds newfound comfort in the fawning adoration and financial protection that Liberace provides to him, as they quickly become lovers and confidants. Much of the story re-enacts their often stormy, behind-the-scenes affairs in candid fashion—including the lengths to which Thorson alters himself physically to conform to Liberace’s standards. Both Douglas and Damon are excellent in their roles, with Douglas in particular providing a striking recreation of Liberace in both appearance and mannerism. He truly embodies the role, and provides the viewer with a genuine glimpse into the personal life of “Mr. Showmanship”—replete with all of his passions, concerns and insecurities. It’s an intimate depiction of a real-life May-December relationship, told with striking honesty, and ending with a remarkably touching tribute to Liberace in all of his campy yet sincere glory.

76. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

7.3

Country

United States of America

Director

Craig Brewer

Actors

A.J. Tannen, Aaron Craven, Akono Dixon, Aleksandar Filimonović

Moods

Easy, Funny, True-story-based

This Eddie Murphy comedy had all the ingredients to be both a famous movie and an award-winner, but neither happened. It tells the true story of Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian who became famous for creating a character called Dolemite, a pimp, and who later attempted to make his own movie based on the same character. Murphy plays Rudy, but there are also other recognizable faces in supporting roles: Chris Rock, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Snoop Dogg, and many others. It’s above all a funny movie, but being Eddie Murphy’s first R-rated movie since 1999, it’s also a realistic portrayal of both 1970s L.A. and the struggles of being a black filmmaker at the time.

75. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

7.3

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Marielle Heller

Actors

Alice Kremelberg, Anna Deavere Smith, Anne Hollister, Armando Riesco

Moods

A-list actors, True-story-based, Well-acted

A non-comedic Melissa McCarthy stars in this movie based on a true story. She plays author Lee Israel who after struggling to pay her bills starts forging letters from famous writers. Being a great writer herself, she’s able to skillfully mimic some of the greatest American novelists. But how far can she take it? With only her cat and an ex-convict friend at her side, this movie takes you through her desperation and anxiety as she turns into a full-blown criminal. Nominated to three Oscars, including Best Actress for McCarthy.

74. Kilo Two Bravo (2014)

7.3

Country

UK, United Kingdom

Director

Paul Katis

Actors

Ali Cook, Andy Gibbins, Benjamin O'Mahony, Bryan Parry

Moods

Raw, Suspenseful, Thrilling

Kilo Two Bravo (Originally named Kajaki) is a must-watch for anyone who likes war dramas. It tells the true story of British soldiers in the Afghanistan war who find themselves trapped in a minefield during a mission, with their rescue team coming in a helicopter that might set off mines if it lands. It’s a slow, dialogue driven film that is interested in taking you to the war zone more than it cares about entertaining you. Ultimately, it becomes an essay on the horrors of war, and an anti-war war film. Because of this and given the blood and gore, this movie is definitely not for those who would feel nauseated at sight of blood. Great setting, good cinematography, realistic acting and script all do justice to the true story. It’s a film that will grip your senses and keep you at the edge of the seat throughout.

73. Topsy-Turvy (1999)

7.4

Country

United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Mike Leigh

Actors

Akemi Otani, Alison Steadman, Allan Corduner, Andy Serkis

Moods

Funny, Grown-up Comedy, Lighthearted

If you’re a fan of musical theater of any kind, Topsy-Turvy pays tribute to that notoriously tricky art form with a stunning attention to detail and a dedication to telling its story without any unnecessary drama whatsoever. It’s hard not to get swept up in the humor, entertainment, and simple joy found in the writing process and in rehearsals of entire scenes. Come for the Oscar-winning costumes and makeup, stay for the wonderfully old-timey musical numbers, the brilliantly grounded performance from Jim Broadbent, and the sense of satisfaction of just watching everything finally come together to thunderous applause.

72. A Bag of Marbles (2017)

7.4

Country

Canada, Czech Republic, France

Director

Christian Duguay

Actors

Batyste Fleurial, Bernard Campan, Candide Sanchez, César Domboy

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, True-story-based

When German forces occupy Paris in 1942, a close-knit Jewish family tearfully sends their two youngest sons, Jo and Maurice, to escape the city on foot, with promises that they will all eventually be reunited in the Free Zone in the South. Told from the perspective of Jo – and based on the 1973 memoir of Joseph Joffo – what follows is a story of adventure, discovery, loss, love and the resilience of family bonds. A tapestry of cherished memories woven together with traumatic ones, the tone shifts again and again as Jo and his brother reach the bright shores of Nice––before they are driven to hiding again. Above all else, this is a story about the power of a family’s love, and of children who rise against the odds by their own courage and tenacity.

71. Richard Jewell (2019)

7.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Clint Eastwood

Actors

Alan Heckner, Alex Collins, Andrea Laing, Aubriana Davis

Moods

True-crime, True-story-based

This crime drama based on a true story is directed by Clint Eastwood and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio among others. It’s about a peculiar security guard who finds a bomb at the 1996 Atlanta summer Olympics moments before it exploded. But while first hailed as a hero, the authorities quickly suspect him of being behind the bomb. Just like Eastwood’s other creation, Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, Richard Jewell is a simple story that if it wasn’t for excellent directing, would not be enough to make a movie out of. But great performances and a great script make this movie not only worthwhile but a timely comment on the trustworthiness of law enforcement.

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