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.  

70. Waltz with Bashir (2008)

7.5

Country

France, Germany, Israel

Director

Ari Folman

Actors

Mickey Leon, Yehezkel Lazarov

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Depressing

In Waltz with Bashir, director Ari Folman grapples with the trauma and dehumanization of war by examining the role he played in the 1982 Invasion of Lebanon. But his memories are fractured, so in an attempt to piece them back together, he visits his comrades and has them recall the events for him. The result is both poignant and painful, a horrific tell-all of what happens on both sides of the battleground. The film is a documentary, chillingly honest and straightforward, but it’s also an animation gem that continues the legacy that Persepolis started and Flee continues. By combining the harshness of war with the lightness of animation, all three films effectively deliver their anti-war message with a much-needed human and personal touch. 

69. The Kingmaker (2019)

7.5

Country

Denmark, Philippines, United States of America

Director

Female director, Lauren Greenfield

Actors

Andres D. Bautista, Benigno Aquino III, Bongbong Marcos, Etta Rosales

Moods

Discussion-sparking, True-story-based

There is no shortage of resources—be it books, films, articles, or interviews—about the atrocities Ferdinand Marcos unleashed on the Philippines. And yet, in the years since his exile and eventual death, his family has returned to power in the country, winning the hearts and (manipulated) minds of the masses.

In The Kingmaker, director Lauren Greenfield (who earlier directed the equally revealing The Queen of Versailles) exposes how this came to be, with a focus on the titular kingmaker herself, Imelda Marcos. It’s chilling how much of Imelda’s stated goals in this documentary, which spans five years, have come true. History repeats itself, and Greenfield skillfully and delicately captures the delusion, irony, and blatant corruption of a family dead set on owning a country, as if it were another luxury to purchase (or in the case of the Marcoses, pocket). 

68. A Cop Movie (2021)

7.5

Country

Mexico

Director

Alonso Ruizpalacios

Actors

Leonardo Alonso, Mónica Del Carmen, Raúl Briones

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Discussion-sparking

In the Mexican film A Cop Movie, director Alonso Ruizpalacios mixes fact and fiction, documentary and narrative, to tell the tale of Teresa and Montoya, two police officers whose dreams are dashed by the corruption of their trade and who, eventually, find love and comfort in each other.

Ruizpalacios takes thrilling risks in structuring this genre-bending story—cutting stories into parts, jumping back and forth between the harrowingly real and captivatingly non-real. For all the experimental maneuvers he makes, however, the through-line is always Teresa and Montoya: particularly, their love for each other and for an institution that should have, in an ideal world, supported them and the people they vowed to protect. 

To its credit, instead of merely humanizing the controversial police force, A Cop Movie adds some much-needed nuance to the big picture. At the end of the day, they’re no different than any other underpaid laborers working desperately to make end meets. A Cop Movie doesn’t gloss over the fact that the police, like so many other workers, are stuck in a rotten system that’s long overdue for a major overhauling. 

67. Maudie (2016)

7.5

Country

Canada, Ireland

Director

Aisling Walsh, Female director

Actors

Billy MacLellan, David Feehan, Ethan Hawke, Gabrielle Rose

Moods

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

This moving biopic is about Maud Lewis, the legendary Canadian painter who suffered from arthritis. In the film, Maud gets away from her controlling family by finding a job as a live-in housekeeper for a local fish peddler. It is there where she begins to paint, before marrying the fish peddler in spite of their different personalities. Sally Hawkins, who plays Lewis, brings undeniable spark and soul to the role, for which she had to undergo an astonishing physical transformation.

Maudie is a beautiful and uncomplicated film that challenges the conventions of marriage and relationship roles, while at the same time celebrating Maud Lewis’ paintings and life’s simple pleasures.

66. Doubt (2008)

7.5

Country

United States of America

Director

John Patrick Shanley

Actors

Alannah Iacovano, Alice Drummond, Amy Adams, Audrie Neenan

Moods

Depressing, Dramatic, Thought-provoking

The 2008 film Doubt offers a haunting peek into the crisis of pedophilia within the Catholic church. Featuring an all-star cast of Amy Adams,  Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Viola Davis, it is more than just a fictional tale. With performances that will make you question your intuition and cast a shadow of doubt on your own instincts, Doubt is a difficult film to grapple with. 

I fell in love with this film very early on into the duration of it because it was so honest and it allowed the characters to navigate the nature of their suspicions. With Doubt, however, comes denial, and Viola Davis’s eight-minute monologue is simply smeared with it. Doubt is a fantastic story that has left me stunned for over a decade. 

65. Polytechnique (2009)

7.5

Country

Canada

Director

Denis Villeneuve

Actors

Adam Kosh, Cynthia Wu-Maheux, Dawn Ford, Eugénie Beaudry

Moods

Intense, True-story-based

Polytechnique directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a dramatization of the 1989 Montreal massacre of multiple female engineering students. This film focuses on a male student navigating the massacre for the majority of the film’s run time. The performances and minimal dialogue in this film certainly make this an unnerving film to watch. Littered with the screams of the actors portraying the engineering students, this could be mistaken as a gaudy horror film. However, this is far from a fictionalized horror.

This Villeneuve classic is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally brutal films of the 2000s, yet I appreciate the honesty of the storytelling. Polytechnique encourages its audience to ask itself if it truly understands the truth of misogyny. 

64. The Impossible (2012)

7.5

Country

Spain, Thailand, United States of America

Director

J.A. Bayona

Actors

Douglas Johansson, Ewan McGregor, Geraldine Chaplin, Gitte Witt

Moods

Thrilling, True-story-based

A heart-wrenching tribute to victims of natural disasters that is one of despair, suffering, and hope. And it wouldn’t be so damning if it weren’t based off a true story surrounding the tragedy that killed more than 230,000 people. Boxing Day 2004 was one of the most memorable dates for wedded couple, Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts, for an Oscar nominated performance). Just two days prior, they arrived at Orchid Beach Resort in Thailand to celebrate the Christmas holidays together with their three children. After a squabble with the crew regarding their room reservations, they are granted the privilege of staying in a peaceful villa and all seems to be well. Nature had other plans in mind, though, and facing it head-on is the bittersweet reality.

63. Twinsters (2015)

7.5

Country

France, Korea, South Korea

Director

Female director, Ryan Miyamoto

Actors

Anaïs Bordier, Kanoa Goo, Samantha Futerman

Moods

True-story-based

Twinsters is a documentary about a young Asian American actress, Samantha Futerman (also co-director), who is contacted over the internet by a young French-Asian woman, Anaïs Bordier, who has been shown a video of Samantha on the internet — and cannot believe their remarkably similar physical appearance. After initial perplexity and uncertainty, Samantha and Anaïs are soon embroiled in excited correspondence and travel to meet one another in their respective countries — eventually confirming via DNA testing that they are in fact long-lost twin sisters given up for adoption 25 years earlier in South Korea. A remarkable true story with a wonderfully beating heart, Twinsters does a lovely job of not just spelling out the amazing story of the sisters’ unlikely connection, but also finding and exploring the growing love and affection between both the two girls, as well as their extended families and groups of friends. A truly touching and humanistic film-viewing experience.

62. Entre Nos (2009)

7.6

Country

Colombia, United States of America

Director

Gloria La Morte, Paola Mendoza

Actors

Andres Munar, Anthony Chisholm, Clem Cheung, Eddie Martinez

Moods

Depressing, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

A mother and her two children move from Colombia to Queens, New York to join the father. Once there, he abandons them and moves to Miami.

With no family to fall back on, barely speaking English, an inexistent social welfare system and two little kids who require care; the mother quickly runs out of options. At first, she tries to sell empanadas in the street, then tries to become a temporary worker, but a mixture of obstacles keeps getting in the way.

Entre Nos is about the precariousness of the immigrant experience: about how quickly things can go wrong. But it’s also about how survival instincts and motherly love can stand in the face of complete desperation.

61. Bad Education (2019)

7.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Cory Finley

Actors

Alex Wolff, Allison Janney, Annaleigh Ashford, Brent Langdon

Moods

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

Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, and Ray Romano star in this true story of a big academic corruption case. Hugh Jackman is (of course) excellent as a successful and dedicated superintendent with a complicated personal life. However, when a curious student with the school journal starts digging around in a project he promotes, she uncovers what will become the largest public school embezzlement in the history of the U.S. 

The performances stretch the story to its full potential, as this movie would be nothing without its incredible cast. It should be watched for the acting. Eventually, it suffers from a problem common to all movies based on newspaper articles: the story can be told in a single article.

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