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.  

60. On My Skin (2018)

7.7

Country

Italy

Director

Alessio Cremonini

Actors

Aleksandros Memetaj, Alessandro Borghi, Alessio De Persio, Andrea Lattanzi

Moods

Depressing, Touching, True-story-based

This Netflix production is based on a case that rocked public opinion in Italy. Stefano Cucchi was arrested for a minor drug charge and died five days later from police brutality.

The movie takes its time to expose what Cucchi went through, which might lead some viewers to find On My Skin slow, and rightfully so. Thinking about the issues at hand here, it’s easy to understand why the director made that choice. In fact, Italians’ complex relationship with the Carabinieri, a division of the Italian army that carries out domestic policing, is delicate to explain and requires meticulous unveiling.

Nominated to nine David di Donatello Awards (the equivalent of the Academy Awards in Italy), of which it won three.

59. Ilo Ilo (2013)

7.8

Country

France, Japan, Singapore

Director

Anthony Chen

Actors

Angeli Bayani, Chen Tian Wen, Chen Tianwen, Jialer Koh

Moods

Character-driven, Slice-of-Life, True-story-based

At the height of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, a small Singaporean family scrambles to keep their middle-class status afloat. The parents shave their expenses and work extra-long hours, but their busyness causes them to neglect their misbehaved son. When his misdemeanors prove to be too much, the mother is forced to hire a stay-at-home nanny, and her presence (along with other external pressures) brings about a change in the house. Suddenly, everyone becomes a bit more aware of their limitations and potential, and from this, a shared empathy grows. In other hands, this story might come off as bare and forgettable, but under first-time-feature director Anthony Chen’s helm, Ilo Ilo comes to life in rich detail, thoughtful shots, and captivatingly natural performances. Despite its many heartbreaking scenes, the film rarely dwells in sentiment, and it’s this restraint that makes Ilo Ilo all the more gripping to watch. 

58. By the Grace of God (2018)

7.8

Country

Belgium, France

Director

François Ozon, François Ozon

Actors

Éric Caravaca, Alexandre Steiger, Amélie Daure, Amélie Prevot

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Instructive, Thought-provoking

In Lyon, the second biggest city in France after Paris, a man confronts the church about a prominent priest who sexually assaulted him and his friends when they were young.

The man, being religious, wanted to keep the issue within the church. He only asked that the pedophile’s priesthood be revoked so that he doesn’t assault more children.

When it becomes clear that the church will not act, he considers legal action, even though the statute of limitations has expired. But, as is usual in these cases, he was far from being the only victim.

57. Les Misérables (2020)

7.8

Country

France

Director

Ladj Ly

Actors

Al-Hassan Ly, Alexis Manenti, Almamy Kanoute, Bonnie Duvauchelle

Moods

Action-packed, Suspenseful, Thrilling

This Oscar-nominated French movie is set in Montfermeil, the Paris suburb where Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables but which today is a rough neighborhood.

Inspired by instances of police violence that happened in 2008, the movie follows a squad of police officers who try to keep the neighborhood under control. Their methods, or lack thereof, inevitably cause things to explode. This is a thriller with a message, one which sometimes feels forced; but the payoff at the end will make you forget all of that.

56. The Magdalene Sisters (2002)

7.8

Country

Ireland, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Peter Mullan

Actors

Anne-Marie Duff, Britta Smith, Chris Patrick-Simpson, Daniel Costello

Moods

Dark, Depressing, True-crime

This is a touching saga based on the plight of the women labelled as “fallen” that the Magdalene Laundries housed in Ireland. The movie grips you by the throat right from the first minute and the sense of injustice to women that characterizes the entire length of the film only rarely eases up to give you room to appreciate the emotional complexities that each individual character represents.
The stories of Margaret, Bernadette and Rose and the people they meet inside the Magdalene Laundry will force you to ask time and again during the movie, “Why?” and “Who are they to?”. You will share in Bernadette’s sense of outrage, in Rose’s compassion and Margaret’s acute fear of the church, of speaking up and asking for justice. So much so, that you may even find yourself identifying with (or at least understanding) Crispina’s questionable grasp on reality. Worst of all, the devout Catholic establishment that this was, hypocrisy and corruption ran through its every vein, adding to the shock and resentment that builds towards the, for the lack of a better word, captors of our protagonists.
The Magdalene Sisters is a tribute to one of the forgotten chapters in a long history of injustice to women and an absolutely moving one at that. It does not fail to utterly horrify while it also warms your heart.

55. Argentina, 1985 (2022)

7.9

Country

Argentina, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Santiago Mitre

Actors

Alejandra Flechner, Alejo Garcia Pintos, Antonia Bengoechea, Brian Sichel

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Smart

Argentina, 1985 is a legal drama about how a prosecutor and his young team were able to mount evidence—despite all threats and odds—against the officials behind a brutal military dictatorship. The public trial is supposedly the first of its kind in Latin America, a marker of true democracy that made a hero out of Julio Strassera and Moreno Ocampo, who both led the case.

Despite the presence of very serious themes, there are moments of lighthearted humor here that work to stress the film’s underlying message of goodwill and perseverance. Argentina, 1985 competed at major festivals this 2022, and it’s Argentina’s official entry at the upcoming Academy Awards.

54. RRR (2022)

7.9

Country

India

Director

S. S. Rajamouli

Actors

Ahmareen Anjum, Ajay Devgn, Alexx O'Nell, Alia Bhatt

Moods

Action-packed, Intense, Mind-blowing

Set in 1920s India, RRR follows two revolutionaries who strike up an unlikely bond and fend off the British regime from their home. In their epic journey to protect their people, they encounter a number of setbacks that prompts them to put their incredible combat skills on full display. 

Despite its three-hour run, RRR never drags, thanks in large part to its breathtaking action sequences and eye-popping visuals. It may contain all the familiar beats of a blockbuster, but RRR is notably grounded in its central, political theme of anti-colonialism, the sincerity of which keeps the film’s big heart beating palpably throughout. 

53. The Wolf House (2018)

7.9

Country

Chile, Germany

Director

Cristóbal León, Joaquín Cociña

Actors

Amalia Kassai, Natalia Geisse

Moods

Depressing, Original, Thought-provoking

This mortifying stop-motion fairy-tale is inspired by the very real horrors of Chile’s Colonia Dignidad: a cult colony turned torture camp under the Pinochet regime. Presented as colony propaganda, the tale tells the story of Maria, a girl who runs away from the safety of the colony into the forest and takes refuge in a house with two pigs. What transpires is a gut-wrenching allegory for the rise of fascism, colonialism, and white supremacy. 

The staggering animation which seamlessly shifts mediums from paper mâché to painted walls is a bewildering sight to witness. But it’s the synthesis of this boundary-pushing art and the underlying horrors it depicts, that make this stand as an unmissable cinematic event.

52. Just Mercy (2019)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Destin Daniel Cretton

Actors

Adam Boyer, Al Mitchell, Alex Van, Andrene Ward-Hammond

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Inspiring

This drama is based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a young Harvard graduate who moved to Alabama in the 80s to defend wrongly accused prisoners on death row. He’s played by Michael B. Jordan, who brings to the surface the unstoppable determination and ambition of the character. Components that were necessary to go on such a difficult task, especially with the racist barriers at the time. Not to mention, no one had ever been released from death row in the history of Alabama at that point. An inspiring and well-acted movie, made by Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton.

51. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

7.9

Country

Malawi, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Actors

Aissa Maiga, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Edwin Chonde, Felix Lemburo

Moods

Inspiring, Sunday, Touching

This movie’s energy is completely intoxicating.

It’s the directorial debut of renown British/Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, but it feels like the work of a veteran.

In a true story told in English and Chichewa (a language from Malawi), a young boy is expelled from school because his parents couldn’t afford tuition. At the same time, his village is struck by a variety of natural circumstances that bring them the threat of drought and famine.

The young boy sneaks into the library in the hopes of making a windmill and saving his village, and you can guess what follows from the title.

The triumph of engineering and a boy with a dream; mix in an incredibly interesting culture, full of unique family dynamics and a thought-provoking intersection between religion, tradition, and technology. The result is a delicate but uplifting movie, not to be missed.

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