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.  

40. Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Maya Forbes

Actors

Alicia Love, Ashley Aufderheide, Beth Dixon, Brianne Siddall

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Feel-Good

A calm and cute story about a manic-depressive father in late 70’s Boston taking care of his two daughters. Starring familiar-face Mark Ruffalo in the lead. The film is inspired by its director’s own experience as one of the two daughters, which added to the amazing performances, makes for a movie made and filled with love. But as it manages to keep a smile on your face most of the time, it also doesn’t shy away from hard and moving sequences. A Sundance movie filled with heart.

39. Still Mine (2012)

best

8.0

Country

Canada

Director

Michael McGowan

Actors

Barbara Gordon, Campbell Scott, Chris Farquhar, Chuck Shamata

Moods

Easy, Inspiring, Lovely

A slice-of-life true-story-based film on growing old and in love. When on his own land, Craig Morrison (played by James Cromwell) starts building a more convenient house for his ailing wife Irene (Geneviève Bujold), he is faced with crippling bureaucracy. The state gives him the choice between stopping the construction or going to jail, while he is witnessing his wife’s health deteriorating even further. The act of going against the system brings out both how beautiful his relationship with his wife is, as well as his own resilience in this moving, insightful drama.

38. The Siege of Jadotville (2016)

best

8.0

Country

Ireland, South Africa

Director

Richie Smyth

Actors

Ashish Gangapersad, Charlie Kelly, Conor MacNeill, Conor Quinlan

Moods

Action-packed, Inspiring, Raw

The Siege of Jadotville is a different kind of war movie. It doesn’t recount famous battles or portray renowned heroes – instead, it’s about heroes and events that went completely unnoticed. Namely, the Irish 35 Battalion ‘A’ Company – a group of youngsters who are sent out on a U.N mission to the Congo. What was supposed to be a simple positioning quickly becomes one of the most sought-after locations and the battalion of 150 ‘war-virgins” find themselves up against 3000 mercenaries led by experienced French commandants. And what a tribute this film is: it’s well-paced, powerfully shot, and the acting, led by Jamie Dornan on one side and Guillaume Canet on the other, is absolutely perfect.

37. Belfast (2021)

best

8.1

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Kenneth Branagh

Actors

Bríd Brennan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan

Moods

Emotional, Heart-warming, Slice-of-Life

Belfast stars Outlander’s Caitríona Balfe as the mother of a working-class Northern Irish family during The Troubles. Religious tension and the lack of opportunities put the family in a difficult position: they’re the first in many generations to think about leaving the city of Belfast. They all have to navigate so many difficult questions on belonging, religion, and identity.

The story,  based on the director’s own childhood, is packaged in a noise-canceling black and white format. Also stars Judi Dench.

36. Crazy Heart (2009)

best

8.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Scott Cooper

Actors

Beth Grant, Brian Gleason, Chad Brummett, Colin Farrell

Moods

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

We all love Jeff Bridges. We all agree that we shouldn’t leave a movie he won an Oscar for unwatched. That’s enough reason to watch this movie, but there are so many others. The story is fantastic and based on true events: a country musician living rough and having a shot at happiness after he falls for a journalist who interviews him. The score is composed by T Bone Burnett. The journalist is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and another musician is played by Colin Farrell.

So many reasons to watch.

35. Skin (2018)

best

8.1

Country

Brazil, Canada, China

Director

Guy Nattiv

Actors

Ari Barkan, Bill Camp, Colbi Gannett, Daniel Henshall

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Thought-provoking

This true story of a white-supremacist and the civil rights unit that tried to stop his group was so gripping. 

You might recognize the title from the Oscars ceremony, as a shorter version of Skin (same director but different actors) won the Academy Award for Best Short Film. 

The longer movie provides much more time for the characters to develop, and room for more of a commentary on the current political situation in the U.S.

Fun fact: see that scary man in the picture? That’s Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell who went through a transformation for the role, including always wearing a device to pull his ears closer to his head because they were “too cute”.

34. The Tale (2018)

best

8.1

Country

Germany, United States of America

Director

Female director, Jennifer Fox

Actors

Chelsea Alden, Common, Daniel Berson, Deana Deatherage

Moods

Challenging, Dramatic, Emotional

Sometimes you can just tell a movie means way too much to the people who made it. That makes me want to watch it more than once, which is what I wanted to do with The Tale. But while I think it’s such an amazing movie and everyone should watch it, I don’t think I can stomach a second watch.. It is based on the director/writer Jennifer Fox’s own story – recounting her first sexual experience at a very young age. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves to deal with trauma, and in that sense, and with utmost honesty, it invites grief and closure for similar experiences. A powerful movie led by a powerful performance by Laura Dern as Jennifer.

33. Pride (2014)

best

8.1

Country

France, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Matthew Warchus

Actors

Abram Rooney, Adam Ewan, Alexander Perkins, Andrew Scott

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Feel-Good

It’s 1984 and miners in England are on strike against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s plans to close pits. Their cause has unlikely appeal for Mark Ashton, a human rights activists who decides to take a group of people who had joined an early Gay Pride parade in London to rural England to show support for the (often socially-conservative) miners.

You can see how things might go wrong, but in this case they didn’t. This heartwarming tale is based on a true story. An easy, funny, and relevant movie about the bond that oppression brings to the oppressed. Super earnest, too.

32. Scheme Birds (2019)

best

8.2

Country

Sweden, United Kingdom

Director

Ellen Fiske, Ellinor Hallin

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Slice-of-Life, Thought-provoking

In Motherwell, you either “get locked up or knocked up,” or so says Gemma, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood growing up in an old Scottish steel town. Gemma runs among a tight-knit group of friends, at the center of which is ordinary mischief, routine, and roughhousing. And beneath that lies a certain kind of everyday violence. 

As Gemma enters young motherhood, she reckons with how to reconcile her own aggressions with the protective tenderness she feels toward her newborn. Beautifully and thoughtfully directed by Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin, Scheme Birds never feels invasive. Rather, their documentary lets Gemma speak for herself—and in doing so, illuminates not just her life, but the complicated lives that intersect hers, too. 

31. Quo Vadis Aida? (2020)

best

8.2

Country

Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France

Director

Female director, Jasmila Žbanić

Actors

Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Emina Muftić

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

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