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.  

30. A Hidden Life (2019)

8.2

Country

Germany, Italy, United States of America

Director

Terrence Malick

Actors

Alexander Fehling, Alexander Radszun, August Diehl, Bernd Hölscher

Moods

Slow, True-story-based

Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) is back in full form with this three-hour movie based on a true story. His creation has one of the most beautiful depictions of happiness ever seen in film, portraying the simple yet joyous life of a farmer in the Austrian mountains. You’d have to see it for yourself to understand, but how Malick depicts this character’s love for his wife (and her love for him), their children, and even their farming rituals are nothing short of cinematic wizardry. 

This peaceful existence changes when World War 2 intensifies and this farmer is called to serve for the Nazis. He refuses to enroll out of principle and puts himself and his family at great danger and alienation from their village. The question at the center of the film is one that other villagers and the church ask him a lot: what good can his actions do? And the title of the movie is taken from A George Eliot quote: “The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

29. Beautiful Boy (2018)

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Felix Van Groeningen

Actors

Amy Aquino, Amy Forsyth, Amy Ryan, Anastasia Leddick

Moods

A-list actors, Depressing, Dramatic

Steve Carrell delivers an amazing performance here. Beautiful Boy is a movie that is based on a true story that first appeared as a best-selling serialized memoir.
It’s about a son’s journey through drug abuse and how his relationship with his father evolves. The son is played by Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), Carrell is the dad.
As you can probably guess, the themes of drug addiction and family are made to induce tears, which this movie manages to do in a lot of ways. It can come across as somewhat emotionally manipulative at times. In those moments, it helps to remind oneself that it is based on a true story.
The performances and the exploration of the limits of the father-son relationship remain the reasons why you should consider watching this movie.

28. The Big Sick (2017)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Michael Showalter

Actors

Adeel Akhtar, Aidy Bryant, Alison Cimmet, Andrew Pang

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Funny

A revelation of a movie, both in filmmaking and commercial success. While little-known abroad, it has made more than $42 million in US Box Office revenue out of a tiny $5 million budget. Kumail Nanjiani, stand-up comedian and star of the show Silicon Valley, tells his own story of romance with his now-wife Emily V. Gordon (who co-wrote the movie). Because it is based on a true story, and because it is the product of the love of both its writers and stars, this movie is incredibly heartfelt. It is also timely, addressing heavy themes such as identity, immigration, and family relationships. Not to mention it is absolutely hilarious. And it’s produced by Judd Apatow. Trust me and go watch it.

27. The Whistleblower (2010)

best

8.3

Country

Canada, Germany, United States of America

Director

Female director, Larysa Kondracki

Actors

Adriana Butoi, Alexandru Potocean, Alin Panc, Anna Schafer

Moods

Challenging, Touching, True-story-based

Based on a true story, The Whistleblower is the biography of a once Nebraskan police officer who volunteers for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in post-war Bosnia. Once there, she uncovers a human trafficking scandal involving peacekeeping officials, and finds herself alone against a hostile system in a devastated country. Rachel Weisz plays the whistleblower in a powerful lead role, but the true star of the movie is its director, Larysa Kondracki, who thanks to near documentary-style film-making delivers a perfectly executed political thriller with utmost authenticity.

26. Fire of Love (2022)

best

8.4

Country

Canada, United States of America

Director

Female director, Sara Dosa

Actors

Miranda July

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Inspiring, Lovely

Fire of Love is a documentary that follows Maurice and Katia Krafft, a scientist couple who’ve dedicated their entire professional lives to studying (and marveling at) volcanoes. The two met at university and have been inseparable ever since, chasing explosions around the world until their death at the Mount Unzen eruption in 1991. 

The fiery passion the title refers to is as much about Maurice and Katia as it is about their dedication to volcanoes. Like any love story, it tracks how they were first wonderstruck by the formation and how that awe shaped their lives and led them to each other, as well as how they came to discover hard truths about it and dealt with the heartbreak that soon followed. 

Combining the breathtaking footage the couple left behind with lovely writing and artful animation, director Sara Dosa creates a moving documentary about passion, adventure, and the world itself. 

25. One Night in Miami (2020)

best

8.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Regina King

Actors

Aaron D. Alexander, Alan Wells, Aldis Hodge, Ashley LeConte Campbell

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Slice-of-Life, Smart

This stagelike historical drama is about a meeting between Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Muhammad Ali, the night Ali became world champion and announced he became Muslim.

And here is the thing: Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali have been portrayed many times in film, but never with this much nuance. Their relationship with each other is often frictional and their relationship to their faith is recognizable: they’re not always sure about it, and they take breaks.

Ali smuggles alcohol without Malcolm knowing, Malcolm is accused of being obsessed with celebrity (and later of colorism), Jim Brown is insecure about being an actor, and Sam Cooke wishes he wrote a Bob Dylan song.

24. Honey Boy (2019)

best

8.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Alma Har'el, Alma Har'el

Actors

Al Burke, Ben Maccabee, Byron Bowers, Clifton Collins Jr.

Moods

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

There is so much power to this story based actor Shia Laboeuf’s life. As a kid, he lived with his father on the road during the filming of Even Stevens and other star-making roles. His dad was a war veteran who goes to bikers’ AA meetings and who had a brief acting career himself.  He was full of anger that made Laboeuf later suffer from PTSD, but which he was able to perceive in a fascinating way. 

Putting Laboeuf’s fame aside, this is an incredible movie on emotionally abusive parent-child relationships. It’s a universal story. With Shia Laboeuf as his father and Lucas Hedges as current-day Laboeuf. 

 

23. Never Look Away (2018)

8.4

Country

Germany, Italy

Director

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Actors

Andreas Nickl, Anton Rubtsov, Bastian Trost, Ben Becker

Moods

Depressing, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

It’s impossible to describe this incredible movie as one thing or the other. It’s an epic three-hour saga that takes you through the Nazi era, the communist era, the rise of capitalism, and the East and West German divide. But more than its historic value, it’s a coming-of-age story, one that is based on the experiences of famed German artist Gerhard Richter. It’s also a romance, following his experiences finding love and being hit with loss (in no particular order). If you liked the director’s other work, the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others, you’re sure to love this too.

22. Eddie the Eagle (2016)

best

8.4

Country

Germany, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Dexter Fletcher

Actors

Ania Sowinski, Aria DeMaris, Christopher Walken, Daniel Ings

Moods

A-list actors, Feel-Good, Heart-warming

Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton) was a man with big glasses and even bigger dreams. As a physically disabled child-turned-oddly determined young adult, he tried his hands at all kinds of sports to earn himself a place in United Kingdom’s Team, only to be shunned and rejected more times than one can count. While his coming home a hero can easily be attributed to Great Britain’s lack of a ski jumper representative to the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, the world has Eddie’s perseverance and never-say-die attitude to thank. A story about conquering greater heights and just taking flight, Eddie the Eagle shows the world how winning doesn’t always mean taking home the crown.

21. The Other Dream Team (2012)

best

8.4

Country

Lithuania, United States of America

Director

Marius A. Markevicius, Marius Markevicius

Actors

Arvydas Sabonis, Bill Walton, Chris Mullin, David Remnick

Moods

Easy, Inspiring, True-story-based

Another fantastic documentary from 2012, this one tells the remarkable story of the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Men’s Basketball team that received scant attention in the shadow of the renowned U.S. “Dream Team” of NBA superstars (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, etc.). The Lithuanians’ story is all the more fascinating in that it comes immediately on the heels of their country’s freedom from Communist rule. With little hope of participating in the Barcelona games, they received the most unlikely last-minute assistance from the Grateful Dead, of all sources. A really great true-life story, told with an exuberance and a verve not often expected from non-fiction filmmaking. I challenge anyone watch this one and walk away uninspired.

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