10 Best Movies on Netflix Based on True Stories

Updated January 2, 2022 • Staff

Movies based on true events spark true interest: knowing that the story actually happens changes the experience completely. Below we count down our best recommendations based on a true story which are available to stream on Netflix.

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10.

The African Doctor

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.

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Aissa Maiga, Bayron Lebli, Emilie Rouhart, Jonathan Lambert, Kamini Zantoko, Marc Zinga, Micheline Dieye, Narcisse Mame, Riton Liebman, Rufus, Stéphane Bissot, Stéphanie Crayencour, Tatiana Rojo, Vincent Lecuyer
Director: Julien Rambaldi
Go to Netflix
9.

Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

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.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History
Actor: Aaron Craven, Aleksandar Filimonović, Barry Shabaka Henley, Bob Odenkirk, Bubba Ganter, Chelsea Gilson, Cheryl Francis Harrington, Chris Rock, Craig Brewer, Craig Robinson, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Dale Gibson, Eddie Murphy, Garland Whitt, Gerald Downey, Ivo Nandi, Jernard Burks, Kazy Tauginas, Keegan-Michael Key, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Li Eubanks, Luenell, Mike Epps, Monique StaTeena, Phil Abrams, Ron Cephas Jones, Snoop Dogg, T.I., Tasha Smith, Tituss Burgess, Tommie Earl Jenkins, Toni Duclottni, Wesley Snipes
Director: Craig Brewer
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
8.

The Impossible (2012)

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.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Actor: Douglas Johansson, Ewan McGregor, Geraldine Chaplin, Gitte Witt, Harry Holland, J.A. Bayona, Johan Sundberg, John Albasiny, Jomjaoi Sae-Limh, Marta Etura, Naomi Watts, Oaklee Pendergast, Ploy Jindachote, Samuel Joslin, Sonke Mohring, Tom Holland
Director: J.A. Bayona
Rating: PG-13
Go to Netflix
7.

On My Skin (2018)

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.

Genre: Drama
Actor: Alessandro Borghi, Alessio De Persio, Dora Romano, Elodie Treccani, Federico Tocci, Gaetano Aronica, Italo Amerighi, Jasmine Trinca, Massimiliano Tortora, Mauro Conte, Max Tortora, Milvia Marigliano, Paolo D Bovani, Rodolfo Bigotti, Walter Nestola
Director: Alessio Cremonini
Rating: TV-MA
Go to Netflix
6.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

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.

Genre: Drama, Family, History
Actor: Aissa Maiga, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Felix Lemburo, Joseph Marcell, Lemogang Tsipa, Lily Banda, Maxwell Simba, Noma Dumezweni, Philbert Falakeza
Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Rating: TV-PG
Go to Netflix
5.

Official Secrets (2019)

Keira Knightley stars in this incredible true story of an Iraq War whistleblower who remains relatively little-known in the U.S. Katharine Gun was working for the communications office for the British government when she received a memo in the months leading to the war that showed that the U.S. requested illegal wiretapping assistance from the U.K. on U.N. diplomats. In a heroic act, she chooses to share this memo, hoping that it would stop her government (then led by Tony Blair) from going to war. Spoiler alert: didn't happen, but this decision, which first seemed like a personal sacrifice, has severe implications on her family as the government finds out that she was behind the leak. A compelling political mystery of a case that deserves much more attention than it once got.

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller
Actor: Adam Bakri, Andrew Marr, Angus Wright, Chris Larkin, Chris Reilly, Clive Francis, Conleth Hill, George W. Bush, Hanako Footman, Hattie Morahan, Indira Varma, Jack Farthing, Jeremy Northam, Jodie McNee, John Heffernan, Katherine Kelly, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Cranham, Lindy Whiteford, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Monica Dolan, MyAnna Buring, Peter Guinness, Raad Rawi, Ralph Fiennes, Raquel Cassidy, Ray Panthaki, Rhys Ifans, Shaun Dooley, Tamsin Greig, Tony Blair
Director: Gavin Hood
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
4.

The Disaster Artist (2017)

A hilarious and smart comedy that is almost impossible to hate. It doesn’t matter if you liked The Room or not; or if you’ve even heard of it, you will find The Disaster Artist extremely enjoyable. Same applies for James Franco, it’s irrelevant if you think he’s the hottest man walking or a complete waste of screen-time - this movie is better approached without any preconceived ideas. It follows the true events surrounding Tommy Wiseau’s making of The Room, a movie so bad it actually became a worldwide hit. Tommy’s character, played by Franco, is 100% mystery. He pops out of nowhere and does and says things that contain little to no logic. Capitalizing on this, the movie is both absolutely hilarious and intriguing from beginning to end.

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Adam Scott, Adwin Brown, Alison Brie, Amechi Okocha, Andrew Santino, Ari Graynor, Bob Odenkirk, Brett Gelman, Brian Huskey, Bryan Cranston, Casey Wilson, Charlyne Yi, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Danny McBride, Dave Franco, David DeCoteau, Dree Hemingway, Dylan Minnette, Eliza Coupe, Erin Cummings, Frederick Keeve, Greg Sestero, Hannibal Buress, Ike Barinholtz, J.J. Abrams, Jacki Weaver, James Franco, Jason Mantzoukas, Jason Mitchell, Jerrod Carmichael, Jessie Ennis, John Early, Josh Hutcherson, Judd Apatow, June Diane Raphael, Kara Gibson, Kate Upton, Keegan-Michael Key, Kether Donohue, Kevin Smith, Kristen Bell, Lauren Ash, Lizzy Caplan, Megan Ferguson, Megan Mullally, Melanie Griffith, Nathan Fielder, Paul Scheer, Peter Gilroy, Randall Park, Ricky Mabe, Seth Rogen, Sharon Stone, Slim Khezri, Sugar Lyn Beard, Tamzin Brown, Tom Franco, Tommy Wiseau, Xosha Roquemore, Zac Efron, Zach Braff, Zoey Deutch
Director: James Franco
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
3.

Philomena (2013)

An inspired by true events tale about an elderly Irish woman trying to find the child she was forced to give up many years earlier. Steve Coogan co-wrote the script and, though the base story is a tragic one, his special brand of very subtle, wry wit is apparent in the dialogue throughout. Judi Dench plays the mother who had kept her “sinful” past a secret for fifty years and, being Judi Dench, I don’t need to bother going on about her exemplary talent, suffice to say she’s charming beyond measure in the role. Steven Frears directs, as usual, deftly, and keeps the story compelling scene after scene, intensifying the emotions inherent to each, whether they be heart-warming, comedic, or outright enraging. Whoever decided to let Steve Coogan have his way with the script, it was a brave and wise choice and together this cast and crew have produced a wonderful and important piece of cinema.

Genre: Drama
Actor: Anna Maxwell Martin, Barbara Jefford, Cathy Belton, Charles Edwards, Charlie Murphy, Elliot Levey, Frankie McCafferty, Judi Dench, Kate Fleetwood, Mare Winningham, Michelle Fairley, Nicholas Jones, Peter Hermann, Ruth McCabe, Sara Stewart, Sean Mahon, Simone Lahbib, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Steve Coogan, Wunmi Mosaku
Director: Stephen Frears
Rating: PG-13
Go to Netflix
2.

Frost/Nixon (2008)

A relevant and deeply entertaining movie that only has the appearance of being about politics. In reality, it is about television, and one brilliant journalist’s pursuit of the perfect interview.  Richard Nixon stepped away from the public eye after the Watergate scandal, and was counting on a series of interviews three years later to redeem himself. His team assigns an unlikely reporter to sit in front of him, a British reality TV host named David Frost. Both men have everything to gain from this interview by going against each other, as Frost tries to extract a confession of wrongdoing in Watergate that Nixon never gave.  Who will win? The master manipulator or the up-and-coming journalist? Frost / Nixon was originally a play, and this adaptation is full of drama and boosts great dialogue.

Genre: Drama, History
Actor: Andy Milder, Clint Howard, Eloy Casados, Frank Langella, Gabriel Jarret, Gavin Grazer, Geoffrey Blake, Jenn Gotzon Chandler, Jim Meskimen, Kate Jennings Grant, Keith MacKechnie, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, Max Elliott Slade, Michael Sheen, Oliver Platt, Patty McCormack, Rance Howard, Rebecca Hall, Sam Rockwell, Toby Jones
Director: Ron Howard
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
1.

Operation Odessa (2018)

The movie opens with a guy called Tarzan, saying in a Russian accent: “I called my friend Michel, and I said can I buy a submarine, a used one?” Apparently, two days later he called him back asking: “With, or without missiles?” This should give you a decent idea of how the protagonists of this Tiller-Russell-directed documentary roll. Operation Odessa is the crazy true story of how the FBI, Pablo Escobar, and the Russian Mafia were played by three criminal outsiders in a $35 million submarine deal. Strictly speaking, it belongs in the true crime documentary genre, but it can also be treated as a real-life black comedy. The protagonists are so audacious, it is hard to believe that most of this story is true. The submarine deal story is only the tip of the iceberg here. Crazy, funny, and just really well done!

Genre: Documentary
Actor: Juan Almeida, Ludwig Fainberg, Nelson Tony Yester, Richard Gregorie
Director: Tiller Russell
Rating: TV-MA
Go to Netflix

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