It’s no secret that Hollywood often takes liberties when it comes to “true stories.” In order to make their fact-based source material seem more interesting to a movie-going audience, filmmakers tend to embellish certain details or omit others, bringing into question just how “true” the story actually is. For that matter, how objective is any “true story” when it’s told through the subjective lens of a filmmaker? To take that line of thought one step further, can anything be said to be truly true, in the purest form? What is reality, man? Aren’t we all just living our lives through our own solipsistic points of view? How do I know that other people are real? Maybe it’s all just a product of my imagination. Whoa.
That’s enough philosophizing for now. Here’s the list of 10 true story movies that weren’t true at all. Some of them are mostly factual and merely neglect to mention a few important details, while others are riddled with errors. And some of the films on this list claim to be based on true stories when in fact they are works of fiction.
(WARNING: THIS LIST CONTAINS SPOILERS!)
10. The Revenant
The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio in what many project will be his first Oscar-winning role, is based on Michael Punke’s novel “The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge”, which is itself based on the true story of famous American frontiersman Hugh Glass. As Aaron Gell noted in an article for Maxim, the ending of the film differs greatly from what happened in real life. (SPOILER ALERT): In the film, Hugh Glass has a bloody fight with his enemy, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), ultimately leading to Fitzgerald’s death. In real life, however, Glass was unable to exact his revenge on Fitzgerald. As Gell points out, Fitzgerald enlisted in the army, and he and Glass would never meet again. Regardless of whether or not it sticks to its factual source, The Revenant is still one of the best films of the year.
9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre gave us one of the most terrifying characters in cinema history: Leatherface. Wielding a chainsaw and wearing a mask made out of the skin of his victims, Leatherface terrorizes a group of friends who just happen to stumble upon the cannibal’s house. The film was a surprise box office success, earning over $30 million on a small budget, and a big reason for its success was the fact that it was marketed as a true story. It turned out, however, that director Tobe Hooper claimed it was a true story in order to entice more people into seeing it.
The Coen Brothers’ classic film Fargo tells the story of a car salesman’s failed attempt to have his wife kidnapped in order to collect ransom money. The following disclaimer appears on screen during the film’s intro: “THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” But it turns out that it’s not a true story after all. Not really, at least. Joel Coen recently revealed that the film’s plot is entirely made up.
7. A Beautiful Mind
For the most part, Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe, is a true story. It’s about Nobel Laureate and famous mathematician John Nash and his struggle with paranoid schizophrenia. The inaccuracy lies in the film’s depiction of Nash’s condition. Whereas Nash merely heard voices in his head, in the film, he not only hears voices but he also forms strong relationships with non-existent people. The filmmakers admitted that they took certain liberties with Nash’s story in order to visually depict his mental illness.
Filled with graphic torture scenes, Hostel has to be one of the toughest movies to watch. It’s about college students travelling across Europe who are kidnapped and tortured. Making it all the more terrifying is the fact that it’s “inspired by true events,” or so the movie poster claims. In reality, it’s mostly hearsay. Filmmaker Eli Roth said he was inspired to make the film after reading online about places in Thailand that allow people to pay to kill other people. So it could be real, or it could just be based on urban legends floating around the Internet.
5. Straight Outta Compton
As you probably already know, Straight Outta Compton, which received rave reviews from fans and critics alike, is based on the real life story of the Compton rap group N.W.A. While the film doesn’t exactly lie, it does omit some important details. For example, it neglects to acknowledge Dr. Dre’s history of domestic abuse. Michel’le, former girlfriend and mother of one of Dr. Dre’s children, and Tairri B., former labelmate of Dre’s, both claim that the rap mogul physically assaulted them. Michel’le said of her omission from the film: “Why would Dre put me in it? I mean ’cause if they start from where they start from I was just a quiet girlfriend who got beat up and told to shut up.”
4. The Amityville Horror
Part of what made The Amityville Horror so popular with audiences was the fact that it was (supposedly) based on a true story. Jay Anson, author of the book upon which the film was based, claimed that the story was based on the true paranormal experiences of the Lutz family. Their claim was that they were haunted by the ghost of Ronald DeFeo Jr., who murdered six members of his family. Since the book’s publication, however, many have called into question the validity of the “true story” claim. It’s more plausible that the Amityville Horror is simply American folklore.
Directed by and starring Mel Gibson, Braveheart tells the story of William Wallace, a legendary 13th century Scottish knight who led the Scots against the English in the Wars of Scottish Independence. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and took home the prize for Best Picture, even though it’s rife with factual errors, both big and small. For starters, the film depicts Wallace as having been born into poverty, when many historians believe he actually came from Scottish aristocracy. Also, at the time the film takes place, the Scots wouldn’t have worn the blue war paint shown in the film. Smaller errors range from rubber weapons to crew members and vans showing up on screen.
Of course there really was a ship called the Titanic, and it did indeed hit an iceberg and sink, but the rest of the movie is pure Hollywood fiction. There was never a Jack Dawson or a Rose DeWitt Bukater; they are simply the creations of filmmaker James Cameron, used to give the film its narrative thrust. That’s not to say that Titanic is without its historically factually details. For example, the ship captain, Captain Edward John Smith, and some of the other key figures, were based on real people.
1. The Pursuit of Happyness
The Pursuit of Happyness tells the uplifting story of Chris Gardner, a struggling salesman who is saddled with the responsibility of having to raise his son on his own in the midst of poverty. The film was a box office success and earned Will Smith an Academy Award nomination, but many questioned the accuracy of its depiction of the real Chris Gardner. While the superficial story is mostly true, many of the details were altered or omitted altogether. For example, in the film, Gardner’s wife is depicted as a harsh and verbally abusive woman who ultimately leaves her husband because of their poor financial situation. In real life, Gardner cheated on his wife after she had a miscarriage.