As long as there has been art, it’s been part of the conversation regarding current events, politics, and tragedies. Whether these were Grecian performers in an amphitheater making tributes to Gods in efforts to celebrate holidays of the times or Golden Globe-winning actors taking a jab at the shortcomings of current politicians, it’s always been the goal of art to put a mirror to society — to shed light and clarity on what’s going on so that more people can join the conversation. Perhaps now, even more than ever, actors have done an amazing job of bringing true stories to life in a way that seems to make more sense than it did in reality.
Maybe it’s just that working in retrospect always has the advantage of 20/20 clarity, that looking back on the events that transpired allows for a simpler view of the timeline of events and the arc of real-life characters. Perhaps there are just more resources to draw from after the event occurs than during its course. For whatever reason, producers have recently done an amazing job of taking scandals that have just finished running their course in the news media and turning them into award-winning movies.
Watching these movies is great and all, but they should truly just be inspiring and encouraging you to go back and research the events they are based on because, in all reality, these events were much more dramatic and scandalous than any scriptwriter could have hoped for. Here are fifteen movies whose real-life scandals were even more shocking:
Goodfellas has to be one of the best and most iconic mobster movies of all time. Forget The Godfather; forget The Sopranos! Goodfellas was the most interesting and addictive movie — mostly because the narrating protagonist was, and is, a real person.
The story is all about how Henry Hill got involved in the mob game — and how it almost did him in. Henry was in deep with the Italian-American mob in New York City and worked his way up to being tight with the leaders of the mob. He did plenty of jail time, but it barely mattered given the way the mob ruled everything at the time. (Hell, it was almost a luxury retreat). It was only when the mob started collapsing on itself and ordering hits on higher-ups that Henry booked it out of town and ratted on his longtime friend, turned foe, Jimmy Conway, that he got out of the game and went into witness protection. The real details of the story are that Henry never entirely left the mob business, dealing in small drug deals even while in the protection program. He died in 2012, and, according to his girlfriend, “He went out pretty peacefully, for a goodfella.”
14. The Wolf of Wall Street
This must be one of Leonardo DiCaprio‘s most famous recent films. Maybe it was because we got to see Leo inhabit a role we rarely see him in, as the rich, lavish, playboy; maybe it’s because we got intimately familiar with Margot Robbie for the first time; or maybe it was because we all knew, going into the theatre, that everything in this movie was based on true events.
The true story was based on the financial enterprises of Jordan Belfort and his company, Stratton Oakmont, which ran a pump-and-dump investment scheme to make big money fast. The young millionaire had the world at his fingertips, and he did some insane stuff in real life, including drive a Mercedes while on Quaaludes, host midget-tossing parties, sink a yacht in Italy, crash a helicopter in his front yard while high, and charge prostitutes to the company and write them off in his taxes. He even got his prison sentence reduced by ratting out his friends and employees. This guy was even worse in real life than he was in the movie!
Everyone knows about the Zodiac killer just like everyone knows about the Black Dahlia and Ted Bundy. The Zodiac killer was around in the late 1960s and early 70s. Though the identity of the killer was never discovered (and an investigation is still underway), at least five people died at the killer’s hands. However, in taunting letters sent to the San Fransisco Bay Area press, the killer said 37 had been victimized. This is all horrifying enough to have many movies made after it.
But why speculate about who the Zodiac killer is when you have an equally interesting story before you: the story of the journalists who were obsessed with discovering this killer’s true identity? It’s fascinating watching the killer draw the interest of so many people, perhaps just indicating how sociopathic the killer was. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo, this movie was a wonderful inside look at just how poisonous this killer’s activities truly were.
12. Hotel Rwanda
Perhaps, one would not characterize the story behind Hotel Rwanda as a “scandal.” No… it was actually a massacre, a tragedy, a genocide. The movie, starring Don Cheadle in one of his most moving roles to date, is about a Rwandan hotel manager turned humanitarian at the time when Hutu militias began massacring Tutsi civilians due to political assassinations and power struggles. Paul Rusesabagina harbored over a thousand Hutu and Tutsi refugees hiding from the murderous massacre that ended nearly a million lives in horrifyingly torturous and painful methods. Though dramatic details are added to the movie, little more than the truth was needed to supply writers with a dramatic, horrifying, and traumatic scene. While the movie ends on an uplifting note, the true story goes on to this day in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zaire, which are all facing the consequences of the horrors committed across two Congo wars.
11. All the President’s Men
Here’s a movie we’re almost positive you haven’t seen, though it’s a damn shame. Starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, this movie was all about the infamous Watergate Scandal. Made back in 1976, wounds were still fresh from Nixon’s resignation and the unveiling of how power corrupts, even in our wonderful United States government. Citizens of today seem to almost expect corruption in politics to a dangerous degree, but back in the day, this behavior was beyond despicable and was straight up abhorrent. What was special about this movie is that it didn’t focus on the scandal itself but how the scandal was uncovered by Washington Post journalists. It brings into perspective how anyone can be the hero that unveils a monster despite how stubbornly the monster hides its malevolent activities. Maybe, if more people watched movies like this (instead of shows like House of Cards that make corruption seem commonplace), efficacy in stomping out dirty politics would improve!
10. Erin Brockovich
Most people know this movie as the movie where Julia Roberts dresses kind of cheap and plays some ‘everyday’ woman who’s trying to improve her community. Well, yeah, that’s kind of true — but this movie is so much more than that. Erin Brockovich is the real-life story of a legal assistant who, almost singlehandedly, takes down a local power company in California that has allegedly poisoned the water supply. Doesn’t sound like a terrible feat, does it? Well, imagine if there were an Erin Brockovich that could have helped Flint, Michigan before things got out of hand; that sure would have been nice. What’s great is that the real-life Erin Brockovich is so much cooler than her movie alter-ego. She’s a single mom and leads a daily battle to end environmental contamination and to get communities involved in their own betterment. We need more people like Erin Brockovich in the world.
9. The Insider
It’s no surprise that Russell Crowe is an amazing actor. He’s been in some spectacular movies based on true events, from A Beautiful Mind, which documented the life and struggles of the brilliant John Nash, to American Gangster, which showed the takedown of one of the biggest heroin dealers in New York in the 1970s. However, one of his best reality-based movies is also one of his most commonly overlooked: The Insider. Russell plays Jeffrey Wigand, a chemist working in Big Tobacco that goes rogue and tells 60 Minutes about the shocking increase of addictive nicotine in his company in attempts to hook more customers via biological addiction. Russell was nominated for Best Leading Actor in the role, even though the movie wasn’t a whopping box-office success. The movie was wonderful because it brought even more awareness to not only the dangers of smoking, but also the devious and selfish nature of the Big Tobacco industry that thrives on their customers’ unhealthy habit.
We’re sure that you at least saw some advertisements for this movie back when it came out, but you may not have made the effort to go and see it. Well, you certainly should — even if it’s just through Amazon or Netflix. No, this movie has nothing to do with the dairy industry; it reviews the history, trials, and movements of the great Californian activist, Harvey Milk. Harvey was an openly gay man back in the 1970s who made a stand for gay rights, obviously a very sensitive topic at the time (as it remains in many states today). The movie is great for so many reasons but was criticized by the same opponents of Harvey himself: people who want to squelch the rights and freedoms of gay men. Sean Penn earned a Golden Globe for his performance in the iconic role that so few people know about despite Harvey’s role as one of the most progressive and effective politicians California has ever known.
When Steven Spielberg makes a movie, you can bet that it’s likely to do well — he is Steven Spielberg, after all. So it must tell audience members a lot that this is one of Spielberg’s lowest grossing movies of all time. People assume the movie was a flop and walk away.
However, Munich was greeted with significant critical acclaim and five Academy Awards nominations. The story reviews Operation Wrath of God: a secret retaliation by the Israeli government against the Palestine Liberation Organization after the horrifying events of Black September, wherein eleven Israeli Olympic athletes were kidnapped and murdered. Mind you, this was all based on true events recounted by one of the operatives of the mission himself. Who wouldn’t want to see this movie? Starring Daniel Craig, Eric Bana, and Geoffrey Rush, this movie was star-studded and packed with loads of action, drama, and excitement that were all based on terrifying true events.
6. Catch Me If You Can
Another Leonardo DiCaprio movie?! You’ll find that Leo has a penchant for doing movies based on reality. Whether they simply pique his interest, aid him in the process of researching his characters, or simply appeal to his nerdy history-buff side, he seems to gravitate toward historically based screenplays. As a matter of fact, he’ll be starring in the thriller The Devil in the White City when it finally enters production, which is about one of the greatest serial killers of all time. But anyways, back on topic…
Catch Me If You Can is based on the life and travels of a brilliant young man, Frank Abagnale. He was a smart smooth-talker who was able to get away with almost anything, from forging checks with everyday materials to posing as an airline pilot. He was caught after six years of being on the run and sent to prison, but what this story doesn’t discuss in thorough detail is that Frank is out of prison now — and he’s an American Security Consultant who helps the government catch criminals who think like he did!
5. The Big Short
This recent movie wasn’t very upfront about being based on true events, but it certainly was. The book was written by Michael Lewis, who also wrote the book behind Moneyball — clearly, he’s a man who understands finance and logistics. The Big Short was all about the housing bubble that took place in the United States in the late 2000s, and the few men that were able to predict it would happen and proceeded to benefit off of it. It’s a complicated story, but lead actors Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt do a pretty good job of walking us (who are not so well-versed when it comes to talking about the fine print and long numbers of such crises) through it. It’s also a really important story to watch and learn from as we proceed through our volatile financial market today that threatens to burst once again — never hurts to get tips on investing!
4. The Wizard of Lies
Alright, we cheated a little bit! This movie actually hasn’t come out yet — it’s set to release this month on HBO. It seems like no one is talking about the movie, but honestly, we cannot wait for it to release! It’s all about one of the most effective and cunning schemers of today’s investment world: Bernie Madoff. Bernie was an investment adviser that robbed his clients of billions of dollars, all through the use of an elaborate Ponzi scheme. Not sure what we’re talking about? Check out the movie. It’s going to explain everything in clear details so that no one else can get schemed again the way Bernie abused his clients. What we fear the movie won’t touch on is all the hurt that came in the wake of Bernie getting caught. One of his sons hanged himself after his father was incarcerated and the family was to come under investigation; another was investigated and claimed to have never known about his father’s crimes despite working under him; his wife also renounced him publicly. The movie, starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, is bound to be amazing.
We can’t quite figure out why, but Angelina Jolie has not gotten nearly enough credit for her historical endeavors in her career. She directed the movie Unbroken about an Olympian who became a prisoner of war during World War Two; she produced and directed First They Killed My Father: a Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, which is pretty self-explanatory in its title; and she starred in the amazing true story of Changeling, the story of a mother whose son was kidnapped, and lazy authorities refused to investigate on. It sounds like a troubling story, but it goes far beyond that. Not only do authorities refuse to help her; they also send her an orphan boy who looks vaguely like her son to shut her up. They also send her to a mental institution for inciting a scene, and they take her to court for defamation! What’s most tragic is that she was right all along — her son was indeed kidnapped. Though it was never proven (as in, the body was never found), it’s believed that her son was a victim in the Wineville Chicken Murders where at least three boys were locked in a chicken coop and one by one hacked to death. The real-life woman, Christine Collins, even met with the killer herself before he was hanged to determine if her son had indeed been killed.
Everyone believed that Spotlight was going to be the biggest movie of 2015. It certainly could have been with a cast including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Rachel McAdams, but it somehow fell short to other highly dramatic films like The Martian, The Revenant, and Straight Outta Compton. Not only did this movie have all the drama to bring in a lot of audience members, but it also had a stellar real-life story to work with: the Boston Globe newspaper uncovering the child molestation scandal that was intricately covered up by the Catholic Archdiocese. We’ve all heard something about this scandal even if it’s just lewd jokes about the sexual preferences of Catholic Fathers. But how this movie handled real-life interviews with adults who grew up molested by religious figures, the Globe’s delicate research process, and the church’s desire to keep secrets locked away was beyond interesting.
1. Apollo 13
Of course, one of the greatest actors of our modern times, Tom Hanks, would find himself somewhere on this list. Everyone loves Tom Hanks (and anyone that says they don’t is lying) because he’s an amazing actor who is passionate about all of his stories. Some of his best performances based on historical events are Bridge of Spies, Saving Private Ryan, and Sully; however, his most iconic must be Apollo 13, the retelling of how four astronauts were stranded in orbit in 1970 when an oxygen tank exploded and severely damaged their service module. The astronauts had a tight time frame to work with to figure out how to return to Earth with limited supplies and relatively primitive space travel technology. What’s spectacular is that they were ever able to return home at all! While far-fetched stories like The Martian make space travel seem so manageable and easy, Apollo 13 reminds us just how dangerous things can be when we venture beyond our planet.