Some genres we watch because we expect a certain amount of reality. Historical dramas, biopics, and crime films often draw heavily from real life events, but when we go see a horror, comedy or action film, we go to escape reality. Yet you’d be surprised how often these seemingly outlandish or unlikely films are inspired by actual events.
Spielberg didn’t choose Nazis for the baddies in the Indiana Jones just because they’re so easy to villainize. Hitler was indeed obsessed with finding ancient religious artifacts and spent a vast amount of time and resources attempting to track down relics like the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail. Inspiration for the Indiana Jones character has been accredited to several American archeologists of the period, but another frequently cited inspiration is explorer Roy Chapman Andrews. Often photographed wearing an Indy-esqu fedora, the globetrotting Andrews eventually became the director of the American Museum of Natural History.
Silence Of The Lambs
For the serial killer Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, writer Thomas Harris needed look no further than notorious killer Ed Gein for inspiration. The things authorities discovered in Gein’s home after arresting him were stranger than anything a sane person could come up with. They found furniture, silverware, and even clothing made of human skin and body parts. Like Buffalo Bill, he was stitching together a suit of woman’s skin, some psychiatrists thought this was so he could pretend to be his mother. Gein was also the inspiration for Norman Bates in Psycho and Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Catch Me If You Can
How many people can claim to have been a lawyer, a doctor, an airline pilot AND had Leonardo DiCaprio play them in a movie? Notorious forger and impostor Frank Abagnale was never actually a lawyer, doctor, or pilot, but Leo did play him in a 2002 film about his exploits called Catch Me If You Can. Abagnale assumed no less than eight different identities which he used to pull scams all over the world until he was caught in France. At the time of his arrest he was only 21, by 26 Abagnale was out of prison and working to prevent the kinds of crimes he’d become so good at. His escapades as documented in the film and book it was based on are so fanciful that many still doubt their legitimacy.
A Few Good Men
A Few Good Men began as a play written by a then unknown writer named Aaron Sorkin who got the idea from his sister. She was a lawyer working with the Navy and was going to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to defend a group of Marines who almost killed a fellow Marine in a hazing ordered by a superior officer. Yes, sadly “Code Red” is a real order. The marines were acquitted but the film omitted the fact that one of them was later murdered. Apparently Sorkin thought audiences just couldn’t handle the truth.
From gunslingers to nazis, the parallels between Star Wars and Western history have been well documented, but you should know that Lucas also took a number of ideas from Eastern history, particularly feudal Japan. Take the Jedi, noble warriors who were basically Samurai in space. Both chosen from birth and trained their entire lives to be thoughtful yet deadly peacekeepers, the Jedi and Samurai even dress in a similar manner. Despite being powerful, their purpose is to serve those in need of their services and respect peace and order. More overt references came in the form of the Jedi’s weapon of choice and Vader’s helmet, which resembles a Japanese Kabuto helmet. The Samurai were eventually replaced by a more westernized military, and the knights of old became the stuff of legends.
So there you have it. If nothing else, this list proves that the line between fact and fiction is easily blurred once you get a couple creative people telling the story.
What are some films you didn’t realize were based on true stories? Let us know in the comments below.