As people, we love going to the movies. We also love seeing a story play out on the silver screen that has a basis in real life. It’s part of the reason why biopics do so well. Over the last few years, movies based on true stories have been growing in popularity and being made with more regularity, regardless of genre. The phrase “based on a true story” is very quickly becoming the new “once upon a time.” The numbers prove it too. During the 20th century, only 211 movies were made that were based on a real story. Since 2000, over 220 have been made. That makes it so more true story movies were made during the last two decades than the entire 20th century, which is really saying something. However, many movies that have the phrase “based on a true story” tacked onto it are often not nearly as true as they purport to be.
While some movies say “based on a true story,” they’re not really based on true stories and just say that to make a story seem more dramatic. However, there are other movies that seem almost outlandish in their depiction of events but are actually entirely true. Some movies never actually said that they were based on true events, but took their inspiration from true events rather than accurately depicted them. There are even movies that said they portrayed events truthfully, only to be debunked by the people who were actually involved in those events. Here are fifteen movies that have come out over the last few years that have been based on true events, what’s actually true about those movies, and what was made up for dramatic effect.
15. The Conjuring 2 – The Enfield Poltergeist
The Conjuring 2 is based on one of the most famous cases of the supernatural in history. The Enfield Poltergeist story begins in 1977, when a woman named Peggy Hodgson, a single mother of four children, heard weird noises coming from her daughter’s room. She went in to tell her kids to settle down only to find her daughters Margaret (12) and Janet (11) huddled in the corner, terrified. “We [told our mom] the chest of drawers was moving toward the bedroom door,” Janet recalled while speaking on iTV in 2012. “She said ‘Oh don’t be silly.’”
However, Peggy soon saw it for herself, but the police refused to get involved. The family was haunted for something like 18 months! “We didn’t understand what was happening,” Margaret told PEOPLE at The Conjuring 2 premiere in Los Angeles. “We went through periods where we just couldn’t believe what happened really. It’s frightening. We didn’t like to be on your own in the house or anything.”
14. All Eyez On Me – What Really Happened With Jada
All Eyez On Me caught a lot of flack for the way they portrayed Jada Pinkett Smith from the woman herself. She unleashed a series of tweets that got into what the movie got wrong. “Forgive me … my relationship to Pac is too precious to me for the scenes in All Eyez On Me to stand as truth,” Pinkett-Smith wrote. “The re-imagining of my relationship to Pac has been deeply hurtful.” She then went on to explain that her criticism had nothing to do with the actors portraying her and Tupac, but that the scenes portrayed in the film never happened. “Pac never read me that poem. I didn’t know that poem existed until it was printed in his book. Pac never said goodbye to me before leaving for LA. He had to leave abruptly and it wasn’t to pursue his career,” Pinkett-Smith tweeted. “I’ve never been to any of Pac’s shows by his request. We never had an argument backstage.”
13. Fargo – “THIS IS A TRUE STORY”
The accuracy of the movie Fargo has been hotly debated since the movie came out. It begins with this iconic text: “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.” The Coen Brothers finally put the debate to rest when they decided to talk about what’s actually true in the movie and what isn’t.
“There are actually two little elements in the story that were based on actual incidents,” Joel Coen told HuffPost. “One of them is the fact that there was a guy, I believe in the ‘60s or ‘70s, who was gumming up serial numbers for cars and defrauding the General Motors Finance Corporation. There was no kidnapping. There was no murder. It was a guy defrauding the GM Finance Corporation at some point.” The infamous wood chipper scene was also based on the “wood chipper murder of Helle Crafts.” By the way, if you haven’t seen this movie, you totally should.
12. Argo – The Chase Scene
Argo tells the story of CIA agent Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, and how he snuck six American diplomats who were hiding with Canadians out of Iran, culminating in a huge chase scene. However, that didn’t happen the way the movie said it did. For one, there was another person involved in the rescue: Tony’s partner, who didn’t get one mention in the movie. For another, there was no chase.
It was very tense getting all six diplomats through Immigration in Tehran, but apart from a mechanical issue with the plane, the whole thing went off without a hitch. “And as we went up the ramp to the aircraft, Bob Anders nudged me and said, ‘You guys think of everything,'” Mendez says. “He pointed at the nose of the Swiss aircraft, and there, lettered across the nose, was the word Aargau — close enough to the good ship Argo. And we always look for the omen in these operations. There’s some sign that tells you this is going to work. And that was the omen.”
11. Selma – Everything Happened The Way The Movie Said
Few movies get as much right as Selma does. It tells the story of Martin Luther King walking with protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. King’s scenes with then President Lyndon B. Johnson went down exactly the way King wrote them, and Bloody Sunday (March 7th, 1965) happened the way the movie said it did. “The whole nation was sickened by the pictures of that wild melee,” wrote King’s widow Coretta Scott King. “Tear gas, clubs, horsemen slashing with bullwhips like the Russian czar’s infamous Cossacks, and deputies, using electric cattle prods, chasing fleeing men, women, and children all the way back to Brown’s Chapel.” The movie, in large part thanks to the research done and the respect to real life events, is a fantastic one, and it does a great job portraying everyone as balanced as human.
10. The Big Short – Actually Pretty Accurate
The Big Short, weirdly enough, was pretty accurate. It tells the story of bankers trying to withstand the economic collapse of 2007-2009. It begins in the 1970s when mortgage securities were invented, and it all goes downhill from there. The movie kind of starts off the way The Wolf of Wall Street does, and that part’s annoying, but the story itself was mostly true. The book was a bestseller when it came out in 2012, and it was written by the same guy who wrote Moneyball! The movie even goes out of its way to point out the things that aren’t quite accurate in a funny way, which is pretty cool. While this wouldn’t work in every movie (if Braveheart did this we’d all have died in the movie theater), it works very well in this one.
9. The Wolf Of Wall Street – Many Events Were Exaggerated
The Wolf of Wall Street tells the story of Jordan Belfort, who was the mastermind of what’s called a “pump and dump” scam. Basically, the executives would buy up a ton of stock from a given company, then sell that stock to unsuspecting investors. The stock would rise, giving Belfort and his associates a ton of profit, but eventually, the stock would even out, leaving him with all the profit and the investors with nothing. According to Danny Porush, the man Donnie Azoff is based on, the memoir the movie is based on is very far from what actually happened, and the movie takes even more liberties. He went on to say that while there was one party where they hired little people, none of them were abused.
8. Bridge Of Spies – No One Actually Bothered Donovan
In Bridge of Spies, Tom Hanks plays James Donovan, an attorney who defended a Russian operative during the Cold War. The movie is right about Donovan being hesitant to defend operative Rudolf Abel and the decision ultimately going to the Brooklyn Bar Association. However, when the decision was made that Donovan would represent him, no one really bothered him about it, at least not in the way the movie claims. No one shot out his windows, but he and his family got mean phone calls and letters and he needed his number changed. His wife and kids had to deal with problems with friends and classmates as well. “My father says your father defends Communists,” an eight-year-old schoolmate told his daughter Mary Ellen. As for his wife, Mary, her friends thought her husband had totally lost his mind.
7. The Imitation Game – Turing Is Portrayed All Wrong
The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing, played by Dr. Strange and Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch. Turing was a gay code-breaker and mathematician living in World War II that was looking for a better way to crack German codes. Unfortunately, while the movie is pretty great, it doesn’t really tell the story of who Turing really was. Slate writer Dana Stevens said as much in her review, saying “The Imitation Game doesn’t do right by the complex and often unlovable man it purports to be about.” The movie made Turing much more mean than he actually was. They got his early accomplishments right, but they left out that Turing was even more openly gay than the movie states and would hit on guys in public all the time, mostly without success. The movie also makes him very socially awkward and narcissistic while the man himself was “a very easily approachable man,” according to one of his colleagues, who went to say that “we were very very fond of him.”
6. American Sniper – The Film Downplayed A Lot Of What Kyle Did
American Sniper went out of its way to downplay the real Chris Kyle’s feats in the battlefield, weirdly enough. The real Kyle signed up for the military at 24, not 30 like the movie says, and had nearly 100 more confirmed kills than the 160 the movie says, smashing the previous American record of 109, which was set by Army Staff Sgt. Adelbert F. Waldron III. However, “The Butcher” wasn’t a real person and he never actually shot enemy sniper Mustafa.
Kyle never shoots a young boy and his mother, either. He did scope a child once, but he didn’t fire on him. “I had a clear view in my scope,” writes Kyle, “but I didn’t fire. I wasn’t going to kill a kid, innocent or not. I’d have to wait until the savage who put him up to it showed himself on the street.” His first kill in Iraq was a woman with a small child who set up a Chinese grenade on her own, not a Russian RKG like in the movie. It was “the only time I killed anyone other than a male combatant,” writes Kyle.
5. The Blind Side – “People Have Got To Do Things To Sell It”
The Blind Side was, according to real life Michael Oher, a pretty good movie. “Some things are the truth, some things are not. People have got to do things to sell it. But everything is good, though,” he told the Baltimore Sun in 2009. He wasn’t silent in the face of racist fans like he was in the movie, but he really did pick up an opponent and carry him off by his pads. He even got the same “excessive blocking” penalty that he gets in the movie.
His school wasn’t called Wingate, it was called Briarcrest: the name was changed out of concern for the over-the-top things in the script. On top of that, Oher hadn’t been let into the school right away like the movie says because of his spotty academic records. Before that, he’d gone to school so little that his GPA was .06. “It was easy for me to say, ya know, ‘I’m going to hang out with these guys and do drugs and not go to school,'” Michael told 20/20, “but I decided I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to be something in life.”
4. A Beautiful Mind – What Laboratory?
A Beautiful Mind tells the story of John Nash, played by Russell Crowe, and how he won the 1994 Nobel Prize for mathematics while struggling with schizophrenia. It’s a great movie, but in the quest to make a good movie, the truth got lost. He didn’t give that speech about love when he wins the prize at the end, instead choosing to speak very briefly at a seminar. He comments more about his mental illness in his autobiography, but he didn’t wax poetic about love. He also had an illegitimate son and a really dark relationship with his wife, Alicia. According to Sylvia Nasar, the woman who wrote Nash’s biography: “wished to show everyone that he was the master of this gorgeous young woman and that she was his slave.”
3. The Walk – Not Man On Wire
The Walk tells the same story that the documentary Man On Wire does: of how Philippe Petit walked on a wire between the Twin Towers thanks to an idea that popped into his head at the dentist. That all went down the same way the movie portrays it, right down to covering up the paper ripping with a fake sneeze, except that it happened six years before he actually did it. He also took the wind into consideration while he was training and snuck into the building with a disguise. His girlfriend, Annie Allix, was supportive like she is in the movie, but she’s much more realistic about it. She recalled being terrified when the time to walk came.”It was inhuman to want to go and walk up there, 450 meters high,” she said. “This was all becoming demonic. I just want to say: ‘Stop!'”
2. Spotlight – The Admission
Spotlight handles the events of its story relatively well, but they did change a few things. For example, the movie says that a priest actually admitted what was going on to reporter Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams) while she was standing at his door. It turns out that she didn’t get that confession in real life, but a reporter named Steve Kurkjian, played by actor Gene Amoroso, while they were in the priest’s living room.
The Rev. Ronald H. Paquin outright told him that he’d been molesting kids until 1989, the year before he was removed from his position by the Archdiocese of Boston. “Sure, I fooled around. But I never raped anyone and I never felt gratified myself,” Paquin told Kurkjian. He was himself raped by a priest as a teenager, on top of that. Pfeiffer wrote the story based on his interview notes. Small things like that aside, the movie got a lot right, like the look of the actors and the sheer power of the Catholic Church in Boston.
1. Rudy – Uplifting, But Not Quite Accurate
Rudy is all about Notre Dame hero Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, played by Sean Astin, and his journey to becoming a football legend. Unfortunately, that legendary play at the end didn’t go down that way, according to Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. “It’s a movie, remember,” the football pro told Dan Patrick’s radio program. “Not all of that is true.”
He was a freshman and an unknown when Rudy made the play, and everything was exaggerated for emotion. “No one threw in their jerseys,” Montana said. “Back then they tried to play someone at the end of [the season] that all the seniors could get in the last home game. The schedule was kind of set that way.” The sack happened at the last few seconds like the movie said, but that’s about it. “I won’t say it was a joke,” Montana said of the actual moment, “but it was playing around. He worked his butt off to get where he was and do the things he did. But not any harder than anyone else.”
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