Top 15 Movies Based on a True Story (Even Though You’d Never Guess)

It sometimes seems like every other movie to hit the big screen proclaims it is “based on a true story”—and often they are. There many movies that is based on a true story. But just as often, filmmakers use the “true story” line as a sort of marketing ploy. Still, inspiration comes from some strange places, and there are many movies that actually are based on a living person, or real events—despite that famous fictional disclaimer that any such resemblance is purely coincidental.

Here are the top movies based on a true story

15.) The King’s Speech

the king’s speech


This film won Best Picture because of Colin Firth’s complex portrayal of King George VI. During wartime, King George VI was unexpectedly given the throne because of his brother’s mistakes.

King George is forced to face and find a solution to his life-long stutter with the help of a speech therapist.

14.) Catch Me If You Can

catch me if you can


Frank Abagnale, Jr. is a 17-year-old who is a skilled con man. At the time, he becomes the most successful fraud man in the United States.

Carl Hanratty, an FBI Agent, tries to pursue him, but Abagnale constantly outwits him.

13.) Apocalypse Now

apocalypse now


This classic movie is loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), which is based on events that occurred to the author. In the revived version of this story, it’s set during the Vietnam War where Captain Willard is sent on a dangerous mission to Cambodia to assassinate a traitor.

The traitor set himself as a God among a local tribe. Everyone assumes he is insane.

12.) American Hustle

american hustle

Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures

Inspired by the 1970s FBI ABSCAM investigation, this movie tells a story of two con men on a sting operation in New Jersey.

With lots of double-crossing, the hustle of crime might crash down at any second.

11.) The Wolf of Wall Street

the wolf of wall street

James Devaney/WireImage/Getty Images

Based on the memoir of fraudulent stockbroker Jordan Belfort, this wild film makes frime look exciting and fun.

It follows a young broker who has a lifestyle filled with sex, drugs, and crime.

10.) The Big Sick

the big sick

Amazon Studios

In Hollywood, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon are known for being the funny power couple. The Big Sick tells us, they almost didn’t end up together.

Najiani and Gordon co-wrote this movie about the traumatic medical emergency that brought them together again.

9.) Erin Brockovich

erin brockovich


This film represents the life of a small-town lawyer and a mom of three young kids. Brockovich, without the correct educational background, is hired as a lawyer and accidentally finds a case of water poisoning.

This lead to many cancerous diseases in her town and she fights for her town against a large business.

8.) A Beautiful Mind



This film tells a story of mathematical prodigy John Forbes Nash Jr. It shows us that there is a fine line between madness and smart.

Nash suffers from schizophrenia, which impacts his personal life and job.

7.) The Imitation Game


Jack English/ The Weinstein Company

Benedict Cumberbatch plays a computer scientist named Alan Turing who tries to crack the Enigma code that the Nazis used for their radio messages during World War II.

While working with his team, it’s obvious he considers his colleagues inferior to him. Turing needs to overcome mathematical and social difficulties to succeed.

6.) The Pianist

the pianist


This film is an adaptation of Wladyslaw Szpilman’s autobiography. The Pianist follows a Jewish musician who is forced into the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.

Then he is separated from his family and made to hide in various locations in the city’s ruins during the Nazi occupation of Poland.

5.) Chicago



Based on the play of the same name, is a true story of two real women accused of murdering their lovers in Chicago in the roaring ’20s.

As a journalist, playwright Maurine Watkins covered the murder trials of Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan. She based her 1926 play on the stories she filed with the Chicago Tribune. The play, written after Watkins left the field of journalism, was intended to satirize the media’s role in salacious trials.

4.) The Terminal

the terminal

DreamWorks Pictures

Tom Hanks plays an Eastern European in an American airport in Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film The Terminal, but the real-life inspiration for the film was stuck in the airport a good deal longer than Hanks’ character. In the film, Viktor Navorski finds himself trapped in the airport for a few months after a revolution in his home country renders his passport void. Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee without passport or papers, lived in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for 18 years.

DreamWorks allegedly paid Nasseri’s attorney $300,000 for the right to use his story in the film, but Nasseri didn’t have a bank account and had no way to access the money.

3.) Almost Famous

almost famous


Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Such is the case with Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film. Yes, he toured with now-legendary bands the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Who. And yes, there is a real woman named Penny Lane. She spells it “Pennie” though—and when Crowe called her to discuss the film, she was shocked he remembered her.

Though all the touring stories are covered under the guise of a single fictitious band, “Stillwater,” the stories themselves are true. Apparently, the musicians themselves did not disapprove of their portrayal—the film’s soundtrack was the first ever to feature music by Led Zeppelin.

2.) Dead Poets Society



This is based the story on Tom Schulman’s experiences as a student at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. English teacher John Keating is based on Sam Pickering, who was Schulman’s English teacher when he attended the Academy.

Although most of the events in the film are fictionalized, Keating’s character takes inspiration from Pickering’s unique teaching style. In 2012, Montgomery Bell Academy dedicated a room within the school, the “Dead Poets Society Room,” in Schulman’s honor.

1.) A Nightmare on Elm Street

a nightmare on elm street


The comforting thing about horror movies is that we can tell ourselves they’re not real, however Wes Craven’s 1984 horror classic had a very real inspiration. According to Craven, he got the idea for the film after reading three articles in the “L.A. Times” about Southeast Asian immigrants who had died in the middle of nightmares.

Families would respond to screaming to find the individual dead; there was never any physical cause of death found. The newspaper never connected the stories, but Craven did, and the idea of a demonic being who kills you in your sleep was born.

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