Wait, What? Movies You Won’t Believe Are Based On Real-Life Events

 With most movies made with the intention to attract audiences, it’s no wonder why many filmmakers choose the most gripping and entertaining stories to tell. One thing studios do to get the audience’s attention is to make a big deal about the fact that a film is based on actual events, which usually creates a lot of buzz. However, some other films that are also true don’t publicize that information. This makes it all the more shocking when you learn after a little research that a movie wasn’t entirely based in fiction. Take a look at some of these popular films and see if you knew they were inspired by true events. 

Goodfellas – 1990

One of Martin Scorsese’s most iconic gangster flicks, Goodfellas follows Henry Hill’s life and his rise and fall as an Italian-American mobster from the 1950s to the 1970s. The film stars Ray Liotta, Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci, and Lorraine Bracco and is widely considered one of the greatest movies of all time.


Warner Bros.

It is an adaptation of the 1985 nonfiction book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, written by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi. It chronicles the real Henry Hill and his life in the mafia, then as an informant.

The Notebook – 2004

Actors in the Notebook
New Line Cinema

A tear-jerker and one of the most well-known romances in recent memory, the film stars Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams as young lovers who fall in love in the 1940s, and the complicated relationship that follows.

The film is told as a narration from the present day by an older man reading the tale to a fellow nursing home resident. They’re the couple in the story. The movie is based on Nicholas Sparks’ book of the same name, who claims that it’s about his wife’s grandparents.


Chicago – 2002

Actors in Chicago
Miramax Films

Based on the 1975 stage musical of the same name, Chicago follows two women, Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, who are in jail together while waiting for their trial in 1920s-era Chicago. There, they hope that their fame as media sensations will prevent them from being executed.

The film won six Academy Awards and was the first musical to win Best Picture since Oliver! in 1968. The original stage musical was based on the real-life criminals Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner in the Jazz era.


War Dogs – 2016

Actors in War Dogs
Warner Bros.

Starring Miles Teller and Jonah Hill, War Dogs tells the story of two 20-something young men who become involved in illegal international arms dealing while supplying a US Army base in Afghanistan.

While the movie seems completely outrageous with comedy sprinkled throughout, it actually happened. It’s based on a Rolling Stone article and Efraim Diveroli’s 2016 memoir, Arms and the Dudes, Once a Gun Runner. Although much of the film is fictionalized, some of the events did occur in real life. 


The Exorcist – 1973

Actors in The Exorcist
Warner Bros.

The Exorcist is directed by William Friedkin and is a film adaptation from William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel. Centering on the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and the exorcism that follows, The Exorcist is regarded as one of the most frightening movies ever released, resulting in people leaving the theater and becoming physically ill.

As horrifying as the movie is, the book took inspiration from the 1949 exorcism of a boy after he was trying to contact his aunt through the use of an Ouija board. The case was apparently so severe that it required multiple priests.

A Nightmare On Elm Street – 1984

Actor in A Nightmare On Elm Street
New Line Cinema

A Nightmare on Elm Street comes from the twisted mind of Wes Craven, about a disfigured madman wearing blades for hands that torments a group of teenagers in their sleep. While there’s no way that this is real, director Wes Craven revealed to Variety that he came up with the idea for the movie while reading an article in the LA Times.

It was about Hmong refugees in the 1970s who had such disturbing nightmares that some men actually died in their sleep. Medical authorities classified this as “sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome.”


The Sound Of Music – 1965

Actors in The Sound of Music
20th Century Fox

The Sound of Music is a 1965 musical that is an adaptation of the 1959 stage musical of the same name. The film follows Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp, a young Austrian woman who is sent to the home of a retired naval officer and widower to look after his seven children.

Through music, the family comes together, the governess and the officer get married, and they survive the loss of their homeland to the Nazis. A beautiful story, it’s actually based on the 1949 memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria von Trapp herself. 


Almost Famous – 2000

Actors in Almost Famous
Columbia Pictures

Starring Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit, Almost Famous follows an aspiring teen music journalist who goes on tour with a fictional rock band in the 1970s to write an article for Rolling Stone.

Ranked the ninth-bet film of the 2000s, the film is semi-biographical about the movie’s director and writer Cameron Crowe, who was a teenage writer for Rolling Stone and spent time with bands such as Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, and the Allman Brothers Band, among others. 


The Hills Have Eyes – 1977

Actor in The Hills Have Eyes

In 1977, Wes Craven made people afraid to go out into the desert after releasing The Hills Have Eyes. The movie follows an American family on a road trip from Ohio to Los Angeles, when they become stranded on a desert road.

As if being stuck wasn’t bad enough, they are then terrorized by a family of disfigured cannibals. The story was inspired by Alexander “Sawney” Bean, who, according to legend, left his home in Scotland and raised his family in a cave where they practiced some of the disturbing behaviors seen in the film.


50 First Dates – 2004

Actors in 50 First Dates
Columbia Pictures

Widely considered one of Adam Sandler’s best works, 50 First Dates follows a marine veterinarian named Henry who falls in love with an art teacher named Lucy. However, he soon discovers that Lucy relives the same day every time she wakes up due to anterograde amnesia.

So, he spends his time trying to win over her heart each day. However, there is a real woman who has anterograde amnesia, like Lucy, after a car accident. She wakes up every day believing that it’s the day of the accident in 1994. The story was inspired by her life.

The Terminal – 2004

Actor in The Terminal
Universal Studios

The Terminal is a comedy-drama starring Tom Hanks and directed by Steven Spielberg. The movie is about an Eastern European man stuck at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York when he is denied entry into the United States and his home country because of a military coup.

The film is inspired by the trie story of 18-year-old Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who stayed in Terminal 1 of Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport in France from 1988 to 2006. He wrote an autobiography that was published in 2004, entitled The Terminal Man. 


A Few Good Men – 1992

Actors in A Few Good Men
Columbia Pictures

Based on Aaron Sorkin’s play of the same name, A Few Good Men centers on the court-martial of two U.S. Marines charged with the death of a fellow Marine, and the battle between the lawyers. Sorkin wrote the play because his sister, a JAG corps officer, had defended a group of marines that had almost caused the death of a Marine while hazing.

Even more shocking was that PFC David Cox, one of the men involved in the hazing, sued the production company. A few months later, he was found deceased while wearing his Marine Corps jacket, which he never wore. 


The Blob – 1958

Actor in The Blob
Paramount Pictures

The Blob is a science fiction horror film about an unknown, alien-type sludge that crashes to Earth and begins consuming small communities, growing larger and larger as it goes. of course, the movie is completely fictionalized, except it was inspired by a reported UFO sighting.

In 1950, Philadelphia policemen saw a purple blob crash into a field. When they went to see what it was, the object had completely disappeared. In the following years, when a producer needed an idea for a monster movie, he remembered a newspaper article about “The Blob” 


Balto – 1995

Animated characters in Balto
Universal Studios

Balto is a live-action-action/animated film directed by Simon Wells. The film stars Kevin Bacon, Bridget Fonda, Jim Cummings, Phil Collins, and others, and is about a dog in a race to save children’s lives.

The movie is based on the true story of a dog named Balto that helped save children infected with diphtheria in the 1925 serum run to Rome. Although it’s an incredible story, the film itself did terribly, being overshadowed by films such as Toy Story and Jumanji. However, sequels were still developed. 


Catch Me If You Can – 2002

Actors in Catch Me If You Can
DreamWorks Pictures

Catch Me if You Can is a crime film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film follows the true life of Frank Abagnale Jr., who before his 19th birthday managed to steal millions of dollars by posing as an airline pilot, Georgia doctor, and prosecutor, as well as forging checks.

After finally being caught, it turned out Abagnale was so skilled at check fraud that he was asked by the FBI to help catch other forgers. The film is based on Abagnale’s book of the same name. 


21 – 2008

Actors in 21
Columbia Pictures

21 is a heist drama starring Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Bosworth, and others. The film follows a group of gifted MIT students, who under the leadership of a professor, go to Las Vegas and cheat the game of blackjack by counting cards.

The movie is inspired by the true story of the MIT Blackjack Team as described in the novel Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich. Although 21 had mixed reviews, it was the number one film in the US and Canada for its first two weeks. 


127 Hours – 2010

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Essentially starring only James Franco, 127 Hours tells the tragedy in which canyoneer Aron Ralston finds himself trapped by his arm after an accident that happened in a slot canyon in an isolated part of Utah in April of 2003.

The film is a true story based on Ralston’s memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place. 127 Hours went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Actor for James Franco and Best Picture. 


The Perfect Storm – 2000

Actors in The Perfect Storm
Warner Bros.

Directed by Wolfgang Peterson and starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John Hawkes, Diana Lane, John C. Reilly, and more, The Perfect Storm is a disaster drama film. Although the movie itself is sad enough, what makes it even worse is that it’s based on true events.

It follows the commercial shipping vessel the Andrea Gail that was lost at sea with all hands aboard after being caught in what is known as the Perfect Storm of 1991. With mixed reviews, the movie was still a box office success, making $328 million worldwide. 


Changeling – 2008

Actor from Changeling
Universal Studios

Changeling is a 2008 mystery crime film starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood. The film is praised for its themes involving female disempowerment, political corruption, mental health, and child endangerment. Changeling tells the story of a woman reunited with her son, only to realize that he’s not the son she lost.

When she tries to explain the situation, she is labeled as delusional and an unfit mother. Written by J. Michael Straczynski, the script is based on the real-life events in 1928, the Wineville Chicken Coop deaths in Mira Loma, California. 


The Great Escape – 1963

Actor in The Great Escape

The Great Escape is a 1963 escape war film starring Steve McQueen. The film went on to become one of the highest-grossing of the year, with Steve McQueen being awarded Best Actor at the Moscow International Film Festival.

It is also known for its motorcycle jump scene, which is considered one of the most impressive stunts ever on film. While The Great Escape is entertaining, it’s based on the actual events of a mass escape by British POWs from German POW camp Stalag Luft III, although the film is heavily fictionalized.

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