10 Great Modern Films Based On A True Story

Why do we love a good film based on real life? Is it because it’s easier to find an emotional attachment to real events that are, in many cases, closer to home than the fantasies of superhero films and science-fiction? Or is it simply because truth is sometimes far more interesting than fiction?

We all love a good story. And sometimes the ones based on real events are better than anything concocted in the world’s of comic book heroes, romantic drama and science-fiction. Even as filmmakers take dramatic license to take their audiences on a true-life journey, truth is often more immersive, more interesting, more impactful than fiction. And these great modern-day true stories prove that…

10. Kidnapping Mr. Heineken (Daniel Alfredson, 2015)

Kidnapping Mr Heineken - Anthony HopkinsThe titular-titled 2015 film is The Girl Who Played with Fire director Daniel Alfredson’s retelling of the real life 1983 kidnapping of Freddy Heineken. Based on the 1987 book by Peter R. de Vries, the film concerns five friends who decide to kidnap the owner of Dutch brewing company Heineken. A few flaws aside, this is still one of the better kidnapping movies on Netflix thanks to its fast pace and close-to-the-bone credibility.

9. 12 Years A Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)

12 Years A SlaveThe movie depicts the life of Solomon Northup by drawing a compelling narrative about a free black man from New York that has been kidnapped and then sold as a slave in 1841. Praised by critics and audience alike, it wasn’t just the brilliant job done by Steve McQueen, the director of the movie, but also John Ridley’s interpretation of the story that helped the movie win an Academy Award for best picture.

8. The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum, 2014)

The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch, Top 10 Films,If you’re looking for the most historically accurate depiction of the Alan Turing’s life and his story, there’s a chance this movie wouldn’t prove to be exactly to your liking. But if all you want is an outstanding cinematic experience based on real life events and told through an incredibly entertaining but somewhat “Hollywoodised” lens, this is not the sort of movie that you can afford to miss.

7. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)

David Fincher’s epic thriller about the real life Zodiac killers follows the exploits of those involved in the manhunt during the end of the 1960s and 1970s as the killer continues to taunt police with letters and ciphers displayed in newspapers.

6. The Wolf Of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013)

Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall StreetSend your kids to your grandparents for a weekend or drive them to their school, take a day off from work and enjoy the ridiculously hilarious and the hilariously ridiculous story about drugs, sex, and, of course, money as Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese team up again to tell the story of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker that defrauded the public and made over a hundred million dollars in penny-stock scam. Sure, he wasn’t really the greatest guy in the world and Forbes definitely did a public service by doing their part in taking the guy down back in the day, but his story is entertaining nonetheless.

5. The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015)

"The Big Short" Gives The Credit Crunch Faces To Which We Can Angrily Point Our FingersEloquently put by Suzanne Elliott over at Huffington Post, The Big Short does the impossible by taking the subject of subprime mortgage as the main theme of the movie, virtually the most boring theme you could possibly think of, and telling a story about that the crisis that was the biggest driving force behind the financial crash of 2007 in a way that makes the majority of summer blockbusters seem like a complete snoozefest in comparison.

4. Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

Leonardo DiCaprio stars in Catch Me If You CanCome on, we’re talking about a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken and directed by Steven Spielberg, that alone should make you want to watch this film if you haven’t done that already. Simply put, this is a story about a skilled con man that has to one up himself every time he pulls off a successful heist in order to stay ahead of the curve and not let the FBI Agent Carl Hanratty catch him in the act.

3. Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)

Both Ben Affleck and Bryan Cranston have starred in quite a number of fictional stories that have kept us on the edge of our seats, told the most daring tales, and made us live through a great many extraordinary events. This time, these seasoned actors decided to team up under the former’s leadership in order to tell a story so convoluted that it could only be real. Based on the life of the former CIA agent Tony Mendez, the movie walks us through the aforementioned CIA agent’s attempt to rescue a group of Americans trapped in Iran.

2. 300 (Zack Snyder, 2006)

300 filmAgain, you can argue all you want about the historical accuracy of this movie and the story of 300 brave Spartans and Leonidas, the king of Sparta that was portrayed by the brilliant Gerard Butler. But nobody in his right mind would be able to argue the fact that the stunning visuals combined with the exceptional performance from the famous Scottish actor and Lena Headey, aka Cersei Lannister from the HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, make for one hell of an entertaining ride.

1. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2015)

The Best Film Of 2016The deserved Academy Award Best Picture winner is an astonishingly engrossing true life drama and the best film about journalism since All The President’s Men. The film follows the oldest newspaper investigative journalist team in the United States at The Boston Globe as they set out to discover the facts surrounding widespread child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests.

Over to you: what are your fave modern true story films?

Written and Compiled by Rory Fish

About the Author
Rory Fish has loved movies since he can remember. If he was to put together an "all time" top 10 of absolute favourites it would have to include North By Northwest, 12 Angry Men and Sunset Boulevard.

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  1. Dan Grant Reply

    I love your list here, Rory. I also had no idea Three Billboards was based on a true story. I agree with a lot of your choices, especially Argo, which I was just fascinated by. Being Canadian, even though I was young at the time, I still remember the true story well.

    If there’s a few I’d add, or least bring the spotlight to, it would be:

    1) Lone Survivor: Peter Bergs magnus opus. Thrilling in every way and an emotional film as well.

    2) The Pianist: I didn’t think there was a Holocaust movie that could match Schindler’s List, I was wrong.

    3) Into the Wild: A film that shocked me in every way. Penn directs the hell out of this and Emile Hirsch gives a performance that should have gotten him an Oscar nomination.

    And if you want to go back to the beginning of the new century, I’d include Erin Brockovich here as well.

    • Rory Reply

      Thanks Dan but alas I’ve had to swap Three Billboards with another after it was brought to my attention that McDonagh was only inspired by some public billboards and not a true event related to them. I mistakenly thought the billboards he’d based the story on were related to true events but he actually only took the idea and created a piece of fiction out of it.

      Some excellent additions there. Lone Survivor was a gruelling watch and very well filmed. The Pianist is a classic and Into The Wild is another good one.

  2. Callum Reply

    Spotlight is an incredible film. Great choice.

  3. Courtney Reply

    Great choices here, although I was quite underwhelmed with Spotlight. Maybe a re-watch might grab my interests more…I’m not sure what I wanted out of that movie.

  4. Dan Grant Reply

    For me, I thought Spotlight was long over due. The problem highlighted in that movie has been prevalent for far too long and imo it’s about time Hollywood did it’s part to bring it all down.

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