Life is full of historic and monumental events that can be retold on the silver screen. Biopics about famous people or significant cultural movements allow the audience to experience a deeper understanding through the acting, writing, and other cinematic elements. While some parts of these movies end up being fictionalized, the underlying spirit of the themes remain the same.
For actors who portray real-life people, it can be daunting to tap into the characterization and mannerisms that make them worth putting on screen. These are some of the best films that were based on true stories.
Do you remember the sports drama that starred Emma Stone and Steve Carell?
A Beautiful Mind is A Mental Mind Trip
A Beautiful Mind was based on the life story of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr who made large contributions to game theory, differential geometry, and partial differential equations. Later in his career he faced many struggles after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Russell Crowe transformed into Nash for the film showing both the mathematician’s personal and professional life as he descends into his paranoia. There are parts of the movie that take a bit of a detour from Nash’s real life, but it stays true to his relationship to his wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) and his Nobel Prize-winning work.
Titanic Honors Heroic Passengers
Over a century ago passengers set sail in the RMS Titanic headed for New York City. Unfortunately, their voyage was cut short when the ship hit an iceberg. The ill-fated ship’s story served as the plot for the 1997 film Titanic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
Their characters were fictionalized, but many of the other passengers in the film were based on real people. For example, Kathy Bates played Margaret Brown who helped the lower-class passengers escape in lifeboats. Also, Jonathan Evans-Jones played Wallace Hartley, a violinist in the band who kept playing while the ship sank.
Set during the glitzy 1970s, American Hustle takes a closer look at the real-life con man and informant of the F.B.I.’s Abscam operation. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and his conniving partner Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) are forced to work with an unpredictable F.B.I. agent (Bradley Cooper) who gets them mixed up with the Mafia and other powerful New Jersey groups.
The movie stayed true to the story of the F.B.I. sting where many politicians, including Congressmen, were taking illegal bribes. Something that wasn’t as accurate was Cooper’s character, who was actually two F.B.I. agents instead of one.
Bohemian Rhapsody Still Got Some Things Wrong
One of the most difficult things for an actor to accomplish is portraying a well-known person on screen. Rami Malek took on the challenge to play Freddie Mercury from the band Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody, even earning a Best Actor Academy Award.
This biopic spanned a few decades starting from the point where Mercury first met his band members and ex-wife Mary Austin. It then follows his journey to success and his many life struggles thereafter. While it’s incredibly challenging to tackle all of this in a two hour film, there were still a handful of moments that had to be fabricated.
Scarlett Johansson stole her scenes in this next crime drama.
The Black Dahlia
Elizabeth Short was an aspiring Hollywood actress who was nicknamed “the Black Dahlia.” She had one of the oldest cold case files in history after a gruesome demise in the mid-1940s. Her case quickly became one of the media’s most talked-about stories.
In 2006 a movie about the investigation was made, called The Black Dahlia. It centered on the two policemen working on the case and how it affected both their personal and professional lives. Scarlett Johansson took on the role of Kay Lake. Her character caused immense tension between the two LAPD officers as they worked on the case.
The Wolf of Wall Street Matches The Memoir Almost Exactly
Leonardo DiCaprio has played a good number of real-life people, but one of his most memorable roles was Jordan Belfort in 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street. This Martin Scorsese film follows Belfort as he becomes one of the wealthiest stockbrokers in the world, while capturing his downfalls with crime, corruption, and fraud.
With the real Jordan Belfort working a bit with the cast and the filmmakers’ close interpretation to his memoir, the story remains true. Many critics were highly impressed with both DiCaprio’s and Jonah Hill’s chemistry as two penniless stockbrokers who build an empire only to watch it crumble.
The Social Network
Facebook was one of the first major social media platforms and The Social Network tells the story of how it came into fruition. Jesse Eisenberg already looked a lot like Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, but that was only the start of his character transformation.
Eisenberg had difficulty adapting to Zuckerberg’s manner of speaking and behaving because it was the complete opposite of how he acts in real life. Like many other biographical films there are parts that aren’t completely accurate. Zuckerberg stated that he’s really not that dramatic and his intention for creating Facebook was not to win over a former girlfriend.
Finding Neverland Explains The Origin Of Peter Pan
Before Walt Disney turned Peter Pan into a colorful animated feature film, it was a popular play and book by British author Sir J.M. Barrie. Finding Neverland explains how Barrie’s relationship with a neighboring family led to Peter Pan’s creation. Johnny Depp as Barrie alongside Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman, and Freddie Highmore brought honesty and believable chemistry to the film.
One of the main inaccuracies was that Barrie was the closest to Michael instead of Peter, but still ended up naming his main character after him. This is mostly due to Peter behaving like an adult at such a young age.
Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her performance in this next film.
The Blind Side
Sandra Bullock is almost unrecognizable as she dons a blonde hairstyle in The Blind Side. This sports drama tells the story of a homeless teen boy named Michael Oher and how he became one of the NFL’s most wanted players thanks in part to a caring mother and her family.
The biggest critic of The Blind Side was Oher, who explained that the film started to hurt his football career. He mentioned that it seems more based in Hollywood fiction than reality. On the bright side, Bullock was able to take home a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance.
How Battle of the Sexes Stayed Accurate
Billie Jean King has been advocating for women’s rights since the beginning of her career. The 2017 biopic Battle of the Sexes starred Emma Stone as King alongside Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs. It detailed both King’s and Riggs’ professional tennis journeys as they prepared for their 1973 tournament of the same name.
After King watched the film she said that it got about 99 percent of the story right, such as her grand entrance into the match and all of Stone’s costumes. Both the director and screenwriter were able to capture the essence of the pandemonium that ensued during the match that brought in a record 90 million TV viewers.
James Franco Was the Number One Pick For The Disaster Artist
Brothers James and Dave Franco were able to make their dual film debut in The Disaster Artist. James completely changed his persona to match the eccentric actor/filmmaker Tommy Wiseau, while Dave took on the role of his best friend and acting partner Greg Sestero.
The Disaster Artist chronicles their experience making Wiseau’s The Room, which is known as one of the worst movies ever. Wiseau was insistent that only James Franco or Johnny Depp could play him. He absolutely loved how the film turned out, only being upset by the lighting in one scene and the way that James threw a football.
Tonya Harding was one of the best figure skaters of her generation, but it all came crashing down after her ex-husband intervened with the competition. Margot Robbie trained both physically and mentally in order to accurately portray Harding in I, Tonya. Both Robbie and Allison Janney, who played her tough-loving mother, had standout performances that brought heart and sincerity to the film.
It was difficult to retell this story because Harding and her ex-husband’s versions of the truth turned out to be widely different from each other. Luckily, there are still some points that remain accurate such as Harding’s mother being interviewed with a real bird sitting on her shoulder.
McDonald’s is currently the biggest fast food chain in the world. The Founder tells the story of a salesman named Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) who turned the original restaurant into a global sensation. Other famous faces found in the film include Laura Dern, B.J. Novak, Linda Cardellini, and Nick Offerman.
The movie details how Kroc saw the popularity of the first McDonald’s, which led to him buy the company and its name. When he proclaimed that he was the founder it caused major strife between him and the brothers who started the franchise.
A Darker Side Of Winnie the Pooh Featured In Goodbye Christopher Robin
The Winnie the Pooh stories were actually based on author AA Milne’s son Christopher Robin. Goodbye Christopher Robin gives an in-depth look at their relationship, Milne’s process for writing Winnie the Pooh, and how the fame gave the real life Christopher Robin a different view on life.
The film was able to accurately examine their father/son relationship. Christopher Robin never was able to forgive his father for exploiting him for book sales, but he eventually learned to move on. Also, Christopher Robin’s stuffed toys in the film are exact replicas of the real ones that inspired the other Winnie the Pooh characters.
Even romantic comedies can be based on a true story.
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon Relive How They First Met in The Big Sick
Comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon took the experience of how they met and fell in love and turned it into a relatable and poignant romantic comedy. Nanjiani played himself, whereas Gordon was played by actress Zoe Kazan. The film depicts how their familial cultural clashes paired with Gordon’s sudden health scare help them grow closer as a couple.
Their process of courtship reflected in the movie is only semi-biographical, but they kept in the parts that mattered. The Big Sick received a great deal of accolades, such as Nanjiani and Gordon’s nomination for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 2018.
P.T. Barnum’s Life Story Is Retold In The Greatest Showman
The Greatest Showman has countless spectacles and musical moments that it’s easy to forget that it’s actually based on real people. Hugh Jackman leads the film as P.T. Barnum. Barnum is best known for being a show business pioneer with his traveling three-ring circus called The Greatest Show on Earth.
P.T. Barnum isn’t the only real person shown in the film. Characters such as his wife Charity, opera singer Jenny Lind, The Bearded Lady, General Tom Thumb, and the New York Herald founder were all a part of Barnum’s circus extravaganza. Zac Efron and Zendaya’s roles were the film’s most popular characters, but they are actually fictional.
How The Help Ignited A Lawsuit
There was some backlash after The Help was turned from a fictional book into a feature film. Emma Stone played author Skeeter Phelan who set out to write a book about the point of view of African American maids during the 1960s civil rights movement. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer’s memorable and raw performances were the highlights of the film by far.
The Help’s author Kathryn Stockett claims that her novel is a work of fiction, but her brother’s former nanny Ablene Cooper reported that the character of Aibileen Clark is completely based on her. Cooper went as far as to sue Stockett for $75,000.
Science Takes A Step Back in The Theory of Everything
Stephen Hawking was one of the most influential physicists in the science community. His inspiring and heartbreaking life story was made for the silver screen in The Theory of Everything. Both Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were able to capture the true spirit of Stephen and Jane Hawking’s tumultuous relationship.
Critics were a little thrown off that the film focused more on the Hawkings’ love life than his scientific advancements. Also, the screenwriters tried to stick to Jane’s memoir, but some moments had to be fabricated. Their separation didn’t go as smoothly as the film suggests and Redmayne played Hawking as gentle and sensitive, opposed to his real life highly critical nature.
Saving Mr. Banks Explains The Origins of Mary Poppins
Getting the rights to Mary Poppins was one of Walt Disney’s biggest struggles. Author P.L. Travers was extremely hesitant to let Disney turn her books into a movie because the underlying story stemmed from her childhood. Saving Mr. Banks switches between Travers’ experience negotiating with Disney in the 1960s and her days as a young girl in Australia at the turn of the 20th century.
The main thing that the film didn’t get right was Travers’ reaction at the Mary Poppins premiere. In real life, she thought it was vulgar and disrespectful to her characters, but in the movie she’s shown to appreciate how it turned out.
Keep reading to see the true story behind this psychological thriller.
The Stanford Prison Experiment
In 1971 Stanford psychology professor Philip Zimbardo decided to create a mock prison on campus. Male students volunteered to be randomly selected as guards or prisoners. Shortly after the experiment began things started to go awry when the guards started to take advantage of the prisoners, demonstrating the true nature of evil.
This haunting tale was turned into a movie called The Stanford Prison Experiment. Over four decades later Zimbardo is able to rewatch what went wrong with his experiment, emphasizing that these scenes really did happen and they are still scarred into his memory.