21 Great Movies Based On Real Life Stories

Nobody can deny that everybody has found themselves in the following situation: the credits are rolling at the cinema screen and the words “based on true events” surprisingly appear, causing intrigue and amazement. That’s right, many of the most famous and acclaimed movies in history were at least partly inspired by a real story or figure. Prepare yourself for a couple of surprises with this list, and don’t miss #14 and #11 for some of the most frightening horror movies!

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#22. Cool Runnings

If inspirational stories are the conversation topic, at one point or another Cool Runnings is probably going to be brought up. That’s right, no one can deny that this comedy is also deeply motivational, but once you know that it’s based on a real story, the movie gets even more interesting!

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Cool Runnings shows how a Derice, a runner who fails to qualify for the Summer Olympics, recruits other Jamaicans to form a bobsled team, with the help of an expert. The team defies all odds and mockery to qualify for the Winter Olympics, and the story is based on Jamaica’s national team official debut during the 1988 Olympics.

#21. Ratatouille

Here’s a hot take: Ratatouille is the best animated movie from the 2000s. Ok, there are some other top-notch picks to compete for that accolade, like Monsters, Inc. or Finding Nemo, but Ratatouille has a serious advantage in one aspect.

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Most of the movie’s characters are taken from real figures of the culinary world. The likelihood of a master chef rat causing fervor in the most notable restaurants of Paris is improbable, I agree. However, the characters Colette and chef Gusteau were drawn from the real cooks Hélène Darroze and Bernard Loiseau, respectively.

#20. Zorro

The story of the legendary outlaw Zorro has sparked numerous movies and series reflecting his daring adventures and moving romances. One of the most successful of the movies portraying the masked horseback riding hero is The Mask Of Zorro, from 1998.

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But did you know that the charismatic figure, played by Anthony Hopkins in that film, existed in real life? Well, many agree on the fact that Joaquin Murrieta, a Mexican outlaw from the 19th Century is the main inspiration for the famous character.

#19. 50 First Dates

Directed by Peter Segal and starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, 50 First Dates is one of those universal romantic comedies which everybody has seen at least once. Though some cinephiles disregard it as cheesy, I bet no one can deny that it tells an enjoyable story.

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Though the director hasn’t confirmed this, the movie’s plot may have been based on a real-life case with uncanny similarity. The real case occurred in 1994 when a British woman called Michelle Philpots was left with a serious amnesia condition after a car accident. Though she remembered her husband, he had to use some of the repetitive tactics like the ones Sandler executes in the movie for her to recall him.

#18. Goodfellas

When director Martin Scorsese teams up with some A-list actors, a classic is guaranteed. And this was no exception; a critic and fan favorite and an Academy Award winner, Goodfellas is widely considered one of the best crime films in history.

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Goodfellas narrates the trials and tribulations of gangster Henry Hill across 5 years. What most people don’t know is that this film is actually an adaption of a non-fiction book called Wiseguy, from Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi’s book follows the story of a mob associate who finally turns into an FBI informant, and he lent Scorsese a hand with the screenplay writing.

#17. 21

The heist-drama 21, also known as 21 Blackjack, featuring Laurence Fishbourne, Kevin Spacey, and Jim Sturgess, among others, follows the story of Ben, an MIT math major, who is invited into the MIT blackjack team by professor Micky Rosa.

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The team, which consists of other fellow students and math prodigies, uses their talent in Las Vegas to increase their chances of winning. This box office success is based in Ben Mezrich’s bestseller book Bringing Down The House. Slide on for more popular movies inspired by true stories!

#16. American Psycho

American Psycho, which recounts the story of a detached serial killer called Patrick Bateman, will make you reconsider the design of your business card. If you’re not familiar with the plot, Bateman, who’s played by Christian Bale, is infuriated when he discovers his associate’s card, superior to his.

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This apparently insignificant event provokes his fury, and Bateman later embarks on a series of murders. Bale’s acting received a lot of praise, and you, know what was his inspiration for the unnerving character? Tom Cruise’s attitude of “fervent friendliness with nothing behind the eye”, which he allegedly showed in an interview with David Letterman.

#15. The Terminal

Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal had one important similarity with his previous project, Catch Me If You Can, it was another of those lovable films which can make the audience both laugh and cry. I mean, come on, if Tom Hank’s charismatic portrayal of Viktor Navorski didn’t move you, you’ve got some thinking to do.

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In The Terminal, Viktor, who’s visiting New York from the fictional country of Krakozhia, gets stuck on the airport due to the sudden invalidity of his passport. To your amazement, an incredibly similar story did happen: Spielberg drew inspiration from the case of an Iranian refugee 18-year stay at a French airport.

#14. Silence Of The Lambs

Get ready for a frightening one. Don’t know about you, but I get serious goosebumps by looking at this picture already — I mean, even the policemen look tense! In case you haven’t watched this acclaimed psychological thriller, you’re observing the imprisoned Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

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The serial killer and proficient psychiatrist, played by Anthony Hopkins, is sought for advice by a young FBI agent, in order to understand serial killer called Buffalo Bill. Buffalo’s character was inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein. Check #11 for more spookiness!

#13. The Notebook

Don’t worry though, we’ve included some movies which were inspired by cherished stories that’ll make you smile immediately too. That’s right, most people know that the amazing love story from The Notebook was based on Nicholas Spark’s book of the same name.

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But an important fact is often ignored by the audience of the romantic film: Spark drew inspiration from a real story for his novel. It wasn’t any story either, the factual love tale was in fact between the writer’s wife grandparents, who had been married for several decades.

#12. Psycho

I’m not gonna lie here, I’m getting spooked out already by only watching Anthony Perkins‘ creepy stare in this picture. Perkins plays criminal Norman Bates on the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho, and I wouldn’t feel so uneasy if this story hadn’t had been inspired on a true story…

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That’s right guys, Norman Bates was mostly based on a real-life murderer from Wisconsin. You’ll be baffled after reading his name: Ed Gein. Correct, this criminal inspired numerous famous characters! On a side note, Psycho is usually considered one of the best movies of all time, so go see it if you haven’t!

#11. The Exorcist

If we’re going to discuss horror movies inspired by some true empirical events, then The Exorcist must be mentioned. This classic was quite revolutionary at the time since some uncommon special effects were needed to achieve the diabolical scenes.

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To your bewilderment, The Exorcist’s screenwriter William Peter Blatty took the idea for the movie released in 1973 from an eerily spooky case. This case took place in 1949 when a boy from Maryland allegedly suffered from aversion to sacred objects and levitation, and help was asked to some exorcists of the Catholic Church.

#9. Ghostbusters

In case you’re dreading the possibility of future nightmares with the last appearance on this list, here’s a lovable movie to lighten up the mood. Who doesn’t love Ghostbusters? I think there is no other film that deals with the supernatural in such a funny way.

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The 1984 classic, which starred Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, and others, was nominated for two Academy Awards. But the most worth-mentioning fact is that the concept of a ghost catcher group came from Dan Aykroyd’s family. The writer and star’s grandparents and father actually wrote a book about ghosts. Bet you didn’t know that, huh?

#8. Patch Adams

Robin Williams deservedly earned a legendary status as an amazing comedian and actor. What’s not to like about this man? If you’re not familiar at all with his work, you’ll admit that we’re not exaggerating one bit after seeing Patch Adams or Dead Poets Society.

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On Patch Adams, released in 1998, Robin demonstrates that empathy and humor are crucial to help patients with severe diseases. What’s interesting, though, is that this movie partly reflects the life of physician Hunter “Patch” Adams, founder of the Gesundheit! Institute, which organizes volunteers to dress as clowns and help orphans and patients across the globe.

#7. Rocky

If you’re lacking motivation for working out, for studying, hell, if you need a little push for anything, what’s better than watching Rocky? Just listen to the famous theme song, and the image of Rocky relentlessly jogging up and down those endless stairs will get your blood pumping.

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The story of Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone, produced numerous movies and a pop culture icon. Despite the fact that everyone knows the movie, practically nobody recognizes the name Chuck Wepner, the real boxer that inspired the character. That’s right, the stairs, lasting 15 rounds against a champion, Wepner also did that stuff!

#6. The Sound Of Music

Maybe you weren’t surprised with the last one, after all, the chances of a determined boxer inspiring a movie aren’t all that unlikely… But this one is a bit more uncommon, that’s for sure. The Sound Of Music tells us the story of the von Trapp family, which escapes from the Nazis in Austria.

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The interesting story of these singing prodigies produced one of the best musicals of all time and gave us an incredible soundtrack. The plot was based on the real Maria von Trapp’s memoir, called The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.

#5. E.T

This one comes with an important warning, keep a pair of tissues close because you’ll be shedding some tears with this story. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, directed by Steven Spielberg, was released in 1982, tells the story of a boy who befriends an alien that finds himself stranded on our planet.

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If you found the movie to be deeply moving, wait for the story that inspired it… Director Spielberg actually came up with with the concept when reminiscing about his childhood. As a kid, he faced bullying and his parent’s divorce, two things which made him feel lonely. As a result, he created an imaginary friend to play from time to time.

#4. Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting, released in 1997 and directed by Gus Van Sant, propelled Ben Affleck and Matt Damon to stardom. Both had a stellar performance together with Robin Williams, and there’s a particular scene which everyone remembers that was actually based on one of the star’s brothers.

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Remember when Will’s talent is discovered by an MIT professor? Though Will worked as a janitor, he completes the complex problem which had been drawn on the hall’s chalkboard for the students. Well, Matt Damon’s real brother Kyle once completed an elaborate (and completely fake) formula on the halls of MIT, and it remained there for months!

#3. Girl, Interrupted

There’s no actress like Angelina Jolie to play a badass character, that’s undeniable. On Girl, Interrupted, from 1999, she shines together with other stars like Winona Ryder and Brittany Murphy. Jolie’s masterful performance helped her win an Oscar and get some deserved recognition for her acting skills.

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Girl, Interrupted is yet another famous movie based on true events. Partly, at least. It’s an adaptation of Susanna Kaysen’s memoir, which narrates her year and a half stay at a psychiatric hospital. Though the movie’s plot has some made-up things, most of the mental disorders and the character’s names do appear on Kaysen’s book.

#2. Almost Famous

Most millennials know Cameron Crowe for his famous work in the film industry as a director (Singles, Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous), but they tend to forget his era as a Rolling Stone journalist and editor. Cameron still writes from time to time for the legendary music and culture magazine, but his years as a teenager were the ones which inspired this film.

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That’s right, this movie, which shows the crazy adventures of a boy who gets a job at Rolling Stone and covers some of the biggest rock icons of the 70s is pretty much autobiographical. Crowe did live a couple of crazy stuff while traveling with Led Zeppelin, Eagles, and other bands. What an exciting experience!

#1. Jaws

I bet you are all swearing this one wasn’t on the list, but the truth is necessary. Yet another of Steven Spielberg’s classic films was based on a true event or on a series of these, and this one is the scariest of them all for sure.

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Jaws probably provoked a change in the way some people saw sharks. Whether the movie got you screaming or simply entertained you, it’s undeniable that sharks do seem at least a bit more intimidating after watching Jaws… Well, the thriller was based on a Peter Benchley book, which told the story of a fisherman who caught a massive great white shark with a harpoon at Long Island.

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