Filmmakers couldn’t come up with a better plot for some real-life situations since they’re so unusual (or cool, or exciting) in comparison to fiction. This list of the best movies based on true stories includes everything from con artists who pulled off heists beyond your wildest fantasies to unsung heroes with incredible lives you never learned about in history class.
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1. Catch Me If You Can
Starring:Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, and Nathalie Baye
Frank Abagnale (DiCaprio) is a young man who runs away from home and ends up robbing a bank out of $2.8 million. When he discovers that Abagnale’s special ability may be utilized to apprehend other crooks, an FBI agent (Hanks) pursues him (and eventually captures him—spoiler alert).
2. Hidden Figures
Starring:Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Glen Powell, and Mahershala Ali
While working in a racially and gender-segregated computing section at NASA, three black women were able to help propel the United States into space by utilizing their skills.
3. 127 Hours
Aron Ralston (Franco), a hiker with a penchant for irresponsible behavior, sets out to explore Utah’s Canyonlands National Park alone. In the span of 127 hours, Aron is trapped in a slot canyon following an accident. He’ll have to resort to desperate methods if he wants to live. An intense film that is not suitable for those with weak stomachs.
4. Into the Wild
Starring:Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, and Hal Holbrook
Into the Wildafter 127 Hours is a great survival film to watch if you enjoy those kinds of tales. Christopher McCandless (Hirsch), an amateur survivalist, makes a sequence of bad decisions in the film. It’s important to note that this story has a downbeat conclusion.
Starring:Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, John Carroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney, and Chloë Sevigny
The story:The 1960s and 1970s attacks in San Francisco carried out by the self-proclaimed Zodiac Killer remain a mystery to this day. Attempts to answer the riddle of the killer’s identity in David Fincher’s 2007Zodiac
6. The Wolf of Wall Street
Starring:Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Matthew McConaughey, Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Joanna Lumley, and Jean Dujardin
According to the tale, The Wolf of Wall Street is based on Jordan Belfort’s (DiCaprio) autobiography of the same name. There’s a lot of drinking going on. Alot.
Starring:Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci
During the early 2000s, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, a group of investigative journalists, undertook an investigation into allegations of child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. The study won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
8. All the President’s Men
Starring:Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman
About Watergate: In 1972, the US was rocked by the Watergate affair. Bob Woodward (Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Hoffman) were two Washington Post journalists that broke the story of President Nixon’s involvement in the scandal and wrote a book about it. That book served as the basis for all of the President’s Menis.
Starring:Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta
For 25 years, Goodfellas follows mobster Henry Hill (Liotta) as he rises and falls from prominence in one of the greatest crime stories of all time.
10. Apollo 13
Starring:Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris
The narrator explains:
To complete America’s trilogy of Moon landing missions, the crew of Apollo 13 included Jim Lovell (Hanks), Jack Swigert (Bacon), and Fred Haise (Paxton). NASA was obliged to abort the first mission after an on-board explosion forced them to do so in order to ensure the safety of the crew. “Houston, we have a problem” is a memorable yet erroneous statement from the film.
11. Schindler’s List
Starring:Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley
Oskar Schindler (Neeson), a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand predominantly Polish-Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, is the focus of the classic film.
12. Erin Brockovich
Starring:Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, and Aaron Eckhart
About Julia Roberts’ character Brockovich: A single mother who works as an attorney uncovers proof that polluted groundwater is to blame for an uptick in cancer cases in her community, earning her an Oscar for her depiction of Brockovich.
13. Hotel Rwanda
Starring:Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Joaquin Phoenix, and Nick Nolte
Hotelier Paul Rusesabagina’s (Cheadle) efforts to save more than a thousand refugees are the focus of the film, which is set during the Rwandan genocide.
14. The Miracle Worker
Starring:Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke
An uplifting tale of Anne Sullivan (Bancroftwork )’s to help Helen Keller (Duke) learn to communicate is told in The Miracle Worker.
15. The Big Sick
Starring:Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, and Anupam Kher
The narrator explains:
Kumail Nanjiani plays Emily V. Gordon in this heartwarming and witty drama about an interracial couple’s struggle when one of them (Gordon, played by Kazan) is diagnosed with a terrible illness.
Starring:Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman
The plot: During the Iranian Revolution of 1979, six Americans elude detention but are stranded in the country. With the help of CIA operative Tony Mendez (Affleck, who also directed), he devises an outlandish scheme to get them out of the country.
17. The Social Network
Starring:Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, and Max Minghella
An inside look at Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) and Facebook’s rise from the ground up. Definitely one for the record books.
18. 12 Years a Slave
Starring:Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, and Alfre Woodard
Solomon Northup (Ejiofor), a black man born free in New York State but sold into slavery in 1841 after being kidnapped in Washington, D.C., is the subject of the Academy Award-winning film. When he was finally freed, he worked as a slave in Louisiana for 12 years.
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Trace Lysette, Cardi B, and Lizzo
This spectacular real crime film follows a gang of New York City exotic dancers who drugged their stockbroker clients during the 2008 financial crisis in order to rack up their credit card balances.
20. The Farewell
Starring: Awkwafina, Zhao Shuzhen, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Jiang Yongbo, Lu Hong, Aoi Mizuhara, Liu Hongli, and X Mayo
About the movie: Based loosely on director Lulu Wang’s own life, this Chinese-American family drama about their grandmother’s final days was made into an episode of the podcast This American Life.
21. The Theory of Everything
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Harry Lloyd, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, and Simon McBurney
a look at Stephen Hawking’s life, from his groundbreaking scientific discoveries to his diagnosis with motor neuron disease at the age of 21 through his marriage to Jane Wilde, the late renowned physicist.
22. Dolemite is My Name
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key, Titus Burgess, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, and Wesley Snipes
Comedian Rudy Ray Moore stars as Dolemite in this humorous Hollywood drama about his efforts to produce an independent film.
23. The Trial of the Chicago 7
Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Michael Keaton, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
After the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests, the federal government filed charges against seven people, including a Black Panther, a comedian, and a student activist.
24. The King’s Speech
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Andrew Havill, and Michael Gambon
During his sudden ascension to the throne as King George IV, Lionel Logue, the king’s speech therapist, works with him to help him overcome his stammer.
25. Judas and the Black Messiah
Starring: Daniel Kaaluya, LaKeith Stanfield, Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemmons, Ashton Sanders, Algee Smith, Dominique Thorne, and Martin Sheen
FBI informant Stanfield infiltrated the Chicago Black Panther Party in the 1960s in order to gain information about its leader, Chairman Fred Hampton (Kaaluya). Hampton’s murder is chronicled in this Oscar-nominated film.