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Top 10 Best Movies Based on True Stories

What’s better than real life to serve as inspiration for movies? In this case, it’s art that imitates life. From real-life stories of con artists to inspiring tales of Holocaust survivors, here are 10 of the best movies based on true stories.

Top 10 Best Movies Based on True Stories

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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Anthony Quinn and Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

First, on our best true story movies list is this award-winning historical film.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) tells the story of a real-life British lieutenant, T.E. Lawrence, who was sent to the Arabian peninsula to serve as a liaison between the Bedouin tribes and the British during their war with the Turks because of his knowledge of the people’s culture.

The titular lieutenant Lawrence is played by Peter O’Toole in what probably is the best performance of his career.

The film is well-received by both critics and audiences who were fascinated by the film’s beautiful cinematography and overall grandeur. It also garnered seven awards at the Oscars including ones for best picture, best director, and best cinematography.

Midnight Express (1978)

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Brad Davis in Midnight Express (1978)

Midnight Express (1978) tells the story of an American college student, Billy Hayes, who was thrown in jail after he was caught trying to smuggle drugs out of Turkey.

The title, Midnight Express, is a reference for prison slang describing an inmate’s attempt at jailbreak. It also references Hayes’ numerous attempts at escaping the prison which often fails with him ending up taking a beating from the guards.

The film is also notable for its superb soundtrack which won the film an Oscar in 1979.

Spartacus (1960)

best true story movies Spartacus (1960)
Kirk Douglas in Spartacus (1960)

Spartacus is one of Stanley Kubrick’s earlier great films. It is an epic historical drama which retells the story and life of Spartacus, who was a leader of a slave revolt during the Third Servile War.

It is notable for its authentic telling of the Thracian slave’s rise to his position as a leader in the revolution which is based on a novel by Howard Fast. As is expected of Kubrick, he went to painstaking and meticulous efforts to make the film as realistic and accurate as possible.

Schindler’s List (1993)

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Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley in Schindler’s List (1993)

One of the most cited movies of all time, Schindler’s List (1993) tells the real-life story of Oskar Schindler, a man who defied Nazi rule by saving thousands of Jews from the Holocaust during the Second World War.

Based on the novel, Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, the film is also considered as one of the greatest movies of all time, famous for its harrowing tale of heroism in the face of Fascist oppression.

Catch Me if You Can (2002)

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Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Leonardo Dicaprio stars as Frank Abegnale Jr., a teenage boy and expert con artist with a knack for forgery in Catch Me if You Can (2002).

In the film, we see him scam his way through getting pilot paychecks despite not being a pilot and pretending to be a lawyer and doctor all before his 18th birthday. One of his first successful scams was forging Pan Am Airways paychecks and eventually presenting himself as a pilot, which was a dream of his as a child.

Unfortunately, his fantasy life is disturbed when his scam is discovered by FBI Agent Carl Hanratty, played by Tom Hanks, who proceeds to make it his life’s mission to catch Frank, hence the title.

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

best true story movies A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A Beautiful Mind (2001) tells the real-life story John Forbes Nash Jr., a disturbed mathematical prodigy who sits on the verge of madness and genius.

Russell Crowe takes on the role of Nash in a performance of a lifetime. The film shows how Nash’s schizophrenia affected his career, discoveries and personal life.

The film is well-received by audiences and critics. It won the Best Picture Award at the Academy Awards the year of its release. A Beautiful Mind is one of the best inspirational movies based on true stories.

American Sniper (2014)

best true story movies American Sniper (2014)
Bradley Cooper and Kyle Gallner in American Sniper (2014)

Directed by veteran actor Clint Eastwood, American Sniper (2014) tells the true to life story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle whose excellent marksmanship saved the lives of countless people during the Iraqi war turning him into a living legend.

However, the film focuses on his struggles with PTSD after he comes back home to his wife and children. In the film, we see Chris try to escape the haunting memories of the war he fought in.

The Pianist (2002)

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Adrien Brody in The Pianist (2002)

Another historical drama based on a book of memoirs, The Pianist (2002) shows the atrocious genocide of Jews during the Second World War through the eyes of the titular pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman.

Szpilman, excellently played by Adrien Brody, is a radio station pianist who is separated from his family at the outbreak of the war. He will eventually become aiding the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising after which he will lead a life of hiding.

Near the end of the war, he ends up in the attic of a kind German officer who feeds the pianist in exchange for Szpilman’s skillful piano playing.

Erin Brockovich (2000)

best true story movies Erin Brockovich (2000)
Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich (2000)

In Erin Brockovich (2000), Julia Roberts plays the real-life small town ‘lawyer’ and mother who was successfully hired as a lawyer even without the proper educational background. She decides to take on the challenge when she finds a serious case of water poisoning in her community which led to many people getting cancerous diseases.

What results is an inspiring story about how a small town woman faces up against big businesses to bring justice to her community.

This is also the film which won Roberts an Oscar for Best Actress.

12 Years a Slave (2013)

best movies based on true stories 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Based on a book with a similar name, the film is a recounting of the real-life experiences of Solomon Northup, a free man who was tricked into 12 years of slavery.

12 Years a Slave (2013) is a historical drama film that perfectly captured the hardships that Northup faced during the 12 years he spent as a slave, as the title implies.

Listed as one of 2013’s best films, the movie also won Oscar awards for best picture and best-adapted screenplay. 12 Years a Slave is one of the best movies based on true stories of all time.


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