5 Films Based on Remarkable True Stories

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and there are many interesting films of this or last year which are based on true stories, including Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Tesla, Hillbilly Elegy, The Dig and The Mauritanian. Crime and war films are often inspired by real stories (Catch Me If You Can [2002], The Pianist [2002]) and I previously compiled a list of 25 “Must-See” Biographical Films (see also my related list of 5 Great Films About Adventurers Based on Real Stories). Below are five films which were based on, or inspired by, real stories which, in turn, are simply remarkable.


I. The Sound of Music [1965]

The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummermight have been a book and a theatrical musical once, but it was also based on an incredible true story. In her memoir titled The Story of the Trapp Family Singers [1949], Maria von Trapp tells the story of her family who originally came from Salzburg, Austria, but who were then forced to cross borders and emigrate to America to escape Nazi persecutions in Europe.

Even though the true story was dramatized substantially for the film, it remained true in essence. So, in reality, a young woman from a religious background did come to work in the Trapp family, but not as a governess, but as a tutor to one of the children (who were in reality ten in number, not seven as in the film). Georg von Trapp was the father in the family, and Maria (as this was the name of the woman/the author) came to love the children first (and only then the father) (source). Georg, who was in reality a much kinder person than in the film, did marry Maria, and the family eventually travelled to Italy and America, and not to Switzerland as in the film. The Sound of Music is also not the only film to be based on Maria von Trapp’s memoir. Previously, Wolfgang Liebeneiner directed a German film The Trapp Family [1956], which was also based on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.

II. The Terminal [2004]

The Terminal is Steven Spielberg’s 2004 film, starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones, about a man from Eastern Europe who gets “stuck” for an indefinite period of time at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport because he is deemed “stateless”. While deviating substantially from reality, the film actually drew a lot of inspiration from an incredible true story of one man who spent 18 years (1988 – 2006) living in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France. That man’s name was Mehran Karimi Nasseri (who wanted to be called Sir Alfred) who was probably an Iranian refugee. His story and circumstances are so hard to believe, it might have been pure fiction – for more details see this fascinating free documentary about Sir Alfred – The Man Who Lived in an Airport for 18 Years. It transpires that Steven Spielberg did bought rights to Nasseri’s story and Nasseri also penned a book The Terminal Man [2004]. Moreover, the story was also adapted for the film Lost in Transit [1993] by French director Philippe Lioret.

III. Moneyball [2011]

Somehow I just love this story. This film, starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman, talks about a real case of American baseball manager Billy Beane’s attempts “to revolutionise” baseball tactics and competition in the sport. The story, which is the focus of Michael Lewis’s 2003 non-fiction book of the same name, centres on the Oakland Athletics baseball team, and, in particular, on its 2002 season. Being a manager of a team that can only function on a very limited budget, Billy Beane had to think hard of how to win games without spending money on talent. That led him to employing a sabermetric approach to picking players for his team. The result? In 2002, Beane’s team became the first team in over 100 years of the American League baseball to win 20 consecutive games. Impressive.

IV. 127 Hours [2010]

Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting [1996]) and starring James Franco, 127 Hours tells of a man, an avid mountaineer, who gets trapped in an isolated canyon when his hand gets pinned by a giant boulder. He miraculously survives his ordeal after the decision to amputate his own hand. This plot is based on a real story of Aaron Ralston (1975 – ), who got stuck in a canyon for five days in 2003 after a rock trapped his arm. This is an incredible story of endurance, bravery and perseverance, and Ralston also published his book Between a Rock and a Hard Place in 2004.

Whatever criticisms that could now be levelled at Aaron (the book provides more details), no one could deny this person’s immense drive to stay alive and not lose hope when everything said that he should, and the sheer guts needed to amputate his own arm with the most rudimentary and blunt objects. In this story, I personally can imagine 100 different ways Aaron could have died, including from losing consciousness, dehydration, bleeding to death after his amputation, neurogenic shock caused by extreme pain following amputation, etc., etc. (see this video where Aaron talks in depth about the moment of his amputation – the talk is not for the faint of heart!).

sommersby poster

V. Sommersby [1993]

This film starring Richard Gere and Jodie Foster is famously based on a French film The Return of Martin Guerre [1982], but, in turn, this French film is based on a true story of one man who lived in 16th century France and who got accused of impersonating another – Martin Guerre. Allegedly, Arnaud du Tilh convinced almost his entire town, including his immediate family, that he was Martin Guerre when he was not. Even though Sommersby takes place during the American Civil War, the plot revolves around the same idea.

Other films which you may not know were based on, or inspired by, real stories include Juno [2007] (inspiration is Diablo Cody and her friend’s high school experience), Hardy Candy [2005] (inspired by a news article about Japanese girls luring rich businessmen) and Open Water [2003], a film loosely based on a tragic, unsolved case of Tom and Eileen Lonergan who went missing in open sea in 1998 after their scuba-diving experience.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. ashokbhatia says:

    Great compilation, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brittani says:

    Great list! 127 Hours is my favorite here. That story was rough.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ruth says:

    I quite like movies based on true stories and The Sound of Music is definitely one of my fave classics. I like The Terminal as well, which I think is a bit underrated. I haven’t seen your last 3. Too scared to see 127 Hours (not a fan of gore), and I’m not into baseball movies. I didn’t know Sommersby was based on a true story, now you got me intrigued!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      I agree, The Terminal is underrated. And, me too, I am not into sports films at all, especially baseball, but I decided to watch Moneyball (and happy that I did) because of this story of a man who was prepared to think outside the box, do something completely different and tried to beat the odds. It’s not the sport, it is the human element to the story which I love, I think. Sommersby’s story is very interesting, and it is also probably on this list because I seriously over-watched it on VHS when I was quite young! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ruth says:

        I’m old enough to remember VHS too, Diana. Ok based on what you said about Moneyball, I’ll definitely give it a shot then 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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