Entertainment

The Best Movies Based on True Stories  

Ranker Film
Originally by
57.3k votes 4.4k voters 204.6k views 239 items

List Rules Some story liberties and combining of characters allowed. All within reason. And yes, Cool Runnings.

"Based on a true story" is so commonly thrown around it's practically the new "in a world where..." as far as trailer plugs go. But the films on this list really are based on true events or a real person's life story. And they weren't just so-so, they're the best movies based on true stories.

The surge in the popularity of movies based on or inspired by true stories in the last decade is especially staggering. The first feature-length film based on a true story was The Kelly Gang, about Ned Kelly. It was released in 1900. Since then, movies based on true stories are being made with increasing regularity, and each year sees the release of more true story movies. Of course, there are movies based on true events like Apollo 13, but there are also good biopics that give an audience insight into a person's life such as Erin Brockovich and Walk the Line. There are also, occasionally, "true stories" based on highly questionable sources, or ones that play with tired tropes. And sometimes, the movie provides a rosier version of true events, as with The Sound of Music.

The films on this list dove deep, did the research, and created films as honest and true to the facts as possible. Below are the top movies truly based on true stories. Vote up your favorite films on this list, or add a movie you love that was based on a real life story or historical events.

list ordered by
1
Schindler's List is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley
Schindler's List is a 1993 American epic historical period drama, directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg and scripted by Steven Zaillian. It is based on the novel Schindler's Ark by Thomas ...more

More Schindler's List

#8 of 347 The Best Movies Based On Books #8 of 382 The Best War Movies Everlisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

2
Apollo 13 is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Tom Hanks, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ed Harris
Apollo 13 is a 1995 American historical docudrama film directed by Ron Howard. The film stars Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris. The screenplay by William Broyles, ...more

More Apollo 13

#133 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Moviesfeaturing Things 'Apollo 13' Got Totally Wronglisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

3
Goodfellas is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, Joe Pesci
Goodfellas is a 1990 American crime film directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a film adaptation of the 1986 non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese. ...more

More Goodfellas

#26 of 347 The Best Movies Based On Booksfeaturing 15 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From The Making Of 'Goodfellas'listed on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

4
Catch Me If You Can is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Leonardo DiCaprio, Amy Adams, Jennifer Garner
Catch Me If You Can is a 2002 American biographical crime drama film based on the life of Frank Abagnale, who, before his 19th birthday, successfully performed cons worth millions of dollars by ...more

More Catch Me If You Can

#3 of 59 Every Movie Coming To Netflix In January 2020 #28 of 347 The Best Movies Based On Books #128 of 186 The Best Movies for Tweens

5
The Pursuit of Happyness... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Will Smith, Thandie Newton, Jaden Smith
The Pursuit of Happyness is a 2006 American biographical drama film based on Chris Gardner's nearly one-year struggle with homelessness. Directed by Gabriele Muccino, the film features Will ...more

More The Pursuit of Happyness

#16 of 717 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked #30 of 291 The Top Tearjerker Movies That Make Men Cryfeaturing The Sad Tale Of Chris Gardner, The Man From The Pursuit of Happyness

6
Black Hawk Down is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Jon DeSpirito added Ewan McGregor, Tom Hardy, Orlando Bloom
Black Hawk Down is a 2001 American-British war film directed by Ridley Scott. It is an adaptation of the 1999 book of the same name by Mark Bowden based on his series of articles published in ...more

More Black Hawk Down

#143 of 347 The Best Movies Based On Books #15 of 382 The Best War Movies Everlisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

7
Titanic is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates
Titanic is a 1997 American epic romance and disaster film directed by James Cameron. A seventeen-year-old aristocrat (Kate Winslet) falls in love with a kind but poor artist (Leonardo DiCaprio) ...more

More Titanic

#152 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetimefeaturing According To This 'Titanic' Theory, Jack Is From The Futurelisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

8
American Sniper is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Jonathan Groff
American Sniper is a 2014 American biographical drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Jason Hall. It is based on the book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal ...more

More American Sniper

#33 of 382 The Best War Movies Everfeaturing 30 Things You Didn't Know About American Sniperlisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

9
Walk the Line is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix, Ginnifer Goodwin
Walk the Line is a 2005 American biographical drama film directed by James Mangold and based on the early life and career of country music artist Johnny Cash. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix, ...more

More Walk the Line

#12 of 304 The Greatest Soundtracks of All Time #463 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movieslisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

10
Glory is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Jon DeSpirito added Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick
Glory is a 1989 American drama film directed by Edward Zwick and starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman. The screenplay was written by Kevin Jarre, based on ...more

More Glory

#18 of 382 The Best War Movies Ever #191 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetimelisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

11
Braveheart is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Brendan Gleeson
Braveheart is a 1995 epic historical medieval war drama film directed by and starring Mel Gibson. Gibson portrays William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish warrior who led the Scots in the First ...more

More Braveheart

#12 of 382 The Best War Movies Ever #58 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetimelisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

12
Hidden Figures is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
carlybobarly added Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe
Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Theodore Melfi, based on the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly. The story of a team of female African-American ...more

More Hidden Figures

#179 of 717 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked #4 of 26 The Greatest African American Biopics #17 of 177 The Very Best Movies of 2016, Ranked

13
Cool Runnings is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
John Candy, Malik Yoba, Jay Brazeau
Cool Runnings is a 1993 American sports film directed by Jon Turteltaub, and starring Leon, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba and John Candy. The film was released in the United States on ...more

More Cool Runnings

#92 of 630 The Greatest Guilty Pleasure Movies #39 of 186 The Best Movies for Tweens #75 of 717 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked

14
The King's Speech is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Helena Bonham Carter, Colin Firth, Guy Pearce
The King's Speech is a 2010 British historical drama film directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler. Colin Firth plays King George VI who, to cope with a stammer, sees Lionel Logue, an ...more

More The King's Speech

#65 of 220 The Greatest World War II Movies of All Time #33 of 93 The Very Best Oscar-Winning Movies #1,074 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies

15
Tombstone is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Val Kilmer, Kurt Russell, Charlton Heston
Tombstone is a 1993 American western film directed by George P. Cosmatos, written by Kevin Jarre and starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, with Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Michael ...more

More Tombstone

#84 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #10 of 396 The Best Western Movies Ever Made #70 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies

16
A League of Their Own is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Madonna, Tom Hanks, Rosie O'Donnell
A League of Their Own is a 1992 American comedy-drama film that tells a fictionalized account of the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Directed by Penny Marshall, the ...more

More A League of Their Own

#325 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #104 of 291 The Top Tearjerker Movies That Make Men Cry #52 of 493 The Funniest '90s Movies

17
Good Morning, Vietnam is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Jon DeSpirito added Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, J. T. Walsh
Good Morning, Vietnam is a 1987 American comedy film written by Mitch Markowitz and directed by Barry Levinson. Set in Saigon in 1965, during Vietnam, the film stars Robin Williams as a radio DJ ...more

More Good Morning, Vietnam

#53 of 382 The Best War Movies Ever #36 of 304 The Greatest Soundtracks of All Time #266 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies

18
The Great Escape is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
DeltaBlues added Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner
The Great Escape is a 1963 American WWII epic film based on an escape by British and Commonwealth POW from a German POW camp during WWII, starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard ...more

More The Great Escape

#10 of 382 The Best War Movies Ever #3 of 220 The Greatest World War II Movies of All Time #306 of 409 The Best Rainy Day Movies

19
The Wolf of Wall Street ... is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Tom Islava added Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Margot Robbie
The Wolf of Wall Street is a 2013 American biographical black comedy film directed by Martin Scorsese. The screenplay by Terence Winter is adapted from the eponymous memoir by Jordan Belfort and ...more

More The Wolf of Wall Street

#196 of 347 The Best Movies Based On Books #712 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #41 of 67 The Best Movies That Are Super Long

20
12 Years a Slave is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch
12 Years a Slave is a 2013 period drama film directed by Steve McQueen, based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free ...more

More 12 Years a Slave

#78 of 717 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked #32 of 93 The Very Best Oscar-Winning Movieslisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

21
The Perfect Storm is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane
The Perfect Storm is a 2000 American biographical disaster drama film directed by Wolfgang Petersen. It is an adaptation of the 1997 non-fiction book of the same title by Sebastian Junger, which ...more

More The Perfect Storm

#281 of 409 The Best Rainy Day Movies #134 of 291 The Top Tearjerker Movies That Make Men Cryfeaturing Tragic Facts About The Perfect Storm, The Shipwreck Story No One Lived To Tell

22
The Sound of Music is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker
The Sound of Music is a 1965 American musical drama film produced and directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The film is an adaptation of the 1959 Broadway ...more

More The Sound of Music

#80 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetimefeaturing The Real Story Behind ‘The Sound of Music’ Is Far More Depressing Than The Filmlisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

23
Erin Brockovich is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Julia Roberts, Marg Helgenberger, Aaron Eckhart
Erin Brockovich is a 2000 biographical film directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Susannah Grant. The film is a dramatization of the true story of Erin Brockovich, portrayed by Julia ...more

More Erin Brockovich

#26 of 241 Critically Acclaimed Movies That Kinda Suck #64 of 808 The Greatest Chick Flicks Ever Madelisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

24
The Elephant Man is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft
The Elephant Man is a 1980 American-British biographical film about Joseph Merrick, a severely deformed man in 19th century London. The film was directed by David Lynch and stars John Hurt, ...more

More The Elephant Man

#225 of 336 'Old' Movies Every Young Person Needs To Watch In Their Lifetime #91 of 291 The Top Tearjerker Movies That Make Men Cry #23 of 157 The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again

25
The Right Stuff is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Charles Adams added Jeff Goldblum, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid
The Right Stuff is a 1983 American drama film that was adapted from Tom Wolfe's best-selling 1979 book of the same name about the Navy, Marine and Air Force test pilots who were involved in ...more

More The Right Stuff

#251 of 304 The Greatest Soundtracks of All Time #1,075 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movieslisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever