Entertainment

The Best Movies Based on True Stories 

Ranker Film
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Updated February 25, 2020 58.7k votes 4.5k voters 207.1k views 237 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

Released: 1993

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

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

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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

Released: 1995

Directed by: Ron Howard

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

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#53 of 599 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made #115 of 460 The Most Quotable Movies of All Timelisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

3
Catch Me If You Can is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Leonardo DiCaprio, Amy Adams, Jennifer Garner

Released: 2002

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

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

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#28 of 351 The Best Movies Based On Books #160 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies

4
Goodfellas is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, Joe Pesci

Released: 1990

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

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

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#26 of 351 The Best Movies Based On Books 15 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From The Making Of 'Goodfellas'listed on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

5
A League of Their Own is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Madonna, Tom Hanks, Rosie O'Donnell

Released: 1992

Directed by: Penny Marshall

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

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#58 of 803 The Greatest Chick Flicks Ever Made #696 of 1,196 The Absolute Funniest Movies Of All Time

6
Titanic is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates

Released: 1997

Directed by: James Cameron

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

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#39 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies Weird But True Behind-The-Scenes Stories From The Set Of 'Titanic'listed on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

7
Walk the Line is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix, Ginnifer Goodwin

Released: 2005

Directed by: James Mangold

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

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#462 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #4 of 205 The Best Movies About Musiclisted 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

Released: 2015

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

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

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9
Cool Runnings is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
John Candy, Malik Yoba, Jay Brazeau

Released: 1993

Directed by: Jon Turteltaub

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

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10
Braveheart is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Brendan Gleeson

Released: 1995

Directed by: Mel Gibson

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

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11
Erin Brockovich is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Julia Roberts, Marg Helgenberger, Aaron Eckhart

Released: 2000

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

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

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#26 of 243 Critically Acclaimed Movies That Kinda Suck #11 of 54 The Best Biopics About Womenlisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

12
The Pursuit of Happyness... is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Will Smith, Thandie Newton, Jaden Smith

Released: 2006

Directed by: Gabriele Muccino

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

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13
The Perfect Storm is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Diane Lane

Released: 2000

Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen

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

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#12 of 568 The Greatest Disaster Movies of All Time #387 of 548 The Greatest Movies for Guys Tragic Facts About The Perfect Storm, The Shipwreck Story No One Lived To Tell

14
12 Years a Slave is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch

Released: 2013

Directed by: Steve McQueen

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

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#22 of 157 The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again #78 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Rankedlisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

15
The Sound of Music is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker

Released: 1965

Directed by: Robert Wise

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

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#1 of 376 The Best Musical Movies of All Time Every Song in The Sound of Music, Ranked by Singabilitylisted on Movies That Won Best Picture at the Oscars and Golden Globes

16
Zodiac is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Robert Downey Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo

Released: 2007

Directed by: David Fincher

Zodiac is a 2007 American mystery-thriller film directed by David Fincher and based on Robert Graysmith's non-fiction book of the same name. Zodiac tells the story of the manhunt for a person ...more
17
Tombstone is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Val Kilmer, Kurt Russell, Charlton Heston

Released: 1993

Directed by: Kevin Jarre, George P. Cosmatos

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

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#10 of 396 The Best Western Movies Ever Made #328 of 599 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made

18
A Beautiful Mind is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe, Ron Howard

Released: 2001

Directed by: Ron Howard

A Beautiful Mind is a 2001 American biographical drama film based on the life of John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics. The film was directed by Ron Howard, from a screenplay written by Akiva ...more

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19
Lincoln is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field

Released: 2012

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Lincoln is a 2012 American epic historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as United States President Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. The ...more

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#158 of 379 The 50+ Best War Movies Ever Made, Ranked #12 of 82 The Best Movies Based on Non-Fiction Books

20
The Great Escape is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
DeltaBlues added Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner

Released: 1963

Directed by: John Sturges

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

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#278 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #10 of 379 The 50+ Best War Movies Ever Made, Ranked

21
The Elephant Man is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft

Released: 1980

Directed by: David Lynch

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

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#23 of 157 The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again #91 of 292 The Top Tearjerker Movies That Make Men Cry #17 of 82 The Best Movies Based on Non-Fiction Books

22
Ray is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Kerry Washington, Jamie Foxx, Terrence Howard

Released: 2004

Directed by: Taylor Hackford

Ray is a biographical film focusing on 30 years in the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles. The independently produced film was written, produced and directed by Taylor Hackford, and ...more

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23
Black Hawk Down is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Jon DeSpirito added Ewan McGregor, Tom Hardy, Orlando Bloom

Released: 2001

Directed by: Ridley Scott

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

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24
Monster is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Rose Byrne

Released: 2003

Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Monster is a 2003 drama film about Aileen Wuornos, who was executed in Florida in 2002 for taking six men's lives in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Wuornos was played by Charlize Theron, and ...more

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#219 of 710 The Best Movies Roger Ebert Gave Four Stars #13 of 34 The Best Scary Movies Based on True Storieslisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

25
The Revenant is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Movies Based on True Stories
Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson

Released: 2015

Directed by: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

The Revenant is a 2015 American semi-biographical epic western film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. A frontiersman (Leonardo DiCaprio) on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s ...more

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