5.3k voters

The Best Movies Based On True Stories

Updated May 25, 2021 72.1k votes 5.3k voters 245.1k views302 items

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

"Movies 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 great 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. There are even som great action movies  based on true stories. 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 based on a real life story or historical events.

  • 1

    Apollo 13

    Tom Hanks, Bryce Dallas Howard


    Directed byRon 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, Jr....  more

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  • 2

    Schindler's List

    Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes


    Directed bySteven 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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  • 3

    Catch Me If You Can

    Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio


    Directed bySteven 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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  • 4


    Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson


    Directed byMartin 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. The...  more

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  • 5


    Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet


    Directed byJames 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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  • 6

    Walk the Line

    Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix


    Directed byJames 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, Reese...  more

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  • 7

    A League of Their Own

    Madonna, Tom Hanks


    Directed byPenny 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 film...  more

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  • 8

    The Sound of Music

    Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer


    Directed byRobert 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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  • 9


    Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau


    Directed byMel 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 War...  more

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  • 10

    Cool Runnings

    John Candy, Malik Yoba


    Directed byJon 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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  • 11

    The Great Escape

    Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough


    Directed byJohn 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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  • 12

    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

    Paul Newman, Robert Redford


    Directed byGeorge Roy Hill

    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a 1969 American Western film directed by George Roy Hill and written by William Goldman. Based loosely on fact, the film tells the story of Wild West outlaws...  more

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  • 13


    Robert Downey Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal


    Directed byDavid Fincher

    Zodiac is a 2007 American mystery thriller film directed by David Fincher, based on the 1986 non-fiction book by Robert Graysmith. In the late 1960s/early 1970s, a San Francisco cartoonist (Jake...  more

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  • 14

    12 Years a Slave

    Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender


    Directed bySteve 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 black...  more

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  • 15

    The Perfect Storm

    George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg


    Directed byWolfgang 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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  • 16

    American Sniper

    Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller


    Directed byClint 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 Sniper...  more

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  • 17

    Erin Brockovich

    Julia Roberts, Marg Helgenberger


    Directed bySteven 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 Roberts,...  more

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  • 18

    The Elephant Man

    Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt


    Directed byDavid 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, Anthony...  more

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  • 19


    George C. Scott, Karl Malden


    Directed byFranklin J. Schaffner

    Patton is a 1970 American epic biographical film about U.S. General George S. Patton during WWII. It stars George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Bates and Karl Michael Vogler. It was directed by...  more

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  • 20

    The Pursuit of Happyness

    Will Smith, Thandie Newton


    Directed byGabriele 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 Smith as...  more

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  • 21


    Jeffrey Jones, Cynthia Nixon


    Directed byMiloš Forman

    Amadeus is a 1984 American period biographical drama film directed by Miloš Forman and adapted by Peter Shaffer from his 1979 stage play Amadeus. The story is set in Vienna, Austria during the latter...  more

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  • 22


    Daniel Day-Lewis, Ben Kingsley


    Directed byRichard Attenborough

    Gandhi is a 1982 epic biographical film which dramatises the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the leader of India's non-violent, non-cooperative independence movement against the United Kingdom's...  more

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  • 23


    Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson


    Directed byGavin O'Connor

    Miracle is a 2004 American sports docudrama about the United States men's hockey team, led by head coach Herb Brooks, that won the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics. The USA team's victory over...  more

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  • 24

    127 Hours

    James Franco, Kate Mara


    Directed byDanny Boyle

    127 Hours is a 2010 British-American biographical survival drama film directed, co-written and produced by Danny Boyle. The film stars James Franco as real-life canyoneer Aron Ralston, who became...  more

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  • 25

    The Revenant

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy


    Directed byAlejandro 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 fights for survival...  more

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