Entertainment
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.

Photo:
...more
  • 1
    1,223
    439

    Apollo 13

    Tom Hanks, Bryce Dallas Howard

    Released1995

    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

    More Apollo 13 

    Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Apollo 13'#11 of 73 The Greatest Movies To Watch Outside

  • 2
    1,433
    367

    Schindler's List

    Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes

    Released1993

    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

    More Schindler's List 

    #50 of 50 The Best Oscar-Nominated Movies of the '90s#106 of 112 Movies That Need Sequels

  • 3
    1,188
    487

    Catch Me If You Can

    Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio

    Released2002

    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

    More Catch Me If You Can 

    Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Catch Me If You Can'#8 of 26 The Best F-Bombs In Movie History

  • 4
    1,051
    384

    Goodfellas

    Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson

    Released1990

    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

    More Goodfellas 

    15 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From The Making Of 'Goodfellas'#23 of 63 Movies Set in Brooklyn

  • 5
    1,010
    527

    Titanic

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

    Released1997

    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

    More Titanic 

    According To This 'Titanic' Theory, Jack Is From The Future#8 of 50 The 50 Highest Grossing '90s Movies, Ranked

  • 6
    839
    393

    Walk the Line

    Reese Witherspoon, Joaquin Phoenix

    Released2005

    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

    More Walk the Line 

    #313 of 1,506 The Most Rewatchable Movies#371 of 549 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made

  • 7
    872
    381

    A League of Their Own

    Madonna, Tom Hanks

    Released1992

    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

    More A League of Their Own 

    #85 of 924 The All-Time Greatest Comedy Films#3 of 12 Movies Where The Cast And Crew Disagreed About Its Meaning

  • 8
    610
    298

    The Sound of Music

    Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer

    Released1965

    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

    More The Sound of Music 

    12 Facts We Learned About 'The Sound of Music' That Just Became A Few Of Our Favorite Things#13 of 46 Movies That Won Best Picture at the Oscars and Golden Globes

  • 9
    852
    486

    Braveheart

    Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau

    Released1995

    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

    More Braveheart 

    11 Behind-The-Scenes Stories From ‘Braveheart’#11 of 440 The Best Movies Of The 1990s

  • 10
    831
    407

    Cool Runnings

    John Candy, Malik Yoba

    Released1993

    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

    More Cool Runnings 

    #35 of 252 The Funniest '90s Movies#137 of 1,141 The Absolute Funniest Movies Of All Time

  • 11
    511
    203

    The Great Escape

    Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough

    Released1963

    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

    More The Great Escape 

    #4 of 175 The Best Movies Of The '60s#17 of 55 The Best Memorial Day Movies

  • 12
    412
    231

    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

    Paul Newman, Robert Redford

    Released1969

    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

    More Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 

    #84 of 557 The Best Film Scores Of All Time#5 of 46 The Greatest Western Movies of the 1960s

  • 13
    513
    293

    Zodiac

    Robert Downey Jr., Jake Gyllenhaal

    Released2007

    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

    More Zodiac 

    #15 of 232 The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time#13 of 23 23 Disturbing, Brutal Movies Based on Real-Life Atrocities

  • 14
    647
    345

    12 Years a Slave

    Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender

    Released2013

    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

    More 12 Years a Slave 

    #2 of 92 Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories#12 of 52 The Most Woke Movies of All Time

  • 15
    683
    354

    The Perfect Storm

    George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg

    Released2000

    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

    More The Perfect Storm 

    Tragic Facts About The Perfect Storm, The Shipwreck Story No One Lived To Tell#9 of 318 The Greatest Disaster Movies of All Time

  • 16
    827
    438

    American Sniper

    Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

    Released2014

    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

    More American Sniper 

    29 Things Most People Don't Know About 'American Sniper'#1148 of 1,195 Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

  • 17
    670
    314

    Erin Brockovich

    Julia Roberts, Marg Helgenberger

    Released2000

    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

    More Erin Brockovich 

    #8 of 55 The Best Biopics About Women#211 of 334 The Best Political Films Ever Made

  • 18
    421
    232

    The Elephant Man

    Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt

    Released1980

    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

    More The Elephant Man 

    #17 of 82 The Best Movies Based on Non-Fiction Books#31 of 225 The Best Black and White Movies Ever Made

  • 19
    355
    210

    Patton

    George C. Scott, Karl Malden

    Released1970

    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

    More Patton 

    #18 of 552 The Best '70s Movies#6 of 15 The Most Over-The-Top Movie Monologues

  • 20
    811
    381

    The Pursuit of Happyness

    Will Smith, Thandie Newton

    Released2006

    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

    More The Pursuit of Happyness 

    #22 of 174 The Most Utterly Depressing Movies Ever Made#46 of 139 The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again

  • 21
    353
    225

    Amadeus

    Jeffrey Jones, Cynthia Nixon

    Released1984

    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

    More Amadeus 

    #35 of 53 The Best Movies Where The Bad Guy Wins#206 of 512 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

  • 22
    242
    168

    Gandhi

    Daniel Day-Lewis, Ben Kingsley

    Released1982

    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

    More Gandhi 

    #44 of 93 The Very Best Oscar-Winning Movies For Best Picture#10 of 50 The Best Oscar-Nominated Movies of the '80s

  • 23
    346
    194

    Miracle

    Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson

    Released2004

    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

    More Miracle 

    #10 of 205 The Best Sports Movies Ever Made#19 of 99 The Most Patriotic Movies of All Time

  • 24
    323
    248

    127 Hours

    James Franco, Kate Mara

    Released2010

    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

    More 127 Hours 

    The True Story Of '127 Hours' Where A Man Cut Off His Own Arm To Survive#376 of 451 The Best Movies For Guys

  • 25
    436
    273

    The Revenant

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

    Released2015

    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

    More The Revenant 

    #121 of 401 The Best Western Movies Ever Made#67 of 111 The Best Native American Movies