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The Best Movies Based On True Stories

Updated September 22, 2020 71.6k votes 5.0k voters 229.5k views236 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.

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  • 1
    Apollo 13
    1,214
    434

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 2
    Schindler's List
    1,442
    332

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 3
    Catch Me If You Can
    1,181
    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 4
    Goodfellas
    1,060
    360

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 5
    Titanic
    1,015
    494

    Titanic

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

    Released1997

    Directed byJames Cameron

    Titanic is a 1997 American epic romance and disaster film directed by James Cameron. A... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 6
    Walk the Line
    844
    391

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 7
    A League of Their Own
    853
    377

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 8
    The Sound of Music
    598
    280

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 9
    Cool Runnings
    825
    414

    Cool Runnings

    John Candy, Malik Yoba

    Released1993

    Directed byJon Turteltaub

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  • 10
    Zodiac
    487
    286

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 11
    Braveheart
    858
    483

    Braveheart

    Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau

    Released1995

    Directed byMel Gibson

    Braveheart is a 1995 epic historical medieval war drama film directed by and starring Mel... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 12
    Erin Brockovich
    674
    305

    Erin Brockovich

    Julia Roberts, Marg Helgenberger

    Released2000

    Directed bySteven Soderbergh

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  • 13
    12 Years a Slave
    659
    349

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 14
    American Sniper
    846
    432

    American Sniper

    Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

    Released2014

    Directed byClint Eastwood

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  • 15
    The Perfect Storm
    698
    352

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 16
    Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
    387
    228

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 17
    The Great Escape
    489
    211

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 18
    The Elephant Man
    417
    240

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 19
    The Pursuit of Happyness
    836
    380

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • 20
    The Revenant
    439
    262

    The Revenant

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

    Released2015

    Directed byAlejandro G. Iñárritu

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  • 21
    Patton
    337
    215

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 22
    The Aviator
    440
    321

    The Aviator

    Kate Beckinsale, Leonardo DiCaprio

    Released2004

    Directed byMartin Scorsese

    The Aviator is a 2004 American biographical drama film directed by Martin Scorsese, written by... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 23
    Lincoln
    497
    266

    Lincoln

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Daniel Day-Lewis

    Released2012

    Directed bySteven Spielberg

    Lincoln is a 2012 American epic historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 24
    Amadeus
    328
    224

    Amadeus

    Jeffrey Jones, Cynthia Nixon

    Released1984

    Directed byMiloš Forman

    Amadeus - Directors Cut is a 1984 biography drama film written by Peter Shaffer and directed... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • 25
    Ray
    447
    240

    Ray

    Kerry Washington, Jamie Foxx

    Released2004

    Directed byTaylor Hackford

    Ray is a biographical film focusing on 30 years in the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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