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The Best Movies Based On True Stories

Updated January 8, 2021 73.6k votes 5.2k voters 237.8k views275 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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  • Schindler's List1
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    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
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  • Apollo 132
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    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
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  • Catch Me If You Can3
    1,210
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    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
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  • Goodfellas4
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    375

    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
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  • Titanic5
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    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
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  • Walk the Line6
    872
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    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
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  • A League of Their Own7
    888
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    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
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  • The Sound of Music8
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    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
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  • Braveheart9
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    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
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  • Cool Runnings10
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    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,...  more
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  • The Great Escape11
    517
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    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
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  • Zodiac12
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    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
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  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid13
    413
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    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
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  • 12 Years a Slave14
    667
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    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
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    #2 of 91 Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories#42 of 101 The Best Kidnapping & Hostage Movies Of All Time, Ranked

  • The Perfect Storm15
    707
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    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
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  • American Sniper16
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    American Sniper

    Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

    Released2014

    Directed byClint Eastwood

    American Sniper is a 2014 American biographical drama film directed by Clint Eastwood and...  more
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  • Erin Brockovich17
    691
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    Erin Brockovich

    Julia Roberts, Marg Helgenberger

    Released2000

    Directed bySteven Soderbergh

    Erin Brockovich is a 2000 biographical film directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by...  more
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  • The Elephant Man18
    435
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    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
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  • Amadeus19
    351
    230

    Amadeus

    Jeffrey Jones, Cynthia Nixon

    Released1984

    Directed byMiloš Forman

    Amadeus is a 1984 American period biographical drama film directed by Miloš Forman and adapted...  more
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  • Patton20
    351
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    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
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  • The Pursuit of Happyness21
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    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
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  • The Revenant22
    452
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    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....  more
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  • Gandhi23
    236
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    Gandhi

    Daniel Day-Lewis, Ben Kingsley

    Released1982

    Directed byRichard Attenborough

    Gandhi is a 1982 epic biographical film which dramatises the life of Mohandas Karamchand...  more
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  • Miracle24
    344
    195

    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...  more
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    #10 of 204 The Best Sports Movies Ever Made#2 of 150 The Most Inspirational Sports Movies

  • Lincoln25
    507
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    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
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