12 Times You Didn't Realize Two Movies Told The Same (True) Story

Films often take inspiration from true stories, and sometimes two movies depict the same events without audiences realizing there is a connection. This may be partially due to the difference between a film based on real events and one inspired by them. When names are changed in films merely inspired by facts, references being drawn from are less clear. On the other hand, films based on true events tend to be more accurate in the details of re-creation, including names, locations, and dates.

Some films draw inspiration from true stories for a single scene, while the cinematic depiction of the same real-world events can be the primary or entire focus of another movie. This blending and balancing between fact and fiction is distinct for each film, often leaving audiences wondering what truly happened in real life. And when two actors are essentially playing the same role, it allows for direct comparison of performances, especially when the real-world inspiration is well known.

The following list includes the details of the actual events and the cinematic depictions they inspired. Vote up your favorite true stories and the movies that were inspired by them!

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  • The Drug Dealer Sequence In ‘Boogie Nights’ Was Based On The Wonderland Murders - Which Became The Movie ‘Wonderland’

    The True Story: The Wonderland murders involved a home invasion and the death of four inhabitants in a known drug house located in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1981. Although they were never convicted, nightclub owner Eddie Nash and adult-film star John Holmes were suspected of the crime.

    Movie 1: The believed motivation for the slayings was a theft at Nash’s home, which inspired a major sequence in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. The film follows the career of an adult actor named Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), modeled after Holmes and including a depiction of a theft similar to the one at Nash’s home. A strung-out Adams attempts to dupe criminal Rahad Jackson (Alfred Molina) in a drug deal that goes horribly wrong.

    Movie 2: Although some liberties are taken, Wonderland is a more accurate attempt at re-creating the Wonderland murders. With Val Kilmer playing Holmes, the film depicts both the robbery at the home of Nash (played by Eric Bogosian) and the subsequent slayings at the Laurel Canyon home. The film alleges Holmes and Nash's guilt, despite their acquittal in real life.

  • ‘Dirty Harry’ Was Based On The Zodiac Killings, And The Character Was Based On Dave Toschi… Who Was Later Directly Brought To Life In ‘Zodiac’

    The True Story: The Zodiac Killer was responsible for a series of unsolved murders in Northern California in the late 1960s. The unsolved serial killer case was investigated by San Francisco Police Department detective Dave Toschi.

    Movie 1: The police procedural Dirty Harry was released in 1971 while the Zodiac Killer was still active, featuring a serial killer tellingly named after the zodiac sign of "Scorpio." The investigating detective, Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood), is loosely based on Toschi. Additionally, the film features a scene in which Scorpio’s actions, such as kidnapping a school bus of children, mirror actual threats made by the Zodiac Killer.

    Movie 2: Adapted from two nonfiction books on the unsolved serial killer case, David Fincher’s Zodiac strives for historical accuracy in depicting the true story cinematically. The film doesn’t provide answers to the killer’s identity but re-creates the efforts of Toschi (played by Mark Ruffalo), political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), and crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.). A scene within Zodiac features Toschi watching Dirty Harry, acknowledging the film's inspiration.

  • ‘Rocky’ Was Partially Based On Real-Life Boxer Chuck Wepner, Whose Life Became A Biopic In ‘Chuck’

    The True Story: Chuck Wepner was a heavyweight boxer who went head-to-head with some of the sport’s most iconic figures, including a 1975 title fight against world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.

    Movie 1: Wepner’s losing fight against Ali served as the inspiration for 1976’s best picture winner, Rocky. The film was written by and starring Sylvester Stallone in the title role of Rocky Balboa, who was loosely based on Wepner. Balboa’s opponent in the film is Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), whose larger-than-life personality resembles that of Ali.

    Movie 2: Chuck is a straightforward biopic based on the life and career of Wepner, with Liev Schreiber in the title role as the boxer. Chuck re-creates Wepner’s title fight against Ali (Pooch Hall), as well as the aftermath of fame he received with the success of Rocky.

  • ‘In the Heart of the Sea’ Tells The Story Of The Real-Life Inspiration Behind ‘Moby Dick’

    The True Story: Moby-Dick is an 1851 novel by American writer Herman Melville that follows the symbolic pursuit of revenge against a giant white sperm whale responsible for the ship’s Captain Ahab losing his leg. The title whale was modeled after a notoriously elusive real albino whale named Mocha Dick, and the book's ending is based on the sinking of the Essex, an actual whaleship from the 1820s.

    Movie 1: Although Melville’s novel has been adapted to screen multiple times, the best is arguably John Huston’s 1956 release, which stars Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. Moby Dick traces Captain Ahab’s hunt for the titular whale, witnessed by a sailor named Ishmael (Richard Basehart).

    Movie 2: Based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s maritime history book, In the Heart of the Sea is centered on the true sinking of the whaleship Essex. The film’s primary narrative is framed by the efforts of Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) to adapt the experience for his novel Moby-Dick.

  • ‘Enigma’ Is A Fictionalized Version Of The Same Alan Turing Story That Became ‘The Imitation Game’

    The True Story: Alan Turing was an English mathematician famous for his work in the development of theoretical computer science, including the creation of the Turing machine. Turing also worked for the codebreaking Government Code and Cypher School in Britain during World War II.

    Movie 1: Enigma is a fictional WWII espionage thriller involving British codebreakers that draws inspiration from real characters, places, and events. The protagonist is a codebreaker named Tom Jericho (Dougray Scott), whose character is partially based on Turing.

    Movie 2: As a biopic of Turing’s life, The Imitation Game includes sequences depicting the mathematician’s time as a wartime codebreaker, as well as his subsequent creation of the Turing machine. Turing is played by Benedict Cumberbatch in an Academy Award-nominated performance.

  • ‘My Blue Heaven’ Was Based On The Life Of Henry Hill And Came Out In 1990… The Same Year As ‘Goodfellas,’ Which Was Also Based On The Life Of Hill

    The True Story: Henry Hill was a Mafia associate turned FBI informant, resulting in 50 convictions. Hill was the subject of crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi’s nonfiction book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family.

    Movie 1: Pileggi’s wife was filmmaker Nora Ephron, who used her husband’s connections to collect material for her own fictional screenplay inspired by Hill’s time in witness protection. My Blue Heaven starred Steve Martin as former mobster Vinnie Antonelli and is a fish-out-of-water comedy about the informant’s difficulty in letting go of his criminal ways.

    Movie 2: Pileggi also co-wrote the screenplay adaptation of his book with director Martin Scorsese, and Goodfellas was released shortly after My Blue Heaven in 1990. Ray Liotta stars as Hill, and the film traces his criminal history up to the point he entered witness protection in 1980.