Movies That Were Based On The Smallest Grain Of Truth



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Vote up the films that were more "inspired" than "based."

Whether sitting down to enjoy a horror flick, a war drama, or a family film, believing that the narrative is based on a true story somehow makes the experience all the more appealing. Witnessing “real life” events depicted on screen can give audiences the sense that their cinematic choice is entertaining as well as educating them, allowing viewers to understand events on a more personal level. 

Undoubtedly, there are many great movies based on actual events. However, filmmakers often feel the need to take creative liberties with historical narratives to make the plotlines more entertaining. While some deviations from the original stories don't detract from the movie's accuracy, others become so derailed from the historical event that they should really be considered “inspired” by events rather than “based” on them. 

Below are films that were marketed as being based on true events but really aren't. While some loosely resemble their historical equivalents, others are almost entirely fiction.  

Photo: The Revenant / 20th Century Fox

  • The Fourth Kind's plot centers on the true story of how hundreds of people have disappeared from a small town in Alaska since 1960. As if this wasn't a horrifying enough plot, producers chose to take the narrative even further, claiming that the missing people were victims of alien abduction. 

    However, the FBI proved in 2005 that the events were most likely a much less spooky but more tragic reality. Most of the Nome, AK, disappearances throughout the years were native men who were making the trek in freezing temperatures to the town from their smaller villages. Over 20 of the cases told this similar tale, with alcohol use and deadly cold temperatures setting the framework for the tragedies. Nine of the missing bodies were never recovered. 

    The movie, filmed in a Blair Witch Project style intended to make the plot more believable, has Nome residents outraged over the fictionalization of their town's experiences. Filmmakers marketed the production as fully-documented events, further infuriating those personally affected by the mystery. 

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  • Cocaine Bear (2023)
    Photo: Ferrett333 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    A plotline centered on a bear doing massive amounts of cocaine before going on a rampage may sound like a work of fictional horror-comedy. However, the bizarre tale is (kind of) based on real events. 

    In 1985, drug dealers flew over the Tennesee wilderness with their pounds of powder in a twin-engine aircraft and accidentally dropped 40 containers of it in the woods. Two months later, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found a 200-pound black bear's corpse, revealing that it had ingested over 75 pounds of cocaine. 

    Coroners surmised that the bear had overdosed almost immediately (having a belly full of the drug dealers' product worth around $2 million will do that). A taxidermist preserved the bear, which now resides in a Lexington, KY, mall. Onlookers affectionately refer to it as “Pablo Esco-bear,” after famous drug lord Pablo Escobar. 

    Realizing the story's entertainment potential, director Elizabeth Banks created Cocaine Bear to depict how the bear may have acted had it stayed alive. 

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  • Pocahontas (1995)
    Photo: New England Chromo. Lith. Co. / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Like many other renditions of the tale, Disney's 1995 adaptation of Pocahontas was greatly romanticized and maintained minimal historical accuracy. 

    Pocahontas (whose actual name was Amonute) was a real person, and her father was Chief Powhatan (whose real name was Wahunsenacawh). She did meet John Smith and eventually worked to bridge relationships between the English and neighboring tribes. Beyond these rooted facts, the rest of the plot was altered to create a more palatable narrative that denies the reality of the tragic tale. 

    When Pocahontas initially met John Smith in 1607, he was 27, and she was around 10 or 11 - not a teenager. Historical accounts of their relationship indicate that they were nothing more than acquaintances, as Pocahontas acted as a liaison between the English and local tribes. Interestingly, Disney's depiction of Pocahontas rescuing John Smith reflects the explorer's account in his travel diaries. 

    Beyond considering marrying Kocoum as the movie suggests, Pocahontas actually wedded and had a child with him. However, the princess was eventually kidnapped by the English and forced to give up her first child, suffering the fate of many other native-born girls and young women in the early 1600s. 

    Initially using Amonute as a pawn to prevent hostilities against English camps, then trading her life for a copper pot, Captain Samuel Argall forced her onto a ship headed to England and into a life of Christian assimilation. Throughout her time with her captors, she was repeatedly raped and bore a son named Thomas. She perished mysteriously when she was only 20 years old and was buried in an English church. 

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  • Pearl Harbor (2001)
    Photo: United States Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Pearl Harbor was the most expensive film ever made when it was released in 2001. Still, filmmakers weren't too concerned with producing a historically accurate depiction of the attacks or the people featured in the movie. 

    Though director Michael Bay insisted that the only intent of the film was to bring drama to the initial attack, many who were characterized in his plotline or were present during that attack were angered by the result. Pilot Kenneth Taylor, whose likeness was included in the story, called it “a piece of trash; over-sensationalized and completely distorted.”

    Though two American pilots (2nd Lieutenants George Welch and the above-mentioned Ken Taylor) had been out partying and playing poker the night before they defended America against Japanese attackers at Pearl Harbor, there was no recorded epic love triangle involved - the sole premise of the movie's narrative. Both pilots also survived the war, though Taylor was wounded during a raid at Guadalcanal.

    Beyond the fictitious love story, even the battle scenes, military vehicles and gear, enlistment practices, and war tactics are almost entirely inaccurate - weaving a string of attacks that happened in waves into a singular and underplayed event on screen. 

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  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre claims that it was based on a true story, but the reality is that the horror classic was based on the fact that Ed Gein existed. 

    The real antagonist behind the inspiration of the flick lived in Plainfield, WI, not Texas. Though the story behind his actions is atrocious, the killer never used a chainsaw to end the lives of his victims. Gein was also more interested in digging up and dismembering cadavers than he was in committing actual murder. 

    While it's believed that he was responsible for taking the lives of two middle-aged women and possibly his brother, the copious amounts of furniture and decorations constructed out of human body parts police found in his home were mostly from those who were no longer living when Gein came in contact with them. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and placed in a mental hospital, where he remained until his passing. 

    Notably, the main characters in Silence of the Lambs and Psycho are also (loosely) based on Gein. 

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    Despite being based on real events, the majority of Argo's plotline is made almost entirely of dramatized fiction. It is true that the CIA disguised itself as a film crew to rescue six Americans in post-revolutionary Iran - validating their cover story by running fake ads for the movie and creating a script for its characters. Argo's producers created the script for their own film using Antonio Mendez's memoir as a guide, the character represented by Ben Affleck in the story. 

    Beyond these aspects, the drama throughout the award-winning film's narrative was entirely overblown for cinematic appeal. Despite playing a significant role in the mission, Canada's involvement was greatly undermined in the plot. Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor not only housed the Americans, but he also devised the plan for their escape. Canadian officials also laid most of the groundwork for the plan's execution, teaching the Americans how to talk with a Canadian accent, acquiring entrance and exit visas in multiple locations and patterns throughout Iran, and researching airports to find the safest getaway. 

    An equally notable inconsistency lies in the film's overly complicated exit strategy, which shows Ben Affleck's character facing almost every obstacle that could take place throughout the escape. In reality, the plan went off without a hitch. Mendez's memoir recounts that the entire mission ran “smooth as silk.” While the Iranian government hired carpet weavers to piece together shredded documents to catch the escapees, none of them successfully identified any of the Americans before they were safely removed from the country. 

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