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19 amazing films based on true stories

Yep, these amazing tales actually happened - have you seen them all?

Emmy Griffiths

Sometimes films can be so much more shocking, emotional and occasionally even awe-inspiring when you know they actually happened in real life. From dramatised true crime to inspirational stories of perseverance and survival, here are our favourite 19 films based on true stories (and a little more info about what really happened).

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Zac Efron stars as Ted Bundy, a notorious serial killer who confessed to the murders of 30 women in the 1970s. Although the film will of course look at Bundy's court case and subsequent imprisonment, Zac revealed that he was more interested in the psychology of Ted, and his relationship with his girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer. Chatting on the Graham Norton Show, he said: "I had a lot of reservations about playing a killer and in this genre of film. I wasn’t interested in glorifying anything, but I was interested in the psychological aspect of whether he was capable of real love." The film appears to follow reality, as in real life Elizabeth stayed with Ted until 1976, after he was initially arrested.

Where to watch: NOW TV

Dunkirk

A fictionalised version of the famous "miracle" evacuation of World War II, where over 300,000 Allied troops were safely rescued while surrounded by enemies, follows the journeys of a young soldier trying to make his way onto a boat, a shell-shocked soldier who is the sole survivor of a shipwreck, and Farrier, a pilot tasked with shooting down German bombers.

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Where to watch: Amazon Prime

The Impossible

This film is based on the experiences of the Belón family, who all managed to survive the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami while on holiday in Thailand and reunite with one another after being separated by the devastating wave. Although the characters' surname was changed in the film, Maria Belón worked with the screenwriter to ensure the story was accurate. Speaking about her experience, she said: "The tsunami was an incredible gift. I embrace life. My whole life is extra time. There is no difference between me—a Spanish woman named María who is alive—and thousands of moms who are under the sea."

Where to watch: Netflix

Green Book

Green Book focuses on the friendship of Doctor Don Shirley, a genius pianist who hires a hard-hitting bouncer, Tony Lip, to chauffeur him throughout his tour in the southern states. Throughout their journey, the pair encounter racial tensions and learn more about one another, eventually becoming close friends. However, according to Shirley's family, the reality was a little different. His brouther, Maurice Shirley, said" "My brother never considered Tony to be his 'friend'; he was an employee, his chauffeur (who resented wearing a uniform and cap). This is why context and nuance are so important. The fact that a successful, well-to-do black artist would employ domestics that did NOT look like him, should not be lost in translation."

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Pocahontas

The Disney version of the story of Pocahontas sees the daughter of a Native American chief fall in love with Colonist John Smith – teaching him how to paint with all the colours of the wind while introducing him to a talking tree. Of course, in reality it was quite different, as after Pocahontas did indeed save John Smith's life, she was then taken as hostage by the Colonists and ended up staying with them and marrying a tobacco planter, John Rolfe. A year after giving birth to their son, she sadly died from unknown causes, and was thought to be around 20 at the time of her death.

Where to watch: NOW TV

The Social Network

The story of how Facebook began – and you'd never expect so much drama from a group of computer whizzes! The film follows a lawsuit between former best friends Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin, who co-founded Facebook before Eduardo's shares were diluted from 34% to 0.03%. Speaking about the accuracy of the film, Mark claimed it was "not so dramatic" as the dramatization made out, but noted that his wardrobe was very accurate, explaining: "It's interesting the stuff that they focused on getting right—like every single shirt and fleece they had in that movie is actually a shirt or fleece that I own."

Where to watch: Netflix

The Miracle Season

The Miracle Season follows the story of a High School volleyball team who, after losing their larger-than-life captain to a tragic accident, decide to play the rest of the season in her honour, and begin winning match after match. This is a heartbreaking true story that will leave you both devastated and inspired. The videos and photos of the real-life people who inspired the story will leave not a dry eye in the house.

Where to watch: Netflix

Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks stars as Richard Phillips, a real-life sea captain whose ship was boarded and hijacked by Somali pirates – and the actions that the heroic captain took to save his crew mates lives. Speaking about the film, Richard previously said: "When I met him [Tom Hanks] I told him if he's going to play me he's going to have to put on a little weight and get a little better-looking and he did neither". Despite the film being a huge success, some crew members argued that it portrayed the captain as more heroic than he actually was, claiming he was partly at fault for the attack thanks to his "insistence on being fast and making money ... [getting] the Alabama within 250 miles of the Somali coast".

Where to watch: NOW TV

12 Years a Slave

Based on an 1853 memoir, this Oscar-winning film follows the life of Solomon Northup, a free man and talented violinist who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South for 12 years before he was able to seek rescue from his friends in New York. The film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon, who opened up about reading the book for the first time, telling IndieWire: "I went back to the book and I went back to the script, basically. And I felt that there were at least half a dozen moments when reading the script where I was like, 'I can be inside this experience'.'"

Where to watch: Available to rent/buy on Amazon Prime

Lion

This film follows the true story of Saroo, a young boy who fell asleep on a train in India and woke up hundreds of miles from home with little clue about the name of his hometown, or how to get back. After being adopted by an Australian couple, a grown-up Saroo becomes determined to track down his origins – and the final clips of the film show the man's real journey (and will leave you in tears).

Where to watch: Netflix

A Beautiful Mind

This film follows the life of John Nash, a Pulitzer prize-winning mathematician who develops paranoid schizophrenia and delusional episodes while constantly seeing the same three people – Charles, his best friend, Charles' niece, and a William Parcher, a member of the Department of Defence who John believes is giving him codebreaking assignments. Although the film was met with critical acclaim, it did miss out key points of John's life – including that he had a son born out of wedlock, and his divorce and remarriage with his wife, Alicia.

Where to watch: Available to rent/buy on Google Play

Wild

The film is based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, who, aged 26, decided to hike the 1,100 miles of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, despite having very little hiking experience, in order to help herself heal from tragedies including the death of her mother, that sank her into depression, her drug addiction, as well as her newly destroyed marriage.

Where to watch: Available to rent/buy on Amazon Prime

Sully

The true story about the crash that was known as 'the miracle on the Hudson', after pilot Captain Sullivan had to land the plane in the river due to a bird strike. Following the crash landing, which resulted in zero fatalities and turned Sully into a national hero, the film looks at the subsequent trial, where it was argued that Sully didn't have to land in the Hudson, but instead could have diverted to two nearby airports.

Where to watch: Netflix

Titanic

Sure, Jack and Rose weren't real. But the tragedy of the largest and most luxurious ship ever made (at the time) sinking during its maiden voyage certainly is. Sure you could visit the museum in Belfast and learn all about it there, but Titanic is most definitely worth a watch in the meantime. Particularly if you want to have a good cry.

Where to watch: Available to rent/buy on Amazon Prime

127 Hours

This gruesome film stars James Franco as Aron Ralston, an extreme sports enthusiast who goes hiking at Utah's Canyonlands National Park without telling anyone where he was heading, and finding himself stuck when a boulder slips during his climb, crushing his hand and leaving him trapped. Filming his experience of being there on a handheld camera, Aron goes through stages of deliriousness, terror and boredom as he attempts to free himself – eventually resorting to cutting off his own hand – eek. Speaking about the film, the real Aron said it was "so factually accurate it is as close to a documentary as you can get and still be a drama".

Where to watch: Google Play

Apollo 13

The film follows the ill-fated journey of Apollo 13, a spacecraft that was met with critical problems after an on-board explosion took out electrical power and most of the oxygen, and became a mission of survival to have the astronauts land safely. There were a few notable inaccuracies from the film to reality – including the film's tagline: "Houston, we have a problem." In reality, Jack Swigert said: "Hey, we've got a problem here," then repeated: "Houston, we've had a problem."

Where to watch: Netflix

Catch Me If You Can

Stranger than Fiction, this story follows Frank Abagnale Jr, a young man who begins forging cheques and fraudulently posing as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer, all the while pursued by Carl Hanratty, a FBI agent. The brilliant cat and mouse game did actually happen, although Frank previously stated that he never discussed the script with the director, Steven Spielberg.

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He said: "I've never met nor spoken to Steven Spielberg and I have not read the script. I prefer not to… Steven Spielberg has told the screenplay writer (Jeff Nathanson) that he wants complete accuracy in the relationships and actual scams that I perpetrated."

Where to watch: NOW TV

Boy Erased

This 2019 film looks at the real-life experience of Jared Eamons, who, as a gay teenager, entered conversion therapy to be 'cured' of being a homosexual at the request of his deeply religious preacher father. The film is a terrifying look at the deeply contested practice and the psychological effect it has on its clients.

Where to watch: Google Play

Remember the Titans

This film looks at one of the first integrated football teams in the US, and how they bandied together and found friendships with each other, despite racial prejudices outside of their team, and eventually bringing their community together in a shared love of football. It is a beautiful film with a top notch cast, including Denzel Washington, a young Ryan Gosling and an even younger Hayden Panettiere.

Where to watch: Google Play