Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it also makes some of the best movies. From alien-abduction to a goofy comic’s secret life as a CIA hitman and a “flying” three-ton elephant, here are just a few allegedly true stories that made it to the screen.
“Amityville Horror” (1979) • Although the sub-hed on Jay Anson’s 1977 book is “A True Story,” the word “claims” always pops up when the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family home are brought into question. The story centers on a Dutch Colonial house in the Long Island, New York, suburb, where Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed six members of his family. The Lutz family (included three children) moved into the furnished house a year after the crimes, but fled just 28 days later, claiming – there’s that word – they were being terrorized by paranormal phenomena, including disembodied voices, psychokinesis, malevolent unseen forces, a red-eyed demon and blood-oozing walls. Lawsuits and controversy plagued the book and the subsequent film over its truthfulness.
“The Basketball Diaries” (1995) • Based on a memoir by musician Jim Carroll that was later made into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, “The Basketball Diaries” chronicles the life of a young man between the ages of 12 and 16, including his years as a high school basketball player, his sexual experiences and addiction to heroin. The film became the center of controversy when critics noticed similarities between the film’s shooting attacks and the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and was named in lawsuits filed by the families of some of the victims.
“BlacKkKlansman” (2018) • The comedy crime film directed by Spike Lee is based on the memoir of Ron Stallworth, a Black detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department, who infiltrated and exposed the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Although the film was Stallworth’s telling of the events he participated in, there were a handful of details where creative license was taken, like, the reveal of his partner’s identity, he and the other officers never worked covertly to nab a racist cop, and the entire bomb plot against the Black Student Union is fictional.
“Chicago” (2002) • Aside from the tap-dancing defense attorney, the singing jail matron and the dancing and singing gorgeous heroines, “Chicago” is “inspired” by the true story of Beulah May Annan (Roxie in the film) and Belva Gaertner (Velma in the film), two real-life Jazz-era murderers, both of whom were acquitted. In 1926, Chicago Tribune reporter Maurice Dallas Watkins covered their two trials and wrote a play based on Annan’s case.
“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (2002) • For anyone who has ever seen “The Gong Show,” the amateur talent show of the ’70s and ’80s, its host Chuck Barris was the last person you’d think could pull off being an assassin for the CIA — but that is what he claimed in his 1984 “unauthorized autobiography.” After the film’s release, a CIA spokesman insisted Barris’ claims that he worked for the spy agency were “ridiculous. It’s absolutely not true.”
“The Exorcist” (1973) • Like many of the other films on this list, this classic horror film adaption of a novel of the same name was also “loosely” based on a true story of an 11-year-old girl possessed by a demon and the priests who attempt to exorcise it. Author William Peter Blatty found inspiration in a 1949 case of Roman Catholic priests who performed a series of exorcisms on a 14-year-old boy who was the alleged victim of a demonic possession. It was later uncovered that many of the accepted “facts” of the case were based on hearsay and the teen was “just a deeply disturbed boy.”
“Fire in the Sky” (1993) • Travis Walton’s 1978 book “The Walton Experience” in which he describes allegedly being abducted by an extraterrestrial was the basis for this sci-fi biopic. It tells the story of the Arizona forestry worker, who went missing for five days, claiming that he encountered a hovering saucer-shaped object that shot a beam of light at him and knocked him unconscious. He went on to say that when he awoke, he was in a hospital-like room, being observed by short, bald creatures. Although it is still regarded as one of the most widely-known alien abduction stories, cries of “hoax” continue to this day.
“Florence Foster Jenkins” (2016) • Yes, that flamboyant, tone deaf socialite once dubbed “the world’s worst opera singer,” who became a cult figure of the 1910’s-’40s and was so beautifully played by Meryl Streep (who else?) in the film actually did exist. In fact, big names of the day like Enrico Caruso and Cole Porter were huge fans.
“Girl, Interrupted” (1999) • The film probably best known for Angelina Jolie’s Oscar-, Golden Globe- and a SAG Award-winning performance is based on Susanna Kaysen’s 1993 memoir recounting her 18-month stay in a psychiatric hospital after being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. However, Kaysen (who was played by Winona Ryder) wasn’t thrilled with the film, accusing director James Mangold of inventing plot points – which she called “melodramatic drivel” – that were not in her book.
“The Great Escape” (1963) • One of the greatest war films of all-time was actually based on a real event – the mass escape of British Commonwealth prisoners from the German POW camp Stalag Luft III in what is now Poland during World War II. To insure U.S. box office appeal, however, the involvement of Americans in the escape was beefed up quite a bit, with most of the characters fictionalized composites of several real-life soldiers. ”
“Midnight Express” (1978) • Oliver Stone adapted Billy Hayes’ 1977 non-fiction book about his time in a Turkish prison after he attempted to smuggle hash taped to his chest out of the country. Hayes wasn’t completely pleased with the film’s deviation from the book — especially how the Turkish characters were portrayed, with the prison guards portrayed as sadistic and the children as slovenly. The film also had a devastating effect on Turkish tourism and pretty much destroyed Turkey’s relationship with the West. The Motion Picture Academy, however, liked it just fine, nominating it for Best Picture and Best Director (Alan Parker).
“Moneyball” (2011) • Brad Pitt starred in (and received an Oscar nomination for) the film adaptation of Michael Lewis’ non-fiction book about the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season and its general manager’s attempt to pull together a solid team on a very limited budget. Former A’s manager Art Howe was critical of how his character (played by (Philip Seymour Hoffman) was written, as was former A’s first baseman, Scott Hatteberg, who was played by Chris Pratt in the film.
“My Left Foot” (1989) • The extraordinary life of writer and artist Christy Brown came to life thanks to the uber-talented Daniel Day-Lewis. The film follows Brown, a working-class Irishman born with cerebral palsy, who had no control of his limbs – accept his left foot. Lewis and Brenda Fricker (who played his devoted mother) won Oscars for their performances.
“Operation Dumbo Drop” (1995) • A Nestle Crunch Bar wrapper triggers the journey of two three-ton elephants as they “fly” 300 miles over a remote mountain village (courtesy of a C-130 airplane, of course) during the War in Vietnam. It may be hard to believe but, yes, it’s based on the true story of United States Army major Jim Morris. According to Green Beret John Scott Gantt, it took 12 straight hours talking to zoos across America just to figure out how to tranquilize them for the trip. Luckily, the real-life “drop” went as planned and, in fact, the mission could have been called “Operation Dumbo Easy Landing.”
“Paradise Road” (1997) • An all-star cast of some of the best actresses in the biz – including Glenn Close, Cate Blanchett, Frances McDormand and Julianna Margulies – told the true story of a group of English, American, Australian and Dutch women who were round-up by the Japanese and imprisoned in a Sumatra internment camp during World War II, ultimately surviving the cruelties they faced by forming a vocal orchestra. If you haven’t seen this one, you really should.
“Princess Caraboo” (1994) • The mystery began when an exotically dressed, confused young woman speaking an unintelligible language turned up in 19th century England. While imprisoned for vagrancy, she told a Portuguese sailor speaking her language that she was Princess Caraboo from the island of Javasu in the Indian Ocean and that she had been captured by pirates. Tales of her adventures were widely published and she became a celebrity across the world. But as it turned out, it was a big hoax, and she was just a troubled cobbler’s daughter names Mary Willcocks.
“Hustlers” (2019) • The sub-hed on journalist Jessica Pressler’s 2015 New York Magazine article “The Hustlers at Scores” pretty much sums up the plot of this Robin Hood-esque true story: “A few strippers who stole from the (mostly) rich, (usually) disgusting, (in their minds) pathetic men and gave to, well, themselves.” Jennifer Lopez earned applause for her performance… and what Vanity Fair called “the sexiest film scene of the year.”
“Sybil” (1997) • Sally Field proved that her talent went far beyond “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun” when she took on the role of Shirley Ardell Mason aka Sybil Dorsett, a real life art teacher, who had dissociative identity disorder and possessed 16 different personalities. Mason’s psychiatrist who made the diagnosis was later accused by another doctor of manipulating her into behaving like she had multiple personalities when she, in fact, did not. Nonetheless, Field’s performance was called everything from “astonishing” to “nothing short of amazing.”
“The Zookeeper’s Wife” (2017) • The courage and ingenuity of a Polish couple saved the lives of 300 Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto at the start of World War II by hiding them in their zoo, which had been mostly destroyed in bombings under German occupation. The film closely follows the facts chronicled in unpublished diaries of the wife Antonina Żabińska, including the underground pathways connecting the animal cages and the storage of arms for the resistance.
And, collectively, “Psycho” (1960), “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) and “Silence of the Lambs” (1991), which are all loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein • No list of films inspired by real events (or real people) would be complete without mention of Ed Gein, also known as Butcher of Plainfield or the Plainfield Ghoul, referring for his Wisconsin hometown. And “ghoul” perfectly described him. Norman Bates in “Psycho” was loosely based on Gein, who also sealed off his dead mother in a room and dressed in her clothing; Gein, like Leatherface in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” also wore a human’s scalp and face as a mask; and the character of Buffalo Bill in “The Silence of the Lambs” was fashioned after Gein, who also exhumed bodies in cemeteries and made trophies and “skin suits” out of bones and human flesh. You want to get seriously creeped out, look him up.
Read original story 20 OMG Movie Plots That Are Actually Based on True Stories, From ‘The Exorcist’ to ‘Hustlers’ (Photos) At TheWrap