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10 Movies “Based on a True Story” That Are Actually False

Movies based on a true story naturally get an instant and unique space in our hearts. We love the intrigue and excitement that comes with knowing that a farfetched tale was an actual life experience for real people. Whether it’s a story of inspiration or a gore-filled horror experience, there is indeed something magical and unnerving about watching a movie that has been inspired by actual events. Filmmakers know this and take advantage of this to get viewers sucked in quickly. It is an effective marketing strategy. That’s why one recurring trope in the movie industry are tales that are based on true stories.

But if you’re going to use the “Based On A True Story” tag, is it too much to ask for the claim to be valid? Well, it seems so. The following are some of your favorite movies “based on true stories” that are wrong and lied to you.

Fargo ― 1996

“Fargo” is a 1996 black comedy that was directed by the Coen Brothers. The movie followed William H. Macy as Jerry Lindegaard, a sales manager of a car dealership. When in a financial dilemma, he arranges for his wife to be kidnapped to get a ransom from her wealthy father-in-law. As expected, this doesn’t quite go to plan, and Jerry is often left in something of a predicament as a result. Although the movie is a complete work of fiction, there is a script shown before the movie starts that reads as follows:“This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed.”So why did the Coen Brothers claim real events inspired it? Simply put, they wanted the audience to invest in the movie, and not write off any of the occurrences as ridiculous.[1]

Argo ― 2012


Ben Affleck carried out double-duty on this 2012 Globe-winning movie, acting as both star and director. “Argo” centers on US-based extractor Tony Mendez (Affleck) and his plan to rescue six Americans who manage to escape militants as they storm the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran. The film shows how Mendez sets up a faux film production company, to convince the Iranian Government that the six escaped were Canadians scouting for locations for a proposed sci-fi movie entitled “Argo.”

Although the movie was based on actual events, former-President Jimmy Carter called out the film, stating that it was the Canadians that came up with most of the plan, and not the CIA as the movie dictates. Carter also noted that the real hero was Karl Taylor, who is represented within the film, although is not the main focus.[2]

The Strangers ― 2008

The Strangers, 2008

When looking at features based on true stories, you can be sure that there will be something of the horror genre that ticks the boxes. Movie director Bryan Bertino entered the fold in 2008 with his home-invasion thriller, “The Strangers.” The film follows the misadventures of a masked gang who decide to terrorize a couple, just because they were at home, but what happened that led to such an uncomfortable premised. However, little poetic justice has been added to the mix, as the story behind the movie isn’t the same, even if it is a bit unsettling.

The book-to-movie adaptation describes that as a child, he heard a knock on the door, and when he and his sister answered, the person knocking was asking to see someone that didn’t live there. It transpired that these door knockings were taking place throughout the neighborhood, and if someone didn’t answer, then the house would be robbed. Bertino was also inspired by the book ‘Helter Skelter’ which documented the murders of Charles Manson. Horror Film Central quoted the following:

“The idea that helped spark ‘The Strangers’ came from when Bertino read the true crime book ‘Helter Skelter’… where two of the most appalling ‘Manson Family’ murders occurred.”

As such, it’s safe to say that “The Strangers” is inspired by different stories, as opposed to retelling one horrific event.[3]

The Blind Side ― 2009

The Blind Side, 2009

John Lee Hancock directed the 2009 biopic based on the life of NFL player, Michael Oher. The film follows Oher’s roots from his time being homeless, to being taken in by Leigh Anne Tuohy and her husband.

However, Oher has criticized the movie, stating that although he was taken in, he had been studying the game of football since he was young. Moreover, was not taught the sport by the Tuhoys as shown in the movies.

Oher also went on to say that he felt the movie portrayed him as dumb, as opposed to a child who suffered continuous interruption with regards to his regular academic instruction.[4]

Oher even cited the movie as the reason as to why he was cut from two different teams in the last six years. Although it’s evident that some of the events portrayed in ‘The Blind Side’ were true, according to Oher, the director has portrayed his persona in the worst light.[5]

The Pursuit of Happyness ― 2006

The Pursuit of Happyness - true story

Director Gabriele Muccino did a superb job of introducing audiences to a heart-breaking and inspiring look at the life of budding entrepreneur Chris Gardner. He makes a lousy investment which eventually sees him homeless with his young son Christopher Jr. From here, Will Smith portrays Gardner as a tenacious worker who is adamant to achieve his goals and care for his family.

While It could be argued that his portrayal of Gardner was one of his most heart-warming yet, his personification of Gardner on screen wasn’t the most accurate. While the movie shows Gardner as a doting and loyal father, the real-life Gardner was so interested in making his first million, that he didn’t actually know of his son’s whereabouts for the first four months of his attendance at the Dean Witter program.[6]

The movie shows Gardner being arrested for parking tickets just before an important interview. However, in real life, he was charged with the more serious charges of drug dealing and assault. It’s evident that real events inspired the movie. Unfortunately, Muccino felt that some of the details were a little too harsh, opting for a more wholesome film as a result.

Open Water ― 2003

Open water movie

Director Chris Kentis looked upon the unfortunate disappearance of two scuba divers for his 2003 psychological thriller. However, although the movie does pick up some of what happened, some of this movie is very much played within the ‘what if’ arena.

Thomas Joseph Lonergan and Eileen Cassidy were a couple who went scuba diving with a group back in 1998 in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Two days later, it was discovered that the couple had disappeared during the excursion after their belongings were found on the dive boat. Despite an extensive search, the couple was never found, with what really happened during this time being up for speculation.[7]

SPOILER ALERT: Although the movie reveals that sharks consumed the couple, all we know is that their camera was found to be devoured by the shark. The couple in the film are also portrayed as entirely different characters, meaning that its connection to real events is minimal.

Captain Phillips (Based on the True Story) ― 2013

Captain Phillips - Based on the true story

Like Will Smith, Tom Hanks a loyal fanbase who fall in love with the characters he plays in many of his movies. Captain Philips was a 2013 drama that was based on the Maersk Alabama hijacking, which saw four pirates seizing the Maersk Alabama back in 2009. Although Captain Philips was portrayed as something of a hero in the 2013 feature, the real character of Captain Philips was much different, at least according to reports from a crew member.[8]

The crew member told of how Philips would often ignore safety protocols, and was sent many emails about ensuring the vessel remained 600 miles away from the coast, which again was ignored. While Captain Philips is the hero-of-the-hour in the 2013 feature, it would appear that the real Captain Philips showed some negligence which resulted in the vessel being taken over.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ― 1974

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Movie

A shock was the order of the day when it came to standing out in the horror film during the 1970s. More and more directors were looking for a hook that would allow them to win over potential audiences in a territory full of extreme slasher flicks, so it should come as no surprise that one based on the actual events would chill people to the core, and make the movie more appealing for horror junkies. Tobe Hooper introduced a serial killer that would echo throughout popular culture for years, thanks to his chainsaw-wielding killing sprees, and his penchant for wearing masks made from the skin of his victims. However, did such a character exist as Leatherface exist?

Unfortunately, the reality is often stranger than fiction, should it should come as no surprise that true events actually inspired the movie, but it’s a bit of a stretch to claim it was all based on a true story. Much of the Leatherface legend was based on real-life serial killer Ed Gein, who would often make masks and belts using his victims remains. However, other than the use of Gein’s interior décor choices and the wearing of masks made from human skin, much of the movie is concocted from the imagination of Jim Henkel and Tobe Hopper.[9]

Good Morning Vietnam ― 1988

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Movie

When you try to determine which of Robin Williams’ performances is the best, it’s difficult to make a single choice. However, one of his stand-out features of the 1980s was the Barry Levinson-directed “Good Morning Vietnam” which starred Williams as Adrian Cronauer, an off-the-wall DJ that proves to be a hit with the troops during the Vietnam war, while rubbing his superiors up the wrong way

While the movie is undoubtedly based on real events, the way Cronauer is portrayed on screen is merely a vehicle for Williams to showcase his unique brand of comedy. Cronauer has even gone on record to say that Williams portrayal is more akin to the DJ he would like to be, although he did point out that the movie was looking to focus more on entertainment, rather than a pedantic biopic.[10]

Cronauer also went on record as saying that if he carried out half the stunts that Williams carried out, he’d still be in Leavenworth, a United States penitentiary. It’s also worth noting that Cronauer wasn’t asked to leave the Armed Forces, but simply gone once the tour-of-duty was over.

Catch Me If You Can – 2002

Catch Me If You Can, 2002

Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed fraudster Frank Abagnale in this 2002 biographical adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg. The movie follows Abagnale, who has to evade the FBI, while taking on many different personas, including that of a pilot and a doctor. Tom Hanks also stars as FBI agent Carl Hanratty who endlessly tailgates Abagnale throughout the movie. Although Frank Abagnale was indeed a fraudster, he was quick to point out some inconsistencies. Firstly, Hanks’ role within the movie would have been much shorter had the film echoed true events. Instead, Spielberg decided to make the persona of Hanratty an amalgamation of the many agents that pursued Abagnale throughout his criminal career.[11]

The real-life Abagnale also pointed out that the very first con artist in the movie was merely a concoction designed to entertain viewers. The scene in question is where Abagnale portrays himself as a substitute French teacher, despite being in school himself at the time.

The scene where Abagnale calls Hanratty on a lonely Christmas Eve is also believed to be a work of fiction. Abagnale stated that he was trying to evade the FBI, so why he would call them up? As you can see, the “based on a true story” trope can often be exaggerated. That’s not to say that the movies on the list are terrible they are very entertaining. Nut be aware that the story you’re watching may not be an accurate reflection of what took place, be it to protect the identities of others, or merely to make a movie that’s more appealing to the masses.

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