The 30 Most Inspiring Movies Based On True Stories

When a film is based on a true story, it takes entertainment to the next level.

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Watching a movie that is entertaining can be a thrilling escape, especially when you have a great selection to choose from. Whether it's post-apocalyptic, movies from your favorite decade, or something spiritual to get you thinking, movies have a way of taking us into an entirely new world and making us think.

And when that film is based on a true story, it takes the message to the next level.

Some of Hollywood's most memorable movies are based on real life events. There are plenty of great movies based on true stories, whether the plot is about family dynamics, a historical event, or even horror-based experience.


No matter the plot, these real-life stories are worth watching.

30 Best Movies Based on True Stories

1. I, Tonya (2017)

"I, Tonya" follows the real life of figure skater Tonya Harding and her connection to the 1994 attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan. The award-winning film is a dark comedic tale portraying Harding’s rise to fame, and her ex-husband’s grotesque plan to attack Kerrigan.


Allison Janney, who plays Harding's mother LaVona Golden, won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and Margot Robbie received a nomination for Best Actress.

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2. Roxanne Roxanne (2017)

At the age of 14, Roxanne was well on her way to becoming a hip-hop legend as she hustled to provide for her family while defending herself from the dangers of the streets of the Queensbridge Projects in NYC. Chanté Adams plays rapper Roxanne Shanté in the dramatic biopic that also stars Mahershala Ali and Nia Long.


3. Hidden Figures (2016)

"Hidden Figures" follows the stories of three female African-American mathematicians working at NASA who were instrumental in many of the program's accomplishments in the early 60s: Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, respectively.

"Hidden Figures" received three nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actress for Spencer at the 89th Academy Awards.

4. Captain Phillips (2013)

This film is the true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the U.S.-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years. The real story is so thrilling that screenwriters hardly needed to add any extra drama to the script.


Tom Hanks’ Captain Phillips employs almost all the same strategies in the film’s depiction that the real-life captain did to save his crew and himself from the armed pirates.

5. 8 Mile (2002)

The #1 box office hit "8 Mile" is based loosely on Eminem's actual upbringing, and follows white rapper B-Rabbit (Eminem) and his attempt to launch a career in a genre dominated by African-Americans. "8 Mile" was also a commercial success; Eminem won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "Lose Yourself."

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6. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

"The Wolf of Wall Street" is a captivating film that delves into the life of Jordan Belfort, a charismatic stockbroker. The movie portrays Belfort's meteoric rise to wealth and success through unethical and fraudulent practices in the 1990s.

It explores the excessive and debaucherous lifestyle he leads, filled with lavish parties, drugs, and extravagant spending. Ultimately, the film confronts the consequences and downfall Belfort faces as his fraudulent activities attract the attention of the FBI.

7. Wild (2014)

"Wild" is a film based on the chronicle of one woman's 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent personal tragedy.


Based on Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail," the film stars Reese Witherspoon as Strayed, alongside Laura Dern (as Strayed's mother).

8. Spotlight (2015)

"Spotlight" won Best Picture at the 2016 Academy Awards — and rightfully so! The film tells the story of a team of journalists at "The Boston Globe" who uncover a sexual abuse scandal within the Roman Catholic Church.

Led by editor Walter “Robby” Robinson, played by Michael Keaton, the news team investigates John Geoghan, a priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys.


9. Into the Wild (2007)

"Into the Wild" is a thought-provoking film based on the true story of Christopher McCandless. It follows McCandless as he abandons his comfortable life and embarks on a journey into the wilderness of Alaska.

The movie explores his quest for freedom and self-discovery, as he seeks to escape societal norms and live a simple, nomadic existence. However, as McCandless faces the harsh realities of the wilderness, the film raises questions about the allure of isolation and the importance of human connections.

10. Monster (2003)

"Monster" is based on the life of Aileen Wuornos, a Daytona Beach sex worker who became a serial killer.


Actress Charlize Theron gained 30 pounds by doing things like eating Krispy Kreme donuts, and with the help of makeup artists she changed her glamorous self into a dead ringer Wuornos, who was convicted and then executed in Florida in 2002. Theron won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2004.

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11. Lion (2016)

"Lion" is another film that made waves at the Oscars, receiving six nominations in 2017, including Best Picture. The film tells the remarkable story of a young Indian boy, Saroo, who gets lost on a train that takes him thousands of miles across India, away from home and family.


After being lost and left to fend on his own, he is adopted by an Australian couple . With only a distant memory of his family, he sets out to find his birth parents more than two decades later.

12. On the Basis of Sex (2018)

"On the Basis of Sex" is an inspiring biographical drama that chronicles the early career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The film focuses on Ginsburg's fight for gender equality and her groundbreaking efforts to challenge discriminatory laws. It also highlights her pivotal role in a landmark case that paved the way for gender-based discrimination to be legally challenged in the United States.

Through her determination and resilience, Ginsburg becomes a trailblazer and an influential figure in the fight for women's rights.


13. The Impossible (2012)

"The Impossible" is a film based on the true story of one family who were caught in the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The story surrounds one of the survivors, María Belón, a Spanish tourist who was lounging by a pool in Thailand along with her husband and three young sons when the tsunami hit.

Belón has high praise for director Juan Antonio Bayona, who she says made an accurate account of her harrowing story for the big screen. Naomi Watts and Tom Holland, who play mother and son, Maria and Lucas, were immersed in a massive water tank for five weeks of filming. Watts received a nomination for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her portrayal.

14. Miracles From Heaven (2016)

Based on the book of the same name written by Christy Beam, "Miracles From Heaven" recounts the true story of Beam's young daughter who had a near-death experience and was later cured of an incurable disease.


The film stars Jennifer Garner who portrays Beam, a Texas mother whose Christian faith is tested by her child's potentially fatal diagnosis.

15. Hustlers (2019)

"Hustlers" follows a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients.

The film is based on the life of Samantha Barbash, Roselyn Keo, Karina Pascucci, and Marsi Rosen, which came to the public eye due to Jessica Pressler’s December 2015 New York Magazine article “The Hustlers at Scores.” The four women were said to have ripped off at least $200,000.


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16. Erin Brockovich (2000)

Erin Brockovich is a single mother who is having a rough time, but she soon becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city's water supply.

The story is based on the real life of Erin Brockovich-Ellis, who worked as a legal clerk for lawyer Edward L. Masry in the early 1990s. She helped investigate a case involving contaminated water in Hinkley, California, and played a crucial role in securing a settlement of $333 million for the affected residents.


17. Seven Years in Tibet (1997)

Jean-Jacques Annaud's "Seven Years in Tibet" takes the true story of a bright and powerful young boy who meets a stranger from a different land.

The film is based on the book "Seven Years in Tibet: My Life Before, During and After" by Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, portrayed by Brad Pitt, and is based on his real-life experiences in Tibet between 1944 and 1951 during the Second World War.

18. Devotion (2022)

"Devotion" is a gripping war drama that tells the true story of Navy pilot Jesse Brown, the first African-American aviator in the U.S. Navy. Set during the Korean War, the film follows Brown and his wingman, Lieutenant Tom Hudner, as they face intense combat and navigate racial tensions.


Amidst the chaos, a bond of brotherhood forms between the two men, leading to a remarkable act of bravery and sacrifice. "Devotion" is a compelling tale of honor, courage, and the enduring power of friendship in the face of adversity.

19. Fruitvale Station (2013)

"Fruitvale Station" is based on the events leading to the death of Oscar Grant, a young Black man who was killed in 2009 by a white police officer in Oakland. The incident, captured on video by onlookers, incited protest and unrest.

The film stars Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant, with Kevin Durand and Chad Michael Murray.


20. Veronica (2017)

In this Spanish horror film, a teenager unleashes a demonic presence after attempting to use a ouija board to summon her father’s spirit. "Veronica" is based on the true story of Estefania Gutierrez Lazaro, a real girl who died in 1992.

She had reportedly used a ouija board in an attempt to contact the spirit of her recently deceased boyfriend, and friends say that she suffered seizures and hallucinations for months afterward. Her parents also claimed that their house was haunted.

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21. 12 Years a Slave (2013)

"12 Years a Slave" is a powerful and heartbreaking historical drama based on the memoir of Solomon Northup. The film portrays the harrowing true story of Northup, a free African-American man who is abducted and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War United States.

Stripped of his identity and subjected to unimaginable cruelty, Solomon must navigate the brutal plantation life while desperately seeking a way to regain his freedom. With its raw depiction of slavery's horrors and a stellar ensemble cast, "12 Years a Slave" is an emotionally charged exploration of resilience, injustice, and the enduring spirit of humanity.

22. The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Based on a true story, "The Conjuring 2" follows paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as they travel to Britain to assist the Hodgson family who are experiencing poltergeist activity at their Enfield council house in 1977. The film is a sequel to the wildly popular and true story-based, "The Conjuring."


23. Walt Before Mickey (2015)

If you're looking for something less terrifying and more lighthearted, this Walt Disney biopic delves into the story of how Walt Disney himself became the pioneer of the animation industry and one of America's most influential creative geniuses.

24. The Big Sick (2017)

"The Big Sick" is a romantic comedy based on the real-life love story of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Nanjiani, a Pakistani-American comedian, and Gordon, an American graduate student, navigate the complexities of their cross-cultural relationship.


When Emily falls seriously ill, Kumail finds himself forming an unlikely bond with her parents while confronting his own identity and the expectations of his traditional family. With its perfect blend of humor, emotion, and cultural exploration, "The Big Sick" is a genuine portrayal of love, family, and the power of human connection.

25. The Monster of Mangatiti (2015)

Real events are dramatized in the unthinkable story of a resilient teenager held prisoner by a seasoned predator on a remote farm in 1980. This movie is based on real-life events of Heather Walsh, who was held prisoner by Bill Cornelius for about six months, forced to endure torture and abuse at the hands of the sadistic, depraved man.

"The Monster of Mangatiti" focuses on how Walsh was able to endure and survive, avoiding falling into the usual exploitation traps, and telling a powerful story in the process.


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26. 37 (2016)

This biopic looks into how Kitty Genovese was raped and murdered outside her home in front of 37 witnesses without anyone stopping to help. The film, inspired by the true story set in 1964 in New York, peeks into the lives of three disparate families, the lonely neighbor and the doorman.

Viewers connect with the neighbors and understand their decisions not to act by following their day-to-day struggles. They deal with their personal lives the same way they deal with the murder — if they don't talk about it, it didn't happen.


27. Zodiac (2007)

"Zodiac" is a riveting crime thriller directed by David Fincher, based on the true events surrounding the unsolved Zodiac Killer case in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A group of investigators, journalists, and cartoonist Robert Graysmith become consumed by the hunt for the elusive and taunting serial killer.

As the body count rises and the clues become more cryptic, the pursuit of the Zodiac Killer takes a toll on their personal lives and sanity. "Zodiac" explores obsession, justice, and the enduring mystery of one of America's most notorious killers.

28. First They Killed My Father (2017)

"First They Killed My Father" is a biographical historical thriller film directed by Angelina Jolie, and written by Jolie and Loung Ung, based on Ung's memoir of the same name. Set in 1975, the film depicts 7-year-old Ung who is forced to be trained as a child soldier while her siblings are sent to labor camps during the Communist Khmer Rouge regime.


Jolie caused some controversy when she cast local Cambodian children with no previous acting experience, asking them to connect their own painful experiences with those presented in the movie.

29. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

When a horror film is based on a true story, it automatically becomes even more frightening. Although a lot of it is sensationalized further to make it scarier, the story behind "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" is based on Anneliese Michel, a young woman who began to experience hallucinations in the 70s.

30. Roma (2018)

"Roma" is a visually stunning and deeply intimate drama directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Set in the 1970s in Mexico City, the film follows the life of Cleo, a young domestic worker, as she navigates the complexities of her personal and professional relationships within an affluent family.


Through black-and-white cinematography, the film captures both the grand and the everyday moments of Cleo's life, revealing the social and political backdrop of the era. "Roma" features masterful storytelling and delves into themes of class, love, and resilience.

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Maria Lianos-Carbone is the author of “Oh Baby! A Mom’s Self-Care Survival Guide for the First Year: Because Moms Need a Little TLC, Too!” and publisher of A Mother World, a lifestyle blog for women.