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8 Movies Based on Incredible True Stories

The human mind is certainly capable of coming up with some pretty bizarre stories, and yet sometimes reality has a way of outdoing fiction. And when a truly strange or interesting occurrence happens, be sure that Hollywood will not miss the opportunity to transfer the story onto the big screen. We have already shared with you a list of 10 movies that are based on incredible true stories, but as it turns out these incredible stories are too many to be contained in one list. Read on to learn about 8 more movies that are based on shocking yet real events.


1. Midnight Express (1978)

'Midnight Express' tells the true story of American college student Billy Hayes, who was caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey and sent to prison in 1970. Once Billy learns that the prosecution has appealed to the Turkish High Court and extended his punishment from 4 years to 30 years, he decides he must escape. The film’s title is prison slang for an inmate’s escape attempt. 

Although the movie was well-received upon its release and even won Academy Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Original Score, it was criticized by the real Billy Hayes and others for deviating too much from Hayes’s memoir and adding fictionalized details for shock value.

2. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

The unbelievable story depicted in the 2002 film 'Catch Me If You Can' is entirely based on the autobiography of Frank Abagnale, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Abagnale was one of the most prolific con-men of all time - from the age of 15 to 21, he forged "$2.5 million of phony checks in every US state and 26 countries," according to US News. He was also a master of disguise, acting as a pilot, a doctor, and a legal prosecutor along the way. But as he grew more and more infamous, he caught the attention of the FBI and was eventually caught. 

Incredibly, after serving 5 years of his 12-year sentence, Abagnale began working for the FBI to help catch other fraudsters. He has since made a career as a security consultant, working closely with the FBI for 40 years, and even launched his own company. 

3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

The 1962 film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ is considered a masterpiece, and it becomes even more poignant when you learn that it is based on real events. In 1914, the British military employed Thomas Edward Lawrence on an archeological expedition of the Sinai Peninsula, thanks to his knowledge of the region and the language. Once World War I began, Lawrence joined the British military as an intelligence officer in Cairo. He worked a desk job for nearly two years before being sent to Arabia in 1916 where, in spite of his nonexistent military training, he helped lead battlefield expeditions and dangerous missions behind enemy lines during the two-year Arab Revolt against the Turks.

The movie doesn’t just depict Lawrence’s actual struggles on the battlefield, but also his emotional ones, namely his divided allegiance between his native Britain and his friends within the Arabian Desert tribes. If that isn’t material for an epic movie, we don't know what is. 

Related: 10 Film-Noir Movies You Simply Have to Watch

4. Erin Brokovich (2000)

This movie, which won Julia Roberts an Oscar for her role as the protagonist, represents the life of a real woman of the same name. Despite her lack of education in law, Brokovich was instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California in 1993. While working as a clerk in a law firm, Erin stumbled upon some medical records, which turned out to be a cover-up involving contaminated water in a town called Hinkley, causing devastating illnesses among its residents. 

Not only did Brokovich and her team win the case, but it was also the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in US history. Today, the real Erin Brokovich is a media personality herself, while continuing to be an environmental activist and consumer advocate. 

5. Footloose (1984)

A town where dancing is forbidden is actually are a real story? As it turns out, life can truly be stranger than fiction sometimes. When high school seniors in Elmore City, Oklahoma were planning their prom, they were informed it would actually be illegal due to a “not-forgotten ordinance from the late 1800s that forbade dancing within the city limits." The high school students were not ready to accept that, and went up against city council members, led by the local minister who whole-heartedly believed dancing was a tool of evil!

Eventually, the law was overturned, and five years later, the film 'Footloose' starring Kevin Bacon was released, immortalizing this curious story. 

Related: These Life-Affirming Films Will Help You Escape the Gloom

6. The Terminal (2004)

Though the events of ‘The Terminal’ seem even more outlandish than a ban on dancing, there really was a man with an eerily similar life story. Mehran Karimi Nasseri was stranded inside Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport for almost 20 years. Nasseri claimed to be expelled from his native country of Iran, but since he didn’t have a passport, he also couldn’t legally enter France. He refused to return home or travel anywhere else but the UK, which wouldn’t let him in. Eventually, Nasseri was offered residency by both France and Belgium but he refused to sign the papers. In 2006, he was brought into a Parisian hospital, and he now lives in a shelter.

‘The Terminal’, starring Tom Hanks, changed Nessari’s story quite a bit. In the movie, Hanks plays an Eastern European visitor who is stranded in a New York City airport because his passport is rendered invalid. 

7. 50 First Dates (2004)

Though the 2004 romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler was criticized for its unrealistic depiction of amnesia, the premise is actually based on a real woman. 

Michelle Philpots is a British woman who suffered traumatic brain injuries in 1985 and 1990 and was left with a rare type of amnesia, where she is unable to form new memories. That means Michelle is 'stuck' in 1994, and her memories don’t go past that year. She wakes up every morning thinking she’s 26 years younger than her actual 56 years, and just like Lucy’s character in '50 First Dates', Michelle needs to be reminded of her husband Ian every single day. 

Related: 7 Delightful Movies Every Foodie Should Be Watching

8. The King's Speech (2010)

‘The King’s Speech’, which won no less than four Oscars, depicts the true story of the unlikely friendship between Prince Albert (also known as Bertie and later as King George VI) and his speech therapist Lionel Logue. As the second son of George V, Bertie was not expected to ascend to the throne, but after his brother Edward abdicated the throne to marry American Wallis Simpson, Bertie was crowned King George VI in 1937. He also happened to suffer from a stammer. But as World War II was looming, the new king had to find his public speaking voice and address the nation, and that’s when Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush) entered the picture. 

Colin Firth, who plays George VI, listened to archive recordings to research his stammer for the film. "It wasn't an easy one to research because the Royal Family don't let you get that close,” he said to an interview with the BBC, but he certainly made the best of what he had. 

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