Whether you realize it or not, Hollywood has made its bones by aping the crazy, inspiring, or unbelievable things that happen in the real world. In fact, the first full-length feature film, 1906’s The Story of the Kelly Gang, was based on a true story. In the century since the film’s release, moviemakers have not lost their appetite for real-world stories. A lot of the time you can’t trust all the facts you see in a “based on a true story” movie, but that doesn’t make them any less magical. The stories we relate to most have some element of truth, perhaps that’s why Hollywood keeps going to the “true story” well so often — or maybe it’s easier reading a newspaper than coming up with creative, new fiction. Either way, films that are based on a true story carry with them some extra, ineffable expectation, something we can hardly define, but that’s no less obvious when it’s in front of us. In the long history of Hollywood aping the true stories happening all around us, here are some of the best.
15. Good Morning, Vietnam
This is one of those “true” films that’s described as being based “loosely” on real events. That is to say that Robin Willam’s character, Adrian Cronauer, was indeed a hugely popular radio DJ during the Vietnam war. Beyond that, pretty much everything is fictional. Robin Williams even improvised his own radio broadcasts rather than use Cronauer’s originals. That doesn’t stop the film from being uproariously funny while capturing some glimmer of reality of the human toll that the Vietnam War took on its people.
Leave it to master auteur David Fincher to take a real life mystery that never actually resolves itself — the unsolved Zodiac killings of the late 1960s and early 1970s — and turn it into a riveting character study with a sense of purpose that few modern crime thrillers possess. Anchored by excellent performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey, Jr., Zodiac is a thrilling movie from start to finish.
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