These Are the Surprising True Stories Behind Hollywood Movies
The stories we see on the big screen often have backstories just as interesting as the films themselves. Some are based on true stories that are so outlandish, it is hard to believe they happened in real life. Others are based on books and turned out much different than the author intended. Read on to find out the crazy true stories behind these popular movies.
“The Revenant” became known as the movie that finally gave Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar and the character he was acting as is based on a real-life hunter, frontiersman, fur trapper, trader, and explorer who went through all a series of horrid experiences.
Hugh Glass’s story is still being told almost 200 years after he experienced it and even though we don’t know for sure how true it is, he still became a legend. During General Ashley’s expedition, Glass said he was attacked by a grizzly bear and left for dead by the people he traveled with. He ended up surviving and traveled over 200 miles to Fort Kiowa, South Dakota with barely any belongings.
The 2011 movie “The Help” starring Viola Davis and Emma Stone is based on the book of the same name written by Kathryn Stockett in 2009. While it is not a real story, there is some truth to it.
The novel took place during the segregated 1960’s in Jackson, Mississippi and showed the relationships between African-American maids and their white bosses. Stockett was born at the end of the 1960’s in Jackson and said she was very close with her maid growing up. After the book became popular, though, her brother’s maid Ablene Cooper filed a lawsuit against her claiming she based the main character on her but Stockett denied this.
Remember The Titans
The 2000 movie “Remember the Titans” is considered by many to be one of the greatest sports films ever made. Any true fan knows that it is based on real coach Herman Boone’s attempt to integrate a football team in Alexandria, Virginia.
Boone was fired from his coaching position at E.J. Hayes High School in Williamston, North Carolina because they “weren’t ready for a black head coach” in 1969. Two years later, he became the head coach at the newly integrated school T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria and his integrated team gained national attention, even from President Richard Nixon.
Considering it is a comedy starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, it might be hard to believe that “War Dogs” has a true backstory surrounding it. David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli were real-life former arms dealers, though!
Back in the day, they were suppliers to the Afghan National Army, under a U.S. Army contract, and ended up supplying $300 million worth of munitions. Packouz and Diveroli got in trouble, though, when they tried to rebrand and repackage Chinese ammunition, which was illegal. Diveroli was sent to prison for four years while Packouz only was sentenced to seven months of house arrest.
Beauty and the Beast
It’s a tale as old as time made especially popular in the 1991 cartoon musical “Beauty and the Beast” and most recently in the remake starring Emma Watson. However, this is no fairy tale. It was actually inspired by a real life “beast” in the Middle Ages who married his “Belle.” The “curse”, however, was due to a genetic condition that caused excessive hair growth.
In the 1500’s, Petrus Gonsalvus lived with the disease hypertrichosis that caused excessive hair growth on his entire body and face. When he was just a young boy, he was kidnapped from his hometown of Tenerife, Spain and sent to King Henry II of France as a “present.” However, the king brought Gonsalvus up to be a fine gentleman. He eventually married a beautiful woman named Catherine and had seven children with her, four of whom became hairy like him.
“Frozen”, like many Disney movies, is based on a tale written long ago. But unlike the movie, the original fairy tale was so frightening that the film’s creators had to basically change the entire story. The original version was not entirely kid-friendly!
“Frozen” was based off of Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” It starts off with trolls breaking a mirror of evil created by a devilish hobgoblin. That unleashes a terrible cold, causing people get splinters thrown into their hearts. The book then follows the story of a young boy named Kai who has mirror shards stuck in his heart and eye. He gets kidnapped by the Snow Queen, causing his love interest Gerda to go rescue him.
This 2002 World War II drama “The Pianist” is based on the autobiography of the same name by Władysław Szpilman, a Polish-Jewish pianist and composer during the Holocaust.
In his memoir, he recounts his experiences during the Holocaust, particularly when the Germans invaded Poland and he, along with all Jews, was forced into the squalor of the Warsaw Ghetto. Szpilman spent two years in hiding and was eventually able to escape with the help of a German officer, who hated the Nazis. He went on to become a well-known musician.
Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
This heartwarming 2009 movie “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” is about a loyal dog found on a train platform. It drew inspiration from a real dog in Japan who became well-known in the 1920s and 1930s because of his love for his owner, even after his death.
Hachikō was an Akita dog who was adopted by Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor at the University of Tokyo. He would commute to work every day from Shibuya Station and Hachikō would always wait at the station for him to return. But one day, Ueno died while giving a lecture and never came home. For the next nine years, the loyal dog waited at the station for his owner until they reunited in heaven.
Ridley Scott’s 2007 biographical crime film “American Gangster” has some truth to it as a fictional account of the North Carolina gangster and drug lord Frank Lucas.
Lucas, who is still alive today, became famous in the ’60s and ’70ss for smuggling heroin into the U.S. on service planes that were flying back from fighting in the Vietnam War. He was also known for his “do it yourself” method of cutting out the middleman and acquiring the drugs himself from his supplier in the Golden Triangle. Eventually, he was caught by a task force led by detective Richie Roberts.
The 2004 hit “The Terminal,” starring Tom Hanks, seems so implausible that many thought it was for sure a piece of pure fiction. Though it’s hard to believe, one man really did live as a refugee in an airport for 18 years!
Mehran Karimi Nasseri was on his way to move to Britain in 1988 after he said he was expelled from Iran. He had a layover in Paris at Charles de Gaulle Airport and along the way, his immigration documents were either lost or stolen. France denied him refugee status and he also couldn’t return home nor continue onward to another country, so his only option was to live in Terminal One. Since he had entered the airport legally, they couldn’t kick him out. And so began his difficult 18 years living right in the airport terminal until 2006, when he had to be taken to the hospital.
The Danish Girl
This 2015 movie is based on a fiction novel of the same name but the inspiration for both stories comes from the story of Danish painters Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener.
Lili Elbe was one of the first identifiable recipients of sex reassignment surgery and was a successful painter/artist. She was born a man as Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener, which was how she signed her paintings. But publicly introduced herself as Einar’s sister Lili. In 1930, she officially transitioned into a woman and stopped painting after that. Gerda was Einar’s wife and the two married before the transition, when the two were both in art school.
After watching the 2015 movie “Everest,” you probably hoped that no one actually had to attempt to survive a blizzard on the highest mountain in the world. Several real-life hikers actually did go through the harrowing situation, but only a few survived to tell the tale.
The film was based off hiker Beck Weathers’ 2000 memoir “Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest.” In 1996, the Texan medical pathologist was part of an eight-man crew climbing the mighty mountain when a terrible blizzard hit. He got lost but when he was found, rescuers and fellow hikers assumed he was near death and left him behind. He somehow managed to survive the awful blizzard, climb down the mountain despite severe frostbite and survived. As a result, though, he had to have both of his feet, one of his hands, several fingers and his nose amputated.
The U.S. Army Special Forces Snipers are very much real and the 2014 movie “American Sniper” is based on the story of Chris Kyle, who was the most lethal sniper in U.S. Military History.
He wrote a memoir in 2012 titled “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” from which the movie got much inspiration. Kyle was a Navy Seal who served four tours in the Iraq War. The Pentagon credited him with more than 15o kills. After an honorable life, he was shot and killed by the fellow veteran Eddie Ray Routh.
The Wolf of Wall Street
In “The Wolf of Wall Street”, Leonardo DiCaprio played a stockbroker living the high life, Jordan Belfort. The movie chronicled how he worked his way up the stockbroking ladder, lived an over-the-top extravagant lifestyle, took a ton of drugs and committed a slew of crimes. It was pretty close to the real life story.
In 1999, the real-life Belfort, was sentenced to prison after being found guilty of committing fraud, running a penny-stock scam, and other stock-market manipulation crimes. He only served 22 months behind bars, though, and when he got out, he told his story to anyone who would listen and became a motivational speaker and author.
It is hard to imagine that someone actually went through and survived the extreme, unthinkable experience told in the 2010 film “127 Hours”, but it is true! In the movie, James Franco portrays Aron Ralston, who survived a hike gone horribly wrong.
Ralston was a canyoneer, who attempted to climb Blue John Canyon in Utah in 2003. He became trapped by a boulder in an isolated area after it landed on his right hand. He waited to be rescued for five days but eventually realized that the only way he would live would be to amputate his own arm, which he did with a dull pocket knife. With his arm severed, he made it down the canyon and was rescued hours later.
Catch Me If You Can
Leonardo DiCaprio impersonated a real-life impersonator in the 2002 movie “Catch Me If You Can”, playing Frank Abagnale, a person who was on the police and FBI’s radar for a long time before he was eventually caught.
In Abagnale’s criminal past, he was a confidence trickster, check forger, and impostor. He was one of the most talented imposters in the world, impersonating a physician, pilot, lawyer, and a U.S. Bureau of Prisons agent at one point or another. He was so good that the FBI ended up asking him to help catch other criminals in exchange for releasing him from prison. He runs his own security company and works with the FBI.
A League of Their Own
The hit 1992 movie “A League of Their Own” told the story of how a women’s baseball team, the Rockford Peaches, came together in the middle of World War II and won the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League World Series.
The real life story involved MLB executive Philip K. Wrigley, who founded the AAGPBL in 1943. It lasted 11 years with more than 600 women participating. Penny Marshall’s film focused on the team the Rockford Peaches, but they were actually one one of 15 teams in the league. The Peaches were the most successful of the bunch, winning four championships!
Yes, that rom-com starring Tom Cruise and Renée Zellweger is inspired by someone’s life story, although the sports agent’s name was not Jerry Maguire. It was Leigh Steinberg.
Steinberg has been a sports agent since 1971 for athletes in football, baseball, basketball, boxing, and even Olympic sports. In the NFL, he has represented the number one draft pick eight times, which is a record no other sports agent has beaten yet!
12 Years a Slave
There are a number of great movies out there about slavery and while some are composites of stories from America’s dark past, some of them are based on true stories, such as the case with Steve McQueen’s film in 2013, “12 Years a Slave.” The inspiration for the film came from the 1853 memoir “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup,
Northup was born free in New York to freed slaves but when he was about 34 years old, he was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. (where slavery was still legal) and sold to a plantation owner in New Orleans. He then spent 12 years as a slave before eventually being freed by a Canadian woman who helped him.
Cameron Crowe’s 2000 comedy-drama “Almost Famous” starring Kate Hudson is a fictional story about a teenager writing about a fictional band but it was heavily inspired by Crowe’s own real-life experience as a young journalist.
Crowe was actually a teenage writer for the “Rolling Stone,” just like the film’s main character, and spent a lot of time touring with rock bands. According to the writer/director, he managed to both lose his virginity, fall in love with a girl and meet his music heroes while on the road. Sound familiar?
Zero Dark Thirty
It didn’t take long after the victory of finally capturing and killing al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden for someone to make a movie about the decade-long manhunt for the man responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
While “Zero Dark Thirty” dramatizes the search and killing, it was based on the actual raid that took place in 2011. The U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group of the U.S. Navy SEALs conducted the raid on the morning of May 2, 2011 in Pakistan in a compound where Bin Laden had been hiding for years. He was killed on the spot upon being found and Americans everywhere breathed a sign of relief.
“The Fighter” starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale is well-known for being a true story. Director David O. Russell tried to make his 2010 film as accurate as possible, though some things from the story were changed to make the brothers seem more down and out than they really were.
The movie was inspired by the documentary “High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell” that told the story of professional boxer Micky Ward, his half-brother Dicky Eklund and their drug addictions. Despite that, Ward eventually overcomes his addictions and went on to be a famed boxer with the help of his brother.
The Hurt Locker
Many war films are based on true accounts of people’s experiences. In 2008, “The Hurt Locker” premiered and the incredible film was partially based on the accounts of freelance journalist Mark Boal’s experiences during the Iraq War.
For two weeks in 2004, Boal traveled with an American bomb squad in Iraq during the war and relayed a lot of information to the film’s director Kathryn Bigelow. The movie drew inspiration from his interviews and observations during that time.
The 1999 psychological drama “Girl, Interrupted”, starring Winona Ryder, was loosely based on Susanna Kaysen’s memoir of the same name, which is about her experience in a mental institution.
In 1967, when she was only 19-years-old, Kaysen was sent to McLean Hospital in Massachusettes to be treated for depression and she chronicled her stay there. She ended up staying at the hospital for a year and a half, where she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
Peter Pan/Finding Neverland
In 2004, the movie “Find Neverland” attempted to tell the real-life story behind author J.M. Barrie, who created the character Peter Pan. While some parts of the story were obviously based on fantasy, other features were from real life.
Playwright J. M. Barrie was born in Scotland in 1867 and had a brother who died during childhood. This apparently inspired his fascination with childhood and Peter Pan, who never grows up. He later moved to London, got married, but never had children. Just like in Finding Neverland, he developed a close relationship with the Davies family. Also, the Peter Pan character Wendy was said to be based on a girl he used to know who called him “Friendy.”
In 1998, Robin Williams played Hunter “Patch” Adams who became suicidal and checked himself into a mental hospital but turned his life around. This was based on a real doctor who went through a similar ordeal.
The real character was Dr. Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams. In his early life, he was suicidal but eventually overcame his depression and became a doctor. He founded the Gesundheit! Institute in 1971, where he still arranges for clowns to travel around the world, cheering people up people who need it the most.
Saving Private Ryan
Steven Spielberg’s 1998 epic war film, “Saving Private Ryan”, about the Invasion of Normandy during World War II, has received critical acclaim for its realistic portrayal of the war’s combat.
The real Private Ryan was Fritz Niland who, during World War II, was discharged due to the Sole Survivor Rule after his brother was killed during the Battle of Normandy. The truth, though, was that he was not the only Niland brother that survived the war but his brother Edward, who everyone thought was dead, was actually captured by the Japanese.
Braveheart was a hit epic war film from 1995 starring Mel Gibson and told the tale of the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England with William Wallace as their leader.
Wallace was a Scottish knight who became famous for defeating an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 and was appointed the Guardian of Scotland. He fought until he was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk the following year and King Edward I had him hanged. He still became a legend, though.
You know “Joy” as the movie where Jennifer Lawrence plays a woman with the titular name who invents a mop, builds a business, and becomes wealthy. Well, Joy Mangano is an actual woman who invented the self-wringing Miracle Mop!
In an interview with Investors Magazine, the real life Joy said, “I think my products have been successful because they have mass appeal. I’m just like everybody else out there. I’m a mom, I work, I have a house to clean, things to organize. We all have similar needs, and I address them.” Her miracle mop made her a successful and wealthy businesswoman!
You’ve probably figured that the story about the founding of the McDonald’s food chain was a true story but do you know the real story of how Ray Kroc began his fast food restaurant empire?
Kroc started out as a milkshake mixer salesman, which is how he met the McDonald brothers, and in 1955, he opened up the first franchised McDonald’s restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois. Six years later, he bought the company from the brothers for $2.7 million and turned it into a widely successful chain, becoming a model for future innovators!
Angelina Jolie produced and directed the 2014 movie “Unbroken,” and her inspiration behind it came from the real-life story of soldier Louis “Louie” Zamperini.
Zamperini was an Olympic Athlete and during World War II, he became a lieutenant in the United States Army Air Forces, serving as a bombardier. His plane ended up crashing into the Pacific and he managed to survive for 47 days on a raft but was then was captured by the Japanese for more than 2.5 years. The movie came out just four months after Louie passed away at the age of 97.
American Hustle received 10 Academy Award nominations and gained tons of fans when it premiered in 2013. This story, too, was no piece of fiction: It was based on the FBI ABSCAM Operation that took place in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
The real sting operation was directed from the FBI’s office in Hauppauge, New York and a con man, along with the Justice Department, helped further the investigation. The Feds set up a fake Arab company that asked many politicians and prominent people for favors. The sting convicted 19 people, including many congressmen, a mayor, and a senator!
The 2016 movie “Lion” received a lot of attention for its unbelievable story and wonderful cast, including Dev Patel of “Slum Dog Millionaire” fame. The movie told the shocking tale of Saroo Brierley’s and the story is as true as they come!
When he was just five years old, Brierley was separated from his family while traveling to Burhanpur, India, from his hometown of Khandwa with his brother. The two got separated and Brierley was utterly lost. He ended up surviving on his own for several weeks before he decided to venture out into the city. Police eventually took him to an orphanage, where an Australian family adopted him. Twenty five years later, he was able to track down his hometown using Google Maps and reunited with his biological mother in India!
You probably remember the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that was considered to be the largest accidental marine oil spill in history but it was a lot more than that, which is what this movie tries to show.
It all started with an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the Louisiana coast which caused it to sink and kill 11 of those on board. The blow also caused an oil spill of epic proportions and it became a huge environmental disaster.
The 1990 movie “Goodfellas” is based on the 1986 non-fiction book “Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family” by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi. It tells the true story of Mafia mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill.
As a New York City Mobster, Hill associated with the Lucchese crime family from 1955 through 1980. In the last year, he became an FBI informant. In that position, he helped the FBI score 50 convictions, including those of Paul Vario and James Burke!
Charlize Theron won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actress for portraying mentally ill Aileen Wuornos in the movie “Monster”, who was a real-life serial killer in the ’80s and ’90s.
“Monster” was made just a year after Wuornos was put to death by lethal injection after she was found guilty of murdering six men by shooting them in the head. She was a prostitute who claimed that the seven men she murdered had assaulted her and that she killed them out of self-defense (she wasn’t convicted for the seventh murder, though).
The Bling Ring
The 2013 satirical crime film “The Bling Ring” was about a group of teenage friends in California that go on a robbing spree, breaking into celebrities’ houses. It was actually based on the real-life Bling Ring gang that did just that.
The inspiration for the film came from Nancy Jo Sales’ article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” which told readers about a gang of young thieves who robbed many celebrity houses including Paris Hilton’s and Lindsey Lohan’s. The robberies took place for almost a year and totaled around $3 million in cash and belongings!
Gangs Of New York
Martin Scorsese seems to like true crime stories because 2002’s “Gangs of New York” follows the tale of the city’s gangs in 1862. The movie was based on the 1927 nonfiction book “The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld” by Herbert Asbury, which chronicled the city’s gangs from the 19th-century through the Prohibition era.
In the 19th century, the majority of criminal acts in New York City came from a handful of well-known gangs. Later on, the Mafia took over during Prohibition. They worked in saloons, halls, gambling dens, the Bowery alleys and the Five Points district.
It seems like a lot of films with a name as a title are probably a real person with a good story to tell! Just like in the movie, Donnie Brasco was an FBI undercover agent who used that name as an alias.
His real name was Joseph “Joe” Pistone but spent six years as Donnie Brasco, working undercover with the NYC Mafia Bonanno crime family in the ’70s. He also infiltrated the Colombo crime family and helped proved the importance of his undercover work during his 27-year career.
If you’re a modern art lover, you likely know about Margaret Keane and her characteristic paintings of people with big eyes. Her art is definitely unique but her life story is even more fascinating, hence why Tim Burton created a movie about her.
During the ’50s and ’60s, her paintings became popular but her name wasn’t the one attached to it. Her husband Walter Keane sold her paintings with his name listed as the artist. It wasn’t until after they divorced that Margaret finally had to courage to stand up to him and reveal that she was the true artist. She then sued him and eventually won, finally being credited for her work.
The Imitation Game
In the 2014 movie “The Imitation Game,” Benedict Cumberbatch played Alan Turing, a real-life British cryptanalyst, who had a great impact on computer science and is considered to be the father of artificial intelligence.
The mathematician worked for the British Government during World War II, decrypting German intelligence codes and the codes he cracked helped the Allies defeat the Nazis. After the war, he designed the ACE, while working at the National Physical Laboratory and later helped develop the Manchester computers. Turing died from cyanide poisoning but it is still not unclear whether it was a suicide or accidental poisoning.
The Pursuit Of Happyness
Hollywood loves rags-to-riches stories and they are certainly easy to fictionalize but the 2006 film “The Pursuit of Happyness”, starring Will Smith and his son Jaden, is a true, heartwarming story of a dad who wanted to give his son everything.
The movie drew inspiration from Chris Gardner’s memoir of the same name where he talked about his struggle of raising a toddler by himself while also being homeless in the 1980s. For almost a year, Gardner worked hard at an unpaid stock brokerage training position before he eventually was able to become financially successful and buy a home for him and his son.
This 2016 World War II film “Hacksaw Ridge” is actually a biographical one, telling the story of Desmond Doss, who became the first person to receive a Medal of Honor as a conscientious objector to the war.
Doss was a Seventh-day Adventist Christian and also a pacifist who served during World War II as a combat medic but refused to carry or use a weapon. The Medal of Honor was given to him after he saved 75 wounded infantrymen during the Battle of Okinawa and ended up being wounded four times, ending his career as a medic.
The Devil Wears Prada
It may be hard to believe that a woman as difficult as Meryl Streep’s character Miranda Priestly exists and that Anne Hathaway’s Andrea “Andy” Sachs would put up with her but the 2006 film “The Devil Wears Prada” was inspired by a true story from behind the scenes at Vogue Magazine.
It was based on Lauren Weisberger’s book of the same name where she chronicled her experiences working as a personal assistant to Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor-in-chief. Wintour is apparently as scary as the film’s character Miranda and is known for being one of the most demanding figures in the fashion industry!
The Blind Side
It seems like a lot of the best football movies are based on true stories and the 2009 movie “The Blind Side” starring Sandra Bullock is definitely an awe-inspiring based on the true story of a family in Tennessee.
Bullock’s character is based on the story of Leigh Anne Tuohy, a mother who decided to go above and behind to help out her son’s friend Michael Oher in high school. Just like in the movie, the real-life Oher had a difficult upbringing and Tuohy decided to adopt him. Today, he is the offensive tackle for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
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Source: President Mommy
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