Movies about true events not just entertain but also offer something to brood about. They pave way for us to reflect on our personal lives, our misgivings, achievements, and our downfalls.

No matter the genre, these affective movies ignite empathy, sympathy, anger, and all sorts of emotions. Simply put, they explore the very essence of life. They tug at our heartstrings and are more riveting than fiction.

Movies based on true stories have varying purposes: they offer guidance, provide historical insight, or simply give a look into another person’s life experiences. Whether they are told in the first or second person doesn’t matter as long as they tell a real-life story.

Hollywood in the year 1990s and 2000s gave birth to a plethora of these movies based on true stories. And the corresponding titles below are definitely worth your time and emotions.

1 Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

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This biographical movie tells the story of the legendary British band Queen. It follows their success until their 1985 Live Aid performance at the former Wembley Stadium in London.

The story though mostly focuses on the band’s lead singer Freddie Mercury. The narrative takes viewers back to 1970 when he joined Queen and chronicles his life after he defied stereotypes and destroyed convention to become one of the most celebrated entertainers in the world.

It shows his rise and downfall after he succumbed to darker influences. Yet he masters the courage to face the challenges brought by his failing health in order to lead Queen in one of its greatest performances in the history of rock music.

This movie is a nostalgic walk down memory lane and a great tribute to Mercury, whose music continues to inspire generations years after his death in 1991 from AIDS-related complications.

Rami Malek is on point with his portrayal of the revered musician: from the mustache down to Mercury’s signature stage presence. Outside of the music influence, this movie humbly tells a story about the value of family, friends, and loyalty.

Director: Bryan Singer – Screenplay: Anthony McCarten, Peter Morgan – Cast: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazello, Aidan Gillen, Allen Leech, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker – Run Time: 2h 14m

2 127 Hours

127 Hours (2010)

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This survival movie takes inspiration from the memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place. It tells how the author, Aron Ralston (James Franco), survived while trapped in a remote canyon in Utah.

In April 2003, Ralston, a real-life canyoneer, packed his gear and hiked Canyonlands National Park. He didn’t tell anyone about his trip.

Disaster struck when he slipped through a slot and knocked a boulder that trapped his wrist and hand against the wall. He braved hunger, thirst, hypothermia, paranoia, and resisted the call of death through his sheer will to live.

He got himself out of the tight situation through any means necessary. Ralston defied the odds and climbed back up to tell the story of his survival.

Despite his harrowing experience, he continues his passion to this day even with one-hand less to carry his weight.  He now also leaves a note saying where he’s going.

This movie might not even qualify as entertaining for some. After all, watching someone slowly succumb to his possible demise is not enjoyable. Yet, as the story unfolds, you become invested in the protagonist’s plight to live.

At some point, you even wish you were there to help. However, you can only watch as the time ticks idly by and cross your fingers that rescue arrives or that he doesn’t die.

Director: Danny Boyle – Screenplay: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy – Cast: James Franco, Kate Mara, Lizzy Caplan, Clémence Poésy, Amber Tamblyn, Bailee Michelle Johnson- Run Time: 94m

3 Into the Wild

Into The Wild (2007)

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This movie takes pages from the journal of Christopher McCandless, which he left behind on a converted bus prior to his death. In it, he talks about his travels and thoughts on life.

The movie gives an insight into his life as a beloved son, exemplary student, and avid traveller. It shows the emotions he chose to write about on his precious diary instead of opening up about them to friends and family.

Into the Wild gives viewers a look into McCandless’ life and his struggles. It recounts the days he lived off the Alaskan wilderness on his own, where he also succumbed to death from starvation.

This movie is an emotionally gripping tale about a person’s search for happiness and acceptance. The emotions it evokes are raw and organic. McCandless’ journey echoes life’s realities on how it can be meaningless and sad without the love of a family.

Director: Sean Penn- Screenplay: Sean Penn – Cast: – Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Kristen Stewart, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Zach Galifianakis, Vince Vaughn, Hal Holbrook – Run Time: 2h 46ms

4 Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor (2013)

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In 2005, a four-man SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team is sent to war-torn Afghanistan to track and eliminate the high Taliban operative Ahmad Shah. None of them could have prepared for the outcome of their mission.

Tragedy strikes after local goat herders spot them and alert the Taliban of their presence. Matthew “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), and Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) didn’t anticipate the onslaught of enemy afterward.

They were taken by surprised and ambushed on enemy territory. Sadly, only Luttrell survived and he lives to tell the story of how the team valiantly fought back even with their limited resources.

Luttrell talks about the bravery of the fallen soldiers and recounts the tragedy in his book titled Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.

Director: Peter Berg – Screenplay: Peter Berg – Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, Eric Bana, Ali Suliman – Run Time: 2h 2m

5 The Pursuit of Happyness

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

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Poverty is no laughing matter and clearly not an entertaining premise for a movie. Yet, this drives the story of The Pursuit of Happyness, a movie that shows the harsh realities of being homeless and jobless and with a child to take care of.

The movie is based on the life of Chris Gardner, stockbroker, investor, and philanthropist. It wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies for the American businessman. Like many people, he too had to overcome homelessness and being jobless, while striving to be a good example to his son.

Gardner pushed through the challenges and persevered. He is what he is today because he willed himself to come out of poverty so he can provide a better future for his family.

This movie is very inspirational since it explores real-life issues. It is relatable for those who are facing financial hurdles. It’s a deeply emotional movie, one that tugs at your heart from start to finish.

Director: Gabriele Muccino – Screenplay: Steven Conrad – Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Thandie Newton, James Karen, Dan Castellaneta, Brian Howe, Kurt Fuller, Takayo Fischer – Run Time: 1h 57m

6 Rescue Dawn

Rescue Dawn (2006)

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This biographical war drama recounts the harrowing experience of German-American US Navy pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) during the Vietnam War. It shows his life as a Vietcong prisoner of war and his subsequent escape.

In the annals of history’s greatest prison escapes, there lies the remarkable story of Dengler, the only American to come out alive of the impenetrable Laotian jungle. Resilient and brave, he survived hunger and torture as a prisoner.

He lived through the harshest of conditions in the world’s fiercest wilderness. Despite his traumatic ordeal, Dengler appeared before the press looking more like a celebrity than a man disheartened by the brutal realities of war.

Director: Werner Herzog – Screenplay: Werner Herzog – Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davis, Zach Grenier, Toby Huss, Pat Healy, Marshall Bell – Run Time: 2h

7 12 Years a Slave

12 Years A Slave (2013)

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Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) remembers the day when he lost 12 years of his life merely because of a false assumption. He writes about those years filled with tears, hardships, and struggles in his memoir 12 Years a Slave.

In this movie adaptation of his story, we follow Northup’s memories as a free citizen of New York living a peaceful and happy life with his wife and kids. Then we see how the happiness turns to sorrow and bitterness after someone kidnaps him and ships him off to a plantation in New Orleans where he lives through all the physical tortures as a slave.

Northup recounts the lies and deception he had to commit in order to survive. But most of all, he remembers the silver lining that came in the guise of a Canadian man who liberated him from his sufferings and returned him to his real life.

This movie tells of one man’s courage and resilience and the brutality and savagery of many. It also shows the potential for people to be both evil and good.  It’s an emotionally devastating reminder of the horrors of 1800s slavery.

Director: Steve McQueen – Screenplay: John Ridley- Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard – Run Time: 2h 14m

8 Everest

Everest (2015)

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This movie is based on the 1996 Mount Everest disaster and follows the plight of a group of climbers to survive amid freezing temperatures. The storytelling walks viewers through their harrowing experience as they attempt to escape a fierce blizzard.

This is a thrilling man vs. nature survival movie with a premise that’s as chilling as its title. It tells the actual events of the excursion that took the lives of eight climbers.

This movie is a clear reminder of the dangers of commercial Everest expeditions or other mountain climbing excursions for that matter. One can never be too certain when Mother Nature’s ire strikes and outweighs the expertise of the guides or the climbers.

Director: Baltasar Kormákur- Screenplay: William Nicholson, Simon Beaufoy – Cast: Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kiera Knightley, Emily Watson, Robin Wright, John Hawkes, Sam Worthington – Run Time: 2h 1m

9 Alive

Alive (1993)

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This movie is based on the 1974 book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read. It recounts the horrors of the 1972 disaster on the Andes mountains.

Alive is another one of those movies that highlight man’s struggle to survive against the forces of nature. It shows the desperation and the lengths man will go in order to live

The story focuses on a group of rugby players who are stranded on the Andes mountains after a plane crash. Equipped with minimal resources (food, clothing, water), they must learn to adapt to their unknown territory and find ways to survive.

However, extreme weather conditions eventually lead to tragic events. Food ultimately ran out that they are left with no choice but to feed on the bodies of their dead companions.

This movie does a great job of raising awareness to the “what would you do” issues. It challenges your moral views and obligations between bouts of chattering teeth.

Director: Frank Marshall – Screenplay: John Patrick Shanley – Cast: Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano, Josh Hamilton – Run Time: 2h

10 Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List (1993)

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A brutal and depressing reminder of the Holocaust comes in the American epic historical drama Schindler’s List. This movie tells of Nazi businessman Oskar Schindler’s (Liam Neeson) humanitarian efforts to save Polish Jews from death.

Schindler capitalizes on the Nazi’s rise to power and opens a factory that manufactures cookware and utensils. He employs the Jews in Krakow’s ghetto including accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). For Stern, this means freedom for himself and the others from death camps.

However, the Germans ultimately sent Schindler’s workforce to the Plaszow Forced Labor Camp where they could face their inevitable death.  Schindler witnesses firsthand the brutalities inside the camp and develops a conscience.

He felt compelled to turn his factory into a refuge for Jews after he realizes that his work is the only thing that prevents them from being sent to death camps.

The businessman then ups his number of employees.  By the time the allies defeated the Germans, Schindler managed to save about 1,100 Jews from being gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

This movie is a compelling reminder about man’s ability to show compassion no matter the circumstances and regardless of upbringing and origin. Schindler was a greedy German but his selflessness took over when he realized the value of human life.

Director: Steven Spielberg – Screenplay: Steven Zaillian – Cast: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, Embeth Davidtz – Run Time: 3h 15m

11 Erin Brockovich

Erin Brockovich (2000)

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This movie is based on the real-life story of Erin Brockovich, a single mom-of-three who single-handedly brought down a multi-billion dollar company. The movie follows her legal battle against California’s energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) despite her lack of education.

The narrative starts out with Brockovich struggling to find a job because of her abrasiveness and her trashy clothes. No one takes her seriously but this soon changes after she becomes a legal assistant and begins to investigate a series of health concerns that links to PG&E.

She discovers that the company has been polluting Hinkley’s water supply with toxic chromium and it’s buying out lands belonging to the residents. Brockovich digs deep and her determination paves way for the case to become one of America’s biggest class action lawsuits against a large corporation.  

Brockovich’s story is a reminder that class or education and physical appearance do not define a person. Instead, empathy and moral obligation are more important.  

 

Director: Steven Soderbergh – Screenplay: Susannah Grant – Cast: Julia Roberts, David Brisbin, Dawn Didawick, Pat Skipper, Albert Finney, Valente Rodriguez, Conchata Ferrell, Erin Brockovich-Ellis – Run Time: 2h 11m

12 The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game (2014)

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This WWII drama is based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges. It follows the efforts of mathematical genius Alan Turing to crack the Nazi’s enigma code.

Together with his colleagues, who comprise of scholars, intelligence officers, linguists, and chess wizards, they work tirelessly to decrypt German intelligence for the British government. The covert operation occurs within the confines of Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.

Turing was considered a difficult and aloof person to work with because he considered his colleagues his inferior. However, prejudice aside, the team eventually cracked Germany’s so-called unbreakable World War II Enigma machine. The success helped shorten the war and in the process, Turing managed to save thousands of lives.

Benedict Cumberbatch is spellbinding in his portrayal of one of the most heroic figures of the 20th century. His brooding appearance alone heightens the nail-biting suspense and mystery. This movie though evokes different emotions of sadness, dread, anger, and triumph.

Director: Morten Tyldum – Screenplay: Graham Moore – Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance – Run Time: 1h 54m

13 Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

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