When a story unfolds in the real world that seems like a movie come to life, Hollywood studios don’t waste time in adapting it. But not every movie based on a true story is clearly advertised as one, which means some stories that seem too strange, too hard to believe, or just too well-hidden to be based on fact slip by audiences.
Here are Screenrant’s 10 Movies You Won’t Believe Are Based on REAL Stories.
That’s right, the movie that cast Jack Black as a Mexican priest entering the world of Lucha Libre to support local orphans actually happened. The movie is based on the life of Sergio Gutiérrez Benítez, a priest in Texcoco, Mexico who learned just how much money it took to care for over 200 orphans. Inspired by movies he had seen that showed completely fictional priests wrestling to raise money, Benitez did it for real, taking the name of Fray Tormenta – “Friar Storm.” He kept his dayjob a secret for years, but when a rival revealed Friar Storm was a priest in disguise, the money and donations began to roll in – a twist that had the priest wishing he’d let it slip from the start.
Everyone knows the story of the small-time boxer who finds the heart to take on the heavyweight champ, but Rocky isn’t as original a story as you might think. Early on, Sylvester admitted that he started writing the movie’s script after seeing a 15-round fight between heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner, a boxer who’d been written off, forced to work as a bouncer while he trained. Since Rocky’s opponent Apollo Creed was also based on Ali, Wepner would eventually sue Stallone in 2006 for stealing his life’s story. The lawsuit was settled out of court, but the theft didn’t stop there.
For research, the production team had also sought out Muhammad Ali’s greatest opponent, Joe Frazier, who makes a cameo in the film. Rocky punching sides of meat and running the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art? Both taken from Frazier’s own life without giving any credit – a fact that the former heavyweight champ is still sore about.
We explained in an earlier video how Indiana Jones was based on the 1954 movie Secret of the Incas, but both characters owe their origin to a real life explorer. Hiram Bingham was just 36 years old when he realized teaching history and politics at Harvard, then Yale wasn’t enough to keep him busy, and organized a search for the lost capitol of the Incas based mainly on curiosity. Relying on centuries-old books and local guides, his search would lead him to the ruins of Macchu Picchu, a mountaintop city that had been lost to South American history for centuries. The site was a major breakthrough, and his book became a bestseller when it released just 6 years before Charlton Heston played a rougher version of the adventurer, with Indy following decades later.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
No, there’s no documented proof of a child murderer returning from the dead to kill teenagers in their sleep. But the inspiration for Freddy Krueger is realer than fans would think. Director Wes Craven has explained that the story began when he read multiple accounts of Cambodian immigrants dying under strange circumstances. In the case of one family having settled in Los Angeles, things were fine until their young son began refusing to sleep, convinced that if he did, an unseen terror was going to kill him. After staying awake for days and hiding coffemakers in his room, he succumbed to sleep. Hours later, they heard him screaming in terror, and found him dead in his own bed. Craven let his imagination run wild, and A Nightmare on Elm Street was born.
Zack Snyder’s vision of ancient Greek warriors may be based on Frank Miller’s highly-fictionalized comic, but viewers who loved 300‘s intense action and badass battles may not know just how accurate the movie actually is. Sure, there weren’t any mutants or magical beasts at the battle of Thermopylae, but the Spartans really were famous throughout the ancient world for their skills at delivering one-liners. The soldiers being happy for the “shade” offered by storms of arrows fits with actual historical accounts, along with their response to being commanded to lay down their arms: in the original Greek, “Molon labe,” meaning “having come, take.” King Leonidas may not have actually screamed “This is Sparta,” but the other lines are still used as mottos in the Greek army to this day.
The story of star Brad Pitt’s tank crew making a glorious stand in World War II Germany isn’t based on a single crew, but director David Ayer pulled from multiple true stories to keep Fury accurate. Take the real world war hero Audie Murphy, who mounted the machine-gun atop a burned out tank to single-handedly hold off a German assault, just like the movie’s heroes. Brad Pitt’s character is even named after American tank commander Lafayette “War Daddy” Pool, who racked up a total of 258 armoured vehicle and mobile gun kills in just 3 months. If that wasn’t enough, Ayer based the movie’s climax around the story told by American soldiers of a single recruit found alive in a burned out tank smack in the middle of a country crossroad, surrounded by dozens of enemy dead.
Most movie buffs will tell you that Michael Mann’s Heat is based on the real-world Bank of America shootout in 1997, when gunmen overwhelmed LAPD officers with assault rifles and body armor. But it isn’t just the action scenes that were inspired by the real world. The director’s friend Chuck Adamson, a former Chicago police officer gets some of the credit for the movie’s main rivalry. Apparently, Adamson really did face off with a career thief name McCauley – De Niro’s character – and the pair really did sit down for a heated cup of coffee while one was chasing the other. In the end, McCauley fled a robbery knowing he was trapped, was chased down, then shot and killed by Adamson, just as the movie shows.
The Hunt For Red October
Tom Clancy’s CIA hero has gone through some crazy adventures, but one Jack Ryan movie was based on more than imagination. In The Hunt For Red October, the commander of a Soviet nuclear submarine flees for America, looking to defect while his authorities set out to sink his sub instead. Total fiction, right? Wrong. Clancy based his story on Captain Valery Sablin, who along with loyal crew, stole a destroyer called The Sentry. Soviet forces would soon sink the ship, claiming Sablin was looking to flee to the West. It was only after Clancy published his book that the true story came out: Sablin was looking to attack Soviet leadership, and spark an even more communistic revolution. So the true story of Red October… wasn’t really true at all?
George Lucas wasn’t trying to hide the role Nazi Germany played on his space epic, naming his “stormtroopers” after Germany’s own special attack forces. Star Wars isn’t about Nazi Germany, but the influences are clear. The uniforms of the Empire are drawn from history, as is the alliance (led by American heroes) who overthrew the old order. The space battles were based on real footage of aerial dogfights, the famous “Kessel Run” is based on a German military term, while the planet Hoth is named for a German general who served on the frozen Russian front.
The first movie’s finale is even modeled after German propaganda films, but the prequels went even further, showing how the Emperor began as a Chancellor, just as Adolf Hitler did. Director J.J. Abrams has even admitted that when The Force Awakens writers wondered what would have happened if the Nazis regrouped after losing the war, the First Order, the villains of the next Star Wars trilogy were born.
Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror movie, just like the Stephen King novel it’s based on, is beyond famous. But horror fans would be surprised to know it wasn’t completely fiction. In a time when the author would sometimes feel genuine anger towards his own children, King and his wife spent a night at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. As the only guests near the end of the season, the couple walked down long, empty hallways, stayed in the haunted Room 217, and even shared a quiet drink with the hotel’s only bartender. The moments all made it into the book, but it wasn’t until King woke from a nightmare, seeing his son running in terror through the hotel that The Shining was born, with the basic plot decided before King headed back to bed.
Those are the films based on actual events and people that we couldn’t believe, but what are your favorites? Be sure to name them in the comments, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more videos like this one!