Some genres we watch because we expect a certain amount of reality. Historical dramas, biopics, and crime films often draw heavily from real life events, but when we go see a horror, comedy or action film, we go to escape reality. Yet you’d be surprised how often these seemingly outlandish or unlikely films are inspired by actual events.
Here Are 10 Movies You Didn’t Know Are Based On True Stories
Spielberg didn’t choose Nazis for the baddies in the Indiana Jones just because they’re so easy to villainize. Hitler was indeed obsessed with finding ancient religious artifacts and spent a vast amount of time and resources attempting to track down relics like the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail. Inspiration for the Indiana Jones character has been accredited to several American archeologists of the period, but another frequently cited inspiration is explorer Roy Chapman Andrews. Often photographed wearing an Indy-esqu fedora, the globetrotting Andrews eventually became the director of the American Museum of Natural History.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, you watched a Screen Rant video that told you that the attacks in Jaws were eerily similar to a series of shark attacks that rocked the resort town of Beach Haven in the summer of 1916. Novelist Peter Benchley updated these events and based the Captain Quint character on Frank Mundus, a shark fisherman who he spent some time with while researching his book. Mundus never met his demise at the jaws of a great white, but actor Robert Shaw says much of his memorable performance was indeed based on the real life shark hunter.
William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, didn’t just contrive this horror story out of thin air. There have been reports of demonic possessions for centuries, but there was one in particular that inspired the story of young Regan. Blatty cites the 1949 exorcism of a 14 year old boy in Maryland known only as "Roland Doe". Similarities between this case and the events depicted in the film include levitating furniture, violent outbursts, speaking in tongues and an aversion to sacred objects. After Roman Catholic Priests performed several exorcisms, and sustained injuries from the boy while doing so, Roland went on to live a relatively normal life.
Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film GoodFellas helped define the modern gangster genre with its dynamic structure and bursts of violence. The characters portrayed by Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro and Joe Peci are so larger than life that it’s hard to believe they were based on real people. Once gangster Henry Hill rolled on all his friends and entered the witness protection program, all bets were off and he filled in writer Nicholas Pileggi with all the colorful details. Pileggi wrote the book that would become the basis for Scorsese’s film. If you want to know how accurate GoodFellas was, you can listen to the DVD commentary Henry Hill recorded on it before passing away in 2012.
Silence Of The Lambs
For the serial killer Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, writer Thomas Harris needed look no further than notorious killer Ed Gein for inspiration. The things authorities discovered in Gein’s home after arresting him were stranger than anything a sane person could come up with. They found furniture, silverware, and even clothing made of human skin and body parts. Like Buffalo Bill, he was stitching together a suit of woman’s skin, some psychiatrists thought this was so he could pretend to be his mother. Gein was also the inspiration for Norman Bates in Psycho and Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Catch Me If You Can
How many people can claim to have been a lawyer, a doctor, an airline pilot AND had Leonardo DiCaprio play them in a movie? Notorious forger and impostor Frank Abagnale was never actually a lawyer, doctor, or pilot, but Leo did play him in a 2002 film about his exploits called Catch Me If You Can. Abagnale assumed no less than eight different identities which he used to pull scams all over the world until he was caught in France. At the time of his arrest he was only 21, by 26 Abagnale was out of prison and working to prevent the kinds of crimes he’d become so good at. His escapades as documented in the film and book it was based on are so fanciful that many still doubt their legitimacy.
The Sound of Music
If you trace back the many iterations of the classic film The Sound of Music, you’ll arrive at a memoir called The Story of the Trapp Family Singers written by Maria Augusta von Trapp. The events surrounding her family fleeing Nazi occupied Austria are not an obvious choice for a family friendly musical so the film took many liberties with Maria’s story. They decided to concentrate on the love story between the children’s nanny and their father, even though that took place over a decade before the Nazi’s rise to power. And while they were a musical family, they did not break into spontaneous song and dance nearly as often as the film would have you believe.
Getting a gig writing for Rolling Stone and going on the road with one of your favourite bands sounds like every 1970s high schooler’s fantasy. But that’s exactly what future writer/ director Cameron Crowe did when he lied about his age to land a dream assignment with his favourite magazine. Almost Famous is the film that came out of Crowe’s experiences travelling with bands like Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Much of this semi autobiographical film is fictionalized, but losing his virginity, falling in love and meeting his heroes were all things that happened to Crowe during his time spent on the road as an underage Rolling Stone journalist.
A Few Good Men
A Few Good Men began as a play written by a then unknown writer named Aaron Sorkin who got the idea from his sister. She was a lawyer working with the Navy and was going to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base to defend a group of Marines who almost killed a fellow Marine in a hazing ordered by a superior officer. Yes, sadly “Code Red” is a real order. The marines were acquitted but the film omitted the fact that one of them was later murdered. Apparently Sorkin thought audiences just couldn’t handle the truth.
From gunslingers to nazis, the parallels between Star Wars and Western history have been well documented, but you should know that Lucas also took a number of ideas from Eastern history, particularly feudal Japan. Take the Jedi, noble warriors who were basically Samurai in space. Both chosen from birth and trained their entire lives to be thoughtful yet deadly peacekeepers, the Jedi and Samurai even dress in a similar manner. Despite being powerful, their purpose is to serve those in need of their services and respect peace and order. More overt references came in the form of the Jedi’s weapon of choice and Vader’s helmet, which resembles a Japanese Kabuto helmet. The Samurai were eventually replaced by a more westernized military, and the knights of old became the stuff of legends.
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