These Are The Few Movies That Actually Depict History Accurately
We all know better than to believe everything we see in a movie, right? Did you know that even so-called “historical” adaptations often don’t stick to the facts? That’s right- it’s likely that some movies that you thought were based on real-life events, only barely scratch the surface of what actually took place.
That said, there are a few handfuls of movies that have stuck to historical facts, as best we know them. Hearing that movies like Saving Private Ryan or Apollo 13 represented the facts reasonably well might not surprise you, but some of the others that stick to the truth might leave you close to flabbergasted. Because as the saying goes, the truth is often stranger than fiction…
When acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese picked up the book Wiseguy, a non-fiction novel on the life of mafia mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill, he knew right away that he wanted to make a movie out of it. The book is based on the true story of Hill’s life.
Scorsese and the book’s author, Nicholas Pileggi, wrote the screenplay together. They used news reports and the infamous 1978 Lufthansa airplane robbery to mold the script, while also trying to stay true to the novel. They did, however, have to make certain modifications to adapt it for the big screen.
During World War II’s War of Stalingrad, one of the largest and most horrific battles in history was waged. Stalingrad, a 1993 film about the Conflict of Stalingrad, was resolved to present the battle as it occurred, rather than utilize it as a background for other stories.
Joseph Vilsmaier, the film’s director, focused on a small group of troops who were confronted with actual heinous acts at the time. Because of the film’s focus on depicting conflict as it is, not just creating a dramatic version of events, it is more accurate than any other film regarding the topic.
Apollo 13, which came out 25 years after the terrifying mission, tells the story as close to the truth as you can get. The director, Ron Howard, even waited for film technology to get better so that he could really show how the Apollo 13 mission actually felt.
Ron Howard was determined to represent Apollo 13 events as accurately as possible, which many experts say he did. Even the details of the spaceship are exact, and the actors do such an amazing job of showing what the astronauts went through that the audience felt immersed in the experience.
Tora! Tora! Tora!
When you think of Pearl Harbor movies, you probably think of Michael Bay’s version. However, Pearl Harbor is known more for its stars and cinematic splendor than its historical accuracy. If you’re looking for a film that tells the true story of the attack on Pearl Harbor, watch Tora! Tora! Tora!
Parts of the film were even shot on the Yorktown, which was a real aircraft carrier donated by the Navy before it was decommissioned. This was done to further enhance the authenticity of the setting, and ensure the film showed an accurate depiction of the events that took place in 1941.
There was a notorious serial killer who terrorized Northern California throughout the 1960s and became known as the Zodiac Killer. To this day, he has yet to be caught and the search for Zodiac is chronicled in the movie.
Nearly two years of research went into the film, and that effort was noticed and appreciated by viewers who praised its authenticity and the many small details that director David Fincher incorporated into the movie. Some view the film as Fincher’s best.
Though some of this movie was dramatized, Spartacus’ stay at the gladiator school in Capua, especially the savagery of the instructors, is depicted in the film with great accuracy. On Mount Vesuvius, Spartacus and the other gladiators really did lead the insurrection.
The war scenes depicted in the film are also based on real-life events. Action-packed and stylish, Stanley Kubrick’s film is remarkably faithful to the facts of history. Viewers and reviewers loved it, and it took home four Oscars.
All The President’s Men
This film focuses on the events that led to the discovery of the break-in at the Democratic National Convention in the Watergate complex. It also details the political fallout that, in time, resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.
The book that serves as the basis for the film was written by journalists Bob Woodard and Carl Bernstein. They were also the ones who brought the controversy to light. To prepare for their roles, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman actually spent time in the same newsroom where the story first broke.
Gangs Of New York
This film creates a mix of characters. Some of them are based on actual people and others are completely made up. Experts agree that the movie excelled at showing how things really were in New York City in 1863.
The setting of the film was meticulously researched by Scorsese. It appears his hard work paid off as many have complimented his depiction of New York for its accuracy. Historian Tyler Anbinder liked how they made the city look true to the 1800s and said the sets “couldn’t have been much better.”
The King’s Speech
This wonderful film about King George VI swept the world, captivated audiences, and even won four Academy Awards. Although some portions of the plot were dramatized, the film was largely true in its depiction of history and is often regarded as one of the most enjoyable films about the subject.
The film and its last scene, in particular, have been criticized by historians for not remaining true to the actual series of events. However, many do give it a high overall rating in terms of accuracy and its portrayal of the film’s main character, King George VI.
The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford
As well as being an excellent western with many of the genre’s most prominent themes, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, directed by Andrew Dominik, is also based on historical events.
Robert Ford’s association with legendary criminal Jesse James is the focus of this film, which covers the final seven months of James’ life. Two Academy Award nominations were given to the picture due in no small part to its historical authenticity and strong acting performances.
Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan is known as one of the all-time great war movies. The opening of the film shows a recreation of the Omaha Beach landing. The scene is intense and action-packed and it’s often referred to as one of the best battle scenes in movie history.
Every aspect of the scenario was carefully crafted under the direction of Steven Spielberg to be as realistic as possible. The “sole-survivor policy,” a true guideline put in place in 1942, served as the inspiration for the fictional search for Private Ryan.
The Last Emperor
Historians often disagree about the details of China’s last emperor’s life because so little is known about the time period. Researchers are still striving to gain a clear picture of events, and an understanding of what that era was like.
Even though The Last Emperor isn’t 100% factual, its creators Bernardo Bertolucci and Mark Peploe, went to great efforts to showcase what they knew to be true. This film’s depiction of the imperial family’s lavish lifestyle and stifling political climate is often regarded as a faithful depiction.
Michael Lewis is the author of the best-selling novel that served as the inspiration for this film in which general manager Billy Beane uses a fresh method of player selection and a tight budget to build a winning baseball team for the Oakland Athletics in 2002.
Almost unanimously, those involved agree that the film generally stayed true to reality, albeit with slight alterations to the chronology. Despite this, Bennett Miller’s picture was a financial success and was notably nominated for six Academy Awards.
In order to escape a boulder crushing him, mountain climber Aron Ralston had no choice but to cut off his arm while canyoneering alone in the Utah desert. The film 127 Hours was based on a book that he authored about his harrowing experience.
Regarding the film’s accuracy, Ralston was extremely complimentary. There was only one scene that he thought differed from reality and that was when he took two hikers to a secret pool. He actually just gave them climbing tips. Ralston said the film was as close to a documentary as a dramatic movie could get.
As a response to the Munich massacre, the Israeli government secretly plotted an act of revenge against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The movie Munich, directed by Steven Spielberg, covers this and was based on the novel Vengeance, a book written about the subject.
Spielberg attempted to make the depiction of the hostage-taking and execution of the Israeli athletes as historically accurate as possible. The film even incorporates actual news clips taken during the hostage situation. The deaths of Black September members are also accurate for the most part.
Born On The Fourth Of July
This film details the life of Ron Kovic, a veteran of the Vietnam War who later became a political activist. Oliver Stone served as the film’s director and was inspired by Kovic’s autobiography. Stone and Kovic’s intention was to create a movie that would be meaningful for all veterans.
Stone has personal experience of the war, so he is sensitive to the mental anguish that soldiers experience both during and after their service. This allowed him to be able to contribute to the authenticity of the film’s appearance and atmosphere.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile
This movie is not for those who are easily disturbed since it depicts the life and trial of real-life serial killer Ted Bundy. Bundy was responsible for the horrific murders of at least 30 young women. This film tells the story of Ted Bundy as seen from Elizabeth Kendall’s point of view.
During the time of the trial, Kendall was Ted’s girlfriend, and she maintained her conviction that he was innocent for many years. The film’s narrative is derived from Kendall’s recollection of events detailed in her autobiography The Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy.
Schindler’s List, directed and produced by Steven Spielberg, tells the story of German businessman Oskar Schindler. Schindler first aims to profit from the conflict, but after witnessing the horrendous acts of the Holocaust, he turns his focus to saving as many Jews as he can.
The film changes some details of the story, including characters and certain events. However, the basic narrative of the film, which is based on the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, does remain true to what actually happened and to what is depicted in the book.
In the 2017 movie I, Tonya, Margot Robbie plays Tonya Harding, a former Olympic figure skater. In 1994, Nancy Kerrigan, a rival of Harding’s, was viciously attacked after a practice session in Detroit. The film follows Tonya’s life, as well as her involvement in the assault.
Before filming, Robbie met with Harding to prepare for the role. Sebastian Stan, who played Tonya’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, did the same with his character. However, the actors encountered a problem as Harding and Gillooly had different memories of what had actually happened.
Green Book tells the story of an Italian bouncer (known as “Tony Lip” Vallelonga) who, while searching for work, is assigned to transport an African American classical pianist on a trip through the South. The two become unlikely friends, despite their disparate backgrounds.
According to many, the film’s accuracy is attributed to the fact that Vallelonga’s son Nick was a scriptwriter and ensured the film remained true to his father’s story. The film’s many awards include Oscars for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Original Screenplay.
In the biopic Jackie, which was released in 2016, Natalie Portman portrays the famous figure of Jackie Kennedy. Both the writer Noah Oppenheim and the director Pablo Larrain worked hard to make the movie as accurate to her real life as they could.
The scene in the movie where Jackie gives the televised White House tour is spot on and unarguably the most accurate portion of the film. Some have criticized the portrayal of Jackie’s connection with Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, saying it wasn’t quite true, but overall the film was well-liked.
Gettysburg is the perfect movie if you’ve ever had an interest in learning more about the American Civil War. The pace of the movie is purposefully sluggish which allows director Ronald F. Maxwell to show not only the two front lines but also what went on behind the scenes of the conflict.
The movie is praised by audiences as well as critics for its great performances and for the way it attempted to portray historical events authentically. The movie focuses on every detail and has won recognition for both of these aspects.
The Lion In Winter
In the past, medieval movies were all about splendor, but now they try to show the struggles of the lower class. The characters in this film look polished, but only due to the film’s focus on royalty. The portrayal of King Henry II’s life is arguably the movie’s most compelling aspect.
The plot of the movie revolves around his inability to pick an heir to his reign, as well as the ways in which his sons and his wife try to influence his decision for their own benefit. The film won three Academy Awards thanks to its excellent narrative and great performances.
This dramatic biographical thriller was directed by Paul Greengrass and centers on a group of Somali pirates who take over an American ship. The movie was based on Richard Phillips’ memoir, which details his experiences in the dangerous maritime environment.
The film stays true to the book, A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea. The gripping tale pulled in a large audience and received positive reviews from both critics and the public. It earned six Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture.
The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first all-black volunteer unit in the American Civil War, is the subject of the film Glory, which was directed by Edward Zwick. Kevin Jarre wrote the screenplay, which was based on a number of different books.
Historians of the Civil War have complimented the film and noted the impact the movie has made. Glory did an amazing job of teaching today’s black youth about the role their ancestors played in the Civil War to help achieve their own freedom.
The Blind Side
People love rags-to-riches stories because they hold so much promise. Michael Oher’s life story is just that. He grew up in extreme poverty and was placed in many foster homes during his childhood. He persevered through everything to become a successful football player.
In The Blind Side, Leigh Anne Tuohy, an affluent white mother of two, discovers Oher’s plight and adopts him. A private tutor is hired to assist him in his academics. He soon starts being noticed and praised for his impressive abilities on the football field.
The Wolf Of Wall Street
Jordan Belfort, who used to be a stockbroker, wrote a best-selling book about how he and his Wall Street buddies cheated and scammed for years, living the high life, until the Federal Government caught them and they were charged with investment fraud.
The movie was based on Belfort’s memory and retelling of the situation. Although it has been widely discussed, numerous law enforcement agencies have argued that sections of it are inaccurate. The film, however, remains faithful to the novel and Jordan’s perspective.
Black Robe takes place in the 17th century when a priest encounters the Huron tribe on a journey to a distant village. The movie is praised for the respectful manner in which it portrays indigenous people as well as the authentic portrayal of their culture, which is the emphasis of the movie.
After finishing Brian Moore’s novel of the same name, which inspired the film version, director Bruce Beresford chose to adapt it for the big screen. He made it his goal to bring the characters in the novel to life in a manner that was as true to their descriptions as possible.
The premise of a black cop infiltrating the KKK sounds too crazy and dangerous to be true. Ron Stallworth actually became a member of a KKK branch in Colorado to bring it down from the inside. When Spike Lee learned of the unbelievable story, he decided to make a film about it.
Most of the film’s events are factual, with the exception of some instances where the director used theatrical license and added cinematic touches to make it more appealing on the big screen. Stallworth’s memoir Black Klansman inspired the film.
Filmmaker Gus Van Sant aimed for truth when making his 2008 movie about Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay politician. Cleve Jones, an LGBT activist who was close to Milk, and writer Dustin Lance Black helped with the film’s development and actual recordings of Milk were used in voiceovers.
To maintain accuracy, most of the movie was filmed in San Francisco where Harvey Milk lived and worked, and archival footage was inserted to keep it authentic. Milk’s camera store was also recreated in the film utilizing pictures and input from Milk’s pals.
Seeing the film Das Boot, which is about a German submarine during World Battle II, gives viewers a better understanding of what it’s like to fight a war at sea. It brings to light the paradoxical nature of being both shielded and utterly exposed at the same time.
Filmmaker Wolfgang Peterson captures the crew’s intense feelings and the exhaustion that comes from waging a never-ending battle. The battle sequences are tense and give the audience a new viewpoint on submarine warfare and the emotions that come from it.
The Iron Lady
When asked if he thought the filmmakers got things right, political biographer John Campbell, who answered questions about Margaret Thatcher for the film, responded, “I think it’s a remarkable achievement, it rings very true as a portrayal of her.”
Film critics also praised the film’s historical accuracy and depiction of Thatcher with some stating that only someone as great as Meryl Streep could pull off capturing the true essence of the film’s main character.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, for equal voting rights, was the inspiration for the historical drama Selma. According to former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, the portrayal of Johnson and King’s relationship may have been the only thing inaccurate about the movie.
Director Ava DuVernay and writer Paul Webb did an especially brilliant job of telling the story of “Bloody Sunday.” The historical event, in which peaceful protesters were brutally attacked and beaten by police officers, was depicted in a way that remained true to the events of that day.
Queen’s lead singer Freddy Mercury is the subject of this insanely popular biographical drama. The film begins by showing Mercury in the 1970s, detailing his life and following along on his rise to fame. It concludes with Mercury’s legendary performance at Live Aid in 1985.
Remi Malek brilliantly portrays Mercury, so much so that he won an Academy Award for his performance. Brian May and Roger Taylor, Mercury’s bandmates, knew Mercury on a personal level and lent their expertise to director Bryan Singer to ensure that the movie remained accurate and true to life.
12 Years A Slave
Making a film that is both balanced and insightful isn’t easy. Slavery in the United States has been a difficult subject to tackle in cinema, but no one has done it quite like this film. Based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir, the film is a modern adaptation of the autobiography.
In his memoirs, the author recounts his traumatic experiences as a slave. The film’s Oscar-winning director, Steve McQueen, brilliantly captures not only Northup’s awful ordeal, but the nuances of his relationships with other slaves, slave owners, and free men as well.
Suffragette, a film about British women’s suffrage in the early 1900s, is unique in that it spotlights working-class women, which isn’t frequently done in films taking place in this era. It was complimented by Laura Schwartz, an expert in British History, for bringing attention to these women.
The main protagonists of the film, Maud Watts and Violet Miller, were brilliantly portrayed by Carey Mulligan and Anne-Marie Duff. The two provided real-life suffragettes’ stories with a voice. Their characters, and the women they were representing, were inspirational.
Movies featuring passings that are unjust and untimely are commonly made, but films that convey the genuine narrative of a person’s final day in an insightful and respectful manner are hard to find. Critics loudly praised Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Oscar Grant III in Fruitvale Station.
The film was successful in capturing Grant’s character accurately, as well as the tragedy of his final moments. The concluding sequences of the film were shot in Oakland, California, on the exact platform where the real Oscar Grant III was killed, further adding to the authenticity of the movie.
Understanding the mentality of a murderer is a close to impossible task, even for those who have studied criminal psychology their entire lives. With that in mind, we have to give respect to Chapter 27, a film about the man who killed iconic artist John Lennon.
The film thrives in its ability to provide discomfort and anxiety. Mark David Chapman’s descent into a celebrity-obsessed psychosis is illustrated almost too realistically by Jared Leto. The era is accurately depicted and you are squirming in your seat witnessing the spiral, knowing how it all ends.
As much as one can, Downfall succeeds in making one of the most vilified individuals in history just a little more human. Many individuals were outraged by this character choice, as they felt such an evil person shouldn’t be portrayed with even an ounce of positive light.
When creating this movie, the director, Oliver Hirschbiegel, made every effort to be as authentic and true to the story as possible. This was especially hard to do as very little is known about what happened during the final days of Hitler’s life.
Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World
Almost everything in this movie is made up. The reason it falls on this list is because of how much thought and effort was put into making the setting historically accurate. The costumes and ships are completely true to the era.
Watching this film makes you feel as if you’ve traveled back in time to the 1800s. The sound of the naval fights even perfectly matches the description of them in the Aubrey–Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian, on which the film is based.