27 Gripping Real Life Film Stories

Real people and historic events often spell movie gold. There is undeniable weight and interest behind a true story.  As a result, whether the tales are tragic or inspiring, humorous or sad, cinemas are rarely without a true life flick. 


So, if you fancy a film based on or inspired by actual events, here are 27 movies that I have watched during my 500 Days Of Film Challenge that might take your fancy...


27 True Life Movies



Amma Asante's Belle is inspired by the fascinating true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).


Dido was the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Captain. She was raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Chief Justice Mansfield (played by Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson).


Dido's lineage allowed her access to many privileges. Despite this, the colour of her skin still prevented her from fully participating in society.


When Dido fell in love with an idealistic young vicar's son, she risked everything to help him shape Lord Mansfield's view of slavery in England.


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Florence Foster Jenkins


Director, Stephen Frears’, latest film tells the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep), the legendary New York heiress and socialite who obsessively pursued her dream of becoming a great opera singer. 


The voice she heard in her head was beautiful, but to everyone else it was awful. And yet, they loved her.


Her “husband” and manager, St Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) an aristocratic English actor, was determined to protect his beloved Florence. However, when Florence decided to give a public concert at Carnegie Hall in 1944, St Clair knew that he could no longer shield her from the truth.


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Eddie The Eagle


Eddie The Eagle is the inspirational true story of Eddie Edwards who set out to become Britain’s first Olympic ski jumper at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.


Against the odds, Eddie took on the establishment and ended up touching the hearts of millions. 


After all, as the founder of the games, Pierre de Coubertin, famously said: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”


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Bridge Of Spies


In the midst of the Cold War, American insurance lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), is recruited to defend captured Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance).


No one wants Donovan to do more than an adequate job. In the eyes of the courts and society, Abel is guilty.


However, Donovan believes that it is his duty to uphold the American constitution and defend Abel to the very best of his ability - a decision that later proves crucial.


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127 Hours


127 Hours tells the remarkable true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston (James Franco)’s desperate bid for survival.


On 26 April, 2003, Ralston was hiking alone through Blue Canyon, Utah.

While descending a canyon a boulder fell onto his arm, trapping him.


Over the next five days, with no chance of rescue, Ralston had to figure out how to survive and escape - by any means necessary.


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Spotlight tells the true story of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into allegations of child abuse in the Catholic Church.


The year-long investigation by the newspaper’s Spotlight team would find a cover-up at the very highest levels of Boston’s establishment.


For as the film states, it may take a village to raise a child but it also takes a village to abuse one. 


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The Big Short


It’s 2005 and San Jose-based money manager, Dr Michael Burry (Christian Bale), has made a startling discovery.


The housing market is a bubble that is going to burst. Hundreds of home loans are about to default. And the entire global financial market is at risk from the fallout.


However, Burry also sees an opportunity for his investors. He asks a number of banks to structure a financial instrument (called a credit default swap) that will, in return for a regular premium payment, pay out in the event of a default in these underlying subprime mortgages.


The banks are only too happy to oblige. After all, who in their right mind would bet against the mortgage industry?


Who indeed.


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Fruitvale Station


In the early hours of 1 January 2009, Oscar Grant made his way home after celebrating the New Year with his girlfriend and friends in San Francisco. 


Grant decided not to drive into the city and, instead, traveled home by train.

However, a fight in the packed carriage led to the arrival of the police.


Grant and his friends were detained on the platform of Fruitvale Station. Minutes later, Grant was shot in the back by Bay Area Rapid Transit policeman, Johannes Mehserle. He died in hospital.


Oscar Grant was only 22 years old. This is his story.


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Testament Of Youth


Testament Of Youth tells the true story of Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander), a feisty, independent young woman who has to overcome her family’s prejudices in order to secure a scholarship to Oxford. 


She is thrilled by the new literary life that awaits her at university.


However, all her dreams are shattered following the start of World War One. First her new love Roland (Kit Harington) and then her brother, Edward, sign up.


Vera soon realises that she cannot continue her education while her friends and loved ones fight for their country. As a result, she volunteers as a nurse. Nothing could prepare her for the tragedies to follow.


After the war, Vera decided to publish a memoir. Vera's testimony would become a bestseller - one of the few books to detail a woman’s experience of World War One.


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Love And Mercy


In the 1960s, Beach Boys co-founder, Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) was interested in only one thing - getting his music out into the world.


Wilson was both obsessed and tormented by this process - often to the anger and frustration of his fellow band members and those around him.


However, of course, the final product - Wilson's music - was and still is wonderful. It is innovative, it is beautiful. 


As he grew older, Wilson (now played in the film by John Cussak) struggled with mental health issues. Tragically, his musical genius was imprisoned by a manipulative psychiatrist called Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamati).


It fell to car saleswoman, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), to offer Wilson hope for salvation.    


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The Danish Girl


Dutch artists Einar Elbe and Gerda Wegener were married for six years before Einar allowed himself to accept that he was a woman, called Lili, trapped inside the body of a man.


The couple then went on a remarkable, emotional journey as Lili explored her transgender identity.


This journey ultimately saw Lili become one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery. 


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Steve Jobs


This film is not a biopic. 


It may look like a biopic, some people may have wanted it to be a biopic, but it is most definitely not a biopic. 


Instead, Danny Boyle's film is a dramatisation of several key points of friction in Steve Jobs' life.


The movie focuses on the conflicts between Jobs and his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan, between Jobs and Lisa Brennan (the daughter that he, at first, refused to accept), between Jobs and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and between Jobs and Apple CEO, John Sculley.


Adopting a theatrical three act structure, the film takes us behind the scenes as Jobs prepares to launch three key technological innovations. Here, we build up a picture of Steve Jobs the man - conflict by conflict.


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Behind The Candelabra


Behind The Candelabra is based on Scott Thorson's memoir about his life and relationship with Liberace.


This book gave the movie's director, Steven Soderbergh, an entry point into the performer's life - one less about the bling and more about Liberace's complex life and relationships. 


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Rush is Ron Howard’s 2013 film about the fierce rivalry between Formula One racing drivers Niki Lauder and James Hunt.


This gorgeous looking film is (much like Asif Kapadia’s Senna) well worth watching whether you are a motor racing fan or not.


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All they wanted was the vote. However, at the start of the 20th century and after fifty years of peaceful protest, Britain's suffragette movement was no closer to achieving this aim. 


Desperate and frustrated, factions within the movement decided the time had come for civil disobedience.


Suffragette tells the story of one group of women who were willing to risk everything to stand up and fight for their rights - and ours.


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In 1984, the community of a small Welsh town was in trouble.


The people of Onllwyn were struggling to cope during the miner’s strike.


Their difficulties were recognised by a group in London who decided to raise awareness and money to help.


The group - Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) - decided to take the money that they raised to Onllwyn - but were the people there ready for their visit?


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The Walk


In 1974, a Frenchman called Philippe Petit fixed an illegal wire between the two World Trade Center towers in New York.


He then proceeded to walk and dance on this wire for 45 minutes - much to the alarm of the people watching below.


1,350 feet above ground, Petit didn’t have so much as a safety harness - because that would be cheating.


Of course.


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Zero Dark Thirty


On 2nd May 2011, a team of US special forces operatives based in Afghanistan climbed on board two stealth helicopters and traveled to a compound 120 miles inside Pakistan.


40 minutes after they arrived, five men from the compound were dead. One of those men was Osama bin Laden.



Zero Dark Thirty examines the hunt for bin Laden, the intelligence that was gathered and the almost obsessive dedication of those responsible for finding him. 


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On 10th May 1996, Rob Hall (played by Jason Clarke) set out to guide a group of experienced climbers to the summit of Mount Everest. 


The expedition was organised by Hall’s business, Adventure Consultants, which pioneered the commercialization of Everest.   


However, on that day things started to go wrong. Tragically wrong. The trek became overcrowded with climbers, mountain ropes were not fixed properly and oxygen tanks went missing. 


When a massive storm hit the mountain, Hall and his group were left stranded - each trying to survive the night, each suffering in the most brutal conditions.


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American Sniper


Chris Kyle was a US Navy SEAL. 


Nicknamed The Legend, he was the most lethal sniper in US military history with over 160 kills officially confirmed by the country’s Department of Defense.


American Sniper is Kyle’s story.


Clint Eastwood's film looks at why Kyle joined the military, how he coped with what he was asked to do and what happened when he finally returned home.


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Fair Game


Fair Game tells the story of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame (played Naomi Watts) who, in 2003, was outed by the US government in retaliation for claims made by her husband, former US diplomat, Joseph Wilson (Sean Penn).


In 2002, Wilson had been tasked by the CIA to visit Niger.


He was asked to find out if Saddam Hussein had attempted to buy nuclear materials in the country. He found no evidence of this attempt. However, the US government ignored his findings and used the attempted purchase as one of the grounds for a potential invasion of Iraq. 


Wilson could not stand by and watch the US government use incorrect intelligence information as a basis for war. As a result, he wrote an article for The New York Times called “What I Didn’t Find In Africa”. 


In an attempt to discredit and silence Wilson, the US government leaked Valerie’s identity to Washington Post journalist Robert Novak. This act ended Valerie’s career in the CIA and also put her, her family and her contacts in danger.


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The Fighter


The Fighter is based on the 1990s true story of boxer, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg).


Trying to move his career forward, Micky began to question the abilities and motivations of his mother/manager Alice Ward (superbly played by Melissa Leo).


He also begins to doubt his trainer - elder brother and ex professional boxer Dicky (Christian Bale). Dicky was once hailed ‘The Pride Of Lowell” (Massachusetts) after his 1978 fight with Sugar Ray Leonard. However, in the years since this fight, Dicky’s life has spiraled downwards. 


Micky is torn between his feelings of loyalty towards his family and his aspirations as a boxer. 


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United 93


United 93 tells the story of the passengers and crew on board one of the flights that was hijacked on the 11th September 2001.


The film portrays the attempt to overthrow the hijackers and how that brave act stopped the terrorists from reaching their intended target - The White House. 


United 93 also gives a fascinating, real time account of how the relevant air traffic controllers dealt with the events of that terrible day.


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The King's Speech


In 1936, King King Edward VIII abdicated the throne, forcing his brother to take his place and become King George VI. 


Thrust into a new media world where monarchs are expected to make stirring speeches via the radio, King George battles with his stammer. 


He meets an unorthodox Australian speech therapist who, while helping him with his speech, soon becomes a true friend.


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Of Gods And Men


In 1996, a group of French monks, living in The Monastery Notre-Dame de l'Atlas of Tibhirine in Algeria, come under threat from Islamist rebels.


Algerian government officials warn the monks of the danger that they face from the rebels and urge them to leave their monastery.


However, the monks are conflicted. They do not want to become easy targets and yet they are also deeply reluctant to desert their community. Each monk must examine his faith and choose to stay... or to leave.


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Made In Dagenham


Made In Dagenham tells the story of Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins) a machinist in Ford’s factory in Dagenham.


In 1968, O'Grady inspired her fellow workers to go on a strike that would later lead to the advent of the UK's Equal Pay Act.   


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The Social Network


The Social Network shows how Facebook was created by people who truly struggled to be social.


The film also explores the legal case brought against Mark Zuckerberg by the Winklevoss twins - making the theft of intellectual property actually pretty gripping.


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What's Your Favourite True Life Film?

How many of these true life films have you seen?


Any film favourites on this list? Any films that you feel I should add?


Do let me know what you think - you can leave me a comment in the box below! 

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones

E: jane@500daysoffilm.com


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