There were movies that have won over audiences around the world and bagged prestigious awards for amazing screenplays – and then there were movies that were based on actual events that did the same. I remember these movies not because they were haunting or had elements of gore, but because it depicted the extraordinary lives of people or the events that actually happened in real life.
Regardless of how loosely based they were on the real back stories, here are some films that have stuck with me through the years, ranging from a royalty’s biopic to human survival, and even some of the typical Hollywood rom-coms:
1. The Last Emperor (1987)
This was perhaps the first ever film I’ve watched in my life that I honestly thought was mind-blowing although I was only really, really young at that time. I actually went hunting for the DVD much later on and I still love it till today so that counts for something, right?
The Last Emperor is a biopic about the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China, whose autobiography was the basis for the screenplay written by Mark Peploe and Bernardo Bertolucci. Independently produced by Jeremy Thomas, it was directed by Bertolucci and released in 1987 by Columbia Pictures.
Puyi, of the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan, was the last Emperor of China and the 12th and final ruler of the Qing dynasty. Still a child, he ruled as the Xuantong Emperor from 1908 until his abdication on 12th February 1912, after the successful Xinhai Revolution. From 1st – 12th July 1917, he was briefly restored to the throne as a nominal emperor by the warlord Zhang Xun. In 1934, he was declared the Kangde Emperor of the puppet state of Manchukuo by the Empire of Japan, and he ruled until the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1945.
After the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, Puyi was imprisoned as a war criminal for 10 years, wrote his memoirs, and became a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
The film stars John Lone as Puyi, with Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole, Ruocheng Ying, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Maggie Han, Ric Young, Vivian Wu, and Chen Kaige. It was the first feature film for which the producers were authorised by the Chinese government to film in the Forbidden City in Beijing. The Last Emperor went on to win 9 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
2. Alive (1993)
I remember watching this in the cinema with, get this, my parents. It’s safe to say that they had a hard time trying to explain the “eating” part to a young Lainey after the movie.
Alive is an American biographical survival drama film based upon Piers Paul Read’s 1974 book “Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors”, which details the story of a Uruguayan rugby team who were involved in the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, which crashed into the Andes mountains.
Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, also known as the Andes flight disaster and, in South America, as the Miracle of the Andes (El Milagro de los Andes) was a chartered flight carrying 45 people, including a rugby union team, their friends, family and associates, that crashed in the Andes on 13th October 1972. More than a quarter of the passengers died in the crash and several others quickly succumbed to cold and injury. Of the 27 who were alive a few days after the accident, another 8 were killed by an avalanche that swept over their shelter in the wreckage.
The survivors had little food and no source of heat in the harsh conditions at over 3,600 metres (11,800 ft) altitude. Faced with starvation and radio news reports that the search for them had been abandoned, the survivors fed on the dead passengers who had been preserved in the snow. The last 16 survivors were rescued on 23rd December 1972, more than 2 months after the crash.
The film was directed by Frank Marshall and narrated by John Malkovich. One of the survivors, Nando Parrado (portrayed by Ethan Hawke in the film), served as the technical advisor for the film. The film also starred Vincent Spano and Josh Hamilton.
3. Patch Adams (1998)
Because Robin Williams, that is all.
Patch Adams is a 1998 semi-biographical comedy-drama film starring Robin Williams, Monica Potter, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bob Gunton. Directed by Tom Shadyac, it is based on the life story of Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, an American physician, social activist, clown, and author of the book, “Gesundheit: Good Health is a Laughing Matter”.
The real life person, Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams was born 28th May May 1945. His father, an officer in the United States Army, had fought in Korea, and died while stationed in Germany when Adams was a teenager. After his father’s death, Adams returned to US with his mother and brother. Adams has stated that upon his return he encountered institutional injustice which made him a target for bullies at school. As a result, Adams was unhappy and became actively suicidal. After being hospitalised 3 times in one year for wanting to end his life, he decided, “You don’t kill yourself, stupid; you make revolution!”.
He founded the Gesundheit! Institute in 1971. Each year he organises a group of volunteers from around the world to travel to various countries where they dress as clowns in an effort to bring humour to orphans, patients, and other people.
Late comic legend and actor Robin Williams played Patch Adams in the film. Despite being poorly received by most critics, Robin William’s performance was praised by many viewers and the film was a box-office success, grossing over twice its budget in the United States alone.
4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
This was perhaps the best and perhaps least life-threatening way to “experience” a war that is now long over and long gone – by watching a movie based on the actual event.
Saving Private Ryan is an American epic war film set during the Invasion of Normandy in World War II. Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Rodat, the film is notable for its graphic and realistic portrayal of war, and for the intensity of its opening 27 minutes, which depict the Omaha Beach assault.
Omaha Beach,second beach from the west among the five landing areas of the Normandy Invasion of World War II. It was assaulted on 6th June 1944 (D-Day of the invasion), by units of the US. 29th and 1st infantry divisions, many of whose soldiers were drowned during the approach from ships offshore or were killed by defending fire from German troops placed on heights surrounding the beach.
Saving Private Ryan follows United States Army Rangers Captain John H. Miller (played by Tom Hanks) and a squad (played by Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Goldberg, and Jeremy Davies) as they search for a paratrooper, Private First Class James Francis Ryan (played by Matt Damon), who is the last-surviving brother of 4 servicemen.
5. 8 Mile (2002)
Come on, who doesn’t know who Eminem is, right?
8 Mile is an American hip-hop biopic film written by Scott Silver, directed by Curtis Hanson, and starring Eminem, Mekhi Phifer, Brittany Murphy, Michael Shannon, and Kim Basinger.
Said to be a “hip hop masterpiece”, 8 Mile was based on rapper Marshall Bruce Mathers III (Eminem) and his rap battles in Detroit. Eminem spent much of his formative years living in a largely black lower-middle-class Detroit neighbourhood. As a child, Eminem developed an interest in storytelling and aspired to become a comic book artist before discovering hip hop. Eminem heard his first rap song, “Reckless” featuring Ice-T. At the age of 14, he began rapping with high-school friend Mike Ruby, the two adopting the names “Manix” and “M&M”, which soon morphed into Eminem.
Eminem grew ready to test his skills by sneaking into neighbouring Osborn High School with friend and fellow rapper Proof for lunchroom freestyle battles. On Saturdays, the 2 friends attended open-mic contests at the Hip-Hop Shop, located on West 7 Mile. The spot was considered the “ground zero” for the Detroit rap scene. While struggling to succeed in a predominantly black industry, he gained the approval of underground hip hop audiences.
The film’s title is derived from 8 Mile Road, the dividing line between Detroit and its upper class suburbs. Filmed mostly on location in Detroit and its surrounding areas, the film was a critical and financial success. Eminem won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Lose Yourself”, the song which was iconic to this film.
6. 50 First Dates (2004)
For what it’s worth, despite how sad the memory condition really is, there’s a lot to love about this movie.
50 First Dates is an American romantic comedy film directed by Peter Segal and written by George Wing. The film stars Adam Sandler as a woman-chasing veterinarian and Drew Barrymore as an amnesiac, along with Rob Schneider, Sean Astin, Lusia Strus, Blake Clark, and Dan Aykroyd. The fictitious memory impairment suffered by Drew Barrymore’s character, Goldfield’s Syndrome, is similar to short term memory loss and Anterograde amnesia.
Here’s the twist: There actually is a real-life woman with an ultra-rare form of anterograde amnesia, and as a result, for nearly 20 years Michelle Philpots has been completely unable to form new memories.
Philpots was in a bad motorcycle accident in 1985 and an equally severe car accident in 1990, and her resulting injuries did enough cumulative brain damage that she started suffering from seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy. By 1994, Philpots had completely lost the ability to retain any short-term memories, and she now has no recollection of anything that has happened for the past two decades. Which means that she starts off every single day believing it is still 1994. She has to use a deck of Post-it notes just to get through her day-to-day life.
Most of the film was shot on location in Oahu, Hawaii on the Windward side and the North Shore. Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore won the award for Best On-Screen Team at the MTV Movie Awards.
7. Marley & Me (2008)
If you’ve watched Marley & Me and you didn’t shed a single tear during the movie, you’re cold, real cold. Because this movie made me cry and want to hug my dog real tight for a long, long time.
Marley & Me is a 2008 American comedy-drama film about the titular dog, Marley. It was directed by David Frankel and the screenplay by Scott Frank and Don Roos is based on the memoir of the same name by John Grogan.
Told in first-person narrative, the book portrays Grogan and his family’s life during the thirteen years that they lived with their dog Marley, and the relationships and lessons from this period. Marley, a yellow Labrador Retriever, is described as a high-strung, boisterous, and somewhat uncontrolled dog. He is strong, powerful, endlessly hungry, eager to be active, and often destructive of their property (but completely without malice).
The strong contrast between the problems and tensions caused by his neuroses and behaviour, and the undying devotion, love and trust shown towards the human family as they themselves have children and grow up to accept him for what he is, and their grief when he finally dies from gastric dilatation volvulus (a stomach torsion condition) in old age, form the backdrop for the biographical material of the story.
The film, which starred Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, was released in the US and Canada on 25th December 2008, and set a record for the largest Christmas Day box office ever with USD14.75 million in ticket sales.
8. 21 (2008)
Move aside, Hackers, because smooth kids are smooth!
21 is an American heist drama film directed by Robert Luketic and stars Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Bosworth, Liza Lapira, Jacob Pitts, and Aaron Yoo. The film is inspired by the true story of the MIT Blackjack Team as told in “Bringing Down the House”, the best-selling book by Ben Mezrich.
The MIT Blackjack Team was a group of students and ex-students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Business School, Harvard University, and other leading colleges who used card counting techniques and more sophisticated strategies to beat casinos at blackjack worldwide.
The team and its successors operated successfully from 1979 through the beginning of the 21st century. Many other blackjack teams have been formed around the world with the goal of beating the casinos.
Despite its largely mixed reviews and controversy over the film’s casting choices, 21 was a box office success, and was the number one film in the US and Canada during its first and second weekends of release.
9. The Social Network (2010)
Admit it – This film either made you fall in love with Mark Zuckerberg or Jesse Eisenberg or made geeks look cool all over again.
The Social Network is an American drama film directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin. Adapted from Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book “The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal”, the film portrays the founding of social networking website Facebook and the resulting lawsuits.
It stars Jesse Eisenberg as founder Mark Zuckerberg, along with Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, Joseph Mazello as Dustin Moskovitz, and Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, the other principals involved in the website’s creation. Neither Zuckerberg nor any other Facebook staff were involved with the project, although Saverin was a consultant for Mezrich’s book.
The film received widespread acclaim, with critics praising it for its screenplay, editing, score, acting and direction. However, some people, including Zuckerberg himself, criticised the film for what they said were its many inaccuracies. The Social Network appeared on 78 critics’ Top 10 lists for 2010; of those critics, 22 had the film in their number-one spot.
At the 83rd Academy Awards, it received 8 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Fincher), and Best Actor (Eisenberg), and won 3 for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Film Editing. At the 68th Golden Globe Awards, the film won Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score.
10. The Vow (2012)
And here comes my guilty pleasure rom-com confession! In my defence, this one has an “aww”-inducing real-life story behind it.
The Vow is a romantic drama film directed by Michael Sucsy, starring Channing Tatum (who plays Leo Collins) and Rachel McAdams (who plays Paige Collins). A car accident puts Paige in a coma, and when she wakes up with severe memory loss, her husband Leo works to win her heart again. That, was actually inspired by a true story of a real-life couple named Kim and Krickitt Carpenter.
Kim and Krickitt Carpenter wrote a book about their marriage, also known as The Vow. 10 weeks after their wedding on 18th September 1993, the couple were involved in a serious car accident. Krickitt was put in a coma for 4 months and suffered a brain trauma, which erased all memories of her romance with Kim as well as their marriage. Kim was still deeply in love with his wife, although she viewed him as a stranger after the accident.
The Vow was a box office success, becoming the seventh highest-grossing romantic drama film of all time.
Alright, just putting it out there, the above list of movies are the ones that I personally loved. But if you’ve got any “based on actual events” movies that you’d like to add to the list, drop us a comment in the comment box below!