This week the “found footage”-style horror movie fades briefly and unexpectedly into oblivion like a spooky ghost girl in favor of The Conjuring, a horror movie with a traditional narrative form. Those found footage movies work so well because they introduce an extra, meta level of fear – this shit isn’t a movie…it’s real! And it looks real, because it looks like home video footage. The Conjuring, while a regular narrative-style film with a high budget and known actors like Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor, also boasts that real-life fear factor, as it is based on the accounts of the Peron family, who hired paranormal investigators to check out their supposedly haunted Rhode Island farmhouse.
Believe of that what you will. But here are 10 other movies that, believe it or not, are also based on true stories…extensive artistic license notwithstanding.
Up Close and Personal
Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, of all people, wrote the screenplay, using as their source the book Golden Girl, the sad and salacious biography of NBC News anchor Jessica Savitch, best known for once flubbing her lines on air due to drugs and dying at the age of 36 in a car accident. But what a bummer! The movie actually made is a romantic drama about news anchors underscored with a Celine Dion song.
Sure, it looked like Blair Witch in the water, but this terrifying, highly cinematic movie about two swimmers left behind by their ship to their inevitable deaths is based on the story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, two scuba divers left behind to their inevitable deaths.
In adapting a true story for film, liberties must be taken, such as heightening the drama or compositing characters. Or, in the case of Cool Runnings, changing all the names of the actual Jamaican bobsled team participants for some reason, completely inventing a crusty old coach character with something to prove, and making the other bobsled teams that were in real life supportive into vaguely racist villains.
Good Morning, Vietnam
Robin Williams found the perfect mix of his zany comic stylings and dramatic acting gifts as Armed Forces Radio disc jockey Adrian Cronauer. In between zany bits, he delivers vehement anti-war dispatches that get him kicked out of the Army. Except that in real life, Cronauer didn’t do any political material because he’s a pro-war, life-long Republican who didn’t want to get court-martialed, and who left Vietnam when his tour of duty concluded.
The Pursuit of Happyness
Will Smith plays a homeless guy who gets into the training program of a brokerage…all while living on the streets with his son. Yeah, it’s dramatic and inspirational, and yes, the real-life Chris Gardner did rise through the ranks of a brokerage while homeless, but he didn’t have his son with him. He was home, safe and sound with his mother. And that big climactic scene where Gardner almost misses his big interview because of tickets from illegally parking the car he lives in? Yeah, in real life he was detained for domestic abuse.
Even writing about Mask suddenly makes it all dusty in here, but here goes. Rocky Dennis (Eric Stoltz) was a real teenager who had an overlarge and misshapen head and face because of an eventually fatal genetic disorder. The film is a low-key, largely non-manipulative account of Dennis’s short life, culminating in his stint as a counselor at a camp for blind children, where he falls in love with a blind teenager. Having done the greatest thing in life, to fall in love, Dennis can and then does die. Ready for Mask to be sadder? Because Rocky Dennis never worked at a camp for blind kids. He never fell in love with a blind girl. And he himself went blind, as a result of his condition, at age 6.
Capote is a great movie, and Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a routinely stellar performance. But the gist of the movie is that writing about that murder in Kansas, and befriending the murderer who is executed for his crimes, leaves Capote so dead inside that he never writes again. Yes. Capote never wrote anything again, except for a bunch of short stories, newspaper columns, some nonfiction anthologies, and a few novellas. But other than that, he never wrote again.
This is a cute Disney family film about adorable sled dogs lost in Antarctica and the researcher who finds them. Of the eight adorable dogs, six happily and adorably survive to discovery. It’s based on the story of an ill-fated expedition in Antarctica by Japanese explorers in 1958. When the 15 Huskies were found, two were still alive. Not exactly the movie your five-year-old would be clamoring to see.
Despite the chants of “Rudy” from the crowd, mean old coach Dan Devine won’t let Rudy play in the big game! But then the rest of the Fighting Irish won’t play unless Rudy gets to play, so Rudy gets to play! The real story is a bit less dramatic. The team was super supportive of Rudy and wanted the little guy to play in the last game of the season. And so did the coach. So he let Rudy play. And Rudy played.
The Amityville Horror
Basically The Conjuring, but oozing with James Brolin and widely debunked as a hoax.