Many films start with the words, “based on a true story,” but what they really mean to say is “may be very loosely related to people and/or things that once occurred.” Those films are not known for their historical accuracy, simply because in order to make a better movie, they made the story more dramatic. If you were to show some historical occurrences as they happened, your audience would be bored to tears.
There are, however, some cases in which fact was as amazing, moving and dramatic as fiction, meaning filmmakers could mostly stick to the truth. Although the following films aren’t 100% true, they do deliver a large degree of historical accuracy. They are rare among other films, which lost the truth along the way. How many of these films have you seen? Share your favorite historically accurate film with us!
Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan won five Oscars and is considered by many as one of the best movies ever made. It begins with an intense 27-minute long recreation of the Omaha Beach landing. That scene, which sets the tone for the entire film, was hailed as the “best battle scene of all time.” Director Steven Spielberg and his team made sure all the details in the scene were as accurate as possible, in order to make the viewer feel the realities and desperation of war.
The search for Private Ryan may be fictional but it is based on an actual directive instituted in 1942, known as the “sole-survivor policy,” in which if only one member of a family remains, they were to be protected from military duty. An actual rescue mission was once mounted for Frederick Niland, after his three brothers died in the war over the course of just once a month.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Unlike other films on this list, the plot of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is almost entirely fictional. Many of the people in the film never existed, and the main battle shown did not actually take place. The reason this film does belong on this list, however, is for its amazing production value.
Never before have such accurate costumes or ships been seen on film. The sound of the naval battles matches their description in the novels of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin, which the film is based on, and make you feel like you have stepped back in time to the 1800s.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Former stockbroker Jordan Belfort wrote a bestselling memoir that tells the story of how he, and his fellow Wall Street cronies engaged in fraud and debauchery for years before they were eventually brought down for securities fraud by the Federal Government. The Wolf of Wolf Street is based on Belfort’s account of events and he is portrayed in the film by Leonardo DeCaprio.
The accuracy of the film and book are a hotly debated issue, with several law enforcement agencies claiming that parts are untrue. The film is, however, true to the book and the way in which the protagonist sees things. The major difference are the names used which were changed between the book and the movie. Seems like audiences enjoyed this version of events, because the film was a box office smash hit.
Even though the famous “I Am Spartacus” scene was fictional, you’d be surprised how much of the historical epic Spartacus was based on real Roman accounts. The film provides a very accurate account of Spartacus’ time at the gladiator school in Capua, including the brutality of the instructors. As shown in the film, the real Spartacus did lead the revolt and he and the other gladiators did set up camp in Mount Vesuvius.
The battles in the film are also fairly accurate. The Romans considered Spartacus to be an excellent general and strategist. Director Stanley Kubrick’s action-packed, and glamorous epic manages to remain surprisingly true to the historical record. The film was a hit with viewers and critics alike and won four Oscars.
Gangs of New York
Martin Scorsese did not set out to tell a true story in the film Gangs of New York. While many of the characters in the film are based on actual people, some are fictional, and some are a mix of several people who did exist. The film, however, is accurate in its depiction of the realities of New York City in 1863. It gives viewers an honest view of the gangs who resided there and the experience of the Irish immigrants who came to the city. Many of the gangs that appeared in the film actually existed at the time.
Scorsese also spent a lot of time and money on making sure that the New York in the film was authentic. He had an enormous set built in Italy, which was meant to replicate the look and feel of historic New York. Historian Tyler Anbinder was impressed with the sets and said that they, "couldn't have been much better".
All the President's Men
The film All the President’s Men recounts the exact chain of events which led to the discovery of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate complex, and the political aftermath that would eventually lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The film is based on the book written by journalists Bob Woodard and Carl Bernstein. They were working at The Washington Post at the time and they are the ones who revealed the scandal to the public.
Director Alan J. Pakula wanted the film to be authentic, so Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman spent time in the newsroom where the story broke and the production crew even bought the exact desks that were used in the newsroom for the set. The film tells one of the most important and unbelievable stories in American political history and has been added to the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
12 Years a Slave
Many films have tried dealing with the difficult subject of slavery in America, but making a well-balanced, thoughtful film is no easy task. The movie 12 Years a Slave is an adaptation of the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup of the same name. Northup was living his life as a free black man in Upstate New York in 1841 when he was deceived and kidnapped by slavers. The memoir offers an unpleasant look at his time as a slave in the 12 years before winning back his freedom.
Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen beautifully captures the horrific way in which Northup is treated, but also his complex relationships with other slaves, slave owners, and other free men. His story is told in all its gory detail, including physical abuse, the buying, and selling of slaves and the complicated and intense emotions of every single character.
Space travel has always been a subject which fascinated the masses, so it is no surprise that the true story of the Apollo 13 mission and the death-defying odds the astronauts overcame, has been recreated numerous times. The film which gets the story as close to true events as possible is Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, which came out 25 years after the harrowing mission took place.
Howard waited until film technology had improved enough so that he could capture the exact feeling of the Apollo 13 mission. All the details of the spacecraft are spot on, and the actors manage to portray what the astronauts went through so convincingly, viewers felt like they were right there with them.
Downfall tells the story of Adolf Hitler’s last days as leader of the Nazi party and succeeds, at least partially, to make one of the most hated men in history somewhat relatable. This portrayal caused quite a stir because many people felt that Hitler should not be humanized.
Although not much information exists about what actually took place in the bunker in the last ten days of Hitler’s life, director Oliver Hirschbiegel tried to be as accurate as possible. He based the film on Inside Hitler’s Bunker by historian Joachim Fest and Until the Final Hour by Hitler’s former private secretary, Traudl Junge. The outcome is a sensitive and brilliant film that offers a different perspective on WWII.
The 2014 historical drama, Selma, is based on Dr. Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to secure equal voting rights. The film is criticized for the depiction of the relationship between King and President Johnson, which is shown as adversarial. SCLC activist and former Mayor of Atlanta, Andrew Young, told The Washington Post that the depiction of the relationship between Johnson and King "was the only thing I would question in the movie.
Everything else, they got 100 percent right". Director Ava DuVernay and writer Paul Webb also got points for recreating important historical scenes, like the attack by local police and state troopers on the peaceful protesters, which became known as Bloody Sunday. The statistics site ‘Information is Beautiful’ said of the film that it, "painstakingly recreates events as they happened, and takes care to include everybody who was involved". Despite the controversy, the film received good reviews and was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Picture category.
The Last Emperor
The story of the life of China’s last emperor is a source of constant debate by historians because not that much is known about the period. Even today, scholars are still trying to put together an accurate picture of events and when they took place. Therefore, the film The Last Emperor, cannot claim to be entirely accurate, but director Bernardo Bertolucci and writer Mark Peploe went to tremendous lengths to depict what is known.
Details of the emperor’s life may be vague, but the depiction of the royal family’s opulent lifestyle and the shocking politics of the time are considered by many to be spot on. The production spared no expense in getting the story across and the audience and critics responded, with the film winning nine Academy Awards, one for every category in which it was nominated.
Suffragette, which depicts British women’s struggle to win the vote in the 1910s, is different to other films on this subject because it focuses on working-class women. Although the main characters are fictional, they provide a glimpse into what other women in similar positions went through at the time. Laura Schwartz, an Assistant Professor of Modern British History has written about the film, praising the way the focus was on life-like characters who worked in a laundromat. The fictional East End laundry workers Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) and Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), gave a voice to the experiences of real-life suffragettes of the time.
Director Sarah Gavron also tried to keep things authentic when it came to locations. Suffragette is the first feature film to be shot inside the Houses of Parliament, and the production shot the factory and prison scenes in the historic Dockyard Chatham.
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Although it may have handsome leading men and a lot of explosions, Michael Bay’s film, Pearl Harbor, is not exactly ripped from the history books. The film Tora! Tora! Tora!, directed by Richard Fleisher, Toshio Masuda, and Kinji Fukasaku, is actually the closest to telling the story of the attack on Pearl Harbor like it happened.
The directors decided to tell the story from both points of view and not settle on just one. They told a comprehensive story about the reasons for the attack and occasionally highlighted American mistakes and showed the Japanese as human. To make things look even more real, parts of the film were shot on the Yorktown, an actual aircraft carrier, which was provided by the Navy before being decommissioned.
The battle of Stalingrad, which took place in World War II, was one of the largest and most gruesome battles in history and has fascinated scholars for decades. Many directors have tried to use the battle as a backdrop for other stories, but the 1993 film Stalingrad was determined to show the battle as it was.
Director Joseph Vilsmaier decided to depict the battle from the German perspective. He focused on a small band of soldiers who face actual atrocities that take place at the time. The film’s accuracy stems from its insistence on showing the actual violence and horror of war. The film of the same name which was released 20 years later in 2013 perfectly illustrates why the original is so highly praised.
The King’s Speech
Director Tom Hooper’s heartwarming film about King George VI trying to overcome his stutter in order to inspire the British people took the world by storm and even won four Oscars. Although some aspects of the story were exaggerated, the film was for the most part historically accurate. According to the info-graphic site, Information is Beautiful, the film was 74.4% accurate when compared to real-life events.
They summarized the accuracy by saying the film performed, "Some nips and tucks of the historical record, but mostly an accurate retelling of a unique friendship.” Additionally, although historian Andrew Roberts has some specific criticisms of the film, especially regarding the pivotal final scene, he does praise it overall.
The story of German businessman Oskar Schindler was immortalized in the Steven Spielberg Oscar-winning film Schindler’s List. He starts out trying to make money off the war, but once he witnesses the horrific massacre of Jews in the Kraków ghetto, Schindler decides to save as many Jews as he can.
The film does take some dramatic liberties with the story, changing a few characters and events, the overall narrative, however, remains true to the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally on which it was based. In this case, the historical accuracy was important, but having every person viewing experience what the Holocaust was like, was more important. Numerous camp survivors went on to praise the film for both its message and its accuracy.
The sleeper hit Green Book tells the story of "Tony Lip" Vallelonga, an Italian bouncer who is looking for work and becomes the driver of an African American classical pianist who is touring the South in the 1960s, with the two become unlikely friends. The film is considered by many to be extremely accurate since Vallelonga’s son Nick is one of the screenwriters.
He said in an interview, “It happened to my father the way it happened.” Writer and producer Brian Currie told The Hollywood Reporter, “Everything was real. I’ve known Tony Lip for 25 years. I’ve heard the stories. They’re all true. This is a true story.” The film won three Oscars for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor.
It’s difficult to make a film about any kind of culture because you must make sure to represent them fairly while showing the good and the bad in their society. The film Black Robe is a story about a priest in 1600 who is traveling to find a remote Canadian mission amongst Huron settlements. The film focuses on the lives and culture of the indigenous people and was hailed for its respectful and accurate representation. It also featured dialogue from the Cree, Mohawk, and Algonquin languages.
Director Bruce Beresford decided to make the film adaptation after reading the novel by the same name by Brian Moore. He made it his mission to bring the people in the book to life as accurately as possible.
If you’ve ever been curious about one of the most decisive battles in the Civil War, then Gettysburg is the film for you. The film is a whopping 4 hour and 31-minute look at exactly what took place over three days of battle. Some have complained that the film is too slow, but its deliberate pace offers director Ronald F. Maxwell the chance to show not only the two front lines but also what took place behind the scenes.
The film focuses on every detail and has received praise from both audiences and critics, both for its incredible performances and for how it tried to represent the historical events accurately.
The Lion in Winter
These days Medieval films try to accurately portray the hardships of the time, especially the ones experienced by lower classes, but they used to be all about glamour. The films were a mixture of romance, drama, action, and comedy, with even the poorest characters looking like something out of Dickens.
Although the characters in The Lion in Winter look polished, it makes more sense because the film is mostly about royalty. It’s the greatest strength, however, is in its depiction of the life of King Henry II. The film focuses on his failure to choose an heir to his throne and how his sons and his wife manipulate his decision for their own personal gain. The riveting story and incredible acting earned the film three Oscars.
Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill star in the 2011 sports drama Moneyball. The film is based on a bestselling novel of the same name written by Michael Lewis. It tells the amazing true story of the Oakland Athletics baseball team’s 2002 season, in which general manager Billy Beane decides to use his small budget and a new way of choosing players in order to create a winning team.
Most people involved claim that the film stuck mostly to the facts but did change around the order of some events. A’s manager Art Howe has gone on record to say that he thinks his portrayal in the movie was inaccurate. Nonetheless, director Aaron Sorkin’s film was a box office hit and was even nominated for six Oscars.
Hollywood films which tell the story of someone’s wrongful death are quite common, but films which tell the true story of someone’s last day in a thoughtful and engrossing way, are much rarer. Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Oscar Grant III, in the film Fruitvale Station was applauded by critics.
The film tried to stay true to who Grant was, his challenges and successes, the joys in his life, and the tragedy of his last moments. To keep the film even more authentic, the final scenes were shot in Oakland, California, on the very same platform in which the real Oscar Grant III was killed.
Paul Greengrass directed this dramatic biographical thriller about the hijacking of an American ship by Somali pirates. The film was based on Richard Philips’ own account as documented in his book, A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea. When asked about the accuracy of the film, Tom Hanks, who plays Philips said, “By and large, everything we’ve done in the film is empirically accurate, if that makes sense.”
The film does, in fact, stay true to the book, and the harrowing story drew audiences to the movie theaters, was well received by critics and received six Oscar nominations. There have, however, been claims by crewmembers and the head hijacker, Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, that Philips’ account was not entirely accurate.
Legendary director Steven Spielberg brings to life one of America’s most beloved presidents, Abraham Lincoln. The film focuses on the last months of Lincoln’s life and his attempt to abolish slavery. Lincoln highlights both the public and the private persona of America’s 16th president and gives viewers a chance to identify with him as a man and not just a political figure.
The movie is both riveting and, according to historians, true to the feel and events which took place at the time. It is believed that actor Daniel Day Lewis’s portrayal of the great man, is the most accurate to date, including his surprisingly high voice.
Born on The Fourth Of July
Born on The Fourth Of July, directed by Oliver Stone, is a biography of Vietnam War veteran turned political activist Ron Kovic. The film is based on Kovic’s autobiography of the same name. Stone, who also served in Vietnam became friends with Kovic and the two set out to make a film for veterans everywhere.
Stone’s first-hand knowledge of the war helped make the film look and feel right and he also understands the emotional turmoil veterans go through during and after the war. The film, and particularly, Tom Cruise’s performance, were well-received, winning two Oscars and gaining blockbuster status at the box office.
Submarine movies were quite big in the 80s. Many of them were fun, but most of them did not exactly show you what submarine warfare was all about. The film Das Boot, about a German submarine in WWII, really let you experience the frustrating reality of fighting a war inside a submarine. It highlighted the difficult reality of being protected on the one hand and also extremely vulnerable on the other.
Wolfgang Peterson, who directed the film, conveys the powerful emotions felt by the crew and the fatigue which arises when engaged in a never-ending fight. The battle scenes are extremely intense and give audiences a new and unique perspective on submarine warfare.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Westerns are a staple of Hollywood and most of them have a fairly similar storyline. They often focus on a wandering hero who is handy with a gun and a dangerous outlaw. This typically culminates in a showdown at high noon. The reasons audiences went to see those movies in droves is all about the action and not at all because they thought they represented anything real.
The film, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, directed by Andrew Dominik, is not only a great western that features many of the genre’s main elements, but it is also based on the truth. The film tells the story of the last seven months in the life of famous outlaw Jesse James but centers on his relationship with the young Robert Ford. In the film, James is at the height of his notoriety, making him an easy target for Ford and his growing obsession and resentment. The film’s historical accuracy and convincing performances earned its nominations for two Oscars.
The Iron Lady
Legendary actress Meryl Streep and director Phyllida Lloyd shined a light on the life and career of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. The film did not receive rave reviews but did get high marks for Streep’s portrayal and for its historical accuracy. Political biographer John Campbell who answered questions about Thatcher for the film was asked if he felt that the filmmakers got things right and replied, “I think essentially they did, yes. I think it's a remarkable achievement, both of the writer, Abi Morgan, as much as of the star, Meryl Streep. I think it rings very true as a portrayal of her.”
Film critic Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail wrote: "Only an actress of Streep's stature could possibly capture Thatcher's essence and bring it to the screen. It's a performance of towering proportions that sets a new benchmark for acting." The film won Streep a Best Actress Academy Award, but there were at least two people who were not fans, Thatcher’s children, who refused to watch the film.
Cold Mountain, based on the book of the same name, tells the tale of a wounded Confederate army deserter at the end of the Civil War, who travels home to reunite with his beloved. The characters are fictional, but the time and events depicted are not. The film, directed by Anthony Minghella, was studied by historical scholars and while they felt that some things were wrong, they also found many things that were right. Author Silas House says, “for the most part I thought director Anthony Minghella did an honorable job of portraying our region.”
The film also gets high marks for its portrayal of what Southern women went through during the war. The film also tried to honor the local music. Jack Wright, a musician who played on the soundtrack, says, “some of the best of the soundtrack was not composed for the movie but garnered from the body of time-tested and proven masterpieces of an earlier rural American culture.” The film was a surprise hit at the box office, was well received by critics and won an Academy Award.
During the 1960s in Northern California, there was a serial killer famously dubbed the Zodiac Killer. Until this day he has never been identified or caught. The movie Zodiac tells the story of the hunt for him like it occurred and doesn’t give viewers a neat Hollywood ending.
Director David Fincher, writer James Vanderbilt, and producer Bradley Fischer purposely left the ending unresolved, and that may be the reason the movie was not a big box office success. Many viewers did appreciate the 18 months of research that went into the film, and the numerous details which shaped it into what some believe is Fincher’s best work.
A Night to Remember
The sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 14, 1912, is one of the most famous tragedies in human history. This story of cruise ship versus iceberg has captured people’s imaginations and inspired many films. The most famous are James Cameron’s Titanic and Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember. Both films were successful and critically acclaimed, but which one is the truest representation of what really happened?
James Cameron’s film, which is titled after the boat itself, does portray some of the actual events that were part of the disaster, but most of the screen time is dedicated to the tragic love story between Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio characters. A Night to Remember, on the other hand, focuses more on the people of different classes who were on the ocean liner and how they struggled through the night to survive the disaster. The film portrays events in a gritty and realistic manner through the eyes of the ship’s second officer. Roy Ward Baker may have not had an enormous budget or cutting-edge technology, but Titanic historians have given him five stars for historical accuracy.
Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese picked up the book Wiseguy, a non-fiction novel on the life of mafia mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill, by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi and immediately knew he wanted to make a movie out if it. He says of the book that it, “gives you a sense of the day-to-day life, the tedium, how they work, how they take over certain nightclubs, and for what reasons. It shows how it’s done.”
Scorsese co-wrote the screenplay with Pileggi and they based everything that took place on Pileggi’s news reports and the famous Lufthansa airline heist in 1978. They tried to change the book as little as possible, but only make the adjustments necessary so that it would work on the big screen. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Director and is considered by many as one of the best films of all time.
French film Joyeux Noel tells the story of the World War I Christmas truce from the point of view of French, British, and German soldiers. It is a touching film about an informal truce which took place on the Western Front on Christmas Day in 1914. On that one day, the soldiers stopped fighting, spent time together, sang and talked.
The story may be hard to believe, but it is completely true. The characters in the film may be fictional, but everything else is based on fact. The film was even shot in three languages, French, English and German. Many have said that the film seems too sentimental, especially the part in which the German soldiers sing Silent Night and the bagpiper joins in, but director Christian Carion says, "All the acts of fraternization had one thing in common: music and song." He summarizes the film by saying, "I loved the idea that these could stop a war for a few hours."
The Pianist was based on an autobiographical book of the same name, written by Polish-Jewish pianist Władysław Szpilman. The book was lauded for its incredibly touching tale of how Szpilman had survived the horrors of the Holocaust. Adrien Brody played him in the film and managed to convey the complicated emotions so well, he ended up winning an Academy Award for Best Actor.
The film was directed by the controversial figure, Roman Polanski, who was charged with statutory rape in the 1970s. He was deeply passionate about the project due to his own escape from the Krakow Ghetto following his mother’s death in the Second World War. Polanski managed to find shelter in a farmer’s barn and stayed there until the end of the war.
Mountain climber Aron Ralston was canyoneering alone in the Utah desert when he became trapped by a boulder and was forced to cut off his arm in order to survive. He told his story in a book that he wrote, and that book inspired the film 127 Hours. James Franco’s touching performance and director Danny Boyle’s ability to capture the feeling of being trapped, were so convincing, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards.
Ralston gave the film high praise for its accuracy. The only scene which he felt differed from what happened was when he showed two hikers a hidden pool, when in reality he gave them climbing tips. Of the rest of the film, Ralson said it was “so factually accurate it is as close to a documentary as you can get and still be a drama.”
The war drama 84C MoPic is not based on an actual mission from the Vietnam War, but it has cobbled together different accounts into an incredibly realistic story. Many veterans from that war have said this film is one of the most accurate depictions of what it was actually like to be there. The film, which was shot in the rough documentary “found footage” style, on a tiny budget, did not garner a lot of attention from audiences. In fact, you have probably never even heard of it before.
It tells the story of a long-range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP) mission that goes awry and turns into a fight for survival in the jungles of Vietnam. Respected film critic Roger Ebert stated, “I’ve never seen a combat movie that seemed this close to actual experience.” 84C MoPic was also honored at film festivals, it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and Best First Feature and Best Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards.
City of God
The Brazilian film, City of God, from 2003 was applauded around the world following its release. It is based on a semi-autobiographical book written by Paulo Lins with the same name. The book describes the rise of organized crime in the “Cidade de Deus” (City of God) suburb of Rio de Janeiro.
The film encompasses a period of time between the late 60s and early 80s and culminates in a war between two rival gangs. The story is told from the point of view of two boys, one grows up to be a photographer, while the other becomes a kingpin. Lins, who wrote the book, actually grew up in the Cidade de Dues, which allows him to tell the story from his unique point of view. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Director for Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund.
The movie Rush, directed by Ron Howard, does its best to depict the rivalry between Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s. Most of the events in the film and the look and feel of the races themselves are fairly accurate, while Howard took dramatic license with the relationship between Hunt and Lauda, making them intense rivals, while in real life they were quite friendly. Niki Lauda was happy with the film overall.
He said, "When I saw it the first time I was impressed. There were no Hollywood changes or things changed a little bit Hollywood-like. It is very accurate. And this really surprised me very positively." Information is Beautiful stated the film was 82.9% accurate, summarizing that there were "a little staging to get Lauda and Hunt in the same locations sometimes, but otherwise true".
Natalie Portman takes on the iconic role of Jackie Kennedy in the 2016 biopic, Jackie. The film depicts her life in the days following her husband, John F. Kennedy’s, assassination. Director Pablo Larraín and writer Noah Oppenheim tried to make the film as true to her life as possible. Oppenheim told Vulture, "In terms of what that interaction would look like throughout the film, it's based on what we know of how she controlled her image and interacted with the press."
The most accurate part of the film is the televised White House tour which Jackie gives to the country. The film replicated the original tour in black and white precisely. Despite a few murmurs about inaccuracy in the portrayal of Jackie’s relationship with Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, the film was well received. It was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Actress for Portman.
The Martian – Honorable Mention
So, we get what you are thinking, and you are right, The Martian has clearly not happened... at least not yet. The film, based on the novel by Andy Weir, tells the story of an astronaut who is left behind on Mars when a mission goes wrong and must survive on that inhospitable planet alone until he can be rescued. We do believe that this film belongs on this list, because although the story is completely fictional, the science behind it is not.
NASA experts and engineers were involved with the story from day one, explaining exactly how they would deal with the situation if it arose. They also answered “hundreds” of questions about the scenario, helped design actual elements of the “habs,” in which astronauts may potentially reside, and supplied producers with hundreds of real images of Mars and Nasa control centers. NASA approached this project as a marketing opportunity for future space travel and wanted to make sure it was as close to reality as possible. Clearly director Ridley Scott, lead actor Matt Damon and the rest of the cast and crew did an amazing job, the film was nominated for seven Oscars, received amazing reviews and was a huge hit around the world.
Director Gus Van Sant directed the 2008 biopic Milk about the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California history, with accuracy in mind. He used Milk’s own recorded oral history as voice-overs in the film, the production worked closely with LGBT activist Cleve Jones who was close to Milk, and writer Dustin Lance Black traveled to San Francisco every weekend for two years to talk to as many people who’d known the real Harvey Milk as possible.
The film uses a lot of archive footage and most of it was shot on location in San Francisco, the crew even recreated Milk’s Castro Camera store by using old photos and consulting with his friends. Seems like their hard work paid off, the film won two Oscars, including Best Actor for Sean Penn who played Harvey Milk.
Come and See
Despite what some war movies will have you believe, war is not cinematic and organized, it is a brutal, messy business. That feeling shines through in the film Come and See, which gives audiences a glimpse into the horrifying reality of World War II as seen by a Belarusian whose village is massacred.
It was important to director Elem Klimov to show the true story behind Russia’s involvement in the Second World War. Not everyone was happy with the way the film came out, some Russians complained that the story shown was very different than what they went through. Historians, however, gave the film high marks for its honest portrayal of death camps, resistance fighters and the difficult emotions the people who lived through them dealt with.
The film Munich is a historical drama, directed by Steven Spielberg, and based on the novel Vengeance, which tells the story of the Israeli government's secret retaliation against the PLO that was a response tpo the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. The film’s historical accuracy is an issue of much debate and there have definitely been some omissions and changes to the narrative, but many of the things shown in the film actually occurred. Real Israeli political and military leaders are portrayed in the film, including the Prime Minister at the time, Golda Meir.
Spielberg attempted to make the depiction of the hostage-taking and killing of the Israeli athletes historically accurate and the film uses actual news clips shot while the hostage situation was taking place. The deaths of the members of Black September also stick mostly to the facts. Despite, or maybe because of the controversy, the film was an enormous success and was nominated for five Academy Awards.
If you love sports movies and have missed this one, you should watch Miracle on your next movie night. The film tells the story of the United States men’s hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics, as they take on the favored Soviet team in the semifinals. It’s a true underdog story and the match has since become known as the “Miracle on Ice.”
Although the relationships in the film have been exaggerated to heighten the drama, the real accuracy can be found during scenes of the actual match. Director Gavin O’Connor mixed actual footage from the match into the film in such a way that it is almost impossible to tell which is which. Kurt Russel’s performance as player-turned-coach Herb Brooks will inspire any hockey fan and have them cheering their hearts out on the couch.
Flags of Our Fathers
The 2006 war film, Flags of Our Fathers, was directed, co-produced, and scored by Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood. The film was based on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller of the same name and tells the story of the five Marines and one Navy corpsman who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima.
The moment was famously captured by war photographer Joe Rosenthal. The movie did not do as well as expected in the box office but was fairly well-received by critics, many of whom were impressed by Clint Eastwood’s respect for sticking to the facts.
Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg is back on the list with Bridge of Spies, which tells the story of a lawyer who is charged with negotiating a hostage exchange during the Cold War between an Air Force pilot who was shot down and a convicted Soviet KGB spy. Although the film does not always portray events accurately, critics have forgiven the departures and lauded the film for maintaining the spirit of the events.
In this case, Information is Beautiful declared the film was 88.8% accurate, summarizing it as "pretty damn truthful, reflecting a general trend in Hollywood towards more historically accurate tales". The film was successful in the box office and was also nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture.
The film Glory, directed by Edward Zwick, tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, which was the first all-black volunteer company in the American Civil War. The screenplay, written by Kevin Jarre, was based on the books Lay This Laurel by Lincoln Kirstein and One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard, and on Col. Robert Gould Shaw’s personal letters.
The film was critically acclaimed and won three Academy Awards. Film critic Roger Ebert called the film, "a strong and valuable film no matter whose eyes it is seen through, and credited production design Norman Garwood and cinematographer Freddie Francis with giving, "enormous attention to period detail." James M. McPherson, a Civil War historian, stated the film "accomplished a remarkable feat in sensitizing a lot of today's black students to the role that their ancestors played in the Civil War in winning their own freedom."
Kingdom of Heaven
Like any film which tries to depict a religious conflict, Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven was controversial from day one, and that controversy also applied to the film’s historical accuracy. The film tells the story of Balian of Ibelin who travels to Jerusalem during the Crusades and ends up becoming the city’s defender.
Despite a few dramatizations, many of the characters in the film are based on actual historical figures and events, such as the Battle of Hattin, are shown accurately. The film succeeds in the portrayal of the battles and helps explain the decline and fall of the First Kingdom of Jerusalem. Kingdom of Heaven was not a box office success and received mixed reviews. Scott, however, released a longer director’s cut version which was generally well-received.
The film Spotlight from 2015, centers around the Boston Globe’s investigative journalism team of the same name. According to Wikipedia, they are the “oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalism unit in the United States.” The film centers on their investigation into the systemic sexual abuse of children by numerous Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area.
The reports on which the film is based on earned the paper a Pulitzer Prize and the story and performances in the film earned the filmmakers an Academy Award for Best Picture. According to the website, Information is Beautiful, the movie was rated 76.2 percent accurate when compared to the actual events.