10 Best Movies on Netflix Based on True Stories

Updated May 19, 2024 • Staff

Movies based on true events spark true interest: knowing that the story actually happens changes the experience completely. Below we count down our best recommendations based on a true story which are available to stream on Netflix.

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10.

The Swimmers (2022)

The Swimmers tells the true story of sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini (played by fellow sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa), Syrian swimmers trained to compete at the Olympics. When their athletic goals and overall safety are threatened by the increasing presence of war, the girls decide to take a chance and migrate to Europe, where they hope to live out their dreams and reunite with their family someday.

The Swimmers is a touching family drama that does right to center on the love and tension between the siblings. Yusra and Sara’s relationship perfectly encapsulates the envy and resentment but also the deep love and loyalty that are present in every sister bond. It’s tender in these moments, but it can also be equally searing—as a refugee drama, it chillingly tracks the complicated and inhumane processes of fleeing one’s country for a safer future.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama, History
Actor: Ahmed Malek, Alfredo Tavares, Ali Soliman, Ali Suliman, Daniel Eghan, Dritan Kastrati, Elmi Rashid Elmi, Giorgio Spiegelfeld, James Floyd, Kinda Alloush, Manal Issa, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nahel Tzegai, Nathalie Issa, Roderick Hill
Director: Sally El Hosaini
Rating: PG-13
Go to Netflix
9.

Holy Spider (2022)

As a crime thriller, Holy Spider is taut and terrifying, a modern noir that manages to unnerve despite the familiar moves it employs. The cat and mouse chase between serial killer and investigative reporter, for instance, is a classic tale, but that doesn’t make Holy Spider any less gripping. The film benefits from artful camerawork, considered acting (as the daring journalist Rahimi, Zar Amir Ebrahimi nabbed the Best Actress award at Cannes), and most of all a nuanced take on the situation in Iran. 

Despite having a clear stance against violence and corruption, nothing in Holy Spider is black and white. Contradictions abound, and even when presented with brief moments of justice, we’re left scratching our heads looking for more. Such is the case when the system, and not just an individual, is the true pest. 

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller
Actor: Alice Rahimi, Arash Ashtiani, Ariane Naziri, Majd Eid, Mehdi Bajestani, Nima Akbarpour, Sara Fazilat, Sina Parvaneh, Zar Amir Ebrahimi
Director: Ali Abbasi
Go to Netflix
8.

Society of the Snow (2023)

Real life tragedies, especially one that's as sensationalized as the Miracle in the Andes, can be tough to depict on screen. On one hand, the film has to keep true to the story but also maintain some form of spectacle to keep people watching. Past depictions of the 1972 crash are preoccupied with the cannibalism portrayed by big name actors, but Society of the Snow takes a different route. The actors are newcomers, the threats to their lives don't require daring action stunts, and the cannibalism is limited to small chunks indistinguishable from animal meat. Instead, the spectacle of Society of the Snow is the human spirit– the vulnerability, the respect, and the generosity they've given each other in order to survive. It’s still an uncomfortable watch, especially since we get to know some of the survivors before the crash, but it’s definitely a transcendent addition to the genre dedicated to the miracle of existence.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Drama, History
Actor: Agustín Berruti, Agustín Della Corte, Agustín Lain, Agustín Pardella, Alfonsina Carrocio, Andy Pruss, Benjamín Segura, Blas Polidori, Carlos Miguel Páez Rodríguez, Daniel Patricio Antivilio Acuña, Diego Vegezzi, Emanuel Parga, Emanuel Sobré, Enzo Vogrincic, Esteban Bigliardi, Esteban Kukuriczka, Esteban Pico, Facundo Roure, Fede Aznárez, Federico Formento, Felipe González Otaño, Felipe Otaño, Felipe Ramusio, Felipe Ramusio Mora, Fernando Contigiani García, Francisco Bereny, Francisco Burghi, Francisco Romero, Gustavo Zerbino Stajano, Jerónimo Bosia, Juan Caruso, Juandi Eirea Young, Julian Bedino, Lautaro Bakir, Louta, Lucas Mascarena, Luciano Chattón, Mariano Rochman, Matías Recalt, Pablo Tate, Paula Baldini, Rafael Federman, Roberto Suárez, Rocco Posca, Santiago Vaca Narvaja, Simon Hempe, Sofía Lara, Tea Alberti, Tomas Wolf, Toto Rovito, Valentino Alonso, Virgínia Kauffmann
Director: J.A. Bayona
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
7.

Mutt (2023)

Just based off its title, Mutt is already a film that tackles a state of in-between, and perhaps what makes it already precious is how honest and personal it can get, while remaining a good fictional story. This striking debut took Chilean-Serbian filmmaker Vuk Lungulov-Klotz more than six years to make, at least from the initial stages of the script as he was working through his own transition, how that felt and how he dealt with it in life and art. That said, Mutt is a film that stands on its own feet, without the need for any such context: the script, the performances, the frantic pacing of it, they are all top-level stuff. A generous, open film that has its trans protagonist be who they are, whatever that may be, and gives as much insight as it allows for curiosity and empathy. If Mutt is educational in any way, it is through it's apt storytelling and truthfulness that bleeds through the screen; its significance for trans cinema cannot be overstated, but it is also once of the most accomplished debuts of 2023.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Alejandro Goic, Cole Doman, Jari Jones, Jasai Chase-Owens, Lio Mehiel, MiMi Ryder, Sarah Herrman
Director: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz
Rating: NR
Go to Netflix
6.

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

After the successful run of the first instalment, The Conjuring 2 brings back lead couple Ed and Lorraine Warren for yet another real life-based case of demonic possession. This time, it's the Enfield poltergeist, a case which gained popularity in the London Borough of Enfield between 1977 and 1979, and while the Warrens in the film show reluctance to take on a new job amongst growing skepticism, we're so glad they did so in the end. The franchise's second chapter is perfectly built: a good amount of character establishment, a fair bit of rekindling allegiance with the Warrens, and a lot of ingenious scaries. What makes The Conjuring 2 a pitch-perfect horror of its kind is precisely this multivalence, combining empathetic characters and well-crafted, yet extremely disturbing visuals. When the supposedly simple case becomes a fight between good and proper evil, the film shifts gear to an obscenely dark, vengeful mode. You can't tell from its beginning, but the second Conjuring is even more proficient, deeply troubling, and most of all, bold in the way it renders the possession horror genre a canonical must.

Our staff rating: 8.3/10
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Actor: Abhi Sinha, Annie Young, Benjamin Haigh, Bob Adrian, Bonnie Aarons, Emily Brobst, Emily Tasker, Frances O'Connor, Franka Potente, Jason Liles, Javier Botet, Jennifer Collins, Joseph Bishara, Kate Cook, Lauren Esposito, Madison Wolfe, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Nancy DeMars, Patrick McAuley, Patrick Wilson, Robin Atkin Downes, Shannon Kook, Simon Delaney, Simon McBurney, Sterling Jerins, Steve Coulter, Vera Farmiga
Director: James Wan
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
5.

The Disaster Artist (2017)

A hilarious and smart comedy that is almost impossible to hate. It doesn’t matter if you liked The Room or not; or if you’ve even heard of it, you will find The Disaster Artist extremely enjoyable. Same applies for James Franco, it’s irrelevant if you think he’s the hottest man walking or a complete waste of screen-time - this movie is better approached without any preconceived ideas. It follows the true events surrounding Tommy Wiseau’s making of The Room, a movie so bad it actually became a worldwide hit. Tommy’s character, played by Franco, is 100% mystery. He pops out of nowhere and does and says things that contain little to no logic. Capitalizing on this, the movie is both absolutely hilarious and intriguing from beginning to end.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Adam Scott, Adwin Brown, Alison Brie, Amechi Okocha, Andrew Santino, Angelyne, Ari Graynor, Bob Odenkirk, Brett Gelman, Brian Huskey, Bryan Cranston, Cameron Brinkman, Casey Wilson, Cate Freedman, Charlyne Yi, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Corey Weber, Danny McBride, Dave Franco, David DeCoteau, Dree Hemingway, Dylan Minnette, Eliza Coupe, Eloho Josephine Okujeni, Erin Cummings, Frankie Ponce, Frederick Keeve, Greg Sestero, Hannibal Buress, Ike Barinholtz, J.J. Abrams, Jacki Weaver, James Franco, Jason Mantzoukas, Jason Mitchell, Javi Sánchez-Blanco Boyer, Jenna Curtis, Jerrod Carmichael, Jessie Ennis, Joe Mande, John Early, Jolie Mitnick Salter, Josh Hutcherson, Judd Apatow, June Diane Raphael, Kara Gibson, Kate Upton, Katherine Neff, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Oxford, Kether Donohue, Kevin Smith, Krista West, Kristen Bell, Lauren Ash, Lizzy Caplan, Megan Ferguson, Megan Mullally, Melanie Griffith, Nathan Fielder, Nicole Gordon-Levitt, Paul Scheer, Peter Gilroy, Phillip E. Walker, Ramona Tibrin, Randall Park, Ricky Mabe, Ron Saylor, Seth Rogen, Shane Ryan-Reid, Sharon Stone, Slim Khezri, Steven Liu, Sugar Lyn Beard, Tamzin Brown, Taylor DeVoe, Tom Franco, Tommy Wiseau, Tudor Munteanu, Vincent Marinelli, Xosha Roquemore, Zac Efron, Zach Braff, Zhubin Rahbar, Zoey Deutch
Director: James Franco
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
4.

Philomena (2013)

An inspired by true events tale about an elderly Irish woman trying to find the child she was forced to give up many years earlier. Steve Coogan co-wrote the script and, though the base story is a tragic one, his special brand of very subtle, wry wit is apparent in the dialogue throughout. Judi Dench plays the mother who had kept her “sinful” past a secret for fifty years and, being Judi Dench, I don’t need to bother going on about her exemplary talent, suffice to say she’s charming beyond measure in the role. Steven Frears directs, as usual, deftly, and keeps the story compelling scene after scene, intensifying the emotions inherent to each, whether they be heart-warming, comedic, or outright enraging. Whoever decided to let Steve Coogan have his way with the script, it was a brave and wise choice and together this cast and crew have produced a wonderful and important piece of cinema.

Our staff rating: 8.8/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Amber Batty, Amy McAllister, Anna Maxwell Martin, Barbara Jefford, Cathy Belton, Charissa Shearer, Charles Edwards, Charlie Murphy, Elliot Levey, Florence Keith-Roach, Frankie McCafferty, Gary Lilburn, Judi Dench, Kate Fleetwood, Mare Winningham, Marie Jones, Martin Glyn Murray, Michelle Fairley, Nicholas Jones, Nika McGuigan, Paris Arrowsmith, Peter Hermann, Ruth McCabe, Sara Stewart, Sean Mahon, Simone Lahbib, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Steve Coogan, Wunmi Mosaku
Director: Stephen Frears
Rating: PG-13
Go to Netflix
3.

Frost/Nixon (2008)

A relevant and deeply entertaining movie that only has the appearance of being about politics. In reality, it is about television, and one brilliant journalist’s pursuit of the perfect interview.  Richard Nixon stepped away from the public eye after the Watergate scandal, and was counting on a series of interviews three years later to redeem himself. His team assigns an unlikely reporter to sit in front of him, a British reality TV host named David Frost. Both men have everything to gain from this interview by going against each other, as Frost tries to extract a confession of wrongdoing in Watergate that Nixon never gave.  Who will win? The master manipulator or the up-and-coming journalist? Frost / Nixon was originally a play, and this adaptation is full of drama and boosts great dialogue.

Our staff rating: 8.8/10
Genre: Drama, History
Actor: Andy Milder, Clint Howard, Eloy Casados, Frank Langella, Gabriel Jarret, Gavin Grazer, Geoffrey Blake, Jenn Gotzon Chandler, Jim Meskimen, Kate Jennings Grant, Keith MacKechnie, Kevin Bacon, Mark Simich, Matthew Macfadyen, Max Elliott Slade, Michael Sheen, Oliver Platt, Patty McCormack, Penny L. Moore, Rance Howard, Rebecca Hall, Sam Rockwell, Simon James, Toby Jones, Wil Albert, Yvette Rachelle
Director: Ron Howard
Rating: R
Go to Netflix
2.

Operation Odessa (2018)

The movie opens with a guy called Tarzan, saying in a Russian accent: “I called my friend Michel, and I said can I buy a submarine, a used one?” Apparently, two days later he called him back asking: “With, or without missiles?” This should give you a decent idea of how the protagonists of this Tiller-Russell-directed documentary roll. Operation Odessa is the crazy true story of how the FBI, Pablo Escobar, and the Russian Mafia were played by three criminal outsiders in a $35 million submarine deal. Strictly speaking, it belongs in the true crime documentary genre, but it can also be treated as a real-life black comedy. The protagonists are so audacious, it is hard to believe that most of this story is true. The submarine deal story is only the tip of the iceberg here. Crazy, funny, and just really well done!

Our staff rating: 8.9/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Juan Almeida, Kristy Galeota, Ludwig Fainberg, Nelson Tony Yester, Richard Gregorie, Tony Galeota
Director: Tiller Russell
Rating: TV-MA
Go to Netflix
1.

Boy Erased (2018)

Russel Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and the immensely talented young actor Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea) form an amazing pack of talent in this excellent drama. The story is based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, a true story. Set among deeply pious Christians in Arkansas, Hedges plays 18-year-old Jared Eamons, who discovers that he is gay. Crowe plays the father, a car dealer and a preacher, and Kidman the mom, who is a sweet-natured hairdresser with traditional values. When their son comes out to them after concealing his sexuality for some time, they pressure Jared into going to a Christian conversion camp, where his “lifestyle choice” is to be “prayed away”. The unspeakable camp is led by the Victor Sykes, who is as sinister as he is stupid, played with aplomb by Joel Edgerton, the writer and director. It's a funny sidenote to a serious movie that many actors in this Southern drama are from Australia, including Edgerton, Crowe, and Kidman as well as Red Hot Chili Peppers bass player extraordinaire, Flea, who plays a drill-instructor-type PE teacher at the camp. The powerful performances are indeed what drive this drama and they contribute significantly to telling a story that needed to be told.

Our staff rating: 9/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Brasher Russell, Britton Sear, Cherry Jones, David Ditmore, David Joseph Craig, Drew Scheid, Emily Hinkler, Flea, Frank Hoyt Taylor, Jason Davis, Jesse LaTourette, Jesse Malinowski, Joe Alwyn, Joel Edgerton, Joy Jacobson, Kevin Linehan, Lindsey Moser, Lucas Hedges, Madelyn Cline, Malerie Grady, Matt Burke, Nicole Kidman, Paige Henry, Randy Havens, Russell Crowe, Théodore Pellerin, Tim Ware, Troye Sivan, Victor McCay, Will Kindrachuk, William Ngo, Xavier Dolan
Director: Joel Edgerton
Rating: R
Go to Netflix

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