16 Best Films Based on Real Life Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

This is the true story of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Black man in Oakland, California, who was shot dead by police in the morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009. Incidentally, 2009 was also the time when smartphones started going mainstream, and so the incident was not only captured by CCTV but also many private cell phone cameras. The murder went viral.

Grant is superbly played by Michael B. Jordan in what now counts as one of his breakthrough roles, when many only knew him as Wallace in the now-legendary crime drama The Wire. Director Ryan Coogler went on making two more movies with him, including Black Panther in 2018.

Produced by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and compassionately told, Fruitvale Station surpasses the sadness of its subject matter and amounts to an extraordinary celebration of life. A must-watch.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ahna O'Reilly, Alessandro Garcia, Ariana Neal, Caroline Lesley, Chad Michael Murray, Chris Riedell, Christina Elmore, Denzel Worthington, Destiny Ekwueme, Joey Oglesby, John Burke, Jonez Cain, Keenan Coogler, Kevin Durand, Laurel Moglen, Liisa Cohen, Maleah Nipay-Padilla, Melonie Diaz, Michael B. Jordan, Nicole Maxali, Noah Staggs, Noah Zavala, Octavia Spencer, Robert Ajlouny, Ruben Rivera, Ryan Coogler, Tamera Tomakili, Trestin George, William Armando

Director: Ryan Coogler

Rating: R

Journalist LLoyd Vogel (Matthey Rhys) scoffs at the prospect of a profile commission, or a "puff piece", as he calls it. His self-respect and professional ruthlessness has driven people away and this assignment may well be a test from his editor. But it is serendipity that brings Lloyd to American TV host Mister Roger (Tom Hanks) and his child-oriented show, at a time when he, a new father, is confronted with his own paternal trauma. No heavy psychological lifting here, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood might be one of the most profound films about father-son relationships ever made. Notably, the film is directed by a woman, Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl). In her film as in his show, Mister Roger doesn't have to do much: he listens, he speaks, he suggests, and while his kindness may seem frustrating at times, it is truly radical. Additionally, Lloyd's character is based loosely on writer Tom Junod, whose encounter with Rogers ended up a profile in Esquire magazine.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Alex Pérez, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti, Enrico Colantoni, Fred Rogers, Gavin Borders, Gregory Bromfield, Gretchen Koerner, Jessica Hecht, Joanne Rogers, Joe Fishel, Kelley Davis, Kevin L. Johnson, Khary Payton, Kitty Crystal, Krizia Bajos, Maddie Corman, Maryann Plunkett, Matthew Rhys, Michael Masini, Noah Harpster, Patrick McDade, Susan Kelechi Watson, Tammy Blanchard, Tom Bonello, Tom Hanks, Wendy Makkena

Director: Marielle Heller

Rating: PG

Exploring morality, conscience, and the death penalty, There Is No Evil tells four interconnected stories about men tasked with carrying out executions. The film excels at creating a sense of unease and tension as their reality contends with their beliefs about capital punishment and loyalty to the state. Director Mohammad Rasoulof (known for his films that explore social and political issues in Iran) allows each narrative to center both the subject and the institution, maintaining suspense but never straying from its argument. The sum - and its part - are undeniably profound.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Mahtab Servati

Director: Mohammad Rasoulof

, 2016

Here’s a based-on-a-true-story courtroom drama that transcends the limits of its genre by virtue of an incisive and unexpectedly prescient script. Twenty years before 2016 sent us hurtling through the looking glass and into a post-truth era, the idea that you could deny the facts as you pleased teetered terrifyingly on the brink of legitimacy when author David Irving (a suitably odious Timothy Spall) brought a UK libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), an academic whom he claimed had defamed him for calling him exactly what he was: a Holocaust denier.

The case was complicated by the fact that, at the time, the UK placed the burden of proof on the defendant — in other words, Lipstadt’s hotshot legal team needed to prove that the Holocaust happened and that Irving had wilfully misrepresented evidence demonstrating this. Denial captures that terrifying farcicality and the defense’s cleverly counterintuitive strategy: not allowing Lipstadt or Holocaust survivors to speak. If that sounds unsatisfying — this is the rare courtroom drama with no grandstanding speech from the protagonist — that’s the point, something the film’s title cleverly alludes to. Perhaps unexpectedly, Denial’s relevance has ballooned since its release, a fact that might hobble its hopeful ending but that only makes the rest all the more powerful.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Abigail Cruttenden, Alex Jennings, Amanda Lawrence, Andrea Deck, Andrew Scott, Caren Pistorius, Daniel Cerqueira, Edward Franklin, Elliot Levey, Harriet Walter, Helen Bradbury, Hilton McRae, Ian Bartholomew, Jack Lowden, Jackie Clune, Jeremy Paxman, John Sessions, Lachele Carl, Laura Evelyn, Mark Gatiss, Max Befort, Mick Jackson, Nicholas Tennant, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Paul Bailey, Paul Hunter, Pip Carter, Rachel Weisz, Sally Messham, Sara Powell, Sean Power, Timothy Spall, Todd Boyce, Tom Clarke Hill, Tom Wilkinson, Will Attenborough, Ziggy Heath

Director: Mick Jackson

Rating: PG-13

, 2024

To the untrained eye, a TV interview is just that: an interview, a simple (and at times rehearsed) back-to-back between a reporter and a subject. But Scoop is a thrilling reminder of how complex the process actually is, from the legwork to the questioning and even after airing. In the UK, that quest for truth is complicated by stringent palace rules and the fact that the BBC, which McAlister and her colleagues work for, is a publicly funded institution. How free is the free press when a Royal can call off a story, and how far are reporters willing to go to protect it? Scoop is bolstered by a smart script and a wealth of strong performance—Sewell is almost unrecognizable as Prince Andrew and Gillian Anderson is commanding as anchor Emily Maitlis. But the movie won’t be as strong as it is without Piper leading it; she’s relatable and entrancing as she works her way from underestimated underdog to compelling champion.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Amanda Redman, Billie Piper, Charity Wakefield, Connor Swindells, Gillian Anderson, Keeley Hawes, Lia Williams, Nicholas A. Newman, Paul Popplewell, Raffaello Degruttola, Richard Goulding, Romola Garai, Rufus Sewell

Director: Philip Martin

If you’ve been paying close attention to Royal Families in general, then get a snack and settle in, because A Royal Affair’s got it all for you: the steamy scenes, dirty, affair-laden hands, the corsets, and a stunning backdrop of 18th Century Europe. Quite literally deranged and mentally incapable King Christian of Denmark (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) marries the brave Princess Caroline of Great Britain (Alicia Vikander), only to find out that he isn’t cut out for the wedded life. Enlightenment comes in the form of Dr. Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a German physician to the infantile King and true-born reformer. Mostly saddened by her unfortunate fate, the now-Queen Caroline finds herself falling in love with the intellectual; thus, beginning a whirlwind of events that shakes up the entire Kingdom.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Alicia Vikander, Bent Mejding, Cyron Melville, Daniel Bambas, David Dencik, Frederik Christian Johansen, Harriet Walter, Ivan G'Vera, Ivan Vodochodský, Jacob Ulrik Lohmann, John Martinus, Julia Wentzel Olsen, Karel Polišenský, Klaus Tange, Kristian Fjord, Laura Bro, Mads Mikkelsen, Michaela Horká, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Morten Holst, Nikolaj Arcel, Petr Janiš, Rosalinde Mynster, Søren Malling, Søren Spanning, Tereza Terberová, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, Trine Dyrholm, William Jøhnk Nielsen, Zinnini Elkington

Director: Nikolaj Arcel

Rating: R

, 1993

Based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Rettinger, this biographical movie follows young Rudy as he pursues his childhood dream of playing football for Notre Dame, despite significant obstacles and copious discouragement from those around him. The movie works not by hitching the action to any major sequences of ball play, but rather to the most remarkable feature of the story: the sheer determination of the title protagonist. The film’s success also largely comes down to a fantastically consistent and earnest performance by Sean Astin, who outshines a very talented supporting cast to the legendary, crowd-stirring end.

Genre: Crime, Drama, History, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Amy Pietz, Charles S. Dutton, Chelcie Ross, Christopher Erwin, Christopher Reed, David Anspaugh, Deborah Wittenberg, Forest Whitaker, Gerry Becker, Greta Lind, Jason Miller, Jim Broadbent, John Beasley, Jon Favreau, Kevin Duda, Lauren Katz, Lili Taylor, Luke Massery, Mary Ann Thebus, Miranda Richardson, Mitch Rouse, Ned Beatty, Ralph Brown, Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., Robert Prosky, Ron Dean, Scott Benjaminson, Sean Astin, Stephen Rea, Vince Vaughn

Director: David Anspaugh, Neil Jordan

Rating: PG

A dramatic recreation of the last 10 years in the life of famed pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas), told primarily from the perspective of his young lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film follows from naive young Thorson’s early introduction to Liberace through his 6-year romance and live-in relationship with the celebrated luminary. Coming from a broken home and multiple foster families, Thorson finds newfound comfort in the fawning adoration and financial protection that Liberace provides to him, as they quickly become lovers and confidants. Much of the story re-enacts their often stormy, behind-the-scenes affairs in candid fashion—including the lengths to which Thorson alters himself physically to conform to Liberace’s standards. Both Douglas and Damon are excellent in their roles, with Douglas in particular providing a striking recreation of Liberace in both appearance and mannerism. He truly embodies the role, and provides the viewer with a genuine glimpse into the personal life of “Mr. Showmanship"—replete with all of his passions, concerns and insecurities. It’s an intimate depiction of a real-life May-December relationship, told with striking honesty, and ending with a remarkably touching tribute to Liberace in all of his campy yet sincere glory.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amber Lee Ettinger, Anna Wendt, Anthony Crivello, Aussie Guevara, Austin Stowell, Ayesha Orange, Barbara Brownell, Becca Sweitzer, Boyd Holbrook, Brandon Henschel, Brian Blu, Brittany Perry-Russell, Bruce Ramsay, C.J. Stussi, Casey Kramer, Cassandra M. Bellantoni, Charlotte Crossley, Cheyenne Jackson, Corey Eid, Dan Aykroyd, David Dustin Kenyon, David Koechner, Debbie Reynolds, Deborah Lacey, Dominique Kelley, Eddie Jemison, Eric Zuckerman, Ferly Prado, Fielding Edlow, Francisco San Martin, Garrett M. Brown, Gregory Niebel, Harvey J. Alperin, Hugo Pierre Martin, Jane Morris, Jerry Clarke, Jimmy Scanlon, Joe Filippone, Johnny Carson, Josh Meyers, Kass Connors, Kc Monnie, Kelli Erdmann, Kelly Allen, Kiff VandenHeuvel, Kristin Lindquist, Krystal Ellsworth, Lance Patrick, Lenny Jacobson, Lisa Frantz, Matt Damon, Meredith Ostrowsky, Michael Douglas, Mike Jerome Putnam, Mike O'Malley, Natacha Bachour, Nellie Sciutto, Nicky Katt, Nikea Gamby-Turner, Pat Asanti, Patty Chong, Paul Borst, Paul Reiser, Paul Witten, Peggy King, Rachael Markarian, Randy Lowell, Richard Allan Jones, Rick L. Dean, Rob Lowe, Roby Schinasi, Ryan Novak, Scott Bakula, Shaun T. Benjamin, Stephanie Maura Sanchez, Thure Riefenstein, Timothy Skyler Dunigan, Tom Papa

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Rating: TV-MA

Bryan Cranston, best known for his role as Walter White in the Breaking Bad series, stars as Robert Mazur, a federal agent, who goes undercover to infiltrate the trafficking network of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. With the film based on Mazur’s memoir, Bryan Cranston gives an impressive lead performance that captures the intense distress that deep cover can bring. Besides Cranston, co-stars Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, and an exceptional John Leguizamo are entirely persuasive and make the film experience enjoyable and intense. The Infiltrator is entertaining and maintains a good pace, with a great cast that makes it a true joy to watch, especially for those who enjoy stories based on real criminals. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Amy Ryan, Andy Beckwith, Art Malik, Benjamin Bratt, Brad Furman, Bryan Cranston, Carsten Hayes, Daniel Mays, David Horovitch, Diane Kruger, Dinita Gohil, Ekaterina Zalitko, Elena Anaya, Georgia Braithwaite, Gino Picciano, Jasmine Jardot, Jason Isaacs, John Leguizamo, Jordan Loughran, Joseph Gilgun, Juliet Aubrey, Lara Decaro, Leanne Best, Matthew Stirling, Michael Pare, Natalie Davis, Niall Hayes, Olympia Dukakis, Richard Katz, Rubén Ochandiano, Saïd Taghmaoui, Tim Dutton, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Yul Vazquez

Director: Brad Furman

Rating: R

, 2016

Lion is the award-sweeping movie based on the true story of a kid in India who gets lost in a train and suddenly finds himself thousands of kilometers away from home. 25 years later, after being adopted by an Australian couple, he embarks on a journey through his memory and across continents to reconnect with his lost family. Dev Patel plays Saroo, and Nicole Kidman plays his Australian adoptive mother. Two truly amazing performances that will transport you to the time and place of the events, as well as its emotions spanning tear-jerking moments and pure joy. An uplifting, meaningful, and beautiful movie.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abhishek Bharate, Anna Samson, Arka Das, Benjamin Rigby, David Wenham, Deepti Naval, Dev Patel, Divian Ladwa, Eamon Farren, Emilie Cocquerel, Garth Davis, Keshav Jadhav, Khushi Solanki, Lucy Moir, Menik Gooneratne, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Nicole Kidman, Priyanka Bose, Riddhi Sen, Rooney Mara, Sachin Joab, Sunny Pawar, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Tegan Crowley

Director: Garth Davis

Rating: PG-13

Christine is about Christine Chubbuck, an awkward and complex reporter who was the first person ever to commit suicide on live TV.

Rebecca Hall is terrific as Chubbuck and goes to great lengths to communicate the personality of her subject matter. The movie might seem slow at times, and her acting off, but it’ll all make sense once she immerses you in the complex reality of the character.

An interesting story and an incredible performance.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alexandra Paul, Angela Ray, Anissa Matlock, Antonio Campos, Carl Palmer, David Alexander, Hannah Black, J. Smith-Cameron, Jayson Warner Smith, John Cullum, John Newberg, John Stockwell, Keith Gordon, Kim Shaw, Kimberley Drummond, Lindsay Ayliffe, Maria Dizzia, Masey McLain, Meghan Strange, Michael C. Hall, Morgan Spector, Rachel Hendrix, Rebecca Hall, Rebecca Koon, Ritchie Montgomery, Robert Prosky, Stacy Hall, Susan Pourfar, Susie Spear Purcell, Timothy Simons, Tracy Letts, Wayne Hughes

Director: Antonio Campos, John Carpenter

Rating: R

Between Air, Pinball, Blackberry, and Tetris (is nothing sacred anymore?), 2023 has seen its fair share of business biopics. Unfortunately for The Beanie Bubble, it’s coming at the tail end of a trend that has overstayed its welcome in theaters. The Beanie Bubble isn’t very different from its predecessors in that it depicts its product as revolutionary and game-changing for the industry (it’s really not) and attempts to simplify the business phenom via cute graphics and quirky dialogue. Those aspects of the film are fine, if a bit forgettable, but The Beanie Bubble deserves some praise for exploring the power imbalance between Warner and his female partners, whose ideas he milked to no end. Robbie (Elizabeth Banks), Sheila (Sarah Snook), and Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan) are the ones telling this story, and even though the constant time hopping can get irritating, there are times when it feels inspired, like when Robbie starts one sentence and Maya ends her thought. They may be years apart but they’re all falling victim to the same greedy man who has a pattern of exploiting the talented women around him. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adelle Drahos, Ajay Friese, Brian Troxell, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Chris Mayers, Delaney Quinn, Elizabeth Banks, Geraldine Viswanathan, Hari Dhillon, Jason Burkey, Javier Vazquez Jr., Jeff Schine, Julia Farino, Kurt Yaeger, Laura Palka, Laura Whyte, Madison Johnson, Mariana Novak, Myke Holmes, Paul Kim, Paul Ryden, Robert Mello, Sam Salary, Sarah Snook, Scott Hanson, Stephanie Hong, Sweta Keswani, Tracey Bonner, Veanna Black, Vince Pisani, Zach Galifianakis

Director: Damian Kulash, Kristin Gore

Rating: R

Directed by Sam Mendes Jarhead is based on the best-selling 2003 memoir of the same title. In the film, Swofford is a 20-year-old soldier in the US Marine Corps during the 1991 Gulf War who is trained to be a sniper. But as the days go by, he doesn’t fire a single shot, given there is no one left to wage a battle after the US air attacks on the Iraqi army. Unlike most war movies, Jarhead stands out for its singular focus on the personal experience of a lost young soldier.  

Genre: Drama

Actor: Brian Geraghty, Chris Cooper, Dennis Haysbert, Evan Jones, Iván Fenyö, Iván Fenyö, Jacob Vargas, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Laz Alonso, Lucas Black, Peter Sarsgaard, Sam Mendes, Scott MacDonald

Director: Sam Mendes

Rating: R

, 2013

Chadwick Boseman who you might now know as the Black Panther had his break out role in 42, the true story of the first Black major league player Jackie Robinson. A story of expected struggle but also a humbling and humane account that is full of warmth. Jackie Robinson's coach is played by Dustin Hoffman, adding to the caliber of amazing performances in this movie, all put together by Oscar-winning writer/director Brian Helgeland (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential). From the baseball sequences to the personal life of Jackie Robinson, and of course his confrontation with racism, this is a powerful and uplifting movie.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Farb, Alan Tudyk, André Holland, Andre Holland, Andrew C. Mullins, Anthony S. Goolsby, Ari Blinder, Barry Suttle, Brad Beyer, Brett Cullen, Chadwick Boseman, Cherise Boothe, Christopher Meloni, Colman Domingo, Danny Vinson, Dax Griffin, Derek Phillips, Dusan Brown, Gino Anthony Pesi, Hamish Linklater, Harrison Ford, Hunter Clowdus, Jackson Walker, James Pickens Jr., James Rackley, Jamie Ruehling, Jayson Warner Smith, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jesse Luken, Joe Inscoe, Joe Knezevich, John C. McGinley, Jon Kohler, Jud Tylor, Karole Foreman, Kelley Jakle, Kenny Cook, Linc Hand, Lou Criscuolo, Lucas Black, Marc Gowan, Mark Harelik, Matt Clark, Maury Covington, Max Gail, Michael H. Cole, Monnae Michaell, Nicole Beharie, Peter Jurasik, Peter MacKenzie, Rhoda Griffis, Ryan Merriman, T.R. Knight, Tobias Michael Finn, Toby Huss, William Flaman

Director: Brian Helgeland

Rating: PG-13

As a supernatural horror, The Pope’s Exorcist doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It employs more or less the usual elements you’d expect from the genre, and to be fair, it does occasionally fright you with its bloody jumpscares and demonic screeches. But as a drama, the film is surprisingly watchable thanks to a committed and compelling performance from Crowe. The movie works best when it removes itself from its horror trappings and follows Crowe’s Gabriele as he moves through the ins and outs of the Vatican. When he challenges the church’s authority, when he defends his practice, when he inserts jokes in serious conversations because “the devil hates jokes,” these are when The Pope’s Exorcist shines and entertains. They’re also proof the film shouldn’t take itself too seriously when its star is having this much fun. 

Genre: Horror, Thriller

Actor: Alessandro Gruttadauria, Alex Essoe, Andrea Dugoni, Bianca Bardoe, Carrie Munro, Cornell John, Daniel Zovatto, Derek Carroll, Ed White, Edward Harper-Jones, Ella Cannon, Franco Nero, Gennaro Diana, Jordi Collet, Laurel Marsden, Matthew Sim, Pablo Raybould, Paloma Bloyd, Peter DeSouza-Feighoney, Ralph Ineson, Russell Crowe, Ryan O'Grady, Santi Bayón, Tom Bonington, Victor Solé

Director: Julius Avery

Rating: R