Were These Based On A True Story? 15 Films With Unbelievable Real Life Connections

15 Fictional Movies Inspired By Unbelievable Real Life Events

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Most films that are based on true events flaunt it in their ad campaign. There are, however, some exceptions to the rule. After all, if you are making a movie about a killer doll or a sociopath vigilante or a giant shark, the fantastic nature of the story probably kills any basis in reality. Yet this is also what makes these unofficial "true story" films so fascinating. Here are 15 fictional movies with narrative roots connected firmly-- and unbelievably-- to real life.

Tusk

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Though the movie is only in pre-production, Kevin Smith’s upcoming horror film Tusk warrants mention here. Smith conceived of the idea while discussing this news story on a recent Smodcast. Tusk’s real-life premise-- that of a man allowing a lodger to live rent free in exchange for regularly wearing a realistic walrus costume-- will get the horror treatment from Smith, who is campaigning to get Michael Parks and Quentin Tarantino to star.

Yes Man

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Despite being Jim Carrey’s broadest comedy in years, Yes Man is also an adaptation of a memoir. A conversation with a stranger on a bus inspired real-life humorist Danny Wallace to spend six months saying yes to every situation he would have normally declined. While Yes Man remains a loose adaptation of his novel, Wallace does have a cameo at the film’s climax.

Battle: Los Angeles

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Believe it or not, Battle: Los Angeles is based off of the 1942 Great Los Angeles Air Raid. The World War II era incident saw military fire exchanged in L.A. after what was believed to be an enemy sighting. Later the U.S. Naval secretary denied the raid as nothing more than a false alarm. Due to mysterious circumstances, many UFO experts have theorized the attack was extraterrestrial. This idea later served as a springboard for Battle: Los Angeles.

Silent Hill

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The film adaptation of Silent Hill is based on the Konami video game series of the same name. However screenwriter Roger Avary re-purposed elements from a real-life setting to make the film’s titular town even creepier. Centralia, Pennsylvania’s subterranean coal fire-- which has burned for over five years and drove away a population of 1,000-- served as the inspiration for Silent Hill’s constantly smoldering setting in the film.

A Nightmare On Elm Street

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While Freddy Krueger himself is certainly fictitious, the idea of a person being stricken dead in their sleep is very real. A Nightmare On Elm Street filmmaker Wes Craven was inspired by a series of Los Angeles Times articles about Cambodian refugees who died screaming in their sleep. These young people suffered from sudden unexpected nocturnal death syndrome (SUNDS) and, before their deaths, exhibited a mortal fear of falling asleep. Craven later juxtaposed these ideas against burnt face killer Krueger in the film.

Live Free or Die Hard

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While the heroics of John McClane in Die Hard 4 are purely fictional, the actions of villain Timonthy Olyphant are rooted in reality. Live Free or Die Hard’s plot was adapted from John Carlin’s article "A Farewell to Arms". The 1997 piece was published in Wired and detailed the military’s efforts to combat possible cyber-terrorism. The film adapts a training game played by Washington authorities called “The Day After...” into the attempted “Fire Sale" attack that McClane must stop.

Jaws

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Peter Benchley based his novel Jaws off a series of shark attacks that rocked New Jersey’s coastline during the summer of 1916. Over the course of twelve days in July five people were fatally wounded by a Great White. After the beast was caught, fishermen found some fifteen pounds of human flesh inside it. The uniqueness of the attacks make the real Jaws the most notorious shark story in history.

Rocky

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Sylvester Stallone’s most likely Rocky inspiration was Chuck Wepner, The Bayonne Bleeder. After an early winning streak petered out for Wepner, many were quick to proclaim his career over. Wepner eventually worked his way back to the opportunity of challenging champ Muhammad Ali. Wepner lost his dark horse bout but Stallone witnessed it live and, later, re-purposed it for the Rocky series. It's worth noting that Wepner's later foray into pro-wrestling was also used as a plot point in Rocky III. 

The Exorcist

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The Exorcist claims to be based off a true story, that of Jesuit priest William S. Bowdern. Novelist William Peter Blatty used a real-life exorcism performed by Bowdern in 1949 on a boy whose bad behavior was attributed to demonic possession. Blatty took a number of liberties with the story (such as the head spinning, vomiting, etc.) but the key plot points are believed to be representative of the real events.

Child’s Play

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Child’s Play writer Don Mancini is believed to have been partially inspired by a real-life doll that was allegedly possessed. Robert the Doll was given to Key West youth Robert Eugene Otto in 1906 by a servant supposedly skilled in black magic. According to legend, Robert was brought to life by said servant as an act of revenge on Otto’s parents. The fully spooky story can be found here. As for Robert himself, the doll can be found in The Custom House and Old Post Office Museum in Key West, Florida.

Get the Gringo

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Get the Gringo is Mel Gibson’s last action effort, one whose location was partially inspired by a real-life Mexican prison. Centro de Readaptación Social de la Mesa was conceived by the Mexican government as a kind of prison town where inmates could roam freely and have their families live with them. While the attempt at readying prisoners for society life was at first successful, the system soon became corrupted by criminal drug rings operating inside of it. Besides serving as inspiration for Gringo, the prison remained open until 2002.

Psycho

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Psycho was inspired by real life Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein. Like Norman Bates, Ed had an unhealthy preoccupation with his mother, one that lead him to dig up her body and preserve it in his house (along with several other graves). His grave-digging habits were motivated, in part, by a transgender fantasy that also inspired the character of Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Gein was apprehended and incarcerated in 1957.

Music Box

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The 1989 drama Music Box was inspired, in part, by screenwriter Joe Eszterhas’ own discovery that his father was guilty of producing Nazi propaganda for Hungary’s rac1st Arrow Cross Party. For the film version, Eszterhas re-purposed his father’s crimes into a fictional courtroom drama plot. Upon its release, Music Box was dismissed by reviewers as Oscar bait, though Eszterhas maintains the film is one of his most deeply personal.

The Hills Have Eyes

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Wes Craven strikes again! Before Elm Street, Wes Craven was borrowing inspiration from the real-life Sawney Bean clan. During the era of 15th (or, depending on the source, 16th) century Scotland, this 48-person clan was executed for killing and cannibalizing countless travelers in their rural area. Craven re-purposed the group’s ghastly history for his desert-bound clan of mutants in The Hills Have Eyes series.

Taxi Driver

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Taxi Driver anti-hero Travis Bickle was inspired by a number of sources, though the most widely acknowledged is Arthur Bremer. Like Bickle, the real-life Bremer graduated from stalking a girl he formerly dated to attempting the assassination of a political figure (George Wallace in 1972). Many of the details of the Bremer case-- from rambling personal diaries to wardrobe choices-- were recycled by writer Paul Schrader and director Martin Scorsese for the film’s troubled protagonist.

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Comments

  • Jessica M

    Centrailia is technically still burning…you cannot “LEGALLY” enter the town proper.

    • Daniel Wise

      Centralia is technically still burning, it is literally still burning. And there are no laws against entering Centralia. Thousands of people go there every year, and they have a small police force that keeps watch over the area. They recommend that you stay on the roads, but won’t ask or make you leave.

    • lacey

      so boom!

  • Cias

    the shark from the new jersey attacks was more than likely a bull shark, not a great white shark. great whites cant survive fresh water, which is where most of the attacks were in.

    • Max

      some of the attacks were in a river really close to the ocean so

  • Brandon Roberts

    i heard of the robert the doll thing i think the guy had an unhealthy obsession with it and i don’t think it ever killed anyone itself but just read the story yourself. because it would take too long and the stories incredibly bizarre