Rom-coms are great and all, but there’s no better (slash crazier) feeling than getting to the end of a totally wild movie and seeing the words “based on a true story” pop up on your screen. With your jaw dropped, you whip out your phone and start frantically googling to find out what actually happened. More often than not, the producers probably even had to cut a few insane details from the script to fit the plot into a reasonable feature-length film, and you gotta know all there is to know about this story!
The truth is, a lot of our favorite movies are inspired by 100% real events. I mean, who can forget Zac Efron taking on the role of the handsome and charming—yet completely evil—serial killer Ted Bundy? Or Timothée Chalamet rocking it as Henry V of England in the historical period piece, The King? I guess it just goes to show that when it comes to writing fascinating tales of intrigue and deception, you literally cannot always make that sh*t up. So the next time you’re looking for a movie that’s as entertaining as it is factual (because, come on, we don’t all have time to read the book first), all you need to do is ready the popcorn, ‘cause we’ve got you covered with these 30 excellent movies based on true stories. And yeah, they’re all available to stream on Netflix.
Lost Girls (2020)
True-crime addicts, gather round, ’cause this story is based on the very real story of a serial killer operating in Long Island, New York, in the early 2000s—and yeah, his identity remains unknown to this day. The movie is based on a book by the same name that profiles his victims, the details of their disappearances, and how their bodies were ultimately discovered.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)
Watching the gorgeous Zac Efron play the skin-crawlingly evil serial killer Ted Bundy is both confusing and amazing. Like, somehow he even nails Bundy’s dead eyes?! The movie follows the entire story of how Bundy became one of the most infamous killers ever (all the while hiding his crimes from his family), including the insane trial and his two (!!) escapes from police custody.
The Irishman (2019)
Okay, okay, I know this movie is well over three hours, but it’s so worth it. Robert de Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a truck driver involved in organized crime who operated as a hitman and allegedly killed Jimmy Hoffa, the President of the Teamsters union.
The Imitation Game (2014)
Mathematician, cryptanalyst, and all-around granddaddy of artificial intelligence, Alan Turing was hired to decrypt German intelligence messages for the British government during WWII. Exciting, no? This true story also comes with some serious sadness, as Turing had to hide his then-illegal homosexuality.
Victoria and Abdul (2017)
British history fiends will have no problem taking a bite out of this one. It’s all about England’s Queen Victoria and the sweet maternal-like friendship she developed with her Indian-Muslim attendant Abdul Karim.
Everyone loves an underdog story, and this one’s got Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, so it’s pretty top-notch. It’s adapted from a book by Michael Lewis about how the budget-conscious Oakland A’s used data and stats to change the game of baseball. Even if you’re not a big sports person, you’ll love it, ’cause, I repeat, Brad Pitt.
The Social Network (2010)
Ever wondered how the website where your crazy relatives still get their news from came to be? Here you get Jesse Eisenberg playing Mark Zuckerberg and the beautiful Armie Hammer doing double-time as both of the Winklevoss twins to tell you all about it.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
If you’re shocked about this one being based on a true story, you’re not alone. (Though let the record show that the movie *did* take creative license with some key facts). The film was inspired by the unsolved 1991 murder of 34-year-old Kathy Page in Vidor, Texas. After no progress was made on catching her killer, Page’s father started putting up billboards along I-10 in the Vidor area calling out the police.
The Duchess (2008)
Based on the life of British high society’s Georgiana Spencer, the Duchess of Devonshire, this movie’s got Kiera Knightly, tight corsets, big hats, and even bigger hairdos.
Seven Years in Tibet (1997)
Heinrich Harrer’s life was straight-up crazy. First of all, he was an Austrian mountaineer (as if that’s a normal job) who ended up trapped in a British internment camp in India—from which he eventually escaped. He then fled across Tibet and casually became a tutor to and friend of the Dalai Lama.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)
What do you do when you’re 13 years old and your village in Malawi is facing a drought and massive famine? Well, if you’re William Kamkwamba, you build a freaking wind turbine that’ll power a water pump and save everyone. BTW, this is Chiwetel Ejiofor’s feature directorial debut, which is pretty cool.
Julie & Julia (2009)
This movie contrasts the life of chef Julia Child with that of New Yorker Julie Powell, who embarks on the self-inflicted project of cooking all 524 recipes in Child’s cookbook in one year. Warning: it may make you feel extra lazy for not wanting to do anything other than reheat a slice of pizza.
The Two Popes (2019)
This movie is great for many reasons (Vatican scandals and cute old men friendships), but if nothing else, you need to watch it just to see how they select a new Pope, because the process is wayyyy more extensive than you’d think.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Erin Brockovich is a total badass who IRL took on the huge energy corporation PG&E after she discovered that their power plant was poisoning the water in Hinkley, California, and giving people cancer.
The King (2019)
It’s got Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson dressed up in smokin’ hot knights costumes, running medieval England…need I say more?
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
What do a Pan Am pilot, a Georgia doctor, and a Louisiana prosecutor have in common? They were just a few of the professions that teenage con artist Frank Abagnale (played by a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio) pretended to be as he scammed his way to riches.
Darkest Hour (2017)
Gary Oldman takes on the role of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during WWII and yeah, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, so it’s def a must-see performance.
This is one of those wild stories that seems legit too crazy to be true. At five years old, Saroo Brierley accidentally got on a train that landed him 930 miles from his home in India. While his mother frantically searched for him, he was taken in by police, and then adopted by a couple in Australia. Twenty-five years later, he set out to find the family he once had, armed with very little information. Sorry, but I’m making you watch this one to find out how it ends.
The Blind Side (2009)
If Sandra Bullock isn’t enough of a draw for you, the heartwarming story of how NFL star Michael Oher went from an impoverished teen to one of the most sought-after college football prospects should do the trick.
The Post (2017)
You’ve got two of America’s most prized acting gems, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, starring alongside one another in a movie that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at what went on at The Washington Post before they decided to publish the top-secret Pentagon Papers.
A River Runs Through It (1992)
Warning: scenes of Brad Pitt fly fishing in a tank top may be too much for some people to handle. But if you can keep yourself together, you’re in for a coming-of-age story set in Montana around the end of WWI and the Great Depression. It’s based on a book written by Norman MacLean.
Molly’s Game (2017)
Former Olympian Molly Bloom decides to take her career in a slightly different direction: running an elite high-stakes poker ring for celebs, athletes, big business execs, and even mobsters. It seems like a totally great idea except for one tiny little problem: the FBI are 100% onto her.
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
The movie is based on the memoir of Susanna Kaysen, who, at 18 years old, was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and placed in a psychiatric ward.
The Dirt (2019)
Anyone who’s a fan of Mötley Crüe is gonna love this biopic about how the band worked their way through the very high highs and super low lows of being rockstars in LA.
If you already think football is intense, just wait until you watch this. Will Smith stars in a movie about when the NFL was trying to suppress Dr. Bennet Omalu’s research on CTE—you know, that terrifying brain degeneration disease professional football players get from sustaining repeated head injuries.
You know how we all assume the government is spying on us at all times? Well, that’s largely thanks to Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked classified NSA documents that revealed mass (and illegal!) surveillance.
Escape From Alcatraz (1979)
Alcatraz may be a maximum security prison on its own island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, but somehow three prisoners managed to escape from it all at the same time. To this day, no one knows what happened to the real-life prisoners after they jumped into their makeshift raft in the middle of the night.
Brain on Fire (2016)
When New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan began suffering from a mysterious illness with no explanation, the many doctors she saw thought she was psychotic. But one doctor took a special interest and was able to diagnose and treat her incredibly rare auto-immune disorder.
The Little Hours (2017)
A super raunchy comedy about a 14th century convent full of nuns that are constantly trying to get it on with the farmhand may not exactly seem like the realest of stories, but The Little Hours was actually based on The Decameron, a collection of medieval Italian tales. And sure, maybe the f-bomb-loaded dialogue isn’t technically historically accurate, but that’s what makes this movie so great.