10 Best Movies Based On True Stories

The best movies based on true stories include Hidden Figures, The Imitation Game, and The Social Network.

By Kevin C. Neece | Updated

Sometimes, the best stories are true stories. Real life can provide all the drama, comedy, pathos, and intrigue needed to give an audience an unforgettable experience. Here, then, is our list of the 10 best movies based on true stories.

10. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Matthew McConaughey


As true stories go, this is a moving real-life account. Matthew McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof, a Dallas electrician and hustler who used his wits and savvy to help AIDS patients get vital medication after his own diagnosis with the disease. In an era when AIDS was surrounded by stigma and patients had to fight for the treatment they needed, Woodroof was a lifeline for many in Texas whose lives were saved by his work. 

Jared Leto co-stars in this compelling story, for which both he and McConaughey won Academy Awards. The film was also nominated for Oscars for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture.

9. Hidden Figures (2016)


Sometimes the best true stories are the ones that happen behind the scenes of history. Based on the novel of the same name, this film stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe as Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, three African American mathematicians whose work was essential to NASA’s early space program. Nominated for Oscars for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actress for Octavia Spencer, the film won accolades across the spectrum and was hailed as one of the best films of 2016.

It also sheds light on the many ways in which the contributions of people of color have not only benefited the world but have been swept aside in the writing of history.

8. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

leonardo dicaprio


Though true stories can sometimes be overshadowed by fiction, this remarkably fun Steven Spielberg film was able to share the spotlight with the director’s deft science fiction thriller Minority Report, released the same year. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Frank Abignale Jr., a real-life con artist and counterfeiter who, before the age of 21, was pursued across the country by FBI agent Carl Hanratty, played by Tom Hanks. With a kinetic pace and vibrant performances, the film also tells a truly human story that is as moving as it is fun.

Christopher Walken gives a notably compelling performance as Frank Abignale Sr., for which he was nominated for an Oscar, as was John Williams’ electrifying and dazzling score. This film is a highlight in the careers of both Williams and Spielberg.

7. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)


True stories have become a staple for Will Smith, from Ali to his now-infamous Oscar win for King Richard, but this real-life story of a salesman with a slumping career who obtains custody of his young son (Smith’s actual child Jayden) on the brink of a new career might be our favorite. This heartwarming, moving tale reminds us why the world used to love Will Smith and why we hope it will again. Co-starring Thandiwe Newton (billed then as Thandie Newton), this touching story of love between a father and son from writer Steve Conrad and director Gabriele Muccino earned Smith an Oscar nod for Best Actor.

6. Goodfellas (1990)


Many of Martin Scorsese’s most notable films, including The Wolf of Wall Street, Gangs of New York, Silence, and Kundun, have been based to one degree or another on true stories. Probably the most successful and the most famous of those is Goodfellas, the classic 1990 story of Henry Hill’s involvement with organized crime from 1955 to 1980. Based on the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, which chronicles the real-life Hill’s exploits, the film stars the late Ray Liotta in his most memorable role as Hill, alongside Lorraine Bracco as Karen Hill and the powerhouse duo of Scorsese regulars Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro.

Nominated for six Oscars, including Best Director for Scorsese, only Pesci won a trophy for Best Supporting Actor, though the whole production probably deserved to take home some gold.

5. The Imitation Game (2014)

Benedict Cumberbatch


True stories of war are often told, but few take the intriguing angle of those essential individuals who worked hard, but away from the fighting. Such is the story of mathematician Alan Turing, whose efforts and those of his fellow number-crunchers cracked the Enigma code used by Germany during World War II. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Turing, joined by Kiera Knightley and Matthew Goode, as the film explores both Turing’s code-cracking efforts and the struggles of his personal life.

The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, with Graham Moore walking away with a statuette for his screenplay, adapted from Andrew Hodges’ 1983 biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma.

4. A Beautiful Mind (2001)


The third film on our list of movies based on true stories to center around mathematicians, this film follows the life of asocial, Nobel-Prize-winning mathematical genius John Nash, played by Russell Crowe, and his wife Alicia Nash, played by Jennifer Connelly. Nash’s life took a nightmarish turn after he began doing secret work in cryptography, and Ron Howard takes us down the rabbit hole with him with compassion and grace. Based on the 1998 biography of Nash by Sylvia Nasar, the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards.

A Beautiful Mind earned Russel Crowe his second consecutive Best Actor Oscar and Oscars for Connelly and Howard.

3. Apollo 13 (1995)

tom hanks


Tom Hanks appears again on our true stories list, this time for his portrayal of NASA astronaut Jim Lovell in another Ron Howard film. The story of the Apollo 13 mission is one of courage, ingenuity, and amazing scientific and human accomplishment as crews on the ground worked to guide Lovell through a harrowing ad hoc repair of the vessel’s capsule, stranded in orbit around the Moon. This is one of the most iconic films on our list, featuring stunning visuals of the NASA rocket launch and compelling performances by Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, and Kathleen Quinlan.

Though its nine Oscar nods included Best Picture, Supporting Actor and Actress for Harris and Quinlan, and Best Original Score for James Horner, only the Best Sound and Best Film Editing awards went home with the crew, leading us to say, “Houston, we have a problem.”

2. The Social Network (2010)


There are thousands of true stories and false ones shared on Facebook every day, but the story of its founder, then-Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, was not widely known when this taut David Fincher drama hit cinemas. The film follows Zuckerberg, portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, as he is sued by the Winklevoss twins (both played by Armie Hammer) for stealing their idea and struggles with co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). The cast also includes Justin Timberlake and Rooney Mara.

Aaron Sorkin’s adapted screenplay, based on Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires, won an Oscar, as did Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall’s film editing and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ riveting score. The film was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Cinematography, and Sound Mixing.

1. Schindler’s List


Of all the true stories on this list, there is none more heartbreaking and hopeful as the one told here by legendary director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Steven Zaillian, based on Thomas Kneally’s 1982 book, Schindler’s Ark. The film recounts the story of German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved hundreds of Jews from Nazi concentration camps by putting them to work in his factories. For its monumental role in drawing global attention to the Holocaust and spawning Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation and Survivors of the Shoah project to record the stories of those who survived, Schindler’s List could be considered one of the most important films ever made.

Its deeply moving score by John Williams, stunning black-and-white cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, and deft performances by Liam Neeson as Schindler and Ralph Fiennes as SS officer Amon Goeth all won Academy Awards, as did the film for Best Picture and Spielberg, at long last, for Best Director. In fact, as IMDb records, it nearly swept the 66th Annual Academy Awards, and deservedly so.

  • GFR Score calculated using averages of audience and critical reactions across multiple platforms.