My favourite films based on true life events tend to be drawn from famous or significant historical events.  There is a human truth in the journey narrative that appeals to me. Seeing real people face great challenges and sometimes (but not always) overcoming them.

My top five recommendations for “based on real life” movies are –


Cry Freedom


Directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline (excelling in a dramatic role way back in 1987). Set in apartheid era South Africa the film tells the story of Steve Biko and his friendship with journalist Donald Woods. The movie focuses on the activism of Biko and Woods attempt to expose police brutality following Biko’s death in custody. This is the first film that truly made me cry as at the close of the film we see a list of the dead all killed at the hands of the apartheid system, and it’s a long list. Beautifully shot, acted and heart-breaking.





“Five year old Saroo gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of miles across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.” Official film synopsis.

A heart-warming story of hope and reunion, this is based on the memoir of the real Saroo and can definitely be filed under the “amazing true stories” category. India is portrayed in all its ragged glory, and the final scenes show the real reunion of mother and son, and if that doesn’t melt your heart then you sir are not human. Both Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman are immensly likeable in the lead roles.



Bridge of Spies


“During the Cold War, the Soviet Union captures U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers after shooting down his U-2 spy plane. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Powers’ only hope is New York lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), recruited by a CIA operative to negotiate his release. Donovan boards a plane to Berlin, hoping to win the young man’s freedom through a prisoner exchange. If all goes well, the Russians would get Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), the convicted spy who Donovan defended in court.” — Official film synopsis

When Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg get together I feel in safe hands and they don’t disappoint here in a compelling tale of Cold War politics. Hanks is perfectly cast as a lawyer who was part of the Nuremberg trials who puts the integrity of justice above all else. An absolutely brillant film.



Into the Wild 


“Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch), son of wealthy parents (Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt), graduates from Emory University as a top student and athlete. However, instead of embarking on a prestigious and profitable career, he chooses to give his savings to charity, rid himself of his possessions, and set out on a journey to the Alaskan wilderness.” – Official film synopsis

Based on the book of the same name this is a tough read and a tough watch because of the tragic inevitability of the events that are told. A cautionary tale about mental ill health and how we as a society often let our young people down. At times I think the book and film glorify what is essentially a mental break down, passing it off as a young man’s journey of self-discovery. That said it is a sad and poignant movie well worth the time.



Dallas Buyers Club


“In mid-1980s Texas, electrician Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is stunned to learn that he has AIDS. Though told that he has just 30 days left to live, Woodroof refuses to give in to despair. He seeks out alternative therapies and smuggles unapproved drugs into the U.S. from wherever he can find them. Woodroof joins forces with a fellow AIDS patient (Jared Leto) and begins selling the treatments to the growing number of people who can’t wait for the medical establishment to save them.” – Official film synopsis

McConaughey gives an incredible Oscar worthy performance. The movie is a fascinating insight into a darker side of the 80’s. This is the foul mouthed bleak American Dream movie that John Hughes never made. It’s a great story with some poetic licence taken in its portrayal of Woodruff. On a side note, this is another film where the actor has transformed his body physically for a role and I’m not certain this is healthy or what it says about body image. Is it justifiable to punish your body in the pursuit of art? I’m not sure what I think but it’s an interesting point of discussion.

What are your favourite true story movies?

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