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20 of the best movies based on a true story

From moments in history to touching stories about humanity.
/ Source: TODAY

Life may imitate art, but sometimes art imitates life right back.

True stories have served as fodder for media for decades across television, films, and even podcasts. Major moments in history have been translated to the silver screen, as well as heartwarming — and sometimes, heartbreaking — stories about day-to-day lives.

Whether you're looking to relive history or for a dose of human experience, here's a list of some of the best movies based on a true story.

‘Moneyball’ (2011)

“Moneyball” brought Michael Lewis' 2003 book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” to the silver screen in 2011. The movie starred Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, a manager taxed with a small budget and an unconventional approach to beating the wealthier teams. Beane teams up with Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a fictional character loosely based on Paul DePodesta from the book. Rather than choosing players the old-school way, he selects players who have potential statistically but have been written off by scouts.

“Moneyball” is available to stream for free with ads on YouTube.

‘The Social Network’ (2010)

“The Social Network” is based on the 2009 book “The Accidental Billionaires” about the founding of Facebook. Jesse Eisenberg takes on the role of Mark Zuckerberg, who in 2003 worked on a concept that ultimately became Facebook. In the years that followed, he becomes the youngest billionaire ever, but is faced with both legal and personal complications when he is served two lawsuits, including one that involves Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), his former friend and Facebook co-founder.

“The Social Network” is available to stream on Netflix.

‘Hidden Figures’ (2016)

“Hidden Figures” tells the true stories of three Black mathematicians at NASA. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Jackson (Janelle Monáe) were responsible for their work behind-the-scenes on the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit.

“Hidden Figures” is available to stream on Disney+.

‘Spotlight’ (2015)

Back in 2001, the editor of The Boston Globe assigned a team of journalists to investigate allegations made against a priest who was accused of molesting more than 80 boys. The team interviewed victims and made attempts to unseal sensitive documents that would aid in their investigation in order to find proof of a cover-up of the sexual abuse within the church.

“Spotlight” is available to stream on Max.

‘I, Tonya’ (2017)

Margot Robbie portrays former figure skater Tonya Harding in 2017’s “I, Tonya.” The movie follows the life and career of Harding, including her tumultuous childhood, rise in the figure skating world, and her infamous connection to the assault on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, in 1994.

“I, Tonya” is available to stream on Max.

‘The Bling Ring’ (2013)

“The Bling Ring” was inspired by a 2010 article in Vanity Fair called “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” which detailed the burglaries committed by a group of teenagers on a wide range of celebrities, including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, as well as Rachel Bilson. By leveraging the internet to learn the whereabouts of celebrities, the teens used technology to their advantage to rob celebrity homes across Los Angeles.

“The Bling Ring” is available to stream on Netflix.

‘King Richard’ (2021)

“King Richard” tells the origin story of Serena and Venus Williams as the iconic tennis stars they are today, starring Will Smith as their father, Richard Williams. As a father, Richard Williams is on a mission to ensure his daughters make history, training them on the public tennis courts in Compton, California, with unwavering commitment. 

“King Richard” is available to stream on Max.

‘Elvis’ (2022)

The life of Elvis Presley was turned into a biographical drama in 2022’s “Elvis,” with Austin Butler starring in the titular role. The film follows the life of the late musician under the management of Colonel Tom Parker, portrayed by Tom Hanks, over the course of 20 years. The movie chronicles Presley’s life during his rise to fame and superstardom, while capturing the intricacies of his relationships, including his romance with his wife, Priscilla Presley, and tumultuous relationship with Parker.

“Elvis” is available to stream on Max.

‘Goodfellas’ (1990)

“Goodfellas” is based on the book “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi which tells the story of the Mafia associate, Henry Hill, who ultimately became an informant. Over the course of several decades, the Martin Scorsese directed film follows the rise and fall of Hill as he rises through the ranks of the Mafia and all of the consequences that follow.

“Goodfellas” is available to stream on Tubi.

‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ (2006)

“The Pursuit of Happyness” brought to life the story of Chris Gardner, portrayed by Will Smith, a single father who was faced with numerous struggles. Gardner was evicted from his apartment and was left without a place to live with his young son, Christopher Gardner Jr., portrayed by Smith’s son Jaden Smith. Though Gardner becomes an intern at a brokerage firm, the position is unpaid, leaving him and his son to continue to face financial hardships. Despite this, Gardner perseveres as he strives to make a better life for his family.

“The Pursuit of Happyness” is available to buy or rent on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video.

‘Julie & Julia’ (2009)

Julie Powell, portrayed by Amy Adams, is a New Yorker working at a call center at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. When she becomes frustrated by her job, she turns to cooking and pledges to make all of the recipes featured in Julia Childs’ cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” All the while, the movie splices in moments of Julia Child, portrayed by Meryl Streep, as she mastered the art of French cuisine.

“Julie & Julia” is available to buy or rent on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video.

‘Wild’ (2014)

Based on Cheryl Strayed’s book by the same name, “Wild” follows Strayed, portrayed by Reese Witherspoon, in the aftermath of her mother’s death and ending of her marriage. As she goes down a self-destructive path, Strayed makes the decision to create change and put her life back together. To do so, despite having no experience with the outdoors, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail solo.

“Wild” is available to buy or rent on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video.

‘Catch Me If You Can’ (2002)

Frank Abagnale Jr. excels in deception and forgery. Portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, Abagnale has had a host of jobs before he even turned 18 including a co-pilot, doctor, and lawyer. When he was just 17 years old, he became the most successful bank robber in the history of the United States. It becomes the mission of FBI agent Carl Hanratty, portrayed by Tom Hanks, to catch Abagnale who always seems to be one step ahead of him.

“Catch Me if You Can” is available to stream on Netflix.

‘Just Mercy’ (2019)

In his 2014 memoir “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” defense attorney recalls his time representing disadvantaged clients. The movie follows Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) as he moves to Alabama after his graduation from Harvard in order to represent individuals who were wrongfully convicted or could not afford representation. Among his clients is Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man who is sentenced to die for the murder of an 18-year-old girl despite there being evidence that he is innocent.

“Just Mercy” is available to buy or rent on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video.

‘Walk the Line’ (2005)

Joaquin Phoenix portrays Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line,” which follows the singer’s life from childhood to his tumultuous rise to fame as a country music star. After he was raised on a farm and moved to Memphis with his first wife, Vivian, Cash makes his break into the music scene and ends up on tour where he meets June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). Cash’s life includes the high-highs and low-lows as he struggles with drug addiction, fame, and his love life.

“Walk the Line” is available to stream on Max.

‘Erin Brockovich’ (2000)

Erin Brockovich, portrayed by Julia Roberts, gets a job at a law firm after she gets into a car accident and asks her attorney to hire her. At the firm, Brockovich discovers medical records within real estate files. After some convincing, Brockovich begins to investigate the discovery and comes across a cover-up for contaminated water in a local community that caused a series of illnesses for its residents.

“Erin Brockovich” is available to buy or rent on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video.

‘The Theory of Everything’ (2014)

The 2014 film chronicles the life of Stephen Hawking, portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, as he falls in love with his first wife, Jane, portrayed by Felicity Jones. When he is 21, Hawking learns that he has motor neuron disease. Despite his diagnosis, the couple are still able to break ground in medicine and science.

“The Theory of Everything” is available to buy or rent on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video.

‘Lion’ (2016)

Based on the non-fiction novel “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley, “Lion” tells the story of Saroo, portrayed by Dev Patel, who gets lost on a train and ends up thousands of miles away from home across India when he is 5 years old. At first, he learns how to survive alone in Kolkata before he is adopted by an Australian couple. More than two decades later, he uses his memories and Google Earth in an effort to find his family and make his way back home. 

“Lion” is available to stream on Tubi.

‘Nomadland’ (2021)

The Oscar-winning film follows a woman in her 60s named Fern (Frances McDormand) who lost everything during the Great Recession in the late 2000s. Fern finds herself living a nomadic life in a van as she goes on a journey through the western United States.

“Nomadland” is available to stream on Hulu.

‘Selma’ (2014)

The 2014 film “Selma” is based on the famous Alabama marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.

These protest marches were directed by civil rights leader James Bevel and led by Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and Hosea Williams to advocate for the right to vote. 

“Selma” is available to stream on Paramount+.