20 Films That Are Actually True to History

Movies can be convincing with good plots, acting and setting, but you may not believe that in some cases they’re real stories. To find out which details in the films are true to reality in the likes of ‘12 Years A Slave’ and ‘Apollo 13’, then look at these 20 movies that actually got things right!

1. 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)

’12 Years A Slave’ tells a story of a free black man, Solomon Northup, abducted and sold into slavery in pre-Civil War United States. There are quite a few facts that the movie got right, including that Solomon really played the violin, and also that the real Samuel Bass did help to set him free. He did also return home afterwards, however, in reality, his daughter didn’t recognize him. 

2. APOLLO 13 (1995)

‘Apollo 13’ is a movie based on the true story of the ill-fated 13th Apollo mission bound for the moon. Director Ron Howard not only studied the mission’s footage and transcripts but also put great effort into recreating the setting as accurately as possible, including exact replicas of the Apollo 13 modules and control rooms, which were later confirmed by experts to be exactly how it looked like inside the actual Apollo. 


‘A Night To Remember’ was an earlier attempt to portray the incident of unsinkable RMS Titanic hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. This was of course before James Cameron’s legendary ‘Titanic’. The film is based on a book of the same name by American historian Walter Lord who thoroughly researched the story and interviewed survivors. As for its historical accuracy, most survivors who saw the film were moved and remarked how authentic it was despite its lack of realistic visuals. 


‘Suffragette’ is a movie about an early feminist movement to win women the right to vote in 1912 London. It explores the struggles those women encountered and extremes they went through in order to be heard by society. The film does a great job of addressing the issue of class and does a decent job of looking at the violence on both sides. The main character is an invention that represents every woman in the suffragette movement and serves as an example to show all the unpleasant things they encountered. 

5. THE PIANIST (2002)

This movie features the survival story of a Polish Jewish musician, Wladyslaw Szpilman, during WWII in Warsaw. To describe how historically accurate it is, you need only know that the film is valued as a historical document. Apart from the fact that the film is based on an autobiography written by a survivor, did you know that director Polanski himself was also a survivor of the horrific events of holocaust? It is certainly an advantage when trying to direct an authentic portrayal.


‘The Theory Of Everything’ tells a story of the relationship between Stephen Hawking, the most celebrated physicist of our time, and his wife Jane Wilde. Although the movie softens Hawking’s stubborn personality in order to create a more empathetic character and enhance the drama, it does take several anecdotes from Jane’s memoir, including one where Hawking took her to the May Ball for a dance and Hawking’s father warned her away from marrying him. 

7. GANDHI (1982)

The movie explains the peaceful character of the spiritual leader Gandhi. Director Attenborough managed to put all the major moments of Gandhi’s life into the film, right the way from his time as a young lawyer in South Africa to his preaching of nonviolent civil disobedience. It took 20 years to get it made. Throughout the whole film, everyone speaks English, and is actually true that Gandhi did speak the language when he lived in South Africa.


It’s a movie based on Oskar Schindler who managed to save about 1,100 Jews from being gassed at a concentration camp. The film is considered a landmark in the history of Holocaust storytelling because of the way it inspired survivors to tell their stories and the world to listen. The film can be seen as a realistic depiction in terms of the brutality of the Nazis and the life they persecuted.


The film is based on the real-life story of Alan Turing, the English genius cryptanalyst, who helped to crack the German Enigma code during WWII. As the acknowledged father of artificial intelligence, Turing, in reality, was elected as a fellow at Cambridge at 22 and published his most influential paper at 24, just as it is depicted in the movie. He was also gay and indifferent to politics. 

10. MILK (2008)

’Milk’ tells a real-life story of Harvey Milk, an American activist who fought for gay rights and became California’s first openly gay elected official. Other than Sean Penn’s great portrayal of the character, the film also accurately captures the spirit of the time, from the real footage of gay bar patrons in the 1960s being arrested and bundled into police vans, to the recreation of the wild hairstyles and fashions of the ’70s.

11. MONEYBALL (2011)

‘Moneyball’ did a fairly good job of depicting what Billy Beane did for the Oakland Athletics in 2002. He successfully assembled a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players, known as sabermetrics, and led the Oakland A’s to a 20 game winning streak. Apart from the story itself, the movie also did a fine job of casting Brad Pitt, because, in real life, Billy Beane was pretty handsome too!

12. 127 HOURS (2010)

‘127 Hours’ is based on the true story of a mountain climber Aron Ralston who got trapped by a large boulder and eventually took desperate measures to survive.  The movie’s name refers to the length of time he was pinned there – 127 hours. According to the real Ralston, the most memorable scene where he recorded a farewell message to his family was true. He suggested that the movie is so factually accurate that it is like a documentary with drama.

13. THE RUNAWAYS (2010)

The movie is about the 1970s teenage all-girl rock band The Runaways, which is also a look at the relationship between Joan Jett and the band member Cherie Currie. Despite certain fictional twists and dramatization, Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of Joan Jett is quite realistic. In fact, Joan spent hours dumping every Runaways memory on Kristen, even telling her details no one else should’ve known. Her performance was appreciated by Joan, saying ‘it was like being around a mirror’.


The movie depicts the life story of Pu-Yi, the last emperor of China. In order to ensure the film was as accurate as possible, director Bernardo Bertolucci invited Pu Yi’s younger brother, Pu Chieh, along with Li Wenda who helped Pu Yi write his autobiography in the first place, to be advisors for the film. It was also shot inside the Forbidden City in Beijing.


The movie is based on the real story of “The Washington Post” reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who uncovered the details of the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The director didn’t mind making a slow-moving film and following the historical timeline in order to obtain historical accuracy. Most of the details turned out to be accurate, including the order of events in the investigation. 


The movie is based on the true story of how Jordan Belfort became a wealthy stock-broker and then got involved in crime and corruption. A decent part of the book, as the base of this movie, was proven by the FBI and in court as accurate. Even some of the most outlandish and unbelievable stories in the movie, like Jordan crashing his helicopter while wasted or his Lambo, have all been verified as true events. 

17. FRIDA (2002)

The movie is a biography of one of the best known Mexico’s artists, Frida Kahlo. It took a closer look at her love life as well as her creative career. In terms of appearance, her husband Diego doesn’t look like a great match, but it was confirmed by Frida in her writing, that he was even less physically prepossessing than the actor’s portrayal. It is also accurate that Frida and Trotsky had an affair.

18. ZODIAC (2007)

‘Zodiac’ is based on a true crime story in the late ’60s and early 70s. Director David Fincher went to great lengths to ensure the film was historically accurate. Other than the recreation of a period perfect San Francisco and dressing victims in the clothes they were wearing in their last moments, there are a number of smaller details you may not even notice. For example, it was proven that suspect Arthur Leigh Allen really wore a watch with the Zodiac symbol on it, and writing the Zodiac book really did cost Robert Graysmith his marriage. 

19. MONSTER (2003)

‘Monster’ is based on the true story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos who convicted of luring men to their death. She admitted to killing 7 men including a missionary, whose body was never found. This missing seventh man is very similar to the last man murdered in the movie. Director Patty Jenkins got a lot of her material by exchanging letters with the real Aileen before her execution in 2002, along with lots of footage of her interviews and court documents. She even chose the exact same bar the real Aileen used to visit to shoot scenes. 

20. SPOTLIGHT (2015)

‘Spotlight’ tells about the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation that shook the entire Catholic Church to its core. It may sound unbelievable, but in real life, the Catholic Church in Boston really was as powerful as it is portrayed in the movie and had great political power. 

Editor's Choice