It’s not uncommon for real-life events to inspire movies to be made based on what happened. Whether it be a tragic true story of hope, courage, and bravery like 2017s Stronger or a cinematic depiction of a hero soldier in a warzone in 2016s six-time Academy Award-nominated Hacksaw Ridge, true-story movies can range in a wide variety.
When you take a story based on what happened to real people, it can hurt a little more than those of fiction when you think about the people it impacted. From survival stories and epic war dramas to natural disasters and terrorist attacks, movies have had the power to bring audiences to nothing more than a sobbing mess for decades with gut-wrenching portrayals of heroism to disastrous occurrences.
Undoubtedly a film to tug on the heartstrings, 2017s Breathe stars Andrew Garfield as Robin Cavendish, a man paralyzed by Polio from the neck down when he was just twenty-eight years old. Cavendish’s son, Jonathan, produced the movie as a way to tell his father’s story and the inspirational impact Robin had on the lives of disabled people at the time.
Robin had the idea to install a built-in respirator on a chair. That idea went on to accomplish at the time unimaginable steps in improving the lives of disabled people in the same situation as himself. With more chairs distributed, the quality and quantity of life of those in his position greatly improved. Following a bittersweet goodbye to his friends after starting to suffer heavy bleeding from the respirator, Robin died with Diana and Jonathan by his side.
Based on the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, 2015s Everest focuses on the journey of hope, faith, courage, and bravery between two expedition groups as they attempt to descend from the summit during treacherous weather conditions, having made it to the top of the tallest mountain in the world.
The film stars Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, and Jake Gyllenhaal, to name a few, and depicts the heartbreaking story of the eight people who lost their lives during the third deadliest Everest expedition. From Beck Weathers’ (Brolin) miraculous survival to Rob Hall’s (Clarke) gutwrenching goodbye to his wife and unborn daughter as he dies, Everest wasn’t lacking in the emotional scenes. The film ends with a clip of the real Beck Weathers, having lost both hands and his nose due to severe frostbite, and reveals that Rob Hall’s body sadly remains on Everest.
‘United 93’ (2006)
United 93 is a docudrama written and directed by Paul Greengrass that tells the harrowing story of the only hijacked plane that didn’t reach its intended target during the 9/11 attacks. While Flights 11, 77, and 175 devastatingly hit their targets, Flight 93 didn’t. Instead, it crashed into a Pennsylvania field due to the bravery of the flight crew and passengers on board.
The two-time Academy Award-nominated film follows the passengers and crew as they attempt to retain control from the al-Queda terrorists after a violent hijacking. The heartbreaking reality of Flight 93 remains instilled in the hearts and minds of the people directly impacted and the world. What could’ve added thousands of losses to the death toll was prevented by the forty courageous people who sadly lost their lives aboard Flight 93 on that tragic day.
Like Patriots Day, 2017’s Stronger follows the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings that happened on April 15th, 2013. However, unlike Patriots Day, which follows the investigative side of things, Stronger is a biographical drama that follows the impact it had on one man who was hailed a hero after identifying one of the bombers involved.
Based on Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter‘s memoir of the same name, the movie emotionally depicts the personal struggles faced by Jeff (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) as he adjusted to life after losing both legs in the attack. Jeff struggled greatly with PTSD and had flashbacks to the day of the bombings, not helped by the constant media attention. But, despite his PTSD, Jeff overcame the challenges he faced, learned how to walk again, and became an inspiration to thousands.
‘Deepwater Horizon’ (2016)
This 2016 disaster movie follows the events leading up to and the aftermath of the explosion and oil spill of the Deepwater Horizon. An inextinguishable fire resulted, and the rig sank after burning for over a day. The incident resulted in approximately 200 million gallons of oil spilling into the ocean over 87 days, eleven deaths, and is the worst oil disaster in United States history.
Starring Mark Whalberg and Kurt Russel as Mike Williams and Jimmy “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell, the nail-biting edge-of-your-seat film was nominated for two Oscars. It’s full of tense scenes and life-threatening experiences, culminating in a heartbreaking scene with the survivors reuniting with their families and a shaken Mike suffering a panic attack while being comforted by his wife and daughter. Before the credits roll, footage of the rig and pictures of the eleven people who died play out on screen.
‘Captain Phillips’ (2013)
Directed by Paul Greengrass and starring Tom Hanks as the title character, this 2013 biographical drama follows the story of Captain Richard Phillips and his hostage-taking during the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009. With a screenplay inspired by Phillips’ book, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
This movie certainly isn’t lacking in intensity and hard-to-watch scenes. From nail-biting confrontation and negotiation to Hanks’ incredibly emotional performance as Phillips, the film was a critical success. In the aftermath of his kidnapping, Richard Phillips became an author and returned to sea just over a year later until his retirement in 2014.
Desmond Doss was a combat medic who refused to carry a firearm or weapon of any kind heroically saved the lives of an estimated seventy-five soldiers during the World War II Battle of Okinawa. Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield, 2016s Hacksaw Ridge is a biographical drama that follows the story of Doss, who became the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor.
Throughout the movie, Doss was often looked down upon for refusing to bear arms, earning him zero respect from his fellow soldiers. His Sargent and Captain put him through intense labor to get him to quit, his fellow soldiers beat him up, and he faced potential imprisonment. Despite everything, Doss saved dozens of lives and became a hero in the face of treacherous conditions. The ending shows images and videos of the real Desmond, one of which shows an elderly Doss before his death in 2006.
‘The Impossible’ (2012)
Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and a young Tom Holland in his film debut, 2012’s The Impossible follows one family’s incredible journey to find each other after being separated during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. The movie was considered one of the best films of 2012 and received highly positive reviews for its acting and directing.
Throughout its entirety, it’s chock-full of incredibly hard-hitting emotion and doesn’t lack tough-to-watch scenes. From losing loved ones in such a tragic way to that heartbreaking reunion scene, The Impossible left viewers reeling from the devastation depicted and the trauma that thousands experienced from the natural disaster that killed over 200,000 people.
‘Hotel Rwanda’ (2004)
Based on the Rwandan genocide twenty years before the film’s release, Hotel Rwanda is a multi-award-nominated movie that follows the events that took place between April 7th and July 15th, 1994, and resulted in an estimated 500,000 to 800,000 Tutsi deaths over a timeline of just one hundred days.
The film pursues the story of Paul Rusesabagina and his wife Tatiana (played by Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo) as they embark on saving the lives of their family and over a thousand other Hutu and Tutsi refugees during the Rwandan civil war. Full of chilling scenes and heartbreaking realities, the real-life conflict that inspired the film remains one of the most difficult to fathom for many.
‘Schindler’s List’ (1993)
Steven Spielberg‘s 1993 historical drama, Schindler’s List, remains one of the most heartbreaking depictions of the Holocaust of all time. The film is based on the non-fiction novel Schindler’s Ark, written by Thomas Keneally in 1982, and was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, winning seven, including Best Picture and Best Director for Spielberg.
The film stars Liam Nesson as Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist responsible for saving the lives of over a thousand Jewish people from the Holocaust. The Nazi’s genocide of the Jewish people resulted in the deaths of an estimated six million Jews, and Schindler saved approximately 1200, who became known as the Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews). An epilogue for the film shows the surviving Schindlerjuden and the actors visiting Schindler’s grave.
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