Not one to shed my tears in a theatre but I’m talking about watching a film that had led to grown up men with manicured beards and chest hair crying like the devil was stabbing them in all the wrong places. At the end I didn’t know if the salt in my mouth was from the popcorn or my tears.
The culprit? ‘Based on a true story,’ disclaimer in the opening credits. “It was real bro! Imagine!”
But we take our tears seriously, and so when we’re not watching movies we’re thinking about them. Which brought us to think about those particular true story movies that make us cry. Not ones to let our tears run in vain, we took it upon ourselves to uncover the accuracy of these plot lines and separate fact from fiction. So, without further ado, we bring you the movies that didn’t let us in on the whole truth:
1. Sully (2016)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Sully revolves around the January 2009 US Airways 1549’s emergency landing on the Hudson river by pilot Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and the subsequent investigation. Although the film did well, it created a controversy with its depiction of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). On release, several major airlines didn’t include the film in their onboard entertainment, to avoid any ensuing passenger drama.
NTSB disputed their depiction in the film, saying they weren’t out to embarrass anybody and expressed concern that the general public would lap it up as government incompetence. Lead investigator Benzon said,
“I don’t know why the writer and director chose to twist NTSB’s role into such an inaccurate depiction. Their treatment of the NTSB went very far beyond cinematic license into simple mean-spirited dishonesty. The movie may actually be detrimental to aviation safety. Pilots involved in accidents will now expect harsh, unfair treatment by investigators.”
NTSB’s flight simulations in the film showed the airplane could have landed at an airport. A successful return or diversion was not assured in reality.
2. The Revenant (2015)
Director: Alejandro Inarritu
Based on Hugh Glass’ experiences in 1823, the movie went on to win several awards, most notably Leonardo DiCaprio’s first Oscar. Shooting conditions were notoriously difficult. And travelling to and fro from such remote locations meant the crew had already used up 40% of their day. DiCaprio himself waded frozen waters, slept in animal carcass and ate raw meat.
However, questions arise of Glass’ love for a Pawnee woman. And there is no evidence that he had a child, hence dissolving his quest for revenge against Fitzgerald. True versions do indicate though that Fitzgerald handed him his rifle back when Glass tracked him down and asked for it. A grizzly bear did really maul Glass, left for dead by Bridger and Fitzgerald. So his struggle to live was real.
3. American Sniper (2014)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Chris Kyle became the deadliest marksman in US military history, with 255 kills from his four tours in Iraq. American Sniper captures Kyle’s biographical journey. It follows the toll his military successes have on his personal life, and is Clint Eastwood’s highest grossing film. Warner Bros acquired the rights of the film (loosely based on Kyle’s memoir) in 2012 and signed up Bradley Cooper to play Kyle.
Although a crucial character in the film, Mustafa, the enemy sniper, is only a small part of Kyle’s memoir. He wasn’t the real victim of Kyle’s now legendary 2100 yard shot. That distinction goes to a rocket launcher wielding insurgent on the roof of a building outside Sadr City. The film also exaggerated the $180,000 bounty on his head and circling posters. The truth is that there was a reward for killing any American sniper. Other inaccuracies are the opening shot where Kyle is shown shooting a young boy with a woman. And the scene where “The Butcher” is shown executing a boy and his father. Kyl memoir only speaks of a woman in the opening scene and the second scene is completely absent.
4. Rush (2013)
Director: Ron Howard
Rush is a sports drama that revolves around the rivalry between Formula One drivers Niki Lauda and James Hunt during the 1976 Formula One season. Niki Lauda was happy with the film. He said:
“When I saw it the first time I was impressed. There was no Hollywood changes or things changed a little bit Hollywood-like. It is very accurate. And this really surprised me very positively.”
But there are reports of a list of historical inaccuracies in the film. Hunt and Lauda were shown to be bitter rivals and while that may be true, they shared a flat for some time. When Lauda’s wife, Marlena saw him after his burns she actually fainted, downplayed in the film to reveal a show of horror on her face. Finished rankings of racers in some courses make up some of the other inaccuracies of the film.
5. Captain Phillips (2013)
Director: Paul Greengrass
Tom Hanks plays Richard Phillips, the captain of a container ship that encounters Somali pirates on its course to Kenya. Sony bought rights following Richard Phillip’s memoir in 2010 paving the way for critical and commercial success, and six Academy Award Nominations. The problem? Crew members of the ship say the film portrayed Phillips in a heroic light that wasn’t entirely true, even bringing up his arrogance. The attorney representing 11 members who have sued Maersk, the container ship company says:
“The crew had begged Captain Phillips not to go so close to the Somali coast. He told them he wouldn’t let pirates scare him or force him to sail away from the coast.”
“I couldn’t tell you exactly the miles, I don’t know,” Phillips has said.
In 2010, Phillips mentioned his ship was 300 miles off shore to news agencies while published reports had him at 240 miles. Warnings about increased piracy had requested him to move off shore by at least 600 miles. Other admissions by crew members reveal that he ordered them to see through a fire drill when the pirates were only seven miles from the ship, and approaching fast. Phillip’s memoir set him up to be the hero of the ordeal and Sony’s non-disclosure agreements with the crew who helped with the film means we may never know the entire truth.
6. Argo (2012)
Director: Ben Affleck
Argo is an American historical drama that follows the successful rescue of six US diplomats from Iran under the pretext of filming a sci-fi film. Seven time Academy Award nominee, Argo received criticism for curtailing the role of the Canadian Embassy in the actual rescue. And showing the British and New Zealand embassies in poor light, both of which took significant risks towards the success of this mission. Former US President Jimmy Carter brought these inaccuracies up in a CNN interview.
“90% of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA. And with that exception, the movie is very good. But Ben Affleck’s character in the film was… only in Tehran a day and a half. And the main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”
The film also did not reveal that Iranian cabinet members had advocated the freedom of the American hostages. Affleck who directed and acted in the film consented to taking “some dramatic license.“ An interesting titbit is that apparently the Hollywood production office created to setup the ruse of an actual sci-film shoot proved so real that it continued to receive scripts weeks after the rescue had been completed, twenty six in all. In 2016, it emerged that the CIA had been involved in the production of the film as well.
7. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Will Smith plays Chris Gardner in this absorbing biographical drama of a homeless salesman’s struggle to survive. The film was based on events from his autobiography and he stayed on as associate producer. He even makes a small cameo towards the end of the film.
But this did not deter the makers to steer off course and hide the fact that Gardener’s primary source of income was not just the bone density scanners. He also dealt drugs for sometime and had been arrested for domestic abuse. The film has an unnerving sequence where Gardner is able to display his mental abilities to Witter while sharing a cab ride. This was also false and did not transpire. While he did face a lot of difficulties, the film does not shed light on his own behaviour that might have exacerbated his situation.
8. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Director: Ron Howard
The story revolves around John Nash, a Nobel laureate in Economics and the effect of paranoid schizophrenia on him and his wife Alicia. Producer Brian Gazer purchased the rights to the film after reading an excerpt from the 1998 Pulitzer nominated book of the same name. After considering many actors, including Gary Oldman and Sean Penn for John Nash’s part, Ron Howard ultimately cast Russel Crowe. The film went on to win 4 Academy Awards but received criticism for Nash’s inaccurate portrayal.
It misrepresents Nash’ work places and timelines. He didn’t really work for the Department of Defense. And the schizophrenic hallucinations he witnesses while in grad school, actually appeared many years later. The film also doesn’t include Nash’s personal struggles with his wife that ended in a divorce. They remarried later in 2001. In his biography, Nash admits to not taking any medication from 1970 onwards. The filmmakers ignored this for the fear of being seen to encourage non-medicated approaches. Nash also didn’t give an acceptance speech for his Nobel prize.
9. Fargo (1996)
Directors: Coen Brothers
A dark sometimes funny crime thriller, Fargo follows the story of a man (William H. Macy) who hires two men to abduct his wife in return for ransom from his father-in-law. The film saw success at the box office and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning two. It has also been included in the 100 Greatest American Movies of all Time. The film begins with the following clause:
“This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”
The closing credits, however reveal the “all persons and events related to this film are fictitious” disclaimer. Puzzled? It gets deeper. The Coen Brothers, who directed and produced the film have changed their stance on this several times. First saying they wrote a fictional story on actual events, even beginning by admitting to not being held to the truth.
“We weren’t interested in that kind of fidelity. The basic events are the same as in the real case, but the characterizations are fully imagined… If an audience believes that something’s based on a real event, it gives you permission to do things they might otherwise not accept.”
They later changed this over the years to drawing back on the location of the actual murders. And not recognising the public’s idea of the real-life character the movie was based on. Go figure.
“completely made up. Or, as we like to say, the only thing true about it is that it’s a story.”
10. Rudy (1993)
Director: David Anspaugh
A biographical depiction of the life of Daniel “Rudy” Reutigger, who was determined to overcome physical obstacles and play college football at the University of Notre Dame, Rudy has been voted one of the best sports films in history and is an inspiring tale of overcoming odds. Notre Dame football team coach Dan Devine agreed to be depicted as a loud-mouthed, unrelenting version of himself to add to the obstacles Rudy has to go through in pursuit of his dream. Ditto, for Rudy’s real-life father who on screen is a negative harsh father. Other misrepresentations include Rudy’s older brother who constantly rags him, and the scene where Rudy’s team mates walk up to coach Devine’s office and place their jerseys on his desk in retaliation. Devine was furious about the whole scene saying:
“The jersey scene is unforgivable. It’s a lie and untrue.”
In a lighter moment of questioned accuracy, the film’s ending statement “Since 1975, no other Notre Dame player has been carried off the field,” alluding to Rudy’s exit on the shoulders of his mates, was called out by Bob Golic, a former team mate and Rudy’s friend.
“That’s BS. In 1978, I got a concussion and they carried me off on a stretcher”
11. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Director: Tobe Hooper
The film received an R rating and bans in several countries for its violence. Wider audiences were swayed with the true story billing and is regarded as one of the best horror films in history. The film ushered in the portrayal of the killer as a faceless figure and power tools as murder weapons. The film’s “true” credentials were likely stimulated by director Tobe Hooper’s background as a documentary cameraman.
Some of the plot was inspired by the exploits of serial killer, Ed Gein who also served as the basis for notable films Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs but was far from reflective of the truth. The idea of using a chainsaw as the weapon of choice came to Hooper in a hardware store. When questioned on his film’s veracity, Hooper said:
“man was the real monster here, just wearing a different face, so I put a literal mask on the monster in my film”
There we are! These are the movies that did us in. And while we know it’s not always possible to stay true to real life in the name of storytelling, you now know the truth.
But the truth also is that each of these is a great film. And so, we hope you enjoy these as much as we do without letting facts get in the way of a good, maybe somewhat honest, film.