15 Underrated Movies Based on True Stories
Here are 15 lesser-known but actually great movies based on true stories that you just can't afford to miss.
1. "Blow" (2001)
This movie follows George Jung, who partners with Pablo Escobar in the '70s to become America's premier cocaine distributor. Things take a wild turn as George rises from a humble Boston guy to a flashy California kingpin. He has it all: money, girls, and power. He even goes so far as to smuggle drugs on private planes. But the higher you rise, the harder you fall. When DEA gets involved, George's life takes a pretty sharp nosedive.
2. "The Bank Job" (2008)
Remember that time in 1971 when a bunch of amateur crooks decided to rob a bank in London? No? Well, that's probably because it got hushed up real quick. This movie uncovers that gritty story. A car dealer named Terry gets a tip from a model friend that there's a stash of money and jewelry in a bank's safety deposit boxes. Tempting, right? Terry and his motley crew break in via a tunnel, unaware that the boxes also contain incriminating photos of British royalty and other elites. Yeah, they're in way over their heads.
3. "Donnie Brasco" (1997)
Undercover stories are a dime a dozen, but this one stands out. Joe Pistone, an FBI agent, goes undercover as Donnie Brasco to infiltrate the New York mafia. He gets close to Lefty, an aging hitman, and becomes deeply involved in mob activities. The tension skyrockets as Joe/Donnie moves up the ranks but struggles with betraying Lefty, who's been like a father figure to him.
4. "The Pianist" (2002)
Set against the backdrop of WWII, this film revolves around Władysław Szpilman, a Polish Jewish pianist. When the Nazis invade Poland, his world crumbles. He's separated from his family and forced into the Warsaw Ghetto. But music becomes his refuge. He manages to avoid deportation and even gets pulled out of a line headed to a concentration camp, thanks to a friend in the Jewish police. He survives by hiding in various locations across the war-torn city, always just one step ahead of doom.
5. "American Animals" (2018)
College: a time when anything seems possible. Well, four students take that notion a bit too seriously. Bored with their mundane lives, they decide to steal a collection of rare books from their university's library. They map out a detailed plan, disguise themselves as old men, and even go to Amsterdam to meet a fence. The heist is on, but things go sideways fast – as they always tend to do.
6. "An American Crime" (2007)
This movie is a tough watch, no sugarcoating it. It's based on the tragic case of Sylvia Likens in 1965. Sylvia and her sister are left in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski while their parents go on the road. At first, it seems like a regular arrangement, but things turn nightmarish. Gertrude begins torturing Sylvia for various perceived slights, even encouraging her children and other neighborhood kids to join in. The cruelty escalates in unimaginable ways.
7. "Snowtown" (2011)
This Australian film is based on the notorious Snowtown murders. The movie centers around Jamie, a teenager living in a poor suburb, who falls under the influence of his mother's new boyfriend, John. As it turns out, John has a penchant for vigilante justice, which quickly turns sadistic. He grooms Jamie into participating in a series of tortures and murders.
8. "Zodiac" (2007)
Who doesn't love a good mystery, right? Well, this one is especially tantalizing because it's unsolved to this day. The movie follows the hunt for the Zodiac Killer in the late '60s and early '70s. Journalist Robert Graysmith becomes increasingly obsessed with solving the coded messages the killer sends to newspapers. He teams up with reporter Paul Avery and inspector Dave Toschi, getting deep into the case while risking his career and personal life.
9. "Alive" (1993)
This drama is about a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashes in the Andes. At first, they try to survive on wine and chocolate, waiting for rescue. But days turn into weeks. As hope dwindles and food runs out, they're faced with a grim decision: resort to cannibalism or perish. Each survivor has to confront this moral dilemma head-on.
10. "Catch Me If You Can" (2002)
Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenager, goes on a check-forging spree after his parents' divorce shakes him up. He impersonates an airline pilot, a doctor, and even a lawyer while evading capture from FBI agent Carl Hanratty. The chase spans countries and includes daring escapes, like Frank printing his own checks in a hotel room. You'd think it's a work of fiction, but it's all based on a very real Frank Abagnale Jr.'s life story (who's alive and well in 2023, by the way).
11. "Alpha Dog" (2006)
This movie depicts the kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz. Johnny Truelove, a small-time drug dealer, kidnaps Nicholas to pressure his older brother into settling a debt. What starts as a show of power turns into a weekend of partying, where the kidnapped kid almost becomes one of the guys. But as reality sets in, Johnny realizes he's in too deep and makes a choice that shocks everyone.
12. "Heavenly Creatures" (1994)
This movie is based on the Parker-Hulme murder case in 1954 New Zealand. Two teenagers, Juliet and Pauline, develop an intense friendship that delves into a shared fantasy world. But their parents are concerned about how obsessive the relationship is becoming. When they try to separate them, the girls hatch a brutal plan to stay together at all costs.
13. "Changeling" (2008)
In 1928, Christine Collins' son Walter goes missing. Several months later, the police claim to have found him, but Christine knows it's not her son. She starts challenging the corrupt Los Angeles Police Department, who commit her to an asylum to silence her. She befriends a reverend who becomes her ally in taking on the flawed system.
14. "Monster" (2003)
Aileen Wuornos goes from being a prostitute to a serial killer. Struggling to make ends meet, Aileen meets Selby, and they fall in love. To support them, Aileen continues her sex work but starts killing her clients, claiming self-defense. The body count rises as she spirals deeper into her violent spree.
15. "127 Hours" (2010)
Aron Ralston's canyoneering alone in Utah when a boulder pins his arm against a wall. With limited supplies, he tries various methods to free himself, to no avail. As the hours tick away, he records messages to his family and even starts chipping away at his arm with a dull knife to free himself – at all costs.