The Worst Movies Based on True Stories

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Movies based on true stories can be incredibly powerful, giving audiences a glimpse into real-life events and the people who lived through them. However, when poorly executed they make for a boring or confusing experience that would have been more exciting as a quick read on Wikipedia.

To determine the worst movies based on true events, 24/7 Tempo developed an index of films using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of January 2023, weighting all ratings equally. Only movies tagged “based on true story” on IMDb with at least five critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and 10,000 IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes user votes were considered. Directorial credits are from IMDb.

Sometimes filmmakers opt for a sensationalized approach, focusing on the most salacious aspects of the story rather than providing a thoughtful and accurate portrayal of what really happened. This can lead to a shallow and one-dimensional representation of complicated characters and events. It is almost ironically impressive when filmmakers manage to take an exciting true story and turn it into a dull film.

Bad true-story films often feel like lazy cash-grabs with minimal effort put into dialogue and coherent plots. Some take very tragic true events like murders and natural disasters and turn them into movies that come off as cheap and sensational. Others may have started with lofty ambitions to tell bigger-than-life stories but failed to capture what makes these true tales so captivating. (In contrast, here’s a ranking of the best movies based on real events or people.)

Many films here are also based on successful books that failed to make an effective jump to the big screen. Sometimes true stories are just too complicated to tell in a few hours. There are also several films that focus on famous historical figures like Alexander the Great and Amelia Earhart. While these figures have remained culturally relevant far after they lived, these movies about them were not able to capture what it was that made them so special. (Some historical movies do much better, of course, like the ones starring these actors who have played the Queen.)

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