They say that truth is often stranger than fiction and the following movies are here to prove it. Each title takes direct inspiration from a real-life person or persons, people whose stories were considered by filmmakers, and/or the writers on whose works the films are based, to be too interesting or too important to ignore.
As one might expect, the screenwriters and directors took creative liberties when they deemed it necessary. That’s not to suggest that the original people or events weren’t provocative enough in their own right, but rather that real life doesn’t always fit neatly into a tight storyline or cinematic runtime. (The same issue often demanded changes in these 50 best movies based on true events).
To identify the best movies made about real people, 24/7 Tempo created a list of biographical feature films from several sources, excluding documentaries. Next we developed an index based on each movie’s rating on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and audience score and Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator. All ratings and scores were weighted equally. Only films with at least 4,000 reviews on IMDb and a runtime greater than one hour were considered. Data was collected in mid-March 2021. Supplemental data on domestic box office by movie came from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by consulting firm Nash Information Services. Cast information comes from IMDb.
Being that human experience covers a full range of emotions and themes, so too do the best movies about that experience. Films such as “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Killing Fields” present harrowing stories of genocide and survival, finding hope through the power of perseverance and sacrifice. By contrast, movies like “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” or even “The Right Stuff” inject occasional comedy into otherwise dramatic events. Indeed, modern viewers know all too well that something can be both vital and absurd at the very same time.
These films and 45 more are included in 24/7 Tempo’s list of the best movies made about real people. For another approach to true-life stories, literary rather than cinematic, here’s a list of 20 of the most popular autobiographies of all time.