Writing an amazing screenplay about fictional events can be challenging. By basing your screenplay on a true story, you can use the basic structure of true events as a framework to hold the rest of your narrative. It’s can also be a lucrative way to convert existing non-fiction writing into potentially valuable Hollywood property. Watching movies based on true stories is a good way to hone your screenwriting skills.
You can use the movies below as inspiration from how a true story (often based on a book) can be successfully transformed into a screenplay.
This film chronicles the Boston Globe’s discovery of the massive child sex abuse scandal and attendant cover-up within their local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking both the reporters, their community and the Catholic Church as a whole. It’s a dramatic yet largely faithful retelling of the story, granting a glimpse into the pressure and astonishment these reporter’s faced as they struggled to break this far-reaching story.
The Imitation Game (2014)
Like every Movie Based On A True Story™, The Imitation Game takes some liberties with reality. But the story of how the eccentric genius and father of computer science Alfred Turing lead the effort to crack Nazi codes during WWII is gripping. Benedict Cumberbatch invests Turing’s character with a sense of the slightly unbalanced of an off-kilter genius that makes the film an intense watch. Unfortunately, Turing’s real-life story comes to a sad end, which the film tastefully touches on. Because he loved men, Turing, the war hero, was forced to undergo a chemical castration regime that eventually lead to his death. Not all war heroes carried guns.
Into the Wild (2007)
The life and death of Christopher McCandless could have been unremarkable, if foolish. On the face of it, he was a rich boy starry-eyed with childish ideas of self-sufficiency and the “true” self, who charted a suicidal cross-country jaunt to live in the wilderness without help, guidance or training. But the journal that McCandless left behind was gorgeous, both in its lyricism and poignancy, which has earned his story a place in the hearts of many. The visually stunning film does justice to McCandless’s naive-if-sincere awe at the scope of the world, and his desire to be something more than a rich brat.
Midnight Express (1978)
This film is older but fresh in its horror. After attempting to smuggle drugs out of Turkey, Billy Hayes is trapped in a country whose language and customs he doesn’t understand. He finds himself on the receiving end of an unbelievably harsh sentence from a government seeking to make an example of him, with a laughable trial and no hope of release. Lost in this Kafka-esque world, Billy has no hope of rescue, escape or freedom. This terrifying and gut-wrenching tour through the horrific conditions of the Turkish prison “system” will surely give you nightmares.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
A young Leonardo DiCaprio is at his charismatic best in this film, playing an expert con-man who uses is fast-talking wit and expertise in disguises to evade capture by dedicated FBI agent Tom Hanks. The film is based on the true story of a wildly successful con-man Frank Abagnale Jr. who, before he turned 19, forged millions of dollars of checks while posing as a pilot, doctor, lawyer and more. It’s Oceans 11 meets the Fugitive.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
While this film does take some liberties both with the portrayal of mental illness and the event of John Nash’s life, it’s an emotionally resonant and affecting tale about how intellectual brilliance can come in thorny packages. Russell Crowe’s interpretation of a tortured genius is sensitive and complex, and the film is probably one of the most successful attempts to make math look sexy. Just don’t go into the film expecting mathematical precision when it comes to accuracy.
127 Hours (2010)
A film that defines the word “harrowing,” 127 Hours is the nearly one-man film chronicling the horrific “adventures” of Aron Ralston, a climber trapped under a boulder in an isolated canyon in Utah. With his arm wedged beneath the boulder, he must test his determination to discover if he has the will to survive, enduring brutal self-amputation to free himself. It’s more disturbing than the Saw franchise, if far less pornographic. This visceral story is certainly not for the squeamish.
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