10 Films That Are Stranger Than Fiction


As you might have read yesterday, our film editor Jason Bailey anointed Ben Affleck’s Argo as his film of the week. If you’re not familiar with the film, we won’t spoil too much of it, save to say that it’s based a true story — the sort of story that you wouldn’t believe if it wasn’t true. We rather enjoyed Argo, not least because the tale it relates is so outlandish, and watching it got us thinking about other films whose plots are the sort of thing that you’d never believe if they weren’t based on actual events. We’ve chosen a few of our favorites after the jump — are there any we missed?


So, as we pointed out above, the plot of Argo is so extraordinary that it’s the sort of thing that’d never get anywhere near being shot if it wasn’t a true story: a CIA agent rescues a bunch of Americans from Tehran by convincing them to pretend to be… a sci-fi film crew? Get outta here, son, no-one’s gonna believe that story. But no, honestly, it’s all true — the film version is dramatized somewhat (we can’t imagine that police cars really chased the plane containing said “film crew” across the Tehran tarmac) but the Canadian caper really did happen.

Catch Me If You Can

Similarly, the story of Frank Abagnale would defy belief if it wasn’t all true — here’s a man who made a fortune out of forging checks, escaped from police custody twice, had eight separate identities (including an airline pilot, which allowed him to fly around the world for free) and ended up working for the FBI as an expert on catching other slippery criminals. The only surprise here is that it took as long as it did to make a film out of his 1980 autobiography.


A much grimmer story is that of the Uruguayan rugby team who were marooned in the Andes after their plane crashed en route to a match in Chile. Those who didn’t die in the crash endured 72 days on the side of a mountain, 11,800ft above sea level, with no source of heat and no food. The most well-known aspect of the story is that the men were forced resort to eating the bodies of their dead companions to avoid starvation, but it’s the sheer resourcefulness of the team in surviving against all odds, and eventually finding a way to hike out of the mountains to find help, that just about defies belief.

Cool Runnings

On a lighter note, the ridiculously fairytale story of the famous Jamaican bobsled team. As anyone who’s old enough to have watched the 1988 Winter Olympics can attest, a team from Jamaica really did contest the bobsled event, and although the film took a reasonable amount of poetic license, but still, the underlying story remains absolutely true.


Say what you like about Jean-Claude Van Damme, but his early martial arts movies were quality, and this was his crowning glory. The tale of an American triumphing over the world’s greatest martial artists at a secret tournament in Hong Kong seemed too fairytale to be true, but hey, it was based on a true story, wasn’t it? Well, sort of. The factual basis of the story of Frank Dux’s kumite triumph has been called into serious doubt since the film’s release, and only he really knows how much was truth and how much was fantasy. It’s still a cracking film, though, and your correspondent is not ashamed to admit to being able to quote large chunks of its (admittedly minimal) dialogue verbatim. Now I show you some trick or two!


There are plenty of silly things about this film, but the unlikeliest aspect of its plot is, as far as anyone knows, absolutely true: according to the historian Herodotus and various other contemporaneous sources, a small force of Greeks and Spartans led by King Leonidas really did hold off Xerxes and his mighty Persian army at Thermopylae in 480BC, inflicting huge casualties on the significantly larger Persian force before finally succumbing to overwhelming odds. The unfortunate rearguard was eventually slaughtered, but the Persians were eventually defeated at the Battle of Salamis a month later. All’s well that ends well, etc.

Dead Ringers

David Cronenberg’s bizarre 1988 thriller concerned the exploits of creepily co-dependent drug-addicted identical twin gynaecologists who conspire to seduce and exploit their patients. If it was fiction, you’d consider it the invention of a very troubled mind, but in fact it’s based on the story of real-life twins Stewart and Cyril Marcus. As ever, the truth in this case is even stranger than the adaption — while Cronenberg’s film ends in a suitably apocalyptic manner, the real-life doctors died of acute barbituate withdrawal, and their bodies weren’t found until weeks later.

My Left Foot

If it was fiction, you’d probably find the story of My Left Foot too dramatic and emotionally manipulative to be effective — a man born with cerebral palsy who can control only his left foot, and eventually uses that foot to paint and also write several books? But Christy Brown really did exist, and his story is one that’s both heartbreaking and somehow also uplifting. It’s all related in his autobiography, on which the film is based — all of which was written with his left foot.

Heavenly Creatures

It’s amazing that it took as long as it did for someone to make a film out of the 1954 Parker-Hulme murder case — the story is as compelling as is disconcerting, setting an obsessive teen relationship against the backdrop of an inflexibly conservative society with ultimately ghastly results. The story’s grim, brutal denouement would be too sensational and shocking to be believable if it wasn’t all too true. And then, of course, there’s the fact that one of its real-life protagonists turned out to be a best-selling detective novelist.

The Social Network

Of course, in reality, a douchebag like Mark Zuckerberg would never build a gazillion-dollar company and rule the… what? Oh.