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DEBUNKING 10 ‘TRUE STORY’ MOVIES

Hollywood loves the phrase “based on a true story.” It’s an instant shortcut to suspension of disbelief for lazy writers — any dumb plot twist or off-character beat can be explained away with, “Well, that’s just how it happened.” But the truth behind many of these films is…not quite what you’re seeing on screen. In this feature, we’ll show you 10 movies that are allegedly based on real events and then prove that there’s no way that could be true.

“The Perfect Storm”
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Sebastian Junger’s 1997 nonfiction book tells the tale of the massive storm that slammed the northeast Atlantic coast in 1991 and brought down the swordfishing boat Andrea Gail. The film adaptation was a massive hit, with some of the most amazing water effects ever lensed and great performances from George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. There’s only one problem: Nobody has any idea what happened aboard the ship during the storm, because everybody went down with the ship. All of the drama you see as the boat tries to crest a massive rogue wave and collapses as Clooney goes down with the ship was made up for a better story. I mean, it could have happened that way, but there’s no indication that it did.

“Stand And Deliver”
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The cinematic story of inner-city math teacher Jaime Escalante actually makes academic achievement fun to watch. In “Stand And Deliver,” Escalante (played by Edward James Olmos) takes a group of underachieving Hispanic students and challenges them to improve to AP calculus level by their senior year. After accusations of cheating, the kids succeed and show they’re just as smart as anybody else. What the movie leaves out, though, is that the real-life Escalante didn’t just pick random kids out of nowhere for his experiment — instead, he set up feeder programs in junior high to find and nurture kids with academic potential for as long as seven years before that AP calculus test. It just goes to show you that nothing is as easy as it seems in the movies.

“Pursuit of Happyness”
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This feel-good flick starred Will Smith as real-life success story Christopher Gardner, a single father who worked as an intern at a stock brokerage while homeless. It’s a huge tale of triumph through hard work, but the flick took a lot of liberties with the truth. One of the most notable concerns Gardner’s internship — in the movie, it’s an unpaid position that he doggedly sticks with because he knows it’ll improve his life. In real life, he was taking home $1000 a month from it — still not a lot in San Francisco, but something. And Gardner’s son wasn’t from his wife, but from his mistress who he knocked up after a 30-day cocaine binge.

“Remember The Titans”
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A true-life sports story is always a good sell at the box office, and if you can throw in an uplifting racial message you’re guaranteed to move tickets. 2000’s “Remember The Titans” told the story of a newly integrated high school in Alexandria, Virginia, as their football team goes to the state championships. While, yes, T.C. Williams High was a real place and coach Herman Boone was a real person, the Hollywood version took some huge liberties — most notably, that the school had been mixed race for seven whole years before Boone started. And the big game that closes the movie, where T.C. Williams barely wins on a touchdown reversal? Haha, nope, they actually completely decimated their opponents 27-0. But that wouldn’t make for any dramatic tension.

“The Strangers”
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When you see the words “true events” connected with a horror movie, that’s a pretty good sign that the directors are BSing you. One of the most egregious examples is 2008’s “The Strangers.” Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play a young couple whose home is invaded by a bunch of creeps in masks intent on torturing them. It’s a fun, creepy flick that opens with a chilling home invasion statistic and a claim that the events you’re about to see are “inspired by true events.” What it doesn’t tell you is that those “true events” are achildhood memory of director Bryan Bertino’s life in rural Texas where a stranger knocked on his door and his sister answered it… and that’s it. Nobody got murdered, no masks, no nothing. But that would be a pretty dull movie.

“Mississippi Burning”
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One of the most critically acclaimed movies of 1988, “Mississippi Burning” was a beautifully lensed exploration of the civil rights movement, framed around a pair of FBI investigators tracking down the culprits for a brutal murder of three activists. In the flick, the feds are a proactive force for justice, running down KKK members and conducting a sting operation against the mayor of the town to get the names of the culprits. Unfortunately, in reality FBI director J. Edgar Hoover didn’t give a wet crap about the struggle, and anyagents on the streets during that time were barely active, in some reports standing by while people were beaten in front of them. Instead of a daring undercover operation, the murderers were simply caught by paying an informant to squeal.

“Open Water”
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We’re back in the ocean for another flick that took some serious liberties with a “true story.” 2003’s “Open Water” told the tale of an American couple who were left behind on the Great Barrier Reef and never seen again. Like “A Perfect Storm,” this is a movie where everything that happens after the tour boat leaves iscomplete fiction, simply because neither of the two survived. In the film, they’re tormented by sharks that slowly nibble them to pieces, but in reality it’s more likely that they died from exposure or drowning. Some of their gear was found washed up, but the only damage in it was from sharp coral, not shark teeth.

“The Last King of Scotland”
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We’re not going to take anything away from Forest Whitaker’s brilliant, Oscar-winning performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland.” And Amin’s notorious corruption and awfulness have been very well documented. But what about the movie’s POV character, Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, the titular “last king”? Well, he never existed at all. The real white confidante to Amin was a former British soldier named Bob Astles who actually wanted to become a part of his awful regime, and was dubbed “The White Rat” by downtrodden Ugandans because of it. But that wouldn’t make nearly as good a story, so the filmmakers decided to make him into a decent human being instead.

“Hidalgo”
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Tales of the Old West are all about stretching the truth a little bit, but 2004’s “Hidalgo” does so in some pretty ridiculous ways. If you haven’t seen it, the flick stars Viggo Mortensen as Frank T. Hopkins, a legendary distance rider who travels to Arabia in 1891 to compete against the legendary Bedouins in a desert race. He survives injuries and setbacks to miraculously win the event and return to America a changed man. Unfortunately for Disney, who produced the film, Hopkins was a notorious prevaricator and just about every biographical detail that made it to the screen was a lie, including the great Arabian race.

“Rudy”
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What is it about football movies and stretching the truth? On the silver screen, the story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger is a perfect underdog story. Ruettiger was a dyslexic Illinois high school kid who dreamed of playing for Notre Dame but didn’t have the money or grades to pull it off. In the flick, he keeps working at it and is given a chance on the field in his final eligible game thanks to grit and determination in the face of an unbelieving former NFL coach. The only problem? In real life, it was that coach’s idea to put him in, and the film’s iconic scene of the other Fighting Irish players turning in their jerseys in protest didn’t happen either. Yes, Ruettiger did get to play, but the circumstances surrounding his game were much less dramatic.

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