Skip To Content

    18 Fictional Characters That Were Inspired By Real People

    Guess who Miss Piggy is based on?

    1. Psycho's Norman Bates was based on a murderous mama's boy.

    Paramount Pictures, Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

    Psycho is nightmare-inducing enough as a fiction, so the fact that it's based on the crimes committed by Ed Gein makes it so much more terrifying. Gein was a murderer and gravedigger who, just like Norman, had an unhealthy obsession with his mother. Gein's horrific antics have also been the inspiration for other horror movies, including Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs.

    2. Ursula from The Little Mermaid was inspired by the iconic drag performer Divine.

    Buena Vista Pictures, New Line Cinema

    Okay, so Divine obviously wasn't a magical sea witch, but the similarities between the two are uncanny. The movie's animators originally created a villain based on Joan Collins, but ultimately decided that a Divine-inspired Ursula worked better.

    3. And Ariel was modelled on the face of Alyssa Milano.

    Jesse Grant / Getty Images

    The actor didn't find out that the mermaid was based on her likeness until after the film was released.

    4. Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars was inspired by Esther Earl, a YouTuber who vlogged about living with cancer.

    20th Century Fox, Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

    Esther was friends with John Green, and he was inspired to write a book dedicated to her after she died at the age of 16.

    5. American Horror Story's Delphine LaLaurie really was a murderous socialite.

    FX, Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

    The extent of her torturous crimes was discovered after her New Orleans house was mysteriously set on fire in 1834: Rescuers found corpses with their eyes gouged, fingernails torn off, and mouths sewn shut, among other horrifying injuries.

    6. And Marie Laveau was a reigning voodoo queen in 19th century New Orleans.

    FX, Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

    Just like Angela Bassett's AHS character, Marie Laveau was one hell of a multitasker – she ran a luxury hairdressing business in the French Quarter while practising magic in the community.

    7. There was a real little girl who inspired Alice in Wonderland.

    Buena Vista Pictures, Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

    Lewis Carroll was a family friend of Alice Liddel, and there are so many links to the little girl in his novels – they're set on her birthday and half-birthday, and there's even a poem that spells out her full name in Through the Looking Glass.

    8. Olivia Pope's career was modelled on a super-successful crisis manager and lawyer.

    ABC, Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images

    Certain aspects of Scandal's most badass character mirror Judy Smith's, but she definitely did not have an affair with the president.

    9. Frank from Catch Me If You Can was very closely based on a real-life con artist.

    DreamWorks Pictures, Kevin Winter / Getty Images

    Just like Leo's character, the real Frank Abagnale Jr. posed as a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer before the age of 19. After escaping police custody twice he served five years in prison, and he's now an FBI consultant.

    10. Piper from Orange Is the New Black really did go to prison for money laundering.

    Netflix, Ilya S. Savenok / Getty Images

    Piper Kerman spent 13 months in prison after being involved in a drug-trafficking ring with her ex-girlfriend Cleary Wolters (she's the inspiration for Alex Vause).

    11. And unfortunately, Twisty the Killer Clown didn't just exist in AHS Freak Show.

    FX, PA Images

    One of the show's most terrifying characters was based on notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who would attend children's charity functions dressed up as a clown.

    12. Hiram Bingham III was an explorer who inspired the character Indiana Jones.

    Paramount Pictures, Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

    Hiram was a Yale professor and adventurer who was most famous for coming across the Machu Picchu ruins. There are loads of similarities between him and Indy, but the biggest nod to Hiram is the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark being set a stone's throw away from the Machu Picchu ruins.

    13. Pocahontas really was the daughter of a Native American chief.

    Buena Vista Pictures, Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

    You probably already know that Pocahontas was a real woman, but you might not know that she really did save colonist John Smith from execution (but she didn't marry him, because she was only a kid at the time).

    14. And Zorro was based on Joaquin Murrieta, otherwise known as Robin Hood of El Dorado.

    Sony Pictures Releasing, Wikimedia Commons / Via commons.wikimedia.org

    The author of Zorro was inspired by Joaquin, a bandit who sought revenge after he was horsewhipped and his wife and brother were killed after being falsely accused of stealing a mule.

    15. Empire's Lucious Lyon was inspired by Jay-Z.

    Fox, Ari Perilstein / Getty Images

    The show's creator revealed that he drew lots of elements for the character from the music mogul.

    16. And just like in the movie, Molly Brown really did survive the sinking of the Titanic.

    20th Century Fox, Wikimedia Commons / Via en.wikipedia.org

    She was remembered for saving countless passengers and being one of the only people on the lifeboats who wanted to turn back to save others.

    17. Miss Piggy was inspired by the iconic Peggy Lee.

    Walt Disney Co, Archive / Getty Images

    The most melodramatic member of the Muppets began life as Miss Piggy Lee (subtle), but the creators changed it after the singer threatened to sue.

    18. And finally, Roxie and Velma from Chicago were modelled on two suspected killers on "Murderess Row" in the '20s.

    Miramax Films, Chicago History Museum.

    Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan allegedly shot men they were having affairs with, but both were acquitted.

    TV and Movies

    Get all the best moments in pop culture & entertainment delivered to your inbox.

    Newsletter signup form