19 Facts About Films That You'll Be Surprised To Find Out Are Inspired By (Or Fully Based On) True Stories

    The real-life bear, whose story is the basis for Cocaine Bear, was named "Pablo Eskobear," and he weighed only 175 pounds.

    1. First, the Academy Award-winning Chicago with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, and Richard Gere follows the story of two murderers who become celebrities in the 1920s, using their notoriety to gain fame and fortune. Maurine Dallas Watkins, who wrote the 1926 play, was a reporter covering the 1924 trials of Beulah Annan and Belva Gaertner. Watkins loosely based the play on those experiences.

    Catherine Zera-Jones in "Chicago"

    2. 50 First Dates may seem like the most unlikely romantic comedy partly based in reality. Still, the love story between Henry (Adam Sandler) and Lucy (Drew Barrymore) in a Hawaiian paradise arises from a condition Michelle Philpots lives with. In 1985, Michelle suffered head trauma in a motorcycle crash and another in 1990, resulting in severe amnesia. She is known as the "Woman with 24-Hour Memory," which doesn't go beyond 1994, and she has a husband named Ian. Amazingly, Michelle and Ian have been married since 1997.

    Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in "50 First Dates"

    3. Roots of Cocaine Bear's bizarre plot trail back to drug smuggler Andrew Thornton's plane in 1985. It all started with Thornton, leader of drug smuggling ring "The Company," who fell to his death from the plane. Cocaine Bear screenwriter Jimmy Warden told BuzzFeed, "The first five minutes of the movie are true."

    Black bear in "Cocaine Bear"

    4. The real-life bear, whose story is the basis for Cocaine Bear, was named Pablo Eskobear, who weighed only 175 pounds. He was taxidermied and remains in the "Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall" to this day.

    Pablo Eskobear, the real Cocaine Bear

    5. And, while a bag of cocaine did in fact drop down to Georgia's Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, where a bear devours the contents, as Hollywood tends to stretch the truth, only a fraction of Cocaine Bear is 100% factual.

    Screenshot from "Cocaine Bear"

    6. Although Good Will Hunting is widely fictional, one of the key scenes — an integral part of the screenplay's narrative — was inspired by Matt Damon's brother. Damon spoke about the incident to M.I.T. students at their graduation ceremony in 2016.

    Matt Damon drawing an equation in "Good Will Hunting"

    7. It’s been over 20 years since the much-adored Almost Famous hit theaters. The coming-of-age film about an aspiring journalist (Patrick Fugit) going on tour with a rock band was inspired by writer/director Cameron Crowe’s teenage years. Kate Hudson’s character, lead groupie Penny Lane, came from a real woman named Pennie Ann Trumbull.

    Kate Hudson in "Almost Famous"

    8. Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window is partially based in reality alongside the short story "It Had to Be Murder" by Cornell Woolrich. Hitchcock added his own touch, by drawing inspiration from two real-life murders. The first murder involves Patrick Mahon — aka "The Bungalow Murderer" — who killed and dismembered his mistress, Emily Kaye, in England at The Crumbles beach spot.

    "Rear Window" poster

    9. The second real-life murder story Hitchcock drew inspiration from was that of Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, who was accused of poisoning his wife, Cora, a music hall singer known as Belle Elmore, with the sleeping agent Scopolamine. The drug is otherwise known as "Devil’s Breath."

    Alfred Hitchcock

    10. The Spierig Brothers' spellbinding supernatural horror film, Winchester, surpassed all expectations at the box office, grossing $46 million against a budget of $3.5 million. Before its theatrical release, "Inspired by True Events" flashed among the title cards. Academy Award-winner Helen Mirren plays Sarah Winchester, widowed heiress to firearm magnate William Wirt Winchester, and the movie is partially based in fact and details the real Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.

    Helen Mirren in "Winchester"

    11. And in Winchester, William Wirt Winchester, Sarah's husband, is obviously inspired by the real person. As treasurer of Winchester Repeating Arms, he spearheaded the enormous firearms manufacturing company. Founded by Oliver Winchester in 1866, they produced lever-action repeating rifles, including the famous Model 1873, also known as "The Gun That Won the West."

    Winchester house

    12. In Winchester, ghosts of people killed by the guns haunt Sarah, so she builds a sprawling Victorian mansion to trap them. The estate — always under construction and later coined by Harry Houdini as the "Winchester Mystery House" — really stood seven stories tall with 200 rooms in San Jose, built like a winding, never-ending labyrinth maze.

    Helen Mirren in "Winchester"

    13. Cheaper by the Dozen, which has been adapted into several movies in 1950, 2003, and more recently 2022, was actually inspired by a real family. The story is based on the Gilbreth family, with siblings Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey penning the original novel.

    The family in "Cheaper by the Dozen"

    14. The Nicolas Cage film It Could Happen to You, which follows police officer Charlie Lang (Cage), who agrees to share his lottery ticket winnings with a waitress (Bridget Fonda) instead of tipping her, is based on a true story. In reality, Robert Cunningham, a cop, married Phyllis Penzo, a waitress, after they split a $6 million New York State lottery prize.

    Screenshot from "It Could Happen to You"

    15. Goodfellas has become a groundbreaking staple in cinematic history, thanks to the brilliant direction by Martin Scorsese. The complex day-to-day operations of the Italian-American mafia in New York City are based on Nicholas Pileggi's non-fiction book, Wiseguy.

    "GoodFellas" scene

    16. In fact, most of the characters in Goodfellas are based on real gangsters, including protagonist Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), who became associated with the Lucchese crime family in the 1950s. Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) is an extension of James Burke, an associate of the family. Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) emanated from Tommy DeSimone, who was responsible for the Air France robbery.

    Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta in "GoodFellas"

    17. Steven Spielberg's terrifying work of genius defined the summer blockbuster forever in June 1975. Most viewers assume Jaws stems from Peter Benchley's bestselling novel, released to worldwide acclaim a year prior. But there are existing theories about where the inspiration came from, with a few conflicting accounts — including from Benchley himself. The first theory: the Jersey Shore attacks of 1916.

    Spielberg directing "Jaws"

    18. Also in Jaws, that fisherman, Frank Mundus, became the basis for Quint, the gruff, raspy-voiced, pirate-like shark hunter Robert Shaw played in the film — both spitting images of one another.

    Robert Shaw in "Jaws"

    19. And finally, in the 1960s, 18-year-old Susanna (Winona Ryder) spends over a year in a psychiatric hospital following a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. It's often overlooked that Girl, Interrupted is based on Susanna Kaysen's memoir of the same name.

    Wynona Ryder in "Girl, Interrupted"