15 Lesser-Known Dramas That Are Based on True Stories
It doesn't get more real than dramas based on actual events.
Here are some of the lesser-known films based on true stories, often stranger and more compelling than fiction.
1. An American Crime (2007)
A heartbreaking drama about Sylvia Likens, a 16-year-old girl left in the care of a single mother named Gertrude Baniszewski in 1965 Indianapolis. Sylvia and her sister Jenny are initially fine, but as money troubles arise, Gertrude's treatment takes a dark turn. Sylvia becomes a scapegoat for Gertrude's frustrations, getting confined to the basement and undergoing all sorts of physical and emotional torture.
2. The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)
This drama follows the notorious 1971 psychological study conducted by Dr. Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University. Students are divided into guards and prisoners in a simulated prison environment. Initially a bit awkward and clumsy, the situation quickly escalates into downright abuse, with guards tormenting prisoners as they embrace their authoritarian roles.
3. Boys Don't Cry (1999)
The movie follows the story of Brandon Teena, a transgender man in rural Nebraska, who initially finds love and friendship but ends up a victim of hate crimes. Brandon moves to a new town to start afresh and falls in love with Lana. Life is good until his secret is discovered. The once-welcoming community turns hostile, leading to violent consequences. The story pulls no punches in showing how brutal ignorance can be.
4. The Bling Ring (2013)
A group of teenagers in Calabasas, led by the savvy Rebecca, exploit the internet to track when celebrities will be out of town. And then what? They break into the stars' houses and live it up. Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan—you name it, they rob it. It's a wild ride until they get caught red-handed. A stylish caper based on an outrageous string of true events, this film made a decent $20 million at the box office.
5. Christine (2016)
Set in the 1970s, this drama revolves around Christine Chubbuck, a TV news reporter in Sarasota, Florida. Christine is intensely committed to her job but struggles with depression and a lack of sensational news stories to cover. She is romantically interested in the lead anchor, George, but her advances are not reciprocated. Meanwhile, her boss pressures her for juicier stories to boost ratings. It's a slow spiral into despair, marked by Christine buying a gun "for a story".
6. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
It's the real-life tale of Frank Abagnale, one of the most successful con artists in U.S. history. At the tender age of 17, Frank poses as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and even a lawyer, all while cashing $2.5 million in forged checks. Hot on his tail is FBI Agent Carl Hanratty, who can't help but admire Frank's ingenuity even as he vows to catch him.
7. Alpha Dog (2006)
This crime drama tells the story of Johnny Truelove, a drug dealer who kidnaps the younger brother of a man who owes him money. Things spiral out of control pretty quickly. The kid, Zack, initially enjoys the 'vacation' from his troubled home, partying and even getting a little romantic action. But as time passes, the crew starts to freak out about the legal consequences, leading to a grim end for Zack.
8. Blow (2001)
This movie is about George Jung, a regular small-town guy who ends up becoming the American cocaine kingpin of the late 20th century. He starts with marijuana, making easy money and living the high life. Then he levels up to cocaine, partnering with the infamous Pablo Escobar. It's all glitz and glamour until things inevitably fall apart, destroying relationships and lives.
9. My Friend Dahmer (2017)
It's a look at the high school life of Jeffrey Dahmer, one of America's most infamous serial killers. Before the gruesome crimes, Dahmer is an awkward teenager struggling with his identity and family issues. He's both relatable and eerie, collecting roadkill and dissolving them in acid as a hobby. It's chilling precisely because it's so everyday.
10. Remember the Titans (2000)
Set in 1971, this drama focuses on the racial integration of the T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. African-American Coach Herman Boone takes the reins, much to the chagrin of the existing white players and coaches. The movie centers on their grueling training camp, where racial tensions boil over before giving way to hard-won unity. It's a heartwarming watch that grossed $136.7 million at the box office.
11. Bernie (2011)
This dark comedy-drama revolves around Bernie Tiede, a lovable mortician in a small Texas town. Bernie befriends Marjorie Nugent, a wealthy widow who's not particularly liked by the community. They become inseparable until Marjorie's increasingly controlling behavior becomes too much for Bernie. One day, Bernie snaps and kills her. The shocker? The town is so enamored with Bernie that they can't believe he's guilty.
12. Donnie Brasco (1997)
This film stars Johnny Depp as Joe Pistone, an FBI agent who goes undercover as Donnie Brasco to infiltrate the Mafia. He gets in deep, forming a bond with aging hitman Lefty, played by Al Pacino. As Joe becomes more engrossed in the Mafia lifestyle, the line between his two identities blurs.
13. The Whistleblower (2010)
This movie follows Kathryn Bolkovac, a U.N. peacekeeper who exposes a human trafficking operation in post-war Bosnia. Kathryn takes a job expecting to help rebuild a war-torn country, but what she finds is a circle of corruption and abuse, even among her colleagues.
14. Capote (2005)
This one follows the making of Truman Capote's nonfiction masterpiece, In Cold Blood. Capote travels to Kansas to investigate the murder of a family, developing a complex relationship with one of the killers, Perry Smith. Capote becomes emotionally involved but also manipulates Perry to get his story.
15. The Act of Killing (2012)
This documentary-style drama dives into the minds of former Indonesian death squad leaders as they reenact their crimes. Anwar Congo, the main focus, is cheerful and unrepentant as he describes and stages his violent acts. But as he plays the victim in one scene, something cracks.