19 FACTS ABOUT FILMS PARTLY INSPIRED NY TRUE STORIES
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.
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.
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."
He continued, saying, "A parachutist tossed bags of cocaine out of a Cessna, and a black bear got into it. The only other true aspect of the film is the ambulance chase. That's exactly how it happened." He joked, "No, but really after the first few scenes, everything is made up. We wanted to tell the story about what would happen if the bear had lived. Elizabeth [Banks] and I spoke at length with the other producers about making this, at least in part, a redemptive story for the bear. But mostly, we just tried to make an entertaining movie."
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.
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.
Cocaine Bear screenwriter Jimmy Warden told BuzzFeed, "The process [of writing] was more fun than anything else. After I wrote the script, I sent it to a friend of mine named Brian Duffield, who is a producer on the film. We had some fun going back and forth, then he shared it with the producers at Lord Miller. Taking their notes and implementing them didn't feel like 'work' as it often does. It was a blast just trying to one-up each other. Once we sold the script and Liz Banks came on board, we were all like kids who just stole a candy bar from a 7-Eleven. Like, 'Just run, don't look back. … Maybe they won't notice they just greenlit a film about a bear doing coke and mauling people in the woods.' It felt like we got away with something, which is a fun way to make a movie. But obviously, Universal knew exactly what this movie was because they're awesome. And they backed it with excitement from the very beginning."
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.
"One of the scenes in Good Will Hunting is actually based on something that happened to my brother Kyle," Damon said. "He was visiting a physicist we knew at M.I.T., and he was walking down the Infinite Corridor. He saw those blackboards that line the halls. So, my brother, who is an artist, picked up some chalk and wrote an incredibly elaborate, totally fake version of an equation. And it was so cool and completely insane that no one erased it for months. This is a true story."
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.
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.
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."
In Framing Hitchcock: Selected Essays from the Hitchcock Annual, Hitchcock is quoted as saying: "I used two news stories from the British press. One was the Patrick Mahon case, and the other was the case of Dr. Crippen. In the Mahon case, the man killed a girl in a bungalow on the seafront of Southern England. He cut up the body and threw it, piece by piece, out of a train window. But he didn't know what to do with the head, and that's where I got the idea of having them look for the victim's head in Rear Window."
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.
Winchester executive producer and Sobey Road Entertainment Co-Founder Andrew Trapani spoke exclusively to BuzzFeed: "There is precious little documented fact, yet tremendous mythology perpetuated about Sarah Winchester and the house she endlessly built in San Jose," he says. "Winchester was never conceived as a biopic; we're shaping her scattered story to fit the convention of a supernatural thriller whilst capturing a sense of her spirit (if you will). Her actions remain an enigma; no one really knows why she did what she did. Aside from hopefully producing a suspenseful and entertaining thriller, we endeavored to answer the most enduring question about Sarah Winchester: Why? The facts are tragic: the loss of a young child and spouse, inheriting a great fortune from the sale of an instrument of death — the Winchester repeating rifle. Whatever her motivations or mental state, Sarah was a brilliant woman, and the house was ahead of its time: the house of tomorrow. We also know she was educated, well-read, and something of a musician. By the age of 12, she was fluent in Latin, Spanish, French, and Italian."
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."
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.
"Sarah oversaw all construction and drew her own schematics, never employing a contractor," stated Andrew Trapani to BuzzFeed. "Nearly a century before the Bay Area became known as the birthplace of computer technology, Sarah's home was futuristic. She is credited with several firsts: the annunciator (indoor intercom), porcelain laundry basins, and indoor plumbing, none of which were commonplace. It's also believed she was the first builder to use wool as insulation. Casting the inimitable Dame Helen Mirren to occupy the role of Sarah Winchester is perhaps the greatest tribute to this truly unique and mysterious woman."
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.
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.
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.
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. Hill became an FBI informant, Burke died serving his time in Wende Correctional Facility, and DeSimone disappeared on January 14, 1979.
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.
In the summer of 1916, several shark attacks took place along the coast of New Jersey in less than two weeks — between July 1 and 12. Five victims (four of whom died) fell prey to the attacks while swimming just before sundown. In each incident, cries resounded up and down the beaches, bystanders stunned as fins thrashed and blood reddened the water. Pandemonium ensued in the most familiar way. Armed motorboats patrolled the inlets. Frightened citizens led shark-hunting escapades, prepared to use dynamite to blow up the man-eating sea monster responsible for terrorizing their community. The events are mentioned in the Jaws film and novel. Fast-forward to 2001; a New York Times article cited the tragic 1916 attacks as the inspiration for Jaws, only to be retracted three days later once Benchley denied the claims. Benchley, who died in 2006, maintained the idea came from "an item in a newspaper about a fisherman who harpooned a 4,500-pound great white shark off Long Island."
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.
Despite Benchley and Mundus later embarking on shark fishing trips together, Benchley first acknowledged — and then denied — Mundus as inspiring his character, just as he did with the Jersey Shore attacks. But, undeniably, the similarities between them all are striking. Where the truth lies is probably somewhere in between.
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.