Movies That Claimed to Be True Stories but Were Actually Fabricated For Views

By: Lauren Wurth | Published: Oct 14, 2023

Movies based on real stories capture the attention of many viewers. Viewers connect to the narrative more than they would a fictional story and find a kind of joy in learning about history. Furthermore, when viewers believe that what is being represented could happen to them, their interest in the film increases. This makes true-story films especially attractive.

Many movies have been dramatically altered for the purpose of entertainment. These films misrepresent their stories, presenting a Hollywoodized version that is exaggerated and often lacks authenticity. As viewers, it is important to be aware of the changes made and not take these films as absolute truth. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest offenders when it comes to sensationalizing facts.

Fargo Was Fake

For more than 20 years, the enigmatic story of Fargo has baffled viewers – until now. It’s been revealed that many of the plot points and people featured in the iconic 1996 movie were fabricated, stretching truth and reality to unprecedented levels.


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Joel Coen recently revealed in an interview with The Huffington Post that his story was derived from two distinct true events. The first was a man who defrauded GM Motors in the ’60s, and the second was a man who killed his spouse in Connecticut. He then modified the two occurrences to form his fictional tale heavily.

Argo Gave Canada a Raw Deal

This acclaimed historical drama about the Canadian Caper from 1979 highlights the gripping intensity of six US diplomats sheltered in the Canadian ambassador’s home as they were being rescued from Iran.



The movie may have overlooked Canada’s role in the escape, but President Jimmy Carter was quick to point out that 90 percent of the ideas and strategies behind the mission came from Canada. Despite the lack of recognition on screen, it’s clear that Canada played a major role in the success of the mission.

Rudy Was Greatly Exaggerated

The inspiring story of Daniel Ruettiger, whose ambition to become a Notre Dame football player is depicted in the acclaimed sports biopic Rudy, has captivated audiences for decades. This enduring classic film is widely considered one of the greatest sports movies of all time.



In this biography, some portions are slightly exaggerated. Here are two examples. In one, there was a part of the story when Rudy’s teammates tried to build up his courage by laying their jerseys in front of the coach. In another part, the crowd kept chanting Rudy’s name when he was about to enter the field. Both were overly dramatized.

Foxcatcher Was Full of Inaccuracies

In this movie based on a true story, there is a scene where John Du Pont, a financial supporter of a wrestling team, murders wrestler Dave Schultz. That murder, set in motion a days-long search before the billionaire murderer was finally apprehended. Foxcatcher, a movie based on a true story, diverges from the facts, transforming the ending into a work of fiction.



The story focuses on Du Pont’s generous contribution to the wrestling team, Team Foxcatcher. However, it does not mention that his financial support eventually ended, with an annual amount of $400,000. Mark (the real-life brother of Dave) is described in the movie quite differently from his actual career – he worked for many years as a coach at Brigham Young University.

The Blind Side Was One-Sided

The Blind Side depicts Michael Oher’s incredible rise in the National Football League, which he was able to achieve despite his challenging upbringing. The movie centers on his life after being taken in by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, showing how he was able to overcome adversity.


Oher does not accept the idea that he was instructed in football by his adoptive parent Leigh Ann. He had, instead, picked up the game in his earlier years and has been intensely studying it since. To put things in perspective, Oher published an autobiography in 2011 to give his side of the story.


A Beautiful Mind Didn’t Tell the Truth About John Nash

When the film A Beautiful Mind, based on the life of mathematical genius John Nash, was released, it caused a stir of criticism. People questioned why some of the story had been changed, while other events remained factual. In particular, they wondered why the Wheeler Laboratory, which was depicted in the film, had never existed in reality. Despite this discrepancy, one fact was shown accurately – that John Nash eventually became a professor at MIT.

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Nash never had any affiliation with the Department of Defense, and he didn’t ascend the stage to receive his Nobel Prize. These scenes were added for dramatic effect in the film.


Rush Was Unfair to James Hunt and Niki Lauda

Rush allowed people to indulge in their Formula One fantasies on the big screen, although some details were exaggerated for entertainment. Contrary to what was portrayed in the movie, James Hunt and Niki Lauda had a friendly relationship, even living together for a time.

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Hunt and Lauda were close friends who would often hit the town for some fun. Contrary to how it was portrayed in the movie, Hunt never laid a hand on a reporter. While this added to the film’s captivating drama, the events never actually happened.


The Walk Exaggerated Philippe Petit’s Story

Instead of simply completing a tightrope walk between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, Philippe Petit did it an incredible eight times and even put on a show for the cheering crowd below. Contrary to his biopic, this legendary daredevil didn’t fall into a lake during his practice sessions, despite what the movie might have portrayed.


The movie didn’t give viewers the full story; Petit had fallen and hurt himself while practicing at a circus. It was communicated to the audience that he only made one trip to New York before his Twin Tower walk, but in reality, he took three journeys there with his team of supporters.


"The Pursuit of Happiness" Didn’t Have to Be so Bleak

At the end of the movie, the audience walked out of theaters with a warm feeling of positivity and hope, satisfied with Chris Gardner’s success. His rags-to-riches story is indeed true, but Gardner wasn’t as poor as the film showed. He also didn’t work for free with Dean Witter. He was actually paid $1,000 monthly for ten months.


It is true that he sold medical supplies at one point, but he didn’t fall rock bottom selling DEXA scanners. The final inaccuracy surrounds his son’s age – the kid was only two years old when his dad was struggling, not five (as shown in the movie). 


"Good Morning Vietnam" Distorted Adrian Cronauer’s Personality

Adrian Cronauer, the inspiration for the film Good Morning Vietnam, could only wish he was as talented and witty as the radio personality portrayed by Robin Williams. If he had been as kooky as the character Williams portrayed, he might have been kicked out of the role (as was portrayed in the film). 


The truth was that Cronauer left Vietnam when his tour was officially completed. He was never kicked out, as the film suggests. Other experiences shown in the movie were also made up to make it more interesting.


"21" Wasn’t Honest About the Blackjack Team

Chances are you wouldn’t recognize the real blackjack team that inspired the movie 21 if you saw them. That’s because the real team members are Asian. Adding to the fiction is the fact that they were not led by an MIT professor. Instead, the group was founded by John Chang, J.P. Masser, and Bill Kaplan.


It’s true that many of their ingenious strategies earned them lots of money at the expense of casinos, but many things portrayed in the film never occurred, such as Jeff Ma getting beat up in the restroom. He also never developed a romantic relationship with a teammate.


"Cinderella Man" Unfairly Vilified Max Baer

James J. Braddock’s unlikely victory over Max Baer in 1935 earned him the nickname “Cinderella Man.” His biopic shared the same title. Although nominated three times for an Academy Award, the film enraged Baer’s family over their patriarch’s vilification. 


The truth is that Baer was quite affected by his opponent’s death. He even raised funds for Frankie Campbell’s family. When Ernie Schaaf died, it wasn’t true that he boasted about causing his demise in the ring. Max Baer wasn’t the evil man Hollywood portrayed him to be.


" The Fighter" Was Not a Full-Fledged Boxing Champion

Micky Ward beat Shea Neary by TKO in 2000 and was later celebrated in The Fighter as a world boxing champion. The truth is that the title he won from the World Boxing Union as a junior welterweight was not considered a full-fledged title.


One of Ward’s sisters also walked out of the premier after it showed their family in a bad light. None of them were as despicable as the film depicted them to be. Can you imagine seeing a film about a family member’s life and it depicts you as being greedy and selfish?


"The Fourth Kind" Was Deceptive in Its “Truth” Claims

It’s not every day that we hear about multiple abductions implicating the involvement of UFOs, so it’s understandable that such a film would attract a lot of people seeking answers. Apparently, these abduction stories have become a nuisance to town officials in Nome, Alaska, where they supposedly took place.


Nome Mayor Denise Michels stated that the disappearances are attributed to the excessive consumption of alcohol and the area’s extreme weather. There was never an alien abduction involved despite the show’s “documentary footage” of it. 


Undisclosed Tales About Dr. Dre in "Straight Outta Compton"

The biographical story about rap group N.W.A. is missing some unsavory details concerning Dr. Dre. Although the latter has issued a general apology about the matter, his violent acts against TV host Dee Barnes were glaringly left out in the story. She was assaulted by Dr. Dre in 1990 for hosting a segment that concerned Ice Cube’s bitter exit from the group.


Omitted too was his mistreatment of his ex-girlfriend Michelle. Director Gary Gray downplayed this and other unsavory events involving the surviving members of the group, saying he considered these things to be irrelevant to the picture.


Hugh Glass Was Misrepresented in "The Revenant"

There is no evidence to back up the idea that frontiersman Hugh Glass had a relationship with a Pawnee woman. He didn’t have a son either, although the movie is driven by his desire to seek revenge for his son’s murder.


The film climaxes when Glass meets John Fitzgerald, whom he pursued after he was left to die in the forest. In reality, he’d let go of his vengeful goal after learning that Fitzgerald had enlisted in the army. He did survive a fight with a bear, though, among other difficulties. So, much of the film is historically accurate.


Conflicting Stories About Tom and Eileen Lonergan’s Deaths in "Open Water"

When you have two divers accidentally left behind in the ocean, there is so much creative space to make anything up, and this is what happened in the film Open Water. The movie depicts what Tom and Eileen Lonergan went through near the Great Barrier Reef. 


Subsequent discoveries suggest that the couple was never attacked by sharks. Also, a dive slate with Tom’s writing, dated the next day, suggests that they survived longer than the movie depicted. Their gears and dive suits were later on discovered, and they did not bear any damage related to a shark attack. It’s likely that they drowned after waiting so long for help that never came. 


"The Perfect Storm" Wasn’t a Perfect Story

What actually happened to the fishing vessel Andrea Gail when it crashed into a combination of a hurricane and two raging weather fronts? Although clearly depicted in The Perfect Storm, the events will always be a mystery. The story was fictionalized by Sebastian Junger, and his book was later turned into the film of the same name.


No one really knows the details, except that the boat did indeed get devoured by the deep. It was also distressing to Captain Tyne’s family that he was painted as a greedy person because he was locally known for his generosity.


The Truth About the Scams of "Catch Me if You Can"

Film director Steven Spielberg swore that every scam in this movie was pulled off in real life by con man Frank Abagnale, who began swindling people at the age of fifteen. But Abagnale himself denies he ever posed as a replacement French teacher. This was the first scam shown in the film.


He also never called up Carl Hanratty, an FBI agent played by Tom Hanks, on Christmas Eve. It just doesn’t make sense. The Hanratty character wasn’t real either. The personality was the result of a blending of multiple FBI agents who spent time trying to track down Abagnale. 


Israel’s Secret Revenge in "Munich"

The Israeli government seeks revenge for the killing of its athletes during the 1972 Summer Olympics by sending out a team led by Avner Kaufman code-named Operation: Wrath of God. Contrary to the events shown in the film Munich, the targeting of Black September was actually done by several hit squads, and not just by Kaufman’s. 


The operation had several mishaps too, but the movie skips mentioning all this collateral damage. To avoid responsibility for the operation, Avner Kaufman (played by Eric Bana) was made to resign from Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency) before executing their revenge plot.


Ron Woodroof Was Misrepresented in "Dallas Buyers' Club"

In the movie, rodeo cowboy Ron Woodroof smuggles unapproved medicines to treat himself and others suffering from AIDS, leading to the creation of the Dallas Buyers’ Club. The real Woodroof was an electrician and merely a fan of the rodeo. Contrary to his fictionalized character’s misogynistic and homophobic nature, the real Ron was never known to be that way.


The characters Eve Sak (his sympathetic doctor friend) and Rayon (a business associate) have no real-life equivalents. They were crafted, just as some aspects of his personality, for dramatic effect.


"Pain and Gain" Padded Out the Sun Gym Gang

In real life, a bunch of bodybuilders, all members of the Sun Gym Gang, dressed up as ninjas in one of their multiple attempts to kidnap a businessman (Marc Schiller). This was the basis of the movie Pain and Gain, but it was filled with many fictional characters – as if the real deal wasn’t funny enough!


Dwayne Johnson plays the role of Paul Doyle, who’s a compound of three people. The victims’ and the kidnappers’ personalities were made to fit into the narrative, bumbling mistakes and all. The movie ends with a fictional pursuit to the Bahamas with gang leader Daniel Lugo losing a toe.


A Violent Jimi Hendrix

Jimi: All Is By My Side, a biopic released in 2013, failed to get the American musician’s fans on its side due to its many inaccuracies. First off, the rock legend wasn’t featured in the film playing his original songs.


That didn’t go down well with music lovers and Hendrix die-hards. To make things worse, he was portrayed as an abusive boyfriend to Kathy Etchingham, who denied being smacked in the head with a payphone and described the rock legend as a gentle person.


Intoxicated Whip Whitaker in "Flight"

Whip Whitaker, a boozy pilot, prevents his aircraft from crashing by deftly maneuvering the aircraft upside-down. He saved all the passengers who couldn’t thank him enough. They would thank him more if they could, except Whip doesn’t exist. 


Flight was loosely based on Alaska Airlines Flight 261’s crash. Records do reveal that its pilot courageously rolled the aircraft as a last-ditch effort to prevent a nosedive. However, his effort failed, and the crew and all the passengers died in the crash.


A Suspect Frank Hopkins in "Hidalgo"

Frank T. Hidalgo’s autobiography tells of his incredible experiences as an endurance rider in America and describes his friendship with Buffalo Bill and Black Elk. The movie Hidalgo recounts his challenges competing against Bedouins in the Ocean of Fire. It has beautiful scenes and sweeping landscapes – an ideal match for what critics describe as Hopkins’ delusions.


According to a group of equestrians, criminologists, curators, and other experts, there is no way these tales are autobiographical. There is no existing record that says he was a member of the cavalry, and the Ocean of Fire was probably a product of his inventive mind.


The Mis-telling of Pocahontas' Story

The Disney animated classic, Pocahontas doesn’t go out of its way to claim that it’s an authentic retelling of history; however, the film is riddled with historical inaccuracies. In reality, Pocahontas was the nickname given to the girl named Matoaka. In 1607 when the Virginia Company and John Smith arrived, Matoaka would have only been a 10 or 11 year old child.


The sequel of the film attempts to to unwrite the romantic inaccuracies between Pocahontas and John Smith by introducing Pocahontas’ true husband, John Rolfe. While the character of Pocahontas is a beloved character known for her bravery, the film overall depicts the historical events through a Western lens and thus could use a new perspective by today’s standards.


"Cool Runnings" Isn't A Cinderella Story

For an inspiring Olympic underdog story, look no further than 1993’s Cool Runnings. This film depicts the story of the Jamaican bobsled team of 1988 to a dramatized extent. For example, many of the characters are fictionalized, including Coach Irv. Furthermore, the team itself wasn’t made up of four sprinters from Jamaica. Instead, two Americans selected army recruits in an attempt to put together a bobsled team.


To increase the drama and tension within the film, Cool Runnings made it seem as though the team were outcasts when in fact they were openly welcomed by other athletes and even borrowed some equipment from their opposing teams. Ultimately to create the charming tale, a few fabrications had to happen.


The Truth Behind "The Greatest Showman"

The Greatest Showman became an instant hit with it’s catchy musical numbers and star-studded lineup including Hugh Jackman, Zack Effron, and Zendaya. The film is based on the creation of the Barnum & Bailey Circus and follows the life of P.T. Barnum. However, while the film puts Barnum in a positive light as a supporter of the downtrodden, in real life he was known to expl0it marginalized people for profits.


The romantic relationship that blossoms between Zack Effron and Zendaya’s characters is also fabricated. Their characters serve to made Barnum appear supportive and racially tolerant when in actuality he was known to exploit racial stereotypes for money. While the film sugarcoats history, turning it into a magical and inspirational musical, the true story behind the film is much darker and despicable.


Alan Turing's Character in "The Imitation Game"

The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing during World War II as he sets out to crack the Enigma Code of the Germans. However, the true story differs from what you see on screen. The film enjoys giving Turing all the credit for the code-breaking success when in actuality Polish scientists greatly assisted in the feat by cracking earlier codes and helping Alan Turing with his code-breaking machine.


The film also creates an untrue storyline involving Turning discovering a Soviet spy within his team. In the film, he ends up covering for the spy as the spy threatens to tell the world of Turing’s homosexuality, which was a crime at the time. This is however untrue as covering for a spy would be considered treason, a much worse crime.


"Lawrence of Arabia" Is Based On a Biased Memoir

The critically acclaimed classic film, Lawrence of Arabia may be well-known but wasn’t well-researched. For starters, the depiction of Arabs and Arabs soldiers was largely misrepresented. The film depicts them as tribal and undisciplined when in actuality they were considered classy, educated, and well-trained at the time.


Furthermore, Lawrence as a character is depicted as larger than life. He reaps the benefit of being portrayed as a pivotal historical figure largely due to his memoir The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which the film is based on. In actuality, Lawrence was just a singular figure out of many intelligence officers who also were pivotal to the story. Lawrence was simply the one to write the book, allowing him room to inflate his character and show himself in the best light.