Skip to main content

Art imitating life: 7 great crime movies based on real-life events

These days, television takes inspiration from movies, and vice versa. Many of today’s scripts are drawn from the stories of yesteryear, which further spawn massive reboots and contribute to the revival trend that’s currently sweeping Hollywood. But sometimes, the art of movie-making is inspired by real-life events. This can be beautifully done, with riveting performances, creative adaptations of the story, and plots that are so fantastical, you simply can’t believe they’re real — or at least based on real events. Below are a few of our favorite examples (spoilers included).

Goodfellas (1990)

Goodfellas Thumb

Surprisingly, many aren’t aware that the iconic crime film Goodfellas was based on Nicholas Pileggi’s book Wiseguy, which, in turn, was based on the true story of mob associate Henry Hill. In the Martin Scorsese-directed film, Ray Liotta plays Hill, a wannabe gangster who gets entangled in the dangerous world of drugs, lies, and murder, only to come out on the other end as an FBI informant and eventually an “average nobody” in the witness protection program. The real life Hill was eventually arrested on drug charges, but was reportedly clean from the late ‘80s until his death from heart disease in 2012 at the age of 69.

Related Videos

Foxcatcher (2014)


It’s almost unbelievable the events that unfolded in the 2014 Academy Award-nominated film actually happened. But indeed, eccentric and troubled multimillionaire John du Pont of the E.I. du Pont family — brilliantly portrayed by Steve Carell in the film — shot Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) in cold blood during a psychopathic fit of rage. Not surprisingly, the real du Pont pled not guilty by reason of insanity. He was found guilty, but mentally ill, and thus sentenced to up to 30 years in prison. He died in prison in 2010, however, at the age of 72. Schultz’s wife and children, meanwhile, moved to northern California where they still live today. Schultz’s younger brother Mark (Channing Tatum) also coaches wrestling in Oregon.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Catch Me Thumb

While another Leonardo DiCaprio true crime movie, Wolf of Wall Street (2014), might have just as easily made this list, Catch Me If You Can is a far more intriguing story. Frank Abagnale, who DiCaprio enthusiastically portrays in the film, was a world-class con man who managed to successfully impersonate everyone from an airline pilot to a doctor, forge many a check, and amass plenty of cash via a slew of fraudulent avenues. Ironically, in an interesting twist of events, Abagnale now heads his own security consulting firm in New York, Abagnale & Associates, and advises the FBI on how to create checks that can’t be forged.

Spotlight (2015)


It took home this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture, and while the true story behind Spotlight didn’t actually lead to any convictions, it certainly highlighted some serious crimes. Set in Boston in 2001, the film chronicles how a team of journalists at The Boston Globe uncovered widespread sexual abuse by priests, and those involved in its cover up. Sadly, the outcome of the real story is far worse than just a failure of justice. Cardinal Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston who reportedly knew of the abuse and did nothing to stop it, was promoted to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, which is known as one of the biggest churches in the world. He resigned from his post there at the age of 80 in 2011.

The Big Short (2015)


Another Oscar winner from this year, The Big Short was based on the real-life financial crisis of 2008. But it takes a comedic and educational approach to the unfortunate reality, analyzing it from the viewpoint of a group of individuals who discovered the subprime mortgage collapse was going to happen before it actually did. It also features an A-list cast that includes Christian Bale as eccentric hedge fund manager Michael Burry, Steve Carell as hedge fund manager Mark Baum, Ryan Gosling as trader Jared Vennett, and Brad Pitt as retired securities trader Ben Rickert. If you find the whole subprime mortgage collapse confusing, this film explains it using a few clever analogies that any layperson will be able to understand. However, be prepared for the anger you’ll feel when you realize that no one has truly paid for the crimes they committed.

Zodiac (2007)


Taking a more sinister turn, this thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal and directed by David Fincher is based on Robert Graysmith’s 1986 novel of the same name. It’s about the unsolved case of a serial killer known as “Zodiac,” who would taunt police following each of the murders he committed throughout the late ‘60s and ‘70s in the San Francisco Bay Area. The case remains unsolved to this day, though many theories have been floating around regarding his identity. Several people have even allegedly come forward claiming to be the notorious killer, but no arrests have been made.

Rillington Place (2016)

Rillington Place

It isn’t a movie, but rather a three-part miniseries. The upcoming BBC One drama is based on the gruesome murders committed by John Christie in the 1940s and ‘50s. Christie, who will be played by Tim Roth (The Hateful Eight, Lie to Me), was hanged for the killing of at least eight women over the course of a decade. Most notable, however, was his own wife, his neighbor’s wife, and the latter’s daughter. Sadly, however, justice was not served until long after the husband and father of two of the victims, Timothy Evans (Nico Mirallegro), was wrongly accused of the killings and hanged. The case had a major role in ending capital punishment in Britain.

Editors' Recommendations

England vs Ukraine live stream: Watch Euro Qualifying for free
Massive open air soccer stadium with a game in play.

England will be keen to build on the momentum gained from its victory over Italy in its next match in the Euro 2024 Qualifiers today, against Ukraine. To be able to watch the England vs Ukraine live stream, you're restricted to the one streaming service. It's one of the qualifying games that is exclusively on FuboTV. While many other games are on Fox Sports expanding your options, it's actually a good thing it's only on FuboTV, as it's offering free England vs Ukraine live stream (legally, no strings attached).
Watch the England vs Ukraine live stream on FuboTV

FuboTV is the exclusive home of the England vs Ukraine live stream. That might sound restrictive but there's a FuboTV free trial that makes it all feel better. If you don't want to pay the $75 per month fee to watch FuboTV, you can check it out entirely for free for seven days. Through doing so, you can watch the England vs Ukraine live stream for free, as well as see what else FuboTV has to offer risk-free. It's a great bet for sports fans as it includes Fox Sports 1, NBC and USA Network -- all of which offer more soccer than you'll find the time to watch. It also has the NFL Network for football fans and MLB Network for baseball fans, among many other options. For entertainment, you also have stations like Paramount, Bravo and the Disney Channel.

Read more
Malta vs Italy live stream: Watch the Euro 2024 Qualifying for free
A soccer field.

It's finally time to watch Euro 2024 Qualifying matches. With Italy is the returning champion this round, making this a tough match for Malta. The match is on Sunday, March 26 at 2:45 p.m. ET. The most straightforward (and free) way of watching the game is the Fubo Sports Network. Here's everything you need to know.
Watch the Malta vs Italy live stream on FuboTV

We recommend FuboTV for watching Malta vs Italy this weekend. They own the rights to stream every channels that is broadcasting the European Qualifiers, so FuboTV is your only option for watching all of the matches -- but there's a better reason than that. There is a FuboTV free trial, meaning you can watch the match for free (if you've never been a FuboTV subscriber that is). After your weeklong trial is over, you'll pay $75 per month for over 150 channels on the base plan.

Read more
Luxembourg vs Portugal live stream: Watch free from anywhere
top tech stories 08 04 2017 weekly rewind soccer goal getty8 4 17

Luxembourg and Portugal are squaring off today as part of Group J in the Union of European Football Associates 2024 Championship Qualifiers. Portugal has the first position in the group, and Luxembourg has the third. The game takes place at 2:45 p.m. ET, and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 2 (FS2), which means several of the best live TV streaming services out there will offer it. Check out the list below for our recommendations on how to watch Euro 2024 Qualifying matches, including one service that's free and will help you watch more games than any other service.
Watch the Luxembourg vs Portugal live stream on FuboTV

FuboTV is our recommendation for watching Luxembourg vs Portugal. That's because of two big reasons. The first is that FuboTV has access to all the channels that broadcast UEFA games, including some special Fubo-exclusive matches. If you're planning on watching all of the UEFA Qualifying games, you should get FuboTV. The second reason is that there is a FuboTV free trial, so you can watch the game with no money down.

Read more