Ripped From the Headlines.
"I, Tonya"—based on the crazy story of figure skater Tonya Harding and her ex, who hired someone to break the leg of her greatest rival, Nancy Kerrigan—is far from the only movie to take inspiration from engrossing events that played out in the media. Click through for 15 other prime examples.
"Dog Day Afternoon" (1975)
Director Sidney Lumet's drama about a Brooklyn bank robbery gone wrong was inspired by a real-life heist attempted in 1972 by the ill-fated John Wojtowicz and Salvatore Naturale. The 14-hour hostage ordeal riveted the nation. Life magazine described Wojtowicz, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison, as having "the broken-faced good looks of an Al Pacino or Dustin Hoffman." Lumet then cast the real Pacino in what turned out to be one of his greatest roles.
"Patty Hearst" (1988)
This one could have been called "I, Tania." It's based on the 1974 kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst by the radical Symbionese Liberation Army. The story made international headlines and got even bigger when a rifle-wielding Patty, age 19, joined her captors in staging a San Francisco bank robbery and adopted the nom de guerre "Tania." Natasha Richardson plays the title role.
"All The President's Men" (1976)
Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play real-life Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in this account of their teamwork in exposing the political cover-up behind a 1972 "third-rate burglary" at D.C.'s Watergate Hotel—a story that ends with the downfall of President Richard Nixon. Detailed and dramatic, "All the President's Men" filled journalism schools with aspiring "Woodsteins" by the thousands.
"American Hustle" (2013)
The Abscam scandal of the late 1970s and early '80s involved an FBI sting operation that caught prominent politicians on video exchanging favors for illegal payoffs. This highly entertaining movie version of the tale features Christian Bale as "Irving Rosenfeld," a fictionalized stand-in for real-life con man and FBI informant Mel Weinberg. "Christian Bale, I think, did a great job," said the 89-year-old Weinberg after seeing the film. "That's the way I used to wear my hair, combed over. Good wind comes, it looks like a sailboat."
"Zodiac" portrays the investigative manhunt for the Zodiac Killer, Northern California's infamous serial murderer of the early '70s. Director David Fincher acknowledged that he used the film "All the President's Men" as the template for his own movie in order to chronicle "a reporter determined to get the story at any cost." The cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr.,
Terrence Malick's 1973 breakthrough film, starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, is based on the multi-state murder spree of Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, which took place in 1958. "It was a period piece, and yet of all time," said Sheen. "It was extremely American; it caught the spirit of the people, of the culture, in a way that was immediately identifiable."
"The Bling Ring" (2013)
Directed by Sofia Coppola, this satirical crime drama is based on a 2010 Vanity Fair article about a real-life L.A. burglary ring—eight teens who specialized in robbing homes of celebrities in general and Paris Hilton in particular. Before being arrested in 2009, the ring made off with millions in cash and luxury goods. Gang member Alexis Neiers blogged about their motive: "We are all obsessed ... because we want an inside look into the real life of these celebrities."
"Shattered Glass" (2003)
Journalism examines journalism in this true story of reporter Stephen Glass' fast rise and steep fall at The New Republic magazine in the mid-1990s. He was a newsroom favorite who seemed to have an uncanny knack for discovering lively stories perfectly in tune with the zeitgeist. But it turned out that a large percentage of Glass' reporting was fabricated, which led to his firing and public disgrace. Said the real Glass after viewing the movie, "It was like being on a guided tour of the moments of my life I am most ashamed of."
On November 13, 1974, nuclear chemical technician Karen Silkwood, 28, was killed in a single-car accident on her way to meet a New York Times reporter about alleged wrongdoing at the Oklahoma plutonium plant where she worked. Though Silkwood's whistleblowing later became the subject of a successful civil suit brought by her family, "Silkwood" the movie—starring Meryl Streep—tells the story only up to the time of her suspicious death. The Mike Nichols film was lauded for its factual accuracy.
"River's Edge" (1986)
Screenwriter Neal Jimenez got the idea for his script, which draws on the 1981 murder of California teenager Marcy Renee Conrad, after reading a newspaper article about the crime. Conrad's killer, 16-year-old Anthony Jacques Broussard, bragged about her murder to classmates at their high school and showed off her body to a dozen friends, giving Jimenez his modern teenage theme of murder, aimlessness and despair.
"Boogie Nights" (1997)
Director Paul Thomas Anderson took inspiration from a 1989 Rolling Stone article about '70s porn star John Holmes in writing the screenplay for his film about the adult film industry. The movie stars Mark Wahlberg as a Holmes-like character named "Dirk Diggler." Holmes, who claimed to have had more than 14,000 sexual partners, died of AIDS in 1988.
"The Killing Fields" (1984)
This Oscar-winning film is based on the true experiences of New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran, his Cambodian interpreter and assistant, after the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970. "Photographed mainly on location in Thailand in jungles, paddy fields and cities made to appear ravaged, the movie looks amazingly authentic," said a Times review of the film. "There's not a cheap shot in the entire film."
The 2016 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, "Spotlight" tells the true story of the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests. Focusing on the Globe's "Spotlight" team of investigative reporters, the film aims, in the words of screenwriter Josh Singer, to "tell the story accurately while showing the power of the newsroom."
"Summer of Sam" (1999)
Spike Lee's "Summer of Sam" doesn't give a blow-by-blow factual account of the "Son of Sam" serial killings that terrorized New York City in 1977. Instead, the movie shows how the specter of those murders affected New Yorkers at the time. Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin, who received letters from the killer during that summer, appears as himself in the film.
"Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)
Wes Craven's horror film, in which Freddy Krueger murders his teenage victims in their dreams, was inspired by a 1970s series of Los Angeles Times articles about the unexplained nocturnal deaths of many immigrants from Southeast Asia. But Freddy Krueger had nothing to do with that story. The character grew out of Craven's childhood memory of an elderly man who once stared at him through his bedroom window.
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