Based on a True Story: Fact and Fantasy in 100 Favorite Movies

Exposing the real stories behind 100 hit reality-based movies, this captivating resource offers interesting facts about some of the most well-respected and much-loved films. For both film buffs and casual moviegoers, this invaluable guide explores Hollywood’s ardent and often uncomfortable relationship with the factual accounts it converts into fantasy. Illuminating films such as A Beautiful Mind, Adaptation, Apollo 13, Black Hawk Down, Catch Me If You Can, Erin Brockovich, The French Connection, The Perfect Storm, and Titanic, this work reveals how Hollywood alters history for movie fans, leaving filmgoers often unable to tell the difference between fact and fiction. A riveting examination, this volume focuses on alterations to the “true story” such as concocted love affairs, annoyingly obvious character motivations, trumped-up endings, bigger explosions, more car crashes, and spontaneous songs, all created for the sake of entertainment.
“When legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Director John Ford’s quote prefaces Based on a True Story: Fact and Fantasy in 100 Favorite Movies, a book that digs into the facts behind 100 movies that were–supposedly–based on true events including popular fare as Hoosiers, Ed Wood, Seabiscuit, and Erin Brokovich. Previous books of this lineage were usually written by historians who looked at every foible of a film. Here, authors Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen come from a more movie-centric position. They know filmmakers must telescope events, create composite characters, and give the Hollywood treatment to other elements to simply be produced and enjoyed. They are movie fans who can praise The French Connection as a grand film with terrific action sequences, but note the true events were far less visceral (leading to the book title’s asterisk “but with more car crashes”). More modern films are examined in these 3-5 page segments with excellent further reading notes including Web sites. The authors also question how truthful a film should be, even great films, praising the accuracy of Ghandi and GoodFellas and delivering harsh blows to Monster, Braveheart, and A Beautiful Mind. Besides the usual chapters of factual films (war, sports, biopics), they also search out films “based” on paranormal incidents that can’t keep the “facts” straight. Mentioned often, and placed at the end of the book, is Oliver Stone’s JFK, the movie that “gave birth to this book.” In one sense, the film “must be the most fact-heavy film in Hollywood history” but the sources materials are so questionable. Perhaps Stone realizes the power of Ford’s quote better than any other Hollywood filmmaker. –Doug Thomas

Nanci Arvizu, Writing and Reviews Editor

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  1. Fun Read but…. “Based on a True Story” is an immensly enjoyable mini-survey of the “real” story behind many of the fact-based films of our time with particular emphasis placed on how much “fact” there is at each films base. The breezily written accounts of these films are always fun to read and, if they don’t “expose” many new factual mis-steps (How many film fans are there who don’t already know how “fictional” the purportedly fact-based “A Beautiful Mind” is?)they do offer intelligent, brief, discussions of…

  2. An antidote for psychic pain at the multiplex As an historian who is also a film buff, I try to be lenient when faced with a movie that bends the facts more than necessary. Anyone who has ever tried to write a screenplay, even one based on a novel much less on a real person’s life or a real historical incident (and I have), knows you do indeed have to adapt a story (or real life) to the medium of film — but there’s a limit, and some flicks are just too much to take. The authors, talented entertainment-journalists, know this, for the most…

  3. A Wonderful Read This book is a non-stop joy to read. Funny, irreverant, intellectual and endlessly fascinating. It’s divided into quick to read chapters so it’s perfect for carting off to the doctor’s office, your son’s baseball game, the line at the DMV, or sneaking in chapters between work assignments at the office, although I pretty much read it to cover to cover in a couple of days. I absolutely loved it.

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