Movies you won’t believe are based on true stories

Who doesn’t love a good movie with a compelling plot line? There’s just something wonderful when you’re watching a flick with great writing and an all-star cast. And sometimes the best ones are based on true stories. Some of the most memorable movies over the past few decades are literally “ripped from the headlines.”

The Godfather

The Corleone family is an interesting collection of colorful characters from the brooding Michael Corleone, who becomes the reluctant head of the family, to his hot-headed brother Sonny, who meets his end at a tollbooth. But you might be surprised that the book-turned-movie with the same name is actually based on the real-life crime boss Frank Costello, who led the Genovese family in New York. Frank was reimagined as Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando in the first movie, and Robert De Niro in flashbacks throughout the second part.

Goodfellas

Americans love a good crime drama, especially about the Italian-American mafia. This time, the plot centers on Henry Hill, a Sicilian-Irish man’s rise and fall in the New York Lucchese crime family between 1955 and 1980. One of the most memorable crimes in the movie is the Lufthansa heist, a real robbery that took place at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Once again, this is a movie adapted from a nonfiction book entitled Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. Goodfellasis considered one of the best gangster drama movies, and it doesn’t hurt that it was directed by Martin Scorsese. It stars some familiar faces in the genre, with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci playing supporting characters to Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill.

Casino

This time, the gangster genre is shifted from New York to Las Vegas. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci return to co-star in a film about the mafia’s influence and fall from grace in the casino world from the 1960s through the 1990s. Like Goodfellas, this movie is based on a book—Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas—and is also written by Nicholas Pileggi. The film is also directed by Martin Scorsese.

De Niro’s Sam “Ace” Rothstein is a Jewish-American gambling handicapper tapped by the Chicago Outlet to run the Tangiers. In real life, De Niro’s character is Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, who worked for the Chicago Outfit managing the Stardust, Fremont, Sundance, and Hacienda casinos in Las Vegas. Joe Pesci’s Nicky Santoro is based on Anthony Spilotro. Even Sharon Stone’s troubled Ginger Rothstein is based on Frank Rosenthal’s real wife, Geri McGee.

American Gangster

It’s not often that Denzel Washington plays an outright bad guy, but when he does, it’s a gripping performance. American Gangster follows the story of real-life Frank Lucas’ rise and fall between the 1960s to his prison release in 1991. Lucas had humble beginnings in La Grange, North Carolina, but eventually rose in prominence after relocating to Harlem in New York City and assuming power.

You might be surprised to find that the real-life Frank Lucas was excited for the release of this film, especially because he was played by Denzel Washington. However, he claims that much of the film was dramatized for cinematic effect. In particular, he states that the child custody court scene is false because he never had any children. Other prosecutors and judges who participated in Lucas’ trials also agree that much of the film was embellished.

American Hustle

The 1970s was a crazy time to be alive in America. American Hustle follows the FBI sting of Abscam (ABSCAM), which nabbed a ring of corrupt politicians and businessmen primarily from, and representing, New Jersey constituents. However, this film is very loosely based on the actual events and even admits in the beginning that only “some of this actually happened” in its disclaimer. Christian Bale and Amy Adams play con artists-turned-informants to Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent. Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence round out the cast as the mayor of Camden and the wife of Christian Bale’s character, respectively.

American Made

If you haven’t learned by now, crime doesn’t pay. Maybe that’s why so many of these biopics follow criminal plot lines. American Made takes a straightforward look at the rise of the DEA’s war on drugs. Tom Cruise plays the very real Barry Seal, a former TWA pilot who’s so deep in debt that while working for the CIA, he thinks running drugs for the Medellin cartel in Colombia would be a good idea. The story’s timeline lines up with the infamous Pablo Escobar’s rise to power in South America during the 1980s.

Honorable Mention: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

In case you think the only biopic films people want to see have to be based on crime, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot will put that concern to rest. Tina Fey departs from her comedic norm in this film based on war correspondents in the Afghan war zone. The movie particularly focuses on the unique experiences of female journalists and is based on the memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker, a journalist.

This surely isn’t a comprehensive list of every biopic film created, but some of these go down in history as must-see movies. Which ones have you seen and which films do you think should have made the list?

MY UMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST

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Prayer in the Father’s Hearing

Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.”  John 11:41

When the Son of God prays, He is mindful and consciously aware of only His Father. God always hears the prayers of His Son, and if the Son of God has been formed in me (see Galatians 4:19) the Father will always hear my prayers. But I must see to it that the Son of God is exhibited in my human flesh. “…your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit…” (1 Corinthians 6:19), that is, your body is the Bethlehem of God’s Son. Is the Son of God being given His opportunity to work in me? Is the direct simplicity of His life being worked out in me exactly as it was worked out in His life while here on earth? When I come into contact with the everyday occurrences of life as an ordinary human being, is the prayer of God’s eternal Son to His Father being prayed in me? Jesus says, “In that day you will ask in My name…” (John 16:26). What day does He mean? He is referring to the day when the Holy Spirit has come to me and made me one with my Lord.

Is the Lord Jesus Christ being abundantly satisfied by your life, or are you exhibiting a walk of spiritual pride before Him? Never let your common sense become so prominent and forceful that it pushes the Son of God to one side. Common sense is a gift that God gave to our human nature— but common sense is not the gift of His Son. Supernatural sense is the gift of His Son, and we should never put our common sense on the throne. The Son always recognizes and identifies with the Father, but common sense has never yet done so and never will. Our ordinary abilities will never worship God unless they are transformed by the indwelling Son of God. We must make sure that our human flesh is kept in perfect submission to Him, allowing Him to work through it moment by moment. Are we living at such a level of human dependence upon Jesus Christ that His life is being exhibited moment by moment in us? From My Utmost for His Highest Updated Edition

Bible in One Year: Psalms 77-78; Romans 10

When God Was Obvious

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Verse:  Exodus 24

Few atheists, but many rebels

Exodus 24:17To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.

Why doesn’t God intervene more? Why doesn’t he directly feed the hungry, heal all the sick and stop all wars? If God really exists, at the very least why doesn’t he make himself more obvious?

People who ask such questions often assume that if God ever did spectacularly reveal himself, all doubts would vanish. Everyone would line up to believe in him.

Astonishing Reactions

Exodus tells of a time when God made himself perfectly obvious. The plagues on Egypt revealed his mighty power. An enormous miracle at the Red Sea provided sensational deliverance. A recurring miracle supplied food for the Israelites every morning. And, if questions about God’s existence arose, doubters needed only to look to the ever-present glory cloud or pillar of fire. It must have been hard to be an atheist in those days.

 

 

Yet every instance of God’s faithfulness seemed to summon up astonishing human unfaithfulness. The same Israelites who had watched God crush a pharaoh quaked at the first sign of Egyptian chariots. Three days after a miraculous escape across the Red Sea they were grumbling to Moses and God about water supplies.

A month or so later, when hunger pangs began to gnaw at them, they bitterly complained, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Exodus 16:3). God responded with a provision of manna (that would continue for 40 years) and quail, but the Israelites were soon grousing about the water supplies again.

The Great Rebellion

Exodus 32 shows the Israelites at their worst. People who had eaten manna for breakfast, who had just solemnly agreed to keep every word of the covenant, who were at that moment standing beside a mountain stormy with the Lord’s presence—those very people proceeded to melt down their gold jewelry and flagrantly flout the first commandment. “Stiff-necked,” God called the Israelites as he burned in anger against them. Only Moses’ eloquent appeal saved their lives.

The history of the Israelites should nail a coffin lid on the notion that impressive displays of God’s power will guarantee faith. (Jesus would later say, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead,” [Luke 16:31].) People who had everyday proof of God demonstrated only one thing: the monotonous consistency of human nature.

The offenders would pay for their acts by wandering 40 years in a desolate wilderness while a new, untainted generation grew up to replace them. But a pattern was beginning to emerge: If the Israelites failed God in the shadow of Mount Sinai, how would they possibly withstand the seduction of new cultures in the promised land? The next generation, too, would fail God, as would all their descendants. The old covenant, as Paul would so convincingly argue in the book of Galatians, succeeded mainly by proving undeniably the need for a new one.

Life Questions

Do you ever have doubts about God’s existence? What would it take to completely convince you?

This devotion is from the NIV Student Bible by Zondervan. Used with permission.