Stop me if you've heard this one before: a drug-dealing biker dude gets out of jail. He's reunited with his wife and daughter, but doesn't seem too interested in them. He gets back into the hard stuff, robs drug dealers at gunpoint and comes this close to murdering a hitchhiker with his bare hands. Fast-forward a few minutes, and all of a sudden biker dude has found God, completely reformed himself, and goes to Africa on a church mission. While in Africa, he wonders what's up in war-torn Sudan, and goes on a quick jaunt to check it out. On said jaunt, he decides he must build an orphanage there, pronto. And thus, 'Machine Gun Preacher' is born.
Sounds pretty far-fetched, doesn't it? But the outlandish plot of 'Machine Gun Preacher,' starring Gerard Butler in the title role, is actually based on a true story. Let me reiterate that. Sam Childers is a real guy, which completely discredits my theory that this concept came from one (intoxicated) guy saying "Hey, wouldn't it be crazy if Rambo went to Sudan to protect some orphans? Let's make a movie where that totally happens!"

I know it's a cliché to say that truth is stranger than fiction, but wow. Sam Childers has quite the life story, and he's not even 50 yet! He also has quite the handlebar mustache, which I'm disappointed Gerard Butler didn't sport in the movie.

While I was still reeling from learning that 'Machine Gun Preacher' wasn't based on some guy's acid trip, I got to thinking about other movies that I've been surprised to learn were based on true stories. And that brings me to this week's list: my top five movies that seem too weird to be inspired by true events.

'Catch Me if you Can.' Wait. This guy is real? Even though the real Frank Abagnale Jr. wasn't quite as dreamy as Leonardo DiCaprio, wow. He's the man! No wonder he completely bounced back after his stint in the big house (where he reportedly played mind games with the guards, who were all convinced he was a spy sent to report on prison conditions).

'Psycho.' People had good reason to be haunted by that famous shower scene. Well, OK, that particular scene may have enjoyed the benefit of a little artistic license. But it's still super creepy to think that Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) was inspired by a real-life serial killer with mommy issues (Ed Gein).

'Dead Ringers.' The idea of creepy twin gynecologists is unsettling enough. To find out this was inspired by a true story makes it, well, even creepier. (Shudder. Cringe. Shudder. Cringe.) Before Armie Hammer made the whole 'one-guy-playing-twins' thing cool in 'The Social Network,' Jeremy Irons mastered the role(s) of Elliott and Beverly Mantle, the weird 'Dead Ringers' twins who shared women (Again: shudder, cringe). This is loosely based on the lives of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, twin gynecologists who were both found dead due to drug withdrawal in their New York City apartment.

'The Changeling.' This plot is so far-fetched, the movie probably wouldn't have even been green-lit if it wasn't based on a true story. Can you imagine this being pitched if it were fiction? "Hold on a minute. Her son goes missing. The cops give her some other kid and tell her it's her son. When she doesn't go along with it, they toss her in a mental institution?" Um, yeah. Pretty scary to think this actually happened.

'Unstoppable.' Let me get this straight: runaway trains are real? And to think, I just thought it was just a cheesy metaphor popularized by Soul Asylum. I wonder if the real-life men who neutralized the "unmanned train situation" were as sassy as Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. (Or if the yardmaster was as attractive as Rosario Dawson, for that matter.)

categories The Rundown