Often times, truth truly is stranger than fiction. And that's why so many great thrillers and crime dramas are based (at east in part) on actual events. Here are 14 classics that are either directly pulled from real incidents or were inspired by actual crimes.
'The Wrong Man' (1956)
Alfred Hitchcock kwasn't generally known for drawing from real-life events for his films, which makes this drama all the more noteworthy. Henry Fonda stars as a struggling musician mistaken for an armed robber. The film is based on Maxwell Anderson's book "The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero."
"Badlands" marked the debut of legendary director Terrence Malick, and it's still widely regarded as one of Malick's very best films. But what wasn't apparent at the time is that "Badlands" is heavily inspired by real events. In this case, Martin Sheen's charismatic but dangerous Kit Carruthers is actually based on Charles Starkweather, a man who committed a series of murders with his girlfriend in 1958.
'Dog Day Afternoon' (1975)
Most actors would kill for the hot streak Al Pacino enjoyed in the 1970's. "Dog Day Afternoon" features Pacino's most compelling role this side of Michael Corleone, in part because the character Sonny Wortzik draws so heavily from real life. The film was heavily inspried by a LIFE Magazine article titled "The Boys in the Bank" which detailed a similar robbery in 1972.
'The Untouchables' (1987)
Unlike some of the films on this list, "The Untouchables" flaunts the fact that it's based on a true story. It details the painstaking efforts by Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and his fellow Bureau of Prohibition agents to take down Al Capone (Robert De Niro), one of the most notorious gangsters of all time.
'Silence of the Lambs' (1991)
This 1991 crime thriller is best known for making Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter into an iconic Hollywood villain. But while the film itself isn't based on any particular crime, both Lecter and Ted Levine's character Buffalo Bill are inspired by several real-life serial killers. For example, Buffalo Bill shared Ed Gein's compulsion to fashion skin-suits out of his victims and Ted Bundy's habit of luring victims into his vehicle. As for Lecter, it's believed that a Mexican doctor named Alfredo Ballí Treviño was writer Thomas Harris' primary source of inspiration.
"Casino" shares a lot in common with Martin Scorsese's other classic crime '90s movie, "Goodfellas." That includes being based on a nonfiction book by author Nicholas Pileggi. In "Casino's" case, it draws from the book "Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas" and the story of mobsters Lefty Rosenthal and Tony Spilotro.
'Summer of Sam' (1999)
"Summer of Sam" draws from the infamous "Son of Sam" murders that unfolded over the course of 1977, though the film focuses less on killer David Berkowitz than it does on a fictional group of Bronx residents. The film is also notable for examining other major events from 1977, including the infamous New York Blackout.
'From Hell' (2001)
We may never know the true identity of infamous serial murderer Jack the Ripper, but "From Hell" offers one compelling theory behind his Victorian London killing spree. Based on Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's graphic novel, "From Hell" stars Johnny Depp as a drug-addled inspector who discovers just how deep the Ripper's connection to the British monarchy truly goes.
'Catch Me If You Can' (2002)
"Catch Me If You Can" may be too lighthearted a film to truly qualify as a thriller, but it certainly knows how to keep viewers invested in the strange saga of con artist Frank Abagnale. That fact that the whole film is based on real events and that the real Abagnale really did manage to pass himself off as a surgeon and an airline pilot while cashing millions of dollars of fake checks makes the film that much more engrossing.
Director Steven Spielberg seemed especially fascinated with historical dramas and true crime in the early 2000's. This film is based on George Jonas' book "Vengeance," which details the Israeli government's Operation Wrath of God, a massive retaliation against the Palestine Liberation Organization following the 1972 terror attacks at the Summer Olympics.
'The Departed' (2006)
While on one hand "The Departed" is basically an Americanized remake of 2002's "Infernal Affairs," it also draws inspiration from one of the most notorious Boston criminals who ever lived. Jack Nicholson's Frank Costello is clearly based on Whitey Bulger, while Matt Damon's crooked cop Colin Sullivan is inspired by Bulger's childhood friend/FBI agent John Connolly.
'American Gangster' (2007)
Denzel Washington gave us one of his more compelling villains in the form of heroin smuggler Frank Lucas. And it all actually happened. "American Gangster" is adapted from a New York magazine article called "The Return of Superfly" about Lucas' criminal empire.
The mysterious Zodiac Killer is among the most famous and feared serial killers in American history, thanks both to the scope of his crimes and the fact that even now we know so little about his true identity. This 2007 thriller is the perhaps the most compelling movie yet to explore the killer's reign of terror. It's based on Robert Graysmith's 1986 book of the same name, and director David Fincher and writer James Vanderbilt even spearheaded their own investigation prior to filming the movie.
"Foxcatcher" is another case where a movie becomes that much more fascinating because it tells a true story of murder and manipulation. Steve Carell has never been creepier than when he played John du Pont, heir to the DuPont fortune and wrestling fanatic who eventually murders one of his star recruits.