6 of the Best Crime Films Based on True Events

Some of the most thrilling stories come from real life. So it's no surprise that some of the best movies are based on true stories. Below are six great crime films based on true events!

Zodiac (2007)

Zodiac—starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey, Jr.—was based on the real-life serial killer known as the “Zodiac.” One of the most infamous unsolved cases, the Zodiac killer murdered people in and around the San Francisco Bay Area during the late ‘60s & early ‘70s. Based on Robert Graysmith’s 1986 non-fiction book of the same name, David Fincher’s 2007 film was acclaimed for its realistic portrayal and historical accuracy.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

The story of Frank Abagnale was an interesting one. By posing as a Pan American World Airways pilot, a Georgia doctor, and a Louisiana parish prosecutor, Abagnale was able to con millions of dollars before he even turned 19. Eventually, he became so good with check fraud, he bargained a deal to help the FBI catch other forgers. The film, based on the autobiographical book of the same name, was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Leonardo DiCaprio (Abagnale), Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, and Martin Sheen.

GoodFellas (1990)

One of the best crime flicks of all time, GoodFellas was based on the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, which chronicled the story of Mafia mobster-turned-informant Henry Hill. Pileggi co-wrote the screenplay with director Martin Scorsese, which follows the rise and fall of Hill and his friends over the period from 1955 to 1980. Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta, GoodFellas was nominated for six Academy Awards.

Bernie (2011)

A truly strange tale, Bernie is a black comedy directed by Richard Linklater and starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey. The film depicts the small town of Carthage, Texas, and the 1996 murder of Marjorie Nugent that split the town’s residents.

Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede was a respected mortician and well-liked member of the community who took up with the curmudgeonly 80-year-old millionaire. After being treated poorly for years, Tiede murdered Nugent and stored her body in the garage freezer. Taking advantage of her bad reputation, Tiede easily explained her absence while using her fortune to support local businesses and neighbors. After being discovered, Tiede’s arrest and trial split the town due to his position in the community, leading to a rare prosecutorial change of venue to secure a fair trial.

The film was critically acclaimed for its accuracy and portrayal of Tiede, and it eventually led to a successful appeal of the original life sentence. Tiede was released on bail to live with Linklater in Austin, Texas, eventually being retried and convicted again of first-degree murder and sentenced to 99 years to life.

American Gangster (2007)

Though a good film, American Gangster is one of the least true to its source material. Based on the criminal career of Frank Lucas (played by Denzel Washington), who took over the Harlem crime scene when his boss dies, the film depicts the rise of Lucas and Detective Richie Roberts’s (Russell Crowe) investigation into his heroin ring. Both Roberts and Lucas have claimed that the film took a lot of creative license with the story. Still, the Ridley Scott-directed film was a financial success and received two Oscar nominations.

Foxcatcher (2014)

Foxcatcher depicts the events surrounding Jon du Pont’s murder of gold medal-winning wrestler Dave Schultz. After recruiting Dave and his younger brother Mark (also a gold medal-winning wrestler) to help coach Olympic hopefuls and train for the ‘88 Olympics at his private Foxcatcher Farm estate, things start to unravel, resulting in Dave’s murder. Directed by Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher stars Steve Carell as du Pont, Channing Tatum as Mark, and Mark Ruffalo as Dave. It was widely acclaimed by critics, earning five Oscar nominations.


  1. Teddy P

    Love Goodfellas.

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