Drama films

10 gripping crime and courtroom drama movies based on real life

Looking for more movies with captivating and intriguing storylines? If you’ve browsed the most notable fictional movies with such thrilling stories, then maybe you should check out the ones that are actually based on real life! Of course, their writers don’t have the full freedom of fictional screenwriters, but the stories in these movies wouldn’t be on the big screen (and on the screens in our home) if they weren’t interesting enough to tell.

On this list, we’ve collected films based on true stories involving notorious criminals, notable lawyers, and brave journalists who have truly marked our recent history.

With Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Watch it on Netflix

The Chicago 7 Trial recreates the infamous trial of seven anti-Vietnam War protesters accused of fomenting riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The film has its gripping moments before hitting an inspiring crescendo at the end.

With Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton
Watch it on Netflix

This Oscar-winning film is about a group of investigative journalists from The Boston Globe who denounced the systematic abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests in the region. This feat earned the World a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003.

With Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich and Amy Ryan
Watch it on Netflix

This film is proof that sometimes truth surpasses fiction. Angelina Jolie plays single mother Christine Collins who, in 1928, returned home to find her missing nine-year-old son. Months after dealing with LAPD incompetence, authorities finally announced that the child had been found and arranged a meeting for mother and son. But instead of her child, Christine is welcomed by a child she does not know.

With Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway and Tim Robbins
Watch it on HBO Go

This movie is based on the 2016 New York Times Review article ‘The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare’ by Nathaniel Rich. It’s about corporate defense attorney Robert Billot and his legal battle against chemical manufacturing company DuPont, after a West Virginia farmer discovers the death of his farm animals was related to society.

With Paul Walter Hauser, Kathy Bates and Olivia Wilde
Watch it on HBO Go

Another film based on real life, Richard Jewell follows the story of a security guard during the 1996 Summer Olympics. After being hailed a hero when he reported a backpack that turned out to contain a bomb inside, Life by Richard Jewell soon takes a radical turn when he is wrongly accused of having planted the bomb there himself. As the media fan the flames, Jewell must prove his innocence of the crime he saved people from.

With LaKeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya and Jesse Plemons
Watch it on YouTube

This film details the infiltration of FBI informant William O’Neal into the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and how he grew close to its president, Fred Hampton, ultimately betraying him. While the film focuses on the lives of O’Neal and Hampton, it also depicts how criminal a branch of government can be, highlighting why the Black Panther Party continues to fight to this day.

With Zac Efron, Lily Collins and Kaya Scodelario
Watch it on Netflix

This biographical film about notorious serial killer Ted Bundy focuses on the man’s romantic relationships and how he hid his bloodlust from his girlfriend Liz. Through Zac Efron, the film also captured Bundy’s infamous charisma which he used to gain the trust of his victims and attempt to sway public opinion.

With Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr.
Watch it on YouTube

Zodiac is another infamous serial killer who roamed the streets of San Francisco in the 60s and 70s and used cryptic messages to taunt authorities. This David Fincher film follows San Francisco Chronicle political cartoonist Robert Graysmith as he tries to piece together clues from the Zodiac Letters to uncover the identity of the murderer.

With Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks
Watch it soon on Netflix

The post office tells the story of the Washington Post’s first publisher, Katharine Graham, and its editor, Ben Bradlee, as they risk their careers and their freedom to expose a decade of Vietnam War-related government cover-up.

With Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx
Watch it on HBO Go

just mercy is about young attorney Bryan Stevenson who travels to Alabama to defend those who have been wrongfully convicted or lacked proper legal representation. He then meets Walter McMillian, a prisoner sentenced to death for the murder of an 18-year-old girl despite evidence proving his innocence. Stevenson would then fight for McMillan’s life while facing racism and other underhanded tactics from his enemies.

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