We Finally Know How ‘True’ ‘Captain Phillips’ and ‘Spotlight’ Are, Thanks to New Infographic
One of the biggest questions a director or a screenwriter asks him or herself before starting work on any kind of “true story” movie is: how much of the truth do I keep, how much do I toss, and how much do I tweak a little bit? Real life, as you may know, isn’t like the movies, and sometimes stuff just… happens. While it may be full of good stories, life isn’t subject to neat plot arcs, which can be pretty irritating when you’re trying to fit it into a two-hour movie. Which is why, sometimes, moviemakers like to fudge things a little bit. Have you ever been to the movies and asked yourself, I wonder if it actually happened this way? Now, with a handy new infographic, we can know for sure.
The fun series of percentage graphs over at Information Is Beautiful take fourteen of the biggest “true story” movies of the past seven years and calculate how much of the story told in the movie is true, and how much of it isn’t. The friendly-colored blue-and-pink bars are broken up into sections of true, true-ish, false-ish, false, and unknown, based on the amount of veracity in the picture. Selma comes out on top, with Bridge of Spies and The Big Short sticking pretty close to the truth, while The King’s Speech and American Sniper fudged a lot of the story. The fact that The Wolf of Wall Street is, for all of it’s over-the-top bonkers-ness, mostly based on truth, makes the true story seem even more insane. The Imitation Game, 2014’s Best Screenplay Academy Award winner, is hardly true at all, with big chunks of false-ish and downright false on is graph. You can actually play around with the graphs by clicking on a drop-down menu at the top called the “Pedantry Level” to make the graphs more or less flexible. And if you click on one of the actual graphs, it’ll tell you in detail every scene the makers had problems with, with factual citations to back up their decisions.
The infographic raises another interesting question: is a movie based on fact that doesn’t take many facts into consideration automatically a bad movie? The Imitation Game, which is the loser in this particular situation, was a commercial and critical success, nominated for eight Oscars, and lauded by the Human Rights Campaign for bringing Alan Turing’s story to a larger audience. Dallas Buyers Club and The King’s Speech, whose graphs are marred by a bunch of falsehoods, are both fantastic movies. Any film based on truth will play around with the details a little for the sake of moving the plot forward, and more often than not the film is better for it. Mark Twain may or may not have said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” but it’s fun to believe he did say it.