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‘The Swimmers’ & 9 Other Powerful Movies Based On A True Story

Well-crafted biographies and films based on real-life events are oftentimes the best — there are few things quite as inspiring as true, empowering success stories that are beautifully transpired to the big screen, especially when they feature a happy ending. Although unfortunately, that is not always the case, these kinds of movies undoubtedly send out impactful and thought-provoking messages.


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Throughout the years there have been countless fascinating movies based on real-life occurrences, and 2022’s The Swimmers, Sally El Hosaini‘s Netflix film, is without any doubt a great recent addition to the list. From sports to science-themed movies, there are other remarkable and powerful motion pictures based on true stories that are guaranteed to astonish any viewer.

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‘The Swimmers’ (2022)

In this touching Netflix film, two young Syrian sisters, Yusra (Nathalie Issa) and Sarah Mardini (Manal Issa), venture on a turbulent journey from their war-torn home country — where their house was torn into pieces during the civil war — to the 2016 Olympics. When the engine of a broken-down lifeboat overloaded with passengers stops working in the middle of the Aegean Sea, Yusra, Sarah, and two others who could swim were responsible for saving the lives of those on board.

An inspiring and eye-opening watch, The Swimmers highlights what it means to be a refugee, helping audiences understand the overwhelming issues and challenging struggles that they often face. With authentic performances and dialogue, Hosaini’s movie respectfully and beautifully showcases the world the breathtaking story of the Mardini sisters.

‘I, Tonya’ (2017)

Margot Robbie in 'I, Tonya'

In one of Margot Robbie‘s finest performances to date, she steps into the shoes of Tonya Harding in this 2017 film that tells the intense story of Harding’s astonishing rise and heartbreaking fall. After her abusive mother, Lavona Golden, forces her into the realm of ice skating, Harding becomes a well-known competitive ice skater. Except, unfortunately, this doesn’t last long.

Following Harding’s disgraced life from she was a little girl up until adulthood, I, Tonya is a powerful biography that reflects on tragic cycles of abuse, society and its almost impossible standards (essentially highlighting how Tonya didn’t fit the image that the figure skating community was striving for), and the irreversible damage of fabricated news.

‘The Theory of Everything’ (2014)

Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne in 'The Theory of Everything'

In this beautifully written drama starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, viewers get an outlook into the early life of science genius Stephen Hawking and the famous physicist’s heartwarming relationship with his wife Jane Wilde. Set in the 1960s, The Theory of Everything follows 21-year-old Hawking as he navigates through life and first learns about his motor neuron disease, never once giving up on his ambitious study of time.

With a powerful message on strong will and faith, featuring astounding performances (Redmayne took a Best Actor Academy Award home back in 2015), this awing movie is assuredly one of the most memorable films based on true events. Walking audiences through young Hawking’s life, The Theory of Everything takes viewers on a deeply emotional ride.

‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ (2006)

Will and Jaden Smith in 'The Pursuit of Happyness'

Will and Jaden Smith bring Chris and Christopher Gardner‘s story to the big screen in this tear-jerking 2006 movie. Centering around the struggles of a real-life American businessman and motivational speaker during the 1980s, The Pursuit of Happyness depicts Gardner’s troubled life (which circumstances force him to live out in the streets with his son) after his divorce and losing his apartment.

As much of a painful watch as an enlightening and powerful one, The Pursuit of Happyness tells an incredibly enriching story that revolves around poverty. All’s well when it ends well, and, fortunately, Gardner’s — who makes a brief appearance in the film’s ending scene — determination and hard work eventually paid off.

‘Freedom Writers’ (2007)

The cast of 'Freedom Writers' in the classroom

Based on a book named The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them, written by a group of students from Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California, and their teacher Erin Gruwell, this 2007 film follows Hilary Swank‘s real-life character and her class of at-risk students as she helps them navigate through the world.

Intense and moving, Freedom Writers makes for an extremely inspiring and powerful watch — what makes it even better is realizing that it’s actually based on a beautiful, emotionally gripping, true story.

‘Race’ (2016)

Stephan James running in 'Race'

Centering around Jesse Owens‘ (played by Stephan James) journey to become the best track and field athlete in history as he impresses many with his tremendous potential — including early-1930s Ohio State University’s coach, Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis) — Race tells the admirable story of a gifted Olympics-material athlete and his battle against racism and anti-Semitism.

Offering a perspective of the injustices and unequal treatment of Black people, this powerful movie brings the audience awareness of the sensitive subjects it tackles and a thoughtful portrayal of the beloved athlete.

‘A Beautiful Mind’ (2001)

Russell Crowe in 'A Beautiful Mind'

Russell Crowe steps into the shoes of John Nash, a brilliant and asocial mathematician, in A Beautiful Mind. Narrating Nash’s story from his time as a Mathematics student in graduate school at Princeton in the late 1940s to his Nobel Prize win in 1994, the 2001 film takes viewers on a mind-blowing trip.

Highlighting the fact that extraordinary things can happen even when all odds are against us, A Beautiful Mind is a cleverly directed film with masterclass acting that makes extremely strong points with the important message it sends.

‘Just Mercy’ (2019)

Michael B. Jordan in 'Just Mercy'

Michael B. Jordan is Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights defense attorney, in Just Mercy. The powerful film centers around Walter McMillian‘s (Jamie Foxx) court case where Stevenson fights to free a wrongly condemned death row prisoner. Based on real-life events, this gripping movie is guaranteed to bring anyone to tears.

Evoking all the feelings, Just Mercy is mind-boggling and shocking, but also necessary and relevant. It successfully highlights an unequal justice system towards the poor and minorities, pinpointing the devastating, heartbreaking story of a wrongly convicted man.

‘The Blind Side’ (2009)

Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bullock in 'The Blind Side'

A homeless troubled boy becomes an All-American football player and first-round NFL draft pick in the deeply moving The Blind Side. Centering around Michael Oher‘s (Quinton Aaron) incredibly inspiring success story and the loving people around him who helped him attain life-long accomplishments, this 2009 film is undoubtedly one of the most inspirational flicks out there.

Apart from it being very touching, The Blind Side is not short on humor, which makes it even better. Encouraging viewers to practice kindness and empathy, as well as reflecting on the importance of being inclusive and family support, the John Lee Hancock movie is an essential watch.

’42’ (2013)

Chadwick Boseman in '42'

Dealing with heavy themes of racism and prejudice, 42 focuses on the story of Jackie Robinson (wonderfully played by the late film star Chadwick Boseman) and his journey to becoming the first Black man to play in Major League Baseball — signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers — in modern times.

Enthralling and powerful, 42 is much more than a sports flick — it captures the very real struggles and anxieties Robinson had to go through solely to do what he loved and the admirable strength in the way he persisted to overcome every obstacle and fight the good fight despite everything.

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