10 Unbelievable Dramas Based on Real-Life Events
We love a good drama, but there's something particularly gripping when you know the events you're watching actually happened.
Premiering tonight (Wednesday 24 January) on the Paramount Network is Waco, a new six-part series that tells the true story of the controversial showdown in 1993 between the U.S. government and a religious group led by self-professed messiah David Koresh.
This is no documentary, however. Shows like Serial and Making a Murderer may have renewed our hunger for true crime narratives, but Waco is the latest to go one step further, combining a real-life narrative with top-notch original drama. Below is the list of 10 of the best.
11. Narcos (2015 -)
This electrifying series focusses on the rise and fall of Pablo Escobar, Colombia's most famous drug kingpin, and the DEA agent assigned to take him down. Don't expect a simple historical account, however. This is no biopic. Its depiction of the textures of the drug trade at its ugliest is unstinting.
10. Captain Phillips (2013)
Director Paul Greengrass is a master at adapting real-life stories, and his take on the 2009 Maersk Alabama hijacking is no exception. It stars Tom Hanks and newcomer Barkhad Abdi as the captain of the cargo ship and one of four pirates who seized it 240 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, the first successful pirate seizure of an American ship since the early 19th century.
9. World Trade Center (2006)
It's hard to convey the magnitude of the 9/11 attacks, and most films that try tend to focus in on one aspect. Paul Greengrass's United 93 was set aboard the plane that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, while in the same year, Oliver Stone portrayed events from the perspective of two first responders. Both films are heartbreaking, but neither quite match what it felt like to watch, live, at home.
8. Manhunt: Unabomber (2017)
Paul Bettany spent three days on his own in a cabin in the woods to get in the mind of Ted Kaczynski, the man dubbed the "Unabomber" by news outlets covering the FBI's 1995 hunt for the man behind a nationwide bombing campaign. The result is his performance in this original drama series on the Discovery Channel, one so absorbing it took us by surprise to see the Da Vinci Code star's in the credits.
7. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Al Pacino delivers another powerhouse performance in this classic piece of social commentary by Sidney Lumet, this time as Sonny Wortzik, a character inspired by bank robber John Wojtowicz. In 1972 he and accomplice Salvatore Naturale (John Cazale) held bank employees hostage for 14 hours in an attempted bank heist that didn't exactly go to plan.
6. 10 Rillington Place (1971)
This classic film told the chilling real-life story of British serial killer John Christie, who strangled eight victims in his home on Rillington Place in London, and his neighbour Timothy Evans, the man mistakenly hanged for the former's crimes. The BBC then remade it in 2016, replacing Richard Attenborough's chilling performance with a creepy tour de force by Tim Roth, and Nico Mirallegro taking the role that earned John Hurt a BAFTA nomination. The three-part drama aired in the U.S. on SundanceTV last year.
5. 127 Hours (2010)
You'll never look at a pocket knife in the same way after seeing Danny Boyle's take on the story of real-life canyoneer Aron Ralston and his remarkable will to survive after being trapped by a boulder in a Utah canyon in 2003. James Franco is extraordinary in the lead role, taking the film beyond a simple story of survival and instead depicting a harrowing interior experience.
4. American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson (2016)
Sterling K. Brown, Sarah Paulson and Courtney B. Vance justifiably won numerous awards and universal praise for their performances in this must-see miniseries, which chronicled the sensational trial that followed the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and led to O.J. Simpson's controversial acquittal. Three more real-life stories are due to be dramatized under the American Crime Story banner: the 1997 murder of Gianna Versace (which just started airing on January 17), the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 1998 scandal arising from the affair between President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
3. Appropriate Adult (2011)
This critically acclaimed dramatization of the case of British serial killers Fred and Rose West focusses not on their crimes but on the way in which they were brought to justice. Emily Watson's subtle performance as Janet Leach, the real-life social worker who acted as the "appropriate adult" during police interrogations of Fred West (an unrelated Dominic West), earned her a BAFTA and a nomination for a Golden Globe.
2. Show Me a Hero (2015)
The local politics that forms the subject of this miniseries may at first seem petty, but in the hands of The Wire creator David Simon it becomes a drama of truly tragic proportions. Over six episodes, it tells the story of real-life Yonkers mayor Nick Wasicsko (Oscar Isaac), who risked his career to see federally-mandated public housing built in a white neighborhood.
1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
"Most of what follows is true," says the disclaimer at the beginning of one of cinema history's most famous heist movies. Screenwriter William Golding was certainly generous with the truth, but the robbery of the Union Pacific train by Butch Cassidy's "Hole in the Wall" Gang really did happen. Two "signalmen" stopped the train in the middle of Wyoming, before the gang dynamited the railcar holding the strong box and escaped on horseback with about $50,000, the equivalent of $7 million today.
Which of these are you going to watch first?