Skip to content

10 Awesome Crime Movies Based on True Stories

15 March 2013 | Features, Film Lists, Guest Posts | by David Zou

crime movies

Everyone will be excited at the thought of coming home and relaxing on the couch, beer in hand, watching an exhilarating crime movie. If the cast is right and the story line is enticing, any crime movie may have a recipe for success, whether it’s gang warfare, dirty cops or even a case of drug dealing. However, will you still be attracted by the movie if it is based on true events? Personally I enjoy knowing that some movie scripts are based upon real-life versions of our heroes standing up to adversity! Here Is a list of my favorite 10 crime movies that are based on true stories.


American Gangster (2007)


I’ll start with an obvious one, with a cast that features big names such as Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington, we expected big things and big things we get! The movie is based on the life of notorious drug dealer Frank Lucas. In the movie, Frank (Denzel Washington) plays the right hand man of Ellsworth ‘Bumpy’ Jackson and soon inherits the gang after Jackson suffers a heart attack. The film then follows Frank as he sets about changing the way the organised crime is run in Harlem, New York and his attempts to alter the way that drugs are smuggled into the USA.

Meanwhile Detective Richie Roberts (Russel Crowe) is promoted to the head of a task force which targets drug traffickers after his ex-partner dies after taking an overdose of a cheap heroin. The task force aims to cut out the middle man and go straight to the heart of the supplier. With the two main characters soon to clash, we are subjected to a battle of wills with one twist after another, including dirty coppers and unusual drug trafficking methods. This movie will keep you wondering what will happen next!


Public Enemies (2009)


Here’s another one that you will probably have heard of but perhaps never seen. Directed by Michael Mann, this masterpiece is an adaptation of Bryan Burrows book Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI. Public Enemies is set during the great depression (1930′s) and follows the life of bank robber John Dillanger (Johnny Depp) and newly promoted Federal agent Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale). Purvis who has just killed another notorious bank robber ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’ is set the task of tracking down Dillanger by any means necessary but little does he realise just how much fight Dillanger is going to put up to maintain his freedom! The amount of action including prison escapes, gunfights and betrayal will leave you wondering how Mann managed to make 2 hours seem like a mere 5 minutes!


Bronson (2008)

bronson 2008

On to the British scene now, Bronson is a movie with a difference, it follows the life of ‘Britain’s most dangerous criminal, and is narrated throughout by the protagonist. Charles Bronson previously known as Michael Gordon Peterson, opens with a scene in which Bronson (played by Tom Hardy) claims that he always wanted to be famous but can’t act and sing, this appears to be a reference by Bronson to the Rocky films. Immediately after this, a scene ensues in which Bronson is seen fighting several prison guards simultaneously before finally being subdued, setting the pace for the next few hours. The film re-enacts the majority of Charles’ life and details the hardships and problems that he faced as he battled the legal system and general prejudice. Although Bronson has spent most of his life under her majesties watch (Prison), the movie manages to keeps an upbeat and interesting feel even including several comedy references.


Monster (2003)


Starring Charlize Theron playing the protagonist serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Monster provides a powerful on-screen portrayal into the life of Wurmous. The movie is set in the late 80′s, Wuornos is struggling to get a job due to lack of qualifications, she turns back into a life of prostitution, when things take a turn for the worst during a liason between a client and a murder is commited, what will Wuornos do? We are met with a fantastic spinetingling journey as Aileen rampages around America fighting for survival and a life she can never have!


Philadelphia (1993)


If you are in the mood for a serious watch which combines touching adversity and legal drama, then this is the one for you. Tom Hanks plays a senior associate at the largest law firm in Philadelphia known as Andrew Beckett. However, the legal company is unaware that Beckett is in fact a homosexual and has been suffering from AIDS for a number of years. The severity of his illness being revealed, the directors of the company becomes aware of Beckett’s condition and immediately fires him. This is when Andrew seeks the help of an attorney in hope of suing for compensation for unfair dismissal. Beckett approaches a solicitor called Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) who at first refuses to take on his case, but eventually agrees and a legal battle ensues. This is a gripping, heartfelt legal drama that will remain one of the few movies to bring AIDS discrimination to the general public.

It is also worth mentioning that after the making of Philadelphia, Geoffrey Bowers family (of whom the fictional character Andrew Beckett was supposedly based on) sued the film makers of Philadelphia for unwarranted use of personal experiences. It is believed that the Bowers family was compensated outside of a court hearing.


I Love You Philip Morris (2009)

I Love You Phillip Morris

This is the film for you if you want laughs, and I mean real belly-quaking laughs. It is not a traditional crime film, since the felonies committed may seem minor but they still need to be addressed. Jim Carey takes on the role of playing Steven Jay Russell in this slapstick comedy, it features him falling for the man of his dreams Philip Morris(played by Ewan McGregor) whilst in prison, and his attempts to create the perfect lifestyle for them both. The only problem being, he simply can’t get the funds needed whilst staying on the right side of the law.

I love You Philip Morris features laugh-out-loud moments as Russell impersonates prison guards and even fakes his own death to escape from prison with moments that make you struggle to believe that this is based on real events. One last thing I enjoyed about this film is that it contains a brief section about Steven Jay Russell’s life.

An interesting fact is that Mr Russell is currently serving a 140-year at the maximum security  Allan B. Polunsky Unit prison based in Texas, his release date is set at the year 2140.


Blow (2001)


With a cast featuring boxoffice names such as Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, Blow perfectly interweaves betrayal and deceit. It is a biopic following the life of American cocaine smuggler Gerorge Jung (Johnny Depp) whose father told him that money is not important. However Jung sets about making his first million by any means necessary. This leads to some wrong turns and some clashes with the law. Will George realise the error of his ways in time?


In The Name Of The Father (1993)


Set in the 1970′s, this adaptaion of Gerry Conlons ‘Proved Innocent: The Story of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four’ follows the life of Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day Lewis)  who along with 3 others is wrongly accused of the Guilford bombings and is wrongly sentenced to long prison term. We are shown that Gerrys strive to prove his innocence with odds stacked against him. If you want a serious crime drama, this is an enthralling watch and will keep your eyes glued to your screen.


Heavenly Creatures (1994)


Featuring screen débuts from Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, this movie takes on the hard-hitting account of the notorious 1954 Parker-Hulme murder case. It portrays the relationship and bonds that a pair of teenage girls develop as they grow up suffering with chronic health problems. But when things go wrong, they escape into a fantasy land which leads to murderous tenancies and they hatch a plan which will enable them to remain together forever.


Donnie Brasco (1997)


If you are in the mood for an Italian mob movie, then this is the one for you! The story follows FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone (Johnny Depp) as he is assigned to go undercover to infiltrate the mob and bring them down. As the movie progresses Joseph is faced with a series of challenges which causes him to question his own authenticity. The path that he is walking is going to cost the life of his new friend Benjamin ‘lefty’ Ruggiero (Al Pacino).

Author Bio: Adam Howard writes for Atrium Legal. Atrium are a UK based legal services that help people make work claims for  compensation if they have been injured or made ill at work.


Other Brilliant Movie Posts On The Web


Like Us on Facebook!

  • Mark Harding

    The list is a little heavy on Johnny Depp. How about Richard Brook’s In Cold Blood about the real life Clutter family massacre. Or the Onion Field based on Joseph Wambaugh’s book about the real killing of an LA police officer. James Woods is just mesmorizing in this early role.

  • Atrium Legal

    Hi Sparticus,
    My continuous references to Johnny Depp were not intentional it must just be that much of his work is crime related. I am rather sad that i missed ‘In Cold Blood’ think i am going to have to go home and watch it again tonight.