20 Great Crime Films That Are Based On True Events

10. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Dog Day Afternoon

The Film: The true story of a botched bank robbery turned hostage situation on a scorching afternoon in 1970s New York. Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) and his dim-witted pal Sal (John Cazale) rob the bank to pay for a sex change operation for Sonny’s male lover.

Why It’s Great: Sidney Lumet’s ability to keep the story from becoming laughable or veering into to exploitative territory.


9. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)


The Film: Based on the autobiography by Jordan Belfort, the film follows his rise and fall as a stockbroker with a hunger for money, women, quaaludes, cocaine and more money.

Why It’s Great: Belfort’s white collar crime spree in the hands of Scorsese becomes an examination of our national greed and desire for excess.


8. Bronson (2008)


The Film: Nicolas Winding Refn’s film based on the true story of Britain’s most famous prisoner: Bronson, who was originally sentenced to 7 years for robbing a post office and ended up spending 30 years in solitary confinement due to his violent behavior.

Why It’s Great: Tom Hardy tears up the screen as Bronson.


7. The General (1998)


The Film: The true story of Dublin criminal Martin Cahill aka ‘The General’, who pulled off several daring heists in the early 1980s.

Why It’s Great: Brendan Gleeson steals the show in the title role.


6. Prince of the City (1981)


The Film: Another Sidney Lumet film, Prince of the City is based on the book of the same name by Robert Daley regarding the widespread corruption within the NYPD, particularly the Narcotics Division, and Robert Leuci, a detective who came forward and incriminated other officers.

Why It’s Great: Lumet’s imperceptible style keeps the film from becoming repetitive and Treat Williams gives his best performance to date.


5. Badlands (1973)


The Film: Terence Malick’s first and best film, Badlands is loosely based on the killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in Nebraska and Wyoming during the late 1950’s.

Why It’s Great: Malick finds the right balance between dialogue and images creating a narrative rich enough to follow, but spare enough to inspire thought.


4. The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford (2007)


The Film: Andrew Dominick’s second feature, based on the book by Ron Hansen, concerning the final months of Jesse James’ life and that of his assassin Robert Ford.

Why It’s Great: Aside from the lush cinematography, the film is an eerie meditation on fame and those who lust after it.


3. Zodiac (2007)


The Film: David Fincher’s adaptation of the 1986 book Zodiac, details Robert Graysmith’s time as a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle during the Zodiac murders, his obsession with the case and subsequent amateur investigation.

Why It’s Great: Fincher manages to stay incredibly faithful to the true facts of the case while crafting a compelling film.


2. Vengeance is Mine (1973)

Vengeance is Mine (1973)

The Film: Shohei Imamura’s adaptation of the book Vengeance is Mine by Ryuzo Saki, which tells the true story of serial killer Akira Nishiguchi, is a haunting masterpiece.

Why It’s Great: The film depicts a wild and unpredictable serial killer (played ferociously by Ken Ogata), the antithesis of the honorable society Japan espouses, and then slowly reveals that his violence is the underlying nature of the entire culture.


1. Goodfellas (1990)

Goodfellas (1990)

The Film: Perhaps Scorsese’s most famous film and a natural choice for this list, Goodfellas is a brilliant examination of the day in the life of mafia foot soldier Henry Hill.

Why It’s Great: Scorsese painstakingly recreates the look and sound of New York in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s with immaculate costume and production design to show the world that Hill and his associates lived in, the unflinching brutality with which they dispatch friends and enemies alike, and the world of false glamour, dark humor and self-glorification that these gangsters cloak themselves in.

Author Bio: Kyle Joseph Hintz is a filmmaker and writer based out of Chicago. His love for film was cultivated at a young age when his father would take him to the video store and let him rent whatever he wanted, creating an eclectic cinema palate.