Reality vs. Fiction: True Story Movies with Preexisting Documentaries


There are a couple of big movies that came out yesterday with big Oscar hopes. Pan is not one of them; that movie just looks horrible. I’m referring to The Walk and Steve Jobs.


Both movies have been well reviewed. Both movies are directed by Oscar winners. That’s not the only thing they have in common. Both movies are based on real life events and both movies have existing documentaries about the subject.

The Walk is about Philippe Petit’s high wire walk across the World Trade Center towers in 1974. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit and is directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump). If the story sounds familiar, you may have seen the 2008 documentary Man on Wire. Man on Wire won the Oscar for best documentary in 2009 and is regarded as one of the best movies ever made. It currently holds a rare 100% on rottentomatoes.

Steve Jobs is of course about Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs. The new movie stars Michael Fassbender as Jobs, is directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours), and written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The Newsroom). Jobs is one of the most controversial people in recent history. He’s simultaneously reviled and beloved. To some he’s a visionary whose impact is felt every day of our lives. To others he’s a jerk who took credit for others innovation.

While this may be the most recent movie about Jobs, it is not the first. In fact, there has already been a Steve Jobs biopic, 2013’s Jobs, with Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs. Before that movie there were already three documentaries about Jobs: Steve Jobs: One Last Thing (2011), Steve Jobs: Billion Dollar Hippy (2011), Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview (2012). Now two of those were TV documentaries and the other was just the full version of an interview Jobs gave for the 1995 documentary, Triumph of the Nerds.

However, just last month there was another Steve Jobs documentary that came out. This documentary is called Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine and was made by Alex Gibney. Gibney is one of the most respected and prolific documentarians. Other documenatries he’s made include Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), the Oscar winning Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005).

So which version do you prefer? Do you like seeing the dramatized versions starring your favorite actors or would you rather see the story told by the real people. There’s many more of these real events that have a documentary and a film dramatization about it. Here are some other famous examples:

Everest (2015) & Storm Over Everest (2008)


The recently released Jake Gyllenhaal movie Everest is about the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster where eight people died in two days. A documentary about the event was made in 2008 by David Breshears. What’s unique about the documentary is that Breshears is actually an accomplished climber who was very familiar with Everest. He was the first American to reach the summit twice. While filming the documentary he climbed Everest for the fifth time.

Rescue Dawn (2006) & Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)


The Christian Bale Vietnam war movie Rescue Dawn was about an American pilot named Dieter Dengler who was captured and imprisoned by Vietnamese villagers. Nine years earlier, acclaimed director Werner Herzog made a documentary about Dengler’s story. Herzog ended up adapting his own documentary. He wrote and directed Rescue Dawn himself.

Casino Jack (2010) & Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010)

In 2010, before Kevin Spacey was Frank Underwood, he played another corrupt political figure, lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abaramoff was at the center of a large politcal scandal resulting in fraud and conspiracy convictions for Abramoff as well as Congressman Bob Ney among others. That same year Alex Gibney, who we mentioned before, made a documentary about the scandal.

Lords of Dogtown & Dogtown and Z Boys


The Lords of Dogtown was a movie about a group of young skateboarders in Venice Beach who were at the forefront of competitive skateboarding. One of these young skateboarders, Stacy Peralta, made a documentary about his skateboard team, the Z Boys. After the success of the documentary, Peralta wrote the screenplay for a dramatized version which would become The Lords of Dogtown.

Milk (2008) & The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)


Sean Penn won an Oscar playing San Francisco politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk. A documentary about Milk’s political career, his assassination, and the subsequent murder trial was made in 1984. The Times of Harvey Milk would win the Oscar for best documentary.

The Fifth Estate (2013) & We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013)


The Fifth Estate was a thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The movie was universally panned and was criticized by Assange. Earlier that year, Alex Gibney made a documentary about WikiLeaks and Assange as well.

Snowden (2016) & Citizenfour (2014)


Oliver Stone’s film about NSA whistle-blower Ewdard Snowden is set to come out next year. Last year’s best documentary Oscar winner Citizenfour, was about Snowden and the NSA spying scandal.




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