Some thoughts on why are there so many movies these days based on real-life stories

June 18 2014

As a culture, we all want to escape to a more fantastic and altered universe. A universe where magic, monsters, and super heroes are commonplace, or at least unsurprising. A universe where every one of us knows all the moves for a beautiful, spontaneous, dance number in the park, with a carriage ride into a velvety summer night in Central Park at the end. For years, audiences have used fantasy (not just in films, but across all media) as an imaginative way out of the pressures of the stressful anxiety of the “Real World”.

However, within in the past couple of years, we have seen the emergence of “True Story” films with story lines based on actual events and/or real people. Of course, films have featured true stories in the past, but typically not in the concentrated numbers of releases that we're seeing now. Films like The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, and The Bling Ring have all gained considerable notoriety in the media and awards shows as well as popularity at the box office.


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Of course, one could argue that it’s the star-studded casts that pull viewers into theatres, but I’m more curious as to why there is such an interest in real life stories at this particular moment in time. Why are we so interested in these narratives? As a nation, anxiety and stress is at peak levels. In a pro-digital, pro-tech, pro-CG-that-ocean-into-the-scene world, maybe we're just looking for a different, more authentic connection. We are looking for characters that we can identify with, and not just in the world of made-up super heroes and heroines. It seems that as a culture, we are responding or longing for characters that lived in our world, who know (at a base level) about what we experience. Spiderman may take place in the very real New York City, but Peter Parker's problems are not something we can all relate to. But a worried boat captain, trying to keep his crew safe from pirates? Weirdly it’s real, based on a real man who rose to a real crisis and became a real hero. Now that’s life, and compelling on a profound emotional level.


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