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Based on a Great Big Lie

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"Hello. I'm Leonard Nimoy. The following tale of alien encounters is true. And by true, I mean false. It's all lies. But they're entertaining lies. And in the end, isn't that the real truth? The answer is... no."

Basing a book on a true story is a handy way to get some publicity for a project. But hey! Why not save time and effort by cutting out the middleman? Just come up with your own, entirely fictional story and tell everyone that it actually happened. Who's going to find out?

Everyone who visits the IMDb, for a start.

The best case scenario is that you get a wry chuckle from your fans and a nod in a couple of papers. A worse case scenario is that some folks get together and sue you for selling the story to them under false pretenses. The worst case scenario is when your supposedly true story is actually very close to someone else's actual true story, and you end up losing every penny of your profits in a humiliating lawsuit because nobody believes your sudden recantation. Best solution? Just say that it's fiction all along.

The net result of this trope is that viewers have to be wary of works that present themselves as a true story, as the creators may only be doing so because it makes people pay attention more. And in works that are combinations of real events and fictional ones, it is all too easy to get confused about what actually happened and is possible in real life, and what is just artistic license. This may be a major source of Common Knowledge; if it happened in a story that really took place, it must be true, right?

Based on a Great Big Lie is a specific type of Dan Browned. The author may make heavy use of From a Certain Point of View to justify himself.

Compare Very Loosely Based on a True Story (largely fiction but based on a kernel of truth) and Mockumentary (pure fiction presenting itself as nonfiction). Contrast Roman à Clef.


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     Comic Books 
  • Played with regarding From Hell, which is based on one of the myriad theories behind the murders of Jack the Ripper — specifically, a variation on the theory that the murders were committed by a high-ranking member of Victorian society on the orders of Queen Victoria herself to prevent the victims from revealing the existence of an illegitimate heir to the throne. Alan Moore has publicly acknowledged that he doesn't believe a single word of this particular theory, but it worked for the story he wanted to tell.

    Films — Animated 
  • Pocahontas is a bit of a strange case. This and most other works about Pocahontas are based on the writings of John Smith, which are commonly believed to be true. However, research into Smith's other works quickly reveals this to be bunk, because Smith had a habit of portraying himself as an entirely unrealistic demi-god of manliness and combat skill who found success, riches and sex wherever he went. It was also problematic in that Smith claimed Pocahontas was only about 12 years old when they met. Disney eventually decided to go this route on purpose, throwing out their research and making the film into a "legend" rather than a true story. It still doesn't change the fact that The Other Wiki's engraving of the historical Pocahontas/Rebecca Rolfe (who was at the time of the engraving about 21) has a lot more in common with voodoo god Baron Saturday than with the Disney hottie.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Early documentarians did this quite a bit.
    • The documentary film as a genre is generally regarded as having started with Nanook of the North, Robert Flaherty's 1922 portrait of life among the Inuk of northern Hudson Bay. However, virtually everything that happens the film was staged in accordance with a story drawn up by Flaherty, who portrayed an Eskimo Land life in which the Inuk wore parkas and hunted with spears, when the real Inuk had been wearing Western clothing and hunting with firearms for many years. "Nanook" was really named Allakariallak, the two women shown in the movie were not really his wives, and he died of tuberculosis, not starvation. The famous scene where Nanook fights a seal through a hole in the ice was staged, with other Inuk pulling on the fishing line off-screen, and a dead seal on hand to get the last shot in the scene.
    • The 1927 documentary Chang takes a similar approach, with the Lao of northern Thailand acting out a story crafted by the filmmakers. Incidents like the tiger attack and the herd of elephants trampling the village were staged for the cameras — the elephants were tamed and had to be coaxed into trampling the natives' huts.
    • As shown in the examples below, horror movies do this a lot as well, ranging from exaggerating an actual story to fabrication.
  • The original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre was supposedly based on a true story, but no such "massacre" ever took place. Leatherface is allegedly loosely based on the killer Ed Gein.note  The director mentioned in the DVD commentary that if you check the dates on which the fictional events supposedly occur, they correspond somewhat with the dates that they were filming the movie.
  • Fargo is supposedly based on a true story. It isn't. The Coen Brothers (eventually) tried to weasel their way out of this by saying that everything in the movie was meant to be interpreted as fiction, including the blurb at the beginning that claimed it was based on a true story. Another lie they fed the media was that there was a news report in 1987 about a businessman who planned on having his wife fake-kidnapped for ransom money, but the police caught him before he could make his plan come to fruition, and the Coens asked themselves "what if he had succeeded?" On the special features on the Fargo DVD, the Coens claim they were afraid nobody would have believed the crazy plot they came up with any other way. This backfired on the Coens when it was widely reported in the press that a Japanese woman who was found dead in the area in 2001 had frozen to death while trying to find a large sum of money that had been hidden by a character in the film and lost when he was murdered. In actual fact she almost certainly committed suicide, and the belief that she was searching for the money was due to a misinterpretation of a conversation that she had had with a police officer. This story itself was turned into Kumiko The Treasure Hunter
  • The horror movie The Strangers, about a masked trio of psychopaths who stalk, terrorize, and eventually murder a couple in a vacation home, is supposedly based on a true story, but it was primarily inspired by an incident from the director's childhood in which a pair of "strangers" came to the door and were later found to be breaking into houses if no one was home when they knocked. It also took cues from an actual set of murders, but they were absolutely nothing like the plot of the movie — while staying in a cabin in a resort town, a woman in her thirties, two of her children, and a friend of one of the children were mysteriously bludgeoned and stabbed to death. Those murders were never solved.
  • Hidalgo is based on the actual stories of Frank Hopkins — but Hopkins is known to history as a con man and quite possibly a pathological liar. Hopkins was not part Native American, did not ever work in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, never visited the Middle East (and certainly was never in a gigantic race in the Middle East, which historians can't find any corroborating evidence to prove ever happened in the first place), etc. On some level, however, you've got to admire the guy for inventing a story that Hollywood thought was worthy of a movie, given that so many have tried and failed.
  • The Amityville Horror (1979) is supposedly based on a true story. However, the book containing said "true story" was admitted by its writer to have been at least somewhat exaggerated. Debate still rages as to which parts of the book really happened.
  • The Haunting In Connecticut purports to be based on a true story. However, Ray Garton, the author of the book that the film (and a Discovery Channel documentary) was based on, has admitted that the "true story" was a fabrication. He has said that none of the family members could get their story straight, and that they were dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction at the time, which may have affected their judgment. When he pointed this out to Ed and Lorraine Warren, the case investigators and self-professed "demonologists" (who, not coincidentally, also investigated the Amityville case), they reportedly told him to "make it up and make it scary."
  • As a result of Executive Meddling, Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County was billed as being based on actual events, against the wishes of the director. Ironically, it's a remake of a little-seen 1989 horror film, UFO Abduction, that's subject to an urban legend that inverts this trope. A phenomenal case of bad lucknote  saw it receive only a very limited Direct-to-Video release, such that it flew under the radar of even the most dedicated horror fans until, in the early '90s, it resurfaced in ufologist circles (with the beginning and end credits removed) as an actual account of an Alien Abduction that came to be called "the McPherson Tape". When the film's creator Dean Alioto attempted to clear things up after he was contacted by programs like Unsolved Mysteries and Encounters, it was assumed that he was part of the cover-up, with his remake of the film (the aforementioned Incident in Lake County) merely being another attempt to fool the gullible masses.
  • King Arthur is billed as the true historical story of King Arthur, but instead is little more than a "remix" of the popular Arthur mythos with some garbled bits of Late Roman/Early Medieval history. Whether there was a historical Arthur at all remains a matter of fierce historical debate, and there are several potential candidates for the basis of the character, none of which bear more than a surface similarity to the movie's Arthur. It's not exactly a success as a "true historical story" either - the entire movie is one long historical inaccuracy. Heck, the title character himself lived (if he lived) about 300 years before the movie is supposed to take place.
  • 300 is another example of a "historical" film claiming to be accurate but which doesn't even depict events which are certain to have happened and is instead based on mythology. But this one is trickier to pin down because of its Unreliable Narrator and the sense that it's the kind of exaggeration the historical Spartans themselves would have told and appreciated. Those involved with the project (including Zack Snyder and Frank Miller) are inconsistent as to whether this is supposed to be an accurate depiction of historical events, a dramatization of those events, or an accurate historical depiction of a dramatization of those events.
  • Back in The '70s, the very first film claiming to be a Snuff Film (imaginatively entitled Snuff) purported to depict the actual on-camera murder of an actress. Despite all the controversy that was stirred up — which actually was the entire point — the murder was later revealed to be a hoax, and not a very convincing one at that. (See for yourself; the "snuff footage" looked unbelievably fake.) In fact, the distributors of the movie had just bought some random South American B-Movie, Slaughter (1971), and grafted on their own completely different short bit of footage (the "snuff"), replacing the actual movie's ending.
  • The Blair Witch Project did this with its marketing campaign, claiming that the three actors were all killed by the eponymous Blair Witch, and that the footage detailed their final days. It helped that the actors use their real names in the movie, as if they're filming a real documentary on the subject. However, no such Blair Witch has ever existed, and all three actors were perfectly fine. The actors were told to deliberately not attend screenings or events related to the movie to make it seem as if they were really dead. It worked for a while, until the film became a massive success — it made its minimal budget back almost ten thousand times over, and it still holds the world record for the highest cost-to-profit margin in movie history. After that, the actors couldn't resist the temptation to start appearing on late-night talk shows.
  • The older film Cannibal Holocaust tried a similar strategy to The Blair Witch Project, advertising it as "real footage". This time, though, people were so outraged that the director was arrested and charged with murder. He had to admit in court that it was all a great big lie. In order to prove this, he had to get the actors to show up in court to prove that they were alive and well; this was a difficult task because the actors' contracts with the studio required them to keep away from the public eye for a full year to fuel the illusion that they were dead. Much legal wrangling ensued.
  • The Last Samurai is based on an odd amalgamation of the historical Satsuma rebellion and the part played in the earlier Boshin war by French officer Jules Brunet. It also borrows heavily from other fictional works, such as Dances with Wolves and James Clavell's Shogun. The "guns vs. swords" plot is particularly ironic, considering that even the real "last samurai" of the Satsuma rebellion openly embraced modern weaponry for the tactical advantages it offered.note  The decline of the samurai class in real life came about in a much slower and less dramatic fashion and there were certainly no embittered American Civil War heroes involved.
  • Amadeus was based on an apocryphal tale claiming Salieri, a contemporary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, went mad late in his life and confessed to killing Mozart. It is a matter of historical record that Mozart died during a long period of illness. The film accepts both of these stories as true. Salieri is painted as a jealous competitor to Mozart who hated the man but adored his genius, and he "kills" him by encouraging a naive Mozart suffering from illness to make more music. The film is forced to stretch the truth to reach this result; Mozart and Salieri may have been professional rivalsnote , but they respected each other's skills, and even collaborated to produce a contata in 1785. Historically, there is no evidence that Salieri worked on the Requiem Mass with Mozart (it is unknown how much of the piece Mozart wrote, but it was finished by Franz Xaver Süssmayr), and the film implies that Salieri was the anonymous patron who commissioned the Requiem Mass.note  The film's writers did this intentionally, however, claiming that they didn't need to write a faithful biography on Mozart; they just wanted to work with the interesting (but false) premise that Salieri was jealous of Mozart. They did their research on all the things that didn't need to be stretched to make this happen.Examples include 
  • Peter Jackson's Forgotten Silver is a truly stunning example of the trope. Jackson claimed to have discovered his neighbor was the widow of Colin MacKenzie, an early 20th century filmmaker who invented many revolutionary processes but was also extraordinarily unlucky and ended up completely obscured by history. His goal with the film was explicitly to make people think it was real, and to this end he got such notable figures as Harvey Weinstein and Leonard Maltin to participate. He came up with a story that's just plausible enough to believe, including explanations of how MacKenzie could have done so much and remain so obscure. There is only one clue that gives it away; the MacGuffin was finally found "under the sign of Taurus" — i.e. the "bull".
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock is an adaptation of a novel that tried its very best to pretend it was true.
  • The sci-fi/horror movie The Fourth Kind has, as its tag line, the claim that the movie is "based on actual case studies," and even claims to include actual footage of alien abductions. Guess what? It's a hoax.
  • The Men Who Stare at Goats begins with an assurance, perhaps just as a weak joke, that "more of the film is true than we would believe." Which part? Sure, there was a remote viewing project in the U.S. military around the late '70s/early '80s, but it didn't work. The movie is actually a fictionalization of a fairly well-documented journalistic book. It also doesn't help that the assurance was followed immediately by a scene of a very strait-laced military man calmly and deliberately stepping away from his desk and running head-on into a wall for no apparent reason. We find out why later on, but right at the moment it's just a jarring juxtaposition with the reassurance, since it's exactly the kind of thing that's so hard to imagine.
  • The Boat That Rocked is actually an amalgamation of different stories. While there was a Radio Rock,note  the film is based more on other pirate radio stations that sprang up in the mid-20th century, in particular the infamous Radio Caroline. Radio Caroline was infamous not only for broadcasting offshore from a boat without a license, but also for its ability to weather some astonishing mishaps, from being raided by British or Dutch authorities to their boats sinking (likely an inspiration for the film's climax).note  The film's ending is a bit more dramatic than the real one; in real life, the government simply banned anyone from supplying them, waited for the crew to give up and come ashore, and then arrested them. All this being said, former pirate DJs have said that the film does capture the flavour of shipboard life quite well.
  • Battleship Potemkin is a purportedly historical film that depicts a massacre that, in truth, never happened; records are scarce and conflicting, and eyewitnesses were unreliable and confused. It is, however, known, that spirits in the city were running high at that moment, and there were several demonstrations that, by some accounts, including a British consul and a Times reporter, were put down using armed troops, but no massacre. Of course, Eisenstein wasn't making a documentary, he was making a propaganda flick, so he took really great liberties with the facts — including the massacre. It's just that in doing so, he had several ideas how to edit the footage for most emotional impact, they worked so well that he basically became the father of all modern film editing, and the Odessa Steps Massacre became firmly entrenched as a fact. It was even said that after seeing the movie, someone who was there turned himself into police in the US and confessed to a murder.
  • In-movie example: in the classic John Ford western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Jimmy Stewart told the story in Flashback to a biographer, and revealed that it was John Wayne, not him, who killed the outlaw Liberty Valance. The biographer tore up his notes at that point. His words to Stewart are this trope distilled to its essence.
    "This is the West. When the legend becomes fact, you print the legend."
    • Also used at the end of Ford's Fort Apache. Colonel Yorke uses Exact Words to continue the myth that the late Col. Thursday was a great leader in order to maintain the reputation it grants his regiment.
  • Bloodsport is based on Frank Dux's claims of having won a secret underground fighting competition. There is simply no evidence that any part of Dux's outrageous story actually took place. Even the trophy he claims to have won was purchased by him at a local shop. Some aspects of Dux's story are actually impossible, such as claiming that the fights were "to the death" and that he defeated 52 other fighters to win. A single-elimination tournament with 52 tiers would require 4.5 quadrillion participants, more human beings than have ever existed. The film also ends with a bunch of "records" that Dux supposedly made during his bloodsport career, which in a world educated by Mixed Martial Arts now look fairly absurd.
  • There's an obscure film that not only has a "this is all true" message at the beginning but also makes the claim in its title. The film is called China Cry: A True Story and even IMDb reports it as "based on a true story", despite uncertainty about the truth of its divine intervention incidents, being based on the autobiography of the woman who's the main character, and apparently not being well supported by evidence.
  • The epilogue of The Toolbox Murders states the film was based on a true story, though near the end of the credits the usual "this was fiction, all resemblance to anything real is just coincidental" disclaimer is shown.
  • An interesting example is Enemy at the Gates. Jude Law's sniper character was a real person, and, surprisingly, so was the Love Interest played by Rachel Weisz — but the same can't be said of the German sniper and the main plot. Soviet officials insisted the story was true, but recent reappraisals of the available evidence have led historians to strongly suspect that the whole thing was just a load of made-up wartime propaganda. The villain of the piece is a Bavarian aristocrat sniper named Erwin Konig; in reality, no conclusive evidence has been found that Konig ever even existed, let alone that he fought a sniper duel in Stalingrad.
  • The film adaptation of The Hunt for Red October inverts this by providing a disclaimer at the beginning of the film to the effect that "According to repeated statements by both Soviet and American governments, nothing of what you are about to see ever happened." The audience is quite pointedly left to draw their own conclusions. For the record, it didn't happen.
  • Done in-universe in The Debt, which drives the plot.
  • The majority of the film JFK is entirely made up, with the only real events being the assassination and the Clay Shaw trial (which was an affront to justice). Perhaps the worst was that of the crucial "smoke from the Grassy Knoll"; none of the rifles used would emit any visible smoke. Oliver Stone had to have a special-effects man blow smoke out of a bellows in order to get that effect (and yes, many, many people have made jokes about him literally "blowing smoke"). Most of the film's facts are taken from the writings of Jim Garrison, who is also the central character in the film. Almost every expert on the Kennedy assassination — even those who believe in a conspiracy — believe Garrison to be unreliable at best and insane at worst.
  • The 2012 film The Devil Inside, a horror film centered around demonic possession, is said to be based on actual events. The film even ends on a cliffhanger saying the murders that took place in the film are still under investigation and directing viewers to a website for more information. The home video release bills itself as "the movie The Vatican doesn't want you to see." (Neither do quite a few movie critics, who considered it a candidate for worst film of the year.)
  • The Possession is said to be based on a true story, but there's one glaring problem: there wasn't a little girl involved, and she wasn't possessed by the dibbuk, a Hebrew demon that lived in a box that was said to be cursed. The box was bought, but the dibbuk possessed a man, who has claimed that he couldn't sleep and severed the fingers of himself and his roommates while under the possession of the demon.
  • The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain bills itself as being based on a true story. It's actually based on a local legend, which has been totally discredited. Especially egregious when the film ends with a shot of the modern residents of the village rebuilding the mound that had supposedly been built by their ancestors.
  • The Iceman is based on the prison confessions of Richard Kuklinski, who told a number of colorful tales about being a prolific mob hitman responsible for hundreds of murders using a variety of bizarre methods. The problem is that almost none of Kuklinski's claims have been verified by any actual evidence. He was almost certainly a lowly psychopath who liked attention rather than a legendary assassin.
  • The 1977 film Julia, supposedly "based on a true story," was based on Lillian Hellman's memoir Pentimento, which was, to put it kindly, Very Loosely Based on a True Story in which Hellman didn't actually play a part. In 1979, Mary McCarthy, long Hellman's adversary, said of Hellman that "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."
  • My Week With Marilyn: Majority opinion holds that the writer of the book made up the story of his quasi-affair with Marilyn Monroe. Most tellingly, he made no mention of it in a 1995 book about the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, not telling the story until he wrote another book five years later.
  • The opening credits to The Wicker Man (1973) thank Lord Summerisle and the people of his island for their cooperation in depicting their religion. There was no such lord, no such island, and no Scottish community practicing any such religion in the twentieth century.
  • There is no situation of someone remaining in a hidden room in a foreclosed home as claimed in 4Closed.
  • Much of Knute Rockne, All American takes the Very Loosely Based on a True Story approach that was common to biopics of the era. However, the iconic "win one for the Gipper" halftime speech is more or less accurate, based on a real speech that Rockne gave to his team at halftime of the 1928 game against Army. Gipp's death scene in which he delivers the line to Rockne is also dramatized. The truth however is that Rockne made the whole speech up in 1928 as a Motivational Lie; Gipp never said any such thing and Rockne wasn't even there when Gipp died.
  • Tropic Thunder has an In-Universe example: The movie they're making was adapted from a novel written about a covert military operation during The Vietnam War. The author was supposedly the soldier who was rescued in said operation and lost both of his hands as a result. It later turns out that the author wasn't actually involved in the operation, never served in the military, and still has both of his hands.
  • The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love. Despite the title claiming it's "incredibly true", this is a fictional film. The "incredibly true" part probably comes from a play that is mentioned a couple of times in the film, which, according to the characters' descriptions, is a play about lesbian romance that is based on a true story.
  • Virginia City: Starts with a peculiar title card saying that while the characters are fictional, the story of 73 Confederate sympathizers trying to smuggle out gold out of Nevada is true. It isn't.
  • The Emerald Forest is supposedly based on an honest-to-God account of an American engineeer whose son was kidnapped and Raised by Natives. Thanks to a little digging by Harlan Ellison®, it was exposed as bearing about as much resemblence to the facts as Pocahontas has to its real-life origin. More here.

  • Roots, Alex Haley's history of his family, was a bestseller and adapted into a hugely popular TV miniseries. While Haley's book was classified as a novel and much of the plot was Haley's invention, he claimed that he had in fact traced his ancestry to an African named Kunta Kinte who was kidnapped by slavers and sold into slavery in the American South. As The Other Wiki notes, most of the follow-up research contradicts Haley's story. There is little basis in fact for Haley's account of his history prior to his great-great-grandfather "Chicken George" Lea.
  • In the 1970s, the book The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail (retitled Holy Blood, Holy Grail in the United States) claimed to reveal the truth of a relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene that was hidden in various Renaissance paintings. It was later revealed to be completely fictional, but not before hundreds of thousands of people had been conned.
    • That book heavily inspired The Da Vinci Code, which caused an identical resurgence in public interest. Amusingly, the authors of the first book sued Brown for copyright infringement and ran into a severe case of Morton's Fork; since you can't copyright history or facts, if they wanted to claim infringement, they had to admit they were making it up. And even that wouldn't work because you can't copyright very general ideas either. Needless to say, they lost. Even more interestingly, The da Vinci Code even name-drops Holy Blood, Holy Grail as one of Teabing's resource on the Grail,note  which would counter accusations of directly ripping off the book. The ideas posited in Holy Blood, Holy Grail were essentially a MacGuffin in the story, as various Holy Grails so often are. But in the end, Dan Brown made the same mistake as the authors of Holy Blood and claimed it was all real.
    • Holy Blood, Holy Grail is itself based on the earlier frauds about Rennes-le-Château invented by local restauranteur Noël Corbu as a publicity stunt, and the mythical Priory of Scion created by Pierre Plantard out of Corbu's own story.
  • Lucian's True History is a very old example of this. Lucian was annoyed at how many contemporary historians would report just about anything as fact, so he wrote a "true" story that was as ludicrous as he could imagine. The clue to it not being what it says it is is the fact that it is the earliest known story about a trip to the moon. It ends with a promise that the protagonist's further adventures will be described in a sequel, which is also a lie.
  • Some people believed that Kensuke's Kingdom really was based on Michael Morpurgo's childhood. Made all the worst by the epilogue, where he writes about "himself" going to meet Kensuke's grandson after writing the book. Really, Michael?
  • James Frey's A Million Little Pieces caused no small headache for Oprah Winfrey after she plugged the book for Oprah's Book Club. First she denied the idea that parts of the book were false, then she tried to claim that essential truth was more important than factual truth (which honked off the general public) before she finally rescinded her recommendation and verbally castigated the author on her show. In the end it turned out to be more Very Loosely Based on a True Story than anything, as Frey made massive embellishments in order to get the book published, but the story does have truth to it if widely stretched. Despite this, Frey has gone on to some success, including as one half of the pseudonym Pittacus Lore in the I Am Number Four series, which has led at least one critic to comment that at least it's known for a fact he can write fiction.
  • Karl May is best known for his stories about "his" travels through the American West and the Middle East long before he actually visited the US and the Orient in person. Today that's no longer a major issue, but some of his contemporaries didn't take it well.
  • House of Leaves plays with this, with the framing manuscript claiming to be a critical analysis of a documentary that the editor of the manuscript assures us doesn't really exist, about a photojournalist who documents footage of his very strange house...
  • There's a story that still pops up every once in a while, based on a pamphlet written by a woman in the 19th century, detailing the horrific abuse she supposedly endured at the hands of the Mormons in Salt Lake City. Apparently she was held prisoner inside the temple and used as a sex slave, until one day she managed to escape by jumping out of an upper window into the Great Salt Lake and swimming to safety. For those unfamiliar with local geography, the temple is at the center of the city, and the lake is more than 30 km away.
    • Arthur Conan Doyle was one of the people who bought into it, as he not only used it in his first Sherlock Holmes novel, he defended the claims as true for years afterwards.note 
  • The book The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk does the same thing for the Catholic church, suffering from extreme artistic license that clearly indicated it was fiction. Some claim that Maria Monk was actually a brain-damaged woman tricked by her publishers or ghostwriters, who profited from her "experience" and left her destitute.
  • Les Liaisons Dangereuses has two prefaces, both written by the author. The author's preface is called the "Editor's" and claims all the letters in the book are true; he's just edited out boring bits. The publisher's preface warns that it's all false, but in a deliberately ridiculous way — the "publisher" claims the story obviously can't be true because nobody in this country, in this oh-so-enlightened era, would ever behave as these characters do. (So the real message is that yes, the story itself is fiction, but it's a satire on how people really do act.)
  • The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl claims to be a true story, only with a few names changed. Given that the title character exercises clairvoyant powers, it's reasonable to assume that he did not exist by any name.
  • Similar to the James Frey controversy, Jeremiah Terminator Leroy, aka JT Leroy, was actually the pen name of a middle-aged woman, Laura Albert, whose fictional persona was of a young transgender prostitute. Albert even hired her sister-in-law, Savannah Coop, to make public appearances dressed up in drag in order to portray a post-sex change Leroy. (Try not to think about that one too hard.) Her first novels about underage gender dysphoric sex workers from the Deep South were presented as being at least vaguely autobiographical. Of course, even though it's Based On A Great Big Lie, this doesn't stop The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things from technically being really, really good.
  • Anthony Godby Johnson's A Rock and a Hard Place is the memoir of a young boy whose Abusive Parents molested him and sold him to their friends for sexual purposes, until he contracted AIDS. Eventually, he ran away and was adopted by a social worker named Vicki Johnson. However, none of it actually happened; authorities and reporters (including Keith Olbermann, who was one of the "kid"'s biggest supporters at first) became suspicious when they realized that Vicki Johnson was the only person who had ever seen the boy, and that Johnson had pretended to be him while talking to them on the phone. The family of a New Jersey traffic engineer realized that the supposed author photo was one of the guy as a little boy, and the person who took said photo was his former school teacher Joanna Victoria Fraginals... alias Vicki Johnson. Oprah fell for this one, too.
    • Armistead Maupin, one of the many authors taken in by the hoax, wrote The Night Listener about the experience. However, it's a Roman à Clef, and the first-person narrator, a Maupin stand-in, says several times that he's been known to embellish the truth. It's a very good book about this trope, and it also inspired a movie where the late Robin Williams played the main character. (A Rock and a Hard Place, on the other hand, isn't very well-written, particularly once the reader realizes that its author is not an 11 year old.)
    • The case was so polemic that it inspired an early episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. In it, a literary agent is murdered via a bomb placed in his car, for discovering that Erica Windermere, the ill and secluded female teenage author he sponsored, didn't exist but was the invention of two con artists that made themselves pass as her "foster parents". "Erica", just like Tony Godby Johnson, had written a best seller based on her horribly abusive bio parents. In a twist, however, the fraudsters were red herrings; the real killer was the book's producer, who killed the agent because she was so deluded into believing "Erica's" existence that she couldn't resist it when the agent's decision to confront the fraudsters "broke" said illusion.).
  • The book The Third Eye by "Lobsang Rampa" is...difficult to classify. It allegedly tells the experiences of a Tibetan lama, but subsequent inquiries eventually revealed that it was written by a plumber from Devon called Cyril Hoskin who had never been to Tibet in his life. When challenged about this, Hoskin subsequently insisted that "Rampa" was a walk-in spirit that had taken over his body. (As shown by the "Talk" page on his Wikipedia article, some people still believe this, or at least think he was a Willing Channeler.) What prevents this from being a straight example is that to all appearances, Hoskin appears to have genuinely and sincerely believed it himself; whether he was genuinely hosting somebody, Lost in Character or out-and-out schizophrenic is a mystery for the ages.
  • The Flashman books are all supposedly based on rediscovered memoirs written by the title character. This device (coupled with the impressive amount of research George MacDonald Fraser put into every volume) led more than one critic to believe they were the real deal. The first book in particular fooled American reviewers, who were totally unfamiliar with Fraser and the Victorian novel Flashman was based on (Tom Brown's School Days).
  • The "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s was largely created on the basis of several written accounts of Satanic ritual abuse, pretty much all of which later turned out to be fabricated.
    • The book Michelle Remembers is perhaps the most (in)famous alleged written account of Satanic ritual abuse. It has now been widely discredited, mostly by many healthy doses of Fridge Logic — for example, a supposedly nonreligious 5-year-old having the presence of mind to rebuke Satanists with a cross, an 81-day ritual that summons the Devil himself during which none of the Satanists apparently need to eat, use the bathroom, or show up at work (it was later revealed that Michelle herself had never missed a day of school during the supposed ritual, a fact explained as evidence that the Satanic conspiracy extended to the school board), and a fatal car wreck that strangely didn't turn up in a newspaper that reported on wrecks of even less serious nature at the time. One of the worst parts is that Michelle (who later divorced her husband to marry the psychologist she was relating all of this to) blames her involvement in the abuse on her mother, who died of cancer when Michelle was 14. This article gives a detailed analysis of the book.
    • Laurel Rose Willson's Satan's Underground, published under the name Lauren Stratford, spoke of the author being brought up as a "baby breeder" by a Satanic cult, giving birth to babies to be used in sacrifices or snuff films. The evangelical magazine Cornerstone exposed it as a hoax when not only it pointed out that the dates and events she gave didn't line up with hospital and school records, but it also mentioned several incidents of Willson's past in which she falsely accused her family and specially her mother of abusing her. Willson later reappeared as "Laura Grabowski", claiming to be a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and a victim of Dr. Josef Mengele; this, too, was exposed as a fraud when a Jewish group investigated her claims.
    • Mike Warnke's The Satan Seller was an account of serving as a "Satanic high priest" before coming to Christianity. Cornerstone debunked this one in the same way.
    • In 1986, the infamous Jack Chick published a bizarre book named "He came to set the captives free", which supposedly depicted how Dr. Rebecca Brown released a woman named Elaine from a huge Satanic cult that had forced her to marry Satan himself, among other things. It turned out "Dr. Brown" was an ex-physician named Ruth Bailey who lost her license for abusing her patients (i.e., she tried to overdose them on painkillers), and that "Elaine" (whose real name was Edna) was a roommate and former patient whom she also treated like crap.
    • As of 2012, retired unlicensed social worker Judy Byington is trying to resurrect the Satanic Panic with her book Twenty-Two Faces, allegedly the biography of a former prostitute, drug user, and mental patient. It involves divine intervention, prophecy, and a Jewish Nazi CIA mindcontroller. As well as a hardened ex-con yelling "kiss my lickety-split!" There are many of these self-published books, nearly all of which feature Split Personalities in the classic 80s narrative focusing on improbable horror stories which are supposedly the only way anyone becomes multiple in the first place. Many abuse survivors, multiple and singlet, scorn these exaggerated narratives as causing skepticism toward real-life cases of child abuse.
  • Horace Walpole originally passed off The Castle of Otranto as an antique manuscript penned by an Italian clergyman. At the time he wrote it, supernatural tales were regarded as embarrassing products of ignorance, not entertainment, and Walpole probably feared for his credibility if his name were attached to literature's first Gothic novel.
  • A children's book called The Pushcart War claimed it was based on a true story. While certain events are implausible (like attacking trucks with pea-shooters), it's theoretically possible...until you realize that the copyright date is before the time that the events in the book supposedly take place. This is deliberate, as the book was presented as a history written long after the events described therein. Interestingly, its publishers update the "historical" time frame with each new edition. It was originally published in 1964 describing events in 1975. Later releases said 1986 and 1998. The most recent version says 2029.
  • Lorenzo Carcaterra's Sleepers (which was also made into a film) purported to be a nonfiction account of how he and three of his friends were sent to reform school for a year, where they were viciously abused by the guards. A decade later, two of the friends killed one of the guards but were acquitted of murder because they were prosecuted by the third friend, who intentionally lost the case with the help of a false alibi provided by a priest. However, none of the details provided by Carcaterra corresponded to any real-life murder case in Manhattan that has been identified, and Carcaterra's records from the Catholic school he attended in his youth have no indication of him ever having been sent to reform school, or even being absent for as many as four consecutive weeks. Carcaterra counters this by claiming that the school records had been altered and that the murder didn't really take place in Manhattan, but this wouldn't make the story true.
  • Go Ask Alice, a rather infamous anti-drug book, offers the compelling tale of a young suburban girl who is sucked into the world of drugs and eventually ends up dead. Ostensibly the real diary of a teenage girl, it was, in fact, entirely fabricated by "editor" and youth counselor (and devout Mormon) Beatrice Sparks. Sparks has also released a series of other "true diaries" in the same vein as Go Ask Alice, but dealing with different subjects, such as AIDS (It Happened to Nancy), and teen pregnancy (Annie's Baby, among others). It was also debunked on Snopes.
    • Also infamous was Jay's Journal, about a teenage boy lured into Satanism who ultimately kills himself. It was such a lie that Sparks got sued by the real Jay's family. Jay was actually a boy named Alden Barrett, who really did commit suicide in 1971. His mother, believing that Go Ask Alice was real, asked Sparks to publish an edition of his diary. But only a fragment of the book comes from Alden's diary. His grave has been desecrated repeatedly, his family has split apart, and his brother left the Mormons and wrote a book, A Place In The Sun, about how horrible and false Jay's Journal was. The family also sponsored a rock opera, also named A Place In The Sun, based on their testimony.
  • Happens in-universe in Albert Sanchez Pinol's Pandora In The Congo. The protagonist writes down a murder suspect's story of what really happened when he went to Congo with two noblemen. No, he didn't murder them. They were killed in a war with an underground race called "tektons." The suspect then blocked off the passage connecting the tektons' underground world to ours, Saving the World, and returned to civilization alone. The story is published and everyone believes it, leading to the suspect going free. Except not a word of it is true and he really did murder the noblemen.
  • Bravo Two Zero, the memoirs of former SAS trooper and Gulf War veteran "Andy McNab" (a pseudonym; he is famous for his face never being visible on camera on the grounds that a lot of people still want to kill him), ended up becoming a severe embarrassment to the British Army thanks to this trope. First, another member of the squad — "Chris Ryan" (also a pseudonym although he does show his face), now a minor TV personality in the vein of Ray Mears — chimed in with his own memoir, painting McNab as a very Unreliable Narrator and blaming him for the mission's disastrous end. Another SAS veteran flew out to Iraq in 1993, retraced as much of the squad's route and interviewed as many witnesses as he could find, and discovered that both of them were equally guilty of inflating their stories. If they were exaggerating for the sake of a good story this would be bad enough, but they were apparently less than truthful during their debriefing sessions as well. Unfortunately, by the time this became generally known there were half a dozen other "true accounts" of the SAS in the Gulf War that showed equal regard for fact-checking. Peter Radcliffe, then-Regimental Sergeant Major of the SAS and the only Gulf War veteran of the Regiment to publish his memoirs without a pseudonym, devotes an entire chapter to the whole wretched business.
  • Greg Mortenson's Three Cups Of Tea. He really did go to Pakistan and Afghanistan and try to build schools, but embellished his narrative to H. Rider Haggard (or Red Rascal) proportions, insulting his hosts in the process and blaming it all on the Balti people's vague notions about time.
  • Swedish author Liza Marklund co-authored a whole series of books together with a woman calling herself "Mia", detailing the abuse and persecution "Mia" and those close to her suffered from her Muslim ex-boyfriend. The events in the books were claimed to be completely true with only names and places changed to protect those involved, and Marklund spent years using the books as proof in political debates. In 2008, Monica Antonsson wrote a book proving that the books about "Mia" are almost completely fictional. After trying to claim that Antonsson was lying, Marklund changed her tune and claimed the books were never meant to be taken as fact and were clearly fiction all along.
  • American-Jordanian author Norma Khouri wrote Forbidden Love, a memoir detailing her life in Jordan and her friendship with a Muslim woman named Dalia, who was murdered by her family in an honour killing for meeting a Christian man in secret. Even before publication, Khouri was confronted by Jordanian feminist and pro-women's rights activist Amal al-Sabbagh, who noted that Khouri had completely misrepresented Jordan's legal system and also gotten many important locations wrong. Khouri dismissed this criticism (or more accurately, threw a hissy-fit), claiming that al-Sabbagh was just trying to protect Jordan's image. Then an Australian literary critic did some digging after publication; in addition to the Artistic License, she discovered that Khouri hadn't even been in Jordan at all during the book's timeframe and that Khouri and her American husband ran away from America after their involvement in several frauds. At this, the publisher hastily recalled the book. Khouri admitted to taking some liberties with the original story but still insists that the story is true, despite all evidence to the contrary.
    Amal al-Sabbagh: "It was totally crazy. She accused us of only defending Jordan's reputation, when we had to defend the reputation of Jordanian women against what she wrote. She ruined the reputation of Jordanian women, saying they were imprisoned in their homes and so on. Jordanian women have excellent education levels that are gradually being translated into participation in the workforce. Her tone is that all Jordanian women live under these traditional practices, which is wrong."
  • Done for satirical effect by The Report from Iron Mountain, a '60s counterculture book written by Leonard Lewin as a Stealth Parody of Vietnam-era military think tanks. Posing as a leaked document written by a "secret government panel", it claimed that war was a necessary part of the economy and served to divert collective aggression, and that society would collapse without it (basically, the plot of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots). Therefore, in the event of peace, they recommended that new bodies be created to emulate the economic activities of war, including blood sports, the creation of new enemies to scare the people (including alien invaders and environmental destruction), and the reinstatement of slavery.

    Before the hoax was revealed in 1972, even President Lyndon Johnson was (allegedly) fooled by it (and reportedly "hit the roof" when he read it), and there remain conspiracy theorists who believe that it actually is the real deal, claimed to be a hoax as a means of damage control.
  • The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a notorious anti-Semitic tract claiming to be the records of a meeting by a Jewish cabal plotting to Take Over the World. In reality, it was written by the Okhrana, the Secret Police of Tsarist Russia, as a tool for starting pogroms and otherwise convincing people that anything other than reactionary Christian monarchy was directly authored by Satan. It was later carried into western Europe and the US by White Russians in the wake of Red October. It was exposed as a forgery by The Times of London in 1921, who revealed that large sections of the book were cribbed wholesale from a 19th century anti-Napoleonic tract. Even so, it was made part of the school curriculum in Nazi Germany, and anti-Semites to this day cite it as "evidence" of a Jewish conspiracy.
    • It was better received in Japan, where in World War II they began strongly encouraging Jews to immigrate in hopes of convincing them to use their influence to help the burgeoning nation. To this day there are some Japanese who see The Protocols as a handy blueprint for success (not that there aren't any of the usual bunch of anti-Semites that claim The Protocols are proof of Jewish domination in Japan; it's that Japan, a nation with little Jewish history, tended to view anti-Semitic conspiracies in a completely different light).
  • The Protocols remains a solid seller in the Arab world thanks to the Okhrana's successor the KGB, which during the Cold War translated it into Arabic and distributed copies liberally among Israel's neighbors.
  • has a whole article devoted to this.
  • The Things They Carried, is, at first, a war story about a platoon in Vietnam. But halfway through, the author admits that he made certain details more gory to make things more interesting, and moves beyond Vietnam — the entire book was more about what happened in the past and keeping memories alive than Vietnam itself.
  • Harry Potter has an in-universe twist on this in the second book. Gilderoy Lockhart has written several self-serving autobiographies about his impossibly heroic escapades, which seem to be a pack of lies because Lockhart is totally incompetent at everything we see him doing. But the stories are true...except for the part about Lockhart being the hero. He based them on various real incidents and wiped the memories of the real heroes, making it impossible to prove that he was lying. Karma bites Lockhart in the butt when he tries to wipe Harry and Ron's memories and the spell hits him instead.
  • The book A Child Called "It" may be a hoax according to the New York times.
  • The novel "Chocolate covered pickles" (Des cornichons au chocolat) was published in 1983 as the diary of a teenage girl called Stéphanie, who didn't give her last name; the name of the author on cover was simply "Stéphanie". 25 years and a television adaptation later, 70-year-old male author Phillipe Labro admitted he was the only writer of the book and that there was no Stéphanie to begin with. He claimed the book was an experiment to see if he could pose as a young female, and he succeeded.
  • The works of Carlos Castaneda, specifically his first three books about his time with ostensible Yaqui shaman Don Juan, were quite popular in anthropology circles in the 1970s. After detailed examination of the timelines and locations described by Castaneda, critics pointed out that that they could not have have possibly happened as described. While the books do show some knowledge of native Southwestern tribes, at least once description of a peyote ceremony was determined to be lifted from an anthropology textbook available at the school where Castaneda studied. While he never fully admitted to the books being fictional, he acknowledged "taking liberties" with the times and locations. To date, no independent verification of Don Juan's identity, or some of the ceremonies Castaneda described, has been found. Meanwhile Castaneda made a fortune off the books and started a cult consisting primarily of women students, some of whom killed themselves after his death, hoping to rejoin him.
  • Neil Gaiman didn't expect anyone to believe that The Sandman: The Dream Hunters was really based on an ancient Japanese folk tale; that was just something to make the story more interesting, like saying your Sherlock Holmes pastiche was found in a box marked "J.H. Watson M.D.". But a number of people did, including the artist of the comic book adaptation who said it completely seriously in interviews, until Gaiman tactfully corrected him. If you google "The Fox, The Monk, and the Mikado of All Night's Dreaming", you can see the story is still out there.
  • The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven was billed as A Remarkable Account of Miracles, Angels, and Life beyond This World: A True Story, but in 2015, the author, now a teenager, admitted that the story was fabricated. An individual claiming to be the author even anonymously posted an open letter on the book's page at Amazon and stated that he said he went to heaven because he thought it would get him attention. Some people thought it was Heaven Is For Real which had been a lie.
  • There is a disturbingly large number of fake Holocaust-related memoirs. This particular deal is even more serious because Holocaust deniers and anti-semites have clung to books like these to claim that every Holocaust memoir is a fake — including those proven to be real like The Diary of Anne Frank, Olga Lengel's Five Chimneys, Dr. Miklos Nyiszli's Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account, or Martin Gray’s For Those I Loved. Some of the fake ones are:
    • Angel at the Fence by Herman Rosenblat. Mr. Rosenblat really is a Holocaust survivor and really was imprisoned in the Schlieben camp as a child and teenager, but as the historians Kenneth Waltzer and Deborah Lipstadt found out, the parts about his future wife Roma secretly meeting him and sneaking him food through the Schlieben fence were pure fiction, and he didn't start "telling" them until several years after their marriage. (Oprah was fooled by this one, too.)
    • Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird was a fiction book that was supposedly based on the author's Real Life war experiences in German-occupied Poland, which turned out to be false. Poles often accuse the author of being a Holocaust profiteer, as some parts heavily resembled Holocaust pornography; for this reason, the book was banned in Poland for more than 20 years. Most egregiously, the couple who took care of him as a boy alongside other Jewish children that they protected was depicted as abusers and rapists; they were naturally rather pissed when they found out.
    • Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust was written by Misha Defonseca. She said when she was 4, her Jewish parents were sent to a concentration camp during World War II, and after she got tired of being abused by her caretakers, she crossed all of Europe to try finding them, alone with wolves during the travel. A movie was made in 2007 based on the novel. Then, "Misha" confessed after that her name was Monique de Wael, she wasn't born a Jew, her parents were arrested because they were members of the Belgian Resistance, and she was simply sent to her grandfather.note  Monique said that she wrote the story because of her passion for wolves and as a way to "cope" with her harsh life during these years. (And Oprah also recommended it.)
    • Australian writer Helen Darville won 1995's Australian/Vogel Literary Award and Miles Franklin Award for a novel named The hand that signed the paper, written under the pen name "Helen Demidenko". It supposedly described her antisemitic Ukranian family's experiences through World War II note , but it turned out to be a complete fabrication and opened the floodgates for quite the discussion on literary hoaxes in Australia. It was later re-issued under Darville's actual name.
    • The 1995 Holocaust memoir Fragments was supposedly written by Latvian-Jewish musician and luthier Binjamin Wilkomirski, depicting the author's "childhood time" in Auschwitz-Birkenau through a rather unusual narrative, allegedly akin to a young child's view. In 1997, the Swiss journalist Daniel Ganzifried (son of a Holocaust survivor) argued that Wilkomirski was actually Bruno Grosjean-Dossekker, a Swiss gentile born from a single mother and who had been adopted by a rich local family as a little boy. Wilkomirski claimed that he was a Latvian-Jewish child adopted by a gentile family and re-named Bruno after said family's dead son; however, further investigation by historian Stefan Maechler confirmed Ganzifried's claims. One of the strongest pieces of evidence against the author was how he "recognized" a fellow Auschwitz survivor, the aforementioned "Laura Grabowski".
    • In 2004 the University of Western Australia Press published Stolen Soul, the Holocaust memoir of a 69-year-old mining camp cook named Bernard Holstein. Holstein told heart-rending stories of being experimented upon by Nazi scientists in Auschwitz, living with wolves, joining La Résistance, and travelling to Australia as an orphan. Holstein lacked a German accent, but his arm bore a number tattoo. His publisher, Judy Shorrock, had no doubts about his story until she received a phone call from Bernard’s brother. Bernard was really Bernard Brougham, son of a Catholic family from New South Wales; he had never been to Europe, and went as far as getting a fake number tattoo to make his tale more believable.
  • Love and Consequences by "Margaret B. Jones" supposedly described how a half-Native girl rose from the gang-infested suburbs of Los Angeles to ultimately go to university in Oregon. It was actually written by Margaret "Peggy" Seltzer, an upper middle-class white woman. She claimed that while she did lie about her identity, she based the book on real testimonies that she collected through her work in the suburbs.
  • Margaret Landon's Anna and the King of Siam was based of the works of Anna Leonowens, who was a real person and did teach English to the royal children of Siam. Her book The English Governess at the Siamese Court seems to be a fairly accurate account of her experiences, but the sequel The Romance of the Harem was apparently based on rumor, gossip, and tales handed down from previous generations. Anna also lied about her background reinventing herself as a Welsh gentlewoman and widow of an English officer rather than the Anglo-Indian daughter of a British soldier and widow of a civilian clerk that she really was.
  • In an example that overlaps with Cut-and-Paste Translation, Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red includes a rewrite of Stesichoros' Geryoneis that is almost entirely Carson's original work, but is prefaced by an essay that seems designed to mislead the reader into thinking it's simply a translation. Since it's full of pretty obvious anachronisms — hot plates, weekends, glass-bottomed boats — a certain amount of playfulness must be in effect.
  • The Iolo Manuscripts are a series of ancient manuscripts on Welsh Bardic and Druidic theology collected in the 18th century by Iolo Morganwg, edited by Taliesin Williams and published in 1848. Or so it was claimed: in fact "Iolo Morganwg", real name Edward Williams, faked them all. Nonetheless, the "Iolo" collection was taken as authentic and used as source material by generations of scholars before it was debunked.
  • The memoirs of the plus-sized fashion model Ryann Maegen Hoven aka Tess Holliday may be a case of this as well, according to her brother and others.
  • "Northwestward", from The Further Adventures of Batman, has a premise that Bruce Wayne was an actual person assisting the police by solving crimes, creating the basis of the comicbook character from Batman. That is only true within the fictional world of the Black Widowers.

    Live Action TV 
  • Kids' show Wacaday had something very similar to this with its fictionalized historical fact segments, as they'd always remind you at the end that "We know it's true because we made it up ourselves!"
  • Square One TV's Mathnet (a Dragnet parody) always started with the same narration - "The story you're about to see is a fib, but it's short. The names are made up but the problems are real."
  • Lie to Me inverts this with a disclaimer at the beginning of each episode, stating that the events and characters of the series are entirely false. While nothing like any of the episodes has ever happened in real life, Lightman is based off of a real-life person, Dr. Paul Ekman. The disclaimer may be to avoid legal wrangling given the show's tendencies. Lightman may declare, for example, that he knows another character is lying by the way that person touches his hand to his lips. Then, as the show goes to commercial, we are shown news photos of real-life people — mostly politicians — performing the same gesture.
  • Reality Television can be prone to this. While all of Reality TV is Based On A Great Big Lie to some extent — the "characters" are presented with carefully crafted situations, and many reality show participants mostly understand what kind of "role" they are supposed to play for the cameras — some shows go further than others in fabricating reality.
    • House Hunters, on HGTV, which purports to show people looking for new homes, in fact often shows people who have already closed on their new homes, and sometimes shows them visiting homes that aren't actually for sale. (In fact most of the house-hunting imitators that have sprung up in the wake of House Hunters are Based On A Great Big Lie. Watch any TV real estate show, and note how rarely a realtor's "For Sale" sign will be seen in front of a property that is supposedly for sale.)
    • Breaking Amish, which became a big hit for TLC, purported to show five young people, four Amish and one Mennonite, who had left their communities and were coming to the big city for the first time. In fact they had all been living in the secular world for years, one for over a decade. Two of the cast members who were shown going on their "first date" on the show had really been involved for years and had a child together before the show started recording.
    • A&E apparently pre-places items in the Storage Wars lockers for the cast members to find. Rooting through random storage lockers turned out not to make sufficiently compelling TV.
    • The British TV series The Only Way Is Essex (think the English Jersey Shore) at least is honest and describes the show as "real people in modified situations, saying unscripted lines but in a structured way". In other words they admit that what they're actually showing is amateur improv.
    • A member of the production crew of Hoarders warns that the subjects are encouraged to make their places look messier. The production people even bring in prop trash to strew around. On close inspection you can see the same items (e.g., stuffed animals) turning up in house after house.
  • 1000 Ways to Die ping-pongs between this and Very Loosely Based on a True Story, with occasional (and still very heavily exaggerated) flirtations with truth.
  • Scorpion is based on the true story of real life Walter O'Brien, aka genius hacker Scorpion with an IQ of 197, who started a company at the age of 13 and helped catch the Boston Marathon bombers and prevent a nuclear meltdown. Or more accurately, it is based on the stories made up by Walter O'Brien, because not one of those is actually true.
  • The Wire explores the trope in season five through the character of Scott Templeton, a junior journalist at the Baltimore Sun. The Sun is a failing paper, and as another round of layoffs looms, Scott begins embellishing his stories in an effort to shine his portfolio and get a more secure job elsewhere. It starts small, with some too-good quotes and details that are impossible to confirm. The audience don't even know for sure what the truth is; we can only share the suspicions of his editor. But after he gets used to it, he goes big: Scott claims that he received a phone call from a serial killer who has been targeting homeless men in the city. This instantly makes him the darling of upper management, and nationally famous, and he's compelled to keep up the lie. The twist, however, is that the killer doesn't exist, and even Scott doesn't know that. The scare was fabricated by rogue homicide Detective McNulty, with altered case files and forensics, for reasons of his own. McNulty obviously sees through Scott's lies right away, but he takes advantage of them to stage a "real" call from the killer to Scott, which naturally freaks the writer out. In the end, editor Gus has enough convincing evidence of Scott's other fabrications that he feels he must present the accusation to management. They refuse to listen, because Scott is about to win a Pulitzer. Gus loses his job instead.
  • The 2014-2017 TV remake/spinoff/reinterpretation Fargo also claimed to be based on true stories, despite the four stories being set in the same region of the country in different decades, with the first season having such a similar-but-markedly-different plot that it and the movie they can't both have happened without someone mentioning it. The series follows the Coens' admission that the events of the film were fictional, so the boilerplate is meant to be taken with a grain of salt.

  • To promote Platinum Weird, Dave Stewart (from the Eurythmics) and Kara DioGuardi claimed that the songs were originally by a lost-to-history 1970s band of the same name, sung by the fictional Erin Grace. VH-1 even did a mockumentary on the fake band.
  • In a subtle example, Tom Lehrer introduces "The Irish Ballad" on the album Tom Lehrer Revisited as "An ancient Irish ballad which was written a few years ago."
  • Camper Van Beethoven originally claimed their Cover Album of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk was a series of lost recordings they made while snowed in on a retreat in 1987, which they remixed and added some overdubs to for its release in 2002. The band later admitted it was entirely new recordings: After having been broken up for about a decade, they decided to do a cover album as a way to test out how they'd work together in the studio without having to write new original songs, with the fake back-story being a way to keep expectations from getting too high.
  • The opening of Ain't No Fun (Waiting Round to be a Millionaire) by AC/DC features the following tongue-in-cheek disclaimer:
    "The following is a true story. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty."
  • The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets' third album, Spaceship Zero, claims to be a soundtrack for a film of the same name, based on a German TV show ("Raumschiff Null"), based on a radio play, based on a 1930s American moviehouse serial called "Spaceship to the Stars". None of these really exist, and the album doesn't sound like a soundtrack. However, the television show was adapted into a Tabletop RPG, which is real.

  • Parodied in, of all things, a children's playground rhyme. You know, the one with the first verse that says, "I stand before you to stand beside you to tell you a story I know nothing about..." then goes into non sequitor with verses that contradict themselves in the same line and finally ends with, "if you don't believe this lie is true, just ask the old blind woman, he saw it too!"
    "Back to back, they faced each other, drew their swords and shot each other!"
  • The Gasparilla festival is a huge event in Tampa, Florida every January. It's supposedly a celebration of the life of José Gaspar, a Spanish pirate who operated on Florida's Gulf Coast in the 18th century. But all evidence points to Gaspar being a fictional character created by Florida railroad/hotel owner Henry Plant in 1900 as a promotional gimmick to explain the name of Gasparilla Island, where he owned a resort.

  • William Shakespeare bent Artistic License to the snapping point when writing some of his history plays. The real Macbeth, for instance, defeated a young King Duncan in battle to win his throne. The real Macbeth also had a successful 17-year reign as King of the Scots before being himself defeated in battle by Duncan's son Malcolm (who had been a child, not a young adult, when Duncan was killed). Malcolm also seemingly killed Macbeth by his own hand; no person corresponding to Macduff existed in reality. And Malcolm did not immediately take the throne after killing Macbeth; the Macbeth's stepson Lulach (who does not even appear in the play) had a brief and apparently rather dismal reign as King before Malcolm had him assassinated and only then became King Malcolm III. A lot of it can be justified as him having to please the monarchy at the time, who were descendants of Duncan and Malcolm, and the rest can be justified by the rather inaccurate contemporary history books he had available. In any case, audiences at the time were relatively unconcerned about whether historical dramas got the details right.
  • Ruggero Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci is probably based on a lie. Leoncavallo said it was based on a court case that his father, who was a judge, presided over, and further claimed that he had the documentation to prove it. However, no such document, or indeed any corroborating evidence, has ever been found. It is now generally believed that Leoncavallo played the "true story" card to evade the charge of plagiarism.
  • Pippin begins with the Leading Player imploring the audience to "cast all previous misconceptions aside" of Pippin's life, because "what you are about to see is the true life story of Pippin." Even discounting the blatant No Fourth Wall unrealism, there are very few things in the show that loosely correspond to anything that happened in the Real Life Carolingian empire.

    Video Games 
  • Tengai Makyou is purportedly based on a book about Japan named Far East of Eden, by a European author named P. H. Chada. Said author and his writings never existed, although they are genuinely inspired by the largely- to entirely-fictitious accounts of life in Japan that used to be popular in the West. This one is very tongue-in-cheek and not at all intended to be taken seriously, though.
  • The US/Europe release of Fatal Frame/Project Zero is advertised as being based on a true story. Charitably, it could be said to actually be based on something that might, at one time, have been an urban legend in Japan.
  • At the start, Armed and Dangerous says that it was based on a true story. Considering that this game includes a tea drinking robot, miniature black holes, and a land shark gun, among many other things, this was probably not supposed to be taken seriously.
  • Sea of Lies: Mutiny of the Heart claims to be "based on true historical events" during the intro, but doesn't mention where or when these supposed events allegedly happened.
  • Lakeview Cabin Collection gives one at the beginning of Part IV, the entire episode being a Shout-Out to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

    Web Original 
  • Most Creepypasta present themselves as being true stories.

    Western Animation 
  • This is actually parodied in the episode "Arrgh!" of Spongebob Squarepants. SpongeBob and Patrick quickly come to believe their pirate quest is a scam (and that Mr. Krabs has gone Cloud Cuckoo Lander), finding out the treasure map is just a game board they used earlier in the episode. Chance kicks in as they do find the treasure according to the game board, to which SpongeBob remarks "it really is based on a true treasure map!" The Flying Dutchman comes in to take his treasure back, willing to share with SpongeBob and Patrick. But much to the dismay of Mr. Krabs, he only gains a piece from the game board, and gets told that "it's based on a real treasure chest!"
  • Tex Avery was fond of this trope. Drag-Along Droopy began with the disclaimer; "This is an absolutely authentic account of the grazing land battles of the sheep and cattle wars of the early west. We know this story to be true. It was told to us by — A TEXAN!"
  • The Ren & Stimpy Show episode "Son of Stimpy" (A.K.A, "Stimpy's First Fart") began with a voiceover declaring that "this is a true story that we made up".
  • South Park: "AWESOM-O" ran with the disclaimer "Due to this week's tragic events in Hawaii, the Lemmiwinks episode of South Park will not be shown tonight. Instead, we present the all new and slightly better episode, AWESOM-O."
  • One Woody Woodpecker cartoon (a parody of Dragnet) begins with "The story you are about to see is a big fat lie. No names have been changed to protect anyone."