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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?

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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?

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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 Direct Line to the Author and Mockumentary (pure fiction presenting itself as nonfiction). Contrast Roman à Clef.


Examples:

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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.
  • As a child, Mark Millar assumed that superhero comics were based on true stories. When wondering what happened to the heroes, his brother told him that they were all wiped out in a war with every supervillain. This lie inspired Millar to write Wanted and Old Man Logan.

    Films — Animated 
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • Early documentarians did this quite a bit:
    • Nanook of the North, Robert Flaherty's 1922 portrait of life among the Inuit of the northern Hudson Bay, is considered the first documentary film. However, virtually everything that happens in the film was staged in accordance with a story Flaherty drew up himself. "Nanook" was really named Allakariallak, the two women shown in the movie were not really his wives, and he died of tuberculosis rather than starvation. The film portrayed an Eskimo Land life in which the Inuit wore parkas and hunted with spears, when the real Inuit had been wearing Western clothing and hunting with firearms for many years. And the famous scene of Nanook fighting a seal through a hole in the ice was totally staged — other Inuit were pulling on the fishing line off-screen, and they had a dead seal on hand for 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 even tamed and had to be coaxed into trampling the natives' huts.
  • 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 killerbecause technically  Ed Gein, but there's isn't that much linking the two. The director mentions in the DVD commentary that the dates on which the fictional events supposedly occur correspond somewhat with the dates that they were filming the movie.
  • An American Haunting, based on a book by the same name about the Bell Witch of Tennessee, has problems. Lots of them. There's been no historical evidence found to indicate John Bell ever sexually abused his daughter, just for starters.
  • Fargo has gone all over the place:
    • The film explicitly claims in a blurb at the beginning that it's based on a true story. It isn't. The Coen Brothers (after changing their story a couple of times) eventually tried to weasel their way out of it by saying that everything in the movie was meant to be interpreted as fiction — including the blurb that claimed it was based on a true story. On the DVD extras, the Coens also claimed that they were afraid nobody would believe the crazy plot unless they said it was a true story. The Coens' most repeated lie was that the film was based on a 1987 news story about a businessman who planned on having his wife fake-kidnapped for ransom money, but the police caught him before he could bring his plan to fruition, and the Coens got curious and asked themselves, "what if he had succeeded?"
    • This led to a different movie getting this treatment — Kumiko The Treasure Hunter was based on a story that a Japanese woman, who was found dead in the area in 2001, believed the movie was real and was looking for a large sum of money that a character had hidden (and which was lost when he was murdered), but got lost and froze to death. In fact, she almost certainly committed suicide, and the treasure-hunter story was likely a misinterpretation of a conversation she had had with a police officer.
  • 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 unsolved 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.
  • 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 no one can prove even happened in the first place). 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. He brought his concerns 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."
  • Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County was billed as being based on actual events, against the wishes of director Dean Alioto, thanks to a strange turn of events and the Executive Meddling that followed. It's Alioto's remake of his little-seen 1989 horror film called UFO Abduction — little-seen because the master copy of the film, along with most VHS tapes and promotional materials, were destroyed in a warehouse fire. The few VHS tapes were circulated to small video stores across the U.S., and in the early 1990s, they resurfaced in ufologist circles (with the beginning and end credits removed) purporting to be an account of an actual Alien Abduction that came to be called "the McPherson Tape". Programs like Unsolved Mysteries and Encounters started to contact Alioto, trying to get him to admit to being part of the cover-up; the executives essentially wanted to capitalize on this publicity and told Alioto to say in the remake that the abduction was real.
  • 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 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 filmmakers did this intentionally, finding it great fodder for a story. However, the film is forced to stretch the truth to reach this result; Mozart and Salieri may have been professional rivals, but they respected each other's skills, and even collaborated to produce a contata in 1785. The film shows Salieri working on the Requiem Mass with Mozart, when there is no evidence that he did so (it is unknown how much of the piece Mozart wrote, but it was finished by Franz Xavier Süssmayer); it also implies that Salieri was the anonymous patron who commissioned the Requiem Mass, when we now know that it was Count Franz von Walsegg.note  In any event, the writers were willing to do the research on everything else in the movie.
  • Peter Jackson's Forgotten Silver is an audacious example. 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 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 and early '80s, but it didn't work. The movie is actually a fictionalization of a fairly well-documented journalistic book. The assurance is probably a joke, given that it is immediately followed by a very straight-laced military man calmly and deliberately stepping away from his desk and running head-on into a wall for no apparent reason.
  • The Boat That Rocked is actually an amalgamation of different stories; "Radio Rock" could refer to several different outfits that broadcast from a boat outside British waters. The one actually called "Radio Rock" did annoy the British government, but it also had a license and thus technically wasn't a "pirate" radio station at all. The others were actual pirate radio stations, in particular Radio Caroline, which 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 and Dutch authorities to their boats sinking (likely an inspiration for the film's climax). The film's ending is a bit more dramatic than the real one, when the government basically banned anyone from supplying them and waited for the crew to give up and come ashore, when they were promptly arrested. 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. However, what we do know is that spirits in the city were running high at that moment, and there were several demonstrations that, by some accounts (including those of a British consul and a Times reporter) were put down using armed troops, but no massacre. Of course, Sergei Eisenstein knew he wasn't making a documentary, but rather 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 maximum emotional impact, which 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 U.S. 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."
  • 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 claims he claims to have won was purchased by him at a local shop. The film ends with a bunch of "records" that Dux supposedly achieved during his bloodsport career, which in a world educated by Mixed Martial Arts now look fairly absurd. Some aspects of Dux's story aren't even possible, such as his claim that he defeated 52 other fighters (in fights "to the death") to win the tournament, which would imply a single-elimination tournament with 4.5 quadrillion participants (i.e. more human beings than have ever existed).
  • China Cry: A True Story is desperate enough to claim it really happened in its title. Even IMDb reports it as "based on a true story". This is in spite of it depicting several incidents of divine intervention, which aren't very well-supported supported by the evidence. It's based on the autobiography of the film's protagonist.
  • 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.
  • Enemy at the Gates presents an interesting example: 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.
  • 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 made-up element was the crucial "smoke from the grassy knoll"; none of the rifles used would emit any visible smoke, so Oliver Stone had to have a special-effects man blow smoke out of a bellows in order to get that effect (and many commentators would joke 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 about 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 of a little girl who was possessed by the dibbuk, a Hebrew demon that lived in a cursed box. There's one glaring problem; no little girl ever owned the box; the guy who bought it was an adult male (who claimed the demon made him sever his fingers and those of his roommates).
  • 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 since been totally discredited. The film even 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.
  • 4Closed claimed to be based on a story of someone living in a hidden room of a foreclosed house, but no such scenario is known to have happened.
  • Much of Knute Rockne, All American takes the Very Loosely Based on a True Story approach that was common to biopics of the era. Surprisingly, the film's iconic "win one for the Gipper" halftime speech is actually more or less accurate, being based on a real speech that Rockne gave his team at halftime of a 1928 game against Army. However, Rockne made the whole speech up as a Motivational Lie; Gipp never said any such thing, and Rockne wasn't even there when Gipp died. The film's depiction of Gipp's death is thus highly dramatized.
  • Tropic Thunder has an In-Universe example: The filmmakers are adapting a double hand amputee soldier's autobiography of his capture and rescue during The Vietnam War. It turns out that he's still got both his hands and he never even served in the military.
  • The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love is, despite its title, a fictional film. It's a bit confusing; the "incredibly true" part refers to an in-universe play which, according to the characters' descriptions, is about a lesbian romance that's based on a true story (but in-universe).
  • 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 engineer whose son was kidnapped and Raised by Natives. Thanks to a little digging by Harlan Ellison, it was exposed as bearing about as much resemblance to the facts as Pocahontas has to its real-life origin.
  • Saturday Night Fever was based on Nik Cohn's article, Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night about Cohn witnessing a fight outside the 2001 Odyssey disco. 20 years after the article's publication, Cohn admitted it was complete fiction.
  • Shadow People claims to be based off of real-life events, including "archival footage" with different actors contrasted against the "dramatized" events of the rest of the film, and ending with an "in mememoriam" statement about the protagonist, Charlie Crowe. None of it is real.

    Literature 
  • 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 (titled 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:
    • First, it's not entirely original in and of itself; it's based on earlier stories about the town of Rennes-le-Château, which were invented as a publicity stunt by local restaurateur Noël Corbu. Pierre Plantard would later spin Corbu's story into the mythical Priory of Scion.
    • Second, it got hit by the The Da Vinci Code, which used the same mythology and caused an identical resurgence in public interest in it. The Da Vinci Code doesn't exactly rip off Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and it in fact name-drops the book as one of Teabing's resources on the Grail.note  However, the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail amusingly saw fit to sue Dan Brown for copyright infringement. They ran into a severe case of Morton's Fork: if the story is real, it's not copyrightable and Brown could use it as a MacGuffin. So if they wanted to win the case, they had to admit they made it up, and they didn't want to do that (not that it would have worked, as the idea is general enough that it's still not copyright infringement). But Dan Brown, not content with winning the case, himself started claiming it was all real.
  • 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.
  • 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 U.S. 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.
  • A popular pamphlet in the 19th century supposedly details the horrific abuse of a woman by the Mormons, who supposedly imprisoned her in the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City and used her as a sex slave. Several people bought it and used it for Mormon-bashing, including Arthur Conan Doyle, who repeated the claims in his first Sherlock Holmes novel and defended them for years afterwards. The story's falsehood is evidenced by its ending, when the woman escapes by jumping out of a window into the Great Salt Lake and swimming to safety — the temple is in the center of the city, and the lake is more than 30 kilometers away.
  • 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 who was 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.
  • Jeremiah Terminator Leroy, a.k.a. J.T. Leroy, was supposedly a young transgender prostitute who wrote several supposedly autobiographical novels about gender-dysphoric sex workers in the Deep South. Only problem was that "Leroy" was the pen name of Laura Albert, a middle-aged woman who went as far as to hire her sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop, 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.) But audiences still thought the story was really good, even if it wasn't really true, which led to the acclaimed film adaptation The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.
    • What's fascinating about this story is how deep down the rabbit hole they went. Albert's initial excuse for why Leroy couldn't go out in public was because he allegedly had Kaposi Sarcoma lesions on his face, a detail that was mysteriously dropped - with no comment from anyone else - as Knoop stepped in to play him in public. Leroy was treated as a celebrity darling for a while, and Knoop "played" him for five or six years before the truth was revealed. Knoop even allegedly had a sexual affair with Asia Argento without giving away the secret (she told Argento that she'd had a sex change operation, but that she dressed like a boy in public because it "wasn't anyone's business"). Knoop eventually wrote an autobiography about her time as Leroy, called GirlBoyGirl: How I Became JT LeRoy - which is itself being adapted into a film, starring Kristen Stewart. Laura Albert ended up justifying it by claiming that Leroy was like an avatar for her, and it allowed her to create her best writing (although this didn't stop her being convicted for fraud - she signed away the film rights with "Leroy's" signature, which was illegal).
  • 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 who wanted to talk to the "kid" (including Keith Olbermann, who was one of his biggest early supporters) noticed that Vicki Johnson was the only one who had ever seen him. They also caught Johnson pretending to be the kid while talking on the phone. Their suspicions already raised, they turned to the book cover's supposed photo of the author as a little boy, and discovered that he grew up to be a New Jersey traffic engineer, and that the photo was taken by his teacher Joanna Victoria Fraginals — alias Vicki Johnson. Oprah fell for this one, too. And to add insult to injury, A Rock and a Hard Place is not very well-written, particularly once you realize that its author wasn't an eleven-year-old. The case was so polemic that it inspired Armistead Maupin, one of many authors taken in by the hoax, to write The Night Listener based on the experience, and an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent ripped it from the headlines (the victim is revealed to have discovered a similar hoax and turns out to have been murdered by the publisher, who couldn't believe it wasn't true).
  • 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 non-religious 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;note  and a fatal car wreck that strangely didn't turn up in a newspaper that regularly reported less serious wrecks. One of the worst parts is that Michelle (who later divorced her husband to marry the psychologist to whom she was relating all of this) 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 (especially 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.
    • In 2012, retired unlicensed social worker Judy Byington tried 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, a Jewish Nazi CIA mind controller, and a hardened ex-con yelling, "kiss my lickety-split!"
  • The book The Education of Little Tree was popular in the early 90's. The tale of a boy living with his Cherokee grandparents in the Appalachian mountains was so popular that many high schools had it on their reading lists. Then it was discoved that the author "Forrest Carter" was really KKK member Asa Earl Carter. "Forrest" Carter tried to coverup his past, but investigations proved he was the same man who wrote George Wallace's famous line "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." Oprah had to pull this book from her reading lists too, she recommended it in 1994 only to have to pull it from her website in 2007.
  • 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 they 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, there's no evidence the story happened; Carcaterra conveniently claims everything was covered up (like his school records, which show that he was never sent to reform school or absent for any appreciable length of time) or deliberately obscured (responding to claims that there was no case in Manhattan whose details correspond to Carcaterra's by claiming it didn't take place in Manhattan).
  • Mormon youth counselor Beatrice Sparks made a habit of writing books that purport to be real diaries of teenagers who deal with Very Special Problems, like AIDS (It Happened to Nancy) or teen pregnancy (Annie's Baby). They were all invented from whole cloth, but not before they were taken as true by terrified parents trying to save their children from the world around them. Among her most famous:
    • Go Ask Alice, which addresses the evils of drugs, offers the compelling tale of a young suburban girl who is sucked into the world of drugs and eventually ends up dead. It's quoted so often that it had to be debunked by Snopes.
    • Jay's Journal, a botched attempt at this that got Sparks sued by the real Jay's family. Jay was a real boy named Alden Barrett, who suffered from depression and committed suicide in 1971. His parents, themselves devout Mormons who believed Go Ask Alice was real, asked Sparks to publish Alden's diary. Only a fragment of the book actually comes from Alden's diary; the rest was a fabricated story about how he was lured into Satanism and ultimately killed himself for that reason. This led her readers (not taking kindly to Satanism) to desecrate his grave, and his family was torn apart over whether he really did fall into Satanism. Jay's brother left Mormonism entirely and wrote A Place in the Sun about the whole ordeal (later adapted into a rock opera).
  • In-universe example in Albert Sanchez Pinol's Pandora In The Congo: the protagonist writes down a murder suspect's account of what really happened went he went to Congo with two noblemen. He denied murdering them and claimed 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"note , ended up becoming a severe embarrassment to the British Army thanks to this trope. First, another member of the squad, "Chris Ryan",note  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 turned out to have been embellished. 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 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.
  • Jordanian-American author Norma Khouri's book Forbidden Love is supposedly 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 women's rights activist Amal al-Sabbagh, who noted that Khouri had completely misrepresented Jordan's legal system and also got many important locations wrong in her zeal to portray Jordan as inhabited entirely by primitive desert-dwellers. Khouri dismissed this criticism (or more accurately, threw a hissy-fit), claiming that al-Sabbagh was just trying to protect Jordan's image (which made no sense, given that she was herself a women's rights activist who opposed honour killings). Then, after publication, an Australian literary critic did some digging and found that Khouri wasn't even in Jordan at all during the book's timeframe; instead, she was in America with her husband, before they left the U.S. after their involvement in several other 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 if only 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 novel Chocolate Covered Pickles (Des cornichons au chocolat) was published in 1983 as the diary of a teenage girl known only as "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 four years old, 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 anti-semitic 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.
  • Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red combines this with a Cut-and-Paste Translation: it includes a supposed 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, a.k.a Tess Holliday, may have been exaggerated, according to her brother and others.
  • Used in-universe in Northwestward, from The Further Adventures of Batman: its premise is that Bruce Wayne was an actual person assisting the police by solving crimes, creating the basis of the comic book character 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. For example, Lightman may declare 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. Most of the house-hunting imitators that have sprung up in the wake of House Hunters are similarly Based On a Great Big Lie. You can see for yourself: 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, a.k.a. 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.
  • Used in-universe in season five The Wire: Scott Templeton, junior journalist at the Baltimore Sun, is prone to embellishing his claims just enough to avoid detection, partly to avoid layoffs and partly to earn a better job at a bigger paper. Only his editor really suspects him, but nobody believes him. Then Scott goes big and pretends he has been contacted by a serial killer who has been targeting homeless men in the city, making him nationally famous and the darling of upper management. The twist, however, is that the killer himself doesn't exist, and even Scott doesn't know that — he was made up by rogue homicide detective Jimmy McNulty, who's trying to fabricate a lurid story to secure funding for the chronically broke police department. McNulty, pleasantly surprised by this turn of events, happily calls Scott pretending to be the killer and plants more information (seriously freaking him out in the process), knowing Scott can't call him on it because his earlier lie would be exposed as well. In the end, Scott angles for a Pulitzer prize, and Gus airs his suspicions to the paper's management, which loses him his job.
  • The 2014-2017 TV remake of Fargo, like the film it was based on, 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.

    Music 
  • To promote Platinum Weird, Dave Stewart 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 real Tabletop RPG.
  • Since 2014, it's commonly known that Mamoru Samuragochi wasn't as deaf as he appeared to be, but he barely composed anything pertaining to his popular works such as Resident Evil: Director's Cut Dual Shock Ver. and Onimusha, unlike Takashi Niigaki, who actually wrote the scores for him.
  • "Ala Kaboo" by Sound 5:
    This is the story of Ala Kaboo
    The names have been changed... but the story has too

    Theatre 
  • William Shakespeare bent Artistic License to the snapping point when writing some of his history plays. Nowhere is this more evident than in Macbeth, which was commissioned by King James I of England, who was also King James VI of Scotland and the descendant of the people overthrew Macbeth in the play.note  As such, the play glosses over Macbeth's reign as King of the Scots, which in real life lasted 17 years — long enough for him to go to Rome and be personally blessed by the Pope. Macbeth in real life didn't kill Duncan in his sleep to take his crown, but rather defeated him in battle. Nor was Macbeth directly succeeded by Duncan's son Malcolm (who had been a child, and not a young adult, when Duncan was killed), but rather by his own stepson Lulach (who doesn't even appear in the play), who had a brief and apparently rather dismal reign as King before Malcolm had him assassinated (and only then became King Malcolm III). Malcolm, for his part, apparently assassinated Macbeth himself in real life; in the play, he was killed by Macduff, who doesn't appear to correspond to any real person. In any event, it's not as if Shakespeare's audience really cared about historical accuracy, and even the contemporary history books were notoriously inaccurate.
  • 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.
  • Fatal Frame was localized with Based on a true story as a tagline on the cover. The creators themselves have said that any mansion that urban legends believe to be haunted in Japan were not based on or inspired Himuro Mansion.
  • 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 
  • The Last Podcast on the Left brings up to trope in regards to The Iceman in their series on Richard Kuklinski. Marcus Parks is particularly incensed, as he feels the movie portrays Kuklinski as a far more sympathetic figure than the man was in real life. Marcus compares it to making a movie about John Wayne Gacy and focusing exclusively on his being a clown.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in the Spongebob Squarepants episode "Arrgh!" SpongeBob and Patrick quickly come to believe that 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!" Then the Flying Dutchman comes in to take his treasure back, but he's willing to share with SpongeBob and Patrick. So he gives hem a piece of the game board (much to Mr. Krabs' dismay), telling them "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".
  • 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."
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Great Divide", two tribes have been fighting for over a century over a crime one of their ancestors apparently committed against the other. Aang diffuses the conflict by revealing that the whole event was a misunderstanding of a dispute their ancestors had while playing a silly ball game. But by the end of the episode, Aang reveals to his friends he made the whole thing up to stop the tribes from fighting.


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