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Ripped From The Headlines / Film

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Examples of Ripped from the Headlines in Films

  • ABCs of Death 2: The Reveal of the M segment will be familiar to anyone who is aware of the bath salt cannibalism incidents in Florida.
  • Ace in the Hole (1951): The plot was inspired by two real-life events. Cave explorer W. Floyd Collins was trapped in a cave in 1925, and a three-year-old girl, Kathy Fiscus fell into an abandoned well in 1949. Just like in the film, the victims became media sensations and died before they were rescued.
  • Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: The massacre at the end, in which Z-Man goes off the deep end and kills the guests at his party, was inspired by the Tate-LaBianca murders perpetrated by the Manson family. The film started production just a few months after the murders occurred.
  • The 1917 film The Black Stork stars Dr. Harry J. Haiselden as a eugenicist who persuades the parents of a deformed infant to let it die instead of allowing life-saving surgery. In 1915, Haiselden was involved in a major controversy because he convinced the parents of a syphilitic infant, John Bollinger, to let him die. The Chicago Medical Society later expelled him over his continued pro-eugenics speeches and promotion of The Black Stork.
  • Bloody Wednesday, loosely based on the "McDonald's massacre" perpetrated by James Huberty, was made very shortly after the actual event.
  • Boy (1969): Inspired by… a Real Life scandal in 1966 Japan, when a couple was arrested for running a Staged Pedestrian Accident scam in which they arranged for their 10-year-old son to be hit by cars.
  • The Cocoanuts was originally produced on Broadway in 1925, the year of the famous Florida real estate boom.
  • All the school shooting films (like Zero Day or Elephant (2003)) released in the wake of Columbine.
  • Compliance was based on an actual crime that occurred in a fast food restaurant in 2004.
  • Crime Story, starring Jackie Chan, revolves around Chan's protagonist trying to solve a kidnapping incident, It was based on the kidnapping of a real-life Chinese millionaire.
  • Cyberbully (2011) is ABC Family's attempt to make a "realistic" drama about a real issue teens face. (in this case, cyberbullying). Specifically it was inspired by the story of Megan Meier, who hung herself due to a situation very similar to that in which Taylor finds herself, and is actually mentioned by name in the film.
  • In the 60s, Yakov Kostyukovsky read in a newspaper that a few Swiss people tried to smuggle jewels in an orthopedic cast. He took that idea, and the result was The Diamond Arm, one of the best known Soviet comedies ever.
  • Die Hard: In-universe. When Hans calls the police to give his fake demands, he asks for a variety of imprisoned terrorists to be released, ending with members of the group "Asian Dawn."
    Karl: [mouthing] Asian Dawn?
    Hans: [shrugs] I read about them in TIME magazine.
  • "Dirty" Harry Callahan fought obvious stand-ins for the Zodiac Killer (in Dirty Harry) and the Symbionese Liberation Army (in The Enforcer).
  • Disembodied Hitman was inspired by the abuse allegations that surfaced against Marilyn Manson in 2021, and several other instances of celebrities having their reputations destroyed. Dean Houlihan also drew from the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard situation - wherein the public found it difficult to decide who to believe - and so the killer's backstory is that his father's life was destroyed by false allegations, and he is now taking revenge on the seventeen people responsible.
  • Elysium: It doesn't need to be said that in 2013, wealth disparity and societal division in spite of constantly emerging technologies that have the potential to improve everyone's lives is a hotly debated issue.
  • Subverted by Fargo. It claims to be based on actual events, but in reality it's not even loosely based on anything that actually happened. Though the scene with the wood chipper being used to dispose of the body was inspired by what happened to murder victim Helle Crafts, except it was her husband who forced her body through the wood chipper. That case was the first one in Connecticut where a murder conviction was secured without a body (because only several ounces of body was ever recovered).
  • The 2005 remake of Fun with Dick and Jane was inspired by the 2002 Enron scandal, with the film set in 2000 ending with Dick's former coworker telling him he's been hired by Enron, and its executives are sarcastically "thanked" in the closing credits.
  • Girl in the Basement is a Lifetime film based on the Josef Fritzl incest case in Austria. A controlling father kidnaps his 18-year old daughter and holds her captive in a bomb shelter below his house for many years while keeping this hidden from the rest of his family, even impregnating his imprisoned daughter multiple times over.
  • The plot of The Godfather Part III was based on the Banco Ambrosiano of the 1980s.
  • Alfred Hitchcock did this a lot, though some of his films were adapted from novels that were ripped from the headlines.
  • Ida Lupino's Film Noir The Hitch-Hiker was based on hitchhiking murderer Billy Cook.
  • The plot of In & Out, where an award-winning actor thanks his old gay high school teacher, while being unaware he was still in the closet, thereby giving him tons of unwanted attention, was inspired by Tom Hanks' Oscar acceptance speech at the 1994 Academy Awards where he unwittingly did the same thing to his own old high school teacher.
  • The Killer That Stalked New York, a 1950 film Very Loosely Based on the 1947 New York City smallpox outbreak.
  • The Kill Team is based on the 2009 Maywand District Murders during the War in Afghanistan.
  • Fritz Lang did this a lot:
    • The serial child killer in M, lynch mob justice in Fury.
    • And You Only Live Once (1937) was based on Bonnie and Clyde, who had been gunned down just three years before that film hit the theatres.
    • Hangmen Also Die! revolves around the aftermath of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. The assassination was carried out on May 27, 1942 (though he didn't die of his injuries until June 4). The film was released on March 27, 1943 — less than a year later. As a result, the film is Very Loosely Based on a True Story; WWII was still ongoing, so the details of what actually transpired were not known to the filmmakers.
  • James Bond:
    • The Man with the Golden Gun, released in 1974, introduces an energy crisis sub-plot revolving around the film's Big Bad stealing an extremely efficient solar power generator and effectively holding it for ransom. This is very obviously inspired by the real world energy crisis of the early 1970's, especially since this aspect of the story is an invention of the film and was not part of the 1965 book.
  • The Last Duel is a 2021 Period Piece about a real life Trial by Combat which happened in 14th century France, but its plot (a woman accusing a man of raping her, which he violently denies, and manages to escape punishment for some times due to his connections) and date makes pretty clear the story is a metaphor of Metoo.
  • George Miller and James McCausland stated that they were inspired to co-write Mad Max by news reports and personal observations of the 1973 Oil Crisis' effects on Australian motorists:
    George Miller: I remember it really stuck in my mind, in a very peaceful city like Melbourne, our southern capital, or some city, it took ten days after a severe oil shortage for the first shot to be fired. And I thought, what if it went on? That was one of the things when we did the first Mad Max.
    James McCausland: Yet there were further signs of the desperate measures individuals would take to ensure mobility. A couple of oil strikes that hit many pumps revealed the ferocity with which Australians would defend their right to fill a tank. Long queues formed at the stations with petrol — and anyone who tried to sneak ahead in the queue met raw violence.
    George and I wrote the script based on the thesis that people would do almost anything to keep vehicles moving and the assumption that nations would not consider the huge costs of providing infrastructure for alternative energy until it was too late.
  • Both The Man with Nine Lives and The Man They Could Not Hang were based in part on the real-life saga of Dr. Robert Cornish, a University of California professor who, in 1934, announced that he had restored life to a dog named Lazarus, which he had put to death by clinical means. The resulting publicity (including a Time magazine article and motion picture footage of the allegedly re-animated canine) led to Cornish being booted off campus.
  • Network took inspiration from two news events of the mid-1970s: the on-air suicide of newscaster Christine Chubbuck, and the terrorist activities of the Symbionese Liberation Army.
  • Before all the car chases and explosions happen, the cult in Never Say Die instigates a mass suicide similar to the one instigated by the People's Temple in Jonestown, Guyana.
  • The Japanese Tear Jerker Nobody Knows is about a much-publicized incident in which a single mother abandons her four children, forcing them to fend for themselves, and one of the children is killed by a sibling's friends. The film can be seen as a subversion of this trope, as the real-life incident is more brutal than what is depicted on film.
  • Orphan: It's about an American family who adopts Esther, a 9-year-old Russian girl, who's in reality a thirty-three-year-old psycho who suffers from a disease that makes her seem younger than she actually is. The plot of the movie is quite similar to the Barbora Skrlová case, with the exception that there isn't any underage cannibalism in the film.
    • The plot of the prequel Orphan: First Kill on the other hand seems to be heavily inspired by the case of Frédéric Bourdin, an adult impostor who claimed to be missing American teenager Nicholas Barclay after researching missing American children. The film also includes as truth the heavy suspicion by Bourdin and a private investigator that the real Nicholas was murdered by his mother and brother and they knowingly took Bourdin in to maintain the lie that he went "missing" which was never conclusively proven.
  • The short documentary film Our Obligation concluded "No attempt has been made to duplicate any actual school fire on record" but everyone watching was acutely aware that it was based on the horrific Our Lady of the Angels school fire a year earlier, right down to the iconic image of the fireman carrying the little boy (Jerry Gray in the film, John Jajkowski in real life). Made by the Los Angeles fire department, Our Obligation used the Robert Louis Stevenson school building in East LA that was going to be demolished and was very similar in build to the OLA school.
  • In Paparazzi, a Hollywood actor goes on a shutterbug killing spree after they cause an accident that nearly killed his family, an obvious reference to the circumstances surrounding the death of Princess Diana.
  • The Phenix City Story is (loosely) based upon the assassination of Albert Patterson on June 18, 1954. The film premiered on July 19, 1955.
  • Pihu is loosely based on a story that the director read about a four-year-old girl who survived for several days after parental abandonment.
  • Invoked in The Player, which has movie executive Larry Levy suggest that studios "eliminate writers from the artistic process" and instead take movie stories from newspaper stories.
  • Psycho Cop Returns, released in 1993, ends with Officer Vickers being on the receiving end of a Rodney King-inspired beatdown, complete with videotaping bystander.
  • The Jerk Jock villains in The Rage: Carrie 2 were, sadly enough, Truth in Television — they were based on the Spur Posse, a group of athletes at a California high school who used a point system to keep track of their sexual conquests, and wound up being let off on charges of statutory rape.
  • The Rock was inspired by a 60 Minutes segment that producer Don Simpson saw about the U.S. government's refusal to acknowledge soldiers who had died during covert overseas missions, as well as Colonel David H. Hackworth's memoirs which harshly criticized U.S. planning during The Vietnam War.
  • Almost every film in the Rocky series is influenced by events from real life boxing. Sometimes the incidents are very recent, sometimes they happened a long time earlier.
    • Real life: A journeyman boxer named Chuck Wepner (who has never made enough money from the game to train full time for a bout) gets picked for a fight against controversial, charismatic, and overconfident champion Muhammad Ali. Wepner shocks audiences when he makes it to the 15th round against the champion, scoring a disputed knockdown along the way, but is finally stopped by Ali in the last round.
    • Rocky: Rocky Balboa, a journeyman boxer who has never made much money in the game (to the point where his main job is a mafia debt collector) gets picked to fight against controversial, charismatic, and overconfident champion Apollo Creed. Rocky immediately does better than expected, knocking Creed down in round 1, Creed almost knocks Rocky out in the next to last round, and wins a close decision victory.
    • Real life: Joe Frazier, a tough boxer from Philadelphia who was famous for his left hook, did his roadwork in the city (including the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art) and used meat carcasses as makeshift punching bags, reached the pinnacle of his career with a victory over the quick, brash and charismatic Muhammad Ali. After a few defenses against less than stellar opposition that was clearly outclassed by him, Frazier then faced the hard-hitting (but relatively unheralded) George Foreman, and was knocked out in two rounds. A year later Foreman faced Ali, and in that bout Ali made a tactical decision mid-fight to stop using the Hit-and-Run Tactics he was famous for, and instead adopted the rope-a-dope strategy of lying on the ropes, blocking, parrying, and in some cases absorbing all the punishment Foreman could dish out and more, taunting Foreman all the while for Foreman's inability to knock Ali out. Foreman exhausted himself trying to KO Ali, and Ali then knocks him out.
    • Rocky III: Rocky Balboa, a tough boxer from Philadelphia famous for his left hook who does his roadwork in the city (including the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art) and uses meat carcasses as makeshift punching bags, reaches the pinnacle of his career with victory over the quick, brash and charismatic Apollo Creed. After a number of defenses which his manager eventually admits were handpicked and posed no threat to Rocky, he then decides to defend his title against hard-hitting slugger Clubber Lang, and is knocked out in two rounds. Afterward, Apollo Creed, (the analogue for Muhammad Ali) trains Rocky to fight in a different way, mirroring Apollo's own style. Rocky begins his rematch with Clubber doing very well by boxing and using Hit-and-Run Tactics, but when Lang finds a way to start getting to him, Rocky makes a mid-fight switch, starts using Stone Wall defense to defend against the worst of Lang's punches while taunting Lang for his inability to knock Rocky out. Lang exhausts himself trying to KO Rocky, and Rocky knocks him out.
    • Real life: Mike Tyson, a young delinquent from a broken home, shows boxing talent and is taken in by legendary trainer Cus D'Amato, who eventually goes so far to adopt Tyson. Tyson begins cutting a swath through professional boxing, gaining notice because of how quickly and brutally he knocks out his competition, but D'Amato dies before Tyson captures the heavyweight title. After D'Amato's death, sleazy and unprincipled promoter Don King gets Tyson to break with the management team D'Amato left behind to look after Tyson by convincing Tyson that he'd make more money with King and that Tyson's management team was stealing from him. (They weren't, they were investing for his retirement.) This begins leading Tyson down a road to ruin.
    • Rocky V: Tommy Gunn, a young delinquent from a broken home, seeks out legendary retired boxer Rocky Balboa, and eventually gets Rocky to be his trainer. Eventually, Tommy is taken in as a member of the family. Tommy soon gains media attention by cutting a swath through the heavyweight ranks with quick knockouts, but he also gains the attention of sleazy and unprincipled boxing promoter George Washington Duke. Tommy, frustrated that Rocky insists on progressing Tommy's career at a slow and steady pace rather than going for the title shot, is seduced away by Duke, who promises him a title shot and more money than Rocky could get him. This sets Tommy up to go down the wrong path.
    • Just compare these speeches from Cus D'Amato, Mike Tyson's trainer, and adoptive father, (link) and Rocky's flashback of Mickey from Rocky V. (Link)
    • The International Showdown by Proxy between Americans Apollo Creed and later Rocky against Soviet Ivan Drago in Rocky IV takes some inspiration from the International Showdown by Proxy between American Joe Louis and Nazi Germany's Max Schmeling.
    • In Rocky Balboa, the idea for a match between long retired champion Rocky and current champion Mason Dixon comes about after a computer simulation shows a prime Rocky beating the undefeated champion. In the late 1960s, after Muhammad Ali had been stripped of his title for refusing to fight in Vietnam, a computer simulation was done and showed long-retired champion Rocky Marciano defeating Ali who was unbeaten at the time. The two even stepped into the ring and did some sparring to provide footage for it.
  • Romper Stomper was based on several racial incidents in the 80s and early 90s, but most prominently on the history of the neo-Nazi Dane Sweetman, who murdered his friend David Noble and cut his leg off with an ax.
  • The plot of the 1983 Canadian film Self Defense was inspired by a police strike in Halifax, Nova Scotia that occurred two years earlier, during which the city - though mainly the area in the vicinity of the main police station - descended into a state of semi-anarchy for 42 days as the police board argued with the city council over union demands while leaving the streets totally unpatrolled.
  • The Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was based on the end of the Cold War, with the United Federation of Planets taking the role of NATO and the Klingon Empire, the Soviet Union. The explosion of the Klingon moon Praxis was a reference to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant incident. The film was written, filmed, and edited before the USSR began to collapse.
  • Bobby Thompson in the Boris Karloff horror movie Targets is essentially the real-life mass-murderer Charles Whitman with the serial numbers filed off.
  • Most of the segments in Tales from the Hood 2 involve some hot-button political issue that has emerged since the first movie was made.
    • "Good Golly": reflects the controversy over the continued use of images and ideas with racist origins (e.g. the Confederate Flag).
    • "Date Night" deals with sexual predation, especially in the age of online dating.
    • "The Sacrifice" invokes Emmett Till (whose memorial sign is still being vandalized) to shame a Republican Category Traitor for not honoring that sacrifice, and instead aiding the continued disenfranchisement of black (Democrat!) voters.
    • As for the Framing Device, Dumass Beach may as well have been called Tonald Drump for all the subtlety he had by the end of the movie.
  • In Trading Places, the Duke brothers' attempt to corner the frozen concentrate orange juice market was inspired by the "Silver Thursday" crash of March 27, 1980, when the Hunt brothers of Texas attempted to corner the silver market, and ultimately failed to meet a $100 million margin call.
  • Alexandros Avranas' True Crimes is based on David Grann's article about Polish novelist Krystian Bala, who murdered his wife's lover and described it in detail in his book ''Amok''.
  • The Wave (2015) is based around the eventual landslide of the unstable mountain Åkerneset, spawning a 300ft Giant Wall of Watery Doom that will reach our protagonists and Mauve Shirts and everyone else in 10 minutes, a scenario which will eventually happen.
  • 1916 film Where Are My Children? features a man being tried on obscenity charges because he was distributing birth control literature. This was shortly after birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger was tried in Real Life on just such a charge.
  • Dirty Harry doing this is lampshaded in Zodiac (2007) with the obvious Aesop that Real Life crimes aren't always solved by shooting someone.
  • The Zodiac Killer, an odd film that is half accurate and half sleazy, exploitative fiction, was released around the height of the real Zodiac's rampage, as was the sexploitation flick The Zodiac Rapist, starring John Holmes.