Fans of The Crown will understand this: Sometimes the best TV shows come right out of history books. It’s nice to see the details behind the history of a family, like the royals who are often guarded and mysterious about their lives, played out on television for all of us to see. But it’s also incredibly frustrating for fact-checking journalists who know that these timelines are completely restructured. If you can get past the “based on a true story” caveat, then you’re all good.
Once you’ve come to peace with that, movies and TV based on real-life events are actually the best. You get to know about events only previously chronicled in a 15,000-word New Yorker article you never got around to reading, and you can do it in the comfort of the theater with a big bucket of popcorn on your lap—or, even better, your couch. Learning can be fun, kids.
But the stakes are high for real-life projects this year. If you’re the biggest Aretha Franklin fan, you’re looking forward to Jennifer Hudson’s depiction of the legend in Respect. And Bowie fans will anxiously await the arrival of Stardust, starring Johnny Flynn as the man himself. Sure, you may have to wait a bit longer than expected for a few of these, but 2020 is still going to be a good year for biopics and real tales—so bring on the (sort of) true stories.
1. The Last Full Measure
This movie follows the true story of Vietnam war hero William H. Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine), who was offered the chance to get out of a combat-heavy zone. Instead, he stayed behind to defend the lives of 60 soldiers, only to eventually be killed. 32 years later, Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastian Stan) is assigned the job of investigating why Pitsenberger has been denied the posthumous Medal of Honor. What he finds is more controversial than he anticipates. It is available on demand.
2. I Still Believe
This is the true story of Christian music star Jeremey Camp (KJ Apa)’s decision to marry his first wife, Melissa, in 2000, after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After their honeymoon, Camp found out that Melissa’s cancer had spread; the movie features their short but loving marriage. The movie was released in theaters on the set date of March 13, but came to premium VOD earlier than anticipated on March 27.
3. Military Wives
This is the story of a group of military wives whose partners are stationed in Afghanistan. While they are away, the wives form a choir that becomes a sensation. The film, based on a true story, premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 and stars Kristin Scott Thomas. The scheduled US release was March 27, but got pushed to a May 22 on demand release.
4. Stardust (2020)
David Bowie made his first trip to the U.S. in 1971, where he found his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. This film, starring Johnny Flynn as Bowie, tells that story. Stardust also features Marc Maron as Bowie’s struggling publicist, Ron Oberman. The film was scheduled to premiere at the 2020 Toronto Film Festival, which was postponed due to the pandemic. The film’s new release date has yet to be confirmed, but critics have had a chance to review it.
It’s about time Aretha Franklin gets a biopic. Jennifer Hudson is playing the Queen of Soul in this story of how Franklin made her way to superstardom. Fun fact: Before her death, Franklin made it clear that if a biopic of her were to be made, she wanted Hudson in the role. No pressure, Jennifer. While it was initially scheduled for release on August 14, it’ll now hit theaters on December 25, 2020.
6. The One and Only Ivan
The One and Only Ivan follows the journey a gorilla named Ivan who lives at Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade with an aging elephant named Stella and a dog named Bob. Bryan Cranston stars as the owner of the Big Top Mall. The movie is based on a book that is (yes!) based on a real story. The film, originally scheduled for theatrical release on August 14, will now hit Disney+ on August 21.
7. The Trial of the Chicago 7
From writer and director Aaron Sorkin comes the story of the seven people who were charged with conspiracy by the federal government after anti-Vietnam War and counter-cultural protests that took place in Chicago. Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all star. It was announced in June that instead of the original September 25 release, it should be on Netflix prior to Election Day in November.
Jesse Eisenberg stars in this film based on the life of Marcel Marceau. In the film, Marceau helps a network of girl and boy scouts save the lives of tens of thousands of orphans whose parents were killed by Nazis during World War II. At the time, Marceau was just an aspiring Jewish actor who would later go on to become a world-famous mime artist. Édgar Ramírez, Ed Harris, Clémence Poésy, and Matthias Schweighöfer are also featured. Instead of a theatrical release, it hit video on demand on March 27.
9. King Richard
This is not another English monarchy movie. Better: it’s the story of how tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams became who they are after coaching from their ambitious father, Richard Williams. Originally scheduled to come out this November, the film is now set to be released in November of 2021. The film is also embroiled in a law suit alleging stolen intellectual property from another company who owns the rights to Williams’ book, so who knows when this will actually come out.
10. The Courier
The Courier, previously titled Ironbark, tells the true story of Greville Wynne, a British spy who helped the CIA penetrate the Soviet nuclear program during the Cold War. Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachel Brosnahan star. It was released at Sundance on January 24, 2020 under the original title. In May, Roadside Attractions set an August 28 release date that remains intact… for now.
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