Although Academy Award predictions are now favoring The Revenant to win Best Picture, two films based on real events, The Big Short and Spotlight, received numerous accolades and critical acclaim in 2016’s awards race.
While real event based and true story films are common throughout film history, there has been a spate of these films nominated by the Academy over the past six years, whether it’s biopics like The Iron Lady and Lincoln, or films based on real events like Zero Dark Thirty, 12 Years A Slave, and Selma.
These types of films have become pervasive and seen a rise in popularity and their reach has extended to television as well. Recently, Ryan Murphy’s new series, The People vs. O.J. Simpson premiered on FX and in April, HBO will air Confirmation, the Anita Hill film starring Kerry Washington.
In that spirit, here are five ‘based on real events’ films that should get made and who should direct them.
Days of Rage/Weathermen film – directed by Ava DuVernay
The Weather Underground was a radical left-wing organization founded at the University of Michigan. The group’s goal was to create a clandestine revolutionary party to overthrow the government. The Days of Rage riots took place in October 1969 in coordination with the trial of the Chicago Seven. The riots included bombings of government buildings and banks.
Although DuVernay is busy working on Queen Sugar and A Wrinkle in Time, it would be interesting to see her take on the Weathermen. Having tackled MLK’s legacy and belief in non-violence in Selma, the Weathermen would be quite a contrast as their actions were more extreme and often violent. The Weathermen also provides an opportunity to examine the divisions and alliances among other radical groups in the 1960s and ’70s.
Rodney King/Los Angeles riots – directed by Ryan Coogler/written by John Ridley
Rodney King was an unarmed black man, who after a high speed chase, was apprehended and beaten by Los Angeles police officers. Much of the beating was recorded by a local resident and was then broadcast on the nightly news on KTLA. Four LAPD officers were charged with assault and use of excessive force but all four were acquitted. Due to the verdict, riots started in South Central Los Angeles and spread out to other areas of L.A. over a six day period in April 1992.
In 2012, Fast and Furious producer Justin Lin was attached to direct an L.A. Riots project. Now the project is listed under John Ridley’s in development credits, but it’s unclear if it is the same project. Perhaps Ridley could pin the script for a Coogler helmed film. Although Coogler has already addressed police brutality against young African American men in Fruitvale Station, the L.A riots had a huge national impact. The riots also involved and effected other ethnic groups, such as the Korean and Hispanic populations of Los Angeles, and the recovery and rebuilding efforts involved people from all walks of life.
World War II Atomic Spies – directed by Michelle MacLaren/written by Joe Weisberg
Weisberg might be tired of writing about the Soviet Union/Russia since he created The Americans, but he would be a great match for the story of the Soviet Union recruiting spies to learn more about the Americans’ nuclear program. Starting with the building of the bomb during WWII, America was equipped with more personnel and resources for their nuclear program than the Soviet Union.
One such spy, Klaus Fuchs, was a German-born British physicist who was sent to America where he became one of the leading scientists on the Manhattan Project. Fuchs provided the Soviets with information on the gas separation process. In 1950, he confessed he was a spy and after a 90-minute trial was sentenced to 14 years in prison and stripped of his British citizenship.
MacLaren is known more for her action sequences on Breaking Bad, but she’s great at ratcheting up tension and would be a solid choice for a spy thriller.
DEVGRU’s Black Squadron (Women Operatives) – directed by David Fincher/written by James Vanderbilt
We all know about Seal Team Six who killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. This group of Navy SEALs is part of the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group or DEVGRU, a U.S. Navy component commanded by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). DEVGRU and its Army counterpart, Delta Force, are the U.S. military’s counter-terrorism units.
Don’t worry too much about all the military acronyms. DEVGRU has different color-coded squadrons. The Black Squadron is responsible for reconnaissance and surveillance and is the only squadron that allows women. According to a New York Times article on SEAL Team 6, Black Squadron operatives are deployed to American embassies in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. In Afghanistan, operatives wore tribal dress and snuck into villages to plant cameras and listening devices. The unit has set up front companies in several different countries to provide cover for operators.
Fincher is no stranger to dark material, but it has been awhile since he’s tackled a real life subject more threatening than Mark Zuckerberg. A re-team with writer James Vanderbilt could bring Zodiac-levels of research, investigation, and intelligence gathering to the Black Squadron’s women.
Lockerbie Bombing – directed by Kathryn Bigelow/written by Mark Boal
In 1988, Pam Am Flight 103 was heading from Frankfurt to Detroit via London and New York. Over Lockerbie, Scotland, the plane was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew. 11 Lockerbie residents were also killed by plane wreckage and debris.
Last year, The New Yorker published a story about Ken and David Dornstein. David was living abroad in Israel and was returning to the U.S. when he was killed in the Lockerbie bombing. His younger brother, Ken, has spent the past 30 years investigating the attack. Although many groups claimed responsibility for the bombing, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddifi said his country carried out the attack.
However, other suspects in the bombing remain, and Dornstein has traveled around the world to meet with those he suspects of having ties to the Lockerbie bombers. Although he is working on making a film of his own about the events, Dornstein’s efforts should be recognized on the big screen.
Dornstein’s determinedness in his investigation is similar to Zero Dark Thirty‘s Maya and her mission to find Osama bin Laden, but Bigelow would be a great pick to tell Dornstein’s story because her films so often delve into the murky depths of subjects like violence, terrorism, and retribution.
Despite the truth police—i.e the journalists and historians who nitpick films about their historical accuracy—it doesn’t look like true story films or films based on journalism, research, or interviews with participants will be going away any time soon.
This year, New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott addressed those nitpickers, “Movies that are not documentaries are works of fiction, whether or not they deal with real events. The only people dumb enough not to understand this are certified intellectuals — journalists and college professors, mostly — who need fodder for columns or something apparently important but actually trivial to wring their hands about.”
These films have carved out their own niche in Hollywood and have reminded us that film is capable of not only entertaining us, but engaging and educating audiences on a wide variety of topics, such as the financial crisis or the war on terror.