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Remembrance Day: Based "Mostly" on a True War Story

“Based on a true story” is a moniker we’ve all heard, but what does that really mean when we’re talking about a movie? Here is a selection of war movies that are all "based on a true story," we’ve even gathered some of the most interesting of those true stories for you so you can see for yourself if the movie portrayal is accurate.


DVD (2009)

Does one have to become a monster to fight monsters? Does one have to sacrifice his humanity to save humanity? Defiance is the account of the Bielski partisans, a group of Polish Jewish brothers who saved and recruited Jews in Belarus during WWII.


The Bielski Partisans
Nechama Tec (1994)

Defiance, the book, focuses on the political and historical movements of the Bielski partisans, which was mainly in the avoidance of combat and a focus on survival. Though despite avoiding active combat Hitler did apparently send two German divisions into the forest to search for the Bielski partisans.

Flags of Our Fathers

DVD (2007)

Flags of Our Fathers, the movie, focuses on the five Marines and one Navy Corpsman who were involved in raising the flag on Iwo Jima and the after-effects of that event on their lives.

Flags of Our Fathers

James Bradley (2007)

Flags of Our Fathers, the book, follows the lives of the six flag raisers through their early lives, military training, the fierce combat of Iwo Jima, and afterward becoming national icons sent on tour to raise money for war bonds.


DVD (2006)

The story of Anthony "Swoff" Swofford from his U.S. Marine Corps training, to his experiences in the Arabian Peninsula, all the way to a funeral where he reunites with some of his old friends and reminisces about the effects of the war.


A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles
Anthony Swofford (2003)

Jarhead recounts Swofford's enlistment and service in the United States Marine Corps during the Persian Gulf War, in which he served as a Scout Sniper with the Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) Platoon of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines.

Hotel Rwanda

DVD (2008)

In Hotel Rwanda we find ourselves enmeshed in Paul Rusesabagina's struggle, sharing his despair at the warfare tearing apart his country, his frustration and anger at the UN's inability to act, and eventually, his hope for a better tomorrow. 

Inside the Hotel Rwanda

The Surprising True Story -- and Why It Matters Today
Edouard Kayihura (2014)

Hotel Rwanda documents Rusesabagina's struggle to save the lives of his family and more than a thousand other refugees, by granting them shelter in the besieged Hôtel des Mille Collines. Hotel Rwanda explores genocide, political corruption and the repercussions of violence.

We Were Soldiers

DVD (2002)

We Were Soldiers dramatizes the Battle of Ia Drang that took place in November of 1965. The film pivots back and forth between the drama and experiences of the men in the heat of battle, and their wives and families on base dealing with the death notices.

We Were Soldiers Once -- and Young

la Drang, the Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam
Harold G. Moore (1992)

We Were Soldiers Once and Young focuses on the role of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 7th Cavalry Regiment in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, the first large unit battle of the Vietnam War.

Enemy at the Gates

DVD (2001)

Enemy at the Gates describes the events surrounding the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942/43. The film is loosely based on war stories told by Soviet sniper Vasily Zaytsev.

Enemy at the Gates

The Battle for Stalingrad
William Graig (1973)

The book begins with the German advance across southern Russia in 1942 and culminates with the surrender and imprisonment of the Axis forces several months later in 1943.


Black Hawk Down

DVD (2002)

In the wake of a major UN peacekeeping initiative in Somalia the majority of the peacekeepers are evacuated. Mogadishu based militants loyal to General Aidid, however, declare war on the remaining UN personnel. In response, U.S. Army Rangers, Delta Force counterterrorist operators and 160th SOAR aviators are deployed to Mogadishu to capture Aidid, who has proclaimed himself president of the country. 

Black Hawk Down

A Story of Modern War
Mark Bowden (2010)

Originally published as a series of articles in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the 29-part series chronicled the events of a 1993 raid in Mogadishu by the U.S. military aimed at capturing faction leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid and the ensuing Battle of Mogadishu.

Saving Private Ryan

DVD (1999)

Though not based on a specific true story, Saving Private Ryan received significant critical acclaim for its realistic portrayal of World War II combat, particularly the sequence depicting the landings at Omaha Beach. Details including the sound of ammunition clips being ejected, the frequency of seasickness and the code names were all accurate.

Band of Brothers

DVD (2002)

Though the events in the miniseries are based on the research and interviews in the book Band of Brothers there was literary license taken in adapting those stories to the small screen.

Band of Brothers

E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne From Normady to Hitler's Eagle's Nest
Stephen E. Ambrose (2004)

Band of Brothers follows the "Easy" Company from jump training in the U.S. through its participation in major actions in Europe including Utah Beach, the Bulge and Berchtesgaden. A group of citizen soldiers in a company that took 150% casualties.

First Light

The True Story of the Youngest Spitfire Pilot to Fight in the Battle of Britian
DVD (2011)

Based on the memoir of Geoffrey Wellum entitled First Light: The Story of the Boy Who Became a Man in the War-Torn Skies Above Britain. First Light chronicles Wellum’s role and experiences as a RAF pilot during the Battle of Britain.

The Monuments Men

DVD (2014)

In the interest of drama the film is based on real events, though character names have been modified, and some details have been embellished. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly George Clooney stated that, "80 percent of the story is still completely true and accurate, and almost all of the scenes happened." You might want to decide for yourself.

The Monuments Men

Allied Heros, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
Robert M. Edsel (2009)

Among the many atrocities Nazi Germany committed were the theft of more than five million cultural objects from occupied countries. Many of those objects stolen were some of the world’s greatest artistic masterpieces. As American and British forces began to push back into Europe a group of men and women from 13 nations were formed into the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) program. These Monuments Men were given the daunting task of finding, saving, or reclaiming pieces of art and other culturally important items before their destruction or theft.


DVD (2015)

Unbroken, the story of Louis Zamperini, the U.S. Olympic runner and air force pilot, who spent 47 days adrift after his B-24 bomber crashed into the Pacific in 1943. After his “rescue” from the Pacific he spent two years in prison camps in Japan. The film sparked a significant amount of controversy for its portrayal of Japanese prisoner of war camps as a place where starvation and torture were commonplace. So much controversy, in fact, that distributors in Japan initially refused to screen the movie. The film was accused of portraying the Japanese camps in a negative and stereotypical light, resulting in a petition by The Indo Project in support of the film.



A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Laura Hillenbrand (2010)

In 1943 former U.S. Olympic runner and U.S. Air Force bombardier Louis "Louie" Zamperini’s plane went down over the Pacific ocean. Zamperini survived in a raft for 47 days after his bomber was downed and was then was sent to a series of Japanese prisoner of war camps for the next two years. In the post-war years, Zamperini was troubled by PTSD, alcoholism and a spontaneous Billy Graham conversion to Christ.


DVD (2010)

Passchendaele focuses on the experiences of Sergeant Michael Dunne, a Canadian soldier, who served in the 56th, 5th, 14th and 23rd Reserve Battalions, CEF during World War I. The film, which was written, produced, directed, and starred Paul Gross was inspired by Gross’ grandfather, Michael Dunne and some of his experiences during the Battle of Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres and his time in Flanders on the battlefields of Belgium.

Schindler's List

DVD (2013)

The film is based on the life of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman and Nazi Party member who saved the lives of more than 1,200 Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. A wildly successful movie, produced and directed, by Steven Spielberg based on the book Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally. Spielberg’s involvement in creating Schindler’s List inspired Spielberg to found the Shoah Foundation for Visual History and Education, a non-profit organization established to record testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust.

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