The 1990s was a great decade for movies and in their search to tell ever more engaging stories, many directors and writers were drawn back to real life for their inspiration. Here are five of the best movies of the 90s that were largely based on true stories.
Martin Scorsese produced two of the all-time great mafia movies in the 1990s and both appear on this list. The latter of the two, Casino, told the story of Sam Rothstein, played by Robert De Niro, a gambler who was assigned the task of running the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas in the 1970s.
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That wasn’t the case back in the 1960s, when the mafia ruled the casino business. The movie does a great job of ratcheting up the tension as the relationship between Rothstein and his girlfriend Ginger (Sharon Stone) unravels, and enforcer Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) starts to cause havoc.
The ruthlessness of the mob and their run-ins with the authorities are shown in full in Casino. Things eventually come to a head, and just a handful of the characters survive.
The majority of the events shown in the movie are based on genuine events. Many of the cases in which people were brutalized and murdered did occur. Practically every character has a true counterpart. Sam and Ginger in real life were Frank and Geraldine and had a relationship similar to that depicted in the movie.
The Nicky character was based on Tony Spilotro who really did get banned from every Nevada casino due to violence. The key character, Sam was just as intimidating in real life as he was on the big screen, surviving the bloodshed and eventually passing away at 79.
Apollo 13 (1995)
In the same year as Casino, Ron Howard’s depiction of the iconic 1970 space mission, Apollo 13, was produced, giving moviegoers another masterpiece.
While it’s easy for directors to embellish reality, Ron Howard made a commitment to presenting circumstances in Apollo 13 as accurately as possible, and many experts agreed that he pulled this off.
Not only was Howard successful in getting the science correct, he accurately depicted the real events of the near catastrophe and went to considerable lengths to mimic the actual ambiance of the space capsule and command center which made for a gripping and authentic movie experience.
Martin Scorsese set the bar high at the start of the decade with this iconic crime picture, which follows the rise of a mobster and his organization in Italian-American Brooklyn, but this is no glamour movie. The audience is left in no doubt about the brutality and danger of life in the mob.
It was inspired by Nicholas Pileggi’s 1985 book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family, which told the story of the real-life Henry Hill and his accomplices Thomas DeSimone and James “Jimmy” Burke.
Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro portrayed their characters in the film, which also depicted the infamous 1978 Lufthansa theft at JFK Airport that Burke may have organized. This was the biggest cash robbery that had ever been committed in America at the time.
It is a gritty and unromantic movie about the real world of organized crime that delivers plenty of thrills and classic movie moments.
Schindler’s List (1993)
One of the most memorable movies of the 1990s was this adaptation of a 1982 novel based on a true story from World War II – which broke new ground as the first movie blockbuster to tackle the horrors of the Holocaust.
Liam Neeson portrays Oskar Schindler – a real-life industrialist who is known to have saved over 1,000 Jews by employing them at his armaments plant in Brünnlitz, Czechoslovakia.
In actuality, there were several lists, and the names of people cleared for reassignment to Schindler’s workshop was written by a Plaszów camp orderly named Marcel Goldberg, not Schindler, though this did not detract from the movie’s powerful effect.
The movie was praised not just by professional critics but by many Holocaust survivors. In fact, the movie is credited with inspiring some of them to share their personal memories of life under the Nazi regime, making a significant contribution to the records and history of that period.
One of the most talked-about movies of the 1990s, JFK was an epic and controversial rollercoaster of an experience, created by Oliver Stone. This film provided a huge boost to one of the most enduring conspiracy theories of the 20th century, concerning the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963.
Stone’s movie starred Kevin Costner as the real-life New Orleans DA Jim Garrison. Garrison assembles a case after being troubled by thoughts that unscrupulous individuals from his own area were involved in the killing. He has three significant witnesses on his side.
Joe Pesci plays David Ferrie, a soldier who works with anti-Castro exiles. He tells Garrison the whole story, including details of CIA participation.
Garrison’s other witnesses, Willie O’Keefe (played by Kevin Bacon) and a mysterious government insider (Donald Sutherland) provide more evidence to support the claim that the President had been assassinated as part of a convoluted CIA plot involving the mob and Cuban exiles.
The movie culminates in a memorable scene in which Garrison dismantles the theory that a lone gunman had carried out the killing, demonstrating that the injuries sustained by Kennedy and Texas governor John Connally could not have been caused by a single, ‘magic’ bullet.
The movie has many problems from a factual point of view, not least the fact that Stone manipulates many of the facts and in some cases, invents things that didn’t happen. Nevertheless, there was a case brought by Garrison and the movie tapped into the fascination with unraveling the truth of Kennedy’s killing that has persisted in US culture to the present day.