Making movies out of the stories of real life events has always been big box office appeal, from gangsters and criminals to heroes and survivors. These stories cover all the genres, form drama to romance, action to thriller. For this list, it’s all about suspense. While there are almost too many to count, her are 8 suspenseful true-life movies you need to watch.
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass STARS: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
Based on the hijacking of the massive U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by Somalian pirates, this gripping, documentary-like film follows the titular captain (Tom Hanks), who is taken hostage while his crew is sent below decks. He deals with Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the pirate's scrawny but intimidating leader, who thinks he's got his biggest payday yet. Told from both sides with incredible urgency and realism, this is a frightening film with two sensational lead performances. And someone has to make a video where Captain Phillips saves Chuck Noland.
DIRECTOR: Ron Howard STARS: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl
Back in the 1970s, open-wheel Formula 1 racing and their high-profile drivers were as popular as their NASCAR counterparts were in the 90s. Following the epic rivalry of two very different drivers, the handsome charismatic James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), who is the poster-boy celebrity of the sport, and Nikki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), a methodical, technical racer with a lust for winning at any cost, even himself. A tense, stylish drama with some incredible racing footage, led by two great performances. Thor likes driving.
DIRECTOR: David Fincher STARS: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr.
In the San Francisco area during the late 60s and early 70s, a series of brutal murders took place claiming to have been done by a man calling himself Zodiac. Political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) has some insight to the cryptic letters the killer sends to the San Francisco Chronicle, and though he is not taken seriously at first, eventually teams with journalist Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) to try and find the madman. Incredibly suspenseful, this tense, stylized true story is an unforgettable watch, and one of Downey Jr.'s best performances. Sadly, he never once dons the Iron Man suit.
American Gangster (2007)
DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott STARS: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe
In Harlem during the late 1960s, a kingpin named Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) has built a huge empire as a drug lord, ruling with an iron first. Meanwhile, Newark detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is made head of a task force to try and bring him down. A violent, nerve-rattling story, Washington is chilling as Lucas, a cold-blooded megalomaniac with a lust for power who will do anything to prove his stature. Brilliantly capturing the setting and era, this true-life story earned high acclaim for its direction and acting. Even Idris Elba is no match.
Donnie Brasco (1997)
DIRECTOR: Mike Newell STARS: Al Pacino, Johnny Depp
An FBI undercover agent named Joseph D. Pistone (Johnny Depp), works his way into the Bonanno crime family in New York City during the 1970s as "Donnie Brasco," ingratiating himself into the ranks with the help of hitman Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino). He soon learns that he's taking to the mob life a little too closely, sacrificing much of his real life as he bonds with his alternate one. Suspenseful and engrossing, this true-life story packs a huge punch with Pacino delivering an emotionally traumatizing performance. Just when he though he was out.
DIRECTOR: Ben Affleck STARS: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston
In 1979, after the American embassy in Iran is taken over by revolutionaries, six of the hostages manage to escape and make it to the Canadian Ambassador's residence where a plan is hatched to get them out. CIA expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) creates a unique cover story where he and his team are in Iran as a Canadian film crew scouting for locations on a new sci-fi film. Relying on the cooperation of a number of people, this true-life rescue is superbly directed and is a suspenseful, tension-filled experience from start to finish. 70s Affleck is groovy.
127 Hours (2010)
DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle STARS: James Franco, Kate Mara
Outdoor enthusiast Aron Ralston (James Franco) heads to Utah's Canyonlands Park for some hiking where he meets and befriends a couple of girls also on the trial. After they part ways, he attempts to climb Blue John Canyon where he slips in a slot canyon and jostles loose a boulder that pins his right arm to the wall deep within a crevice. Unable to call for help, he is left with few rations . . . and pocket knife. A monumentally gripping third act, this is Franco's actin tour-de-force, and is a terrifying but inspirational story of survival. You will close you eyes.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese STARS: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro
The true-life story of mob henchman Henry Hill is one of the most celebrated in movie history in a landmark film that is widely considered to be the greatest mob movie ever made. Hill (Ray Liotta) grows up in and around the gagster life, and his story is populated by truly frightening men who from the 1950s to the early 80s ruled the city. Almost unbearably suspenseful, this gritty, violent story is filled with great performances, especially from Joe Pesci, who earned himself an Academy Award. But not because he amuses us.