Depending on who you ask, Zero Dark Thirty is either a brutally accurate, true-to-life depiction of the painstaking manhunt for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden or it’s a wildly dramatic exaggeration of what actually happened in the things that only technically exist on the darkened-out pages of classified documents. But no matter who or what you believe about the film, the fact of the matter is, it’s based on a very real and very important page of our history.
Kathryn Bigelow‘s intense Oscar front-runner may feel like a brilliant action thriller, but at the heart of it is the true story of the men and women in the CIA and the armed forces who worked relentlessly for a decade to take down the al-Qaeda leader. Still, the film is so brilliantly acted and the raid sequence is so thrilling, it’s easy to get lost in it and forget it’s not just a masterful work of entertainment, but a piece of history.
But ZDT is hardly the only film whose premise seems like an outrageous work of fiction, but is actually true. In fact, this year’s Oscar race is chock full of them. In addition to ZDT, there’s also Ben Affleck‘s real movie about a fake movie Argo and The Impossible, a movie you desperately wish wasn’t based on a real event, but horrifically captures the 2004 tsunami that ravaged Southeast Asia.
From 127 Hours to Catch Me If You Can to The Exorcist, we list all the stories you can’t believe Hollywood didn’t come up with on their own.