These Are the True Stories Coming to the Big Screen This Holiday Season

7 minute read

The true stories making their way to movie screens this holiday season should offer a scratch for every itch, whether you’ve got a hankering for heroes coming together in times of crisis or stray cats convincing downtrodden men to live another day. Some are familiar stories told from a different perspective—as in Jackie’s portrait of a grieving first lady in the immediate aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination—while others offer stories previously untold—as in Hidden Figures feel-good drama about the female African-American mathematicians, engineers and programmers that helped get American astronauts into space.

Here are the true (and a few true-ish) tales hitting screens from Thanksgiving through the end of the year.

Bleed For This (Nov. 18)

Lovers of boxing movies, delight: in this new addition to the genre, Miles Teller plays Vinny Pazienza (now Vinny Paz), a junior middleweight world champion forced to sideline his career after breaking his neck in a car accident—but only temporarily. As tales of indefatigable heroes go, Pazienza works with another underdog, a potbellied, hard-drinking trainer played by Aaron Eckhart, and training-montages his way back to victory in the ring.

A Street Cat Named Bob

In this era of the cat video, the general absence of a good feature-length cat story, while the dog maintains her mighty big-screen reign, continues to disappoint. But A Street Cat Named Bob, based on the bestselling memoir of the same name, seeks to correct that. In addition to telling the story of a stray orange tom cat named Bob, it’s also about the struggling busker and recovering addict whose life is transformed by the feline’s presence.

Lion (Nov. 25)

Dev Patel stars as Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his family in India at age 5, adopted by an Australian family and reunited with his birth family 20 years later, using Google Earth and fuzzy childhood memories of Calcutta. Adapted from Brierley’s 2013 memoir, A Long Way Home, its cast includes Nicole Kidman as Saroo’s adoptive mother and Rooney Mara as his girlfriend. Film festival audiences also lauded the performance of the movie’s breakout star, Sunny Pawar, the child actor who plays Saroo in his early years.

Jackie (Dec. 2)

Natalie Portman has already scored rave reviews and early Oscar buzz for her turn as a grieving Jacqueline Kennedy in the days following her husband’s assassination. Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s take on the seminal moment in modern American history avoids the trappings of the typical biopic, instead zooming in on the one-week period that began with the tragedy and ended with the first lady’s interview with LIFE magazine.

Land of Mine (Dec. 9)

Denmark’s submission for last year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film, this historical drama takes place in the days following Germany’s surrender to Allied forces, when a group of German prisoners is ordered to remove millions of live mines buried along the Danish coast. Rather than center its story on the violent battles of war, Land of Mine explores what’s left behind when it’s over, and how beleaguered survivors on both sides reckon with the damage done.

Barry (Dec. 16)

Barack Obama’s days in the White House are numbered, but his last year in office leaves us with two portraits of the president as a young man. Southside With You, released in August, tells the story of his first date with Michelle Obama, then Michelle Robinson. Barry rewinds the clock even further to Obama’s formative days as an undergrad at Columbia University. Australian actor Devon Terrell plays “Barry,” as Obama was then nicknamed, as he struggles to forge his identity as a young biracial man swooping in and out of the mostly white world of the university and the mostly black world surrounding it in Harlem.

The Founder (Dec. 16)

Maybe we don’t want to know how the sausage gets made—or the nuggets or the Big Macs, for that matter—but what about the place that makes the sausage? The Founder tells the story of Ray Kroc, a name that may be as unfamiliar as his the double arches of his fast food empire, McDonald’s, are conspicuous. Michael Keaton plays Kroc, with a cast rounded out by Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, B.J. Novak and Linda Cardellini.

Patriots Day (Dec. 21)

Of all the true stories explored onscreen this fall, Patriots Day has seen the shortest duration between the actual events and the film that dramatizes them. Starring Boston native Mark Wahlberg, the movie takes place in the days following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which resulted in the deaths of three civilians and two police officers, as local law enforcement orchestrated a regional manhunt for the brothers who planted the bombs. John Goodman plays Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis, with J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan and Kevin Bacon in supporting roles.

Hidden Figures (Dec. 25)

Of all the unsung heroes of America’s explorations of the final frontier, the least sung of all are women like Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn. Played, respectively, by Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe and Octavia Spencer, these mathematicians were critical to NASA’s first space missions, from Alan Shepard’s Mercury mission to the Apollo 11 moon landing. Pharrell, who produced the movie and worked with Hans Zimmer on the score, also contributes several original songs to the soundtrack.

Gold (Dec. 25)

Matthew McConaughey stars in this story about the American Dream—or, in the case of the one Gold is based on, the Canadian Dream—and the hubris that so often derails it. Though it’s unclear how faithful it is to the facts, the movie is at least inspired by the mid-1990s Bre-X scandal, in which a once-in-a-decade discovery of gold in Indonesia—the basis for skyrocketing stocks—turned out to be a fraud. McConaughey plays the prospector, Edgar Ramirez, the geologist and Bryce Dallas Howard, the unsupportive, then very supportive, then probably-unsupportive-again wife.

Bonus True-ish Movie: Rules Don’t Apply (Nov. 23)

Warren Beatty’s long-gestating movie about the repressive sexual mores of late-1950s Hollywood is fictional—and the director, who insists it’s not a Howard Hughes biopic, would surely wince to see it on this list—but it does offer a fascinating look at the larger-than-life eccentric billionaire (played by Beatty) in his later years. The story that unfolds around him concerns two young Hughes employees, a budding starlet (Lily Collins) and her driver (Alden Ehrenreich), whose love is forbidden by their autocratic boss.

Bonus True-ish Movie: Neruda (Dec. 16)

Also in the true-adjacent category is Neruda, which comes from Jackie director Pablo Larraín and is, like that movie, a biopic-averse biographical drama. Larraín explores the legacy and influence of the Chilean poet and politician through an invented police inspector (Gael García Bernal) trying to find Neruda, a communist who has gone into hiding since the election of an anti-communist president. Neruda exists not to disseminate the facts of its subject’s life, but to mine the effect of his words on others.

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