#3. A Few Good Men -- The Real Story Is Actually More Terrifying
A Few Good Men is best known as the movie wherein Jack Nicholson doesn't believe that Tom Cruise is capable of handling the truth.
"You want the truth? In 15 years, everyone in the world will think you're some sort of crazy alien magician!"
Cruise plays a Navy lawyer defending two U.S. Marines who accidentally killed a fellow Marine while hazing him under orders from Nicholson, their commanding officer. In the end, Cruise finally goads Nicholson into admitting that he ordered the hazing by employing the brilliant legal tactic of "getting him so pissed that he confesses to a crime in open court."
"Wow, this was a great idea. How come everyone doesn't just do this?"
The True Story
The movie was written by Aaron Sorkin, who originally got the idea for the story from his sister, a JAG Corps officer (as seen in the television docudrama JAG) who had been assigned to help defend a group of Marines who had performed a "code red" hazing on a fellow Marine and nearly killed him. One of the Marines involved in the hazing was PFC David Cox, a man with a fairly horrifying face:
Much like the character of Private Downey in the film, Cox didn't believe he had done anything wrong, because he had only been following the orders of his superior officers. In the end, Cox was only convicted of the relatively minor charge of simple assault and later received an honorable discharge. He lived a normal civilian life for the next few years, until he went to see A Few Good Men and thought it looked awfully familiar, because apparently Kevin Bacon had also been the prosecuting attorney at his trial.
On the plus side, Bacon Number of 1.
Cox and some of the other defendants decided to organize a lawsuit against the production company for using their story without permission, despite the fact that the movie is a fictionalized version of the event that doesn't use any real names and at no point represents itself as a true story. In the wake of his litigation preparation, Cox gave a series of angry radio interviews, decrying not only A Few Good Men but also the true-life "code red" incident that had inspired it.
And that's when things got really creepy.
In January 1994, David Cox mysteriously disappeared from his home in Medfield, Massachusetts (he literally vanished -- his car and all his things were still at the apartment). Three months later, his bullet-soaked body was found in a remote wooded area between two gun ranges. To this day nobody knows what happened. We don't even want to speculate, we don't want these people mad at us.
#2. The Hunt for Red October -- Inspired by a Real-Life Mutiny on a Soviet Destroyer
The hit 1990 film The Hunt for Red October stars Sean Connery as Marko Ramius, the world's only Lithuanian submarine commander with a Scottish accent. Ramius is the captain of a high-tech Soviet submarine called Red October, and during a routine training exercise, he decides to steal Red October and flee to America, supposedly to launch a nuclear strike against the United States. However, Ramius ends up defecting to America instead, faking his death and handing the Red October over to the U.S. Navy and Alec Baldwin.
"I don't want it anymore."
The subterfuge results in the death of Sam Neill, Ramius' first officer and best friend, but in exchange Ramius gets to live out the rest of his days as a free man on American soil. After all, it's not like he could've just waited around another year for the Soviet Union to fall and then bought a plane ticket to Washington, D.C. What are the odds of that happening?
The True Story
The Hunt for Red October was based on a book by Tom Clancy, who in turn was inspired by a true story of a mutiny on a Soviet destroyer called the Sentry, orchestrated by Captain Valery Sablin. Sablin felt the Soviet Union wasn't communist enough for his tastes and decided to hijack his own vessel to storm Leningrad and stage another revolution, which seems to suggest that either the Sentry was packing some serious heat or the strength of the Soviet military was dramatically overestimated during the Cold War.
The third possibility is that Sablin was Daffy Duck-level crazy.
Sablin took control of his ship by locking up its command crew (Sablin was a captain, but he wasn't the captain, sort of like Liam Neeson in K-19: The Widowmaker) and relying only on a small contingent of men loyal to him to run the vessel. However, a junior officer managed to escape and radio for help, and much like in Red October, Moscow's response was to stop the Sentry at all costs, even if it meant reducing the ship and all those on board to treasonous dust. The Sentry was eventually disabled by Soviet gunships and planes, and Sablin was executed.
At the time that Clancy wrote his novel in the early 1980s, the Soviet Union was still in full effect, and their official story was that Sablin staged the mutiny in order to escape to Sweden and defect to the West (there's even a scene in the book where Alec Baldwin's character briefly references Sablin in order to back up his theory that Marko Ramius is defecting). However, after the Cold War ended, it was revealed that the original story about Sablin's defection was bullshit, and that he was, in fact, trying to drive his stolen death boat up to Leningrad. So due to an unusual chain of events, The Hunt for Red October was based on a partially fictionalized account of something that really happened. Had the full story been released when Clancy was writing his novel, the movie might have had a very different ending.
Wherein Ramius and Jack Ryan both freeze to death in a punishing Russian gulag.
#1. The Delta Force -- A Chuck Norris-ed Version of a Real Hijacking
The Delta Force is a Chuck Norris action film from the 1980s, which is arguably the most redundant qualifying sentence in history. A commercial airliner is hijacked by evil Middle Eastern terrorists, and only Chuck Norris and his motorcycle can stop them.
The terrorists are led by totally Middle Eastern actor Robert Forster.
The True Story
Especially all the Chuck Norris parts. Those are totally true.
The plane was taken over by terrorists while en route from Athens to Rome, just like in the movie, and the rest of the film's first half is a surprisingly faithful recreation of the TWA incident. For example, in The Delta Force, the hijackers demand that the Jewish passengers be separated from the rest of the hostages and force a German flight attendant to sort through the passports to pick out the Jewish names, apparently because they assumed that all Germans are Nazis and are good at that sort of thing. The hijackers did the exact same thing in real life to German flight purser Uli Derickson (who had a separate TV movie made about her a few years later). Rather than do what they asked, she hid all the passports and claimed she couldn't find them.
The terrorists on the TWA flight executed an American Navy diver named Robert Stethem by brutally beating him with an armrest, shooting him, and dumping his body onto a runway. The exact same thing happens in The Delta Force:
One of the most iconic images from the TWA hijacking was of the pilot delivering a forced statement to the media with his armed captor clearly visible over his shoulder:
Once again, this detail is totally repeated in the movie:
The only real difference between The Delta Force and the real-life TWA hijacking is the way the stories end. You see, the TWA hostages were gradually released over the course of a few weeks and the hijackers got away. One of them was eventually arrested a few years later, but still, that's pretty anticlimactic. So rather than make a straightforward drama about Flight 847, Hollywood decided to engage in wish fulfillment revenge fantasy and ask the ultimate question: "What if Chuck Norris had been there?"
He'd bazooka the shit out of a plane full of hostages?
It's obviously the ending America wanted in real life -- Chuck Norris and the Delta Force heroically eliminate all the terrorists and free the hostages, and everyone drinks beer and sings "America the Beautiful" on the plane ride home.
We're not kidding. This is actually how the movie ends.
Related Reading: These aren't the only true stories too badass for film. The man who stopped a burglar with chili-powder punches still hasn't made it to the silver screen. Even horror movies have been topped by the real world, these Swedish twins who flipped out simultaneously haven't even been equaled by Japan. Need more unbelievably true stories? Right here, buddy.