When a movie uses the words "inspired by a true story," a lot of times they actually mean "sorta resembling something the screenwriter half-heard while snorting coke." We've established that pretty well by now. When it's a biographical movie, though, we assume they'll at least make sure to respect the spirit of the real person's life story -- otherwise, why bother?
And yet the following biopics have as much in common with the true events they depict as Zardoz does with the Vietnam War, often to the annoyance of the people being "honored."
7 Argo -- The Finale Is the Opposite of What Happened
Argo depicts the CIA's insane scheme to secretly rescue six Americans in Iran during the hostage crisis in the late '70s (which we told you about a year before Hollywood did). The plan called for CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) to fly over to Iran, dress everyone up in silly outfits, and say they were a movie company scouting locations for a Star Wars ripoff in Tehran. In the gripping final scene, the Iranian guards at the airport find out the Americans' true identities just as they're about to leave and literally chase the plane down the runway with AK-47s.
"Stop them! They have 200 milliliters of toothpaaaaste!"
Things look hairy for a moment there, but the plane manages to take off just as the guards are about to get in front of it, and the Americans are free. USA! USA!
Actually, that should be: "CANADA! CANADA!" The movie makes it seem like it was all the CIA's idea, but Canada was responsible for at least 90 percent of the operation, and that's according to President Jimmy Carter. Ken Taylor, the Canadian diplomat who risked his neck by hiding the Americans and going out to gather intelligence, called the CIA a "junior partner" in the rescue.
"... for politely shutting up as we steal all the credit."
Also, that tense scene at the airport? Never happened. According to Mendez, the escape went off "without a hitch." In the movie, the CIA calls off the mission at the last minute and cancels the plane tickets, presumably because Affleck accidentally slipped into a Boston accent. In reality, Canada responsibly bought the plane tickets well ahead of time, and the group just walked through the airport and left with their fake storyboards and real '70s mustaches.
Apparently the fake movie was half sci-fi, half porno.
At a Toronto screening, Affleck got so much heat for the oversight that he went "Oh, right" and changed the movie's post-credits text to acknowledge Canada's contribution. Apparently he'd never noticed that the mission he was recreating was nicknamed "The Canadian Caper."
6 Catch Me If You Can -- Frank's Father Was Honest, Tom Hanks' Character Wasn't Real
In the title that inaugurated the "Leonardo DiCaprio is a dick with money" genre of movies, Leo plays Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenage con artist who successfully impersonated doctors, lawyers, and pilots in the 1960s. According to the movie, it all began when his mom divorced his shady-as-hell dad, prompting Frank Jr. to run away from home and start pulling scams to survive. Eventually Abagnale is caught in France by the agent who chased him for years (played by Tom Hanks), but not before he steals millions of dollars and bangs a small country's worth of beautiful women by age 19.
That last part required DiCaprio to really flex his acting muscles.
In his biography, Abagnale says that if he wanted to "lay down a baby con," he would lie about his childhood. Well, that's exactly what the movie did. All the stuff about Abagnale's dad being a hustler is made up -- the real Frank Sr. was not only a straight shooter, but also one of Frank Jr.'s first victims, since the kid started his criminal life with petty scams involving his dad's credit card. He once racked up thousands on a spending spree before his dad got the bill. The man got screwed by his son, and then he got screwed again when he was played by the shadiest looking actor in Hollywood.
Abagnale objected to the casting choice because "zombies are so overdone."
As for the FBI agent Tom Hanks plays, he wasn't misrepresented in the movie because he didn't exist. Some FBI agents did occasionally chase Abagnale, but he didn't have a Batman/Joker relationship with any of them, and he certainly didn't call them every Christmas. As Abagnale himself points out with flawless logic: "Why would I do that? I didn't want the FBI to know where I was."
As for Abagnale's capture, represented in the movie as a tense standoff in a warehouse where Hanks manages to con the conman, it was somewhat less dramatic in real life: Someone saw Abagnale on a wanted poster and recognized him while he was shopping for groceries. That's it. There was no operation. He was buying milk.
Milk got its own inaccurate biopic in 2008.