As you know (because you read Cracked), Hollywood loves taking liberties when turning real people's lives into movies. Why, they could take the same story and adapt it into a drama and a completely unrelated comedy. Or into a children's musical and a violent action flick. We know this they have in fact done that -- and more. Here are a bunch of wildly different movies you didn't know are based on the exact same people:
GoodFellas is a brutal, violent, swear-filled Martin Scorsese kill-fest that's firmly cemented on the Mt. Rushmore of mob movies. Among its many accolades, it earned Joe Pesci an Academy Award for "Actor Most Likely to Murder a Member of the Academy If We Don't Give Him an Oscar." It's an all-time classic, in or outside the genre of Italian-Americans shooting people in the face.
Less remembered is a movie that came out only a month earlier: My Blue Heaven, a comedy about Steve Martin as an eccentric New York mobster annoying the hell out of everyone in a quiet little town. It's pretty much the polar opposite of Goodfellas. Which is weird, because they're both based on the life of the same (wise) guy.
For those unaware, Goodfellas is based on the book Wiseguy, the detailed confessions of mobster turned FBI informant Henry Hill (the Liotta character). While co-author Nick Pileggi was working on the book, he was married to Nora Ephron, best known for writing movies about Meg Ryan hooking up with Tom Hanks via various methods of communication. Sometimes, when Hill called Pileggi for their interviews, Ephron would answer the phone and they'd shoot the shit about life in witness protection. Unbeknownst to Hill, Ephron wasn't just being friendly; she was researching My Blue Heaven. According to Hill, he didn't realize the stuff he was saying would end up being repeated by Steve Martin in a cheesy "New York Mafia guy" accent.
"Don't worry, your secret habit of dancing the Merengue with men who look like Rick Moranis is safe with me."
So you could say that Scorsese's profane, ultra-violent murderpalooza is a prequel to this lighthearted little comedy. Goodfellas ends with Hill going into witness protection in a boring suburban town, which is the starting point of My Blue Heaven. Both movies even have scenes in which the protagonist finds out the local restaurants don't offer a decent marinara sauce. It's sort of an Antz / A Bug's Life situation, if Antz featured the Woody Allen ant pistol-whipping a guy to death and digging up his dismembered corpse, and A Bug's Life was A Bug's Life.
Hey, remember the brutal Mel Gibson movie in which he basically remade Braveheart in the Revolutionary War? The Patriot wasn't the first loose adaptation of what turns out to be a real historical figure (Revolutionary War officer Francis Marion). The first one came out decades earlier and looked like this:
Way back in 1959, after their Davy Crockett miniseries made Disney realize that "American folk hero + impossibly catchy theme song" could be a profitable formula, they churned out a follow-up: The Swamp Fox, a serial starring Leslie Nielsen as Marion. The show, introduced by Walt "Disney Himself" Disney himself, aired on Sunday nights, and was a perfect example of inoffensive family entertainment. The "battle scenes" consisted mostly of Nielsen outsmarting and mocking his opponents, and the characters always found the time to gather 'round the fire for some jolly, toe-tappin' jams about the titular Swamp Fox.
So how did the real Francis Marion earn that nickname? Why, by being a sly bastard who, with his small band of soldiers, used guerrilla tactics to sneak up on the British and Loyalists and slaughter the shit out of them. Oh, and he learned those tactics while hunting/massacring the Cherokee. So this is one case where somehow Mel's version was more accurate.
The protagonist of The Patriot, Benjamin Martin, is a composite of various real people, but the most brutal aspects of the character (i.e. manually hacking dudes into mush with the same tomahawk he used in the French and Indian War) were pulled from the life of the aforementioned smilin', singin' Swamp Fox.
Another connection: Gibson's evil nemesis in the movie is a British colonel named Tavington, who (gleeful child murder aside) was clearly based on British Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Tarleton was also a recurrent baddie in the Disney/Nielsen version, though we're unaware of any episodes in which he burns down a church full of civilians, followed by a corresponding musical number.
Columbia Pictures, ABC Studios
Hey, remember that movie about a bunch of young Wall Street assholes ripping people off, making lots of money, and doing lots of drugs? You know, the one starring a former '90s heartthrob? Yes, we're talking about ... Boiler Room, the 2000 drama with Ben Affleck, Giovanni Ribisi, and Vin Diesel. Here's Diesel smooth-talking someone into buying a shitload of stocks without even knowing what they are:
To be fair, we'd buy anything from him if he used his Groot voice.
If you've never seen this movie before and that scene still looked familiar, that's probably because the same type of cold-calling appeared in The Wolf Of Wall Street (aka the film you were actually thinking about in the previous paragraph). That's not a coincidence. Both movies are based on Stratton Oakmont, a stock brokerage firm run by one Jordan Belfort until the FBI objected to his whole "getting insanely rich by ruining people's lives" thing. Yes, that's Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Wolf. Boiler Room renamed him Michael Brantley and made him decidedly less Quaalude-ridden, but it's the same guy.
New Line Cinema
There's one big difference between the two movies, though. In Boiler Room, Ribisi's character eventually realizes that selling worthless penny stocks to people who can barely afford a roof over their heads is evil, so he decides to bring the whole organization down. The movie ends with Ribisi convincing Diesel, perhaps the biggest douche in the firm, to do one good thing so they can give one of their victims his money back. Ribisi then rides off into the sunset right as the feds swoop in on the Stratton Oakmon stand-in to arrest everyone. Justice works!
Unfortunately, that type of ending would look like science fiction after the 2007-2008 financial crisis and its consequences (or lack thereof). In the same way that those responsible for the crisis got off with a slap on the wrist, The Wolf Of Wall Street portrays the organization's downfall with Belfort playing tennis in a luxury prison for a couple of years and becoming a successful motivational speaker after getting out. And, you know, being played by Leonardo DiCaprio in a hit movie.
Our culture is so enamored of serial killers that one murder spree can launch decades' worth of film adaptations. For example, one killer couple managed to inspire so many movies that two of them starred Juliette Lewis.
Let's start with The Frighteners, which is a weird-ass Peter Jackson movie about Michael J. Fox dealing with terrible CGI ghosts. Foremost among those ghosts is Johnny Bartlett, an infamous mass murderer who was executed for his crimes while his girlfriend/accomplice was spared for being a teenager. The movie kicks off when Bartlett's ghost decides to resume his serial killing career from beyond the grave with help from his now-legal paramour.
Bartlett and his girlfriend are based on the real-life case of Charles Starkweather, who murdered 11 people while accompanied by his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. As in the movie, the cradle-robber got the electric chair while the girl lived on (Fugate got a life sentence, but was paroled after 17 years).
Their crimes inspired The Sadist (1963), Badlands (1973) with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, Kalifornia (1993) with Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis, Natural Born Killers (1994) with Woody Harrelson and also Juliette Lewis ...
Gramercy Pictures, Warner Bros.
... and a whole bunch of TV movies and crime show episodes. These movies and shows borrow from Starkweather's biography to different degrees, but they all make sure to keep the "his girlfriend was uncomfortably younger than him" part, for some reason.
In other words, the next time you watch Terence Malick's existential and impressionistic Badlands, feel free to pretend that after Sheen's character was executed, he became an evil ghost and went on to pester Marty McFly.
For those who worry that regular porn doesn't carry enough guilt and shame in modern society, there's also Nazi sexploitation porn. A prime example is Ilsa, She Wolf Of The SS, a movie about a German officer in charge of a Nazi death camp. Sensuality ensues.
The titular (shut up) Ilsa is a buxom, sadistic warden who really gets off on torture, and if you get a boner while watching this, you're legally required to visit a Holocaust Memorial and think about your life choices until it goes away. The movie spawned two sequels, set in the Middle East and Siberia, because we're the worst as a species.
Out Of The Ashes, on the other hand, was a biographical film based on a book by the cheerful title I Was A Doctor In Auschwitz. It follows Holocaust survivor Giselle Perl, a Jewish gynecologist who is accused of colluding with Josef Mengele. It's not a sexy movie, nor should it be. So why are we bringing it up, then? Because one of the characters, a sadistic guard who tortures the protagonist, feels strangely familiar ...
That's (an actress portraying) Irma Grese, a real-life Nazi SS officer and guard at several concentration camps who eventually became warden of the notorious Bergen-Belsen camp. She was known as "The Hyena of Auschwitz," and was particularly legendary/reviled for her acts of sadism ... which is saying a lot, considering all her coworkers were fucking Nazis in concentration camps. According to her victims, she would go out of her way to torture people for no reason, even if it meant disobeying the orders of her superiors. There's bad, and then there's "executed for war crimes at age 22" bad.
So yeah, it turns out that Ilsa was inspired by a real person, rather than a combination of misguided BSDM and late-night History Channel shows. Good luck looking at yourself in the mirror ever again, dear readers who took a "bathroom break" after the first photo in this entry!
James is on Twitter, and has recently tried his hand at blogging. Nathan Kamal lives in Oregon and writes there. He co-founded Asymmetry Fiction for all your fiction needs. Mike Bedard is a writer making a living in Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter, or follow him in real life if you can find his apartment.