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Calculating the Accuracy of Hollywood ‘True’ Stories

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Steve Carell in 'The Big Short' (Courtesy Paramount Pictures)
Steve Carell in ‘The Big Short’ (Courtesy Paramount Pictures)


Hollywood loves to tell a true story. Or, more accurately, Hollywood loves to tell a Hollywood version of a true story. That’s why you can catch a movie and come away feeling like you now understand the life of an actual person—until you read an article and realize so much was changed that you might as well have been watching fiction all along. If only there was a way to know exactly how much truth a film was giving you.

Enter the folks behind site Information is Beautiful.

On a scene-by-scene basis, they attempt to determine how accurate historical dramas actually are. Once they’ve analyzed every scene, they assign the movie a score. Some movies fare very well with this scoring. For instance, Bridge of Spies scored an 89.9 percent, The Big Short scored a 91.4 percent, and Selma even reached a perfect 100 percent.

Bradley Cooper in American Sniper (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Bradley Cooper in American Sniper (Warner Bros. Pictures)


Others fare less well. Dallas Buyers Club scored a 61.4 percent; American Sniper, a 56.9 percent; and The Imitation Game, the Alan Turing bio starring Benedict Cumberbatch, proved a poor imitator indeed, receiving only a 41.4 percent. (Meaning if you turned on a scene at random, it probably didn’t happen.)

This doesn’t mean films with low scores are bad; they still can be compelling and well acted and generally superb. (Just make sure your kids don’t use them as a reference for that big history report, though.)

To read more about historical accuracy in cinema, click here. To visit the very addictive site Information is Beautiful, and see more of the scores achieved by your favorite films, click here.