Find Out The Percentage Of Truth In Your Favorite “Based On a True Story” Movies

These data visualizations for Oscar-winning films like The Imitation Game and Spotlight separate truth from fiction.

“Leave your brain at the door.” That’s the common wisdom regarding certain movies like Furious 7 where Vin Diesel and Jason Statham emerge with nary a scratch from a high-speed head on collision and immediately start punching each other in the face. However, even with more Oscar-friendly fare, it’s still helpful to jettison one’s critical thinking skills in order to just enjoy the flow of events. Especially when it comes to movies that are based on a true story.


“Based” can mean a lot of things. (Just ask Lil B, the Based God.) Truth is a lot stranger than fiction, sure, but sometimes it can also be a lot more boring than fiction, which is why filmmakers so often end up jazzing it up. A new project aims to determine exactly how much jazz has been injected into some of the most high-profile nonfiction films of late, and actually quantify it.

The most important part of the project’s title, “Based On a True Story?” is that question mark at the end. How liberal did the filmmakers get with the truth? Created by data scientist David McCandless, with assistance from Stephanie Smith, BOTS not only assigns a percentage to the level of foofaraw in each of the 10 selected films, it also offers a scene-by-scene breakdown that explains what was made up and why.

Rachel McAdams; Mark Ruffalo; Brian d’Arcy; Michael Keaton and John Slattery in Spotlight

An early scene in Spotlight, for instance, includes an awkward dinner between uneasy new editorial colleagues played by Michael Keaton and Liev Schrieber. In reality, Schrieber’s character, a fresh Bostonian transplant, was apparently welcomed by the team without any tension. In a later scene from the film, which boasts a 78.9% true score, a character warns Keaton off of the big story his team is chasing, about abuses in the Catholic church, and this character is actually a fabricated amalgam of several people involved in the cover-up.

“Based On a True Story?” operates on three different settings: Flexible – C’Mon, It’s Movies; Can Bear Some Dramatic License; and Only The Absolute Truth. The percentage of trueness goes down the more strict it gets, but also the reasons why become more negligible. Spotlight’s score falls from a 78.9% to 64.8%, after all, but only for reasons like uncertainty of whether there actual were cake and speeches at one Boston Globe editor’s sendoff depicted in an early scene.

Have a look for yourself to find out why The Imitation Game gets only a 16.6% on the most truth-bound setting.

[via Information Is Beautiful]


Graphics: Concept & Design: David McCandless; Code: Omid Kashan; Research: Stephanie Smith & DM; See the data