The phrase “you couldn’t write this” is common in English to explain incidents that are so bizarre or crazy that it is difficult to believe someone could ever even think to write a movie or book about it. Sometimes, Hollywood uses these “stranger than fiction” events to create great blockbusters. Here are some of those incredible stories.
In 2008, Ben Mezrich’s best-selling novel Bringing Down the House was turned into a hit movie. Directed by Robert Luketic and starring Laurence Fishburne, Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, and Kevin Spacey, 21 tells the story of the MIT Blackjack Team.
This real-life team was made up of students and staff from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, who used card counting techniques to improve their odds while playing the popular card game of blackjack.
Since the game of blackjack has been around for centuries, academics have had plenty of time to study the probabilities involved in it. This has led them to develop more and more advanced card counting techniques, all of which are designed to remove the statistical house edge that’s built into the game and allow players to increase the likelihood of winning when playing over long periods.
Contrary to popular belief, card counting is not illegal or forbidden by casinos, because it is a process that can be carried out entirely in your head. However, it isn’t easy to pull off, which was why it required an entire team of around 80 academics from some of the world’s top universities.
21 shows a compressed version of the MIT Blackjack Team’s story, which in real life spanned more than two decades. Using some creative license, the director has been able to include all of the main events in a way that’s interesting to both card players and non-card players alike.
Until recently, movies about motorsport failed to capture the imagination of the general public and frustrated car-enthusiasts for their lack of realism. That was until Senna was released in 2011, showing the triumphant rise and tragic fall of Ayrton Senna. Rather than focusing on tacky and unrealistic on-track scenes, it focused on the human story of Senna’s life and how that played out on the race track.
After its huge success, other films have copied that idea, focusing on the people behind the wheel rather than the machines they drive.
An example of this is Rush, the 2013 movie directed by Ron Howard that chronicles the rivalry between F1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Laud. Unlike Senna, Rush was a theatrical recreation of events rather than a documentary made from archival footage.
It still captured the personalities of these two polar opposites. Hunt is a flamboyant ladies man who takes a happy-go-lucky approach to life, while Lauda is a calculating, technically-minded driver focused on achieving perfection.
These two opposites rub up against each other, both physically and metaphorically, on numerous occasions, creating a fierce rivalry that’s only been seen a handful of times in the sport.
During the 1976 season, the two are embroiled in a close title fight when Lauda crashes at the notorious Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit. Narrowly escaping death, Lauda is left with severe burns to every part of his body, including his lungs, forcing him to miss several races.
Despite us knowing the outcome, Rush still leaves you on the edge of your seat right until the end.
Staring the universally popular Tom Hanks, Sully is another film based on real-life events that are difficult to believe happened. Except, the events of 15th January 2009 are ones most people are familiar with.
News outlets around the world covered the events live as US Airways Flight 1549 landed on New York’s Hudson River, with boats and ferries rushing to the aid of the 150 passengers and five crew members that had been on board.
The story is told from the perspective of Chelsey Sullenberger (Sully), the pilot of the infamous Flight 1549. Shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport, Sully’s Airbus A320 suffered multiple bird strikes, disabling both of the plane’s engines.
Sully quickly realised that he didn’t have the altitude to make it back to any nearby airport and that a water landing was the only viable option.
Despite being regarded by most people around the world as a hero, Sully was the subject of an intensive investigation by aviation authorities, who, for a while, believed he unnecessarily endangered passengers and the public and destroyed a multi-million dollar aircraft.
The film recreates a dramatised version of this investigation, showing the immense stress that Sully was subjected to, and his ultimate vindication when the simulations used by the investigating bodies were shown to be unrealistic.