The central cultural debate of society has often focused on whether art imitates life or if life itself imitates art. Literature and art are considered to mirror the society they are produced in; cinema, too, is said to reflect the contemporary socio-political and socio-cultural scenarios while delving deep into the consciousness of the common people.
While, arguably, there is little truth to fiction, cinema often finds its way round to uphold an event that was inspired by a real-life incident and makes it look more realistic with its clever portrayal of the same. For years, bizarre real-life events have attracted filmmakers to base their films on. They often indulge in artistic liberty, straying away from the source material and blending in elements that were probably never present, to add their personal touch to it and make the story more commercially viable.
Netflix viewers have an affinity to true crime and often find themselves indulging in content that is specifically based on real-life events. While the streamer has a wide variety of films based on real-life events, filmmakers and showrunners are now investing in creating various shows that are fictionalised accounts of true events.
They are entertaining and eye-opening at the same time, often making the audience partake in a moving journey. They often range from being limited miniseries to ones that run for a couple of seasons.
Here are the ten best shows on Netflix that are based on real-life events.
10 Netflix shows based on true events
10. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, Madness (Eric Goode, 2020)
Exciting and nerve-wracking, this series provides an insight into the fascinating world of Joe Exotic, the eccentric zoo owner, and his long-time feud with Carole Baskin and Doc Antle. This series abounds in bizarre subjects, starting from big cats ownership, assassination attempts, murder mysteries, alligators, as well as a “three-way-same sex marriage”.
A significant hit during the pandemic, this miniseries was designed like a docuseries, chronicling Joe Exotifc’s life to the T. Extremely compelling and captivating, the series paints a wonderfully gripping portrait of how an obsession can subsequently lead to downfall.
9. Unbelievable (Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman, Michael Chabon, 2015)
Based on ProPublica and The Marshall Project’s shocking 2015 article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”, this harrowing limited eight-episode series chronicles two different cases that have similar connections. A must-watch for all, the show is brimming with crime, suspense, angst and an alarming pace.
Starring Toni Collette and Merritt Wever as badass cops who investigate shocking claims, the series sees Kaitlyn Dever as Marie Adler, who alleges to have been raped. When she is accused of lying, the detectives decide to get to the bottom of this horrifying and gripping narrative that can be traumatising to sit through.
8. Alias Grace (Mary Harron, 2017)
Adapted from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, the limited series revolves around the life of Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant who is convicted of murder. Unravelling in a litany of flashbacks, the story is set in 19th century Canada.
A fictionalised account of the 1843 murder in Canada, the series is a poignant and scathing social commentary on the condition of women in the mid-1800s. This nuanced series is a brilliant portrait of their oppressed stature, this nuanced series is a magnificent yet heartbreaking watch.
7. Inventing Anna (Shonda Rhimes, 2022)
Based on Jessica Pressler’s shocking New York Magazine article, “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People”, Rhymes’ latest nine-hour-long limited series focuses on the real-life escapades of the infamous SoHo scammer. Anna Sorokin, who adopted the alias of Anna Delvey and scammed the wealthy New York socialite of hundreds and thousands of dollars, was charged with larceny and imprisoned.
Starring Julia Garner and Anna Chlumsky, the show gives a gripping insight into the twisted and fascinating character of Delvey. While the real-life Sorokin was disgruntled over the series, Netflix reportedly paid her a staggering $320,000. This intense show upholds how Sorokin became the anti-hero epitome of the American Dream and almost got away with monumental lies and deceits.
6. Narcos (Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, 2015)
Based on the notorious life of the legendary drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar, the show follows the meteoric boom of the cocaine trade in Colombia. It takes an intimate look at the life of the drug cartel leader, tracing his rise and fall while also chronicling his gripping interactions with opposition parties, other drug lords, Drug Enforcement Administration officials and more.
Transcending morality, ethics, legality and politics, the brilliant portrayal of the Cali cartel and Escobar is terrific. Grisly, indefensible, ambitious and cunning, Escobar is a force to be reckoned with. The show does a brilliant job exploring his conniving legacy while not romanticising his exploits.
5. Unorthodox (Maria Schrader, 2020)
Based on Deborah Feldman’s autobiographical novel published in 2012, this first-ever Yiddish Netflix Original focuses on the rigidity that prevails in various communities. It sheds light on the oppression meted out to the members while juxtaposing the protagonist’s predicament with hope and freedom.
The Emmy-winning show revolves around a 19-year-old Jewish woman, Esty, who elopes to Berlin to evade a forced arranged marriage within the orthodox Hasidic community. While she is pursued by her husband and cousin, who knows about her pregnancy, the series is a symbolic and cathartic chronology of her escape.
4. Delhi Crime (Richie Mehta, 2019)
The first-ever Indian Netflix Original to win an Emmy, the show is based on the horrific and brutal 2012 gang-rape case in South Delhi, India. The series deals with the aftermath of the rape case with a female official at the centre who tries to arrest the beastly culprits for serving justice to Nirbahay, who succumbs to the gruesome injuries.
This 2012 gang-rape case had shocked and frightened the entire nation. Ripples of protests across the country demanded action against the unimaginable monstrosity meted out by the perpetrators. Gut-wrenching and grim, the series is pretty triggering and detailed and shows how the Delhi Police tried their level best to avenge India’s daughters.
3. Mindhunter (Joe Penhall, David Fincher, 2017)
After the show was cancelled after just two seasons, fans were pretty heartbroken. Tracing the actual evolution of the behavioural unit at the FBI, the series sees FBI agents at the centre of the drama as they investigate a string of grisly murders and try to comprehend the secrets of the human mind.
A dark and twisted portrait of the darkness that manifests within the human psyche, the series abounds in blood, gore and violence. It also features a legion of real-life cold-blooded criminals, notably Cameron Britton’s Ed Kemper and the notorious Charles Manson.
2. Peaky Blinders (Steven Knight, 2013)
This period piece had changed the course of British crime dramas while detailing the escapades of the notorious Black Country gang set in Birmingham. These men were known for their notorious tendency to stash razors in their peaked caps. The ambitious and enigmatic Thomas Shelby is at the centre of the series, whose iconic presence has managed to captivate viewers over the last few seasons.
Starring Cillian Murphy, Adrien Brody, Anya Taylor-Joy, Tom Hardy and others, this fast-paced, violent tale is finally ending with a sixth and final season this March. This bittersweet and riveting adieu will venture into the timeline of the Second World War and see the Shelbys grappling with fascism.
1. The Crown (Peter Morgan, 2016)
One of the most outstanding Netflix Originals ever made, The Crown, will release its penultimate fifth season this year while production for the sixth and final season has already commenced. It upholds the polarising events that have taken place over the years during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, which includes political and social events and an abundance of family drama, royal family secrets, scandals and many more.
Loyal to the chronology of events, the show changes its cast every two seasons to stay in tandem with its changing timeline. Having amassed staggering revenues for the streamer, The Crown, however, found itself in hot waters with the royal family recently due to their upcoming portrayal of Prince Charles and late Princess Diana’s tumultuous marriage and the latter’s eventual tragic demise.