Historical events

How long is too early? Ten films that touched on recent historical events


This weekend, the drama of journalism Truth hits theaters, starring Robert Redford as a former CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather. The film follows a controversial report aired in 2004, which suggested that President George W. Bush received preferential treatment to avoid conscription during the Vietnam War. The report relied on documents which were later found to have been tampered with, which led to the termination of CBS Evening News producer Mary Mapes (played in the Cate Blanchett film) and the resignation of Rather in 2005.

While the events of the film took place barely a decade ago, it looks like they were much more recent. Hollywood loves to look to recent history to tell their stories, and the truth is no exception. As the list below proves, a ten-year span between a historic event and a movie based on it isn’t actually a quick turnaround. Here are ten films from the past decade that have touched on recent affairs, ranked from the time that elapsed between when the events took place and when the film hit theaters.


‘Captain Phillips’

Photo: Columbia Pictures; Courtesy of Everett Collection

Year of presentation: 2009
First in theaters: 2013
Time elapsed: 54 months

Paul Greengrass factual thriller stars Tom Hanks as Richard Phillips, the merchant seaman whose cargo container, the MV Maersk Alabama, was hijacked by Somali pirates – one of five hijackings in the Indian Ocean that have taken place over the course of three years. Like the previous Greengrass movie, United 93, his take on recent historical events earned him a nomination for Best Picture and a nod to Best Supporting Actor for newcomer Barkhad Abdi. [Where to stream Captain Phillips]


“A mighty heart”


Year of presentation: 2002
First in theaters: 2007
Elapsed time: 64 months

Angelina Jolie stars as writer Mariane Pearl, whose husband Daniel was kidnapped and murdered by Al Qaeda operatives while reporting for the the Wall Street newspaper In Pakistan. The emotional drama follows Mariane after her husband’s kidnapping and her desperate attempts to work with the US government to find him. [Where to stream A Mighty Heart]


‘United 93’

Photo: universal images; Courtesy of Everett Collection

Year of presentation: 2001
First in theaters: 2006
Elapsed time: 55 months

Paul Greengrass’ searing drama follows the tale of the fourth plane hijacked by terrorists on September 11 and the courageous and heroic attempts by its passengers to overtake their captors, resulting in the plane crashing in countryside of Pennsylvania. [Where to stream United 93]


“Fruitvale Station”

Photo: Weinstein Company: Courtesy of Everett Collection

Year of presentation: 2009
First in theaters: 2013
Elapsed time: 54 months

Michael B. Jordon plays Oscar Grant, 22, whose death at the hands of two BART agents in Oakland, Calif. On New Years Day 2009 sparked outrage in the African American community. The film highlights Grant’s final hours with the aim of painting a human portrait of a victim of racist violence. [Where to stream Fruitvale Station]


“The bling ring”

the ring-bling
Photo: A24; Courtesy of Everett Collection

Years represented: 2008-2009
First in theaters: 2013
Elapsed time: 46 months

Based on Nancy Jo Sales 2010 Vanity Show article “The suspects wore Louboutins”, Sofia Coppola’s crime satire follows Alexis Neiers and her friends as they break into Hollywood A-List homes (including Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Orlando Bloom) and indulge in a life of luxury. [Where to stream The Bling Ring]


‘Fair game’

fair game

Years represented: 2003-2007
First in theaters: 2010
Elapsed time: 40 months

Naomi Watts plays Valerie Plame, the CIA secret agent whose identity was leaked to the press after her diplomat husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV (played here by Sean Penn), publicly criticized the involvement of the administration in the Iraq war. The film follows the controversy, which put Plame at risk once his identity was revealed, until White House aide Scooter Libby was convicted in the case. [Where to stream Fair Game]


‘The social network’

the social network
Photo: Columbia Pictures; Courtesy of Everett Collection

Years represented: 2003-2008
First in theaters: 2010
Elapsed time: 28 months

David Fincher’s cranky film details Facebook’s early years, starting in Mark Zuckerberg’s dormitory at Harvard and following his trial with the Winklevoss twins, the rise of Zuckerberg and Facebook, and the breakdown of his friendship. Zuckerberg with co-founder Eduardo Saverin. [Where to stream The Social Network]


“American sniper”

American sniper
Photo: Warner Bros. ; Courtesy of Everett Collection

Years represented: 2001 (ish) -2013
First in theaters: 2014
Time elapsed: 22 months

Clint Eastwood’s biopic of Chris Kyle, the deadliest marine sniper in American history, was a box office hit and critical success, earning numerous Oscar nominations. Despite his crowd-pleasing sensibility, many have questioned some of the stories of military glory in the film as well as in its source material, Kyle’s 2012 memoir of the same name. [Where to stream American Sniper]


‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Photo: Columbia Pictures; Courtesy of Everett Collection

Years represented: 2001-2011
First in theaters: 2012
Time elapsed: 19 months

Kathryn Bigelow’s controversial film The Hunt for Osama bin Laden, released in theaters just over a year after the assassination of the most wanted terrorist, has garnered critical acclaim (and several Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Actress for Jessica Chastain). Years later, the film is still making headlines for the way it uses torture as a storytelling tool. [Where to stream Zero Dark Thirty]



Photo: Lionsgate; Courtesy of Everett Collection

Years represented: 1966-2008
First in theaters: 2008
Elapsed time: n / a

Oliver Stone’s take on George W. Bush’s presidency (with a few flashbacks to his rowdy youth) starred Josh Brolin in the title role and hit theaters just a month before Obama’s election in October 2008 . [Where to stream W.]

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