Biopics That Infuriated The Real People They Were Based On

Biopics are big business in Hollywood, and they're loved by audiences, too. The movie studios have been pumping out biographical films since as early as 1906, and the massive success of Oppenheimer and Elvis signal that they're still going strong. But these dramatic portrayals of “real life” people don’t always hit the mark with the folks immortalized on screen. Don't believe us? Here are the films that infuriated the real people they were based on.

1. Oppenheimer (2023)

Despite being three hours long and rated R, Oppenheimer boomed past $500 million at the box office to become the highest-grossing movie set during World War II. It also enjoyed critical adulation — it holds a 93 percent certified fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes — and earned the general acceptance that it is about as historically accurate as a movie can be.

But you can't please everybody. J. Robert Oppenheimer’s grandson Charles Oppenheimer told Time, "As a dramatized representation of the history, it was really largely accurate." However, he said, there was one scene he "definitely would have removed."

The apple scene was debatable

"The part I like the least is this poison apple reference," he said. But Charles did concede that he was also not happy with this story being included in the biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer — the book Oppenheimer is based on.

"If you read American Prometheus carefully enough, the authors say, ‘We don't really know if it happened,'" Charles said. "There’s no record of [Oppenheimer] trying to kill somebody. That's a really serious accusation, and it's historical revision. There's not a single enemy or friend of Robert Oppenheimer who heard that during his life and considered it to be true."

2. Pain & Gain (2013)

Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain told the story of the Sun Gym Gang, a group of bodybuilders who were eventually convicted of kidnapping, torture, extortion, and murder. The movie claims outright that it is "a true story," and even pauses to remind viewers that "this is still a true story" when things start getting really crazy.

But despite this, the Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers called Pain & Gain “dumb, shallow, deeply cynical and creatively bereft” — and at least one real person presented in the film agreed with him.

The victim sued the production

The movie’s depiction of an inspired-by-a-true-story kidnapping proved too much for the real-life victim, Marc Schiller, to bear. He chose to sue Paramount Pictures, Viacom, Michael Bay, and star Mark Wahlberg over the film. In 2014 he told the New York Post, "They chose to portray me as a bad person and my assailants as nice guys who were just bumbling fools.

The movie made a mockery of me and of the pain and suffering that I had endured... The horrible person on screen had no resemblance to who I was — or who I am now."

3. The Social Network (2010

In 2014 Meta mogul Mark Zuckerberg spoke about the depiction of him in David Fincher’s 2010 movie, The Social Network. The film is widely considered one of the best American movies of the 21st century. But in the first-ever public Q&A session held at Facebook’s headquarters, Zuckerberg had a lot of thoughts to share.

The Facebook founder said, “[The filmmakers] just made up a bunch of stuff that I found kind of hurtful.” This echoed comments he made in 2010, in which he disagreed with how the filmmakers portrayed his motivations for founding the social media platform.

Zuckerberg "just likes building things"

Back then, Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford University, “The whole framing of the movie is I’m with this girl, who doesn’t exist in real life, who dumps me.” He continued, “And basically the framing is that the whole reason for making Facebook is because I wanted to get girls or wanted to get into clubs."

"They just can’t wrap their heads around the idea that someone might build something because they like building things.” Although he has said that the filmmakers totally nailed his wardrobe.

4. Patch Adams (1998)

Patch Adams starred the late Robin Williams as Hunter "Patch" Adams. In real life, the physician Patch formed the Gesundheit! Institute in 1971. It is a commune that is always open and free, while offering an alternative health care model.

The 1998 movie based on Patch was panned by critics — and Patch himself was not a fan. In fact, critic Roger Ebert tweeted that the first thing Adams ever said to him when they met was, “I hate that movie.”

Missing money

In 2016 Patch wrote a blog on his website that read, "Hollywood released a film about my life called Patch Adams. I agreed to do this foolish thing because they promised to help us build our hospital. The film made hundreds of millions of dollars — but we made no money from the film."

He did say, however, that he used his new-found celebrity to charge more for speaking engagements and thereby pump more money into his institute. And after Williams' death in 2014, Patch wrote in Time, "I'm enormously grateful for his wonderful performance of my early life, which has allowed the Gesundheit Institute to continue and expand our work."

5. Walk The Line (2005)

Walk The Line told the story of country music legend Johnny Cash’s rise to prominence, along with his romance with his second wife, June Carter. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were both nominated for Academy Awards for their portrayals of Cash and Carter, respectively, with Witherspoon winning the gong.

Cash's daughter, Rosanne Cash, said the filmmakers had "an honorable approach" to the movie... However, Cash’s first wife, Vivian, played by Ginnifer Goodwin, was not happy with the James Mangold-directed film.

"He will be mine"

In her 2007 book, I Walked The Line: My Life With Johnny, Vivian wrote that she disagreed with the film’s interpretation of Cash and Carter’s romance. She said the film depicted Carter as reluctant to get involved and Cash as the one pushing things forward. In reality, Vivian said, it was the opposite. She said Carter relentlessly pursued the married Cash.

Vivian recalled a backstage confrontation in which Carter told her, “Vivian, he will be mine.” Co-author Ann Sharpsteen told the Ventura County Star, “[Vivian] wanted people to know June went after Johnny. That was where most of her pain and anger rested all these years.”

6. Moneyball (2011)

Baseball legend Art Howe was decidedly unhappy with his portrayal in Bennett Miller’s Moneyball. The film followed Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) as they tried to change the fortunes of the Oakland Athletics baseball team through a math-based, statistical approach.

Art Howe, who was the team’s manager at the time, was played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. But the real Art Howe felt he was depicted as a stubborn traditionalist, angrily opposed to change. He was, to put it mildly, extremely frustrated with Moneyball.

“They couldn’t have demeaned me more”

“They couldn’t have demeaned me more,” Howe told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s disgusting. I’m hurt by it. My reputation is altered by it. People who don’t know me are going to think that’s the real Art Howe.” And he also went into detail with Sirius XM about just how let down he felt.

"It is very disappointing to know that you spent seven years in an organization and gave your heart and soul to it and helped them go to the postseason your last three years there and win over 100 games your last two seasons and this is the way evidently your boss feels about you." 

7. The Blind Side (2009)

The Blind Side starred Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, the adoptive mother of Michael Oher (played by Quinton Aaron). In real life, Tuohy helped Oher get past his hard upbringing to become an offensive lineman in the NFL. And the movie of their life proved to be a massive hit.

It grossed at $309 million against a $29 million budget. Bullock won an Oscar for her performance, too. But The Blind Side has been criticized for feeding into a stereotypical “white savior” narrative — and Oher himself expressed frustration with its depiction of him. 

Oher had mixed feelings

In 2015 Oher told ESPN that the movie negatively affected people’s view of him as a player and led to unfair criticism. He said, “This stuff, people calling me a bust, people saying if I can play or not… that has nothing to do with football. It’s something else off the field. That’s why I don’t like that movie.”

But in 2023, Oher made headlines by filing a claim against his 'adoptive' parents. Oher alleged having recently discovered "adoptive" paperwork he'd signed an 18-year-old was a conservatorship, something he said the Tuohys never disclosed. Oher also claims he's been estranged from the family for ten years. Naturally, the case between them has renewed skepticism about the 2009 film.

8. Bad Education (2020)

After Bad Education aired on HBO, it was immediately met with rave reviews. The film was based on the largest embezzlement from the public school system in American history, in which $11.2 million was stolen from the Roslyn school district in Long Island, New York, during the early 2000s.

Hugh Jackman played Frank Tassone, the school superintendent who was convicted of personally embezzling $2.2 million. Tassone was sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison for his role in the scandal and was released in 2010. Naturally, people were keen to hear his thoughts on the movie.


On an appearance on The Coach Mike Podcast in 2020, the real Tassone claimed the movie was only 40 to 50 percent truthful. He took particular issue with how the movie showed him having an affair with a former student named Kyle Contreras. Tassone said, “I have never, ever, in my 36-year career in education had a relationship with a student or with someone who had graduated.”

Tassone did like Hugh Jackman's performance, though. “He did a very good job playing me. Especially at the end, when I walk out of prison and I see what I lost,” Tassone said. “That really hit home for me. Because I did lose all of that.”

9. Foxcatcher (2014)

Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz was played by Channing Tatum in the drama Foxcatcher. The movie told the story of Mark and David Schultz’s relationship with multimillionaire John du Pont — a relationship that would end in David’s murder.

Channing Tatum played Mark, Steve Carrell played du Pont, and Mark Ruffalo played David. The real-life Mark was supportive of the film and even served as a consultant — but around the time of its release, he seemed to change his tune. Momentarily, at least.

Mark has gone back and forth on the movie

In 2014 Mark wrote on Facebook, "The personalities and relationships between the characters in the film are primarily fiction and somewhat insulting. Leaving the audience with a feeling that somehow there could have been a sexual relationship between duPont and I is a sickening and insulting lie."

He also called director Bennett Miller a “punk” and a “liar” on Twitter. But just a few weeks later, Mark seemed to change his mind. On Twitter, he said he was “temporarily insane” when he criticized the movie and wrote, “I apologize to you before the world, Bennett.”

10. Spotlight (2015)

In 2015 Best Picture-winner Spotlight told the story of the Boston Globe journalists who broke the story of systemic child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the city. But one scene in the film came under fire from its real-life subject. In the scene, journalists Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdam) speak with Boston College High School president Jack Dunn (Gary Galone) about one pivotal point.

Namely, whether he and his predecessors knew about the abuse. Dunn says, “It’s a big school, Robby, you know that. And we’re talking about seven alleged victims over, what, eight years?”

Portrayed as a conspirator

The real-life Dunn had his lawyers write the filmmakers a letter in November 2015. The letter stated that he believed the scene cast him as some kind of conspirator in the cover-up of the abuse and that the portrayal was defamatory. The real-life Robinson and Pfeiffer stood by the portrayal, but in March 2016, the movie's distributor, Open Road Films, issued a statement.

It read, “Spotlight contains fictionalized dialogue that was attributed to Mr Dunn for dramatic effect. We acknowledge that Mr. Dunn was not part of the Archdiocesan cover-up.” Dunn responded, “I feel vindicated by the public statement and relieved to have the record set straight on an issue that has caused me and my family tremendous pain.”

11. Black Mass (2015)

In the crime biopic Black Mass, Johnny Depp played notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. But the actor wasn’t able to meet with the criminal to research his role. Bulger refused to correspond with Depp and would not watch the film.

The imprisoned mobster’s lawyer Hank Brennan told People, “Johnny Depp might as well have been playing the Mad Hatter all over again as far as James Bulger is concerned. Hollywood greed is behind the rush to portray my client.”

A "fantasy"

Bulger enforcer Kevin Weeks, played by Jesse Plemons in the film, also had no regard for the movie, although he did at least watch it. Calling it a “fantasy,” he told Daily Beast, “The only resemblance to Whitey’s character was the hairline.” He said, “With the movie, there's no accuracy at all."

"The premise of corruption with the FBI is right, but as far as the events, the people, and the personalities? You could've told the truth and the movie would've been more violent than it is, but they fabricated events. The movie is pure fiction."

12. What’s Love Got To Do With It (1993)

Both Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne were nominated for Academy Awards for their portrayals of Tina and Ike Turner, respectively, in this biopic. The film was based on Tina Turner's 1986 autobiography, I, Tina, and dealt with the domestic abuse Tina said she suffered at the hands of Ike.

Around the time of the movie’s release, though, Ike spoke of how it had affected his reputation. "I’m real angry about it," he told the Los Angeles Times.

Taking back his name

He said, “I didn’t go see it and I didn’t read her book either, but from what I hear they’re both full of lies. I guess they needed some drama, they needed to make somebody into the bad guy and this time it was me.” He also claimed, “The only time I ever punched Tina with my fist was the last fight we had."

"I hit her after she kneed me in the chest. Prior to that, our fights, or our little slaps, or whatever they were, were all just about attitude.” He wrote his own take on their relationship in his autobiography, Takin' Back My Name.

13. Diana (2013)

Diana told the story of the last two years of Princess Diana’s life. But the driving plot element of the film was not Diana’s relationship with Dodi Fayed. Instead, Diana examines her time with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, played by Naveen Andrews.

The film, starring Naomi Watts as the Princess of Wales, was savaged by critics upon its release. The Guardian typified the response with its summary. "An excruciatingly well-intentioned biopic laced with bizarre cardboard dialogue." And the real Hasnat Khan declared he would never watch the movie.

"It is based on gossip"

Khan told the Mail On Sunday, “I don’t see this movie doing well at all. It is based on gossip and Diana’s friends talking about a relationship that they didn’t know much about, and some of my relatives who didn’t know much about it either. It is all based on hypotheses and gossip.”

He also strongly denied giving the filmmakers any kind of blessing, saying, “It is a complete lie. I have never given any approval.” The film ultimately only made $21 million at the box office.

14. Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Straight Outta Compton, the 2015 biopic charting the rise and fall of seminal rap group N.W.A., was a massive success both critically and commercially. It made over $200 million at the worldwide box office and was nominated for an Academy Award for its screenplay.

The historical accuracy of its storyline was applauded, too, taking into account the necessity for movies to streamline certain events. However, one member of the group, MC Ren, was unhappy with his depiction in the film.

Rewriting history?

On the film’s release, Ren took to Twitter to express disappointment about how the film downplayed his part in the group’s success. He wrote, “True fans know my role in the group as far as lyrics are concerned, don’t let the movie fool you about my contribution to the group.”

He had also earlier tweeted anger at being left out of the trailer for the film, accusing Universal Pictures of attempting to rewrite history. N.W.A's manager Jerry Heller went as far as to sue the makers of the movie — though his defamation case was eventually dismissed.

15. All Eyez On Me (2017)

This biopic of hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur didn't make much of an impression at the box office — only making $55.7 million on a budget of $40 million. But it did raise the ire of the real Jada Pinkett Smith, who befriended the rapper when they both attended the Baltimore School for the Arts.

She tweeted, “Forgive me… my relationship to Pac is too precious to me for the scenes in All Eyez On Me to stand as truth. The reimagining of my relationship to Pac has been deeply hurtful.” 

Jada got into it

Smith directly addressed three separate scenes that she felt misrepresented the truth. She wrote, “Pac never read me that poem. I didn’t know that poem existed until it was printed in his book. Pac never said goodbye to me before leaving for LA."

She continued, "He had to leave abruptly, and it wasn’t to pursue his career. I’ve never been to any of Pac’s shows by his request. We never had an argument backstage.” She did, however, praise the cast for doing a “beautiful job with what [they] were given."

16. Notorious (2009)

Notorious told the life story of iconic rapper Christopher Wallace a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G. Bigger was played by Jamal Woolard, and he would later reprise the role in All Eyez On Me. Fellow rapper Lil’ Kim is featured in the film, played by Naturi Naughton, and when the film was released in 2009 Kim had words for Hip-Hop Weekly.

She told the publication that she had pushed for changes in the script to make it a more accurate representation of her relationship with Biggie. "When I spoke to the writer I felt like he was trying to play me, so I wouldn't give up anything," Kim explained.

No control

“I knew I wouldn’t have control of how I was depicted,” explained Kim. “I did correct the writer about Biggie’s nickname for me. He had written that Biggie called me Big Momma. Biggie never called me Big Momma. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even like that name for me. He used to call me Mookie.”

After the movie was released, Kim told Rap Radar that Notorious B.I.G. had "come to [her] many times in [her] dreams and was not "happy at all" about the movie.

17. The Fifth Estate (2013)

In January 2013 WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange wrote a letter to actor Benedict Cumberbatch after Cumberbatch tried to contact Assange about playing him in The Fifth Estate. Assange published his letter online in October 2013, just as the movie was released.

In it, Assange wrote, “I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe this film is a good film. I do not believe it is going to be positive for me or the people I care about.”

"Consider the consequences"

Assange, who at the time was living under diplomatic asylum in the Embassy of Ecuador in London, continued, “I believe that you should reconsider your involvement in this enterprise. Consider the consequences of your cooperation with a project that vilifies and marginalizes a living political refugee to the benefit of an entrenched, corrupt, and dangerous state.” 

Cumberbatch admitted that the letter gave him pause, but he decided to go ahead with the film. "I'm not acting in a moral vacuum," he told The Guardian. "I have considered this, and whatever happens I want to give as much complexity and understanding of you as I can."

18. Hustlers (2019)

Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers was a huge hit in 2019, making $157 million worldwide and receiving widespread critical adulation. The film made it clear it was "inspired by a true story" about a crew of strippers drugging and robbing rich New York stock traders. Star Jennifer Lopez was praised for her performance as the character Ramona, the mastermind behind the crew.

However, Samantha Barbash, the real woman who inspired the creation of Ramona, sued the filmmakers for defamation of character, claiming she was never a stripper.

Case dismissed

In her lawsuit, Barbash alleged that she refused her consent for the filmmakers to use her likeness, but they did so anyway. The court papers also said, “Anyone who views the film will believe Plaintiff to be an individual of little to no moral or ethical values, devoid of any loyalty to her colleagues, under the influence of hard drugs, and with misandrist tendencies.”

In May 2020, though, the court dismissed the case after finding that the film did not use Barbash's "name, portrait, picture, or voice." Case closed, apparently.

19. The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)

Martin Scorsese’s riotous The Wolf Of Wall Street received the thumbs-up from the real-life Jordan Belfort and his ex-wife Nadine Maculoso. But there is a minor character named Nicky “Rugrat” Koskoff, played by P.J. Byrne, in the movie. He is one of the employees at Jordan Belfort’s brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont.

And after the film was released in 2013, Andrew Greene filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures that claimed the character was based on him.

A wild ride

Greene’s lawsuit read, “The motion picture contains various scenes wherein Mr. Greene’s character is portrayed as a criminal, drug user, degenerate, depraved, and/or devoid of any morality or ethics.” He maintained that he did not consent for his likeness to be used and felt he had been permanently damaged by his depiction in the film.

In 2016, lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio was ordered to give testimony, but in 2020 Greene’s claims were dismissed by a federal judge and the court of appeals.

20. Winnie Mandela (2013)

Jennifer Hudson starred as Winnie, the wife of anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela, in Winnie Mandela. The movie was filmed in 2010 but was not released in North America until 2013 and then it was poorly reviewed and fared badly at the box office.

But worst of all, it also upset the real Winnie, who told CNN in 2011 that the movie — described by its director as “an amazing love story” — was actually an insult to her.

"Total disrespect"

“I have nothing against Jennifer, but I have everything against the movie itself,” said Winnie. “I was not consulted. I am still alive, and I think it is total disrespect to come to South Africa, make a movie about my struggle, and call that movie some translation of a romantic life of Winnie Mandela.” 

In a similar fashion, some actors from South Africa criticized the movie for choosing American stars to play South African people. Hudson apparently did try to meet the real Winnie before production began.

21. The Theory Of Everything (2014)

Eddie Redmayne won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything. Felicity Jones was also nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of Jane Hawking, Stephen’s first wife. In fact, the film was based on Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, Jane’s 2007 memoir.

In 2018, however, Jane said the movie misrepresented their marriage. Some even claimed the movie did Jane "a disservice" by altering the events of their relationship.

"Don’t ever believe what you see in films"

Jane told an audience at the Henley literary festival, “I knew if there were mistakes in the film that they would be immortalized, which they have been. I found that very irritating and I didn’t want it to happen. Don’t ever believe what you see in films.”

She was especially aggravated that the film glossed over the everyday difficulties of caring for three children and a husband with debilitating motor neuron disease.