No superpowers necessary: the best films about real-life heroes
On 15 January 2009, pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger glided his plane on to the chilly waters of the Hudson River, after a flock of birds blew out both of its engines. Dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson”, Sully saved the lives of all 155 passengers on board. Naturally, Hollywood came calling and this historic landing hits our cinemas with Tom Hanks in the titular role.
Sully retired in 2010, but his story is just one of many based on the exploits of real-life heroes. Here’s five of the best.
- Schindler’s List
- Erin Brockovich
- Hotel Rwanda
- The Imitation Game
At over three hours long, Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 film about how Oskar Schindler saved more than 1,200 Jews from entering concentration camps is epic in every sense of the word. An unlikely hero, the film depicts how this courageous Krakow factory owner defied all the odds to save the lives of as many Jews as he could. Liam Neeson starred as Schindler, and the film won a total of seven Academy Awards.
What happened to Oskar: Although he was a successful businessman up until the war, Schindler eventually died penniless and virtually unknown in 1974, having used his money to save his workers.
A single mother of three children and paralegal, Erin Brockovich made headlines all over the world in 1993. She brought a case against California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Company, having uncovered that the company had been dispensing contaminated water for more than 20 years, threatening the community of Hinkley. The environmental activist was later immortalised on screen by Julia Roberts, who won a Best Actress Oscar for the role.
What happened to Erin: Brockovich wrote several books off the back of her fame, and also worked in television. However, she made the news for all the wrong reasons in 2013, when she was caught drunk behind the wheel of a boat.
Terry George’s 2004 film Hotel Rwanda told the story of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina. Rusesabagina saved the lives of 1,268 Tutsi refugees by hiding them in his hotel Des Mille Collines during what is considered to be the worst genocide in human history, when nearly one million people were killed in just 100 days by the Hutu militia. Don Cheadle starred as Rusesabagina, alongside a stellar cast that included Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix.
What happened to Paul: After staying in Rwanda for two more years, Rusesabagina applied for asylum in Belgium and moved to Brussels with his wife. He lives in exile after receiving death threats.
The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game is the story of the genius mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, who broke the Enigma code for the Allies, allowing them to access encrypted German messages. Benedict Cumberbatch starred as Turing, which won an Oscar in 2015 for Best Adapted Screenplay.
What happened to Alan: In 1952, Turing was prosecuted by the government because of his homosexuality and chemically castrated as a sanction of the state. He became depressed and committed suicide two years later. In 2013 he was eventually given a posthumous royal pardon.
The story of Argo sounds too crazy to be true. Six Americans are taken hostage in Tehran in 1979, and CIA agent Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck, who also directed the film) flies over to Iran with some colleagues to pretend they are a movie company scouting locations for a Star Wars rip-off film in an attempt to rescue them. Argo won Best Picture at the 2013 Oscars ceremony.
What happened to Tony: As a CIA agent, for many years Mendez was a silent hero as his story was not disclosed to the public. It wasn’t until the 1990s when President Clinton released the secret files of the operation that people learned of Mendez’s ingenious rescue operation.