12 Famous Movie Characters Based on Real People

There have been quite a few movies where the central character was the soul of the movie — sometimes, the only reason to watch the movie. Some of these characters are so vicious or so intriguing that one cannot stop but imagine if there’s an element of reality in these characters. Not every character can be a figment of imagination and most of the times the writers take inspiration from their lives. And the touch of reality in these characters makes it even more interesting to watch. Here is a list of movies that contained characters which were inspired from real people:

12. Divine, Ursula (The Little Mermaid, 1989)

‘The Little Mermaid’ sea witch character is based on a drag queen of the 70s “Divine”. Divine had rocked the club scene with her songs like Pink, Flamingoes and Mondo Trasho. She had a peculiar way of dressing, which made her even more iconic. Disney leveraged her popularity and used it in their character and also made their voice over artists watch Divine’s performances. Hundreds of people tried to copy her voice until one Marcia Gilbrieth finally made the cut.


11. John Nettleship, Professor Snape (Harry Potter Series, 2001-11)

J.K Rowling had a chemistry teacher, Mr John Nettleship. He had long hair, short temper and loved picking on the bright students. He had a good heart and would help a lot of students when needed but otherwise he was a nightmare. So, when writing about Snape’s character, the first person that came to her mind was John Nettleship. When John read the sketch of Snape, he couldn’t believe that Rowling remembered him so well. He was apprehensive in the beginning but as the franchisee gained popularity, he became confident about the character.


10. Eugene Francois, Jean Valjean (Les Miserables, 2012)

Eugene Francois had an inglorious past but then a particular incident led to his awakening. He parted way with his illegal ways and started a new beginning. But as life would have it, he was regularly troubled by the police. So he made an arrangement with the police to leave him alone for a particular sum of money. Eugene helped a lot of people and hence it also led to a lot of urban legends. Hence, Eugene became a protagonist in Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’. And then adapted into various movies and plays.


9. Dave Toschi, Inspector Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry, 1971)

Dave Toschi is most famous for his zodiac killer hunt. There was a time, when every news channel featured Dave and his relentless search for the zodiac killer. Since then his persona and perspicuity have been adapted into various screenplays for a movie. The most famous adaptation being ‘Dirty Harry’. Dave received a lot of fame but it also brought his downfall because his every action came under the scrutiny of the people. And he did some things that were not right on ethical grounds. Hence, his celebrity life was short-lived.


8. Chuck Wepner, Rocky Balboa (Rocky, 1976)

Chuck Wepner did something unbelievable. He almost knocked out Mohammad Ali, “The Mohammad Ali”. Nobody knew him. He was just a street fighter, popularly known as “The Rocky” in the club circuits. His epic fight against Ali, made him an overnight star. His punch to Ali’s chest was the talk of the town. Chuck Wepner became a boxer from a street fighter. People started betting on him rather than against him. And this prompted Sylvester Stallone to write a script around Wepner’s character. Needless to say, the story not only inspired a lot of people but also made Stallone very famous.


7. Maurice Tillet, Shrek (Shrek, 2001-10)

Maurice Tillet was a French wrestler known as the “freak ogre of the ring” during the 40s. He suffered from a rare disorder known as “Acromegaly”, in which the person develops an abnormal thickening of the bones. Andrew Adamson’s grandfather used to tell him stories about the legend of Maurice and the stories remained with him. Hence, the character of Shrek looked exactly like him in the franchisee of ‘The Shrek’. And it was this peculiar look of the character that made it a phenomenon.


6. Michelle Philpots, Lucy (50 First Dates, 2004)

Lucy’s Character in the movie ’50 First Dates’ is based on Michelle Philpots. Michelle suffered from “Anterograde Amnesia” due to which her brain kept resetting her memory to the time before her accident. Michelle used to look at her wedding album every morning to remember names and people. She had to use sticky notes and GPS to get through the day. Hence, her very difficult and strange life inspired the movie ’50 First Dates’ and gave the world a peek into Michelle’s resetting world. The director and producers had to struggle for more than a year with Michelle’s parents to convince them. Michelle’s parents were very apprehensive of the fact that a movie be made on her daughter’s condition. Eventually, Michelle convinced her parents and gave the studio her word to go ahead and make the movie.


5. Irsie Henry, Abel Turner (Lakeview Terrace,2008)

Officer Irsie Henry had terrorized his neighbours in Atlanta,CA for being a mixed race couple. He made their lives a living hell. The couple took the brunt of the officer’s fanatics for quite a while. Apparently he had done the same things to an earlier inter-racially married couple too. When they got to know this, they felt that it had to stop. So, they filed a report against him, in the police department. And after a lot of troubles, the officer was finally fired. Unlike in the movie where he is shot dead and deservedly so.


4. Ed Gein, Norman Bates (Psycho, 1960)

The famous character of Norman Bates was based on Ed Gein. Ed was actually much tamer than the Norman Bates character in the movie and also more gruesome. Ed used to collect body parts from cemeteries and used to present it as a tribute to his dead mother. Police found various objects like chair, clothes and baskets made from tanned skin. In Ed Gein, Alfred Hitchcock found the perfect mould for his character Norman Bates and sketched a memorable character out of him. Alfred had to visit a lot of disturbing places for his movie and it affected him deeply. But in hindsight, it was all worth it.


3. Arthur Bremer, Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver, 1976)

Though Martin Scorsese never admitted or acknowledged this fact but it is pretty evident that the eccentric character of Travis Bickle is based on Arthur Bremer. Both were socially awkward and lonely. Both were taxi drivers. They had shaved their head in a fit and both tried to kill a politician. The characters are too similar to ignore the similar lines and fate. Nevertheless, the movie developed a cult following. It became truly a De Niro movie with all its eccentricity and wild ways.


2. James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, Frank Costello (The Departed, 2006)

Frank Costello’s character in ‘The Departed’ was based on James Bulgar also known as “Whitey”. Whitey was a very famous and feared Irish Mob boss, who was also an informant for the FBI. Though the character of Frank as the mob boss has been entirely sketched by Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson. There is hardly any videos or any information that could describe the mob boss. Hence, Nicholson had to give the character its own gruelling touch. And it worked. The audience loved the character including the family of Whitey. Johnny Depp reprised the same character in ‘Black Mass’.


1. Jeff Dowd, Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski (The Big Lebowski, 1998)

Yes, there was a real dude in this world. Jeff Dowd was a friend of the Coen brothers, the director duo of the movie. And hence the character of The Dude is heavily borrowed from Dowd. Though there are quite a few differences between the real and reel The Dude. Dowd wasn’t a stoner, an avid bowler or a former roadie for metallica. These attributes were added to make the character screen worthy. Everything else, was pure Jeff Dowd and his laid back ways. The famous line “The Dude Abides” was used by Dowd’s friends and hence had to be used in the movie.

Read More: Movies Based on True Stories