This year's Oscars ceremony may well be remembered as the one where art most imitated life. An astounding number of films being honored this year are either based on or inspired by actual events; so many that the few which are complete works of fiction (The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road) stick out like sore thumbs. Of the eight nominees for Best Picture, five of them drew some inspiration from real life. Out of the ten nominees for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, all but two come from such movies, while half of the ten nominees for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress do. But who were all these real people who inspired this year's Oscar movies?
They're a pretty diverse group. Some of them played a role in the 2008 financial collapse, while others can take credit for breaking open the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. One broke ground for the transgender movement, another became a legendary American folk hero in his own life, and others saw their lives turn into an actual Cold War spy thriller. One of them even invented a mop and turned it into an empire. Told you they were a diverse bunch. So have a look below at some of the real individuals whose stories inspired the movies.
Joy Mangano — Joy
Mangano is one of the most successful entrepreneurs and biggest stars to ever come out of the home shopping industry. She invented the Miracle Mop in 1990, and sold over five million of them over the next decade according to the New York Times. She can still be seen on HSN today, where her cult of personality helps sell a massive array of products.
Michael Burry — The Big Short
All of the major players in this film about the 2008 financial crisis are inspired by real people, but Burry is the only one who makes it into the film with his real name and personality intact. He was a neurosurgeon who decided to become a hedge fund manager, and an extremely gifted one at that. Burry accurately predicted the collapse of the housing market before almost anyone else, and made $100 million as a result.
The Spotlight Team — Spotlight
This investigative team at the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for uncovering the sex abuse coverup scandal that would rock the Catholic Church; the reverberations of which are still being felt today. Former Globe editor Marty Baron, Spotlight editor Walter "Robby" Robinson, supervising editor Ben Bradlee Jr., and reporters Sacha Pfeiffer, Marty Baron, and Michael Rezendes, are all depicted in the film, and were all important in breaking the story and helping the victims find justice.
Dalton Trumbo — Trumbo
Trumbo was a prolific Hollywood screenwriter, and the most prominent one to be blacklisted by the industry. In 1947, Trumbo refused to testify before congress regarding his communist beliefs. He was then unable to find work for more then a decade because of it, but managed to continue working in secret by using front writers or pseudonyms. Two of the scripts he produced during this period: Roman Holiday and The Brave One, won Academy Awards.
Felix Fritzl — Room
Room is not based on the Fritzl case, but the book the film is based on would not exist without it. Author Emma Donoghue conceived the story of a five-year-old boy, Jack in Room, growing up in captivity after hearing about Felix Fritzl, who was raised in similar fashion in what was one of the most disturbing crimes in recent years. Austrian Josef Fritzl imprisoned his 18-year-old daughter Elisabeth in a secret cell in his basement in 1984, and kept her there for 24 years. Over that period, he raped her repeatedly, and she mothered seven children by him. The youngest was Felix, who was five years old at the time that the captivity finally came to an end in 2008.
James B. Donovan — Bridge Of Spies
Donovan was an American lawyer who became famous for negotiating the exchange of Soviet-held American spy Francis Gary Powers for American-held Russian spy Rudolf Abel in 1962, an event which is dramatized in Bridge of Spies. Donovan was also responsible for arranging the release of 1,113 prisoners held by Cuba that same year following the Bay of Pigs Invasion, making him a very important participant in the Cold War.
Joanna Hoffman — Steve Jobs
Everybody knows who Steve Jobs is, but most are less familiar with Hoffman. She was a lead marketing executive for Jobs in both the early days of Apple during production of the Macintosh, and at Job's subsequent company, NeXT computers. The film shines a light on her unique relationship with the Apple founder, as she is considered one of the few people to have understood him and to have been able to successfully communicate with him.
Lili Elbe — The Danish Girl
Elbe was a Danish transgender woman who was the first known person to undergo sexual reassignment surgery. She was born Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener in 1882, and lived as a man and worked as an artist, marrying fellow artist Gerda Wegener in 1904. One day, Gerda asked her husband to wear women's clothing to fill in for an absent female model, and Elbe discovered that she really enjoyed wearing the clothes. She continued modeling as a woman for her wife, eventually coming to identify as female. Elbe lived for several years exclusively as a woman, introducing herself as Einar's sister in public, and then in 1930 she underwent her sex change surgery. That same year, her marriage to Gerda ended, and she died the following year due to complications from the surgery, which included transplanting a womb into Elbe's body which was rejected.
Hugh Glass — The Revenant
Perhaps the most unbelievable of all is the story of Hugh Glass. Glass was a real fur trader and frontiersman in the early 19th century, and he became a living legend after he seemingly returned from the dead. After being brutally attacked by a grizzly bear during an expedition in 1823, he was robbed and left for dead by two members of his party, John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger. Despite his injuries, Glass made his way across 200 miles of wilderness, a journey that took him six weeks, and he eventually tracked down both Bridger and Fitzgerald with revenge on his mind, but ended up sparing both of their lives. He continued to work as a trader and trapper for another decade, until he was killed in a battle against a group of Arikara Indians in 1833.
All of these people were (and some still are) remarkable in their own way, and all are wholly deserving of having such lauded films documenting their lives and achievements. It remains to be seen which of them will be most honored at this year's Oscars, but it's clear that all of them earned the right to have their stories told.
Images: 20th Century Fox; Paramount Pictures; Open Road Films; Bleecker Street; A24 Films; Walt Disney Studios; Universal Pictures; Focus Features