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The Fabelmans: 10 Best Movies Based On Directors' Real Lives – Screen Rant

Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans makes him the latest filmmaker to dabble in autobiography, but he’s not the first director to dramatize his own life.
After the universal acclaim met by his West Side Story remake last year, Steven Spielberg is continuing his winning streak with The Fabelmans. His most personal film to date, The Fabelmans tells a fictionalized version of the story of how a young Spielberg became interested in moviemaking in the first place. Spielberg is the latest director to bring his own life story to the big screen.
Spielberg’s frequent collaborator George Lucas turned his own childhood into American Graffiti, and François Truffaut practically invented the movie memoir with The 400 Blows.
According to the biography section of Cameron Crowe’s official website, Almost Famous was “the culmination of a 10-year journey to put Cameron’s experiences working for Rolling Stone on film.” Set in the 1970s, Almost Famous focuses on a teenage music critic who follows a rock band on tour in a bid to get his first cover story published.
Crowe’s childhood writing for a prestigious magazine and rubbing shoulders with rockstars isn’t exactly universally relatable, but it made for a compelling movie.
According to the book Oliver Stone: The Making of His Movies, Platoon was based on Stone’s personal experiences as a soldier in the Vietnam War. The book quotes Stone explaining that his Vietnam experiences essentially turned him from a writer into a filmmaker: “Vietnam was really visceral, and I had come from a cerebral existence: study… working with a pen and paper, with ideas. I came back really visceral. And I think the camera is so much more… that’s your interpreter, as opposed to a pen.”
Vietnam War movies had gone out of fashion by the mid-1980s, as studios felt the Vietnam subgenre had peaked with The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now. But Platoon emerged as one of the most harrowing cinematic accounts of the war, because it came from a place of reality.
On the DVD commentary for his second directorial feature Knocked Up, writer-director Judd Apatow said that the inspiration for the film – and many specific scenes in the script – came from his wife Leslie Mann’s pregnancy with their first daughter, Maude. Both appear in the film alongside Apatow and Mann’s other daughter, Iris, as Debbie and her kids.
Knocked Up is a perfect example of Apatow’s unique brand. It starts off with a high-concept hook and a steady stream of broad gags, then catches the audience off-guard with its sweet sentimentality and emotional gut-punches.
According to Frank Gado’s book The Passion of Ingmar Bergman, Bergman intended for Fanny and Alexander to be his final film, a semi-autobiographical work depicting his fondest memories from a “happy and privileged” childhood. The Alexander character was conceived as a stand-in for young Bergman.
All these years later, Fanny and Alexander is still considered to be one of the finest works in Bergman’s iconic, hugely influential oeuvre.
In 2019, Joanna Hogg turned her experiences at film school and a formative early toxic romance into The Souvenir. Hogg told Rolling Stone, “‘Partly autobiographical’ is a more accurate way of putting it [than ‘autobiographical’]. I was only able to tell this story when I realized my memory is not perfect – and that I was going to create an impression of that time rather than a recreation.”
Tilda Swinton plays an avatar for Hogg’s mother alongside her own daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne, as an avatar for Hogg herself. The movie offers a raw, honest, bleak portrayal of emotional abuse.
In an essay about the film for Criterion, Annette Insdorf wrote that François Truffaut’s directorial debut, the coming-of-age classic The 400 Blows, is “rooted in Truffaut’s childhood.” The movie focuses on rebellious youngster Antoine Doinel, who uses his local cinema to escape from his dissenting parents and teachers.
Not only did The 400 Blows give Truffaut a cinematic outlet to reflect on his own upbringing; it also defined the stylistic trademarks of the French New Wave movement that followed.
Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut, Lady Bird, is a prime example of the principle that the more personal a story is, the more universally relatable it will be. Gerwig told IndieWire, “Nothing in the movie literally happened in my life, but it has a core of truth that resonates with what I know.”
The specifics of Lady Bird are fictional, but the title character has a lot in common with Gerwig’s younger self: a Catholic high school student who dreams of leaving her mundane hometown of Sacramento behind for the glitz and glamor of New York City.
Before he introduced audiences to a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas earned his first critical and commercial hit with 1973’s American Graffiti. A sprawling ensemble comedy, American Graffiti is a snapshot of the time, place, and culture in which Lucas came of age: cruising in 1960s Modesto.
In Marcus Hearn’s book The Cinema of George Lucas, Lucas is quoted as saying, “Cruising was gone, and I felt compelled to document the whole experience and what my generation used as a way of meeting girls.”
Carmen Gray’s Criterion essay about Mirror quotes a passage from Andrei Tarkovsky’s diary highlighting the “importance of personally experienced emotion” and “the author’s intimate truth” in the medium of cinema.
In the film’s intriguing nonlinear structure, Tarkovsky breaks up the main storyline with dreams, newsreels, and childhood memories. While it polarized critics on its initial release, Mirror has since earned a spot on Sight & Sound’s lists of the greatest movies ever made.
Steven Spielberg is enjoying some of the best reviews of his career for his most personal film to date, The Fabelmans. The director told Time magazine, “I just wanted to tell a story that was completely honest to my recollections. I’m not saying that all my recollections are 100 percent accurate, but as best as I can recollect, I wanted to tell a story that most reflected my experience growing up.”
Gabriel LaBelle plays a stand-in for Spielberg himself, Michelle Williams and Paul Dano play his parents, and Seth Rogen plays his favorite uncle. The film has been lauded as a pitch-perfect blend of tell-all memoir and love letter to the silver screen.
NEXT: Steven Spielberg's 10 Best Movie Climaxes, Ranked
Ben Sherlock is a writer, comedian, independent filmmaker, and Burt Reynolds enthusiast. He writes lists for Screen Rant and features and reviews for Game Rant. He's currently in pre-production on his first feature (and has been for a while, because filmmaking is expensive). You can catch him performing standup at odd pubs around the UK that will give him stage time. Previously, he wrote for Taste of Cinema, Comic Book Resources, and BabbleTop.


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