Skip to Content

32 Best Disney Movies Based on True Stories on Disney Plus

Ready to take a magical journey to the past? Let Disney Plus take you there!

The world of Disney is rife with whimsy and wonder, but it’s not just fairy tales. Disney has a rich history of bringing true stories to life, and Disney+ has plenty of options to choose from.

So if you’re looking for some true-to-life inspiration that’s bound to leave you feeling motivated and uplifted, settle in and get ready to press play.

Now, let’s take a look at the best Disney movies based on true stories on Disney Plus.

Chasing Mavericks (2012)

  • Director: Michael Apted, Curtis Hanson
  • Starring: Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston, Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Surfing enthusiasts, Sports fans

Get ready to catch a wave with Chasing Mavericks, the gnarly 2012 flick about the heart-pumping world of surfing.

Chasing Mavericks takes viewers on an epic journey to the tropical paradise of Hawaii, where young upstart Jay Moriarty (Jonny Weston) dreams of tackling the infamous big wave known as mavericks.

With the help of his grizzled mentor Frosty (Gerard Butler), Jay learns to master the ocean and himself, proving once and for all that nothing is impossible when you have passion and tenacity.

Cool Runnings (1993)

  • Director: Jon Turteltaub
  • Starring: John Candy, Doug E. Doug, Leon, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Best For: 90s kids, Sports fans, When you need a laugh

Cool Runnings is one of my favorite Disney movies based on a true story.

With a stellar cast that includes the late John Candy, Cool Runnings tells the inspiring and hilarious story of a team of Jamaican bobsledders who beat all the odds and made their way to the Winter Olympics.

If you haven’t seen this 90s masterpiece yet, you’re definitely missing out on some serious cool points.

Eight Below (2006)

  • Director: Frank Marshall
  • Starring: Paul Walker, Jason Biggs
  • Genre: Action & Adventure
  • Best For: Animal lovers, Adventurers

In Eight Below, a group of scientists are forced to leave their sled dogs behind on Antarctica after an accident and incoming inclement weather.

The pups must fight for survival in the harsh Antarctic climate until their handler, Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker), can find a way back to rescue them.

I won’t give away any spoilers, but let’s just say it’s a rollercoaster of emotions that’ll have you on the edge of your seat.

The Finest Hours (2016)

  • Director: Craig Gillespie
  • Starring: Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Chris Pine
  • Genre: Action
  • Best For: Action fans, New Englanders

Set in 1952, The Finest Hours follows a gnarly storm off the coast of Massachusetts, which causes an oil tanker to split in half (yikes!) with 30 sailors on board.

The U.S. Coast Guard comes to the rescue in a daring mission to save the stranded crew with only a tiny 12-seater boat.

With heart-pounding action and heroic feats, this movie will have you shouting “anchors aweigh!” at the edge of your seat.

Flamin’ Hot (2023)

Photo still from the Disney movie based on a true story, Flamin' Hot, with Jesse Garcia and Dennis Haysbert.
Photo by Anna Kooris. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.
  • Director: Eva Longoria
  • Starring: Jessie Garcia
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Snack fans, Foodies

One of the most interesting movies based on a true story is about to hit Disney+ very soon (June 9, 2023 to be exact).

Flamin’ Hot tells the story about how Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were created by someone you’d never expect. You’ll have to watch to find out who!

This is definitely one of those stories that seems too good to be true, but it’s totally real!

Glory Road (2006)

  • Director: James Gartner
  • Starring: Emily Deschanel, Don Haskins, Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Jon Voight
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Basketball fans, Sports fans

Looking for a movie that will pump you up and make you want to hop into some basketball shorts? Look no further than the 2006 flick, Glory Road.

This film is all about one coach who leads a group of underdog athletes to the NCAA championship game, and let’s just say, the journey to get there is nothing short of epic.

With thrilling game scenes and an inspiring story of perseverance, Glory Road is the kind of film that will leave you feeling like you can conquer the world.

The Greatest Game Ever Played (2005)

  • Director: Bill Paxton
  • Starring: Shia Lebouf
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Golfers, Sports fans

Alright, it’s time to dust off those golf clubs and tee off with The Greatest Game Ever Played.

This 2005 movie tells the tale of Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf), a caddy-turned-golfing-legend who takes on the big boys at the 1913 US Open.

With suspenseful swings and a comedic edge, this flick will have you on the edge of your seat (or your putting green mat) until the very last putt.

The Greatest Showman (2017)

  • Director: Michael Gracey
  • Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Williams, Zendaya
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Musical lovers, Circus goers

The Greatest Showman tells the story of none other than the notorious P.T. Barnum, known for his jaw-dropping spectacles and entertaining the masses. But let’s be real, who doesn’t love a good circus?

Even Hugh Jackman takes on the role of Barnum in this musical extravaganza, showing off his singing chops and charming smile.

The Greatest Showman is a visual feast that will have you tapping your toes and humming along for days.

Join us on a journey as we witness Barnum’s rise to fame and fortune, and maybe even learn a thing or two about the power of imagination and believing in yourself.

Greyfriars Bobby (1961)

  • Director: Don Chaffey
  • Starring: Donald Crisp, Laurence Naismith
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Animal lovers

Ah, Greyfriars Bobby, the movie that made everyone fall in love with a dog.

But let’s not be fooled, this movie isn’t just your average canine flick. It’s got heart, adventure, and a whole lot of Scottish charm.

Based on the true story of a loyal pup who guarded his master’s grave for 14 years, Greyfriars Bobby is a tale for the ages.

And yes, you may shed a tear or two, but hey, that’s just the power of a good dog story.

For more dog-gone good films, check out my posts about the best Disney dog movies and the best dog shows on Disney+.

Hamilton (2020)

Photo of Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton and Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton in the filmed version of the original Broadway production.
  • Director: Thomas Kail
  • Starring: Daveed Diggs, Renée Elisa Goldberry, Jonathan Groff, Christopher Jackson, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Lin Manuel-Miranda
  • Genre: Musical
  • Best For: History buffs, Musical lovers

Let me tell you about the hottest movie of 2020…no, not that one, I’m talking about Hamilton.

Yep, that’s right, Alexander Hamilton is back and this time he’s immersed in the world of hip hop.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brilliant tale of the founding fathers has been brought to life on the big screen and it’s a performance that’s worth every penny of your Disney+ subscription.

It will have you bopping along to the catchy tunes and wondering why you never paid attention in history class.

So get ready to sing, rap, and throw some serious shade with Hamilton. It’s a movie you won’t want to miss.

Also available to stream is a Sing-Along version, as well as two Q&A specials, Hamilton: History Has Its Eyes On You and Hamilton In-Depth.

Hidden Figures (2016)

  • Director: Theodore Melfi
  • Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: History buffs, Space enthusiasts

Hidden Figures tells the true story of three brilliant Black women who worked at NASA during the 1960s – Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan.

These women were total badasses who managed to kick all sorts of butt despite facing racism and sexism on a daily basis.

And don’t even get me started on how amazing the performances are.

Taraji P. Henson (Johnson), Octavia Spencer (Vaughan), and Janelle Monae (Jackson) all bring their A-game to the table.

So if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re missing out on something special! Go watch it and thank me later.

Howard (2018)

  • Director: Don Hahn
  • Starring: Howard Ashman, Jodi Benson, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Alan Menkin
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Best For: Disney fans, Music fans

This brilliant documentary tells the story of the man who wrote the lyrics for songs in some of your favorite Disney films, such as Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast, Oliver and Company, and The Little Mermaid.

He was also a lyricist for the original Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors.

The documentary includes commentary and appearances by other famous musicians and actors, like Jodi Benson, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Alan Menkin.

Invincible (2005)

  • Director: Ericson Core
  • Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kirk Acevedo, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Conway, Greg Kinnear, Michael Rispoli
  • Genre: Family
  • Best For: Football fans, Sports fans

If you haven’t seen the 2005 film Invincible yet, then boy are you missing out! This movie has got it all: drama, inspiration, and you guessed it, football!

The movie stars Mark Wahlberg as Vince Papale, a 30-year-old bartender turned Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver.

Not only does this flick showcase some epic football action, but it also highlights the power of determination and persistence.

So put down that bag of chips, grab some friends, and get ready to be invigorated by the sheer awesomeness that is Invincible.

Liz & Dick (2012)

  • Director: Lloyd Kramer
  • Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Grant Bowler
  • Genre: Drama, Romance
  • Best For: Romance fans

Let’s talk about Liz & Dick, shall we?

It was the 2012 movie sensation that had everyone talking about the tumultuous relationship of Hollywood legends Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.

We’re talking saucy scandals, fiery fights, and enough drama to make the Kardashians look like a quaint little family.

And let’s not forget the performances of the lead actors, Lindsey Lohan and Grant Bowler, who had the daunting task of bringing these iconic figures to life.

So was it a train wreck or a masterpiece? Well, that’s for you to decide. But one thing’s for sure – this movie had more drama than a telenovela and I absolutely loved it.

Mark Twain and Me (1991)

  • Director: Daniel Petrie
  • Starring: Jason Robard, Amy Stewart
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Literary fans

Based on the book Enchantment by Dorothy Quick, this film is set in the 1900s, which in my opinion is the golden era for fashion and mustaches.

But more importantly, it’s about the famous author, Mark Twain, and his friendship with a then-young girl, Dorothy Quick.

McFarland USA (2015)

  • Director: Niki Caro
  • Starring: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Track & Field enthusiasts, Sports fans

McFarland USA is about a high school coach who takes on an underdog cross-country team, turning them into champions along the way.

And let me tell you, it’s not just inspiring, it’s downright hilarious in parts.

This movie is definitely worth a watch, whether you’re into sports or just love a feel-good story.

Miracle (2004)

  • Director: Gavin O’Connor
  • Starring: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Hockey fans, Sports fans

Let’s talk about the greatest hockey movie of all time, Miracle.

This flick is based on the true story of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team, which took on the then-Soviet Union in one of the biggest upsets in sports history. And boy, did they nail it.

From Kurt Russell’s epic portrayal of coach Herb Brooks to the intense on-ice action, this movie delivers the goods.

And if you’re not a hockey fan, don’t worry – Miracle is more than just a sports movie.

It has heart, humor, and enough uplifting moments to put a smile on even the grumpiest of faces.

Miracle at Midnight (1998)

  • Director: Ken Cameron
  • Starring: Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, Justin Whalin
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: History buffs

Alright friends, let’s talk about Miracle at Midnight.

This movie is all about the Nazi occupation of Denmark during World War II and how a group of gutsy Danish locals helped a Jewish family escape.

It’s a heart-warming tale filled with suspense and bravery, telling one of the most inspiring stories from the dark days of World War II.

Miracle in Lane 2 (2000)

  • Director: Greg Beeman
  • Starring: Frankie Muniz
  • Genre: Drama, Family
  • Best For: Racing fans, Sports fans

Alright folks, today we’re taking a trip down memory lane to revisit the 2000 classic, Miracle in Lane 2.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – didn’t Frankie Muniz play that adorable little kid in Malcolm in the Middle?

Well, buckle up, because in this flick, he’s all grown up and revving up his wheelchair to take on the world of soapbox racing.

That’s right, you heard me. Soapbox. Racing.

It’s a feel-good underdog story with a cherry on top. And let’s be real, who doesn’t love rooting for the little guy (or gal) in these kinds of movies?

Pocahontas (1995)

  • Director: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
  • Starring / Voices: Irene Bedard, Judy Kuhn, Christian Bale, Mel Gibson, Linda Hunt, Russell Means
  • Genre: Animated
  • Best For: History buffs, Kids

The 1995 animated Disney film, Pocahontas is very loosely (emphasis on the very) based on a true story.

The characters Pocahontas, John Smith, and others existed in real life. But the true story of what went down is far from the cutesy love story you get in this film.

So if you want the true story of what happened, you’ll have to track it down online or in a book.

Also available to stream is Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World.

Queen of Katwe (2016)

  • Director: Mira Nair
  • Starring: Madina Malwanga, Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Chess players, When you need inspiration

Let me tell you about a little gem of a movie that you may have missed, Queen of Katwe.

Set in Uganda, this flick follows the story of a young girl named Phiona, portrayed by the talented Madina Nalwanga, as she strives to become a chess champion.

To top it off, the stunning Lupita Nyong’o stars as Phiona’s mother, Nakku Harriet.

Red Tails (2012)

  • Director: Anthony Hemingway
  • Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, David Oyelowo, Nate Parker, Ne-Yo, Tristan Wilds
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: History buffs, Military buffs

Alrighty then, let’s talk about Red Tails, the 2012 movie that will have you on the edge of your seat.

This film takes us back to the days of World War II, where a daring group of African American pilots, known as the Tuskegee Airmen, took to the skies and showed the world what they were made of.

Red Tails follows their journey as they take on enemy forces, battle racial discrimination, and strut their stuff in the cockpit.

If you’re looking for a movie that’s both entertaining and inspiring, then Red Tails is the one for you.

Remember the Titans (2000)

  • Director: Boaz Yakin
  • Starring: Denzel Washington, Donald Faison, Wood Harris, Ryan Hurst, Will Patton, Ethan Suplee
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Football fanatics, Sports fans

Remember the Titans has it all – drama, humor, and Denzel Washington.

Washington plays the new head coach of a football team at a newly integrated school in the 1970s.

This story definitely teaches us all a thing or two about leadership and overcoming adversity, plus there’s plenty of sports action.

Rise (2022)

Photo still from the Disney+ movie, Rise. From left to right: Yetide Badaki as Vera, Ral Agada as Thanasis, Elijah Sholanke as Alexandros, Uche Agada as Giannis, Dayo Okeniyi as Charles, and Jaden Osimuwa as Kostas.
Photo by Patrick Redmond. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
  • Director: Akin Omotoso
  • Starring: Ral Agada, Uche Agada, Jaden Osimuwa
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Basketball fanatics, Sports fans

Have you heard about the hot new basketball film Rise on Disney+? It’s the story of three brothers who chase their dreams of playing basketball in the NBA.

Yes, that’s right – THREE brothers in the NBA at the same time!

This movie has all the drama, action, and sibling rivalry that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat.

The Rookie (2002)

  • Director: John Lee Hancock
  • Starring: Dennis Quaid, Brian Cox, Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez, Angus T. Jones
  • Genre: Family
  • Best For: Baseball fanatics, Sports fans

The Rookie is an inspiring story about a high school baseball coach named Jim Morris who made it to the MLB at the ripe old age of 35, an age when most athletes are retiring.

Sure, some say it’s sappy, but let’s be real – who doesn’t love an underdog tale?

So grab a bag of peanuts and settle in for the ride of your life. It’s time to play ball!

Ruby Bridges (1998)

  • Director: Euzhan Palcy
  • Starring: Chaz Monet
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: History buffs

Ruby Bridges tells the inspiring true story of a young girl by the name of Ruby Bridges who, in 1960, became the first Black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South.

Bridges faced some serious backlash and violence, but she never let the hate bring her down.

So, if you’re in need of a little inspiration, a lesson in bravery, or just a good ol’ fashioned history lesson, give Ruby Bridges a watch.

Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Safety (2020)

Photo still from the Disney+ movie, Safety. From left to right: Jay Reeves as Ray Ray and Thaddeus J. Mixson II as Fahmarr.
© 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
  • Director: Reginald Hudlin
  • Starring: Jay Reeves, Thaddeus J. Mixson, Matthew Glave,
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Football fanatics, Sports fans, Clemson U. fans

The Disney+ original movie, Safety, is about a Clemson University football player who becomes the sole caretaker of his younger brother after their mom gets sent to rehab.

This movie will have you on the edge of your seat as you witness the trials and tribulations this family goes through.

And of course, there’s no shortage of football action to keep your heart racing.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

  • Director: John Lee Hancock
  • Starring: Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Emma Thompson, Bradley Whitford
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Disney fans, Mary Poppins fans

Buckle up and hold onto your umbrellas, folks, because we’re talking about the 2013 film, Saving Mr. Banks.

This flick, starring Tom Hanks as the legendary Walt Disney, tells the tale of how Mary Poppins made it to the big screen.

But let’s be real, we’re all just here to see Tom Hanks try to convince Emma Thompson (who plays P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins) to sign off on his movie adaptation.

Will he succeed? Will Travers be won over by the mouse man himself? You’ll just have to watch and see.

But fair warning, if you don’t leave this movie with Let’s Go Fly a Kite stuck in your head, did you even watch it at all?

Secretariat (2010)

  • Director: Randall Wallace
  • Starring: Diana Lane, John Malkovich, Kevin Connolly
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: Horse lovers, Equestrians, Horse racing fans

Listen up, my equine-loving peeps, because we’re about to talk about a horse so legendary, they made a whole dang movie about him. That’s right, I’m talking about the one and only Secretariat.

This four-legged superstar dominated the racing world in the 1970s and became the first horse in 25 years to win the coveted Triple Crown (that’s three big races, for those of you not in the know).

But Secretariat was more than just a winning machine. He captured the hearts of millions and proved that even in the cutthroat world of horse racing, there’s always room for a little bit of magic.

And if the movie’s anything to go off of, that magic was found in the horse’s cheeky grin and impeccable hairdo.

For more equine fun, check out my post about the best horse movies on Disney+.

A Small Light (2023)

Photo still from the National Geographic show, A Small Light. From left: Nicholas Burns as Mr. Kugler, Sally Mesham as Bep, Ian McElhinney as Mr. Kleiman, and Bel Powley as Miep Gies.
National Geographic for Disney/Dusan Martincek
  • Director: Tony Phelan, Joan Rater
  • Starring: Bel Powley, Liev Schreiber, Billie Boulet
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: History buffs

A Small Light takes viewers on a heart-wrenching journey during World War II.

The series is inspired by the life of Miep Gies, who was one of the few people that helped hide Anne Frank and her family in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation.

The show brings to light the lesser-known stories of those who risked their lives to protect Jewish families from persecution.

With an informative tone, A Small Light educates its audience about the struggles displaced individuals faced during this time period, while also highlighting the bravery of those who fought against tyranny.

This series is a must-watch for anyone seeking a better understanding of this turbulent time in history.

Togo (2019)

L to R: Photo still of Togo and Leonhard Seppala (Willem Dafoe) in the Disney+ original film, Togo.
Photo by Chris Large. ©2019 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
  • Director: Ericson Core
  • Starring: Willem Dafoe, Julianne Nicholson
  • Genre: Action & Adventure
  • Best For: Adventurers, Animal lovers

If you’re looking for a movie to spark some real adrenaline, look no further than Togo!

This Disney+ original is one for the books, taking you on a thrilling sled ride through the Alaskan wilderness.

Based on a true story, Togo is the tale of a dog who defies all odds to lead his team on a mission to save a remote village from a catastrophic illness.

Willem Dafoe stars as the gruff and determined dogsled trainer who relies on Togo’s unwavering spirit and unmatched speed to get the job done.

Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken (2019)

  • Director: Steve Miner
  • Starring: Gabrielle Anwar, Cliff Robertson, Michael Schoeffling
  • Genre: Drama
  • Best For: 90s Kids, Horse lovers

Loosely based on a true story, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken follows the daring and determined Sonora as she pursues her dream of diving horses.

That’s right, diving horses.

It’s a little chaotic, but in my opinion, it’s absolutely mesmerizing to watch.

Sonora defies all odds and expectations, even after losing her eyesight, showing us that wild hearts truly can’t be broken.

The Park Pixie’s top picks

Before you move on to the next post, here are my top picks from this list:

  1. Best drama: The Greatest Showman (2017)
  2. Best comedy: Cool Runnings (1993)
  3. Best new addition: Flamin’ Hot (2023)
  4. Best soundtrack: Hamilton (2020)
  5. Best Disney movie for Disney fans: Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

What are your favorite Disney movies based on true stories?

Whether you’re in the mood for heartbreak, triumph, or just some good old-fashioned nostalgia, Disney has got you covered.

These real life Disney movies are guaranteed to entertain and inspire you like never before.

So grab some popcorn, kick back, and let the true magic of Disney+ take you away!

About the author

Photo of Meg Frost on Buzz Lightyear: Space Ranger Blast at Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
Photo by Meg Frost, All rights reserved.

Meg Frost is the creator of The Park Pixie, where she covers Disney World, Disney+, and Disney fandom.

She holds an M.A. in Journalism from Northeastern University and B.S. in Communication & American Studies from University of Miami in Florida.

Read more →

This post was originally published May 31, 2023. It was last updated October 11, 2023.