On August 28, 2003, a pizza delivery man named Brian Wells walked into the PNC Bank in Erie, Pennsylvania with a bomb strapped to his chest. It was placed there by a pair of criminals who told Welles that if he did not acquire $250,000 from the bank, the bomb would detonate. Forty minutes later, Welles was apprehended by police; he frantically explained his predicament and begged the officers on scene for help. Twenty minutes later, the device exploded, blowing a softball-sized hole into Welles’s chest that killed him.
The writers of 30 Minutes or Less (which hits theaters tomorrow) apparently thought so, since they took the broad strokes of Wells’s strange story and turned it, improbably enough, into an ‘80s-style chase-heavy buddy summer action comedy. Sure, the names have been changed, as have a few of the details—for example, though 30 Minutes protagonist Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) is an ignorant victim, a subsequent investigation in the real case revealed that Wells was involved in the planning of the scheme, though he thought the bomb would be a phony (family members maintain his innocence). And—spoiler alert—they obviously changed the ending, since a softball-sized hole in Jesse Eisenberg is not exactly the cheeriest capper for your summer laugh riot. But the similarities between 30 Minutes and the Wells case, particularly in the details of the motive for the crime, are extensive (Movieline’s Jen Yamato provides a comprehensive rundown); nonetheless, Sony reps insist that though the writers were “vaguely familiar with what had occurred,” (vaguely!) “neither the filmmakers nor the stars of 30 Minutes or Less were aware of this crime prior to their involvement in the film.” Riiiight. Ain’t coincidences crazy?
Whatever the outcome of the controversy, and however you feel about 30 Minutes trying to spin a dead pizza guy into comic gold, it certainly doesn’t mark the first time that Hollywood has taken certain, shall we say, creative liberties with real life. We could fill the entirety of Flavorwire with instances of historical inaccuracies in the cinema; in the interest of brevity, we’ve instead selected ten particularly noteworthy cases of films that egregiously blurred the line between fact and fiction.
The David Fincher-helmed Facebook origin story was one of last year’s most critically acclaimed films, with much of the accolades bestowed upon Aaron Sorkin’s witty, literate, screwball-snappy screenplay. It won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, though it might have been more appropriately placed in the Best Original Screenplay category, since it was (as most know by now) basically a work of fiction. There were numerous alterations to the real story in Sorkin’s script; its primary fabrication is the importance of girlfriend Erica Albright, whose dismissal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg launches that story and whose approval serves as the “Rosebud” for Fincher’s digital-era Citizen Kane. In reality, Zuckerberg has been with current girlfriend Priscilla Chan since before the launch of thefacebook. At the time of the film’s release, in an interview with New York magazine, Sorkin defended his choices: “I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling,” and later asked, “what is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy’s sake, and can we not have the true be the enemy of the good?”