Recent News Events That Parallel Movie Plots

In the motion picture industry, many plots are inspired by true events–Dick Wolf made a career out of making plots of Law & Order “ripped from the headlines.”  But there are times when the saying “life imitates art” is true.  A number of times in the past year or so, news events have happened that are right out of movies, such as the following.

Piranha (1978)

Joe Dante’s original Piranha was a tongue-in-cheek horror film about vacationers being chomped on by ravenous South American fish released into a river in the United States.  It was followed up by James Cameron’s first directorial effort and two remakes (plus an upcoming sequel to the most recent remake).

While those terrifying creatures have yet to feast on beach-goers in the States, 15 swimmers at a popular river beach in western Brazil were bitten by a school of piranhas in September, 2011.  True to the disaster film rule that things like this happen during holidays or special event, the attacks happened during the country’s largest fishing festival, which drew 200,000 people to the city of Caceres for tournaments and concerts.  Apparently the fish wanted in on the action.

Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)

The quirky comedy Weekend at Bernies, which was a surprise hit, featured a couple of guys who drag around a recently deceased body, pretending that he’s still alive to party at his beach house while the mafia tries to murder the already dead man.  Due to its success, a dismal sequel was inevitable.

In September, 2011, two men were arrested for attempting a similar scam.  When their friend died, these guys apparently thought it was a good idea to pretend that he was still alive and drive the corpse around town to bars and restaurants, charging the tab to the deceased.  They also removed money from an ATM with the late friend’s bank card.  No word on a dismal sequel.

Sleepers (1996)

The 1996 Barry Levinson film Sleepers was about four boys in Hell’s Kitchen who inadvertently injure a man after they try to steal his vending cart, but it ends up falling down a flight of stairs on top of the man.  The film was based on a book by Lorenzo Carcaterra, which was a dramatization of events that supposedly happened (though was contested).  Because of this event, the boys were sent to a juvenile detention center, where they were sexually abused by a guard.  Years later, two of the boys, now adults, murder the vicious guard in an act of revenge.

In 2011, a similar event happened in East Harlem.  Two 12-year-old boys (roughly the same age as the ones in Sleepers) were playing with shopping carts on the fourth flood of a mall.  They pushed one of the carts down a flight of stairs, where it fell on top of a woman, sending her to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.  The boys were arrested and charged with assault.

Face/Off (1997)

The over-the-top John Woo film (which is probably redundant) Face/Off featured John Travolta and Nicholas Cage as a cop and a crime boss who undergo face transplants–literally switching faces with each other and assuming the identity of each other while attempting to upstage one another.  Somehow, taking on another person’s face in this movie causes their entire body, hair, and voice to change as well, but a plot like this doesn’t rely on logic.

Taking a cue from Woo and company, Maryland doctors completed what they call the “world’s most comprehensive face transplant” in March, 2012, on a man who lost most of his features after being shot in the face in 1997.  Of course, this wasn’t the first such operation.  In 2011, a woman whose face was torn off by a chimp received a similar face transplant (as opposed to a simian face transplant).  Let’s hope the doctors didn’t mix up these two patients, otherwise they’d have to assume each other’s identities.

Holes (2003)

The film adaptation of Louis Sachar’s young adult novel Holes has the distinction of inflicting Shia LeBeouf onto the cinematic world.  The young actor plays a kid who’s falsely accused of stealing a star athlete’s shoes, and then a crooked judge sentences him to an even more crooked juvenile camp where the kids toil in the hot sun all day digging holes in the desert looking for buried treasure for the camp’s owners.  That story had to be fiction, because our legal system simply does not operate that way.


Two juvenile court judges in Pennsylvania had apparently been doing the very same thing as the fictional judge in Holes.  Developers of a for-profit juvenile detention center paid one of the judges a million dollars in a “kids for cash” scheme where they would ship kids off to the facility after sentencing them on minor or questionable charges.  Judge Mark Ciavarella received his own sentence of 28 years in prison, presumably not digging holes in the desert.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was a match made in Heaven–Tim Burton directing Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.  Well, that’s not what made the film a match made in Heaven; that would be the subject matter–a dejected loner with a pasty white face and a shock of black hair (imagine that, in a Tim Burton film!) returns after a 15-year imprisonment to get revenge on the judge who sentenced him by slicing the throats of as many people as he can get to sit in his barber’s chair.  To dispose of the bodies, the woman who owns the bakery downstairs chops up the remains and cooks them in meat pies to sell to the hungry public.  It’s bloody and gruesome–and set to song!

A Brazilian trio must have confused themselves for Burton, Depp, and Carter.  In April, 2012, police discovered that they had killed at least two women who thought they were being hired to be nannies and ate their flesh.  But they knew how to share–they also cooked up the corpses in–you guessed it–meat pies, which they served to the locals.  At least they didn’t go swimming with piranhas.

21 Jump Street (2012)

Speaking of Johnny Depp, he gained fame as the star of the TV show 21 Jump Street, which was made into a 2012 movie that he had a cameo in (ridding himself once and for all of the shame of his role).  The TV show and the movie were both about young-looking cops who go undercover in high school to entrap drug dealers and spit-wad throwers.  In Hollywood, teenagers tend to average in age of 32, so it’s not unbelievable that grown-ups could pass themselves off as minors.  Surely that wouldn’t work in the real world.

Except it did.  A 22-year-old rookie cop with braces was sent undercover in a Central California school and spent eight months reliving his senior year until he busted a drug ring and arrested 12 students ranging in age from 15 to 19.  Next up for him is to go undercover as a Brazilian barber.

copyright © 2012 FilmVerse


9 comments on “Recent News Events That Parallel Movie Plots

  1. Excellent post. Here’s another one: I think that the movie Idiocracy is well on its way to becoming reality.

  2. Very interesting post, Jamie! I didn’t know about most of these. Wow, that Piranha story is freaky!! I think I read about that face transplant thing, but of course in Face/Off they made it look so easy and so perfect in barely any time at all. I mean in reality it would take years for such a procedure of course. But hey, it’s a fantasy movie and one I actually enjoyed aside from that logic-defying scenario, ahah.

    • According to Face/Off, when you switch faces, your hair, body and voice change along with it. I wonder what would happen if you took a face of the opposite gender!

      • Ahah, exactly! They never thought about that obviously, but hey it’s a movie so of course suspension of disbelief is often required 😀

  3. Fascinating parallels, Jamie.

  4. Let’s not leave out the most blatant example: Sidney Lumet’s (or more properly Paddy Chayefsky’s) “Network” which is frighteningly prescient on every level about society, the media, journalism and the erosion of culture as a whole.

    • To be fair, there isn’t a single news event that mirrors the plot of Network, but rather the entire news industry has turned into exactly what that movie satirized as over-the-top and fantastical. What it predicted has come to pass.

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