These days, it seems like TV and film alike can’t get enough of the past; specifically, the very, very recent past. Shows based on true crime cases and extremely buzzy scandals flood streaming services; you only need to look at 2022, when “WeCrashed” and “Super Pumped” dramatized boardroom dramas at WeWork and Uber three years after they happened, and “The Dropout” depicted Elizabeth Holmes’ crimes while the woman was awaiting sentencing. Movie theaters meanwhile, hosted “She Said,” a film about the 2017 investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual assault that came out while Weinstein was in the middle of his second trial regarding his crimes. A common refrain from some about these projects was, by depicting scandals and events that were so recent and so current in the public consciousness, they were “too soon” to say something meaningful about them.
Although there’s definitely something to be said about the importance of distance and hindsight, the reality is that film has always been a reactive medium, with even the earliest silent films depicting some of the biggest news stories at the turn of the 20th century. In World War II, the United States and Britain pumped out plenty of films about the war before it actually ended, often depicting real events just months after they happened. Even beyond those early days, the tradition of a buzzy news story getting elaborated on in a book or magazine article which then gets its rights bought up by a Hollywood studio looking to make an adaptation quickly goes back decades; it’s how we got “All the President’s Men,” after all.
This September sees the release of “Dumb Money,” a dramedy based on the viral GameStop stock short squeeze spearheaded by members of the Reddit community r/wallstreetbets, which caused the video game retail chain’s stock price to soar artificially and led to several class action lawsuits and a congressional hearing. All of this took place in January and February 2021, meaning “Dumb Money” — from director Craig Gillespie and featuring an ensemble cast of Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley, and Seth Rogen – is dramatizing events that occurred about two and a half years ago. That’s not exactly a massive time difference between real life and film (even if COVID does make things that happened two years ago feel like they happened in a previous decade). But it’s also not even close to the most rapid production and release cycle for a based-on-a-true-story film.
With “Dumb Money” now in theaters, let’s look at the times narrative features or streaming shows raced to be as timely as possible, releasing quickly after the big historical events that they depict. There’s no exact metric for how quickly a docudrama needs to come for the subject it’s portraying to be considered recent, but we limited ourselves to movies that were released within three years after the fact. To determine the time span between a film’s subject matter and release, we considered the absolute final chronological event depicted in the films and the rough date it took place. Then, we looked at the date of the film’s world premiere and calculated the years, months, and days between the two.
Documentaries, which are inherently capable of filming quicker and releasing faster, are excluded from this list. We also stuck to theatrical films and just two streaming TV series, omitting made-for-television films which have a history of dramatizing events months after they happened. This list is by no means definitive, as there are numerous other films with quick journeys from real life to film screens, but it helps provide a glimpse at some of the most notable times the industry responded rapidly to events that shook up the world. Read on for 10 movies and two TV shows that dramatized (very) recent history.
“Patriots Day” (3 years, 6 months, 29 days)
Directed by Peter Berg, “Patriots Day” tells the story of the investigation and manhunt for Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who killed 3 people and injured many others in a bombing during the 2013 Boston Marathon. The film was announced to be in development in March 2015, and filmed from March to May in 2016. The premiere for the movie took place at the AFI Festival on November 17 that year, a little over three and a half years after Dzhokhar was arrested on April 19, 2013.
“Snowden” (2 years, 11 months, 20 days)
“Snowden” ends sometime after the title subject Edward Snowden (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the film) receives asylum to stay in Russia for three years on August 1, 2013, following his role in leaking classified NSA information to the general public. Director Oliver Stone began working on a film about Snowden in 2014, meeting with the real man in Moscow, and the film was announced that June. Filming began the next year, in February 2015, and wrapped in May. The movie first screened at San Diego Comic-Con on July 21, 2016, just three years after the events it depicts.
“Inventing Anna” (2 years, 9 months, 17 days)
The bulk of the Shonda Rhimes Netflix series “Inventing Anna” covers a period of 2013 to 2017, when title subject Anna Sorokin (Julia Garner) posed as a German heiress and conned her way through the New York socialite scene. But the show also devotes a considerable amount of screentime to her trial, which began in March 2019 and ended in her conviction on April 25, 2019, which is the climactic moment in the series’ final episode.
Even before Sorokin was officially convicted, Netflix had already put the gears in motion to bring her story to streaming. The streamer and Rhimes’ Shondaland company bought the rights to Sorokin’s life story in June 2018, before the trial began and less than a year after she was arrested in October 2017. They also bought the rights to a New York Magazine feature about Sorokin by writer Jessica Pressler, which was published just a month prior. Six months after Sorokin’s conviction, filming on the series began in October 2019. The show ultimately made it to Netflix in February 2022, under 3 years after Sorokin’s arrest; an impressive feat, considering a whole pandemic helped to delay production.
“Dumb Money” (2 years, 6 months, 21 days)
“Dumb Money” went into production quite literally as the event it was depicting was still developing. In January 2021, the development of a film based on Ben Mezrich’s proposal for a book about the ongoing short squeeze of GameStop stock began. Mezrich’s book “The Antisocial Network” would ultimately be published eight months later in September. After some changes in the studio and producers, director Craig Gillespie joined in April 2022 and Sony Pictures bought the film in October; the movie began filming that month and wrapped production in November. A quick epilogue aside, “Dumb Money” largely ends with the February 18, 2021 congressional hearing on the short squeeze. The film made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, roughly 2 and a half years after the hearing.
“WeCrashed” (2 years, 5 months, 22 days)
“WeCrashed,” an Apple TV+ series starring Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway as WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann and his wife/business partner Rebekah Neumann, covers the majority of the workspace provider company’s history, from its founding in 2010 to the central event of the final episode: Adam Neumann’s resignation as CEO in 2019 following numerous controversies and legal and financial issues. The series was announced as in development in February 2020 and is based on the podcast of the same name. Filming occurred in Spring 2021, and the first episode premiered on March 18, 2022, about 2 and a half years after the real Neumann resigned from WeWork on September 24, 2019.
“Selena” (1 year, 11 months, 21 days)
“Selena,” a biopic about celebrated Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla-Pérez (played in the film by Jennifer Lopez), ends on March 31, 1995, the night Selena was shot and murdered by Yolanda Saldívar. Selena’s death drew widespread mourning from the Hispanic community in the U.S., and her father Abraham Quintanilla Jr. began developing a project based on his daughter’s life within months of the tragedy. The film was announced to be in development in August that year.
Casting for the film, directed by Gregory Nava, occurred from May to August 1976; Salma Hayek was invited to audition for the role of Selena, but reportedly turned it down due to feeling that the movie was happening too soon. Over 21,000 people auditioned for Selena before Lopez was chosen. Filming began in September that year, and “Selena” was released in theaters on March 21, 1997, just 10 days removed from the two-year anniversary of its main character’s death.
“All the President’s Men” (1 year, 7 months, 26 days)
“All the President’s Men” technically ends in 1973, when Richard Nixon is inaugrated for his second presidential term, and main characters Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) begin writing a story about the Watergate cover up that would lead to the president’s resignation. But the film also features a montage of headlines about the controversies that followed after the story was published, ending on Gerald Ford’s inauguration on August 9, 1974. The real-life Bernstein and Woodward published the “All the President’s Men” book about their investigation into the scandal in June 1974, two months before Nixon resigned. Redford bought the rights to their book that year, and filming began on the thriller in May 1975. The film hit theaters on April 4, 1976, only a little under two years after Nixon’s resignation and Ford’s inauguration.
“Zero Dark Thirty” (1 year, 7 months, 8 days)
Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal began developing the film that would become “Zero Dark Thirty” before Osama bin Laden was found and killed in May 2011, intending to center it around the December 2001 Battle of Tora Bora during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. When news broke about bin Laden’s death, they scrapped the script and rewrote the feature to focus on the decade-long search for the al-Qaeda leader, ending on the exact day that he was found and killed. Filming began in March 2012 and wrapped in June, before the movie premiered in Los Angeles on December 10 of that year, about a year and a half after bin Laden died.
“The Cave” (1 year, 2 months, 25 days)
The Summer 2018 rescue of a teenage football team from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system in Northern Thailand was one of the biggest stories of its year, making international headlines and leading to multiple companies pushing forward dramatized adaptations of the story. Amazon’s “Thirteen Lives” film and Netflix’s “Thai Cave Rescue” limited series both came relatively quickly, but they were both beaten — by a mile — by the Thai production “The Cave.” From director Tom Waller, the film began production in October 2018, just three months after the team was rescued on July 10 that year. Waller shot in the actual Tham Luang Nang Non cave, and hired several of the divers involved in the rescue to play themselves. The film premiered at the Busan International Film Festival in October 2019, just a little over a year after the events it depicted.
“Hangmen Also Die!” (304 days)
During the height of World War II, it was not particularly uncommon for studios in Britain, the United States, or Nazi Germany to pump out movies about major events from the conflict almost immediately after they happened. One notably swift example is Fritz Lang’s “Hangmen Also Die,” a heavily fictionalized film noir about the assassination of Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich, which was committed on May 27, 1942. The film, made before the identity of the people behind the assassination (the Czechoslovak government-in-exile and the British special forces both helped carry out the assignment) became public knowledge, invents a fictional resistance fighter (played by Brian Donlevy) as Heydrich’s killer. It ignores the actual fallout of the murder in favor of an entirely fabricated plot. The movie started production in October of the year Heydrich died, and had its world premiere in March 1943 before releasing in general theaters sometime the next month, coming out less than a year after the actual assassination happened.
Notably, “Hangmen Also Die!” was one of two films of that year to dramatize Heydrich’s assassination; “Hitler’s Madman,” a moderately more historically accurate take on the event from director Douglas Sirk, followed it five months later in August. That movie focused more on the fallout of the assassination, in which Nazi forces destroyed the Czech village of Lidice in retaliation on June 10, 1942, resulting in the death of 340 civilians.
“The Fall of the Romanoffs” (192 days)
Czar Nicholas II abdicated his place on the throne on March 15, 1917, as the Russian Revolution began and the Romanoff dynasty collapsed. Very shortly after this landmark event in world history, Hollywood pumped out a film about it. Directed by Herbert Brenon, “The Fall of the Romanoffs” focused on the final days of Nicholas II’s rule. Alfred Hickman played the Tsar, while his wife Nance O’Neil played Empress Alexandra. Most notably, Sergei Trufanov, a lapsed Russian monk who was rivals with Rasputin and fled Russia in 1914, played himself in the film. The 80-minute silent picture had its New York City premiere on September 6, just seven months after the events it depicted — although Brenon edited the film afterwards to incorporate the execution of Nicholas before it premiered across the United States sometime in January 1918. The film is lost, with only a few stills left surviving.
“Saved From the Titanic” (31 Days)
The quick production schedules of films like “Dumb Money” have nothing on “Saved From the Titanic,” a 1912 10-minute silent short film which likely holds the record for the shortest gap between the event it’s depicting and release date. The film, from director Étienne Arnaud and the Eclair Film Company, premiered in the United States on May 16, 1912; the Titanic sank on April 15 that year, meaning 31 days passed before it was dramatized onscreen.
The film notably starred an actual Titanic survivor, actor Dorothy Gibson, who was one of 28 people in the first lifeboat launched from the sinking ship. After returning to New York City, she co-wrote a script about the experience and starred in the film as a fictionalized version of herself. The film sees Gibson describing her experiences to her fictional parents and fiancé, with stock footage of the Titanic’s sister ship Olympic and icebergs interspersed. The short attracted some positive reviews, although others criticized its tastefulness.
Gibson would never make a film again, reportedly suffering a breakdown from her experiences. As for “Saved From the Titanic” itself, the last known prints were destroyed in a fire at the Éclair studio in March 1914, and only a few printed stills survive from it.