Since Hollywood first started making movies over a century ago, historical events have been a reliable source of material for filmmakers. As far back as 1930, All Quiet on the Western Front won Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards for telling the story of World War I from the perspective of German soldiers on the front lines. More recent movies include Braveheart (1995), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Gandhi (1982), and All the President’s Men (1976).
Still, there are plenty of fascinating historical events that are practically begging for a major motion picture. Maybe no one’s thought to make these films. Or, maybe Hollywood thinks there wouldn’t be a market for them. But if they can make a hit movie based entirely on an interview between David Frost and Richard Nixon (Frost/Nixon ), it shows you can make a successful film about any good story. So listen up all you screenwriters, directors, producers and actors! I’m doing you a huge favor by compiling a list of four interesting topics in history that have yet to be made into a memorable film. I’ve even made some casting suggestions!
How Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando was Built
By the mid 1960s, Disneyland in Anaheim, California had been around for about a decade and was highly successful. If you’ve ever been there, though, you may have noticed that the property it sits on is crowded on all sides from hotels, restaurants, a convention center and many other businesses. That’s because, when Disneyland was in the planning stages, smart investors started buying property near the future theme park as quickly as they could, hoping to capitalize on Disneyland’s future success. As a result, while Disneyland draws millions of visitors every year and makes tons of money, other businesses are making a lot of money, too, and Disney doesn’t see a dime of it.
So when Walt Disney decided to open another theme park in Orlando, Florida, he kept his plans under wraps and sent surrogates to the area to purchase land on his behalf. And by keeping his plans secret and using multiple buyers, he kept the price of all those orange groves and scrub land from shooting through the roof while making sure he owned all the land within miles of his future theme parks. Today, Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando sits on more than 27,000 acres, which is about 43 square miles, and includes four theme parks, as well as many hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues.
An obvious choice to play Walt Disney would be Tom Hanks, mainly because he already played Walt in Saving Mr. Banks (2013). But another key character in this story is Walt’s nephew, Roy, who was instrumental in completing the project after Walt passed away. While this actor is known more for his zany comic roles, Will Ferrell has been impressive in several more serious parts, like the lovelorn IRS agent in Stranger Than Fiction (2006). He’d be a solid choice.
The Friendship Between Jerry Falwell and Larry Flynt
Jerry Falwell was a popular televangelist and the founder of Liberty University, a faith-based Christian college. Larry Flynt was the outspoken publisher of Hustler, a magazine often labeled as pornography, who once published an article accusing Falwell of having sex with his own mother! It’s easy to imagine these two as adversaries, which they were in a famous lawsuit about that article.
After the suit was settled, though, they actually became friends. Falwell sparred with Flynt occasionally on his TV show and they talked to each other a lot over the years, engaging in deep philosophical conversations and, most likely, disagreeing on just about everything. Once, when Falwell was having difficulty getting to a speaking engagement, Flynt offered to let him use Hustler’s private jet, an offer that was politely declined.
While The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) covers many of the legal battles throughout Flynt’s life, it didn’t really get into the friendship between these two people. This topic is rich with psychological nooks and crannies. How could two men who were outwardly so opposed to each other’s beliefs learn to tolerate and even respect each other? For the two leading roles, I’d recommend Stephen Root for Larry Flynt and John Goodman for Jerry Falwell.
The Florida Highwaymen
Many great movies tell a fictional story that’s set in a historically significant time period. Titanic is a good example of this type of film. That’s right… Jack and Rose weren’t real people, even though the sinking of The Titanic was a real tragedy. Dances with Wolves (1990) and Gladiator (2000) are also in this genre. From the 1950s to the 1970s, a group of twenty-six African American artists in Florida painted the landscapes they saw every day in the Sunshine State, selling them door to door from the trunks of their cars. Most were painted in only an hour or two and sometimes sold before the paint was dry. They used Upson board because it was inexpensive and fashioned their own frames out of crown molding they painted themselves. During that time period, the Florida Highwaymen sold an estimated 150,000 paintings for only $25 or $35 each and they were hung on the walls of homes, offices, banks, doctors offices and lawyers offices around the state. Today, an authentic Highwayman painting can be worth thousands of dollars.
During their heyday, Florida was a difficult place to live for African Americans, as was much of the country and especially the deep South. For these artists, selling their paintings was not just a way to express their artistic talent, but a way to avoid the types of jobs that were typically available to them, such as laborers, farm workers, porters, etc. And while they didn’t get rich selling their paintings, it was a living doing something they enjoyed. In this environment, a talented filmmaker could craft any number of compelling stories because the potential for creating interesting characters is everywhere. Here’s one: An established Highwaymen artist (played by Jamie Foxx, maybe?) tries to discourage a younger artist (possibly played by Michael B. Jordan) from following in his footsteps. Is he doing it to discourage the younger artist from a lifetime of rejection and hardship or is it because he feels threatened by him?
The Trial and Execution of Sacco and Vanzetti
On August 23, 1927, two Italian immigrants named Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were sent to the electric chair and executed for a murder and robbery committed seven years earlier. While that may not seem notable at first, it became a significant event in history because there were a lot of questions about whether they were guilty or not. Here’s what happened: On April 15, 1920, a paymaster at the Slater-Morrill Shoe Company in Braintree, Massachusetts and his guard were gunned down while moving the company’s payroll in two steel boxes to the main factory.
Evidence pointed to another Italian immigrant named Coacci, who was deported shortly after the robbery. That left investigators tracking down Coacci’s friends and associates, including Sacco and Vanzetti. Complicating matters, all three were involved in an anarchist movement that had been active in the area for several years. They were arrested and convicted on what was considered by many as shaky circumstantial evidence, sparking protests throughout the world. Two years prior to the execution, a convict awaiting trial for murder confessed to the crime, but despite their attorneys’ requests, a new trial for Sacco and Vanzetti was denied. As their execution drew closer, protests intensified, with bombs being detonated in New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
All this was going on the 1920s, a time when the U.S. was just out of World War I, but before the Great Depression of the 1930s. This decade, which was called the Roaring Twenties for a reason, has been the subject of numerous novels and movies, such as The Great Gatsby, because of its extravagance and excess, a stark contrast to the world that Sacco and Vanzetti inhabited, providing plenty of rich potential story lines. For the leading roles, how about John Turturro and Tony Shalhoub, both of whom are veteran actors who would play the roles passionately but with the necessary subtlety?