Man’s love affair with fiction is sweet, but the marriage is almost always beyond strange when it comes to facing the facts. True-to-life conspiracy movies, for one, have always upped the ante for the genre, satisfying viewers who aren’t only looking to be entertained but also educated and perhaps even grateful for knowing what may only remain a mystery to the rest.
Here are the top 10 T.V. and movie conspiracy theories that turned out to be true.
10 The Philadelphia Experiment
In 1984, British director Stewart Rafill helmed a film that would later earn him the Best Science Fiction Film Award at the Rome Film Festival. But it was not entirely fiction. Entitled “The Philadelphia Experiment,” the Michael Pare film was based on events during World War II when U.S. Navy scientists, led by Dr. Franklin Reno, supposedly embarked on a science-defying military experiment that would create an invisible, teleportable warship. Called the U.S.S. Eldridge and docked in the Philadelphia Naval Yard, the vessel was allegedly created in October 1943, but not without complications.
Legend has it sailors in the controversial ship developed a whole range of extreme or strange conditions, such as mental trauma, seasickness, spontaneous combustion, and even getting embedded into the warship or being invisible themselves. The U.S. Navy has always denied any truth to the Philadelphia Experiment, but this has only fueled speculations of a cover-up. At least the government provided an explanation. The experiment actually meant to hide ships from magnetic torpedoes during the war. In any case, the mysterious venture inspired a whole slew of movies, including Rafill’s.
9 The Roswell U.F.O.s
Over 70 years ago, news of a “flying saucer” crash-landing on a ranch in Roswell, New Mexico, hit the Roswell Daily Record’s front page. At one point, the U.S. military corrected itself by saying they had collected no more than a crashed water balloon, but the retraction didn’t change anything. One of the world’s biggest, most explored conspiracy theories was born, strengthened by reports of officials taking the aliens to the Area 51 military base in New Mexico. By the 1990s, swathes of books, T.V. documentaries, movies and supposed footage of alien autopsies had been produced and circulated, all pointing to the U.S. government as a keeper of aliens.
One of the most extravagant and commercially, not to mention critically, successful movies on the Roswell U.F.O. was Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.” Released in 1977, the film expertly executed the phenomenon of sightings in the sky, alien abductions, and, of course, conspiracy. The movie even concluded by suggesting that American scientists had entered into some kind of exchange program with the aliens. In 2019, over two million people signed up to storm the Area 51 airbase near Rachel, Nevada, hoping to meet aliens despite the organizer calling the event a hoax.
8 Men in Black
Speaking of U.F.O.s, modern-day theories have taken to a sleeker, cooler face with the sinister-looking Men in Black. Conspiracists claim that since the 1950s, Men in Black are present at each U.F.O. sighting. Donning their trademark dark suits and black Cadillacs, people believe the MiBs are undercover government agents out to quiet U.F.O. witnesses. Although, our definition of them has also evolved with implications that they could be robots or aliens. In the mid-1950s, ufologist Albert K. Bender said MiBs visited him and ordered him to stop investigating U.F.O.s. Bender believed they were secret government agents whose job was to suppress extraterrestrial evidence.
This contemporary take on the MiBs stems from the 1956 book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers by Gray Barker. It is unproven whether the author really believed in his own characters. He did admit writing the book for economic reasons. In 1997, director Barry Sonnenfeld’s sci-fi action-comedy “Men in Black” spawned a blockbuster franchise. But we’ve seen these creepy characters before. This includes John Sales’ “Brother from Another Planet” in 1984, and later in “The X-Files.” While no direct reference was made, “The Matrix,” another phenomenal movie franchise that began in 1999, had MiB D.N.A. written all over it.
7 Moon Explorations
Aside from being one of mankind’s biggest ventures in the 20th century, moon landings were part of the Cold War’s Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. This is why people believe Neil Armstrong’s first moon landing in 1969 was fake. In 2002, a French filmmaker named William Karel even released a mockumentary on the alleged conspiracy between the U.S. government and American film director, producer, and screenwriter Standley Kubrick to manufacture the landings.
Conspiracists view Karel’s film as a straightforward presentation of the truth and people often share on YouTube as veritable evidence. The 2012 documentary “Room 237” focuses on the various interpretations involved in “The Shining,” a film that delves into the filmmaker’s purported role in the landings and the hints embedded into the movie’s symbolism. In “Apollo 18,” a 2011 found-footage sci-fi horror, the movie suggested that American astronauts did go to the Moon, only to be terrorized by aliens.
6 Dyatlov Pass Incident
One of the lesser-known but equally intriguing theories in the conspiracy universe revolves around the Dyatlov Pass incident. On February 1959, in Russia’s Ural mountains, nine otherwise healthy ski trekkers died and sustained unexplained wounds on their bodies. Someone had torn open their tents from the inside. It is said the trekkers had come across a top-secret Soviet weapon experiment, and some of the bodies had been radioactively destroyed. The incident inspired several books and films, including “The Devil’s Pass,” directed by Rennie Harlin.
Also known as The Dyatlov Pass Incident, Harlin’s movie is a narrative about a group of students who investigated the scene of the tragedy years after it happened. In the film, the students take raw footage of the consequences of the failed experiment. While the Russian government eventually recovers and hides the file from the public, hackers managed to get a copy and show it to the public. The film closed, insinuating there was indeed a Russian military experiment that went horribly wrong; the government was keeping it under wraps.
5 Project MKUltra
MKUltra stands out from most conspiracy theories that ever toyed with man’s imagination. For one, it is a confirmed story, which makes it extremely unsettling as opposed to urban legends and their random, half-baked pieces of evidence. MKUltra, a C.I.A. project that rolled out in the 1950s, was a study on mind control and how certain drugs could alter human thoughts and senses. Researchers studied the impact these drugs had on the brain long term without the participants’ knowledge or approval.
The extent of MKUltra is too comprehensive to be explained in one article, but suffice it today that while several documents related to the project no longer exist. The reclassification of some 20,000 files towards the late 1970s confirms the extensiveness of the two-decade project. Nonetheless, the 2013 American horror film “Banshee Chapter,” managed to sew all the threads seamlessly despite budget and timeline issues. “The Banshee Chapter” was the critically acclaimed directorial debut of Blair Erickson and was groundbreaking in its genre for being the first to directly reference MKUltra.
4 John F. Kennedy Assassination
Surveys of late still show that most Americans believe a conspiracy was behind former President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. This opinion was most prevalent in the early-to-mid 1990s. Three decades after the event actually happened, Oliver Stone released his lengthy but irrefutably engrossing film, “J.F.K.” It is so far the most convincing J.F.K. conspiracy movie ever produced in history. In the movie, Kevin Costner played Jim Garrison, a New Orleans DA who found critical proof that Lee Harvey Oswald was not Kennedy’s exclusive assassin.
After its controversial release in cinemas, many major American papers claimed Stone had not been very accurate about history. This included scenes about Kennedy’s vice-president, Lyndon B. Johnson, being part of a coup d’état. These inconsistencies, however, did not stop the movie from gaining critical acclaim, especially for its cast’s performances, Stone’s directing, and other technical aspects of the production.
3 The Watergate Scandal
On June 17, 1971, officials caught prowlers red-handed in the Democratic National Committee Office at the Watergate building complex in Washington. This was the beginning of the Watergate scandal instigated by former President Richard Nixon himself and told by two Washington Post reporters: Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. With information from an anonymous whistleblower nicknamed Deep Throat—revealed in 2005 as former F.B.I. associate director W. Mark Felt—the journalists exposed Nixon’s part in the conspiracy leading to the incumbent’s resignation on August 9, 1974.
Woodward and Bernstein won a Pulitzer Prize each for the assignment, which inspired a political biographical drama film in 1976 entitled “All the President’s Men.” Directed by Alan J. Pakula and written by William Goldman, the film starred Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein. The film earned multiple Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA nominations. The Library of Congress preserves it in the United States National Film Registry.
2 The Rainbow Warrior Conspiracy
Codenamed Opération Satanique, the July 10, 1985 sinking of Greenpeace fleet flagship Rainbow Warrior was the French foreign intelligence unit’s handiwork. Said to be behind the operation were two operatives at the Port of Auckland in New Zealand, who attacked the ship on its way to a French nuclear test protest in Muroroa. Killed in the bombing was Portugal-born photographer Fernando Pereira, who was there to document the scheduled nuclear test and share his photos with the world. Just turned 35, Pereira drowned in a rush of water on the night of the attack.
In the beginning, France was quick to dismiss reports of its involvement, even though New Zealand police caught two of its agents. The police charged them with arson, conspiracy to commit arson, murder, and willful damage. The controversy climaxed with the resignation of French Defense Minister Charles Hernu. But while the captured agents both pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a jail sentence of ten years each, they were released a mere two years later by the French government. In 1993, Michael Tuchner directed a made-for-TV drama film entitled “Rainbow Warrior,” also called “The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior,” top-billed by Jon Voight and Sam Neill.
1 A Pararescueman’s Medal of Valor
In a Vietnam War rescue mission on April 11, 1966, U.S. Air Force Pararescueman William H. Pitsenbarger saved the lives of more than 60 men with his own bare hands. Climbing out of the cover of his rescue helicopter, Pits joined people on the ground to help them despite his team members’ dissuasion. After saving several people, P.J. could have escaped in the last helicopter flying out of the acutely active combat zone but chose to stand behind his fellow soldiers before making the ultimate sacrifice.
“The Last Full Measure,” a 2019 American war drama film directed by Todd Robinson, followed Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman’s efforts to investigate a Medal of Honor request for Pitsenbarger in 1998. As Huffman gathered testimonies from Army veterans, he discovered a high-profile conspiracy that had kept the Vietnam War hero from receiving the medal. This prompted Huffman to put a halt to his own career ambitions and dedicate his next years to pursuing justice for the fallen airman. Finally, on December 8, 2000, the government awarded A1C William H. Pitsenbarger the Medal of Honor posthumously.