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Fact-Checking Summer TV and Movies: What's True, What's False?

How factual (or fictitious) are these upcoming films and shows? Here are our ratings

spinner image Jesse Garcia standing in the chips aisle at a grocery store in the film Flamin' Hot and Cillian Murphy speaking into a microphone during testimony in the film Oppenheimer
(Left to right) Jesse Garcia as Richard Montañez in "Flamin' Hot" and Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in "Oppenheimer."
Emily Aragones/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures; Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures

Some of the best movies and shows coming up have real-life backstories. But some are truer to life than others. Can you guess which of the following are on the level, or made up, or somewhere in between?

Flamin’ Hot, movie in theaters June 9

In Desperate Housewives actress Eva Longoria’s directing debut at age 48, Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia), a former teen gang member with poor reading skills, manages to land a janitor’s job at Frito-Lay, where he invents a new kind of Cheetos that taste like his Mexican immigrant dad’s fiery home cooking, and it’s a smash hit.

Truth verdict: Partly true.

Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which “burn so good,” are indeed wildly popular, inspiring rap videos that went viral, and causing some school officials to ban the chili-flavored treats. Its success heated up Montañez’s career, propelling him to a marketing executive’s job, and his memoir Flamin’ Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man’s Rise from Janitor to Top Executive was a bestseller that made him a public speaker commanding $50,000 for a lecture. But a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that there was a Flamin’ Hot snack test-marketed in the Midwest before Montañez was involved. Frito-Lay said, “We value Richard’s many contributions to our company, especially his insights into Hispanic consumers, but we do not credit the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or any Flamin’ Hot products to him.” The movie is billed as “inspired by a true story.”

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Mary J. Blige’s Real Love and Strength of a Woman, serial movies on Lifetime June 10 and 17

An ambitious teenage student striving to be the top student at her college falls hard for her photo-class partner. Fifteen years later, she’s a successful photographer with a failing marriage — and her old beau resurfaces in her life, forcing a romantic crisis she’s got to courageously solve.

Truth verdict: Not quite totally false. Though the characters are fictional, Blige, 52 — who’s not just a singer but an important producer who created Lifetime’s No. 1 2020 hit The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel with Queen Latifah and Missy Elliott — wrote her two 2023 movies based on her hit songs. And those tunes were inspired by her own life. “I wrote 'Real Love' based on my real-life experiences and my fans connected to it in a deeply personal way,” Blige said. “It’s exciting to now use this song and my music to create a new story by way of film.”

Based on a True Story, series on Peacock June 8

A true-crime obsessed real estate agent (Kaley Cuoco) and a washed-up tennis star (Chris Messina) trying to save their marriage and make ends meet with a baby on the way realize they know the killer connected to the murders in their neighborhood. So they try to cash in by launching a podcast about the murders — and luring the murderer himself on as a guest.

Truth verdict: We don't know yet. Though it was initially billed as being inspired by a bizarre true event, the studio now says, “Based on a True Story is not based on a true story. It is a satire of the true-crime genre. It is a fictionalized retelling inspired by real events." But they don’t say what those events are.

LA Fire and Rescue, series on NBC June 21

In Law & Order and Chicago Fire producer Dick Wolf’s latest show, firefighters face death daily to keep Angelenos safe.

Truth verdict: Though Law & Order and Chicago Fire are only loosely inspired by real-life heroes and ripped-from-the-headlines dramas, the new LA show is a docuseries that follows real firefighters — likely more realistic than most so-called reality shows.



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Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, in theaters June 30

After a prologue set in 1944 featuring a digitally de-aged Harrison Ford (who is actually 80), Indiana Jones comes out of retirement in 1969. He’s back to crack the whip at a former Nazi (Mads Mikkelsen, 57) who’s been recruited by NASA and plans to hijack the U.S. mission to the moon.

Truth verdict: Indiana Jones does not exist. However, the film is partly inspired by people like Wernher von Braun, who went from making V-2 rockets for Hitler to launching NASA’s Saturn V rocket, which sent Americans to the moon. “The simple fact is that the moon-landing program was run by a bunch of ex-Nazis,” cowriter Jezz Butterworth told Empire magazine. “How ‘ex’ they are is the question. And it gets up Indy’s nose.”

Secret Invasion, series on Disney+ June 21

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, 74) fights to save humanity from sneaky, shape-shifting alien Skrulls who can take human form, so you can’t tell the good humans from the bad aliens.

Truth verdict: Total fantasy — but this Marvel movie has some parallels in our divided society, Jackson told Vanity Fair: “We don’t know who’s a friend, who’s the enemy. Who’s OK? Who’s not? What happens when people get afraid and don’t understand other people?” Costar Ben Mendelsohn, 54, who plays a Skrull who’s a good guy, told USA Today it’s a comic-book flick that isn’t just for kids: “This is one the grownups can dig. It’s mental.”

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The Perfect Find, movie on Netflix late June

A broke, single, 40-ish unemployed fashion editor (Gabrielle Union, 50) sells her designer clothes, wears Wal-Mart couture, and begs her old boss and frenemy (Gina Torres, 54) for a job where she’s forced to compete with tech-savvy kids half her age — and then she falls for her boss’s son.

Truth verdict: Lies, all lies! But this fictional tale is by Tia Williams, former beauty editor at ElleLucky and Glamour and creator of the style blog Shake Your Beauty — so the fashionista world she creates likely has some authenticity.

Oppenheimer, movie in theaters July 31

A former child prodigy and Sanskrit scholar (Cillian Murphy) becomes the father of the atomic bomb that ends World War II, even though he’s a communist sympathizer inclined to ban-the-bomb pacificism, and he recklessly beds a wife and two mistresses, including a communist. His military boss (Matt Damon, 52) tells him, “You’re a womanizer, unstable, theatrical, neurotic!”

Truth verdict: We don’t know precisely how the film presents the facts of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life, but the improbable summary above is a true one.

spinner image Matthew Broderick stands on a stage in front of a microphone as cheerleaders stand in front of the stage in the Netflix series Painkiller
Matthew Broderick (center) as Richard Sackler in "Painkiller."
Keri Anderson/Netflix

Painkiller, limited series on Netflix Aug. 10

Matthew Broderick, 61, plays Richard Sackler, whose Purdue Pharma made billions selling opioids and paid up to $6 billion in a settlement.

Truth verdict: Not strictly factual. It’s based on Barry Meier’s nonfiction book of the same name and Patrick Radden Keefe’s “The Family That Built the Empire of Pain,” and the company really was found guilty to the tune of billions, Sackler was forced to hear opioid victims’ loved ones excoriate him and his family in court, and the Sackler name was stripped from museums, universities and institutions worldwide. But the series is a fictionalized retelling of events.

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