(ABC4) – Incredible life stories can make for incredible movies. Some of Hollywood’s most beloved films usually carry the same tagline at the beginning of the opening credits or in the tagline underneath the title on the poster: “Based on a true story.”
Utah and its residents have a rich history of true stories that would make for amazing screenplays. Here’s a list of a few Beehive State figures whose lives would make for a highly watchable biopic:
It would be impossible to write this list without including perhaps the state’s most well-known historical figure, Brigham Young. The man who led members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 also served as the first governor of the Utah Territory, along the way building a colorful and much-debated legacy in the state. A practicing polygamist during a time when such was permissible in the Church, some historians credit Young with over 50 wives. The faith leader also butted heads with the U.S. government and had controversial views on slavery, among other views. While the Church does share some versions of Young’s life story, a gritty and raw look at his life from a secular filmmaker would be fascinating.
Fans of Steve Jobs’ life story and its subsequent biopics, such as “Steve Jobs,” starring Michael Fassbender, would probably take an interest in Nolan Bushnell’s story. The native of Clearfield is regarded as the father of video games as one of the founders of Atari. Imagine a look at the creative process of developing the first personal home video game, which was a groundbreaking technology at the time. Oh, by the way, Jobs was an employee of Bushnell’s at Atari, so any kind of dramatized power struggle or workplace conflict between the two innovators could be a fun experience to watch while enjoying a bucket of popcorn.
Speaking of tech giants, it’s possible that modern-day movie watching, which mostly happens at home, on the couch watching a streaming service, wouldn’t be possible without Utahn Philo Farnsworth. Born in tiny Beaver, Utah in 1906, Farnsworth held around 300 different patents, most notably the key ingredients in the invention of the television, the video camera tube, and the image dissector. After he had made his riches by licensing his patent to the Radio Corporation of America, Farnsworth then turned to nuclear fission research. His story could be an incredible biopic, documenting his long patent battle with RCA, his pursuit of nuclear fission, his alledged alcohol abuse towards the end of his life, and ultimately his posthumous inclusion and consideration as one of the most important inventors of all time.
Dubbed as the “Mormon Mauler” by boxing promoters, Fullmer rose to worldwide prominence in the 1950s and 60s by fighting out of West Jordan, which at the time had a population of less than 3,000. After racking up a professional record of 37-3, Fullmer was given a chance at the middleweight world championship against the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1957 and earned the belt after a unanimous 15-round decision. Robinson won the rematch a few months later by knocking Fullmer out with what is considered to be one of the best left hook punches in the sport’s history but Fullmer eventually regained the title a couple of years later. Feels like a Rocky movie.
Prior to his days as a wildly successful politician, he was first elected as mayor of Salt Lake City in 1972 and then to the U.S. Senate in the most lopsided election in state history, Garn cut his teeth as a Navy pilot with more than 17,000 flight hours logged in the military. For those reasons, Garn considered himself an ideal candidate when he asked NASA to fly on the Space Shuttle in the 1980s. It took three years of convincing, but eventually, he was included on the crew for a spaceflight aboard the Discovery in 1984. His legacy lives on in a humorous way as the illness he suffered in space is now considered the maximum level of space sickness that a human being can ever attain. Astronauts now measure their level of sickness in increments of a ‘Garn.’
The one-time presidential runner-up and current Utah senator has been a figure in American popular culture for years. He was famously parodied on Saturday Night Live by Jason Sudeikis, who coped with his loss in the 2012 election by indulging in a vice, milk, as if it was a can of beer or other alcoholic beverage. Whether in another parody with Sudeikis or some other comedy giant, or as a serious drama covering his successes, which included leading the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, folks have long been intrigued by the towering figure in American life. Any film that can portray his life in politics and business with the juxtaposition of his LDS faith would be very interesting to fans of Tinseltown.
Another influential figure from Utah, Karl Rove, has also been a central player in American politics for years. He was famously tied to the Bush family for decades, serving as an advisor to both George H. W. and George W. Rove was also an advisor to Donald Trump in 2020. Over the course of his career, Rove developed a reputation for leaking information to the media to support his causes and the causes of his employers. Prior to his work on the national stage, Rove discovered a flair for politics as a student at Olympus High School in Salt Lake City, where he was elected class president after riding into an election assembly in the school’s gymnasium on the back of a convertible. His life is begging to be made into a movie. It seems like it would probably have the same look and tone as the Dick Cheney biopic, “Vice.”
In the world of wrestling, there are likely few names bigger than Heber City native Cael Sanderson. Not only did the graduate of Wasatch High School win the state championship in his weight all four years, as well as an Olympic gold medal in 2004, but he is also most well-known for going his entire collegiate career at Iowa State with a perfect 159-0 record. He has since gone on to enormous success as the wrestling coach at Penn State. As far as sports accomplishments go, having a perfect record over an entire career is about as good as it gets. If his life were to become a Hollywood movie, his current resemblance to Channing Tatum may have an impact on casting, although a younger actor would likely need to play the college version of Sanderson.
Sorry, Stevo (the character played by Matthew Lillard in SLC Punk!), Branden Steineckert is the real SLC punk. A drummer for two punk rock bands that achieved commercial success, Rancid, and The Used, Steineckert has been a major figure in the counter culture movement in the traditionally considered conservative hotbed of Utah. He has made his mark on the state, not only for his musical achievements in music but also in sports as the writer of Real Salt Lake’s official team chant. Steineckert claims he was dismissed from The Used due to personal and lifestyle differences, namely that he chooses to avoid drugs and alcohol. Sounds it could be a good storyline for a movie.
Raised on a farm outside of the tiny town of Castle Dale, Bradley put Emery High School on the national radar as one of the most dominant high school basketball players in the country. It helped, of course, that he was 7-foot-5 as a 16-year-old. After playing at BYU, Bradley took a two-year break from the game to serve an LDS mission in Australia before heading straight to the NBA from the mission field in the Outback. He had a successful 12-year-long pro career and a role in the Michael Jordan-led hit, Space Jam, before retirement which preceded an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the state House of Representatives. Recently, Bradley was in the news after a tragic accident that left him paralyzed. Bradley’s life has already been a great story, but the next chapter, his life in a wheelchair has yet to be written. It’s not hard to imagine it will be a touching and perhaps inspiring one.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with our list? Who else from Utah would make for a great biopic subject?
Let us know in the Facebook comments below: