20 Fictional Characters You Might Not Know Are Based On Real People

By Nina Roman

It’s no secret that real people serve as inspiration for a lot of fictional characters. At times, it becomes evident, such as when a character bears the name of their actual counterpart. At times, it’s more subdued. When it incorporates only a few physical attributes taken directly from the real person, it can be hard to tell. You might be surprised to learn that the following characters are real people:

Sherlock Holmes

Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Dr. Joseph Bell, a surgeon and University of Edinburgh lecturer, served as the model for the renowned detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Bell’s ability to observe and deduce information was well-known, and he employed these skills to diagnose his patients. We all know this film and it still shocks people that he was based on a real-life person.

Hanibal Lecter

Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

According to author Thomas Harris, he drew inspiration for the character from some actual serial killers, including Albert Fish and Andrei Chikatilo. It sounds crazy but very interesting to engage people in this true history.

Mary Poppins

Image Credit: Walt Disney

Helen Morehead, P.L. Travers’ own aunt, served as the inspiration for the character of Mary Poppins. Travers was raised by the tough, no-nonsense Morehead when she was younger. We all adore Mary Poppins, so it is great she is based on a real woman.

Indiana Jones

Image Credit: Lucasfilm, Ltd.

Oh, how we all love these movies! Several actual archaeologists, notably Hiram Bingham, who found the Machu Picchu ruins, served as inspiration for the creation of the Indiana Jones character.

James Bond

Image Credit: MGM/UA Distribution Co.

Writer Ian Fleming fashioned the character of James Bond after several real-life people he had worked with as a naval intelligence officer in World War II. That’s right, all movies are based on a real man!

Scarlett O’Hara

Image Credit:Selznick International Pictures

Margaret Mitchell drew inspiration for Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara from her own great-grandmother, a Southern belle who fought in the Civil War. It is great when such historical characters that would’ve otherwise never been known about has an entire novel about her.

Atticus Finch

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

Harper Lee drew inspiration for the honorable lawyer in “To Kill a Mockingbird” from her own father, Amasa Coleman Lee. Similar to Atticus, A.C. Lee practiced law in Alabama in the 1930s and represented African-American clients.

Hannibal Smith

Image Credit: Universal Television

Green Beret Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, a real-life individual, served as the inspiration for the “The A-Team” character Hannibal Smith. Colonel Smith, like his fictional counterpart, was renowned for his tactical acumen and capacity for spontaneous innovation in tight spots.

Winnie the Pooh

Image Credit: Walt Disney

Winnie is many people’s much-loved childhood hero. A.A. Milne drew inspiration for the character Winnie the Pooh from the teddy bear his own son had named Winnie, after a real bear Milne had seen at the London Zoo.

Elizabeth Bennet

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

Jane Austen drew inspiration for Elizabeth Bennet from “Pride and Prejudice” from her own life as a young Victorian English woman. Both the book and film depict the true story.

Jay Gatsby

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F. Scott Fitzgerald drew inspiration for the character of Jay Gatsby in “The Great Gatsby” from his own experiences as a member of the affluent upper class in 1920s New York City. It is fascinating to know that the movie features a character about someone who really lived this life.

Willy Wonka

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Roald Dahl drew inspiration for the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” character Willy Wonka from many real-life individuals, including his own factory work experiences while he was a young boy. How incredible would it be to live this life?

Dr. Frankenstein

Image credit: Shutterstock

Mary Shelley drew inspiration for the character of Dr. Frankenstein in “Frankenstein” from her encounters with philosophy and science in the Romantic period.

Bridget Jones

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

“Bridget Jones’s Diary” author Helen Fielding drew inspiration for the character from her own experiences as a single person residing in London in the 1990s. We could all use a friend like Bridget and its great to know she is based on a real woman.

Severus Snape

Image Credit:
Warner Bros. Pictures

J.K. Rowling drew inspiration for the Harry Potter series Severus Snape character from a childhood teacher. She claims that although this instructor was severe and frightening, she was ultimately motivated to pursue writing as a career.

Lisbeth Salander

Image Credit:
Columbia Pictures

Writer Stieg Larsson modeled the “Millennium” series Lisbeth Salander after a young lady he encountered while working as a journalist. Because this woman had a history of male abuse, Larsson was motivated to write a character who stood up to her abusers.

Katniss Everdeen

Image Credit: Lionsgate

“The Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins drew inspiration for the character of Katniss Everdeen from her own experiences as well as from people she knew. She has stated that her own wilderness experiences and her father’s military service served as inspirations.

Forrest Gump

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Samuel Davis, a real person, served as the inspiration for the character of Forrest Gump in the book and movie of the same name. After playing football in high school and serving in the Vietnam War, Davis went on to support veterans’ rights.

Holden Caulfield

Editorial credit: hamdi bendali / Shutterstock.com

The experiences of J.D. Salinger as a teenager in 1930s and 1940s New York City served as the inspiration for the character of Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye”.

The Dude

Image Credit: Gramercy Pictures

The Dude in the movie “The Big Lebowski” was partially inspired by Jeff Dowd, a real-life individual. Renowned for his easygoing demeanor and passion for bowling, Dowd was both a political activist and a film producer.