How Much Of The Gran Turismo Movie Is Based On A True Story?

It’s a novelty for a video game adaptation to be based on a true story, and ever since the trailer premiered earlier this year, movie fans have been curious as to how much of Gran Turismo is grounded in reality.

The high-octane racing movie charts the journey of Jann Mardenborough (played here by Midsommar star Archie Madekwe) as he goes from “gamer to racer”, echoing the trajectory of the real-life Mardenborough, who made his motorsport debut back in 2011 at just 19 years old.

Sony Pictures

The film appears to have stayed close to his biography, with the racer even acting as Madekwe’s stunt double in the racing scenes. But even though it has his seal of approval, the question remains: how much is true, and how much is a Hollywood revision of a tale that’s already stranger than fiction?

Let’s dive into it.

The GT Academy

Sony Pictures

Back in 2006, Nissan Europe executive Darren Cox had a groundbreaking marketing idea to find new racers; find the world’s most skilled Gran Turismo players, and see if their skills translated behind the wheel. The project kicked off in 2008, with Mardenborough entering the third iteration of the competition in 2011.

The timeline of the movie itself is more condensed; there, the character of Mardenborough enters the first GT Academy program, with his character coming out top at the end of it. In real life, he beat out 90,000 applicants – here, he’s thrown into a program with just a handful of other entrants who get kicked out one-by-one.

He also wasn’t the first success story out of the program. The inaugural winner, Spanish driver Lucas Ordóñez, had raced for Nissan since 2009, and was the first driver from the Academy to compete in the Le Mans 24 hour race in 2011 – a feat which, in the movie, is accredited to Mardenborough.

From Gamer to Racer

Sony Pictures

In the movie, success doesn’t just happen for Mardenborough overnight; a tight victory at the Academy doesn’t quickly translate into podium placements in his first races. But this is solely to raise the narrative stakes – in reality, he was a natural.

As his prize, he got to enter the Dubai 24 hour race, with his team coming first; in the movie, there was more of an uphill struggle to prove himself before that big race (which has ben changed to the better known Le Mans 24). There’s a succession of races he needs to participate in to get an international racing licence, but unlike real life, this proves more of a challenge for the movie counterpart.

Hell, there’s even a backlash against him and other “sim racers” joining the profession, as his character doesn’t chalk up the quick wins his real-life counterpart managed to.

Sony Pictures

Podium finishes eventually became second nature to Mardenborough; in 2012, a year after his professional debut, he achieved three in the British GT Championship across ten races, ending a very respectable sixth overall. He certainly wasn’t crashing out in last place, if he managed to finish at all, as the movie character did multiple times in his earliest tests.

However, that isn’t to say he didn’t overcome major obstacles, which the movie does incorporate; a freak accident at a 2015 race, which killed one spectator and left several others injured, is rewritten within his career timeline to be included as part of the character’s journey.

What Does Mardenborough think about the movie?

Sony Pictures

In addition to performing the film’s driving stunts, Mardenborough was a co-producer and consultant throughout filming, working with the producers and script writers all the way through to post-production.

He recently told The Sunday Times that, from the earliest iterations of the movie, he insisted on including this dark chapter in his life, saying:

“It’s my life; it’s part of my story, so I feel it would have been a disservice for the audience for that not to be in there.

Sony Pictures

“I made sure all of us that were with the production — the producers, Jason the scriptwriter — that that was how it went down. Because it needed to be correct, because somebody lost their life in this accident, and the movie does a great job of that.

“It shows as well the deep dark moments of my life when I was in the hospital by myself. You know, the mental aspects to such an event, and in life as well: what can happen; how you can get out of that; how can you rebound and achieve something — achieve greatness — off the back of that, and so it had to be in there.”

So while much may have been reimagined for the movie, the crux of his character’s dramatic arc is truer to life than casual viewers may realise – there’s no wonder that he doesn’t think of this as a “video game movie” at all.

Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story is in UK cinemas now.

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Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.