Oh, Balloon Boy. For a few precious hours you commanded our attention and love. You gave us something to Twitter about. But it was all for naught, since it turned out your parents were pulling a fast one in an effort to land that latest and greatest of American dreams: A reality TV show. And when the truth came out, the country — nay, the world, turned against you. Still, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to movie fans, who’ve seen more than a few audacious hoaxes exposed on-screen, such as…
1. The Hoax (2007)
After concocting an increasingly elaborate story about penning Howard Hughes’ autobiography, Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) is forced to come clean when Hughes himself denies the hoax. Irving confesses in exchange for reduced jail sentences for him and his wife, though they still end up in jail. So in Irving’s case, it isn’t until he’s forced to confess that he admits to his lie… And he pays the consequences.
2. Shattered Glass (2003)
Like The Hoax, Shattered Glass is also based on a true story, this time of New Republic reporter Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen), who fabricated most (or all) of the stories he wrote for the magazine. But even when confronted with the truth by a lawyer, Christensen just sits silently rather than admitting to the ruse. The lesson here? Lie, lie, lie.
3. Krippendorf’s Tribe (1998)
Here’s the hilarious difference between biopics and movie comedies: When it comes to comedies there’s a chance you’ll get away with it, as Richard Dreyfuss does in this flick. Dreyfuss’ panicked anthropologist fudges his research, and when given the chance to come clean, he instead gets a real African tribe to pretend to be the fake African tribe he created. And then he lives happily ever after. Hooray for lying!
4. Capricorn One (1978)
…And then there are the murderous hoaxes, like the one in this 1978 thriller, in which the American government fakes an aborted Mars landing. Elliott Gould, as a journalist, tries to bring the hoax to light multiple times, and ends up revealing the hoax on national TV. Turns out the government killed pretty much everyone involved in the scandal. Efficient, but inadvisable.
5. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
How can you have a list of movie hoaxsters without the most famous shyster of them all: The great and powerful Wizard of Oz? It’s Toto, of course, who reveals that the floating head is just a holographic representation of a nebbishy man from Kansas. But as opposed to most of the other people on this list, his confession, beyond just allowing him to finally leave Oz behind, includes giving Dorothy and company just what their hearts desire. Aw.
1. Wag the Dog (1997) - Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) tries to bring the fake war created by his Hollywood studio, and the U.S. government to light, and Capricorn One style, it ends in his untimely demise. But where the astronauts of Capricorn were trying to honor truth, Hoffman just can’t deal with not being able to tell the story of what happened.
2. In the Company of Men (1997) - A double dose of painful honesty awaits the characters in Neil LaBute’s movie. Confessing he loves deaf office-worker Christine, Howard (Matt Malloy) tearfully tells her about the scheme he and Chad (Aaron Eckhart) cooked up at her expense. Eckhart also confesses, though not quite as tearfully.
3. The Crucible (1996) - The girls of Salem, Massachusetts perpetrated one of the deadliest hoaxes in history, as immortalized in Arthur Miller’s play and this movie adaptation. The girls try to save their own skin by naming witches, but the plan backfires when they are forced to confess to witchcraft themselves. And then they’re hanged.
4. Princess Caraboo (1994) - In true fairy tale fashion, once Mary Baker (Phoebe Cates) is revealed as an imposter princess and confesses that she is not Asian royalty, but an English-American cobbler’s daughter, she is granted true love! Hooray!
5. The Music Man (1962) - Exposed as a fraud by a competing salesman, chased by an angry mob, con-man Harold Hill (Robert Preston) makes up for pretending to be a conductor by touching the hearts of everyone in River City! He ends up conducting a real-life band, and winning the heart of fair Marian.