Is Spiderhead Based on a True Story? Here’s the Chilling Inspiration

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One of the most interesting and intriguing movies that you can watch on Netflix is Spiderhead, which is a sci-fi movie that’s set in a somewhat dystopian setting where a researcher is looking to make use of prison inmates as guinea pigs. In that regard, there is a question of how moral the experiment is, even though the inmates volunteer to shorten their terms. And with this kind of setting and storyline, does that mean that Spiderhead is based on a true story?

Spiderhead is purely fictional and is actually a science-fiction movie. However, it is based on a short story that was written by George Saunders in The New Yorker in 2010. The movie is based on Saunders’ story called Escape From Spiderhead, which is an award-winning narrative.

The somewhat dystopian and psychological narrative of Escape From Spiderhead allowed it to become quite amusing for filmmakers to make a movie out of, considering that the psychological sci-fi genre isn’t something that’s often explored in the film industry. Now with that said, let’s try to learn more about Spiderhead and its source material.

Is Spiderhead Based On True Story?

If you’re a fan of movies that follow a psychological narrative that can leave your mind numb after, there aren’t a lot of titles that you can choose from, but one of the movies that would certainly leave you questioning a lot of aspects like morality and probably even sanity is Spiderhead, which is a Netflix original movie.

Then again, considering that Netflix is now adapting more and more true stories into film, does that mean that Spiderhead is also a true story? Not exactly. And you’ll understand why it can’t be based on a true story when you get a gist of what this movie is all about.

Spiderhead is a movie where a pharmaceutical head was able to convince the federal government to allow him to conduct a series of experiments in a maximum-security prison involving some of the inmates there. He convinced a few inmates to take part in the experiment in exchange for a decrease in their prison sentence. That was when an inmate named Jeff volunteered to be subjected to a series of pharmaceutical trials involving drugs that could manipulate his emotions and actions as he began to question his own emotions as well.


Of course, Jeff falls for one of the inmates but begins to wonder whether or not the emotions he feels are his own or the result of the experiment. Nevertheless, this all leads to an attempt to escape the prison, which is actually a tropical island fortress.

So, basically, the reason why Spiderhead couldn’t be based on a true story is not due to the fact that the inmates were allowed to become guinea pigs by the US government (it could be possible in real life, considering the history of US government experimentation on prisoners). Instead, it’s because the drugs that are used in this movie can produce emotions like love, lust, and fear on command. In that regard, this film, although it doesn’t have the same dystopian and futuristic elements that some sci-fi movies have, is still science-fiction as far as its premise is concerned.

Where Was Spiderhead Inspired From?

We did say that Spiderhead isn’t based on a true story. But the truth of the matter is that this is a movie that still has a source material. This isn’t even surprising, considering that Netflix has been adapting different stories, comic books, and novels into movies and shows quite recently. There are even a lot more coming soon. But where was Spiderhead inspired from?

Spiderhead is a film that was adapted from the original short story that George Saunders wrote and published in The New Yorker back in 2010. The title of the short story is Escape From Spiderhead, and that’s why the film carries the same Spiderhead title that can be seen in the title of the short story. Escape From Spiderhead was eventually published in Saunders’ Tenth of December collection in 2013 as a part of some of his best short stories.

Escape From Spiderhead has garnered a lot of different awards due to its amazing storytelling and unique premise. And it was its story that was able to catch the attention of screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who went on to write a script for the Spiderhead movie so that they could adapt the short story into a movie.

RELATED: 15 Best Movies Like Spiderhead You Need to Watch

The director of Spiderhead is Joseph Kosinski, who himself has a history of directing and making sci-fi films. He is known for his artistic style because he has a background in architecture. But he eventually made his debut as a filmmaker in 2010 with TRON: Legacy. After that, he adapted his own sci-fi graphic novel called Oblivion, which starred Tom Cruise and was able to get mostly favorable reviews from critics. He also went on to work with Tom Cruise and Miles Teller in Top Gun: Maverick.

He was the one called to direct the adaptation of the short story because of his experience in the sci-fi genre and because he has an interesting view in looking at the different devices and technologies that we have today. Of course, he also promised to honor the same original themes that were prevalent in the Escape From Spiderhead short story, which carries an eerie atmosphere that is quite palpable in the movie.

As such, the movie stays true to the storyline and atmosphere of the short story thanks to the superb scriptwriting and directing. It may not win any awards anytime soon, but it sure is a faithful adaptation of the short story, which is still the better form of literature between the two.

Where Can You Read Escape From Spiderhead?

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While the Spiderhead movie was able to garner mostly favorable reviews due to its writing and direction and because of the actors that carried the narrative, the Escape From Spiderhead short story is still the superior product of the two. And you would have to read the short story to appreciate how good it is.

Those who want to read the dark and twisted Saunders short story can actually read it for free in The New Yorker. Reading the short story before you get to the movie is a great way for you to understand just how dark and twisted the narrative is and why it was going to be a challenge for the writers and director to adapt its overall atmosphere and story to film.

You could also read Escape From Spiderhead in the 2013 George Saunders short story collection called Tenth of December. Those who haven’t read any of his stories should think of writers like Kurt Vonnegut but in a more twisted and imaginative manner because most of Saunders’ works tend to be dark. But there are some that aren’t that dark because he often comes up with stories that are also introspective and quite philosophical in nature.

That said, if you want to watch a movie and read the story behind it, especially if you’re into haunting tales, it is best that you both watch Spiderhead and read Escape From Spiderhead to appreciate the imaginativeness that went into the writing of this story.

  • Ysmael Delicana

    Ysmael “Eng” Delicana is a writer based in Davao City, Philippines. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics at Ateneo de Davao University before continuing to teach part-time at the same university. While teaching was a fun gig, being a geek and a writer seemed to be his cal...