Is TNT's Crime and Family Drama 'Animal Kingdom' Based on a True Story?

Toni Sutton - Author

Jul. 9 2021, Published 7:39 p.m. ET

The entire cast of Animal Kingdom.
Source: TNT

TNT's family/crime drama Animal Kingdom debuted back in July of 2016. Audiences saw the series kick-off when 17-year-old Josh "J" Cody (Finn Cole) moves in with his grandmother Janine "Smurf" Cody (Ellen Barken) after his mother's drug overdose. However, J and viewers learn rather quickly that she isn't your typical granny. She doesn't spend her time knitting or playing Bingo.

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Instead, Smurf is the ringleader of a gang of robbers and drug dealers in Southern California. A gang that just so happens to include her sons. She is also the ruthless matriarch of the Cody family that keeps an iron grip on everyone in her home. With its perfect amount of family dysfunction, crime organization, and fetishized California lifestyles that seem to only exist on television, Animal Kingdom quickly caught on with fans.

smurf j and baz
Source: TNT
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IMDb users were instantly hooked, describing the show as "Sons of Anarchy meets Point Break" and saying it's the "best show on television." For four seasons, viewers have watched Smurf run the show regarding her family's illegal activities such as armed robbery, gruesome killings, door negotiations, and epic beatdowns. Many shows nowadays are based on books, graphic novels, movies, and true stories. So, is this true for TNT's scripted series Animal Kingdom? Is Animal Kingdom based on a true story? Luckily for you, we have the answer!

Is 'Animal Kingdom' based on a true story?

When it comes to Animal Kingdom being based on a true story, the answer is yes and no. The television show is based on the 2010 Australian film of the same name. Real-life events inspired the film that was written and directed by David Michôd, so it isn't inaccurate to say that the television show Animal Kingdom is also inspired by real-life events. However, it may be a bit of a stretch to claim that the series is directly based on a true story.

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After David moved from Sydney to Melbourne when he was 18, he began working on the screenplay for Animal Kingdom. According to an interview with The Guardian, he was inspired by Australian gangland crimes of the '80s and '90s, especially the Pettingill family: a Melbourne-based crime family headed by matriarch Kath Pettingill. He was also inspired by events like the 1998 Walsh Street police shootings.

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The interview also mentions that David "developed an interest in true crime, finding crime books 'a strangely useful cultural and geographical guide to the city.'"

The movie Animal Kingdom became one of the most acclaimed movies from Australia in quite some time. It included a star-studded list of amazing Australian actors, including Jacki Weaver and Joel Edgerton.

Animal Kingdom was nominated for 11 Australian Film Institute Awards, which is pretty much the Aussie Oscars. The film won eight of the awards, including Director, Picture, Screenplay, and three acting awards. It also had a little bit of success here in the States: Jacki Weaver earned an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress.

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David Michôd and his producer Liz Watts are also involved with the 'Animal Kingdom' TV show.

Even though TNT relocated the action from Australia to Southern California for their series, the inspirations remained intact. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter at Animal Kingdom's Television Critics Association panel in 2016, showrunner Jonathan Lisco talked about the show with the audience. He shared, "I think David would say the inspiration for the movie came from the Pettingill family, an Australian crime family. I think the material is an example of truth being a little stranger than fiction."

Season 5 of Animal Kingdom premieres on July 11 at 9 p.m. EST on TNT.

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