Boogie Nights is a film about the straight adult film industry in the 1970s. The characters are thinly-veiled fictions based on real-life people and events:
- Mark Wahlberg's Dirk Diggler is based on John Holmes.
- The drug-deal-gone-wrong scene is based on Holmes' involvement in the Wonderland murders.
- Robert Ridgely's The Colonel James is an amalgam of Jim and Artie Mitchell, the highly influential porn theater and strip tease parlor owners and porn producers of the 1970s.
- Heather Graham's Rollergirl is loosely based on underage porn starlet Traci Lord.
- Amber Waves' attempt regain custody of her child is based on the life of adult film starlet Veronica Hart.
- William H. Macy's Little Bill is based on porn actor Cal Jammer, who committed suicide on his porn starlet girlfriend's front lawn (an episode famously later chronicled in a New Yorker article in 1993)
- Melora Walters's Jessie St. Vincent is an amalgam of porn performer Jessie St. James and porn producer Julia St. Vincent.