20 Best Movies About Serial Killers Based on True Story

Best Movies About Serial Killers Based on True Story

There’s something captivating in true crime stories that sends shivers down our spines but intrigues us so much that we want to learn more. It’s in human nature to want answers – what drives an individual to commit the most heinous crimes? What snaps in one’s mind to become a serial killer?

That’s the main question behind all the movies on this list. Some are based on concrete cases, while others focus more on the psyche of the individual committing the crimes. True crime fans, buckle up; here’s the ultimate list of the 20 best movies about serial killers based on a true story.

20. Ed Gein (In The Light Of The Moon) (2000)

IMDb Rating: 5.5/10

Synopsis: “The true story of Edward Gein, the farmer whose horrific crimes inspired Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs. This is the first film to depict Gein’s tormented upbringing, his adored but domineering mother, and the 1957 arrest uncovered the most bizarre series of murders America has ever seen.”

Why you should watch it: The movie was originally titled In The Light Of The Moon, and it follows the life and downward spiral of one of the most notorious, diabolical serial killers of all time, Ed Gein. He’s only convicted of two murders, so he might not be as prolific as some other psychopaths on this list, but his actions are far more horrific than anything you’ve ever heard.

The guy dug up female bodies from graveyards to make suits and masks out of their skin and wear them. It stemmed from his traumatic childhood with an abusive mother, who Edward adored. He missed her so much that he literally wanted to crawl into the women’s skin to feel her embrace.

The movie itself is not that great, but Steve Railsback was quite good as Ed Gein, and the real-life Gein inspired numerous movies from this list that were much better than this one. Still, it’s worth a watch.

Watch the trailer here.

19. The Snowtown Murders (2011)

IMDb Rating: 6.6/10

Synopsis: “Based on true events, 16 year-old Jamie falls in with his mother’s new boyfriend and his crowd of self-appointed neighborhood watchmen, a relationship that leads to a spree of torture and murder.”

Why you should watch it: This Australian true crime masterpiece revolves around one of the most horrifying murder sprees that Australia has ever witnessed. It revolves around three young men who lived in South Australia and committed a series of gruesome murders that included awful actions such as torture, mutilation, and even cannibalism.

The murders, now known as the “bodies in barrels murders” (as victims were placed in barrels), were tried and convicted, along with a fourth person who was their designated grave digger. The movie is really bone-chilling, and the director did a masterful job with the atmosphere and showing the impact the murders had on the entire Australian community and history.

Watch the trailer here.

18. Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986)

IMDb Rating: 7.0/10

Synopsis: “Loosely based on serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, the film follows Henry and his roommate Otis who Henry introduces to murdering randomly selected people. The killing spree depicted in the film starts after Otis’ sister Becky comes to stay with them. 

The people they kill are strangers and, in one particularly gruesome attack, kill all three members of a family during a home invasion. Henry lacks compassion in everything he does and isn’t the kind to leave behind witnesses – of any kind.”

Why you should watch it: While the movie is only loosely based on a true story, Michael Rooker’s performance as Henry is nothing short of spectacular. He is completely unphased by his crimes and shows absolutely no emotions. You get a feeling that he’s a true psychopath.

The film does a masterful job of depiction the behavior of a sociopath. It shows a side of our society that we’d rather pretend is non-existent instead of doing something about it. There’s no rationalizing here – Henry is simply disturbing, sick, violent, and incredibly unsettling.

Watch the trailer here.

17. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile (2019)

IMDb Rating: 6.7/10

Synopsis: “A single mother believes she’s found the man of her dreams. But their seemingly perfect life is turned upside down when he’s arrested on suspected kidnapping charges and linked to multiple murders. Adamant that he’s being framed, he defends himself in America’s first nationally televised trial while she struggles to come to terms with the truth.”

Why you should watch it: This is the story of Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious serial killers of all time, responsible for the brutal murders of over 30 women across the US. While the movie could’ve been executed a bit better, Zac Efron did a masterful job at portraying Bundy exactly how he was – charming, kind, intelligent, and sweet on the outside, but a pure psycho under the surface.

The movie’s name are the exact words that the judge used in the real-life trial after Bundy was found guilty.

Watch the trailer here.

16. No Man Of God (2021)

IMDb Rating: 6.4/10

Synopsis: “The complicated relationship that formed between the FBI analyst Bill Hagmaier and serial killer Bundy during Bundy’s final years on death row.”

Why you should watch it: This film is, once again, focused on Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby). However, this film emphasizes his relationship with an FBI analyst during Bundy’s last few years on death row. Hagmaier (Elijah Wood) was the first person ever who managed to crack Bundy open and get him to talk more about his crimes.

RELATED: 100 Best True Crime Podcasts of All Time

Kirby did a splendid job, but so did Wood at portraying the complicated relationship the two had. It’s a heavy movie, so to speak, and while it’s not as graphic as some other films on the list, it’ll surely make your skin crawl.

Watch the trailer here.

15. Helter Skelter (1976)

IMDb Rating: 7.3/10

Synopsis: “The investigation and trial of the horrific Tate-LaBianca mass murders orchestrated by the psychotic pseudo-hippie cult leader, Charles Manson.”

Why you should watch it: Helter Skelter was actually a two-part mini-series/movie revolving around the psychopathic Charles Manson and his cult – the same one depicted in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood.

Manson never got his hands dirty with murder, per se. He was merely the orchestrator that made his followers believe he revealed some higher truth and made them commit a series of murders, starting with Hollywood sweetheart Sharon Tate.

Once again, Steve Railsback brought the role of Charles Manson to life, and the entire movie/series was based on the best-selling novel, Helter Skelter, about the capture and trial of Charles Manson and his cultists.

Watch the trailer here.

14. Wolf Creek (2005)

IMDb Rating: 6.2/10

Synopsis: “Three backpackers travel into the Australian Outback only to find themselves stranded at Wolf Creek crater. Once there, they are encountered by a bushman, Mick Taylor, who offers them a ride back to his place. Little do the three know that their adventure into the Outback would be a complete nightmare after the backpackers find a way to escape.”

Why you should watch it: Wolf Creek might not be as well-known as some other films on the list, but it’s as harrowing as any. It is based on a true story of the Australian serial killer known as the Backpacker Killer, Ivan Milat, who captured, tortured, mutilated, and murdered backpacking tourists in the Australian Outback.

Milat killed at least seven backpackers during his spree and left their bodies in the woods. The movie is bone-chilling, and a sequel, as well as a TV series of the same name, had already been produced.

Watch the trailer here.

13. The Hunt For The BTK Killer (2005)

IMDb Rating: 5.8/10

Synopsis: “After 31 years at large, detectives in Wichita, Kansas home in on the serial killer known as BTK.”

Why you should watch it: The BTK Killer was probably the most prolific and successful serial killer in US history. He hadn’t been caught for 31 years and had countless victims. This particular movie was based on the best-selling novel by Robert Beattie called Nightmare in Wichita.

Dennis Rader, aka the BTK Killer, taunted the police every step of the way, and they simply couldn’t find him. He sent them letters with details about his crimes, but one of those letters was eventually his undoing. The movie itself is a bit mediocre, but the story will surely have you intrigued and shocked.

Watch the trailer here.

12. My Friend Dahmer (2017)

IMDb Rating: 6.2/10

Synopsis: “A young Jeffrey Dahmer struggles to belong in high school.”

Why you should watch it: Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the most notorious, heinous, gruesome serial killers we’ve ever seen. My Friend Dahmer follows Jeffrey’s life from his high school days and how his mental state gradually got worse, from killing mice to torturing animals all the way to gruesome murder, rape, and even necrophilia.

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The name of the movie comes from a graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer, written and illustrated by John Backderf, who, as it turns out, was Jeffrey’s high school friend before the killings began.

There’s another film about the same killer called Dahmer from 2002, portrayed by Jeremy Renner. Jeremy was spectacular at portraying Dahmer, but I found My friend Dahmer to be a more compelling story.

Watch the trailer here.

11. From Hell (2001)

IMDb Rating: 6.8/10

Synopsis: “In Victorian-era London, a troubled clairvoyant police detective investigates the murders of Jack the Ripper.”

Why you should watch it: Jack the Ripper might be the most well-known serial killer in history, brutally killing at least five sex workers on the streets of London in the Victorian era. Jack the Ripper was never caught, and the movie revolves around a detective trying his best to find and catch the horrifying nightly predator.

Johnny Depp stars as the detective and, like always, delivers a masterful performance. The movie is not as great as the graphic novel it was based on, but it was fantastic nevertheless.

Watch the trailer here.

10. The Frozen Ground (2013)

IMDb Rating: 6.4/10

Synopsis: “An Alaska State Trooper partners with a young woman who escaped the clutches of serial killer Robert Hansen to bring the murderer to justice. Based on actual events.”

Why you should watch it: Robert Hansen, aka the Butcher Baker, was a psychopathic serial killer in Alaska that hunted down at least 17 young girls to rape and torture them before eventually murdering him. The worst part about the murders is – when I say hunted down, I mean that literally. 

After raping and torturing them, Hansen released them in the wild to hunt them with a rifle and a knife as if they were wild animals. One girl escaped and eventually helped the police track the killer down. It was a harrowing film with quite a good cast (John Cusack, Nicolas Cage, Vanessa Hughes), so I was kind of surprised it didn’t gain more traction.

Watch the trailer here.

9. To Catch A Killer (1992)

IMDb Rating: 7.3/10

Synopsis: “‘To Catch a Killer’ tells the true gruesome story of John Wayne Gacy – a good friend and helpful neighbor, a great child entertainer, a respectful businessman, and a violent serial killer who raped and murdered over 30 young boys.”

Why you should watch it: Like Helter Skelter, To Catch a Killer was actually a two-part TV mini-series later turned into a movie. If followed one of the most horrible serial killers in history, John Wayne Gacy, who was a kind, respectable member of the community on the outside, but a true psychopathic beast on the inside.

He raped and killed so many young boys and men, and buried them underneath the floorboards of his house that he literally ran out of space, so he started to bury them outside. The worst part is that he was also known as Pogo the Clown, coming to kids’ birthday parties, portraying a sweet, harmless clown. That’s why Gacy is known as the Killer Clown.

This particular movie/series was cool and showed how it takes only one devoted person who doesn’t give up to bring such awful, sick individuals to justice – if catching them is justice enough.

Watch the trailer here.

8. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

IMDb Rating: 7.4/10

Synopsis: “Five friends head out to rural Texas to visit the grave of a grandfather. On the way, they stumble across what appears to be a deserted house, only to discover something sinister within. Something armed with a chainsaw.”

Why you should watch it: The first movie of the franchise was an instant classic and one that was never really replicated properly. However, many fans don’t even know that the inspiration behind Leatherface was actually a real-life serial killer we’ve already mentioned a couple of times – Ed Gein.

RELATED: Is Texas Chainsaw Massacre a True Story and Is Leatherface Real?

Gein didn’t kill with a chainsaw, nor was it in Texas, but he did have a similar infatuation with his mother and liked to peel the skin off of his victims to wear it as a mask and even a full-body suit. He also made bowls from skulls, and chairs from bones, just like we see Leatherface do in the movie.

The first Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a classic, but it spurred out an entire franchise of movies. Some are worth a watch, some aren’t, but if you go with Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original, you won’t go wrong!

Watch the trailer here.

7. The Strangers (2008)

IMDb Rating: 6.1/10

Synopsis: “After returning from a wedding reception, a couple staying in an isolated vacation house receive a knock on the door in the mid-hours of the night. What ensues is a violent invasion by three strangers, their faces hidden behind masks. 

The couple finds themselves in a violent struggle, in which they go beyond what either of them thought capable in order to survive.”

Why you should watch it: The Strangers are a movie that wasn’t quite well-received when it first got out but became a classic in later years. The director, Bryan Bertino, sought inspiration from two events – the Manson cult murder series, and a series of violent local break-ins that happened in Bertino’s neighborhood when he was a kid, that obviously left a mark.

The best part about the film that makes it so haunting and hard to swallow – is that there’s no motive. Bertino refuses to answer “why” the intruders do what they do. They are psychopaths and need no reason – they just do – “because you were home,” as they tell Liv Tyler in the film.

Watch the trailer here.

6. Zodiac (2007)

IMDb Rating: 7.7/10

Synopsis: “A serial killer in the San Francisco Bay Area taunts police with his letters and cryptic messages. We follow the investigators and reporters in this lightly fictionalized account of the true 1970s case as they search for the murderer, becoming obsessed with the case. 

Based on Robert Graysmith’s book, the movie’s focus is the lives and careers of the detectives and newspaper people.

Why you should watch it: What do you get when you combine three spectacularly talented actors in Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, and Jake Gyllenhaal, an incredibly well-written script, and a true story of the Zodiac Killer – one of the most harrowing, frustrating, never-caught serial killers of all time? 

You get this gem of a movie that you just have to see. Honestly, I don’t know who did the better job, the actors, the screenwriters, or the director. I mean, yeah. It’s David Fincher – did you expect anything less?

Watch the trailer here.

5. American Psycho (2000)

IMDb Rating: 7.6/10

Synopsis: “A wealthy New York City investment banking executive, Patrick Bateman, hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he delves deeper into his violent, hedonistic fantasies.”

Why you should watch it: We all know Christian Bale is brilliant. However, the way he carried out this role of Patrick Bateman is something people should watch as they learn about acting and filmmaking. He portrayed the perfect psychopath with heavy narcissistic tendencies.

The character – charming, intelligent, and successful – was heavily based on Ted Bundy, according to Bret Easton Ellis – the author of the novel which the film was inspired by. 

RELATED: 50 Best Psychological Horror Movies of All Time

However, Bateman quotes another real-life serial killer in the film when he says: “When I see a woman on the street, a part of me wants to show her a nice time, and the other part wonders what her head looks like on a stick.” Bateman mistakenly attributes the quote to Ed Gein, when in reality, the quote was made by another sick serial killer, Edmund Kemper.

Watch the trailer here.

4. Halloween (1978)

IMDb Rating: 7.7/10

Synopsis: “The year is 1963, the night: Halloween. Police are called to 43 Lampkin Ln. only to discover that 15-year-old Judith Myers has been stabbed to death, by her 6 year-old brother, Michael. After being institutionalized for 15 years, Myers breaks out on the night before Halloween. 

No one knows, nor wants to find out, what will happen on October 31st, 1978 besides Myers’ psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis. He knows Michael is coming back to Haddonfield, but by the time the town realizes it, it’ll be too late for many people.”

Why you should watch it: No, there’s no real-life Mike Myers serial killer. However, the character was heavily influenced and inspired by the before-mentioned Edmund Kemper. Both Myers and Kemper started killing from a very young age. Kemper killed his grandmother and then his grandfather to prevent him from asking too many questions about granny.

Then, he spent a long time in a mental institution, but it didn’t help. After being out for a while, Kemper’s psychopathic tendencies continued – he picked up hitchhiker females, brutally murdered them, and then performed heinous acts on their bodies at home, including mutilation, necrophilia, and more.

Myers wasn’t that hardcore, but he did hunt people down for fun.

Watch the trailer here.

3. Monster (2003)

IMDb Rating: 7.3/10

Synopsis: “The true story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos who was convicted of luring men to their death and eventually executed in 2002. In 1989, she was working as a prostitute and finally makes a friend when she meets and begins a relationship with a young woman, Selby. 

Determined to straighten out her life, she tries to find legitimate work but with little education and limited social skills, she fails at every turn. She starts working as a hooker, hitching rides along the local interstate highway, and after robbing a few clients has an encounter with a vicious client whom she kills in self-defense. 

After that, however, she just takes to killing clients taking their money and car. Once arrested she claims self-defense but is eventually convicted.”

Why you should watch it: The synopsis tells you all you need to know about the plot, which is quite accurate to what happened in real life. It doesn’t tell you, however, just how spectacular Charlize Theron was as Aileen Wuornos. It was the role that won her an Oscar, and for a good reason.

Despite all her insane, evil, horrific behavior, you still get a dose of empathy for Aileen. She was let down not only by her twisted psyche but by society that refused to give her a chance at redemption.

Watch the trailer here.

2. Psycho (1960)

IMDb Rating: 8.5/10

Synopsis: “A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.”

Why you should watch it: There’s a reason why Psycho is widely regarded as one of the best movies of all time and why Norman Bates is known as the best on-screen serial killer portrayal ever. However, not many people know that Bates’ character is based on none other than Ed Gein.

Norman’s relationship with his mother is as twisted as it is heartbreaking. He’s completely dominated by her but, like Kemper, misses her and wants nothing more than her approval. 

I won’t go into details not to spoil the fun if you still haven’t seen Psycho – shame on you – but Norman’s psyche and mental disorder are just masterfully crafted by the legendary director Alfred Hitchcock and the actor Anthony Perkins.

Watch the trailer here.

1. The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

IMDb Rating: 8.6/10

Synopsis: “A young F.B.I. cadet must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims.”

Why you should watch it: You can’t even tell who’s the biggest psychopath in the movie – the incarcerated Hannibal Lecter or Buffalo Bill – the guy who the FBI agent, Clarice Starling, is trying to catch. Lecter eats his victims and talks about it like he’s the world’s best chef, while Buffalo Bill, well, tortures his victims and then peels off their skin.

Sounds familiar? Well, because the character was heavily inspired by the biggest star of this list, Ed Gein. Although, Ed did most of his hideous acts on dug-up corpses, whereas Buffalo Bill preferred live prey.

Still, Anthony Hopkins absolutely steals the show in this film, and the movie itself is the only horror movie ever to win the Best Picture Oscar. If you ask me, The Silence of the Lambs is by far the best movie about serial killers based on a true story, even if it’s only loosely inspired by a true story. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re missing out on a crucial part of movie history.
Watch the trailer here.

  • Luka loves psychological thrillers, horrors, and mysteries. However, high fantasy and fiction are his primary interest, especially Tolkien's Middle-earth universe, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Marvel universe. Amateur filmmaker, screenwriter, cinematography, and trivia enthusiast.