9 Movies Based on Real Life Killers

If you’re interested in true crime, you’ve likely already watched a few movies that are about real life killers. (And, no you’re not weird. A lot of people are interested in true crime). I think the interest comes from understanding the differences between us and people who commit heinous acts. What drives them to do it? True crime is a rabbit hole and there’s no lack of films based on it. Here are some of the greatest films based on real life killers:

1. Monster (2003)

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Aileen Wuornos is one of America’s best known female serial killers. The woman led a very difficult life and Charlize Theron does a wonderful job of portraying her. Wuornos was a prostitute who began murdering her “customers” in the 1980’s. This movie does a great job of portraying the woman’s mental state that led to her becoming a serial killer. Theron nails Wuornos down to her very terrifying mannerisms. It’s a must-watch for true crime fans.

Some Facts about the Real Aileen Wuornos:

  • Sentenced to death for 6 murders & exucted on October 9, 2002 by lethal injection.
  • She declined her last meal and only had a cup of coffee.
  • Last Words: “I would just like to say that I’m sailing with the rock, and I’ll be back like Independence day, with Jesus. June 6, like the movie, big mother ship and all, I’ll be back, I’ll be back.” 

2. Zodiac (2007)

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Everyone has heard of the infamous Zodiac killer who was active in the 1970’s and was never apprehended by police even though he taunted them regularly with cryptic letters and even phone calls. The movie shows depictions of the suspects in the case. Some big names appear in the movie such as Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal.

It depicts both investigators and journalist who become obsessed with catching the killer. It does a great job at depicting what must have been the daunting mood at the time and the frustration of not being able to identify who the killer was.

3. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

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In my opinion, this is probably Hillary Swank’s best role. She plays Brandon Teena, a female-to-male transgender. It’s a heart-breaking look in the real life murder. The friends of the woman he falls for discover that he is biologically female, his life is in grave danger.

4. Alpha Dog (2006)

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When I first watched this movie, I wasn’t aware that it was based on real-life events. It still stands out as one of my favorite films because it’s portrayed in such a way, it gives you all the feels and lets you understand how something that first seems almost innocent ends up being something horrific.

It’s about the true story of California teen Nick Markowitz who was murdered by self-proclaimed gangster Jesse Hollywood and his group of friends.

The cast is incredible, including: Justin Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Amber Heard, Ben Foster, Bruce Willis, and Emile Hirsch.

This is probably my favorite movie based on a real life murder. It does a fantastic job of showing how bad can turn to worse and the effects of peer pressure.

5. Black Dahlia (2006)

This movie is based on another horrific unsolved crime that took place in the 1940’s. It focus on two police officers investigating the murder and one becoming very close to the alleged perpetrator of the crime. It includes some big names such as Scarlett Johanson, Hillary Swank, Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart.

The movie does a great job of capturing the time period and the panic surrounding the brutal murder of Elizabeth Short.

6. Dahmer (2002)

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Jeremy Renner did a fantastic job at portraying one of the most brutal serial killers in American history: Jefffrey Dahmer. The film focuses on the incredibly twisted mind of the cannibalistic killer. The movie is a haunting experience that leaves you wondering what people really think about. (Yikes!)

It gives an insight into his early life and perhaps what caused him to become one of the most depraved killers in history. (And, it’s wild to see our beloved Hawkeye playing such a terrifying villain).

7. Gacy (2003)

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Clowns are unsettling enough. Knowing a man who dressed up as a clown was an actual serial killer makes them even more terrifying. John Wayne Gacy hid in plain sight, killing for years without detection. This movie captures the horrific events that took place. Gacy killed over 30 men and boys and hid them underneath the house he lived in with his family. How such a sadistic killer was able to blend into society is mind-boggling and terrifying.

8. Karla (2006)

It’s hard to see Misha Collins as anyone but Castiel (Supernatural). But, in this film, he plays Paul Bernardo, part of a Canadian serial killer duo dubbed, “The Ken & Barbie killers.” Even more terrifying, the other half of the murder duo, Karla, has been released from prison and now lives somewhere in Florida.

Together, the pair abducted and tortured at least 3 young girls. Karla Homolka always maintained that she was petrified of her husband and only took part in the killings out of fear that he would kill her if she didn’t. However, police have said that they watched the video tapes of the killings, where Karla Bernardo was an active participant in the crimes. It’s scary to think such a sick individual is walking among us.

9. Wolf Creek (2005)

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This is loosely based on a serial killer from Australia who killed tourists. It’s a highly dramatized version of the events that really took place but it’s scary as hell. Ivan Milat, the real killer who inspired this horror flick, killed tourists in the 1990’s in a state forest near Sydney, Australia.


Watching movies even loosely based on real-life events make them stick out even more. At least for me, they cause me to research the real-life stories connected to the movie. I’d also recommend, “My friend Dahmer”, a movie that was based on the graphic novel, written by a guy who actually went to high school with the serial killer.

What about you? Do you have any movies based on real life killers that should make the list? Let me know in the comments.

Krissy October is a professional freelance writer, aspiring novelist and knowledge nerd who is dedicated to consistent self-improvement and finding clever ways to solve everyday problems.


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