Serial killer movies based on true stories

If you are as fascinated with serial killers as we are, you're going to love these movies we've hand picked. There's something about knowing the story behind a movie is based on real events that makes watching it more enjoyable.

This list examines the best serial killer movies based on true stories that true crime and horror fans can find on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

1. Zodiac (2007)

The Zodiac Killer is one of the most prolific unsolved serial killer cases in America. The self-named Zodiac Killer has five confirmed kills and seven confirmed victims. Although, the Zodiac took credit for over three dozen murders.

The History:

The Zodiac Killer's first confirmed victims were a couple: David Faraday (17) and Betty Lou Jensen (16), on December 20, 1968. The Zodiac shot both teens to death near their car, but the police couldn't establish a motive.

However, on August 1, 1969, the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle, and Vallejo Times-Herald received an identical, hand-written letter, taking credit for the double-homicide.

This letter was where the killer debuted his preferred and now infamous name and symbol. 

The Movie:

Zodiac chronicles the case from the investigators' perspective (Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards) and the newsmen covering it (Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.)

Zodiac serial killer movie

The movie does an excellent job of portraying the case from many different perspectives while highlighting the outside factors that inhibited the Zodiac killer case. 

If you are looking for a suspenseful yet detailed account of the Zodiac Killer case, this movie is worth a watch.

  • Real Killer: The Zodiac Killer
  • Notable Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
  • Watch on: Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube

2. Monster (2003)

"Monster" depicts the unsettling crimes of American female serial killer Aileen Wuornos. She was a sex worker in Florida, and committed a series of murders in 1989.

The History:

The early life of Aileen Wuornos was tragic. Wuornos was abused as a child and resorted to prostitution along Florida highways in her later life to fend for her needs. Her murders began in 1989 when she killed one of the customers that picked her up.

This incident served as the turning point of her killing spree resulted in the murder of five more men before her arrest. Aileens case was quite famous, and she even became somewhat of a cult hero as a figure for women empowerment.

The Movie:

This biographical crime drama stars Charlize Theron, who played the American serial killer's role and took part in producing the film. The film also showcased Wuornos' relationship with her girlfriend, Tyria Moore (named Selby Wall in the film) is played by Christina Ricci.

Monster recalls several disturbing scenes, including the time when she was brutally beaten and raped, so this movie is not for everyone.

In 2004 Charlize Theron won an Academy Award as "Best Actress" for her role as Aileen Wuornos in this film.

  • Real Killer: Aileen Wuornos
  • Played by: Charlize Theron
  • Murder Count: 7 Men 
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
  • Watch on: Amazon Prime, Tubi, Crackle, Vudu, Sling TV, Pluto TV

3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

"Hello, Clarice." Any true crime (or horror) fan will hear Hannibal Lecter's (Anthony Hopkins') voice uttering those famous words, even if they have yet to view this iconic film. 

The History:

The history behind The Silence of the Lambs is a little more complicated than any singular serial killer. The character of Buffalo Bill was inspired by the true story of Ed Gein: an American serial killer who used the body parts of his victims to use as clothes and furniture.

There are also theories that Ted Bundy may have been part of the inspiration for this movie, although it seems to draw from a number of different killers rather than just one. 

The Movie:

Serial killer movie Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs is a movie that combines the attributes of most of America's most notorious serial killers into one iconic film. So, the cast of bone-chilling characters in this movie makes a lot of sense, knowing their origins.

  • Real Killer: Ed Gein
  • Notable Cast: Ted Levine, Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster
  • Murder Count: 2
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
  • Watch on: Amazon Prime, Vudu, Pluto TV, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes

4. The Frozen Ground (2013)

This 2013 American thriller is based on the American serial killer Robert Hansen. Hanson abducted, raped, and murdered at least 17 women in Alaska by hunting down his victims using a Ruger Mini-14 gun and a knife.

The History:

Also known as the "Butcher Baker," Robert Hansen started his murderous spree sometime between 1971 and 1983. Robert committed his murders in Anchorage, Alaska and managed to elude law enforcement for many years.

Throughout his murders, Hansen lured young women in the Alaskan wilderness, which was so isolated his victims never had a chance to escape. Part of his sick games includes letting his victims roam around in the woods where he would hunt them down like animals. Truly disturbing.

The Movie:

The Frozen Ground centers around John Cusack who plays the lead role of Robert Hansen. The movie was released in 2013 and focuses on one of the victims (Cindy Paulson, played by Vanessa Hudgens).

Nicholas Cage plays the role of Glenn Flothe (named Jack Holcombe in the film) - the real Alaskan State Trooper assigned on the Hansen case.

The film perfectly portrays the horror of being secluded within Alaskan wilderness with breathtaking aerial shots of its glaciers, frozen rivers, and mountains. 

  • Real Killer: Robert Hansen
  • Notable Cast: John Cusack, Vanessa Hudgens, Nicholas Cage
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 61%
  • Watch on: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes

5. Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood (2019)

"Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood" depicts the life and times of a changing and unsettled Hollywood. The year is 1969, and Helter Skelter is about to rain down upon the wealthy Los Angeles suburb.

The History:

Sharon Tate was a well-known actress and model, living with her husband, movie director Roman Polanski, in Los Angeles, California. 

Sharon was a rising star in the Hollywood scene, but sadly, tragedy ended her life after being murdered in 1969. Additionally, there were four others killed in her home that horrible night. 

Tate, who was eight and a half months pregnant, was hosting friends Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, and Jay Sebring at her home. The three friends were keeping Sharon Tate company while her husband was working in England.

The evening took a horrific turn when members of the Manson Family broke into the home, stabbed the four guests and a friend of the house's caretaker, Steven Parent, to death.

The ringleader of the Manson Family cult, Charles Manson, and four of his followers were found guilty of the murders. The five "family" members were ultimately given life sentences due to the death penalty getting abolished in California. 

The Movie:

Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood takes a look at the Sharon Tate murder while also examining external issues pressuring Hollywood at the time. 

While the movie is about Charles Manson and his followers, it is set in a fictitious version of 1969 Hollywood by director Quentin Tarantino. 

  • Real Killer: Charles Manson "family"
  • Notable Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
  • Watch on: Amazon Prime, Starz, iTunes, Fandango Now, Vudu

    6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

    The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, released in 1974, was based on the true story of Ed Gein. The quintessential slasher film features a group of friends that fell into the hands of a family of cannibals. The remake, which bears the same name was released in 2003 (but the original is better.)

    The History:

    Ed Gein is a notorious serial killer known as the "Butcher of Plainfield" or the "Plainfield Ghoul."

    Although Ed Gein initially admitted to the murders of two women, authorities linked the exhumed corpses around Plainfield, WI to his crimes. The investigations revealed that the killer kept his victims' body parts as keepsakes, even turned them into furniture.

    Gein was arrested in 1967, and experts concluded that he was unfit to attend his trials due to an underlying psychological condition. He was transferred to a mental health institution until 1968.

    The judge found him guilty of the series of murders in Plainfield, but was deemed legally insane. As a result, Ed Gein spent the rest of his sentence at Mendota Mental Health Institute before he died of respiratory failure in 1984.

    The Movie:

    The Texas Chain Saw Massacre portrays two siblings who visited their grandfather's grave after hearing that it got vandalized. Before heading to the graveyard, they took a detour to their family's old farmhouse, where a despicable and murderous neighbor awaits.

    The inspiration for the film came from specific actions taken by the "Butcher of Plainfield." For instance, Ed Gein also wore his victim's skin to fulfill his desires to become a woman.

    In contrast, Leatherface (the main character) wore the victims' skin to cover his hideous skin disease. Therefore, a considerable portion of the story, including Leatherface's character, is fictional.

    Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie based on serial killer Ed Gein

    While the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is hailed as one of the most influential horror films of all time, grossing over $30 million at the box office, several countries banned the film as it was incredibly shocking for the time. Several theaters in the US also refused to show the film due to its violence and gore.

    • Real Killer: Ed Gein 
    • Played by: Gunnar Hansen (Leatherface)
    • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
    • Watch on: Amazon Prime, Tubi, Fandago Now, iTunes, Vudu, IMDbTV

    7. My Friend Dahmer (2017)

    Jeffery Dahmer killed seventeen men over thirteen years, and the movie My Friend Dahmer explores the world and crimes of its namesake.

    The History:

    Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the most notorious cannibals and serial killers in US history. Dahmer devoured and killed 17 men over a span of 13 years. He would frequent gay bars looking for victims, and would lure them to his house with the promise of money and/or sex. 

    Upon the arrival of his victims, he would prepare welcoming drinks laced with drugs. Dahmer would strangle his unconscious victims to death before performing disturbing acts on them. 

    Dahmer is notorious for keeping mementos from his victims, including their skulls and other body parts - which investigators discovered after his arrest.

    His heinous crimes eventually got him arrested in 1991, and he received 15 life sentences. Two years later Dahmer was murdered in prison by another inmate named Christopher Scarver. 

    The Movie:

    My Friend Dahmer predominantly focuses on Dahmer's childhood, showing a glimpse into how a serial murderer was formed.

    The film shows the gradual decline of Dahmer's mental state, as his family and the superficial friendships he managed to scrape together fall apart.

    My Friend Dahmer concludes where known history takes over, suggesting a sad yet realistic origin story for such a heinous killer. 

    • Real Killer: Jeffrey Dahmer
    • Played by: Ross Lynch
    • Murder Count: 17 
    • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
    • Watch on: Amazon Prime, Hulu, Peacock, Fandango Now, iTunes, Vudu

    8. The Snowtown Murders (2011)

    The 2011 Australian film The Snowtown Murders is based on the true story of the 1990's "Snowtown Murders.

    The History:

    The Snowtown murders ensued between 1992 and 1999 in Adelaide, South Australia. John Bunting, Robert Wagner, and James Vlassakis abducted, tortured, and killed people they deemed a menace to society - primarily paedophiles.

    The Snowtown Murder trial was the longest in Australian history, lasting over a year. It is also one of the most talked-about events in the country, and Snowtown became a famous tourist stop following the murder trials.

    The Movie:

    The Snowtown Murders  depicts the events of the Snowtown Murders and follows the story of a violent predator (Daniel Henshall) taking his girlfriend's teenage son (Lucas Pittaway) as an accomplice to his torture and murders.

    The film captures the acts of sadistic vigilantism of the original murders, and  offers the disturbing tale of their crimes, giving the audience a powerful yet unsettling viewing experience.

    • Real Killers: John Bunting, Robert Wagner, and James Vlassakis
    • Played by: Daniel Henshall, Louise Harris, and Lucas Pittaway
    • Murder Count: 12  
    • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%
    • Watch on: Amazon Prime, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, Sling TV

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

    This 2019 film, starring Zac Efron, embodies the tale of the prolific serial killer Ted Bundy.

    The History:

    Ted Bundy is known for being the textbook serial killer. Throughout the 1970s, he terrorized women throughout several US states, taking the lives of more than thirty confirmed victims.

    Bundy confessed to 36 killings, but experts believe that he may be responsible for closer to 100 murders.

    The Movie:

    Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile is an in-depth look at Bundy's life, trial, and death, from his longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth (Liz) Kendall's perspective. Based on the book, "The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy," written by Liz Kendall, the movie chronicles not only the life of Ted Bundy but also what it was like to know him and love him.

    The movie has an interesting perspective, showing Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) as a human being, rather than a monster. Considering the basis was the book written by a woman who refused to believe her boyfriend was a murderer long after his arrest, it makes sense. However, the most important critique is that while the movie doesn't glorify Bundy's crimes, it is sympathetic to Bundy.

    Nevertheless, if you enjoy entertaining a different perspective, this is an intriguing focus on one of America's most notorious serial killers.

    • Real Killer: Ted Bundy
    • Played by: Zac Efron
    • Murder Count: 30+
    • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%
    • Watch on: Netflix

      10. Dahmer (2002)

      Again, Jeffery Dahmer is the focal point of this biographical film, shedding light on this serial killing cannibal's most horrific crimes.  

      The History:

      Jeffrey Dahmer didn't look like your typical serial killer. While he wasn't strikingly handsome like Ted Bundy, he also wasn't as startling as Ed Gein. Passing this man on the street, most wouldn't think twice about him. He was average, ordinary, and for most of his life, rather bland.

      However, when he was arrested and put on trial for serial murder and cannibalism, he ignited fresh interest in serial killers and true crime.

      The Movie:

      Dahmer walks viewers through Jeffery Dahmer's (Jeremy Renner) thought process before committing his crimes.

      The movie portrays his latest potential victim and the motive behind Dahmer's actions. The film depicted his life struggles, including his fractured relationship with his father (Bruce Davison) that led him to roam around gay bars late at night to lure his victims.

      Apart from his sadistic, dark side, it showcases the lonely, sad, and broken man that was a victim of his circumstances. Overall, Dahmer (2002) shows that there's more to Jeffrey Dahmer than just being a serial killer.

      • Real Killer: Jeffrey Dahmer
      • Played by: Jeremy Renner
      • Murder Count: 17 
      • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%
      • Watch on: Amazon Prime, Tubi, Pluto TV, Fandango Now, Vudu, iTunes

      11. The Texas Killing Fields (2011)

      The Texas Killing Fields is a 2011 American crime thriller that portrays the murders in Texas's surrounding areas. Many womens started getting murdered  along the 30-plus miles of the I-45 corridor at the time. Most of the corpses got dumped in the nearby oil fields, where the film's name originates.

      The History:

      The Calder Oil Field area was eventually called the Texas Killing Fields following the serial killings in the early 70s. The 25-acre patch of land situated a mile from Interstate Highway 45 is notorious for being the disposal spot for corpses.

      Since the 1970s, police have found over 30 bodies in the area. Examiners also noted that most of the victims were young women who were brutally killed and dumped in the fields. As a result, the disappearances are rampant, and a growing number of young girls were never found.

      Although the Texas Killing Field murders remain unsolved, many people believed that the killers worked as a group. The victims may range from twelve to twenty-five years old, but the girls share similar features. The discovered bodies had similar hairstyles and other distinguishing features.

      The Movie:

      The Texas Killing Fields offers a psychologically bruising picture of the events that lead to multiple murders. Although the film is only loosely based on events that happened during the 70s, writers consulted with one of the victims (Michelle Ann E.) and their families to make it as realistic as possible.

      The films storyline starts as one of the victims goes missing. They introduce the key detectives (Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan) that worked on the case to make sure no more victims fell into the killers' hands.

      The Texas Killing Fields features a gripping story that can certainly take you to the edge of your seat. If you like scenes with chasing cars, shootouts, and a puzzling yet tense atmosphere, this film has them all.

      • Real Killer: Unknown
      • Murder Count: 30+
      • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 37%
      • Watch on: Amazon Prime, Vudu, IMDb TV, iTunes, Pluto TV

      12. From Hell (2001)

      From Hell is based on the famous case of Jack the Ripper. While psychic elements and specific characters involved in the movie are fictional, much of the plot develops with a constant baseline of historical accuracy. 

      The History:

      Jack the Ripper is one of the most famous murderers in the world. In a short timeframe, the infamous serial killer tortured and killed five women. Each woman was a prostitute, found on the street, carved up in a manner that made police believe the killer knew anatomy, with body parts severed with surgical precision.

      Ironically, the name Jack the Ripper came from a letter sent to Scotland Yard suspected to be a hoax. Nevertheless, like the Son of Sam and the Zodiac Killer, someone connected to the murder case enjoyed sending letters to taunt the police. 

      Police have named over 100 people in connection to the murders. However, they never confirmed the true identity of the killer.

      The Movie:

      From Hell, starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, is a strange and gory story that has weaved its way into cult status. While the movie characters are fictional, the general setting, period, and baseline of the plot are closely related to the real story. 

      If you're looking for a creepy look into this famous case From Hell is a must watch serial killer movie.

      • Real Killer: Jack The Ripper
      • Notable Cast: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Mary Kelly 
      • Murder Count: 5
      • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 57%
      • Watch on: Amazon prime, Starz, Fandango Now, Vudu, iTunes

      13. Wolf Creek (2005)

      Wolf Creek is based on real life serial killer Ivan Milat, better known as the Backpacker Murderer.

      The History:

      Ivan Milat started to get into trouble with the police at age of seventeen. In true serial killer fashion, Milat's crimes escalated from robbery and burglary to rape, and evendtually murder.

      Even though Milat has always maintained his innocence, he was convicted of murdering seven backpackers. His victims sustained the same incriminating, paralyzing knife wound. This wound would incapacitate his victims, without killing them, so that Milat could play out his gruesome fantasies without the possibility of escape.

      The Movie:

      Wold Creek portrays Ivan Milat as Mick Taylor. Although the names and a few other details are changed in the movie - the sadism is comparable to the real killer's actions.

      Wolf Creek is hailed as an unapologetic horror movie, with gore and terror abound.

      • Real Killer: Ivan Milat
      • Played by: John Jarratt
      • Murder Count: 7
      • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 53%
      • Watch on: Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play

      14. To Catch a Killer (1992)

      To Catch a Killer recounts the moments leading to the arrest of the prolific American serial killer, John Wayne Gacy.

      The History:

      John Wayne Gacy is one of the most notable serial killers in history for his alter ego as "Pogo the Clown." It is also the reason behind his ominous nickname as the "Killer Clown."

      John Wayne Gacy is responsible for the murder of 33 young boys in Chicago during the early 1980s. He would lure his victims into his home under the false premise of a construction project. After abducting them, Gacy would rape them before strangling them to death while dressed as a clown.

      Most of the people close to Gacy never anticipated that he would be capable of violent crimes. After getting arrested in 1964 for sodomizing two boys, however, the authorities began putting two and two together.

      Police found the remains of more than 30 young men who were previously missing, buried deep around his house. He was sentenced to the death penalty by lethal injection in 1994.

      The Movie:

      To Catch A Killer features detective Joe Kozenczak (Michael Riley) and his investigation of Gacy in Chicago. 

      Instead of fleshing through Gacy's early life and prior crimes, the film shed light on the days leading up to his arrest in 1978.

      Although the film depicted the complete details leading to Gacy's prosecution, the producers altered names for legal reasons. On top of that, most of them, including Gacy himself, was still alive during the film's production.

      • Real Killer: John Wayne Gacy
      • Played by: Brian Dennehy
      • Murder Count: 33+ 
      • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
      • Watch on: YouTube

      15. The Deliberate Stranger (1986)


      The Deliberate Stranger is a movie about Ted Bundy and is based on a book with the same name by Richard Larsen. For his starring role in the movie, Mark Harmon was nominated for a Golden Globe Award.

      You will not get to see the earlier parts of Bundy’s life, as the film passes the first six of his murder victims and begins with his mass murders in four different states.

      According to a review by Bundy’s former attorney, Polly Nelson, everything in the movie was accurate. She also said that Mark Harmon was spot on when he portrayed Bundy’s expressions and posture. Nelson shared in her published memoirs that Bundy did not care to even watch the movie.

      This movie will give you a little glimpse into the tortured mind of Ted Bundy, who was sent to the electric chair in 1989. He was responsible for at least 30 murders.

      Unfortunately you can't stream this movie anywhere - if you want to watch it your'e going to have to pick up a physical copy. It's worth it though.
      • Real Killer: Ted Bundy
      • Played by: Mark Harmon
      • Victims: 30+
      • Available on: DVD

        16. Chicago Massacre (2007)

        In July of 1966, Richard Speck systematically raped and murdered 8 nursing students in their college dorm. The movie stars Corin Nemac as the twisted criminal.

        Chicago Massacre is a film that will take you to that fatal summer night when Speck tortured and brutally killed each of those young women. It also portrays his prison life and perverted behaviors.

        This film is not highly rated or critically acclaimed, but if you're in the mood for a cheesy serial killer movie based on a true story it's worth a watch.

        • Real Killer: Richard Speck
        • Played by: Corin Nemac
        • Victims: 8
        • Available on: Amazon Prime, Vudu,

          17. Helter Skelter (1976)

          Six years after the infamous Manson family trial, actor Steve Railback gave a chilling portrayal of Charles Manson in this 1976 movie. It was named after a book written by Vincent Bugliosi, and was nominated for several different awards.

          In August of 1969, Manson lead his followers on a bloody murder campaign that left 5 people dead in the Hollywood area. One of them was the pregnant actress, Sharon Tate. Since 1970, Manson and his deadly followers have been serving life sentences in prison.

          • Real Killer: Manson family
          • Played by: Steve Railback
          • Victims: 5
          • Available on: Amazon Prime

            18. The Boston Strangler: The Untold Story (1968)

            If you like vintage murder mystery movies, then you will be interested in this 1968 classic. It stars Tony Curtis as the Boston Strangler and Henry Fonda as the persistent police detective.

            This film weaves the horrid true crime tale of a mentally deranged man named Albert DeSalvo, who was convicted of raping and strangling 13 women in the Boston area. He was sentenced to life in prison, where he was found stabbed to death in 1973.

            DNA analysis concludes that DeSalvo may have been responsible for even more sexual assaults and murders than previously thought.

            • Real Killer: Albert DeSalvo
            • Played by: Tony Curtis
            • Available on: Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play

              19. Ed Gein: Based on a True Story (2000)

              Perhaps no other mass murderer has spawned more Hollywood movies than Ed Gein. This severely twisted individual got his bloody start by being a teenage grave robber. For more than ten years, he collected and preserved body parts of women that he had murdered.

              Actor Steve Railback (of Helter Skelter fame) returns to the screen to portray this grotesque monster. After being charged for grave robbing, murder, and mutilation of corpses, Gein was sentenced to life in the state mental hospital.

              • Real Killer: Ed Gein
              • Played by: Steve Railback
              • Available on: Google Play

                These are the best serial killer movies based on true stories. Murder comes in many forms, but it is clear that no one is safe on this list. Women, teenage girls, men, and boys are all fair game when it comes to the predilections of a crazed killer.

                What movie are we missing from this list? Let us know in the comments!

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                Read Next: 18 Serial Killer Documentaries to Put on Your Watch List

                4 comments

                Tracy

                i just watched Monster about wuornos and loved it. highly recommend it

                Trevor E.

                This is a great serial killer movie list but I would suggest adding The Clovehitch Killer – its a good one.

                patricica tammerine

                I have been wondering for a long time if they have dreams of the ppl they killed? I have dreams of my grandparents being in the house and talking to her again, i didnt kill her. Many ppl have dreams of ppl that have passed on but i would have to think they would have terrible dreams.

                Chrishelle Gettridge

                Great site !!

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