20 Best Movies Based on True Crimes
Movies based on true crimes are gripping, thrilling, and full of shocking twists and turns. Many are based on notorious serial killers or celebrity murderers and are told in the form of Hollywood blockbusters or documentary films that keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
These movies recount every detail of these real-life mysteries that captivate movie watchers around the globe. The best true crime movies feature iconic actors bringing these often ghastly and horrific real-life stories to life on the big screen, while others use true crime stories as inspiration for their fictional films rooted in reality.
With so many true crime movies to choose from, we have selected 20 of our favorites we think are worth watching.
20 Best Movies Based on True Crimes
1. Zodiac (2007)
The Zodiac Killer remains one of America’s greatest unsolved murder cases. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr., David Fincher’s Zodiac focuses on the hunt to bring the killer to justice. Zodiac targeted young couples and a cab driver in Northern California between 1968 and 1969, although he claimed to kill 30 people.
Zodiac also sent taunting letters to the police and ciphers to different newspapers. While the letters stopped in 1974, the case remains a part of popular culture. Zodiac’s true identity remains a mystery. Fans and critics praised Zodiac as one of the best movies of 2007.Watch on Hulu
2. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile (2019)
Directed by Jon Berlinger, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile tells the disturbing true story of sadistic serial killer Ted Bundy. Based on Elizabeth Kendall’s memoir, The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy, the plot follows Kendall (portrayed by Lily Collins) and her relationship with Bundy (portrayed by Zac Efron).
Bundy used his charisma, good looks, and charm to lure unsuspecting women into his trap. After his arrest in 1975, Bundy eventually admitted to murdering 30 women between 1974 and 1978, although the body count is likely higher. He died by execution in 1989.Watch on Netflix
3. Scream (1996)
Directed by Wes Craven, Scream is one of the most popular horror movies of the 90s. The timeless classic revolves around serial killer Ghostface hunting high school teenager Sydney Prescott and her friends. Writer Kevin Williamson based the plot on the real-life killing spree of serial killer Danny Rolling.
Better known as the Gainesville Ripper, Rolling murdered five college students over four days in 1990 in Williamson’s hometown. After his capture, Rolling admitted to killing eight people, including attempting to kill his father and a triple homicide in his hometown. Rolling also admitted to committing several rapes in the 80s. After his conviction in 1994, he died by lethal injection. The murders and aftermath inspired Williamson to write Scream, becoming one of the biggest horror franchises.Watch on Paramount+
4. Monster (2003)
Charlize Theron won the Academy Award for Best Actress for portraying real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. The film follows Wuornos’s life in street prostitution and the murder of her seven clients between 1989 and 1990.
Wuornos claimed she shot the men in self-defense when they sexually assaulted or attempted to rape her. In addition to murder, she robbed her victims as well. Wuornos spent 12 years on death row before her execution by lethal injection on October 9, 1992. Critics consider Monster one of the best movies of 2003.Watch on Pluto TV
5. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
In 1993, three eight-year-old boys, Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers, were found dead in West Memphis, Arkansas. A media frenzy followed, leading to the arrests of three teenagers Damien Echols, Jesse Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin. The controversial guilty verdicts for all three teenagers in 1994 sparked outrage around the globe. The three men left prison in 2011 after serving 18 years.
The critically acclaimed documentary, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hoods Hills, covers the case and trial of the West Memphis Three. The documentary helped bring further attention to the case and highlighted missed or suppressed evidence. Music from the band Metallica appears prominently in the movie, the first time the band allowed their music to be part of a soundtrack. The success led to two sequels, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.Watch on Hulu
6. My Friend Dahmer (2017)
Between 1978 and 1991, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer murdered 17 boys and men. His crimes included dismemberment, necrophilia, and cannibalism. After his conviction, a fellow inmate murdered Dahmer in 1994.
Cartoonist John “Derf” Blackdert was friends with Dahmer in high school and later wrote the graphic novel about the experience. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, My Friend Dahmer details Derf and Dahmer’s friendship throughout the 1970s, ending before Dahmer began his killing spree in 1978.Watch on YouTube
7. Psycho (1960)
Alfred Hitchcock’s critically acclaimed Psycho revolves around the sadistic Norman Bates. While Norman appears to be the unassuming owner of Bates Motel, he’s actually a violent killer with a dissociative identity disorder. After killing his mother, Norman keeps her corpse and takes on her identity.
Based on the novel of the same name, author Robert Bloch took inspiration from real-life serial killer and body snatcher Ed Gein. He would rob graves and turn the bones into trophies. Gein also admitted to killing Mary Hogan in 1954 and Bernice Worden in 1957. After he was found guilty of murdering Worden in 1968, Gein spent the rest of his life at a psychiatric institution, where he died in 1984 from respiratory failure.Watch on Prime
8. All Good Things (2010)
The son of a real estate tycoon, Robert Durst was a convicted murderer who almost got away with it. Durst was the prime suspect in the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack, the murder of Susan Berman, and the death of Morris Black. However, there was never enough evidence to convict him of any crimes.
All Good Things is a fictionalized account of Durst’s crime, directed by Andrew Jarecki and starring Ryan Gosling. Durst enjoyed the film and finally agreed to interviews with director Jarecki. The discussions resulted in the HBO series The Jinx, which uncovered Durst’s involvement in Berman’s murder. Durst was convicted in 2021, receiving life in prison. He was charged with McCormack’s death but died in prison on January 22, 2022.Watch on Netflix
9. Stillwater (2021)
The critically acclaimed Stillwater follows an out-of-work oil rig worker, Bill Baker, who tries to prove his daughter’s innocence. Bill’s daughter, Allison, is in a French prison for allegedly killing her college roommate and former lover. The ending of the movie implies that Allison was involved in setting up the murder. The film takes inspiration from the killing of a British student Meredith Kercher while attending university in Italy.
Her roommate, American student Amanda Knox, spent four years in an Italian prison for Kercher’s murder. The gripping murder case became a sensational story around the globe. In 2015, the Italian Supreme Court acquitted Knox on all charges. While Stillwater received positive reviews, Knox noted the director used her story and implied she had something to do with Kercher’s murder. She denounced the film and its creators.Watch on Showtime
10. Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (2019)
The infamous criminal Charles Manson was the leader of the cult Manson Family. Before the cult, he attempted to become a musician through his connection to producer Terry Melcher in the 60s. From August 8 to 10, 1969, Manson ordered his followers to murder everyone at Melcher’s former residence after falling out with the producer.
Under his spell, Manson’s followers brutally murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, and Steven Parent, who were all staying at the address where Melcher once lived. The next night, Manson’s followers murdered Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. After a lengthy investigation, Manson was convicted of organizing the murders in 1971 and died in prison in 2017.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino, the 2019 crime thriller Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood follows an out-of-work actor and his stunt double in Los Angeles in the late 60s. The movie includes Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate and depicts a fictionalized version of the Tate murders.Watch on Netflix
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11. OJ: Made in America (2016)
The critically acclaimed seven and half hour documentary film, OJ: Made in America, debuted to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival with one intermission. Later, the movie debuted as a five-part mini-series on ABC and ESPN. The film examines OJ’s rise from a college football superstar to an NFL legend. He then made it big in the entertainment world as an actor, before trouble hit in the 90s. Simpson was the prime suspect in the 1994 murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman.
The movie dives deep into the murder, the investigation, the role race played, the infamous bronco chase, the widely publicized trial, and the controversial not-guilty verdict. However, it doesn’t end there. The movie explores Simpson’s 2007 arrest for robbery and his subsequent prison sentence. The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary at the 2017 Oscars.Watch on Hulu
12. The Wizard of Lies (2017)
Bernie Madoff is one of history’s most notorious fraudsters. Madoff started his investment company in the 1960s, becoming one of the most influential people on Wall Street. In 2008, his sons informed authorities that their father had committed the world’s largest Ponzi scheme for 16 years.
In 2017, Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer starred in HBO’s The Wizard of Lies. The HBO movie depicts Madoff as a sociopath who deliberately committed his crimes. It follows Madoff’s rise to power, his crimes, and the tragic consequences.Watch on Hulu
13. Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017)
The HBO documentary film Mommy Dead and Dearest examines the chilling murder of Dee Dee Blanchard and the strange events involving her daughter Gypsy Rose. For years, Dee Dee claimed Gypsy had chronic health problems, including muscular dystrophy, cancer, and other illnesses. Dee Dee convinced Gypsy that she had all these health illnesses and lied about her age. Dee Dee confined Gypsy to a wheelchair and shaved her head regularly to imitate the side effects of chemotherapy. She took advantage of several charities such as Habitat for Humanity and Ronald McDonald House.
Dee Dee was abusive and prevented Gypsy from having any friends. After learning the truth, Gypsy orchestrated Dee Dee’s murder with her boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn. On June 14, 2015, Godejohn stabbed Dee Dee to death while she slept. The documentary explores Dee Dee’s murder and the aftermath.Watch on Hulu
14. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
In the 1950s, notorious killer, cannibal, and grave robber Ed Gein turned the skin and bones of his victims into household items. Gein’s sick crimes and behavior inspired some of horror’s most frightening characters.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre revolves around a family of cannibals who hunt a group of college students. The scariest of them all is the violent Leatherface. Inspired by Gein, Leatherface became one of horror’s most iconic characters. The success of the first film led to a hugely successful franchise.Watch on Tubi
15. To Catch a Killer (1992)
Serial Killer and sex offender John Wayne Gacy killed 33 men and boys between 1972 and 1978. Also known as Killer Clown, Gacy worked as a clown at various charity events. Gacy would lure his victim to his infamous home by showing them a magic trick. Once inside Gacy would brutally rape and murder his victims.
He hid most of the bodies in his crawl space and buried the rest in the backyard. Authorities arrested Gacy in 1978 after the disappearance of Robert Priest. He was found guilty in 1980 and died by lethal injection in 1994. The 1992 made-for-television movie, To Catch a Killer, details Gacy’s final victim and his arrest.Watch on YouTube
16. In Plain Sight (2006)
While not a feature film, the three-part ITV mini-series, In Plain Sight, dives deep into the crimes and capture of notorious Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel. From 1956 to 1958, Manuel killed seven victims in southern Scotland. The police suspected Manuel of the crimes for several years but didn’t have enough evidence to put him away.
He lived a free and happy life while the prime suspect. The mini-series focuses on the police investigating Manuel and how they proved that he committed the crimes. He was eventually arrested and found guilty of his crimes and hanged at the Glasgow Barlinnie Prison in 1958.Watch on BritBox
17. The Night Stalker (2016)
From 1984 to 1985, the San Francisco Bay area and greater Los Angeles became the hunting ground for the infamous serial killer the Night Stalker. Better known as Richard Ramirez, his crimes began as burglaries to support his drug addiction. The home invasions soon moved up to rape, attempted rape, murder, and attempted murder. Furthermore, he often humiliated his victims and incorporated Satanism into his crimes.
There have been many movies based on Ramirez’s crimes, with one of the best being the Lou Diamond Philips starring 2016 film The Night Stalker. The plot revolves around a lawyer trying to get her client off death row. She’s confident that Richard Ramirez is responsible for the murder and tries to persuade him to admit the truth.Watch on Hulu
18. Wild Wild Country (2018)
In the late 1960s, Rajneesh began touring India, spreading his religious sect, the Rajneesh Movement. He became a controversial figure for challenging the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and spreading sexual freedom.
Rajneesh later moved to the United States, where his personal assistant Ma Anand Sheela orchestrated the widespread poisoning of locals in Oregon. She was also behind an assassination attempt on U.S. Federal prosecutor Charles H. Turner. The Netflix documentary series, Wild Wild Country, examines Rajneesh’s life, the rise of the movement, and the actions of Sheela.Watch on Netflix
19. The Black Dahlia (2006)
The murder of Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles on January 15, 1947, is one of America’s most famous unsolved murders. Dubbed the Black Dahlia by the press, Short’s dismembered body was discovered early in the morning by a passerby. News reports noted that Short was an aspiring actress in Hollywood. It became a sensational story that transcended time.
Based on true events, the 2006 film The Black Dahlia follows two LAPD detectives who become obsessed with the case. Despite having roughly 150 suspects, the identity of the Black Dahlia’s murder remains a mystery. The movie was a major box office flop and bombed with critics but is an underrated gem from the great Brian De Palma.Watch on Hulu
20. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Serial killer Henry Lee Lucas went to prison for killing three people, including his mother, in 1960. However, in 1983, Lucas confessed to committing over 600 murders to Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers cleared several cases Lucas claimed he committed without little investigation. Several journalists looked into the confessions and found numerous contradictions. The Texas Rangers attempted to defend their work, but Lucas’ false confession damaged their reputation. He died in 2001 due to heart failure.
Loosely inspired by Henry Lee Lucas, Michael Rooker’s portrayal of Lucas in the 1986 horror movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is unnerving. The movie follows Lucas on his supposed sick and sadistic crime spree. The film was hugely controversial at the time of its release and is now recognized as a cult classic.Watch on Tubi
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