The Best Movies About Real (And Fictional) Serial Killers


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The psychology behind serial killers has fascinated viewers for decades. With a rise of notoriety in the ’70s, serial killers have been a pop culture staple for over 50 years, playing into viewers’ greatest fears and shaping a genre that thrives when its audience is at its most terrified. Sure, horror can be scary when the villain is an fictional threat like a monster or ghost, but the serial killer is a step up—a known threat that plagued headlines for decades in 20th century America. Even scarier is that some of the greatest films in the sub-genre aren’t just machinations of a twisted mind, but recreations pulled from real life terrors. Ted Bundy? Perfect fodder for a whole list of films and TV series released in 2019. Zodiac? A strangely beloved horror film that only reaffirms that police never managed to identify an infamous serial killer with actual certainty. So why do audiences expose themselves to the fictionalized iterations of humanity’s worst people? Perhaps it’s because the scariest part of watching a serial killer film is knowing there’s a slight thrill from seeing it all unfold. Here are 10 of the best serial killer films available now.

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Zodiac

Zodiac is a horrifying look into the real-life havoc that the Zodiac Killer exacted on the state of California in the late ’60s and ’70s. The film stars Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Robert Downey Jr. as the detective and reporters, respectively, who orbit the killer’s sinister years-long killing spree. The most haunting part? There’s never been a confirmation on who the killer actually is.

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Seven

What’s in the box? The Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman-led thriller about a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as a blueprint for his murders is an absolute classic. The chilling story is a race against time to find a mad man before he exacts his next killing highlighting the pitfalls of humanity.

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Monster

Charlize Theron bagged her first Academy Award for her incredible portrayal of Aileen Wuornos, the terrifying serial killer who killed men at point blank range from 1989 to 1990. She was executed in 2003, but her haunting story lives on via an equally terrifying performance from Theron.

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Silence of the Lambs

The saga between Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter is possibly the most famous in the serial killer genre. When an FBI agent goes looking into the terrible life of a brilliant psychiatrist turned psychopath, her investigation puts her and others directly in harm’s way. Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins are absolute heavyweights in the film.

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Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Zac Efron is one of the most charming actors in Hollywood right now, which makes him unnervingly perfect for the role of Ted Bundy in Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Following Bundy’s court case that after his arrest for the murder of scores of women, the film itself may not be great, but Efron’s performance is incredible.

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Mr. Brooks

The 2000s were a strangely flashy time for films, and Mr. Brooks is a perfect example of the star power and insane premises that the era offered. Starring Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, and Dane Cook (lol), the film follows a serial killer and a young man who longs to be involved in the world of mass murder.

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The Bone Collector

Nothing quite captures the turn of the millennium like The Bone Collector. Starring Angelina Jolie and Denzel Washington as a police officer and quadriplegic detective trying to catch a serial killer, this film is as bananas as it sounds. There are serial killer films that will shake you to your core and ones that are more… just fun to watch. This is more of the latter.

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Halloween

Hot take: Halloween is the greatest serial killer franchise of the bunch. Jamie Lee Curtis stars in the genre-defining series as Laurie Strode, the sister of serial killer Michael Myers. The high school slasher film has a list of iterations as long as your arm, but none compare to the original released in the late ’70s. The newest installment isn’t a bad take on an old concept though.

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Scream

A parody of the genre, there is no series of serial killer films more fun to watch than Scream. Fun fact: the first one was billed as a Drew Barrymore star-vehicle, and if you’ve seen the film, you know why that fact is so ironic. Let’s just say that she… um, doesn’t make it very far, leaving a whole franchise open for Neve Campbell to spend years escaping death.

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American Psycho

If you’ve ever had a bro-friend in college, there’s a good chance you’ve seen this movie poster sticky-taped to a concrete wall. While it does have a connotation as that type of movie, American Psycho is also a new classic, featuring Christian Bale as a young ’80s businessman moonlighting as a serial killer at night.

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