The 10 Best Serial Killer Movies Based On Real-Life Murderers

5. The Snowtown Murders/ Snowtown (2011)

Snowtown (2011)

This gritty, often stark, and at times brutal Australian film tells the story of The Snowtown Murders / bodies-in-barrels murders, that took place in and around Snow Town area in Southern Australia between 1992 and 1999.

Unusually for a serial killer case, they were three murders working together to kill the cases’ twelve victims, and the film tells of their relationships and their developments as killers. This is all done to a backdrop of urban decay, prejudiced, and manipulation, one of the killers was a 16-year-old boy. The whole thing is filmed in an almost documentary/ fly-on-the-wall like style, with impressive and convincing acting from an unknown cast, and it features one of the most intense and harrowing torture scenes ever put to mainstream film.


4. To Catch A Killer (1992)

This early 1990’s two part TV movie told the story of the investigation and arrest of US serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Who, between 1972 and 1978, tortured, sexually assaulted, and finally killed at least thirty-three young men, storing many of their remains in the crawl space under his house.

The lead role of the killer is played by highly respected actor Brian Dennehy, who perfectly manages to capture the large than life persona of Gacy, who ran a contracting firm and was respected member of the local community, often dressing up as a clown and visiting ill children in hospital. The film’s other lead character is Lieutenant Joseph ‘Joe / Polock’ Kozenczak, who doggedly stuck to his belief that Gacy was a killer, even when he was getting extreme pressure from above to stop his focusing in on Cacy.

The whole movie is a good and balanced mix of cat and mouse thriller, police investigation, and fleeting-yet-intense threat/violence. All making it one of the best TV movies you’ll likely see, and the best portray of Cacy  there have been at least three more) put to film thus far.


3. Monster (2003)

Monster stands apart from the other films on this list, as it mostly concentrates on trying to humanize the serial killer. It’s also the only film on the list that focuses in on a female killer, Aileen Wuornos, who shot seven men between 1989 and 1990 in the US state of Florida.

The film primarily focuses on the love story between Wuornos and her younger lesbian lover, with side lines into recreations of crimes committed, and Wuorno’s troubled past life. The film does take a few liberties with the facts, renaming some characters and changing their motivations, as well as making a composite of one character, which was based on several people Wuornous hung out with. But the intent of the film is fairly honest and correct.

Also, actress Charlize Theron, who played Wuornos, did a startlingly effective job of transforming herself into the killer: adding on 30 pounds, shaving off her eyebrows, dying her hair, and closely mimicking Wuornos after watching hours of footage of her.

All in all, Monster is a fairly populous and mainstream take on the serial killer cinema, but it’s a well made and emotionally impactful film, which is why it’s so high on the list.


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

Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

This mid 1980’s film really set the benchmark for future serial killer films, caused a fairly bit of controversy (been heavily censored in both UK and New Zealand), and even now still packs a punch in both its use of violence and mostly bleak tone. Henry Lee Lucas was a troubled drifter, who was charged with killing 157 people (though he claimed he killed around 3000). A few of these murders were carried out with fellow drifter Otis Tool. And this film gives a snap shot of the pair’s life, and their relationship with Otis’s niece Frieda ‘Becky’ Powell (who in the film is portrayed older than her real life early teen’s age).

And while the movie is not a 100% factual actuate, there are enough of the elements here that are close/near. All of the three main cast give great performers, especially Michael Rooker, who plays the lead role of Henry with great unsettling flare and ghoulish glee. Rooker, of course, has more recently appeared in the likes of The Guardians Of the Galaxy franchise, which of course is a million miles (pun intended) from the bleak nastiness of Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer.


1. Zodiac ( 2007)

Zodiac movie

There really is little doubt why this David Fincher film comes in at the top spot of this list, as it perfectly balances meticulous recreating crime scenes and evidence. With believable character portrayals, an often real sense of fear and foreboding, and lastly a keen sense of trying to solve the puzzle and find out who the killer is. The film focuses on the case of the Zodiac, a still unidentified and uncaught serial murderer who killed at least five, but maybe as many as thirty people, in the America bay area between the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Part of the killer’s MO was he sent taunting, often cryptic and cipher heavy letters to The San Francisco Chronicle. And the film’s lead character is the newspaper cartoonist Robert Greysmith, who is played perfectly by Jake Gyllenhaal, who does a great job at portraying the studious and straight-laced Greysmith.

The movie centers around the cartoonist obsession with the case as it unfolds. He’s joined by a great supporting cast of Robert Downy Jr, as Paul Avery, the cocky and hard drinking main report covering the case for the Chronicle. And Mark Ruffalo as Inspector Dave Toschi, the lead investigator on the Zodiac case. The film cast is filled by an impressive host acting talent in the smaller supporting roles with the likes of Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, and John Carroll Lynch.

On paper, the film’s 158 minute runtime may seem bloated and over long for a cinematic serial killer film. But Fincher managers to pull together all the many threads, situations, and characters of the case together to create a truly fascinating and captivating film. Meaning that Zodiac has managed to appeal and get praise from a much wider mainstream audience. Going beyond your run-of-the-mill true crime/ true story film fan, without ever dumbing-down or adding a Hollywood sheen to the cases story.

Author Bio: Roger Batty is based in the southern part of the Uk, near the naval city of Portsmouth. Over the last ten plus years, he’s written for various on & off-line publications, writing about & critiquing all manner of cult & weird fare, be it film, music, or non-music.