Hollywood movies are some of the most influential media around today, and in America, true crime is currently having quite the moment. During the recent San Diego Comic-Con, another teaser trailer for the highly anticipated film “My Friend Dahmer,” which follows the teenage life of prolific serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, was released and met praise from fans and critics alike.
Along with that, in May 2017, news articles from multiple celebrity magazines revealed that none other than Zac Efron will be portraying the infamous ’70s literal lady killer Ted Bundy, in an upcoming film about the murderer’s life. These two massive announcements along with the upcoming spooky fall season harken us back to the love for one of Hollywood’s most popular villains—the serial killer.
Whether based on true life or pure fiction, serial killer movies are some of the most interesting to watch, not only due to the inevitable gore and viewers’ general love for a good score, but also because they offer an inside, behind-the-scenes look at a person who is truly out of their mind. Hollywood has produced hundreds of these kinds of movies, but a mere few have stood the test of time and truly made an impact on society and horror fans everywhere.
5. “Natural Born Killers” (1994)
This film, starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, follows a young couple as they meet, fall in love at first sight and subsequently go on a murderous rampage together, later culminating in a prison break and happily ever after. Though the film is iconic on its own, what makes it stand out is the real-world violence that it inspired.
During the movie’s interview scene, Harrelson’s character, Mickey, utters a line that would go on to inspire multiple copycat massacres: “Shit man… I’m a natural born killer.” Only five years after the release of the film, high schoolers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered twelve students and one teacher in one of America’s first mass school shootings, the Columbine High School Massacre. Both boys referenced themselves as “natural born killers” in home videos later found by investigators, relating directly back to the film.
4. “Monster” (2003)
“Monster” stars Charlize Theron who portrays real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos. The film follows Aileen as she transitions from an average Florida prostitute to a murderous and thieving woman who has been broken down and triggered by rape. It also details Aileen’s relationship with Selby Wall, her girlfriend and lover who would later turn in Aileen to the police and testify against her in court.
The film was met with great success because it not only detailed the life and crimes of a real life serial killer, but the main star was a woman rather than a man. Not only are female serial killers few and far between in mainstream media, but few have come into the public eye in the same fashion as Aileen Wuornos.
3. “American Psycho” (2000)
The premise of “American Psycho” is unlike many other serial killer or slasher movies. Patrick Bateman, depicted by Christian Bale, opens the film by describing his regular day-to-day life. He is an extremely successful and wealthy banker with a beautiful fiancé and a circle of equally wealthy banker friends. However, what sets Bateman apart from his comrades is the simple fact that he is a psychopath.
He knows and accepts this, typically keeping his dark shenanigans to torturing prostitutes and cheating on his fiancé. As the film progresses, Bateman murders multiple people, including his coworker, friend and multiple prostitutes. He even confesses to the killings, but is never even arrested and is generally laughed off by those he opens up to. Though this film is not based on a real killer, its popularity can be attributed to the clear way in which it portrays the ease and appeal of white collar crime.
2. “Se7en” (1995)
One of the most interesting, heart-stopping and suspenseful killer movies to date, “Se7en” follows two detectives, portrayed by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, as they attempt to track down a serial killer who is using the seven deadly sins as his inspiration. The first two murders, greed and sloth manifested, lack no gore or shock value as they begin to show the twisted mind of the killer.
Sloth, lust and pride follow, each with their own disturbing and yet somehow captivating scenes. At the police station, a man covered in blood, who is recognized as the main suspect/killer from an earlier almost-capture, turns himself in to the detectives. The man then reveals that there are two more victims still out in the world, promising to tell the detectives who and where they are so long as they follow his specific directions. Without revealing the twist ending and thus spoiling this fine film, what comes at the end is so spectacular and riveting that it has driven this movie to fame in the horror community.
1. “The Silence of the Lambs” 1991
Known as one of the most popular crime drama films of all time, “The Silence of the Lambs” follows a young FBI cadet named Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster, as she attempts to track down serial killer Buffalo Bill with the help of the infamous incarcerated cannibal, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who is played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. The movie follows not only Buffalo Bill’s crimes and the FBI’s attempts to solve them, but also Starling and Lecter’s budding relationship along with the psychiatrist’s backstory.
The film develops bone-tingling suspense during many scenes, such as the eerie interactions between Lecter and Starling, the cop murder scene and the final showdown between Buffalo Bill and Starling. Winning five Oscars along with forty-nine other awards and thirty-eight separate nominations, the movie made an impact that set a precedent for all serial killer movies to come.
Though many may argue that I am leaving out a few key movies on this list (“Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Friday the 13th,” “Saw,” etc.), what makes a good serial killer movie is not dependent on how many murders they commit or how grisly the crimes are. A great serial killer film invites the viewer to see the world through the eyes of the killer or those who deal closely with them. It teeters between suspense, intrigue and obsession.
Real serial killers are not supernatural beings and are even less often vigilantes that think they’re doing something noble, they’re usually just regular people like you and me, save for their sick tendencies. It is rumored that the average person walks past around thirty-six murderers in their lifetime. How many serial killers have you unknowingly passed in yours?