Top 10 Movie Serial Killers Based On Real Life People



Top 10 Movie Serial Killers Based On Real Life People

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Truth isn't just stranger than fiction, it also inspires it! For this list, we'll be looking at movie characters who were based on or inspired by actual killers in the real world. Our countdown includes "American Psycho", “The Silence of the Lambs”, “Dirty Harry”, and more!

Top 10 Movie Serial Killers Based on Real Life Killers

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 movie serial killers based on real life killers.

For this list, we’ll be looking at movie characters who were based on or inspired by actual killers in the real world.

Which of these stories do you find the most chilling? Let us know in the comments!

#10: Don Burnside

“The Clovehitch Killer” (2018)
This thriller drama follows Tyler Burnside, a 16-year-old Christian in Kentucky who suspects that his father is a serial killer with a specific obsession. His father, Don Burnside, played by Dylan McDermott, is a devout family man who’s active in the local community. He is loosely based on Dennis Rader, also known as BTK (standing for Bind, Torture, Kill). Rader was active in Kentucky from 1974 to 1991, killing ten people. Like Don, BTK was prominent in the local church community, and also served as a Cub Scout leader. He was hiding in plain sight and wasn’t arrested until 2005 - over thirty years after his killing spree began in ‘74.

#9: Kit & Holly

“Badlands” (1973)
Serving as Terrence Malick’s directorial debut, “Badlands” stars Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek as 25 year old Kit Carruthers and 15 year old Holly Sargis. Holly falls for Kit and the two move to the titular badlands of Montana, where they commit various crimes. The story is very loosely based on the crime spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in the late 1950s. Just as Kit kills Holly’s father, so did Charles murder Caril’s stepfather. However, other details are quite different. For example, Charles also killed Caril’s mother and young sister. He was actually 19 and Caril 14, and their crime spree occurred in Nebraska and Wyoming. Furthermore, Caril was actually sentenced to life in prison, whereas in the film Holly receives probation.

#8: Mick Taylor

“Wolf Creek” (2005)
This sadistic film follows three friends backpacking across Australia when they’re accosted by local man Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek National Park. Mick stalks the group before tormenting and killing two of them, while the third escapes. Writer-director Greg McLean based the story on the Backpacker murders that occurred in New South Wales, Australia, from 1989 to 93. The man responsible, Ivan Milat, killed seven travelers before his arrest. The film also draws on the story of another Australian killer, Bradley John Murdoch, who in 2001 murdered British backpacker Peter Falconio. Like Ben in “Wolf Creek”, Falconio’s girlfriend Joanne Lees managed to escape into the bush.

#7: Andrei Chikatilo

“Citizen X” (1995)
This HBO television film from the 90s stars Stephen Rea and Donald Sutherland as two Soviet detectives hunting down a serial killer responsible for over fifty murders. The man is Andrei Chikatilo, a real serial killer who was convicted for 52 murders from 1978 to 1990. The movie studiously keeps to reality, including the real names of those involved and the number of murders committed. The movie even gets the smaller details right, like the fact that Chikatilo was arrested by plainclothes police officers and that he broke down, cried, and admitted his crimes during a psychological profile conducted by Alexander Bukhanovsky.

#6: John Christie

“10 Rillington Place” (1971)
This British crime drama stars Richard Attenborough as John Christie, a serial killer who murders people in his London flat and hides the corpses inside. Another resident of 10 Rillington, Timothy Evans, is erroneously found guilty and sentenced to death for the murders of his wife and daughter. When it comes to serial killer films, they don’t get much more accurate than “10 Rillington Place”. Much of the plot remains true to life, including the method of Christie’s murders, the execution of Timothy Evans in 1950, and the fact that three bodies were found in the walls shortly after Christie moved out. Even some of the exterior shots were filmed at the real 10 Rillington Place, including those of Attenborough using the front door.

#5: Patrick Bateman

“American Psycho” (2000)
It’s quite the combo: Patrick Bateman is a hotshot Wall Street banker and serial killer. While Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton, Keanu Reeves and Brad Pitt were considered for the role, it eventually went to Christian Bale and has since become one of his signature performances. While Bateman doesn’t have a direct real world counterpart, author Bret Easton Ellis was reportedly influenced by the story of Ted Bundy, a similarly good looking and charismatic man who killed at least 30 people throughout the 1970s. Bundy was not an investment banker, but his looks, personality, deceptive tricks, and methods have similarities to Bateman.

#4: Scorpio

“Dirty Harry” (1971)
One of Clint Eastwood’s most popular movies, “Dirty Harry” sees Inspector Harry Callahan hunting down a murderer by the name of Scorpio. Scorpio shoots innocent people with a sniper rifle and keeps in contact with the San Francisco police department, often demanding blackmail and ransom money. Scorpio was very loosely based on the Zodiac Killer, a still-unidentified man who killed at least five people around the greater San Francisco area in the late 1960s. The Zodiac himself claims to have killed 37, but this is unconfirmed. While the Zodiac never used a sniper rifle, he did stay in contact with the police and the press throughout his crime spree, often taunting them with letters and cryptograms. The case remains open to this day.

#3: Leatherface

“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974)
One of the most iconic slasher films of all time, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” stars Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface, a psychotic serial killer in rural Texas. And while the movie is entirely fictional, various aspects of Leatherface were inspired by murderer and grave robber Ed Gein. Gein never used a chainsaw, and his crimes were committed in Wisconsin, not Texas. But like Leatherface, he exhumed corpses from graveyards, decorated his house with bones, and wore masks made from skin. He also murdered two women in the mid ‘50s, leading to his lifelong institutionalization at Wisconsin’s Mendota Mental Health Institute.

#2: Hannibal Lecter

“The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter gets less than 20 minutes of screen time in this film, but boy does he own it. Author Thomas Harris reportedly based the character on a physician named Alfredo Ballí Treviño. Harris met Treviño while writing a piece for Argosy magazine and based Hannibal’s traits on the prison doctor, including his “certain elegance”, penchant for “[standing] very still”, and his “peculiar understanding of the criminal mind”. Treviño was serving life for murdering and cutting up his boyfriend, and he was also suspected of killing several hitchhikers in the 50s and 60s.

#1: Norman Bates

“Psycho” (1960)
Anthony Perkins gave one of the all time great movie performances as Norman Bates. Widely regarded as one of the best characters in film history, Norman is the psychotic proprietor of the Bates Motel who likes to dress up as his deceased mother and kill the motel’s occupants. Like Leatherface, Norman Bates was partly modeled after Ed Gein. Gein was very close with his mother, and her death in 1945 may have contributed to Gein’s insanity. Years later, Gein began exhuming the corpses of women who resembled his mother and attempted to craft a suit so he could literally become her. Sound familiar?