film The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories  

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It is said that the truth is stranger than fiction. Well, in the case of scary movies, there is probably a lot more horrifying truth than one would expect. Many of the scariest movies were inspired by real events - which, if nothing else, is something we should all lose a little bit of sleep over. This is a list of the best scary movies based on true stories to determine just what horrifyingly true story is the most teeth-chattering, nightmare-inducing, sleep-with-a-nightlight-for-the-rest-of-your-life cinematic masterpiece. So, what is the best scary movie based on a true story?

Here you'll find some of horror's (and cinema's) undisputed masterminds all drawing on real-world events to inspire some of their finest work. Heavyweights like Steven Spielberg, the "Master of Suspense" Wes Craven, and Alfred Hitchcock have all drawn from real headlines to create some of their most famous films.

There are many factors to consider here. Comparing a film up against another film (even in the same genre) can feel like comparing apples and oranges. So, it's on you, Ranker voters. Does it matter how closely the film adheres to the story that it was inspired by, like in a biopic like Dahmer? Or is it more important that the movie be genuinely, undeniably, amazing even though it strays a bit from its inspiration? Because maybe Jaws and Psycho win that battle.

These are all almost impossibly tough calls, and there are a lot of classics to sift through... but isn't that what makes this fun? Vote up the top scary movies inspired by true events, and click Rerank to make a list of your own.
list ordered by

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The Exorcist Max von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair

Inspired by the alleged demonic possession of Robbie Mannheim.

The Exorcist is a 1973 American supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin, adapted by William Peter Blatty from his 1971 novel of the same name. The book, inspired by the 1949 exorcism case of Roland Doe, deals with the demonic ...more

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1,930 427
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The Silence of the Lambs Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Chris Isaak

Based loosely on the relationship between serial killer Ted Bundy and criminal profiler Robert Keppel.

The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 American thriller film that blends elements of the crime and horror genres. Directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Scott Glenn, the film is based on Thomas Harris' 1988 ...more

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1,408 481
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Psycho Alfred Hitchcock, Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins

Loosely based on Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.

Psycho is a 1960 Psychological thriller and horror film written by Joseph Stefano and directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

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1,492 501
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The Amityville Horror James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger Inspired by the experiences of the Lutz family as investigated by Paranormal Detectives, Ed and Lorraine Warren.The Amityville Horror is a 1979 American supernatural horror film, directed by Stuart Rosenberg, based on Jay Anson's bestselling 1977 novel of the same name. It is the first film in the Amityville Horror franchise. A remake was produced in ...more

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1,645 476
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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal

Loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a 1974 American slasher film, directed and produced by Tobe Hooper, who cowrote it with Kim Henkel. It stars Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow and Gunnar Hansen, who respectively portray ...more

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1,285 602
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Jaws Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider Inspired by a series of shark attacks off the New Jersey shore in 1916.Jaws is a 1975 American thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Peter Benchley's novel of the same name. The prototypical summer blockbuster, its release is regarded as a watershed moment in motion picture history. In the story, ...more

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1,526 458
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spence815 added The Conjuring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Joey King

Based on the experiences of the Perron family as investigated by paranormal detectives Ed and Lorraine Warren.

The Conjuring is a 2013 American supernatural horror film directed by James Wan. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga star as Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were American paranormal investigators and authors associated with prominent cases of haunting. ...more

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1,554 484
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A Nightmare on Elm Street Johnny Depp, Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp

Loosely based on a group of Cambodian refugees in the 1970's who were suffering disturbing night terrors after fleeing to the United States. Their nightmares were so terrifying, they began refusing to sleep.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a 1984 American supernatural slasher horror film written and directed by Wes Craven, and the first film of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. The film stars Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Amanda ...more

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987 505
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The Hills Have Eyes Dee Wallace, Michael Berryman, John Steadman

Based on the sixteenth century cave-dwelling-clan leader Alexander Bean. He and his disciples ate an estimated 1,000 people.

The Hills Have Eyes is a 1977 American exploitation-horror film written and directed by Wes Craven and starring Susan Lanier, Michael Berryman and Dee Wallace. It is about a suburan family on a road trip who is targeted by a family of savages ...more

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770 571
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Monster Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Rose Byrne

Based on the story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos who killed seven men in Florida while maintaining that they were all acts of self-defense. 

Monster is a 2003 crime drama film about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a former prostitute who was executed in Florida in 2002 for killing six men in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Wuornos was played by Charlize Theron, and her fictionalized ...more

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1,106 535
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Child's Play Brad Dourif, Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon Seriously. Based on Robert the doll, who is a doll, owned by author Robert Eugene Otto, who is a man. Robert (the doll) was said to be possessed by evil spirits. Child's Play is a 1988 American horror film directed by Tom Holland, written by Tom Holland, Don Mancini, and John Lafia, and starring Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, and Brad Dourif. The official taglines of the film are ...more

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887 412
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The Haunting in Connecticut Virginia Madsen, Amanda Crew, Elias Koteas

Inspired by the experiences of the Snedeker family as investigated by paranormal detectives Ed and Lorraine Warren.

The Haunting in Connecticut is a 2009 American psychological horror film produced by Gold Circle Films and directed by Peter Cornwell. The film is alleged to be about Carmen Snedeker and her family, though Ray Garton, author of In a Dark Place: ...more

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791 478
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Bram Stoker's Dracula Monica Bellucci, Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder

Vlad the Impaler. Period.

Bram Stoker's Dracula is a 1992 American horror film directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola, based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker. It stars Gary Oldman as Count Dracula, Winona Ryder as Mina Harker, Anthony Hopkins as Professor ...more

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1,005 476
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The Exorcism of Emily Rose Laura Linney, Jennifer Carpenter, Tom Wilkinson Based on the story of a 16-year-old German girl named Anneliese Michel who was believed to be possessed in 1968.The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a 2005 American courtroom drama horror film directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson. The film is loosely based on the story of Anneliese Michel and follows a self-proclaimed ...more

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427 172
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lakshmi-tejasvi added Scream Drew Barrymore, Rose McGowan, Courteney Cox

Based partly on the real-life case of the Gainesville Ripper.

Scream is a 1996 American slasher film written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven. The film stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Drew Barrymore, and David Arquette. Released on December 20, 1996, Scream follows the character of ...more

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The Zodiac Killer

Based on the notorious San Francisco serial killer, the Zodiac.

The Zodiac Killer is a 1971 film directed by Tom Hanson. The film stars Hal Reed, Bob Jones, and Ray Lynch. The plot is based on the Zodiac Killer in the San Francisco area.

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An American Haunting Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, Rachel Hurd-Wood

Based on the legend of the Bell Witch.

An American Haunting is a 2005 horror film written and directed by Courtney Solomon. It stars Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, James D'Arcy, and Rachel Hurd-Wood. The film was previewed at the AFI Film Festival on November 5, 2005 and was ...more

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The Strangers Liv Tyler, Gemma Ward, Scott Speedman

Writer/Director Bryan Bertino claims that the movie is based on a series of break-ins that occurred in his neighborhood as a child. The legitimacy of this claim is up for debate.

The Strangers is a 2008 American horror film written and directed by Bryan Bertino and starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a young couple who are terrorized by three masked assailants, who break into the remote summer home and destroy all ...more

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The Entity Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver, George Coe

Inspired by the experiences of Doris Blither, who claimed to be assaulted by invisible entities. This was documented by paranormal investigators Barry Taff and Kerry Gaynor.

The Entity is a horror film based on the novel of the same name by Frank De Felitta. It stars Barbara Hershey as a woman tormented by an invisible assailant. Despite being filmed and planned for a release in 1981, the movie was not released in ...more

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578 538
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The Mothman Prophecies Richard Gere, Debra Messing, Laura Linney Based on author John Keel's own investigations into the mysterious Mothman in the town of Point Pleasant.The Mothman Prophecies is a 2002 supernatural thriller film directed by Mark Pellington, based on the 1975 book of the same name by parapsychologist and Fortean author John Keel. The screenplay was written by Richard Hatem. The film stars ...more

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524 411
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From Hell Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane Inspired by the murders committed by Jack The Ripper.From Hell is a 2001 American horror mystery film directed by the Hughes brothers and loosely based on the graphic novel From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell about the Jack the Ripper murders.

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366 428
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Wolf Creek Teresa Palmer, John Jarratt, Kestie Morassi

Loosely inspired by Ivan Milat, who captured and tortured many hitchhikers and travelers during the 1990s.

Wolf Creek is a 2005 Australian horror film written, co-produced, and directed by Greg McLean, and starring John Jarratt. The story revolves around three backpackers who find themselves held captive and subsequently hunted by a serial killer in ...more

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The Girl Next Door Catherine Mary Stewart, William Atherton, Mark Margolis Partially based on the torture and murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens in 1965.The Girl Next Door is a 2007 American horror film adaptation of Jack Ketchum's 1989 novel of the same name. The film is loosely based on true events surrounding the torture and murder of Sylvia Likens by Gertrude Baniszewski during the summer ...more

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370 559
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Open Water Saul Stein, Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis

Based on the story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan who were accidentally left behind on a scuba diving trip in 1998.

Open Water is a 2003 drama psychological horror film loosely based on the true story of an American couple, Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who in 1998 went out with a scuba diving group, Outer Edge Dive Company, on the Great Barrier Reef, and were ...more

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230 162
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Ted Bundy Tom Savini, Tracey Walter, Diana Kauffman

Based on the crimes of the titular Ted Bundy.

Ted Bundy is a 2002 American crime drama film directed and co-written by Matthew Bright. The film dramatizes the crimes of serial killer Ted Bundy. It stars Michael Reilly Burke in the title role, and Boti Bliss as Bundy's girlfriend, Lee. ...more

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Tom Islava added Dracula Bela Lugosi, Tod Browning, Carla Laemmle

Inspired by the exploits of the Wallachian prince and serial killer Vlad III aka Vlad the Impaler

Dracula is a 1931 vampire-horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula. The film was produced by Universal and is based on the 1924 stage play Dracula by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, which in turn is ...more

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Dahmer Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, Dion Basco

Biopic based on the life and murders of American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Dahmer is a 2002 American biopic horror film about the American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Jeremy Renner stars in the title role. There are two timelines in the film: The "present" of the film runs in ordinary chronological order ...more

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320 449
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Hard Candy Ellen Page, Sandra Oh, Patrick Wilson

Inspired by incidents of young Japanese girls luring older businessmen online to meet at a specific location for "meaningful conversation" only to assault and mug them.

Hard Candy is a 2005 vigilante thriller film focusing on the torture of a suspected sexual predator by a 14-year-old female vigilante. The film was directed by David Slade, written by Brian Nelson, and starred Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson. It ...more

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290 419
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Fire in the Sky James Garner, Robert Patrick, Peter Berg

Based on the accounts of Timothy Walton, who claims to have been abducted by aliens.

Fire in the Sky is a 1993 science fiction horror drama film based on an alleged extraterrestrial encounter, directed by Robert Lieberman, and written by Tracy Tormé based on Travis Walton's book The Walton Experience. The film stars ...more

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275 394
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The Serpent and the Rainbow Bill Pullman, Paul Winfield, Michael Gough

Inspired by the experiences of Canadian scientist Wade Davis and his knowledge in the field of "zombification."

The Serpent and the Rainbow is a 1988 American horror film directed by Wes Craven and starring Bill Pullman. The script by Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman is loosely based on the non-fiction book of the same name by ethnobotanist Wade Davis, ...more

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RGLinc38 added Gacy Adam Baldwin, Allison Lange, Charlie Weber

Based on the life and times of serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Gacy is a 2003 direct-to-video biographical-drama film directed by Clive Saunders and written by Saunders and David Birke. The story revolves around the life of serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

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Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold Based on the accounts of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas.Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a 1986 American psychological horror film directed and co-written by John McNaughton about the random crime spree of a serial killer who seemingly operates with impunity. It stars Michael Rooker as the ...more

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The Rite Anthony Hopkins, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Rutger Hauer Based on the real-life experiences of Father Gary Thomas.The Rite is a 2011 American supernatural thriller film directed by Mikael Håfström and written by Michael Petroni. It is loosely based on Matt Baglio's book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, which itself is based on real ...more

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Borderland Sean Astin, Mircea Monroe, Martha Higareda

Loosely based on the story of cult leader and serial killer Adolofo de Jesus Costanzo.

Borderland is a 2007 horror film written and directed by Zev Berman. It is very loosely based on the true story of Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo, the leader of a religious cult that practiced human sacrifice. Costanzo and his followers ...more

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cwelge23 added Dear Mr. Gacy William Forsythe, Emma Lahana, Richard Harmon Dear Mr. Gacy is a 2010 drama film directed by Svetozar Ristovski.