horror The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories  

Ranker Film
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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

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 ...more

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2
1,962 434
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The Silence of the Lambs

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 ...more

3
1,428 494
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Psycho

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.

4
1,514 512
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The Amityville Horror 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 ...more

5
1,669 486
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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

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 ...more

6
1,305 617
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Jaws 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 ...more

7
1,553 464
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spence815 added The Conjuring

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 ...more

8
1,573 494
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A Nightmare on Elm Street

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 ...more

9
1,006 513
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The Hills Have Eyes

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 ...more

10
782 580
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Monster

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 ...more

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1,121 545
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Child's Play 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 ...more

12
896 420
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The Haunting in Connecticut

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 ...more

13
800 487
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Bram Stoker's Dracula

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 ...more

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1,022 481
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The Exorcism of Emily Rose 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 ...more

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439 181
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lakshmi-tejasvi added Scream

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 ...more

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830 527
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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.

17
660 407
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An American Haunting

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 ...more

18
698 408
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The Strangers

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 ...more

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444 415
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The Entity

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 ...more

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532 415
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From Hell 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

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587 546
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The Mothman Prophecies 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 ...more

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371 436
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Wolf Creek

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 ...more

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375 419
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The Girl Next Door 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 ...more

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374 567
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Open Water

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 ...more

25
236 169
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Ted Bundy

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 ...more

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57 48
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Tom Islava added Dracula

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 ...more

27
322 375
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Dahmer

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" ...more

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320 456
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Hard Candy

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 ...more

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294 426
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Fire in the Sky

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 ...more

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280 400
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The Serpent and the Rainbow

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 ...more

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65 63
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RGLinc38 added Gacy

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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243 337
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Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer 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 ...more

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307 334
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The Rite 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 ...more

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123 385
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Borderland

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 ...more

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cwelge23 added Dear Mr. Gacy Dear Mr. Gacy is a 2010 drama film directed by Svetozar Ristovski.