Film 23 Disturbing, Brutal Movies Based on Real-Life Atrocities  

Will Gish
34k votes 10.3k voters 2.8M views 23 items

List Rules Vote based on which true stories are the most terrifying

"Based on a true story"—we see it all the time. It's a marketing tool, a cloying device used to engender empathy for the characters, to bring the audience closer to the story. More often than not, these films are sentimental, inspiring, or heroic. Yet from time to time, we get a film based on a true story that isn't happy, but terrifying. Call it "based on a true atrocity."In many cases, these films aren't afraid to go all the way—to take the audience on a spirit-crushing journey through disturbing truths about the dark side of human nature. 
1 3,675 VOTES

Hostel is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 23 Disturbing, Brutal Movies Based on Real-Life Atrocities
Photo:  Lionsgate

Wait, what? Yes, indeed. Believe it or not, Hostel began life as a documentary about an underground extreme thrill-seeking practice director Eli Roth discovered online whereby participants pay $10,000 to kill someone. The practice was supposedly not illegal because people volunteered to be murdered—extremely poor people from rural southeast Asia sacrificed themselves so their families could have money to change their lives.

Roth set aside the idea of making a doc when he realized that people who make a business of killing might, you know, kill him if he ruined their business. And so was born Hostel, the popular zenith of torture porn, which, according to some, also serves as an allegory for relations between America and the rest of the world immediately following 9/11.

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#18 on The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again

#3 on The Goriest Movies Ever Made

#35 on The Most Rewatchable Horror Movies

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The Strangers is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 23 Disturbing, Brutal Movies Based on Real-Life Atrocities
Photo:  Rogue Pictures

The Strangers, a sleeper hit in 2008, provides enough squeamish, disturbing home invasion material to please genre fans but make others think twice about sitting through the film. The movie adds an interesting twist to the “based on true events” label—it seems to be an amalgamation of three true stories: (A) the Keddie Cabin murders; (B) the Manson family murders; and, (C) something that happened to the director as a kid. Watching the film with this in mind makes it all the more difficult to sit through.

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#95 on The Greatest Horror Films of All Time

#62 on The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again

#24 on The Best and Scariest Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#18 on The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

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A Serbian Film is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 23 Disturbing, Brutal Movies Based on Real-Life Atrocities
Photo:  Jinga Films
Widely considered one of the most disturbing films ever made, A Serbian Film has been banned in most countries that allow the banning of films. Supposedly a political metaphor for the atrocities of the Bosnian War, the movie follows a retired porn star asked to make one final film, and proves excruciatingly hard to watch as it progresses from standard porn fare to scenes of rape, infant rape, decapitation by machete during rape, death by choking (on a penis) during rape... well, you get the idea.

Also Ranked

#20 on The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again

#53 on The Goriest Movies Ever Made

#11 on The Most Nausea-Inducing Great Films

#19 on The Most Awkward Movies to Watch with Your Parents

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Boys Don't Cry is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 23 Disturbing, Brutal Movies Based on Real-Life Atrocities
Photo:  Fox Searchlight

Boys Don't Cry depicts transphobia in a terrifying way—through the real-life murder of trans man Brandon Teena at the hands of his own friends, who didn't know he was trans. What makes Boys Don't Cry so hard to sit through is how it breaks your heart, and terrifies you, in equal measure. Directed with sensitivity and compassion by Kimberly Peirce, the film makes you fall in love with Brandon and his friends.

It then shows you the fathomless darkness buried beneath the congenial nature of Brandon's friends, and ends with Brandon's death. It's a tragic vision of prejudice and fear in small town America.

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#4 on The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again

#41 on The Best Movies of 1999

#26 on The Best Movies Based on Non-Fiction Books

#1 on The Best Biopics About LGBTQ+ Figures

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