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

Will Gish
30.8k votes 9.5k voters 2.8M views 23 items Embed

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. 
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The Strangers


The Strangers is listed (or ranked) 1 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.

Also Ranked

#26 on The Best Movies "Loosely" Based on True Stories

#18 on The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

#14 on Horror Movie Set-Ups You'd Least Like to Be Trapped In

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

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Hostel


Hostel is listed (or ranked) 2 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.

Also Ranked

#93 on The Greatest Horror Films of All Time

#7 on The Goriest Movies Ever Made

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

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

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Boys Don't Cry


Boys Don't Cry is listed (or ranked) 3 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.

Also Ranked

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

#38 on The Best Movies of 1999

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

#3 on The Best Movies Based on Real Murders

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Zodiac


Zodiac is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 23 Disturbing, Brutal Movies Based on Real-Life Atrocities
Photo:  Paramount Pictures

Countless movies exist based on real serial killers. But only one of them was made by the inimitable David Fincher, master at finding the intersection of disturbing, violent, lurid, bizarre, and hilarious.The violence of Zodiac isn't what makes the film hard to sit through–it's the constant, suffocating dread permeating the banal day-to-day lives of normal people, the way in which the film depicts one small kernel of fear and violence snowballing to destroy people's lives and their perception of their fellow man. The film's uneasy ending also leaves audiences unsettled. 

Also Ranked

#19 on The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time

#27 on The Best Movies Based on True Stories

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

#72 on The Best Movies of the '00s

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