Not all the movies on this list are, strictly speaking, crime films. Not in the sense that The Departed or The French Connection are crime dramas. However, these movies all have their roots in real crimes or bizarre cases, such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose, in which priests and a girl's parents may have been responsible for her death.
Some of the films draw from news stories, and others are adaptations of novels based on notorious killers. While Freddy Krueger wasn’t actually a real person who attacked teenagers in their sleep, the premise of A Nightmare on Elm Street was based on the story of a perfectly healthy young Cambodian refugee who was having terrible nightmares before finally dying in his sleep. Infamous killer and grave robber Ed Gein inspired some of the most iconic film characters in the history cinema: Norman Bates from Psycho, Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs, and Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Some of the films based on true stories from this list are more factual than others. For example, Dahmer and Monster are not horror films inspired by actual murders, they are biopics of the real murderers. While the films take a poetic license, they tell the stories of Jeffrey Dahmer’s and Aileen Wuornos’s lives. Check out these 20 films inspired by true stories.
The Silence of the Lambs became just the third movie to win the Big Five at the Academy Awards, taking home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also turned the film's refined cannibal antagonist, Hannibal Lecter - played by Anthony Hopkins - into a pop culture phenomenon.
The 1991 film's source material, a novel by author Thomas Harris, based the villain in the story on several serial killers - including the infamous grave robber Ed Gein. Following the death of Gein's beloved mother, he decided he wanted to become a woman. Just like Buffalo Bill did in the movie, Gein began constructing a "female suit" by collecting body parts from deceased females.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, released in 1984, was indirectly based on a true story. The narrative device of Wes Craven's slasher film - in which knife-for-fingers Freddy Krueger, played by Robert Englund, kills innocent teenagers in their sleep - is entirely fictionalized. However, Craven based the movie on a Los Angeles Times article he read.
Craven described the idea for the premise of A Nightmare on Elm Street:
I’d read an article in the LA Times about a family who had escaped the Killing Fields in Cambodia and managed to get to the U.S. Things were fine, and then suddenly the young son was having very disturbing nightmares. He told his parents he was afraid that if he slept, the thing chasing him would get him, so he tried to stay awake for days at a time. When he finally fell asleep, his parents thought this crisis was over. Then they heard screams in the middle of the night. By the time they got to him, he was dead. He died in the middle of a nightmare. Here was a youngster having a vision of a horror that everyone older was denying. That became the central line of Nightmare on Elm Street.
The 1973 horror film The Exorcist was based on a book written by William Peter Blatty, who also wrote the screenplay. The story was inspired by a real young boy, pseudonym Roland Doe, who was reportedly possessed by demons. Doe's Catholic parents felt his behavior was demonic and sought a priest to perform an exorcism.
Director William Friedkin stayed as true as possible to the real events and reportedly was even given access to the priest's diaries. Friedkin made one major change in the film - the possessed was a 12-year-old girl, played by Linda Blair, and not a young a boy.
Child's Play, Tom Holland's 1988 supernatural slasher film about a murdering doll, is based on the story of artist and author Robert Eugene Otto's childhood doll. The story goes that a Bahamian servant made the doll - called Robert the Doll - for Robert while she was taking care of him in 1906. However, the family reportedly did not treat the servant well, so she placed a voodoo curse on the gift.
Robert's parents claimed to hear the doll laugh and talk. They also maintained the doll destroyed the boy's other toys out of jealousy. Neighbors even reported spotting the doll peering from different windows of the house when the family was not home.