Entertainment

The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories 

Ranker Film
Originally by
Updated October 10, 2019 62.1k votes 5.7k voters 526.6k views 34 items

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
1
Ranker Video

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

More The Exorcist 

#22 of 351 The Best Movies Based On Books Did A Malevolent Spirit Actually Curse 'The Exorcist' From The Get-Go?listed on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

2
Ranker Video

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

More The Silence of the Lambs 

#1 of 254 The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time You've Been Watching Silence Of The Lambs Wrong For Years: It's A Comedylisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

3
Ranker Video

Loosely based on Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.

Psycho is a 1960 American horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film centers on an encounter between a secretary, Marion Crane, who ends up at a secluded motel after taking money from ...more

More Psycho 

#4 of 254 The Best Psychological Thrillers of All Time #203 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #7 of 799 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time

4
Ranker Video
Inspired by the experiences of the Lutz family as investigated by Paranormal Detectives, Ed and Lorraine Warren.

More The Amityville Horror 

#106 of 591 The Best '70s Movies #13 of 113 The Best Intelligent Horror Movies

5
Ranker Video

Loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein.

This movie 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 ...more

More The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 

#619 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #12 of 13 12+ Horror Movie Fan Theories That Make Your Favorites Even Scarier The Most Chilling Quotes From 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre'

6
Ranker Video
7
Ranker Video

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.

More A Nightmare on Elm Street 

#332 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #4 of 799 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time Ranking Freddy Krueger's Best Kills from A Nightmare on Elm Street

8
Ranker Video
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

More Jaws 

#1 of 33 The Best Steven Spielberg Movies Behind The Scenes Of Every Death In ‘Jaws’listed on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

9
Ranker Video
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

More Child's Play 

#164 of 624 The Greatest Guilty Pleasure Movies #20 of 799 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time #195 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

10
Ranker Video

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
11
Ranker Video

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
12
Ranker Video
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, loosely based on the story of Anneliese Michel. A self-proclaimed agnostic lawyer (Laura ...more
13
Ranker Video

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 drama film about Aileen Wuornos, who was executed in Florida in 2002 for taking six men's lives in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Wuornos was played by Charlize Theron, and ...more

More Monster 

#219 of 710 The Best Movies Roger Ebert Gave Four Stars #46 of 53 What's the Best Florida Movie of All Time?listed on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

14
Ranker Video

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.
15
Ranker Video

Vlad the Impaler. Period.

Bram Stoker's Dracula is a 1992 American horror film directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola, based on the 1897 Gothic horror novel by Bram Stoker. Count Dracula (Gary Oldman), a ...more

More Bram Stoker's Dracula 

#53 of 351 The Best Movies Based On Books The 11 Weirdest Things About Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'listed on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

16
Ranker Video
lakshmi-tejasvi added

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

More Scream 

#12 of 799 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time #381 of 803 The Greatest Chick Flicks Ever Made According To This Theory, Dewey Is The Serial Killer Mastermind In 'Scream'

17
Ranker Video

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
Ranker Video

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

More The Strangers 

#1,579 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #98 of 799 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time #49 of 157 The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again

19
Ranker Video

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

More Wolf Creek 

#255 of 799 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time #187 of 236 The Best Movies Based on True Stories

20
Ranker Video

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

More The Entity 

#197 of 799 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time #342 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

21
Ranker Video
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

More From Hell 

#439 of 624 The Greatest Guilty Pleasure Movies #131 of 165 The Greatest Comic Book Movies of All Time

22
Ranker Video

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

23
Ranker Video
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

More The Mothman Prophecies 

#249 of 799 The Best Horror Movies Of All Time #181 of 504 The Scariest Movies Ever Made

24
Ranker Video
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 Sylvia Likens by Gertrude ...more
25
Ranker Video
Tom Islava added

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

More Dracula 

#71 of 351 The Best Movies Based On Books #45 of 116 The Scariest Giant Monster Movies