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The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

Updated October 10, 2019 37.5k votes 5.8k voters 528.6k views34 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.
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  • The Silence of the Lambs1

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • The Exorcist2
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    Inspired by the alleged demonic possession of Robbie Mannheim.

    The Exorcist is a 1973 American supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin, adapted... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • A Nightmare on Elm Street3

    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.

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  • Psycho4
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    Loosely based on Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.

    Psycho is a 1960 American horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film centers on an... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre5

    Loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein.

    This movie is a 1974 American slasher film, directed and produced by Tobe Hooper, who cowrote... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • The Amityville Horror6
    Inspired by the experiences of the Lutz family as investigated by Paranormal Detectives, Ed and Lorraine Warren.
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  • The Conjuring7

    Based on the experiences of the Perron family as investigated by paranormal detectives Ed and Lorraine Warren.

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  • The Exorcism of Emily Rose8
    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • The Hills Have Eyes9

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • Child's Play10
    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,... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • Jaws11
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    Inspired by a series of shark attacks off the New Jersey shore in 1916.
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  • The Haunting in Connecticut12

    Inspired by the experiences of the Snedeker family as investigated by paranormal detectives Ed and Lorraine Warren.

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  • The Zodiac Killer13

    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,... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • Monster14
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    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. 

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  • Bram Stoker's Dracula15

    Vlad the Impaler. Period.

    Bram Stoker's Dracula is a 1992 American horror film directed and produced by Francis Ford... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • Scream16
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    Based partly on the real-life case of the Gainesville Ripper.

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  • The Strangers17

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • An American Haunting18

    Based on the legend of the Bell Witch.

    An American Haunting is a 2005 horror film written and directed by Courtney Solomon. It stars... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • The Entity19

    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • From Hell20
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    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button

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  • The Mothman Prophecies21
    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • Wolf Creek22

    Loosely inspired by Ivan Milat, who captured and tortured many hitchhikers and travelers during the 1990s.

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  • The Girl Next Door23
    Partially based on the torture and murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens in 1965.
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  • Ted Bundy24
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    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... more on WikipediaAmazon buy button
  • Dracula25
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    Inspired by the exploits of the Wallachian prince and serial killer Vlad III aka Vlad the Impaler

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