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The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

Updated February 18, 2021 37.3k votes 5.8k voters 528.8k views57 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
    1,657
    383

    The Silence of the Lambs

    Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins

    Released1991

    Directed byJonathan Demme

    Based loosely on the relationship between serial killer Ted Bundy and criminal profiler Robert Keppel.

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  • The Exorcist2
    1,845
    470

    The Exorcist

    Max von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn

    Released1973

    Directed byWilliam Friedkin

    Inspired by the alleged demonic possession of Robbie Mannheim.

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  • A Nightmare on Elm Street3
    1,293
    417

    A Nightmare on Elm Street

    Johnny Depp, Robert Englund

    Released1984

    Directed byWes Craven

    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.

    A Nightmare on Elm Street is a 1984 American supernatural slasher horror film written and...  more
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  • Psycho4
    1,232
    436

    Psycho

    Alfred Hitchcock, Janet Leigh

    Released1960

    Directed byAlfred Hitchcock

    Loosely based on Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.

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  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre5
    1,398
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    The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

    Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns

    Released1974

    Directed byTobe Hooper

    Loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein.

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  • The Amityville Horror6
    1,266
    462

    The Amityville Horror

    James Brolin, Margot Kidder

    Released1979

    Directed byStuart Rosenberg

    Inspired by the experiences of the Lutz family as investigated by Paranormal Detectives, Ed and Lorraine Warren.
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  • The Conjuring7
    1,384
    382

    The Conjuring

    Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson

    Released2013

    Directed byJames Wan

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

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  • The Hills Have Eyes8
    884
    416

    The Hills Have Eyes

    Dee Wallace, Michael Berryman

    Released1977

    Directed byWes Craven

    Based on the sixteenth century cave-dwelling-clan leader Alexander Bean. He and his disciples ate an estimated 1,000 people.

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  • The Exorcism of Emily Rose9
    875
    376

    The Exorcism of Emily Rose

    Laura Linney, Jennifer Carpenter

    Released2005

    Directed byScott Derrickson

    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
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  • Jaws10
    1,082
    557

    Jaws

    Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss

    Released1975

    Directed bySteven Spielberg

    Inspired by a series of shark attacks off the New Jersey shore in 1916.
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  • Child's Play11
    911
    463

    Child's Play

    Brad Dourif, Catherine Hicks

    Released1988

    Directed byTom Holland

    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
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  • The Haunting in Connecticut12
    782
    371

    The Haunting in Connecticut

    Virginia Madsen, Amanda Crew

    Released2009

    Directed byPeter Cornwell

    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...  more
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  • The Zodiac Killer13
    694
    424

    The Zodiac Killer

    Hal Reed, Bob Jones

    Released1971

    Directed byTom Hanson

    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
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  • Monster14
    695
    484

    Monster

    Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci

    Released2003

    Directed byPatty Jenkins

    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
    667
    410

    Bram Stoker's Dracula

    Monica Bellucci, Keanu Reeves

    Released1992

    Directed byFrancis Ford Coppola

    Vlad the Impaler. Period.

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  • Scream16
    493
    242

    Scream

    Drew Barrymore, Rose McGowan

    Released1996

    Directed byWes Craven

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

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  • The Strangers17
    634
    335

    The Strangers

    Liv Tyler, Gemma Ward

    Released2008

    Directed byBryan Bertino

    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
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  • The Entity18
    395
    347

    The Entity

    Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver

    Released1982

    Directed bySidney J. Furie

    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
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  • An American Haunting19
    558
    351

    An American Haunting

    Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek

    Released2005

    Directed byCourtney Solomon

    Based on the legend of the Bell Witch.

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  • From Hell20
    455
    344

    From Hell

    Heather Graham, Ian Holm

    Released2001

    Directed byAlbert Hughes, Allen Hughes

    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
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  • Wolf Creek21
    344
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    Wolf Creek

    Teresa Palmer, John Jarratt

    Released2005

    Directed byGreg McLean

    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,...  more
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  • The Mothman Prophecies22
    488
    433

    The Mothman Prophecies

    Richard Gere, Debra Messing

    Released2002

    Directed byMark Pellington

    Based on author John Keel's own investigations into the mysterious Mothman in the town of Point Pleasant.
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  • The Girl Next Door23
    336
    338

    The Girl Next Door

    Catherine Mary Stewart, William Atherton

    Released2007

    Directed byGregory Wilson

    Partially based on the torture and murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens in 1965.
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  • Dracula24
    128
    119

    Dracula

    Bela Lugosi, Tod Browning

    Released1931

    Directed byTod Browning, Karl Freund

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

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  • Dahmer25
    289
    305

    Dahmer

    Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison

    Released2002

    Directed byDavid Jacobson

    Biopic based on the life and murders of American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

    Dahmer is a 2002 American biopic horror film about the American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer....  more
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