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The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

Updated October 10, 2019 37.7k votes 5.8k voters 528.3k 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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  • 1
    The Silence of the Lambs is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

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

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  • 2
    The Exorcist is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
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    Inspired by the alleged demonic possession of Robbie Mannheim.

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  • 3
    A Nightmare on Elm Street is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

    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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  • 4
    Psycho is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
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    Loosely based on Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.

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  • 5
    The Amityville Horror is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
    Inspired by the experiences of the Lutz family as investigated by Paranormal Detectives, Ed and Lorraine Warren.
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  • 6
    The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

    Loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein.

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  • 7
    The Conjuring is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

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

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  • 8
    The Exorcism of Emily Rose is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
    Based on the story of a 16-year-old German girl named Anneliese Michel who was believed to be possessed in 1968.
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  • 9
    The Hills Have Eyes is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

    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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  • 10
    Child's Play is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
    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. 
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  • 11
    Jaws is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
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    Inspired by a series of shark attacks off the New Jersey shore in 1916.
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  • 12
    The Haunting in Connecticut is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

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

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  • 13
    The Zodiac Killer is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

    Based on the notorious San Francisco serial killer, the Zodiac.

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  • 14
    Monster is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
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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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  • 15
    Bram Stoker's Dracula is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

    Vlad the Impaler. Period.

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  • 16
    Scream is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
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    Based partly on the real-life case of the Gainesville Ripper.

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  • 17
    The Strangers is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

    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.

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  • 18
    An American Haunting is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

    Based on the legend of the Bell Witch.

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  • 19
    The Entity is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

    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.

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  • 20
    From Hell is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
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    Inspired by the murders committed by Jack The Ripper.
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  • 21
    The Mothman Prophecies is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
    Based on author John Keel's own investigations into the mysterious Mothman in the town of Point Pleasant.
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  • 22
    The Girl Next Door is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
    Partially based on the torture and murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens in 1965.
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  • 23
    Wolf Creek is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

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

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  • 24
    Ted Bundy is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
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    Based on the crimes of the titular Ted Bundy.

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  • 25
    Dahmer is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories
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    Biopic based on the life and murders of American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

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