5.8k voters

The Best Scary Movies Based on True Stories

Updated February 18, 2021 37.3k votes 5.8k voters 528.9k 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.
  • The Silence of the Lambs1

    The Silence of the Lambs

    Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins


    Directed byJonathan Demme

    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
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  • The Exorcist2

    The Exorcist

    Max von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn


    Directed byWilliam Friedkin

    Inspired by the alleged demonic possession of Robbie Mannheim.

    The Exorcist is a 1973 American supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin, adapted...  more
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  • A Nightmare on Elm Street3

    A Nightmare on Elm Street

    Johnny Depp, Robert Englund


    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


    Alfred Hitchcock, Janet Leigh


    Directed byAlfred Hitchcock

    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
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  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre5

    The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

    Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns


    Directed byTobe Hooper

    Loosely based on serial killer Ed Gein.

    This movie is a 1974 American slasher film, directed and produced by Tobe Hooper, who cowrote...  more
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  • The Amityville Horror6

    The Amityville Horror

    James Brolin, Margot Kidder


    Directed byStuart Rosenberg

    Inspired by the experiences of the Lutz family as investigated by Paranormal Detectives, Ed and Lorraine Warren.
    The Amityville Horror is a 1979 American supernatural horror film, directed by Stuart...  more
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  • The Conjuring7

    The Conjuring

    Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson


    Directed byJames Wan

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

    The Conjuring is a 2013 American supernatural horror film directed by James Wan and the first...  more
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  • The Hills Have Eyes8

    The Hills Have Eyes

    Dee Wallace, Michael Berryman


    Directed byWes Craven

    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
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  • The Exorcism of Emily Rose9

    The Exorcism of Emily Rose

    Laura Linney, Jennifer Carpenter


    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.
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  • Jaws10


    Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss


    Directed bySteven Spielberg

    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...  more
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  • Child's Play11

    Child's Play

    Brad Dourif, Catherine Hicks


    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

    The Haunting in Connecticut

    Virginia Madsen, Amanda Crew


    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

    The Zodiac Killer

    Hal Reed, Bob Jones


    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


    Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci


    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. 

    Monster is a 2003 drama film about Aileen Wuornos, who was executed in Florida in 2002 for...  more
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  • Bram Stoker's Dracula15

    Bram Stoker's Dracula

    Monica Bellucci, Keanu Reeves


    Directed byFrancis Ford Coppola

    Vlad the Impaler. Period.

    Bram Stoker's Dracula is a 1992 American horror film directed and produced by Francis Ford...  more
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  • Scream16


    Drew Barrymore, Rose McGowan


    Directed byWes Craven

    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....  more
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  • The Strangers17

    The Strangers

    Liv Tyler, Gemma Ward


    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

    The Entity

    Barbara Hershey, Ron Silver


    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.

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  • An American Haunting19

    An American Haunting

    Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek


    Directed byCourtney Solomon

    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
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  • From Hell20

    From Hell

    Heather Graham, Ian Holm


    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

    Wolf Creek

    Teresa Palmer, John Jarratt


    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

    The Mothman Prophecies

    Richard Gere, Debra Messing


    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

    The Girl Next Door

    Catherine Mary Stewart, William Atherton


    Directed byGregory Wilson

    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...  more
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  • Dracula24


    Bela Lugosi, Tod Browning


    Directed byTod Browning, Karl Freund

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

    Dracula is a 1931 vampire-horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi as...  more
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  • Dahmer25


    Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison


    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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