Creating a list of the best serial killer movies to watch is a great challenge. First, we have to decide exactly what falls into the category of serial killer movies. Do we count the Friday the 13th movies since Jason Voorhees is probably one of the most prolific movie serial killers of all times? But if we count Jason should we consider Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger? Or are these just slasher films? Or maybe they are regular horror?
Determining what is a serial killer movie can be somewhat complex and controversial to some. There is a complex answer and a simple answer.
The complex answer is a little more detailed. First look at what is a serial killer? Typically, we consider a serial killer to be someone who murders three or more people. The serial killer hunts and stalks his or her victims. The serial killer usually has some sort of abnormal psychological condition and the murders usually take place over more than a month or so apart.
Even the definition of what is a serial killer is not consistent in the law enforcement business so how can we expect it to be consistent in the movie business.
I like to keep it simple. And the simple answer is that everything on the list is what I consider to be a serial killer movie. I didn’t include Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, or Michael Myers on the list. Could they be considered serial killers? Absolutely!
But with this list I was going more Hannibal Lector and Henry Lee Otis than Jason, Freddy, or Myers. But if I missed something that you think should be on the top 20 best serial killer movies to watch than feel free to leave a comment and let us know.
In no particular order or ranking, here are the top 20 best serial killer movies to watch:
- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)Long before he was Daryl Dixon’s brother Merle Dixon in The Walking Dead, Michael Rooker played the role of Henry in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The film was directed by John McNaughton and written by Richard Fire and John McNaughton.
The story is loosely based on two real life serial killers, Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole. The movie was filmed in 1985 but really didn’t receive widespread distribution because the MPAA rated the film X. Later on it was awarded an NC-17 rating. This is probably one of my favorite all time serial killer movie as Michael Rooker really did a great job with the character Henry. The serial killer movie is raw yet not over the top.
Seven or Se7en was written by Andrew Kevin Walker and directed by David Fincher. The serial killer movie told the story of two police detectives that are trying to catch a serial killer. The serial killer is inspired by seven deadly sins portrayed in Dante’s Inferno. Each of the serial killer’s victims represents one of the seven deadly sins. Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Seven stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, R. Lee Ermey, and Kevin Spacey.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Based on a novel by the same name by Thomas Harris, this movie brought us one of horror fans most loved serial killers, Dr. Hannibal Lector. The movie was directed by Jonathan Demme and starred Jodie Foster, Scott Glenn, and Anthony Hopkins. The Silence of the Lambs is about FBI cadet, Clarice Starling, who is tasked with interviewing the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lector in hopes of getting his help in catching another serial killer called Buffalo Bill. Clarice gets Hannibal Lector’s help but has to confide in him in order to obtain information.
American Psycho (2000)
I was going to write a few lines about this movie but I have to return some videotapes. If you didn’t get that than you definitely need to check out this classic. American Psycho is set in New York City in 1987. Patrick Bateman, a handsome, young urban professional, lives a second life as a gruesome serial killer by night. This serial killer movie is filled with some great dark comedy and one liners.
Natural Born Killers (1994)
Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis are two young, attractive serial killers who become tabloid-TV darlings, thanks to a sensationalistic press led by Robert Downey Jr. The press reports the pair as they go on a 52 people killing spree. A controversial look at the way the media portrays criminals.
I Saw the Devil (2010)
On a dark road, taxi driver Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi) comes across a scared female motorist stranded in a broken-down vehicle. He pulls over — but not to help her. When the woman’s head is discovered in a local river, her devastated fiancé, Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee), a trained secret agent, becomes obsessed with hunting down her killer. Once he finds Kyung-chul, things get twisted. After brutally beating the murderer, Kim lets him go free, and a demented game of cat and mouse begins.
Wolf Creek (2005)
Wolf Creek tells the story of three backpackers who find themselves taken captive and after a brief escape hunted down by a near feral serial killer in the Australian outback. It was claimed that the movie was based on true events.
FBI criminal profiler Will Graham (William L. Petersen) is called out of early retirement to assist on a serial murder case involving a killer known as the “Tooth Fairy” (Tom Noonan). Graham enlists the help of imprisoned serial killer — and cannibal — Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), who is the reason Graham took an early retirement. Soon, Graham and the FBI are entangled in a deadly cat-and-mouse game between the Tooth Fairy, Lecktor and an interfering journalist (Stephen Lang). You might also may want to check out the 2002 remake entitled Red Dragon.
A serial killer (Elijah Wood) removes his victims’ scalps and attaches them to the vintage mannequins he restores in his late mother’s shop.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
In an abandoned house in Poughkeepsie, New York murder investigators uncover hundreds of tapes showing decades of a serial killer’s work. This is a found footage serial killer movie.
Brian Kessler (David Duchovny) is a writer, and his girlfriend, Carrie Laughlin (Michelle Forbes), is a photographer. They’re working on a book about serial killers, and planning a trip across the country to document the sites of famous serial murders. To cut costs, they set up a ride-share with strangers, Early Grayce (Brad Pitt) and his girlfriend, Adele Corners (Juliette Lewis). But what they don’t know is that Early is a violent sociopath in the middle of his own serial killing spree.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
After a raid on the rural home of the psychopathic Firefly family, two members of the clan, Otis (Bill Moseley) and Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), manage to flee the scene. Heading to a remote desert motel, the killers reunite with Baby’s father, Capt. Spaulding (Sid Haig), who is equally demented and intent on maintaining their murder spree. While the trio continues to torment and kill various victims, the vengeful Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe) slowly closes in on them.
Kiss the Girls (1997)
Successful forensic psychologist Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) discovers that his niece has gone missing. Once he consults with police Detective Nick Ruskin (Cary Elwes), Cross believes that the disappearance is the work of an insane killer known as “Casanova.” Meanwhile, Dr. Kate McTiernan (Ashley Judd) is kidnapped by this criminal and witnesses many other imprisoned women in his lair. After narrowly escaping, McTiernan teams up with Cross to try to apprehend the deranged Casanova.
Man Bites Dog (1992)
The activities of rampaging, indiscriminate serial killer Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde) are recorded by a willingly complicit documentary team, who eventually become his accomplices and active participants. Ben provides casual commentary on the nature of his work and arbitrary musings on topics of interest to him, such as music or the conditions of low-income housing, and even goes so far as to introduce the documentary crew to his family. But their reckless indulgences soon get the better of them.
Shortly after moving to Florida, longtime prostitute Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) meets young and reserved Selby Wall (Christina Ricci) and a romance blossoms. When a john (Lee Tergesen) attempts to brutalize Aileen, she kills him and resolves to give up prostitution. But supporting herself and her new girlfriend through legitimate means proves extremely difficult, and she soon falls back on old ways. More johns die, and Selby can’t help but think her new friend is responsible.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
When Sally (Marilyn Burns) hears that her grandfather’s grave may have been vandalized, she and her paraplegic brother, Franklin (Paul A. Partain), set out with their friends to investigate. After a detour to their family’s old farmhouse, they discover a group of crazed, murderous outcasts living next door. As the group is attacked one by one by the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), who wears a mask of human skin, the survivors must do everything they can to escape.
Photographer Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) and oncologist Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) regain consciousness while chained to pipes at either end of a filthy bathroom. As the two men realize they’ve been trapped by a sadistic serial killer nicknamed “Jigsaw” and must complete his perverse puzzle to live, flashbacks relate the fates of his previous victims. Meanwhile, Dr. Gordon’s wife (Monica Potter) and young daughter (Makenzie Vega) are forced to watch his torture via closed-circuit video.
A pierced and tattooed sadist, Captain Howdy (Dee Snider), trolls the Internet for naive teens, luring them to his home to torture and defile them. When Howdy kidnaps and tortures the daughter of police Detective Mike Gage (Kevin Gage), he is caught. Deemed insane, he is sent to an asylum but is released soon after, seemingly better. However, Gage knows it is only a matter of time before Howdy strikes again, and he’s ready to unleash his own form of retribution when the time comes.
Long wanted serial killer Gabriel Engel gets arrested in a spectacular police strike. Small town cop Michael Martens travels to the big city to interrogate him. He associates a brutal murder case with the killer’s method and hopes to close the case by getting a confession from Engel. Instead the clash of the two totally opposite characters shakes Michaels beliefs to the ground, turning him into a dangerous threat, an enemy to the people around him.
Taking Lives (2004)
An insidious serial killer is impersonating his victims’ identities as he travels across Canada. A recent spate of murders in Montreal has brought FBI Agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie) north to investigate. Scott’s unusual methods quickly earn the suspicion of the local police but bring her close to art dealer James Costa (Ethan Hawke), who says he was an eyewitness to the latest murder. Sparks develop between the two as Costa’s role becomes crucial in their effort to apprehend the killer