Writing a list of top serial killer films is a rather massive undertaking. While this list is limited to 25, the amount of true serial killer films ranges well over 200. There is also alot of contradiction as to what really constitutes a serial killer film. (For instance if a madman traps a bunch of kids on a house and kills them all, is he a serial killer…or just a lousy host??)
Now if you take a step back to a few years ago, there was a serial killer craze for awhile that featured each title by the name of the actual “real” serial killer. Though after about 3 of these, I quickly observed that “most” of them were very poor and in fact quite boring. So for the sake of this list, I’m not including them for that fact alone. This list comprises a bit of fictional and non-fictional films that I found to be of recommended stature. A few franchises such as SAW, and Hannibal have been listed more as a collection, as to each from the series has much to offer. This is not a SAW list, but rather a recommendation of titles. I will say that I’ve “seen” several of this mystery 200 list but there are a few that I haven’t seen. So to avoid criticism, I’ll just say their may be some older gems that got overlooked. The criteria here was a perspective of great films that reside in the serial killer genre.
Also for the record I’m leaving out franchises like “Halloween”, “Texas Chainsaw” and “Friday the 13th” as they also have a bit of supernatural elements interwoven into them making them more of a different sort (killer gets shot and rises from dead). Often mask driven (or character driven) films seem to instill a bit of “can’t die” into their premise, for instance: “Midnight Movie”, Shocker”, and “Laid to Rest”, or “The Hills Run Red”.
Vigilante justice films are also not included, as while they DO kill off a large number of bodies, the are positioned from a place of doing good for the community (SAW films may sometimes fall into that gray area)
Keep in mind to be deemed a “serial killer”, one has to participate in the murder of several.
I think the movie has to ooze that “serial killer” vibe, as well in its storyline
It should also star Morgan Freeman (just kidding)
Any ways, those who are new to these titles, enjoy!
Note: Not in ranking order
01- SAW Franchise (series)
Take your pick, any one of these 7 films are worthy of a quality viewing experience. By definition, or at least by Jigsaw’s perspective…he wasn’t a serial killer. He in fact let his victims decide if they live or die. But let’s cut the crap here….the man whether a genius engineer or psychotic pretty much set the stage for his captured victims to die a horrible death. Saw movies revolutionized the idea of crafty devices. Loved everyone one of these and look forward to seeing them all again.
02- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
This here little gem is pretty much old school serial fare. It was one of those films that was banned before we grew up as a viewing audience. So when this arrived, it was pretty horrible stuff. Though lately, we find ourselves enjoying the crap out of nasty killings and paying good money for it. This was Michael Rooker in his earlier days, when everyone was afraid of him. I’m not sure he ever wiped himself completely clean of his serial killer persona but he sure is a raw talent. You’ll want to give this one a whirl as it’s a cult film as much as a horror film. Most of all it’s cold as ice.
03- The Cell (2000)
What a movie! Though take away Jennifer Lopez and it still would be awesome. Tarsem Singh proved his visionary way of filmmaking with some pretty freaky stuff here. The movie is as beautiful as a nightmare and as haunting as a dream. Our eye candy is candy indeed, making the serial aspect bigger than life. You would think that Marilyn Manson might pop out any second in this almost music video feeling style of props and weirdness. Though I never grow old seeing the inside realities of a serial killer mind. Cell 2? sucked…don’t waste a breath on it.
04- Natural Born Killers (1994)
This movie came out and people just didn’t get it. Oliver Stone is one brilliant mind, who actually exceeded expectations with this release. Though the film doesn’t feel like a film at times, which is the prod that stuck to viewers sides. My advice is, just experience this in all its sensationalism. The vibe of iconic circumstance is a cup over flowing in NBK. A brilliant take on life and the media. The media? Yep, with Mickey and Mallory on hand to oblige. The movie is more cult than it is horror but then again the horror is delivered in a sarcastic tone that drips in dark comedic filmmaking.
05- Rampage (1987)
Hey world, what ever happened to this creepy serial killer explosion? If not mistaken, this movie is still left to aging VHS tapes that have seen too many “hit play” moments. Rampage is actually based on a true story but is taken farther and more bloodier. Directed by William Friedkin, Alex McArthur is a true terror i his role as Charlie Reece. There is this shot of Charlie blood soaked in front of a church altar that leaves a rather nasty impression. Still on my list to this day, though a DVD would be nice!!
06- Hannibal – Silence of the Lambs – ManHunter – Red Dragon (Hannibal Collective)
You want yourself a movie experience? Sit down with this set and watch front to back. We won’t mention the additional film this franchise as it was these 4 that made the world fear Hannibal Lecter. Though when Anthony Hopkins entered the arena, we had the perfect model of a psychotic mind. Sure, one may favor the other…but each offers a nice segment into the workings of a serial mind. Though when we get down to it, really Jodie foster was the high point in making Silence of the Lambs a serial killer front runner. We’ll miss Anthony as Hannibal, maybe it’s time for return?
07- Se7en (1995)
This film really doesn’t need a commentary. As I believe it exists somewhere on every collectors shelf. The movie was groundbreaking for serial killer films. In fact a few on this list were directly inspired by the impact it had on the movie industry as a whole. Kevin Spacey….could there be a better choice? Nope. The horrifics were unsettling enough to leave a mark whether seen of implied. That iconic intro, that Morgan Freeman knack for detective work.. Se7en has never been topped as a front runner. A true classic that made David Finchera top name Director.
08- The Vanishing (1993)
A perfect example of what can happen to those gone missing. “The Vanishing” was actually a remake of a foreign film, though at the time…..this was what westerners had to watch. There is a few moments so cold and realistic that it might give you a reason to dread humanity. “The Vanishing” was one of those films that took along time to make it to DVD, though a careful viewing session stills deems effective to fragile minds. I think the moment of realization in “The Vanishing” is the hardest to take. We feel for the characters and the victims. A good solid thriller that for some reason was not always favored by the critics.
09- Untraceable (2008)
Sort of a hybrid film, this movie succeeds in some nasty torture serial moments. It also give viewers a reason to fear creepy on liners who live for ratings and hit counts. Time based kills, nasty devices….it’s a tribute to SAW without being SAW. Diane Lane succeeds as a worthy protagonist and empowered female to root for. Maybe it’s not perfect, but I still think its quality cinema. This movie also tends to want to make a statement about cyber culture and too much media at our disposal. Perhaps a future “Untraceable” copy cat serial killer is still around the corner???
10- Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Really an oddity, that while comedic thru the first and 2nd acts actually manages to become that which it makes fun of. The director went for a different approach that I think threw folks for a loop. Though in it’s scream-like self sarcasm, this ends up being a really good serial killer flick. It certainly is not in the vein of Se7en or others on this list, but it is a nice change of pace that gives us what we are used to seeing with a twist. Still underrated, this film is a true future classic .
11- The Bone Collector (1999)
One of the few serial killer films that stars Angelina Jolie. This movie was one of the highlight follow up films coming off the Se7en era. The inventiveness in “left to die” serial murders made this a strong contender for this wave of movies. It may have not made as much as an impact, though Denzel Washington is hard to beat.
Denzel Washington plays a quadriplegic homicide detective. He and his female partner track down a serial killer
12- Zodiac (2007)
The title of Zodiac has been re-done so many times, it was becoming hard to differentiate the good ones from poor. Director: David Fincher got behind this one and added a stellar cast. By these 2 factors it probably could stand on its own as an entry, though the film also ends up being a really great look at the famed “zodiac” murders (if not best).
A San Francisco cartoonist becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac killer
Top 25 Best Serial Killer Movies of All Time