10 Best True Crime Movies Based On Books (2023)

Content Warning: This article contains discussions of violence andreal-life crimes.

For years, movies have found inspiration from the written word, and true crime is no exception. With the seemingly increasing but morbid interest in seeing stories of serial killers portrayed on screen, more and more TV shows, documentaries, and movies are bringingthese stories to life.

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There have been many great films throughout the years tackling the portrayals of true crime. Unlike movies based on fiction, the importance of staying true to the events is what makes these stand out from the rest.

Lost Girls (2020)

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Based on investigative reporter Robert Kolker’s 2013 novel, this movie follows a mother’s relentless pursuit for answers about her missing daughter, Shannan. She discovers Shannan was part of an online community of sex workers who had turned to Craigslist to find clients. As Mari struggles to find empathy from law enforcement, who have deemed her daughter's life as unimportant, she decides to take matters into her own hands, which leads to discovering more cases of missing girls from over the years.

Her search unveils multiple dead women scattered throughout Long Island and triggers the hunt for a still unidentified serial killer known as L.I.S.K. Amy Ryan's portrayal of Mari Gilbertillustrates toviewers the harrowing task of finding the truth when no one else seems to care.

My Friend Dahmer (2017)

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Based on the graphic novel and memoir by John "Derf" Backderf, My Friend Dahmer depicts Jeffrey Dahmer's troubled adolescence all the way through his high school graduation. The film shows, in-depth, the making of the infamous serial killer and what led him to murder. It's unsettling as it humanizes Dahmer, in a seeming attempt to create empathy for the struggling high school student who turns to alcohol and acts out in his classes for attention.

The movie ends just as Dahmer picks up his first victim after high school graduation. As the credits roll, the statistics of Dahmer's murders are shown, reminding viewers of his horrific crimes.

Monster (2003)

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Based on the novel written by Aileen Wuornos herself, Monster stars Charlize Theron as Aileen and Christina Ricci as her girlfriend, Selby. Theron's depiction of Aileen won an Academy Award, and for good reason. She transforms on the screen to share the story of how Wuornos came to be, the emotion and attention to detail riveting throughout the film.

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The movie starts just as Aileen meets Selby at a bar, and finds an unexpected bond with her as Selby genuinely seems to care about her, something she isn’t used to. Wuornos is humanized as she struggles to find a safer place in the world, wanting to support Selby and better her life, but always resorting back to old ways. The movie does something chilling and creates empathy for the serial killer.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

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Catch Me If You Can is about a con artist named Frank Abagnale Jr. who cashed $2.5 million worth of bad checks while impersonating a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, a teacher, and an attorney.The movie was directed by Steven Spielbergfrom the book written by Abagnale Jr. himself and is chockful of big names including Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Walken, and Martin Sheen, making this a notable watch for many.

Hanks portrays an FBI agent who becomes obsessed with catching Abagnale (DiCaprio) and the con man proves to be always one step ahead, creating a tense, yet hilarious, cat and mouse game. This movie is more of a comedy as it provides a light-hearted feel, DiCaprio and Hanks playing off one another throughout while telling an unbelievable story of ayoung man managing to steal millions of dollars before the age of 21.

Party Monster (2003)

This film is based on the novelDisco Bloodbathand follows the rise and fall of party promoter, Michael Alig. Set in the New York club scene of the late 1980s through the 1990s, Alig, played by Macaulay Culkin, moved from small-town Indiana and quickly found himself as an underground legend due to his excessive drug use and outrageous behavior at the clubs.

His extravagant life was sent spiraling out of control after he bragged on television that he had killed his drug dealer, Angel Melendez, by injecting him with Drano and throwing him in the East River.Culkin's portrayal of Alig is otherworldly, being his first movie since Richie Rich, and is far from the lovable boy viewers all know and love.

Zodiac (2007)

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An unidentified serial killer in the San Francisco Bay Area taunts police with his letters and cryptic messages. Viewers follow the investigators and reporters as they search for the murderer, becoming obsessed with the case that leads to dead end after dead end. Based on Robert Graysmith's book,Zodiac,Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr., bring the story of the hunt of the infamous Zodiac killer to life.

The impeccable acting and story-telling provide an informative insight on the murders, and while it doesn't focus on the killer himself, the movie leaves the viewers hooked on the frustrating investigation that involved multiple twists and turns. The movie brought so much attention and interest that the cold case was reopened after its release, but with no positive results.

Devil's Knot (2013)

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In Devils' Knot, based on the book by Mara Leveritt, three eight-year-old boys go missing after riding bikes in their neighborhood, creating fear and outrage within the West Memphis, Arkansas, community. An extensive search leads to the discovery of the boys' naked, bound, and beaten bodies in a shallow creek, the scene not one for the faint of heart.

Reese Witherspoon plays the mother of one of the young boys, Stevie Branch, and provides heart-wrenching emotion at her search for justice for her murdered son and his friends. The police and townspeople immediately assume the murders are the work of a satanic cult, placing the blame on three misfit teens, with Damien Echols as their leader. The movie provides insight into the shoddy police work and lack of investigation, as well as their role in coaxing people into giving false confessions.

In Cold Blood (1967)

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Told through flashbacks, this film, based on the novel by Truman Capote, covers the story of two ex-convicts who meet in Kansas in the fall of 1959. Together they plot to rob the Clutter family, who is rumored to keep a large sum of cash stashed in a safe at their home. Their mission is thwarted as they enter the home and things go south, unable to find the safe and to cover their tracks they murder the family of four before fleeing to Mexico.

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After two weeks, they return and are shortly thereafter arrested. The movie is straightforward as both Smith and Hickock are charged with first-degree murder and each sentenced to death. After losing multiple appeals, both men are hanged for their crimes.

Foxcatcher (2014)

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Steve Carrell shows a completely different side of his acting ability as he plays millionaire and wrestling enthusiast John du Pont. He invites Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who also is the author of the book the movie is based on, to join "Team Foxcatcher" and the chance to win big at the 1988 Summer Olympics. Schultz, who is in a bad financial situation, jumps at the opportunity.

Du Pont's personality makes a turn for the worst as he begins to lure Mark into an unhealthy lifestyle by introducing him to cocaine and it threatens his ability to succeed. Mark's brother, Dave Schultz, later joins Team Foxcatcher, which leads to a jealous rivalry for Du Pont as he lacks the other brother's confidence. This ultimately leads to the millionaire's further unraveling, resulting in Dave's murder.

House Of Gucci (2021)

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One of the more recent true crime movies, House of Guccitells the story of manipulation and murder and is based on the book by Sara Gay Forden.Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) is a simple office manager at her father's trucking firm who meets Maurizio Gucci at a party. Patrizia charms Maurizio, leading to her marrying into the Gucci family, despite his father's warnings that she only wanted him for his money.

After marrying, Rodolfo disinherits his son, and Maurizio takes a job at Patrizia's father's trucking company. When she becomes pregnant, Patrizia seizes her opportunity to swindle her way back into the Gucci familys' lives. As her motives come to light Maurizio files for divorce, growing tired of her clear attempts at manipulation for monetary gain. His wife becomes furious which ultimately leads her to hire two hitmen, resulting in his death.

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