Movies Based On Real-Life Crimes That Deserve More Attention

Still from 'Zodiac'
IMDB | Paramount Pictures

There's no shortage of great movies that are pure fiction — whether they're based on a book or a screenplay, everything that happens in them is a figment of the author's imagination.

Then there's the category of great movies that are rooted in something a little more real — and in many cases, the best inspiration for an engaging movie is a real-life crime story.

These are some of the most underrated movies that are based on real crimes.

'The Bling Ring'

Still from 'The Bling Ring'
IMDB | Dick Clark Productions

The story The Bling Ring is based on is detailed in a recent Netflix documentary, but the dramatized version takes basically all of its cues from the true story of a group of fame-obsessed teens who made a hobby of breaking into the homes of the rich and famous.

'The Devil Strikes at Night'

Still from 'The Devil Strikes at Night'
IMDB | Divina-Film

An old-timey movie about a handyman with a dark secret (the secret is that he likes to murder people) was inspired by Bruno Lüdke, a German man who is believed to have murdered more than 80 people — depending on who you ask.

'Vengeance is Mine'

Still from 'Vengeance is Mine'
IMDB | UK Film Studio Pictures

The plot of Vengeance is Mine, in which a Japanese serial killer kills five people over the span of two and a half months in the 1960s, directly mirrors the real story of Nishiguchi Akira, who was eventually apprehended.

'The Informant!'

Still from 'The Informant!'
IMDB | Warner Bros.

This goofy crime caper stars Matt Damon as whistleblower Mark Whitacre. Even though the movie is light in tone, it's lifted entirely from the story of the real-life Mark Whitacre, who did indeed expose price fixing at various food companies.

'Man on a Swing'

Still from 'Man on a Swing'
IMDB | Jaffifilms Inc.

This film is all but forgotten today, but is well worth a re-watch. It's based on William Clark's book, The Girl on the Volkswagen Floor, which delves into the unsolved murder of an Ohio woman who was found on, well, the floor of a Volkswagen.

'The Sugarland Express'

Still from 'The Sugarland Express'
IMDB | Universal Pictures

Stephen Spielberg cut his teeth on the 1974 murder drama The Sugarland Express. The plot is inspired by the story of a Texas criminal, Bobby Dent, and his wife Ila Fae, who went on a crime spree back in 1969.

'Memories of Murder'

Still from 'Memories of Murder'
IMDB | Sidus

Director Bong Joon-ho is a household name these days, but one of his earlier films, Memories of Murder, flies under the radar. The plot centers around the pursuit of a serial killer, and was based on a killer who murdered at least ten women in South Korea in the late '80s and early '90s.

'The Cat's Meow'

Still from 'The Cat's Meow'
IMDB | Lions Gate Films

The Cat's Meow harkens back to the early 20th century and concerns an old-timey murder mystery/cover-up. It's based around the true story of a mysterious death — that could well have been murder — that occurred after hanging out on newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst's yacht.

'The Bank Job'

Still from 'The Bank Job'
IMDB | Mosaic

Jason Statham stars in this crime heist which is based on one of Great Britain's most famous crimes: the walkie-talkie bank job. Even though the bank robbers were overheard on the radio as they planned their heist, they were still able to make off with more than half a million pounds.

'Summer of Sam'

Still from 'Summer of Sam'
IMDB | Touchstone Pictures

It should come as no surprise that Spike Lee's Summer of Sam is based on the real-life Son of Sam serial killer who stalked New York in the late '70s. David Berkowitz was eventually apprehended for the six murders he committed over a year-long murder spree.

'The Snowtown Murders'

Still from 'The Snowtown Murders'
IMDB | Carver Films

This film delves into the psychology of killers, anchored by the story of a man mentors a teenager into becoming a murderer. It's inspired by the story of John Bunting, who recruited his girlfriend's teenage son, Jamie Vlassakis, into committing violent crimes.

'The Honeymoon Killers'

Still from 'The Honeymoon Killers'
IMDB | Roxanne

The Honeymoon Killers centers around a woman who's seduced by a sadistic psychopath. It's based on the true story of Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez, who pulled off a series of cons that eventually escalated to a double murder.


Still from 'Bernie'
IMDB | Mandalay Vision

Jack Black stars in this dark comedy about a mortician who befriends an elderly widow, only to get pushed too far and strike back against her. It's based, almost beat for beat, on the true story of Bernie Tiede, who did time for his crime.


Still from 'Changeling'
IMDB | Imagine Entertainment

The story of a mom who's reunited with her missing son, only to find out that he isn't actually her son, sounds too far-fetched to be true. But incredibly, that's exactly what happened to a mother in the 1920s after her son was murdered by a serial killer.


Still from 'Rosewood'
IMDB | Warner Bros.

John Singleton's Rosewood tells the story of racism in 1920s Florida. The real story that it's based on isn't too different from the movie's plot, as a lynch mob did carry out attacks on a Black community in Rosewood, Florida after a woman said she was beaten.

'A Cry in the Dark'

Still from 'A Cry in the Dark'
IMDB | Cannon Entertainment

You've probably heard the line, "The dingo's got my baby!" or "The dingo ate my baby!", but it actually comes from a heartbreaking case in which a baby was taken and eaten by dingoes — and the baby's parents were not initially believed. This Meryl Streep film is based on the case.

'The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith'

Still from 'The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith'
IMDB | The Film House

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith centers around the true story of Jimmy Governor, a man born in Australia to a white father and an aboriginal mother. Although a few details have been changed, the story's themes of racism in early 20th century Australia — and Jimmie's brutal revenge — still ring true.


Still from 'Bully'
IMDB | StudioCanal

Bully concerns the story of a real-world murder in which a group of teenagers came up with a scheme to murder a bully who'd been making their lives difficult. They did commit the murder, but didn't get away with it — and the resulting media coverage made the case quite famous.

'Heavenly Creatures'

Still from 'Heavenly Creatures'
IMDB | WingNut Films

This forgotten mid-'90s gem features Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey as two friends who eventually wind up committing murder. It's based on a 1954 case in which two adolescents got a little too close to each other and killed someone.


Still from 'Zodiac'
IMDB | Paramount Pictures

We'll conclude this list with a more well-known movie that still flew somewhat under the radar on its release. One of the things that makes Zodiac so compelling is the fact that the mystery it's based on — that of the Zodiac Killer — remains unsolved to this day.