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Five Must-See Films Based on True Crime Stories

by Sam H Arnold about a month ago in movie review
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The movies that you can watch regardless of knowing the story behind them.

Have you ever sat down and watched a film only to be shocked when you found out it was based on a true story? Unfortunately, you are not alone; it has happened to me numerous times.

These are five of my favourite films that are based on true crime. They might not always be accurate for the crime committed, but all five are brilliant films I have watched on numerous occasions.

If you like films, being entertained and true crime, then these are the five films I suggest you check out.


Henry Hill was born in New York on 11th June 1943. He worked his way up in the mafia family Lucchese. It wasn't long before the young Hill became a close associate of Paul Vario; during his teenage years, he ran errands for Vario and his crew.

He would spend three decades in the mafia before he was caught. In 1980, he was arrested for drug trafficking; he became a federal informant and joined witness protection for many years.

His testimony brought down some of New York's most feared mobsters, including Vario.

Hill's life formed the basis of the 1885 book by Pileggi called Wiseguy. This book was the basis for the 1990 Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas. The film boasts some impressive acting names, including Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci and Lorraine Branco.

On release, the film made twice as much as it cost to make. It was nominated for six Academy Awards and won three of them. It went on to win many awards at other film ceremonies. It is primarily considered Scorsese's finest film.


Monster tells the story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Wuornos was the first female serial killer convicted of six murders and sentenced to the death penalty in 2002.

When six males were found over twelve months in different locations but in identical circumstances, it became clear that a serial killer was at work. The bodies had all been shot with a 22 calibre handgun and their valuables stolen.

Many witnesses came forward and placed the victims with two women, one tall and blond, the other brunette and heavy-set. It wasn't long before they discovered the killer's identity, Aileen Wuornos.

The film Monster deals with her life leading up to the murders and the murders themselves. In 1989, Wuornos makes a friend and begins a relationship with a woman named Selby, she attempts to straighten her life out, but with limited education, she fails to find work.

She becomes a prostitute along a local highway, a vicious client she kills in self-defence. After this, she takes to killing clients for their money and cars. When arrested, Wuornos claimed that all the murders were self-defence, but the jury did not believe her, so she was convicted.


Most people who have watched Zodiac realise quickly that the film is about the infamous serial killer by the same name.

The Zodiac Killer is one of America's most famous. During the 60s and 70s, he murdered at least five people, many of these couples, in secluded areas.

The media became captivated by the killer, especially as his relationship with them grew. He would send newspapers several coded messages taunting the police.

Some messages took weeks to decipher; some have never been completely solved. The nickname Zodiac Killer was one that he assigned to himself. Although there are many theories about who he was, his identity remains a mystery, much like Jack the Ripper.

The film tells of the search for the killer and has a star-studded lineup, including Robert Downey Jr and Jake Gyllenhaal. It was released in 2007 with many positive reviews and was nominated for several awards, grossing over $84 million.

In 2016, critics poll the BBC voted it the 12th greatest film of the 21st century.

From Hell

This is an unusual choice as the film is not directly related to an actual crime but rather one of its theories. However, it is our second unsolved crime; those that read my work will not be surprised that the film is about Jack the Ripper.

Jack the Ripper, for those who have been living in a cave, is a famous Victorian London killer. He murdered and mutilated five women during a short period in 1888. Many suspects have been suggested for his true identity, none more jaw-dropping than the connection to Prince Eddy.

The tale states that Prince Eddy had an illegitimate daughter with a common Catholic woman. When Queen Victoria found out, she ordered the relationship ended.

The solution was that the government split the young lovers up, sending Prince Eddy back to the palace and his then-wife Alice Crook to the mental asylum. All this would have worked well if not it was witnessed by Mary Kelly.

During a drunken night, Kelly told four other women about what had happened. Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes.

Jack the Ripper was a fake name and persona designed by the government and other prominent men, such as the Queen's doctor, William Gull, to hide the fact they murdered the Canonical Five.

From Hell tells this story with one rather wonderful twist at the end, a theory that has long been speculated; I won't spoil the film by going any further.

It is the film that helps this crime make the list. The film is brilliant; whether you believe the story or not, it is beautifully set. The atmospheric nature captures the seedy side of Victorian London perfectly.

The other major factor that makes this film in my top ten is that Johnny Depp stars in it. He puts in his characteristic fantastic performance throughout.

To enjoy this brilliant film, you don't have to be convinced of the theory.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

During the two years that Anneliese Michel was considered possessed, she suffered extreme torture at the hands of her parents and priests. She went through sixty exorcisms before she finally died.

Having developed epilepsy at a young age, it is widely considered she was misdiagnosed. After various trance-like state incidents, her behaviour became more erratic. She started crawling under tables and barking like a dog.

Her parents were convinced she was possessed, so they asked local priests to perform an exorcism on her. But unfortunately, her wounds and trauma eventually took her life, and the parents and priests were brought to trial.

It is this trail that the film centres around. During the court case, stories and flashbacks fill in the details of what happened to the poor girl, Emily Rose, in the film version.

There are moments during the film where the violence seems unrealistic and portrayed for the sake of a horror film. It is even more chilling when you learn that this film is based on a true crime.

We all love fiction

Fiction is brilliant in films. I always admire screenwriters who have managed to write a masterpiece and then transfer that into a vision we can all appreciate. However, I sometimes can not resist a good film based on a true story.

It is those moments when real life is indeed stranger than fiction. These movies show that it is possible to base a film on elements of the truth whilst still entertaining the audience.

Which films would you add to this list?

Originally published at on October 21, 2022.

movie review

About the author

Sam H Arnold

I know where the bodies are buried and I’m not afraid to tell you - author of True Crime, History and Fiction. Find me on Twitter [email protected]

Or find my crime magazine here -

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