For the majority of viewers, the idea of committing murder is unthinkable. It’s hard to fathom the mind of someone willing to take another person’s life, especially those who seemingly kill without motive. Many wonder: is it nurture or nature? Are some people simply born monsters, or do traumatic events and harmful upbringings contribute to leading people to take such drastic action? While it’s likely we’ll never completely grasp the answer to this question, it can be intriguing to delve into the psyche of a killer.
This list catalogs cinematic works that let us walk in the killer’s shoes. Some of the characters in these films have mental health issues or snap due to anger or jealousy, others are born pure evil. In any case, each of the movies and series below allow us to see their point of view.
Who could forget the cult classic Stanley Kubrick film, A Clockwork Orange? If you haven’t seen it, this dystopian movie takes place in Britain, following the life of Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell). Alex is a charismatic, anti-social, lawless individual who enjoys classical music, theft, sexual assault, and committing acts of ultra-violence. His gang, the droogs, commit horrific crimes together before they attempt rehabilitation through an experimental psychological conditioning method, the “Ludovico Technique.” This is another movie wrapped up in controversy due to the depictions of graphic violence that even led to copycat crimes.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is loosely based on the real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas and his friend, Ottis Toole. In the film, Henry (Michael Rooker) is a psychopathic drifter who seemingly acts with impunity, killing men, women, and children without remorse. In Chicago, he moves in with one of his ex-con acquaintances, Otis (Tom Towles), and schools him in the art of serial killing. Soon, the two take off on a killing spree across the United States. This isn’t your typical slasher film and is pretty gruesome and disturbing in some parts.
Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a handsome, successful finance bro with seemingly everything going for him. However, taking a peak behind the curtain reveals there’s far more to him than meets the eye. In reality, he’s living a double life as a serial killer. This movie dives into the brutal nature of the corporate world, symbolized through Bateman’s brutal acts that mirror Wall Street’s callousness. The blend of humor with horror, along with Christian Bale’s highly praised performance, made the film wildly popular and is now considered a cult classic.
It’s a rainy night in Nevada when ten strangers find themselves at a beaten-down motel. Before long, the group dwindles, and they discover someone amongst them is killing them off one by one. Meanwhile, convict Malcom Rivers is awaiting execution after being convicted of a vicious mass murder. While you may think you know what happens, one substantial puzzle piece doesn’t come together until the end. When the full context becomes clear, you’ll suddenly understand the mentality of the person committing the crimes.
This psychological thriller tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), a man with an extraordinary sense of smell. While this unique talent caused him to become alienated, it also made him one of France’s finest perfumers in the 18th century. However, the story becomes grim when he becomes enchanted by the scent of a young woman and seeks to create the perfect fragrance to replicate it. The audience watches Grenouille’s journey through his eyes, or more precisely, his nose, through a third-person narration.
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon shares a tongue-in-cheek approach when sharing the perspective of an aspiring serial killer, Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel). The film uses a mockumentary format to follow him as he prepares to go on his killing spree. Leslie claims to be a boy from the local urban legend who survived an attack on his family, and now, he’s got a group of teenagers in his sights.
Dexter (Michael C. Hall) works for the fictional Miami Metro Police Department and specializes in bloodstain pattern analysis. What the department doesn’t know is one of their own is responsible for some of their missing victims. Dexter lives a secret other life as a serial killer, only killing those who haven’t faced proper punishment. Because of his line of work, he knows how to be careful and avoid getting caught. Let’s just say you know you’re in trouble if you walk into a room lined with plastic wrap. A spinoff series, Dexter: New Blood, began airing in 2020.
Hannibal Rising is a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002), forming the basis of the transformation into the infamous cannibal we know him to be in the other films. Hannibal Lector’s (Gaspard Ulliel) story begins in 1944, when he and his sister, Mischa (Helena-Lia Tachovska), witness the extreme lengths hungry soldiers were willing to go to during World War II. As he grows older, he begins plotting his revenge on the men responsible for his sister’s brutal killing.
Maniac is a reimagining of the 1980 cult classic of the same name. The chilling journey is told through the eyes of Frank Zito (Elija Wood), a man with schizophrenia running his family’s mannequin restoration business. As a child, he was raised by his mother (America Olivo), a sex worker, who often traumatized him by forcing him to watch her sexual acts. When he reaches adulthood, the trauma comes into play when he takes drastic actions to recreate one of his happier memories, brushing his mother’s hair before she “went out” at night.
Under the Skin follows an alien who takes the appearance of an attractive human woman (Scarlett Johansson) and shares her unique perspective of the human world. While on Earth, specifically in Scotland, she seduces and lures lonely men to a broken-down house. Once there, she leads them into a dark, liquid void where they are killed. Her encounters lead her to question her existence, and she strives to discover the meaning of her life and those around her.
Bates Motel is a chilling psychological horror that serves as a modern-day prequel leading to the events in Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic 1960 film, Psycho. The series delves into the lives of the son and mother duo Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and Norma (Vera Farmiga) as Norman slowly loses his grip on reality. When people in the small town of White Pine Bay, Oregan, go missing or wind up dead, the Bates Motel often becomes the center of suspicion.
Raw is a French coming-of-age body horror movie told from the perspective of Justine (Garance Marillier), a lifelong vegetarian who is beginning her first year of veterinary school. While there, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery as she navigates the challenges of college life. During one hazing ritual, Justine is pressured into eating raw meat. This becomes the turning point that leads her to develop a ravenous craving for human flesh.
This polarizing film starring Matt Dillon and Uma Thurman tells the story of Jack (Matt Dillon), an intelligent serial killer who committed several crimes throughout the 70s and 80s. We watch the story unfold through Jack’s lens as he describes the murders as a series of singular works of art. However, his obsessive-compulsive disorder forces him to stay and admire his artwork for a bit too long as he feels compelled to return to crime scenes to re-clean. Each flashback allows the audience to dive deeper and deeper into the psyche of this killer and learn more about how he excuses his actions.
Joe (Penn Badgley) is a charming bookstore manager who seems to make friends (and enemies) everywhere he goes. He’s a hopeless romantic, though he may take his desires a bit too far, developing an extreme obsession with any woman who catches his eye. He is first entranced by Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), an aspiring writer in New York. Using social media and technology, he tracks her every move and is willing to take drastic and deadly action against anything (or anyone) who stands in the way of their love. Although some idolize Joe’s level of commitment, Badgley will be the first to tell you this is a show about the dark side of love, and his character’s actions shouldn’t be romanticized. As of now, there are four gripping seasons, with a fifth on the way.
Jessica Biel stars in this biographical crime drama miniseries based on the real-life Candy Montgomery, a housewife and mother who seeks an escape from the monotony of her day-to-day life. To satisfy her needs, she begins having an affair with her neighbor, Betty’s (Melanie Lynskey) husband, Alan (Pablo Schreiber). The series follows Candy’s illicit relationship and the shocking aftermath that led her to be accused of axe murder.
He’s a professional assassin who has mastered the art of his line of work. If you think you know the lifestyle of someone with such a job, think again. It’s a mundane job, really (according to him), as the unnamed man (Michael Fassbender) practices yoga and listens to The Smiths as a part of his daily routine. One night, he makes a deadly error that puts a target on his back. What starts as a standard hit turns into a series of tracking down his own employers to seek revenge.