Stalker Movies: Obsessive Lovers, Friends, and Killer Creeps
A list and analysis of the best stalker films in cinema.
Welcome to our definitive list of the best stalker movies, from scary stalker movies, to experimental art house stalking films, to boyfriend stalker movies, we’ve listed all the best psychological thriller and horror movies in this category.
Few things in life are more terrifying and emotionally draining than persistent unwanted attention from someone who can’t take a hint and simply leave you alone. While many of the following movies aren’t technically “horror” movies because they don’t feature jump scares, evil spirits, and buckets of blood, they are included because they depict the human horror of dealing with someone who can’t handle rejection and is determined to destroy you as a result.
Best Stalker Movies
Peeping Tom (1960)
Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) plays a young serial killer who films women while he’s murdering them because he likes to capture the fear in their eyes when they realize they’re going to die. Premiering two months before Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, many consider this the first slasher movie ever made. It caused such a negative uproar immediately upon its release that it was yanked out of British cinemas in less than a week and effectively destroyed the career of director Michael Powell. But over time, critical perspectives have shifted tremendously, and Peeping Tom is now considered to be a masterpiece.
Cape Fear (1962)
Convict Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) has been released from prison after serving eight years on a rape charge, and he immediately begins stalking and tormenting Sam Bowden, the attorney who interrupted Cady while he was raping his victim and whose testimony put him away. Cady is an unstoppable force of evil: He brutally rapes a woman after his release but somehow evades justice, kills Sam’s family dog, beats up the three men that Sam sent to beat him up, sexually harasses Sam’s wife and daughter, and finally meets Sam in a life-or-death struggle in the water near the Bowden family houseboat. The soundtrack was by Bernard Herrmann, who also scored Psycho and Taxi Driver. The film was remade in 1991 by Martin Scorsese using Herrmann’s original soundtrack and starring Robert De Niro as Max Lady.
The Collector (1965)
Based on the 1963 novel by John Fowles—which was split in two parts, the first told from Freddie’s perspective, and the second retelling the same events but from Miranda’s perspective—The Collector tells the sordid tale of an amateur entomologist who become obsessed with a British art student to the point where he kidnaps her and keeps her trapped down in the basement of his sprawling country home. Terence Stamp plays Freddie, and Samantha Eggar plays Miranda. Freddie seems convinced that if he keeps Miranda trapped long enough in his house, she will get to know him and eventually fall in love with him. Famous director William Wyler purposely alienated Eggar from the rest of the cast in order to engender a performance that radiated terror; Eggar claims that the experience was so stressful, she lost fourteen pounds during filming. Serial killer Robert Berdella claimed that the film version of The Collector inspired him after viewing it as a teen; the novel version of The Collector was cited as an inspiration by serial killers Leonard Lake and Christopher Wilder.
Play Misty for Me (1971)
Approximately two decades after a real-life girlfriend threatened to kill herself when he broke up with her, Clint Eastwood, in his directorial debut, plays a radio DJ in the sleepy California town of Carmel-by-the-Sea who meets a female fan named Evelyn (Jessica Walter). He recognizes her as the caller who had a habit of repeatedly requesting the song “Misty” on his show at a bar one night and has a one-night-stand with her. But Evelyn insists that it’s more than a one-night stand. She keeps calling him, then shows up at his house uninvited, then slashes her wrists with a steak knife, and then attempts to stab him to death while he’s sleeping. This portrayal of a female stalker with Borderline Personality Disorder would be recreated in Fatal Attraction (1987) and Misery (1990).
Taxi Driver (1976)
In his breakout role as an actor, Robert De Niro plays Travis Bickle, a maladjusted Vietnam vet and proto-incel who becomes a cab driver and gradually becomes repelled by the filth and violence and hatred he encounters nightly on the job. Travis makes it his mission to wash all the “scum” off the streets. Throughout much of the film he becomes obsessed with stalking a presidential candidate, but the real bloodbath doesn’t happen until the end when he tries to rescue an underage prostitute (Jodie Foster).
Although Herschell Gordon Lewis invented the American splatter genre in 1963 with the almost impossibly gory Blood Feast, it took John Carpenter’s 1978 game-changing film to usher in not only a flurry of sequels, but an array of copycat slasher films throughout the 1980s that invoked many of the same horror-movie tropes that were in Halloween—any teens who have sex wind up getting killed, the killer has his own theme music, and the heroically chaste “final girl” survives. Michael Myers was an evil little boy who stabbed his sister to death on Halloween night when he was six years old. Fifteen years later, he returns to terrorize the town’s residents again.
When a Stranger Calls (1979)
An adaption of the urban legend known as “the babysitter and the man upstairs,” When a Stranger Calls is best known for its first 20 minutes. Carol Kane plays babysitter Jill Johnson, who keeps getting creepy phone calls asking whether she’s checked up on the children she’s watching. She initially thinks it’s a prank, but as the calls get more intense, she calls the police—who eventually trace the calls and tell her to her horror that they are coming from inside the house.
Friday the 13th (1980)
The granddaddy of all the “sex-crazed teenagers go camping and get killed one-by-one” films. In Friday the 13th, the blood-crazed slasher turns out to be a woman—the mother of Jason Voorhees, who drowned to death years earlier because camp counselors were too busy having sex to perform their normal lifeguard duties. At the very end, Jason comes to life again in the lake, enabling a series of sequels in which Jason is the primary killer.
Death Valley (1982)
While this is an obscure slasher film, it is for the most devout horror fans one of the best slasher and stalker films from the 80s. This horror story tells the tale of a mom and son that head out into Death Valley, with the mom’s new boyfriend. The trip starts out peaceful enough but a deranged stalker maniac emerges. One reviewer on Amazon explains the movie thus:
The acting in this movie wasn’t obviously acting — the actors were natural and acted like anyone would act under the circumstances. A fun creep show.
The King of Comedy (1982)
Robert De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, a painfully unfunny wannabe standup comedian who lives in his mother’s basement and has trouble distinguishing between reality and fantasy. By accident one night he saves talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) from an out-of-control mob. As Jerry’s limo pulls away with Rupert in the backseat next to Jerry, Rupert tries pitching his standup comedy to Jerry, who politely tells him to call his office. Rupert calls his office. Then shows up at the office. Then won’t leave the office. Then returns to the office after being kicked out. Then shows up uninvited at Jerry’s weekend retreat. Then kidnaps Jerry and holds him hostage under threat of death if he doesn’t let him perform his standup routine on Jerry’s show. Several elements of this film were replicated in 2019’s Joker—but this time the talk-show host is played by Robert De Niro.
The Hitcher (1986)
One of Steven Spielberg’s most remarkable yet unfairly ignored film was 1971’s Duel, in which Dennis Weaver is endlessly stalked by someone in a Peterbilt truck for no apparent reason. In The Hitcher, the truck is replaced with a psychopathic person in the form of John Ryder (Rutger Hauer). And as in Duel, we have no idea what motivates him. While driving a car from Chicago to Southern California, Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) picks up the hitchhiker Ryder, nervously joking that his mother warned him never to do such a thing. Throughout the rest of the film, Ryder torments him to the point of madness, killing several along the way.
Fatal Attraction (1987)
Glenn Close plays a mentally unstable, frizzy-haired seductress who entices successful lawyer, husband and father Michael Douglas into a one-night stand that she wants to extend into a life together. She starts calling him at his office. Then at home. Then she starts showing up at his home. And hanging out with his wife. And claiming she’s pregnant with his child. And throwing acid on his car. And boiling a bunny rabbit in a crock pot. And trying to stab him to death.
In the only Stephen King adaptation to win an Academy Award, Kathy Bates took home the Oscar for Best Actress by playing Annie Wilkes, who rescues best-selling romance novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) after a near-fatal car accident and begins nursing him back to health—that is, until she realizes he’s about to kill off her favorite fictional character of his, Misery Chastain. The scene where she “hobbles” him by breaking both his ankles with a sledgehammer is considered one of the most unsettling in film history.
A semi-comic slasher film that toys with several well-established horror-movie tropes, Scream stars Drew Barrymore plays high-school student Casey Becker, who receives a flirtatious phone call in which the caller asks her what her favorite scary movie is. Then he threatens her life and starts killing people. This was the first of three Scream movies to be made over a five-year span.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Based on a 1973 novel of the same name, the huge twist in I Know What You Did Last Summer is the fact that the stalker is the good guy here—he or she knows that a group of four young friends accidentally ran over a pedestrian late one night and tossed his body in the sea. Months after committing manslaughter, one member of the group receives a note that says “I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER.” The film’s terror is engendered by the group’s anxiety about whether they will eventually pay for their crime—and whether it’s one of them who sent the letter. The film spawned the sequels I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998) and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006).
One Hour Photo (2002)
In a non-comical turn, Robin Williams plays a lonely, obsessive photo developer at SavMart who becomes obsessed with one family whose pictures show them to be well-adjusted and happy. When developing their rolls of film, he always makes and keeps an extra set of photos for himself. Things get weird when he begins to intrude on their lives in other ways—and also realizes that they aren’t nearly as happy as they seemed in photos.
After some brushes with the law due to drug abuse, a high-schooler named Ben turns his life around when he realizes he has a natural talent for competitive swimming. Although he already has a girlfriend, he is seduced in a swimming pool one night by a girl named Madison—who claims she has a boyfriend in New York City—and they both agree to keep their tryst a secret. But Madison can’t let go. She keeps a shrine to Ben at her home. She starts sending him nude pictures. She frames him for steroid abuse and has his swimming career cut short. And things go bad to worse, as they usually do in horror films where women won’t stand for a mere one-night stand. Also released as Fanatica.
Red Eye (2005)
Directed by horror maven Wes Craven, Red Eye involves a female hotel manager who is charmed by an attractive young man during an overnight flight to Miami. However, he’s actually a terrorist, and the woman finds herself trapped not only on a plane with a lunatic, but also ensnared in a plot to kill a politician.
A young businesswoman (Rachel Nichols) works late on Christmas Eve. When she goes down into section P2 of the parking lot to start her car, she finds it won’t start. A security guard (Wes Bentley) who has been obsessed with her for a long time asks her if she wants to spend Christmas with him. When she refuses, he makes it impossible for her to leave the underground parking facility.
Perfect Stranger (2007)
Journalist Rowena Price (Halle Berry) and researcher Miles Haley (Giovanni Ribisi) team up to investigate an anti-gay senator who is rumored to be having sex with his male interns. But she doesn’t realize that Miles is secretly obsessed with her and has a shrine devoted to her at his home. She also doesn’t realize that online, Miles has been posing as Harrison Hill, the man Rowena suspects of killing her friend during childhood.
This psychological thriller film directed by Steve Shill takes inspiration from Fatal Attraction and features a female temp worker who becomes romantically attached to her boss to an unhealthy degree despite his repeated rejections. Her harassment of him escalates to the point where she kidnaps his son. In her first film role where she doesn’t sing at all, Beyoncé Knowles plays the wife who gets cheated on. The film was originally called Oh No She Didn’t.
The Strangers (2008)
Inspired partially by the Manson Family Tate-LaBianaca murders, The Strangers tells the story of a couple who get terrorized—and ultimately stabbed—at their remote vacation home by three mask-wearing thugs. Director Bryan Bertino also based the film on a series of break-ins in his neighborhood when he was a child. Regarding the Manson murders and how they inspired his film, Bertino said, “I was thinking about the Tate murders and realizing that these detailed descriptions had painted a story of what it was like in the house with the victims.”
The Roommate (2011)
College freshman Sara Matthews (Minka Kelly) becomes friends with her assigned roommate Rebecca Evans (Leighton Meester), oblivious to Rebecca’s obsessive nature. Rebecca methodically drives a wedge between Sara and anyone who tries to enter her life. She also kills Sara’s cat Cuddles in a dryer. She even gets Sara’s sister’s name tattooed on her breast to match the tattoo Sara has. She even dyes her hair to look more like Sara and stabs a would-be suitor of Sara’s to death. When Sara realizes what’s going on, she packs her bags to leave—but will she escape unscathed?
Come Back to Me (2014)
Based on the novel The Resurrectionist by Wrath James White, Come Back to Me tells the story of a couple named Sarah and Josh (Katie Walden, Matt Passmore), who start experiencing night terrors after a neighbor named Dale (Nathan Keyes) moves in across the street. When he was a teen, Dale witnessed his meth addict father kill his mother. Then he witnessed police kill his father. After Sarah installs a surveillance camera, she realizes to her horror why she and Josh have been suffering from night terrors ever since Dale moved across the street.
It Follows (2014)
A young girl named Jay starts feeling as if a strange entity is following her after she has a random sexual encounter. It turns out that the entity is real and will kill not only you, but everyone you’ve ever had sex with in the past if you don’t pass the curse along by having sex with someone else. This represents an inversion of a common horror-movie trope—this time around, you die if you don’t have more sex.
The Boy Next Door (2015)
Jennifer Lopez plays a high-school teacher named Claire who is separated from her husband after she discovered he cheated on her. A muscular and attractive young man (Ryan Guzman) moves in next door, and they eventually have sex. But the boy next door can’t leave her alone, and the film becomes a gender-swap version of Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction.
13 Cameras (2015)
A newlywed couple moves cross-country from New York to California so the husband can focus on his career and the wife can focus on child-rearing. But they don’t realize their perverted landlord has installed 13 CCTV cameras all over the premises and has literally been following their every move.
During a violent, days-long rainstorm in Portland, Oregon, a talented young female cellist tries to relax in her large apartment, only to realize she isn’t the only one there. Film School Rejects panned Intruder, saying it was “even blander” than its “generic title,” calling it “a movie completely devoid of suspense or scares.”
Ingrid Goes West (2017)
This new stalker movie deals with social media, the internet, and friendship stalking. Famous Amazon reviewer, Matthew D’Souza, describes the pace and atmosphere of the film well: “Aubrey Plaza is a very convincing stalker that is desperate for the attention of her obsession, the wildly charming Elizabeth Olsen. Ingrid Goes West quickly establishes that as you laugh at the ridiculous lengths Plaza’s character is willing to go for recognition, it’s also a profoundly sad relationship.” That sums it well, this movie is a good balance of entertaining and tragic.
Unsane tells the horrifying tale of Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a distraught young woman who moves to another city to escape an overweight bearded man who’s stalking her. Still traumatized by the man’s harassment, Sawyer makes an appointment at a psychiatric center—but when she shows up, she is informed that she has signed papers to commit herself to a locked asylum for at least 24 hours. And is one of the male nurses actually her stalker, or has she completely lost her mind?
More Stalker Movies
Stalking and unhealthy obsessions with people are a major trope in cinematic history. Of course then the list can go and on forever, but here are some other stalker movies throughout history that might be worth checking out.
- Niagara (1953) is an early classic featuring Marilyn Monroe as Rose, who cheats on her husband and wins up being stalked by him.
- Someone’s Watching Me (1978) is a pre-Halloween film by John Carpenter starring Lauren Hutton as a woman living in an LA high-rise who gets stalked by a man who spies on her from an adjacent building.
- Stalker (1979) is a science fiction thriller that uses the term “stalker” in a different way, using it to describe a man who prospects and smuggles alien artifacts. Despite not being a “stalker” movie in the same way as other films in the list, Stalker is absolutely worth watching.
- Still of the Night (1982), a mystery thriller, stars Roy Scheider (Jaws) as a Manhattan psychiatrist who realizes he’s being followed by someone who has malicious intentions.
- Blind Date (1990) is an erotic thriller about a porno theater and a stalker.
- Body Puzzle (1992) (aka “Misteria“) is an Italian thriller where stalking plays an important part.
- Eye of the Stalker (1995) is based on a true story, and it is about a photography student who is stalked by a law professor from her school.
- Fear (1996) Mark Wahlberg plays a violent stalker obsessed with Reese Witherspoon. This is perhaps the definitive obsessive boyfriend movie.
- The Cable Guy (1996) is a dark comedy from Ben Stiller. Jim Carrey plays stalker Chip Douglas, a cable guy who really wants to be best friends with his client. Not a horror movie by any stretch, but still about a stalker.
- Swimfan (2002) a young female becomes obsessed with a young male, in this movie from the 2000s starring Jesse Bradford and Erika Christensen.
- Greta (2017) this film showcases a female to female friendship stalker dynamic.
- Evil Things (2009) is an interesting found footage film about college students being stalked, very much like the The Blair Witch Project (1999).
- Stuck to Your Pillow (2012) is a stalker film from Spain, but it’s a rom-com take on the subject. It involves a man who dies in a diving accident but, as a ghost, has an “affair” with a married woman in her dreams.
- High School Lover (2017) went straight to TV but is a stalker movie with James Franco in it. This one right to Lifetime TV network.
- Only Mine (2019) this modern thriller is an epitome of the ex-boyfriend stalker movie. Only Mine tells the story of a young woman trapped in a horrifying toxic relationship, and add to insult to injury, her stalker ex-boyfriend is a cop. This stalker story is also interestingly enough based on a true story.