When we think of murderers, we typically think of men. Statistically, men do commit about 87% of all known murders. Still, the fact remains that women commit about 13% of all known murders. Not only that, but there have been plenty of female serial killers throughout history.
Here are some of the best movies of all time that feature female characters who kill. Some are entirely fictional. Some are based on real-life murderers—some of whom (such as Aileen Wuornos) killed by themselves, others of whom got involved in a lethal folie a deux with a male lover and went on a warped “romantic” killing spree (such as Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez). Spoilers ahead.
Kichi’s Mother (Nobuko Otowa) & Kichi’s Wife (Jitsuko Yoshimura)
Released in Japan as Onibaba, this beautifully filmed period piece is set in medieval times and features themes of graphic sex and violence that were unprecedented in cinema up until this point. Kichi’s widow and mother, driven mad by the loss of Kichi, lay in wait near seven-foot-high fields of grass where weary samurai go to hide and recharge their energy. One by one, the pair of female predators seduce and then murder their prey, stripping them of their valuables and selling the trinkets on the black market. Things go horribly awry, however, when Kichi’s wife falls in love with one of their intended victims.
Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler)
Based on the true story of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, AKA “The Lonely Hearts Killers” who in the late 1940s killed up to 20 women by posing as a brother-and-sister team who befriended lonely women they’d met through magazine ads. Filmed in ghoulish black and white, the movie was directed by Leonard Kastle after it was determined that a young director named Martin Scorsese was somehow unfit for the job. As Beck, Shirley Stoler walks an emotional tightrope—she is secretly in love with Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco) and suspects that he’s actually having sex with some of the women he’s courting. When her suspicions turn out to be true, Martha calls the police and has both herself and Fernandez imprisoned for life. At least when he’s in jail, she can be sure he’s not cheating on her.
Nina Tobias (Mimsy Farmer)
As portrayed by American actress Mimsy Farmer in this early giallo film by Dario Argento, Nina Tobias is the wife of Roberto Tobias, a rock drummer who is lured into a theater where he accidentally murders someone and it’s all caught on camera. Roberto can see that there’s a masked and gloved figure in the balcony who set him up for the murder. Nina’s character is that of a woman who’d been brutally beaten by her stepfather as a child. Her stepfather bore endless resentment for Nina since she wasn’t a boy. As fate would have it, her eventual husband Roberto bore a very strong resemblance to her abusive stepfather. The film’s odd title comes from the fact that due to advanced technology, forensic technicians were able to capture the last thing a person’s eyes saw while they were being murdered—and in the case of one murder victim, they saw what looked like four flies on grey velvet. It was actually a fly pendant that Nina had which must have been swinging around on her grey sweater as she killed someone. After getting away with several murders, Nina meets her own grisly fate at the end.
Martha Manganiello (Clara Calamai)
In what is undoubtedly the most famous and influential of all Italian giallo films, a psychic gives a public reading where she becomes incredibly uncomfortable after realizing a murderer is in the audience. Soon thereafter, the psychic is murdered in her apartment. A musician and a journalist team up to get to the bottom of the murder but soon realize that there are several more related killings. Toward the end, it becomes clear that Martha Manganiello, a former actress with mental problems, killed her husband a long time ago. She has continued killing just to keep her secret safe—until she can no longer hide from the truth.
Ethel Janowski (Priscilla Alden)
Also released as Crazy Fat Ethel, this grisly mid-70s slasher film stars Priscilla Alden as an obese woman who has recently been released from a mental institution and kills anyone who tries to counsel her, however gently, about eating less. She is released into the care of her grandmother, who empties the refrigerator and locks the cupboards shortly before Ethel’s release. Ethel impales her grandmother with a knife and locks her cadaver in the bedroom. Driven insane by hunger, Ethel takes on more boarders and kills them one by one until people begin questioning the foul odor emanating from the locked bedroom. Ethel winds up killing…and eating…everyone who shows up to investigate until she is finally arrested again and sent once more to an asylum.
Carrie White (Sissy Spacek)
In one of the most famous revenge horror films of all time, Sissy Spacek became a Hollywood star for her portrayal of a lonely and shy girl who is brutally belittled by her religious mother at home and is endlessly bullied by the kids at high school. What neither her mother nor her high-school tormenters realize, though, is that Carrie is imbued with terrifyingly strong powers of telekinesis. Everything comes to a head during a senior-prom “prank” that involves Carrie being covered in pig’s blood, at which point she makes sure that there is not a single soul left alive in her class.
Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton)
Jennifer is an aspiring writer who lives in Manhattan but moves to a small cottage on the Connecticut coast where she can find the peace and quiet necessary to complete her first novel. Shortly after arriving, though, she is brutally raped by a pair of local men while another man watches. They also tear her book manuscript to pieces. Over the course of the next few weeks, Jennifer finds ways to exact bloody and fatal revenge against all of her antagonists, even the one who was “noble” enough to just stand by and watch her being raped.
Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer)
Known only as “Mrs. Voorhees” and not by her first name Pamela, this character, not her son Jason, was the primary killer in the first installment of the long-running Friday the 13th horror franchise. As a cook at Camp Crystal Lake in 1957, Mrs. Voorhees blamed lax standards at the camp for her son’s supposed drowning death—and took it upon herself to wreak fatal vengeance upon anyone who attempted to reopen the camp or breathe any kind of life into its existence. She finally meets her comeuppance when she is decapitated at the end of her unhinged murder spree. When it is revealed that her son Jason is indeed alive, Mrs. Voorhees reappears in sequels as either a severed head or merely a voice giving instructions to her son.
Ann Thomerson (Tracey Bregman)
Virginia Wainwright is a pretty, proud, and popular girl who belongs to a clique at her private school known as the “Top Ten,” a sort of mean girls’ club of the most popular students. But suddenly, one by one, the other girls in the Top Ten wind up being slaughtered. Since Ginny keeps having blackouts, she begins wondering if she’s the killer. When she confronts her psychiatrist about his dubious treatment plan, she murders him with a fireplace poker. But then, when all hope seems lost, it turns out that Ginny hasn’t been killing anyone—it’s been Ann, her cohort in the Top Ten, wearing a realistic latex mask that makes her look like Ginny.
Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke)
In this Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” vehicle in which he utters the immortal line “Go ahead, make my day” while pointing a .44 Magnum at a street thug, Eastwood’s real-life wife Sondra Locke stars as Jennifer Spencer, a young rape victim who was raped alongside her sister, who never mentally recovered from the trauma. A decade later, frustrated with a seeming lack of legal recourse, Jennifer begins killing her attackers. She retreats to a local beach town after realizing that she’s being investigated by the San Francisco Police Department. While investigating the murders, Eastwood’s character, Harry Callahan, becomes romantically involved with Spencer. At the film’s end, they both find an ingenious way to frame one of her original attackers for all the murders.
Tiffany Valentine (Jennifer Tilly)
The female companion/love interest/co-killer/co-doll with Chucky, the infamous possessed male killer doll in the Child’s Play series, Tiffany Valentine was portrayed by actress Jennifer Tilly in both voiceovers and live action in films such as Bride of Chucky, Seed of Chucky, Curse of Chucky, Cult of Chucky, and the Chucky television series. In human form, her backstory is that she was a redheaded woman who was picked up at a club by a man named Charles Lee Ray, who stabbed another woman to death in a motel room while she watched. She says that Charles should call himself Chucky, and thus a serial-killing duo was born, with their spirits often inhabiting inanimate dolls. Tiffany takes a prominent role in 1988’s Bride of Chucky, wherein she and Chucky not only get married, they go on a serial-killing road trip during their honeymoon.
Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone)
As a beautiful blonde novelist named Catherine Tramell, Sharon Stone is accused of killing a rock star named Johnny Boz, who was stabbed to death with an icepick during sex with an unnamed blonde woman. When detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) begins investigating the killing, he also falls for Catherine’s seductive wiles. Soon he comes to suspect that she’s going to cast his character in one of her upcoming murder mysteries. Researching Catherine’s history, Nick discovers that she had a habit of befriending female murderers. Then, toward the end, it becomes apparent that a woman named Beth is the murderer not only of Johnny Boz, but of several people in Catherine’s social periphery. Nick decides to again sleep with Catherine. The final scene shows him in bed discussing their future…as an icepick is shown underneath the bed.
Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner)
In this oddball comedy by king of sleaze John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray), Catherine Turner shines as a squeaky-clean middle-class suburban housewife who lives with her dentist husband and their two upstanding teenaged kids, Misty and Chip. What’s not apparent to most people is that Beverly is a serial killer who slays people for the most unassuming slights—such as taking a parking space from her, standing up her daughter for a date, and wearing white after Labor Day. She becomes a celebrity killer known as “Serial Mom,” and in a commentary on how American media makes stars out of psychopaths, her children Misty and Chip profit from their mom’s infamy.
Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis)
Director Oliver Stone directed a script originally written by Quentin Tarantino (and subsequently heavily revised) to produce this savage satire on American media and how it both glorifies and creates killers. Mickey Knox (Woody Harrelson) and his wife Mallory (Juliette Lewis) were both deeply traumatized as children. As adults, they’ve united to take out their resentment against a callow and cruel world. Their seemingly endless murder spree begins when the couple kills Mallory’s perverted father and cold mother. With their relationship threatened by petty insecurities and jealousy, they stack up over fifty bodies in the desert Southwest before finally being arrested. They are then judged to be criminally insane and are transported from prison to mental hospitals. The film’s ending implies they’ve been released and are raising a brood of happy children.
Manu (Rafaella Anderson) & Nadine (Karen Lancaume)
Released in France as Baise-Moi—which literally translates to “Fuck Me”—the film for some reason has been released in English-speaking countries as Rape Me, for which the proper French term would be Viole-Moi. Nadine is a prostitute. Manu is a free spirit who occasionally will star in porn films for some quick money. But both of them feel isolated and ostracized as a result of their sexual histories, and both of them vow vengeance against an unfeeling society. They go on a vicious rampage of murder, including a swingers’ nightclub where they kill every living being inside. At the end of the film, they both agree that their killing spree served no real purpose since they both feel unchanged on the inside.
Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron)
South-African born Charlize Theron won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her startling transformation from a world-class beauty into the haggard and deranged real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who is often incorrectly called the world’s first female serial killer. Wuornos, who suffered a neglectful childhood typical of those who grow up to become serial killers, started a lesbian affair with a young woman named Selby in 1989—around the same time she started working as a prostitute along Florida’s freeways. When one man attempted to rape her, Aileen killed him—and she liked the feeling. She eventually killed at least seven johns before finally being captured by the law and put to death in 2002. In a supreme irony, Charlize Theron accepted the Academy Award for playing Wuornos on February 29, 2004—Wuornos’s birthday.
Marie (Cécile de France)
Marie and Alexia (Maïwenn Le Besco) are best friends who decide to take a weekend retreat at the remote farmhouse of Alexia’s parents. But the moment they arrive, bodies start dropping. Apparently a sadistic serial killer has broken into the premises. While Alexia is held hostage, Marie must figure out a way to set them both free—but what if Marie is actually the killer?
Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith)
Amanda Young is a supporting character in the Saw franchise. In the original Saw, she was John Kramer’s apprentice (which is revealed in later movies), and in the next two films the secondary antagonist was centered around her character. Abused as a child, Amanda turned toward self-injury in adulthood to deal with her traumas. After being framed for a crime and falsely imprisoned, she was jailed and turned to heroin addiction. And then she finally turned to murder. Whether appearing directly or through flashback, Amanda appeared in each of the first seven Saw films.
Esther Coleman (Isabelle Fuhrman)
Also known by her alias Leena Klammer, Esther Coleman played both the main character and the villain in the Orphan horror movies. Suffering sexual abuse at her father’s hands and having been born with a disorder that rendered her a proportional dwarf, she grew up severely maladjusted due to the idea that she would “never be a real woman.” After killing her father and his girlfriend, she was sent to an asylum and later released. She then became a prostitute and embarked on another series of killings. Her body count includes: the entire Sullivan family, John Coleman, an unknown father, her father’s girlfriend, a young girl named Yolanda, and Daniel, Kate, and Max.
Sue Ann Ellington (Octavia Spencer)
A lonely and socially ostracized veterinarian assistant in a small Ohio town, Sue Ann is a black woman who seeks social contact no matter the cost. She initially befriends a group of teens who contact her asking if they’ll buy her alcohol. She agrees, and soon enough she’s hosting parties for underage teens at her house. When one of the teen girls’ fathers warns Sue Ann to leave his daughter alone, it triggers a traumatic memory from Sue Ann’s youth—she had performed fellatio on the man while in high school, the entire school found out, and they never stopped bullying her as a result. So now, all grown up and all alone, Sue Ann seeks vengeance. One by one, the bodies start to disappear.
Pearl (Mia Goth)
In 1979, a freewheeling group of adult filmmakers decide to shoot a porno film called The Farmer’s Daughters at a remote Texas cabin owned by a crusty elderly couple. The director’s girlfriend, Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) catches the eye of the farmer’s wife, an old woman named Pearl (Mia Goth, in a duplicate role). Pearl’s overwhelming insecurity, jealousy, and feeling of inadequacy leads the entire bunch down a path of brutality and bloodshed. The film ends with a trailer for the prequel titled Pearl.
More Movies With Female Killers
- Satanik (1968) an ugly woman drinks a magical potion that makes her irresistibly beautiful. Problem is, it also turns her into a killer.
- The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) an American writer in Italy witnesses a masked and gloved man killing people…or at least he assumes it’s a man…
- The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976) a mentally disturbed woman (Millie Perkins) starts killing her lovers one by one.
- Alice Sweet Alice (1976) when a young girl (Brooke Shields) is brutally murdered, her older sister becomes a prime suspect.
- Black Journal (1977) released in Italy as Gran bollito, this film focuses on a mother of 13 whose children all seem to die under “mysterious” circumstances.
- Sleepaway Camp (1983) Years after shy girl named Angela Baker (Felissa Rose) witnesses her family killed in a boating accident, she is sent away to summer camp. Then, suddenly, people at camp begin dying…
- Dead Dudes in the House (1989) An old, dead woman named Abigail (Douglas Gibson) is brought back to life to go on a murder spree when a group of friends desecrate her grave while trying to renovate her house.
- Scream Franchise (1997-2022) The Ghostface killers are always different, and parts 2, 4 and 5 include a female as one of the surprise murderers.
- American Psycho 2 (2002) Rachel Newman steals an identity and starts a series of violent murders.
- House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005): Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Mother Firefly (Karen Black and Leslie Easterbrook) are both killers in a family of deranged murderers.