The 10 Most Chilling Movie Serial Killers

Published 3 years ago by , Updated March 3rd, 2014 at 6:44 am,

Top 10 most chilling movie serial killers The 10 Most Chilling Movie Serial Killers

The serial killer has been a focus of film for decades now. Most of the time the movies are about good guys trying to track down a murderer that keeps on producing bodies all over the city, either purposely leaving clues or making mistakes that almost always leads to him being caught by the film’s end.

But what makes these serial killers tick? What makes them do the things they do? Is it pleasure? Revenge? Or simply the need to kill? We here at Screen Rant thought it would be interesting to take a look back at all the most chilling serial killers in movie history, exploring such things as why they resort to such heinous and horrific acts, how they go about it and generally what makes them so lasting in our memories.

Before we get started, I want to establish the rules about which movie serial killers are eligible to be on this list. We had to set some boundaries, otherwise the list could go on and on. Here are the rules:

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  1. They need to have killed multiple times.
  2. Their reasoning isn’t simply for money or other logical rewards.
  3. They must be a movie serial killer (i.e. not from a TV show e.g. Dexter).
  4. They cannot be a creature/monster/animal (Alien, Predator etc).
  5. They cannot be powered by supernatural forces (e.g. Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees).
  6. The character cannot be the onscreen version of a real-life serial killer (out of respect for the victims and their families) – however they can be inspired by them.

Okay, now that we’ve got the ground rules out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we? Join us as we look at the most chilling serial killers in movies.

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[Warning: The following contains SPOILERS about the characters and the movies they appear in. Also, the accompanying clips are NSFW.]

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10. George Harvey – The Lovely Bones

Most chilling movie serial killers George Harvey The 10 Most Chilling Movie Serial Killers

Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones divided critics when it was released during last year’s awards season. I personally really appreciated what Jackson was trying to do (it worked a lot better for me on DVD than it did in the theater), even though some parts were a lot more effective than others.

For me the most memorable thing about the film was the serial killer that sets the story in motion by killing his 14-year old neighbor. George Harvey was played by Stanley Tucci and the actor fully deserved his Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance.

Harvey (or “Mr. Harvey” as he’s referred to throughout the film) is a seemingly average and nice-enough neighbor who lives in a house that looks the same as every other house on the street. And yet, Harvey harbors a dark secret – he’s a serial killer with a penchant for raping and killing girls, ranging from very young to almost adult. We know for a fact early on that he’s killed Susie Salmon (the teenage protagonist of the film) but later on we find out – in a fairly disturbing scene – how long his killing spree has been going on for and just how many lives he’s taken.

One scene from the movie that showcases Harvey’s creepiness very well is when he lures Susie down into a makeshift hatch below a field not far from her school. He has set up a sort of “cave” that has everything from bottles of Coke to little dolls – all the things he thinks little girls like. We think Susie escapes him (because we see her kicking him away and crawling out of the hatch) but in reality she is raped and murdered.

During that scene, George’s chillingly deep and awkward laugh married with his strange sideways stare is enough to warrant him a place on this list. His character proves that effectively scary serial killers are still being portrayed on film these days.

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9. Stuntman Mike – Death Proof

Most chilling movie serial killers Stuntman Mike The 10 Most Chilling Movie Serial Killers

Now before most of you berate me with how awful you think Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof was, remember this list focuses on the serial killers themselves and not necessarily the movies they appear in. Whatever reason you had for hating Death Proof (the lengthy scenes of “pointless” dialogue being the most recited reason), you have to admit Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike was one awesome character.

The simultaneous protagonist and antagonist of Death Proof, he spends his time in his vintage car looking for women to meet, to “seduce” and terrorize and eventually to kill (with his car). We first see him pick on an unsuspecting group of women too pre-occupied with drinking and planning a trip to a lake house to see him coming. He manages to convince one young woman at the bar to get in his car, only to murder her with the aid of his metal dashboard. Then he goes back for the rest of the women he saw at the bar and crashes into them at over 200 mph, killing all of them (“All souls taken at exactly the same time,” as Sheriff Earl McGraw states).

Now tell me that isn’t one sadistic SOB…

Unfortunately for old Stuntman Mike, almost a year after the crash that he mysteriously survived, he picks the wrong group of women to target next (two of whom are stuntwomen) and ends up in a car chase that gets him shot and ultimately beaten up (presumably to death) by them.

So Mike is not exactly the most formidable serial killer on this list. But still, he sticks in your mind because of the way he goes after his victims, who he chooses out of sexual desire/impulses rather than simply a lust for murder. His too-cool-for-school look and the killer performance by the legendary Russell are what bring the character to vivid life.

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8. Ghostface – Scream Trilogy

Most chilling movie serial killers Ghostface The 10 Most Chilling Movie Serial Killers

Ghostface first appeared in Wes Craven’s Scream, a film which was simultaneously a send-up of the clichés found in slasher movies and an entry into the genre in its own right. He’s one of the most over-the-top and campy killers of recent times, in large part because of the fact that his full ensemble appearance isn’t the most intimidating of all movie killers. Having said that, Ghostface’s does carry a certain amount of fear (scream) factor, and his face alone has become something of a horror movie icon.

What sets Ghostface apart is the fact that his true identity changes with each movie. It’s not just one person under that ghostly mask doing the killing – in fact in the first and second Scream movies it actually turns out to be two people “doing the deed.” This means that motives for the killings differ depending on who’s under the mask. For example, as part of the first Scream’s plot, Ghostface murdered Sidney’s mother (before the start of the movie) because she slept with the father of one of the killers, Billy Loomis, causing his parents to divorce. Throughout the rest of the trilogy motives range from pure revenge to the acts of a pure psychopath.

Whatever the motive, Ghostface remains a character that stays with you because of everything from his distinctive appearance, to the way he seems to appear at just the right moments to jump out and scare and/or attack his victims. I certainly wouldn’t like to see that face appear out of nowhere in MY house!

All this might have something to do with why Ghostface will be making a (welcome?) return to the big-screen in Scream 4 next year.

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Continue to some “puzzling” and “elegant” serial killers…

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TAGS: death proof, saw, texas chain saw massacre, the lovely bones

166 Comments

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  1. Nice list, but for “Mr. Harvey” you should have shown the scene were Susie presents the audience his victims, a much more effective scene.

  2. Ghostface??? Hilarious

    One film that you’ve left out is, “Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer”.

    That was prob the most disturbing film I’ve ever seen.

    • Henry is the story of Henry Lee Lucas one of the most prolific serial killers of all time. He claimed to have killed over 300. At the time cops estimated about 150 but now experts are saying he may only actually have killed his mother (his first murder)
      sorry that was a rant lol. my point being is that the movie doesnt qualify

  3. for me, john doe was more chilling and menacing that hannibal the cannibal

  4. nice list but i do believe that Mike Myers from the Halloween movies doesnt get his strength supernaturally. sure its completely implausible someone whould survive all that but still it explains everything without magic or the devil. they mention that he’s realy strong, in the 5th movie he is healed by a hermit and bedridden for a period of time. and in the 7th movie he is shown living under his house eating rats and whatever, not suviving underwater for years like Jason. I’m not sure about the the Rob Zombie films (havent seen them yet) but he is a bonified killer in the original 8 films.

    Also some honorable mentions

    Joker – Dark Knight – not motiviated by money or anything, just the thrill of chaos (debatable)

    Jerry Blake – Stepfather – the movie was actually pretty good and he played crazy really well.

    Pamela Voorhees – Firday the 13th – the original killer

    Roy Burns – Friday the 13th 5 – Movie sucked but he did kill alot

    Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – only main character deaths are motivated, the others were for fun

    also “Misery” “Cape Fear” and “Midnight Meat Train”. i havent seen them yet but i hear they’ve got some nice killers

    Very Nice list though, i also think “Lovely Bones” was underappriciated

    • I like your list better :)

    • I agree with that Michael Myers part; that can be debated. You can make a great case for Sweeny Todd. My take on why The Demon Barber was not on the list might be because either the author of the post did not like the film/Tim Burton films, or the film is seen as more of farce musical and not a thriller.

      However, you also mention films you have not seen yet- and if I made the list up myself under the guidelines then I would not include Cape Fear, because Max Cady wasn’t a serial killer. The character was a convicted rapist who felt wronged so he stalked the family of his former lawyer.

      Annie Wilkes of Misery might make #11 I think, because it was mentioned that she did “mercy killings” as a nurse while obsessing about Paul Shedlon and his ‘Misery’ books. We see her menace when she finds Sheldon and holds him prisoner.

      The killer from Midnight Meat Train was revealed to have a supernatural connection. Like you said, you haven’t seen the films.

      • yeah, again i didnt know how solid those last movies were, but didn Annie kill someone who discovered Paul and tried to help? just thought i’d throw them in.

    • Garland ‘The Marietta Mangler’ Greene from Con Air – i dont think he actually killed anyone during movie but he’s character’s count is 37 and boy does Bushemi play him great. so creepy and just gives you shivers

  5. No henry from henry: portrait of a serial killer? That movie is hardcore.

  6. “Portrait of a Serial Killer” was inspired by the murders of Henry Lee Lucas and we specified that one of our rules was that it not include anything based on real life killers out of respect for the families of victims.

    Vic

    • If that’s the case then you should not have inclued Norman Bates.

      • Jose,

        I may be exposing my ignorance, but Bates was based on a real person?

        Vic

        • He was based on a real person (I recommend you read the novel by Robert Bloch)but if you meant re-enacting crimes then my bad.

          • “Norman Bates is a fictional character created by writer Robert Bloch as the central character in his novel Psycho, and portrayed by Anthony Perkins as the villain of the 1960 film of the same name directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The character is based on real-life murderer and grave robber Ed Gein” – WikiPedia

            For what it’s worth that is the first line from WikiPedia. Looking into Ed Gein’s morbid and revolting life, I can see where Hitchcock and others used his actions as inspiration for their own killers but they were far from being tales of Gein’s atrocities.

            To watch something like that you would need to watch Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield made in 2007.

            • There are many fictional serial killers who were loosely inspired by Ed Gein. Aside from Bates, two others appear in the list: Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw and Jame Gumb from Silence Of The Lambs. (The character of Buffalo Bill was also influenced by other real life serial killers as well)

              I think that many fictitious killers have been drawn up, in whole or in part, from real life killers and/or the FBI profiles of killers.

              What I think “the list guidelines” means then, is direct bio-pics (such as “Monster”) or cases involving serial killers (such as Zodiac)

      • OK, very LOOSELY based on Ed Gein.

        We’re talking about re-enacting the crimes.

        Vic

        • extremely loosely. other than the mother obsession and a thing for the dead they had nothing in common. he inspired the writer to create norman bates and he inspired buffalo bill as well… although they may have had more in common. although buffalo bill had alot more balls then ed gein lol.

  7. Um Vic, the end of that rule say” but they can be inspired by them” :).

    • OK, I shouldn’t have said “inspired” in my comment – I should have said “based upon.” 8)

      Vic

    • As Vic said, “Portrait of a Serial Killer” was based upon a real life killer. Norman Bates (and Leatherface for that matter) was INSPIRED BY Ed Gein but not a direct representation. It’s the same reason the Natural Born Killers and Zodiac weren’t on the list.

  8. um, youre gonna lose the argument vics the boss lol

  9. I think ‘Nowheredan’ is onto something…. I wouldn’t immediately thought of the Joker as a serial killer… but he really is. And he obviously falls into the “crazy camp”. But like jig Saw or John Doe, he is really intelligent. He usually kills with a purpose in mind… but you still wouldn’t want to just bump into him somewhere. He wouldn’t think twice about killing you if he was bored or didn’t like your shoes or something. lol

  10. Kurt Russell (Death Proof) should not be on that list. Maybe on the “Most Frustrating Serial Killer” list. He was intimidated and beat up by a bunch of girls. The worst part is how truly badass he was for the first part of the movie.

    • ogb,

      Didn’t Russell’s character have a long history of killing before he got “owned” by those women? (I still shudder to think of Kurt getting his ass kicked by a bunch of women).

      Vic

      • I believe so, but I haven’t seen ‘Death Proof’ in a long time. I my watch again, if I ever have a bad case of insomnia.

      • Vic

        You are correct. Tarantino did a great job introducing Russell’s character as a menacing, badass killer. And Russell completely pulled it off (he had some Snake Plisken in him for that role). That’s why the ending completely turned me off to the movie. First half was really good though.

      • he just picked on the wrong women vic, bad luck was all lol

    • Congratulations for being the first person to say Stuntman Mike shouldn’t have been on the list :)

      I knew he would be a contested choice but I personally thought he should have been on there.

      And yes, he has killed people before. You don’t actually see it on-screen but it’s inferred strongly that he’s been stalking and killing women for a while.

      • i stand with you on your listing of stuntman mike ross, russell was absolutely crazed in that movie

  11. I would add Mr. Brooks, if for nothing more than an honorable mention… good movie, great character that stuck with me — like all the selections, though.

    • I would have replaced Bateman (who’s killings are questionable) with Mr. Brooks myself.

  12. GREAT list except for Ghostface. I’m really hoping that was a joke.

  13. Ross, who are mickey and malory knox based on?

    • At least Mickey Knox was based on a real serial killer, Charles Starkweather – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Starkweather

      I actually had them on the list but they had to be disqualified because they were based on a real person. We felt, as said in the article, we needed to exclude them out of respect for the victims and families.

      But for sure they were some seriously disturbed individuals.

  14. How about that dude from “The Ugly” he had a impulse to kill cause the demons told he to kill

  15. Anton chigur from No Country for Old Men could of made this list if not the top 3

    • everyone he killed though was for the purpose of getting his money back. each person was to get closer or cover his tracks, he killed with the purpose of financial gain which is against the rules of this list. he may have killed more people off camera but thats never actually said in the movie.

    • i dont see how, see rule no. 2

  16. entertaining

  17. There was some he didn’t have to kill. He killed some just he was a nilhlistic dude. Take the store clerk that he flipped the coin for. Had the clerk called the flip wrong he would of been killed. He had nothing to do with the money.

  18. Ross I didn’t think about it until now (because the movie sucked overall) but Ben Kingsley from Suspect Zero would have been a good choice. He was sort of the movie version of Dexter in that he killed serial killers. The serial killer in the film they are hunting down has killed over 50 completely random people for years and years with no motive behind them at all other than to kill. Now THAT is truly chilling. :)

  19. Well by that logic ghostface killer should not be on the list causeit was for revenge half the time.

    • I thought the first Ghost Face Killer did it out of pure fun and the excitement of the hunt and kill? The 2nd and 3rd were for revenge.

      • “Scream” Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich) killed for revenge. Stu Macher (Matthew Lillard) killed to help his friend.
        “Scream 2″ Mrs. Loomis (Lauire Metaclf) killed for revenge. Mickey (Timothy Olyphant) killed for fun. She met him on a serial killer website if I remember correctly.

  20. Paul, that would make it 2/3s revenge lol! And jigsaw did it out of teaching lessons and revenge as well.

    • I think GFK is a safe on the list because it was played by a bunch of different people from movie to movie. It was never the same killer twice so I think we will just assume Ross is referring to the 1st movie. :)

  21. John doe had some logic behind his too, twisted logic, but still that speech in the car ride to the climax has logic in it.

  22. I’d love to see somebody take off Ghostfaces mask with a load of 00 buck.

    :-)

    • haha nice 790!!

  23. On a related topic, can anyone recommend good books on serial killer(s)? I’m reading The Stranger Beside me right now and it’s pretty good (Ted Bundy)

  24. “Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer” makes the Scream films look like saturday morning cartoons.

    • i havent seen that yet, whos in it 790?

      • Micheal Rooker he was especially big and scary looking in that movie and has a history of playing sickos/bad guys

  25. When I first started reading this, I knew Hannibal would be number 1 but I thought Norman Bates would be number 2, until you mentioned John Doe. A truly chilling character Doe was; I still shutter how he committed the last 2 acts. My only disagreement with Leatherface; I would substitute Bates for number 3.

    • i personally think john doe should be number one, but thats just me

  26. I definitley think Stunt Man Mike is a valid candidate. He is a different type of serial killer sure, but a serial killer all the same. As Earl Mcgraw says in Death Proof “well, what we have here is a case of vehicular homicide. That old boy in there murdered them pretty little gals. He used a car not a hatchet but they dead just the same”.

    I agree with the list over all. Cant think of any one else I would have put on it that plays by The Rules. Good job.

  27. GREAT LIST! Damn,i think mychael myers is MY fave serial killer,but he cant be on this list obviously….

    • he isnt a black dude ricky! MICHAEL, no Y :)

  28. Yikes at most of these movies. The very definition of bad as far as I’m concerned. I know it’s about the killers not the movies them selves I’m just shocked at how many of the movies are bad. The good films on this list are Silence of the Lambs, American Psycho, Seven (Kind of)and Psycho.

    • ive come to the conclusion that you like 1 out of every 50 movies that you have seen daniel LOL

  29. The film stars unknowns Anthony but I don’t recommend the film.

    I wish I had never watched it. Sorry I brought it up.

    8-)

    • cant be any worse than how i felt after watching faces of death back in high school 790

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