The 10 Most Chilling Movie Serial Killers

Published 5 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:

  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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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  1. hmm michael rooker is in it, looks like im gonna have to see it after all 790 lol

    • I’m suprised no one has mentioned the Fire Fly Clan From the devil’s rejects.

  2. I have to agree with the number 1 on the list…I love the character exploration in the book and film SotL. Anthony Hopkins was brilliant in the film and deserved the Oscar. He’s my favorite actor so I’m a little biased 😉

    I think Stanley Tucci’s performance is under rated on this list. He should be second behind Anthony (maybe even first), because his understated embodiment of the character was far more disturbing to me (I am a parent of a 15 yr old boy ) than any of the others in the list because I know there is probably at least one of him in every city in America….whether they acted on their impulses or not. That performance made me question my son’s relationships with other adults and be more observant of those who live near me.

    That is the first time a role in a movie disturbed me on such a personal level, rather than just make me cringe or nauseous from outright gore. 15 men were just busted for going to meet underage girls to have sex in an online sting. Most of them, if they weren’t pictured in a mug shot, would be just as innocuous and average in appearance as Stanley’s character in Lovely Bones. It’s just awful to think about how many predators are out there.

  3. Anthony

    I know michael myers isnt black LOL! And yeah daniel likes 1 in every 50 minutes hes seen i think its a fact LMAO!

    • well, dont spell michael with a Y lil G!!

      • LMAO! ok man.

  4. Ok Anthony but there’s some disturbing stuff in that film.

    I didn’t like the home invasion scene much.

  5. Darren, I’m going to assume Mr Brooks was pretty good. I have that on dvd but haven’t seen it yet,,,

    Good/ bad???

  6. Anthony while that number is an inaccurate exageration it’s not that far from the truth. That’s only however because ice seen way to many movies more than most and I don’t like just any piece of mindless garbage thrown my way the film has to have a little beneath the surface or at least a good actor and sadly to many people will accept bad acting like Paul Walker or Keeanu. With the success of those two actors and films like Transformers people have proved they have beyond low standards for film if there is an explosion and good looking actor they will come. Generally people have very little interest in good films society prefers cheap thrils over substance.

    • daniel, i was joking lol relax man :) you cant be so serious all the time, lifes too short :)

  7. In spite of Hannibal Lector being stripped down to a bad joke (and then an anti-hero!) I am happy to see the character #1 on the list. And that’s played by Anthony Hopkins in Silence Of The Lambs, or Brain Cox in Manhunter.

    Speaking of Manhunter, y’know…just where IS Francis Dollarhyde in this list anyway? Bumped by Silence’s Jame Gumb? Hmph!

    As for who shouldn’t be on the list, I’d shove off American Psycho’s Bateman simply because his body count is questionable. I’d give the slot to Dollarhyde or Mr. Brooks.

    I’m happy to see mention of Jigsaw/John Kramer, even if I sometimes grew tired of the film series and the 100% accuracy of which he and his apprentices could predict human behavior. But the fact is that the character didn’t consider himself a serial killer that verifies the character being on a list like this.

    Instead of Stuntman Mike, I’d put in the Firefly family from House Of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.

    An honorable mention to me is Peter Foley from 1995’s Copycat– but I can see why he didn’t make the list (most of his killings were “copycats” of real life killers)

    • Tell you what. I take it back. I’ll leave I’ll leave Dollarhyde and Mr. Brooks off for one John “The Hitcher” Ryder from 1986

      C’mon. Screenrant. No Hitcher ?

    • I didn’t actually think of Francis Dollarhyde but he wasn’t all that memorable for me, either in Manhunter or Red Dragon. I know I’m probably gonna get bashed for saying that…

      If there was a number 11 on the list the Devil’s Rejects family would have been on it. I decided not to include them over the other 10 in the end, partly because I’m not that familiar with them (only saw the two movies they’re in once and can’t remember a thing about them). I know it’s a cult thing though, so I’m not surprised they’ve been mentioned a few times.

      Oh, and I’ve never seen original The Hitcher, only the remake with Sean Bean – does that make me a bad person? 😛

  8. I would suggest Sweeny Todd if stage plays counted but the film was a joke. There was nothing chilling about Depps cheesy acting in the film. They made the entire character and story in to a joke and not a funny one. It was a cartoon and nothing more. It was an insult to a brilliant play.

    • I agree. I didn’t find Depp’s portrayal of Sweeney Todd all that chilling, although he was great in the role IMO. He was weirdly funny in that ironic sort of way. And the singing distracted from many of the scary aspects.

      I thought Mr Brooks was pretty good, actually. Loved the whole other personality being portrayed by a different actor thing. But the subplots, such as with Demi Moore’s character, really detracted from the movie. Brooks was a good character but not worthy of the list IMHO.

      • You should see the BBC version with Ray Winstone – the only non-theater version I like. Much Much better that Depp

  9. Mr Brooks was bad. I’m not usually one of those “I hate Costner and every thing he does” types but he was bad in this film. If there were a better actor it might of been ok but still not enough of an improvment to be good.

    Most people seem to hate all things Costner (i don’t) if your one of them skip it he’s at worst.

  10. Another great serial killer – Rutger Hauer in The Hitchhiker

    • Ogb it was The Hitcher…not The Hitchhiker

  11. See Anthony that’s one thing I hate about the net. There is no tone. For some reason you got the idea that I’m upset and need to relax lol. I wasn’t bothered at all. I just explained things is all. No need to relax I wasn’t insulted

    • lol ok man, you know me, anything to lighten up the mood :)

  12. I think you guys should do a TV Serial KIllers list…or redo this after they make a heroes movie…because Gabriel “Sylar” Gray belongs on this list XD just sayin lol

  13. I don;t know about being in the top 10 but how about, for an honorable mention (if their is such a thing fro this kind of top 10 list) for DUNEs Baron Harkonnen, House Of Harkonnen?

    This guy had the citizens under his rule surgically implanted with heart valves so he could kill and watch them die by pulling their plug, literally! That has gotta be up there with the top psychotics.

  14. Movies like these should only be released once. Those with sequels, same thing happens anyways. Like what happened on Saw, you’ll get bored once you get to see 1,2,3… it was very much predictable.

  15. Having Lecter as number one is as predictable as it is absolutely correct. I know people critisize the sequels a lot, and Hannibal is awful, but I did enjoy Red Dragon while it hardly compares to Manhunter in terms of chilling fear, I did find it to be rather effective (Brett Ratner directed it!) and the entire cast was amazing and Fiennes was really scary.

    Also, Hannibal Rising is an interesting film, its beautifully shot, I quite liked it. I wish they had included the bookends with Hopkins as originally intended. Thomas Harris is writing a new story with Lecter featuring I believe, wonder where the story will go.

    I’ve never actually seen American Psycho, might check that out.

    • I hope he writes it for the sake of the story and not the sake of another screenplay. *cough*danbrown*cough*

  16. I always get goosebumps by Brad Pitt in Kalifornia…
    Or the serial killer in Citizen X. Come on over 50 children molested killed and sometimes half eaten, that’s a sick serial killer, eventhough while writing this i remembered that he was an actual living person, so he can’t be on the list…

  17. Sorry, but this is a pretty mainstream list. Weak. Weak. Weak.

    • Or it’s the opinion of the guy who wrote it. You can’t call someone’s opinion weak. When someone goes to the effort of trying to write something for people to enjoy and discuss, there is hardly the need to be quite so critical. And the repetition of the word weak is a critique you can be proud of, why not offer some of your own suggestions instead?

    • So I should go out of my way to include obscure serial killers just so I’m not being mainstream? Really? There’s a reason these guys have become mainstream and part of pop culture because they’re some of the best representations of these types of characters.

      Not saying you can’t disagree with my list (we encourage discussion around this neck of the woods) but if you do then give some of examples of your own, back up what you’re saying instead of just brushing the article to one side as “weak.”

  18. Drsam Red Dragon gets a lot of critism it’s nice to meet another who appretiates it. It is by far Ratners best film lol hell his only decen film lol.

    • Yeah it is his only decent film, but I was expecting to be awful, and was very surprised by all the performances, and it’s one of those films when you can really appreciate the cinematography, and that final scene with Lecter just before he meets Clarice, chilling.

      It goes to show though, even someone like Ratner obviously has talent, he just cant use it 99 percent of the time!

  19. I’ll have to draw the line there Sam I can’t say ratner has talent or give him credit. The film had a good script and an amazingly talented cast and film should of been great but wasn’t only decent. Any one else in that chair and it could of been great.

    • Well that’s true, but it is the only time I will ever give the guy any credit for anything, he showed some talent in Red Dragon.

      • well, i discredit red dragon for two reason which is why i never saw it. 1. Ratner 2. i hate remakes

        • Technically it’s not a remake if you think about it, Red Dragon is an adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel, as is Manhunter, Red Dragon isnt remaking Manhunter.

          • i diagree, the ONLY reason they remade this..yes lol remade..was Hopkins has an ego, couldnt leave well enough alone with the Mann film, he had to be Hannibal from the start.

            • dont get me wrong sam, i loved silence of the lambs, and they just shoulda stopped after that film.

            • Manhunter is an odd film.

  20. Leatherface is not what you would call a serial killer

  21. i’ve been reading all the hannibal comments, and it occurs to me that since he seems to be the king bad guy…that some shout outs for his proteges should be given.
    tom noonan
    ted levine (was mentioned)
    gary oldman
    and fiennes

    apples fallen from the tree

  22. Let’s see, well, the first one is easy…

    Hannibal Lector…Silence of the Lambs
    Norman Bates….Psycho
    Leatherface…..Chainsaw Massacre
    Curt Duncan….When a Stranger Calls
    Frank Zito….Maniac
    John Doe…..Seven
    Horace Pinker…..Shocker
    Three Finger….Wrong Turn
    Pluto….The Hills have Eyes
    one for good measure….
    Otis….Devil’s Rejects

  23. Honestly, i would change Stuntman Mike with the killer in Rest Stop. Simply because of the way he made that B-movie into something bloody and slightly disturbing.That and and he’s a state trooper.

  24. Actually I think this list is right on the money there is just one character I think should earn an honorable mention the character Henry in “Henry A portait of a Serial Killer” that sent shivers down my spine as well another honorable Charlize Theron in “Monster”

  25. Also I think the most brillant performance by a actor portraying a serial killer is not on this list because the film is dated. Pete Lorre is magnificant as a peophile serial killer in Fritz Lang’s “M” made in the 30’s Peter Lorre out performed most these actor with just his eyes.

  26. American Psycho is, in my opinion, underrated, even if he didnt kill those people it was the pure hatred for them that is chilling… Alfred Hitchcock said that what you dont see is the scariest part, but bale proved him wrong by showing the world what an average person may intent to do… I dont know about you, but having someone hide thier intention is even more scary then someone that makes it obvious to me… the movie showed me that a monster could be any of my friends and/or family… that is why I think that American Psycho is grossly underrated…

    my list is…

    1. Hannible Lecter
    2.Norman Bates
    3.american psycho
    4 the hills have eyes
    5 the lovely bones
    6 thefirefly family
    7buffalo bill
    8 the guys from Hostle
    9 jigsaw (the first is the only good one… why the hell could anyone think that a second could be half that good? why would the try? why try 82 times?)
    10 ghostface

    and just so that nobody feels left out, From Hell’s jack the ripper… he shouldve had at least an honorable mention…

  27. A few that came to mind while reading this were.
    -Eldon/Dad from people under the stairs.
    -Early from Kalifornia (the whole movie was about serial killers)
    -Donnie and the Rabbit from Donnie Darko
    -Riddick from pitch black (not menacing but they were terrified)
    -Clyde from Law Abiding Citizen
    -The Family from The BURBS (comical but creepy)
    Sorry for the terrible spelling but I aint gettin paid to write.

  28. Karl Childers from Sling Blade. Some may deem him an avenging angel of some sort, but nonetheless he’s a killer of 3 people in incidents spaced years apart. He can’t be trusted out in society.

  29. I think your choices are pretty spot on. You made compelling arguements for the ones I don’t know or might not have put on my own list. The fictional angle (or merely inspired by actual person/persons) made the task a bit harder. Though, I appreciate the reasoning behind it.

    The only person that I would give a nod to — as others have mentioned — that didn’t make your list would be John Ryder from The Hitcher (1986 version). Maybe he holds a special place in my heart (nightmares) as my dad forced me to watch this movie as a kid to deter me from ever hitch hiking. I’d say Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men) but he wasn’t so much a serial killer, huh? More of a emotionless, sociopathic killing machine. (Only thing more frightening than Javier Bardem’s chilling performance was Anton’s frightening hair.

    Kiss the Girls, Bone Collector, Eye of the Beholder — just thinking (typing) out loud. Trying to think of any other serial killer movies.