The 10 Most Chilling Movie Serial Killers

Published 4 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

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  1. I think that we forgot out some major characters dudes- those sick creepy Mayan murderers from Apocalypto. Now those guys are devious!

  2. Chris J you reminded me of the BBC Drama, “Jekyll”

    Doesn’t get past SR immigration policy but still prtty disturbing performance by that guy,,? Forgot his name. Lol

    • James Nesbitt. Cracking show that was, shame the BBC cancelled plans for a second season.

    • God that was great! For a British Lit final I had to pick something we’d read and interpret it using whatever medium I wanted. I chose “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and interpreted it using film. More specifically “The Nutty Professor” (with Jerry Lewis), “Mary Reilly” (with Julia Roberts and John Malkovich), and “Jekyll” which I had run across at my local library. I took each film and compared it to the original literary work and then to each other in how they interpreted the story.

      The second I saw that “Jekyll” was written by Steven Moffat I knew it was going to be so much better than I thought it was. Nesbitt was genuinely creepy and as I was making notes to compile later for my paper I was writing what I thought would happen. I had a great time reading them back. :)

      “Jekyll” was also the element that pulled most from the Stevenson’s original work. If you read the short story and then watch “Jekyll” it’s amazing how many little details Moffat managed to incorporate. God I love this!

  3. I loved the character of Mick Taylor played by John Jarratt in Wolf Creek, a pretty sick and twisted individual.

    On a rather humorous note, remember the two old ladies in Arsenic and Old Lace, Cary Grant’s character, Mortimer Brewster, discovers his two favourite auntie’s take in borders, generally drifters and homeless people, then poison them.

    Then there is a wonderful performance by Jeff Bridge’s in Jagged Edge.

  4. I am sorry but this is so horribly written.
    The psychological terms are vastly incorrect. And the assumptions made are just that – assumptions, and very bad ones that show a very limited understanding of psychopathology in humans. For instance it has been well-established that trauma is a crucial part of one’s evolution to serial killer, “However, that still doesn’t explain the extreme lengths of Lecter’s insanity – something is clearly inherently wrong with him on a base level.” Weakly founded assumption.

    • These are fictional characters and this list is just for fun. Lighten up.

      • Ed Gein influenced Leatherface. Not so fictional…

        • Ed Gein was the inspiration of not only Leatherface, but Norman Bates, and Buffalo Bill as well. The Silence of the Lambs was also heavily influenced by the search for the Green River Killer in which Ted Bundy participated playing the Lecter inspiration.

          • Ted Harris who wrote ‘Red Dragon’ on which tho9se movies were based confirmed that he got the idea from the FBI agent who worked with Bundy to catch Ridegway. Send a maniac to catch a maniac I guess.

    • Yes, thanks for coming to a site about movies looking for deep expertise in psychology.

      Vic

      • The article is quite poorly written, and its not a deep expertise in psychology to recognize the degree to which childhood trauma can have an effect on the development of a serial killer–this is borderline common knowledge.

        • If you want deep analytical insight into the phychology of serial killers you are on the wrong website. This site is for entertainment purposes. As in these are FICTIONAL characters being debated here. On a website set up for FUN. As Jerry said “lighten up”.

    • Harriet:

      You are totally missing the point here. The assumptions as you call them are opinions on movie characters and their motives. This is not viewed from your perspective of what is medically accurate, and the precise definitions of psychopath or sociopath are not important. What is important is the emotional impact that these characters produce in each one of us.

    • Theres 3 types of serial killers IMO (I’ll say this first before people jump my case, I’m no professional, I’m only 21 and this is purely an opinion, a personal observation. I have many issues of my own, and used to be interest in psychology so I would break down the people around me and try to dig into their psychs to understand how their though processes worked. This is all simply what I’ve accumulated from personal emotions.)

      1. Those who kill out of impulse, and can’t really control it (mentally unstable people usually with faded lines between reality and and fantasy, these people basically question reality itself, and tend to kill in order to prove something to themself. These are the ones who normally have undergone traumatic experiences, making them completely numb to the thought “Hey maybe what I’m doing to this person is just as traumatic for them if not more”. These people also don’t realize there’s anything wrong with themself because they’ve become trapped so deep in their own delusional thoughts.)

      2. This is what I would call Hannibal, he clearly knows what he’s doing and why, which means he hasn’t lost his reason and thought process to insanity or delusion, making him much more dangerous.

      If I had to name these I’d label them Mentalpaths (People driven by pure mental illness and unstabality, like schizophrenia, anxiety, etc) and Psychopaths (People without mental illness, who are solely inspired by their own sadistic warped personality, these people know what they’re doing is wrong but don’t care, and do it simply because they wanted to or felt like it, or were trying to deliver some sort of message.)

      The third classification would simply be a combination of both 1 and 2, creating a very chaotic mixture.

      If I had to classify a real killer, I’d go with John Wayne Gacey, he’s a very interesting person to study. I’m not sure where I’d classify him, he had enough childhood trauma to f*** him in the head but…. he also lived a mostly normal life having 2 children and 2 or 3 marriages. proving he had the mental stability to live and function sanely, therefore making me wanna lean more towards a Psychopathic Personality Driven killer. He also didn’t kill EVERY person he brought to his house he was selective.

      Idk… idk why I think about these things but I do.

  5. Not sure if it counts but I like Milo Ventimiglia’s Dr. Ted Grey in Pathology… and how come Michael Myres isn’t on the list?

    • Please read the article at the beginning for the requirements to be included on the list. Michael Myres does not meet the requirements.

      • How is Myers’ insanity derived from supernatural sources? He’s simply an insane murderer. He is not immortal or demonic. He’s a very sick man who probably should be on this list.

      • Meyers isn’t supernatural, he killed his family as a mere child, and simply escaped from the mental institution to finish the job. He gets shot alot and lives but that doesnt make him immortal, did you hear about the naked guy in florida who was hopped up on bathsalts eating that guys face on the freeway? The cops shot him twice, and he charged, and they had to shoot him 6 more times before he dropped. Some people can withstand ALOT before they drop. Sure they gave meyers a godlike tolerance but he was a normal mortal in truth. In 5 he only survives all those gunshots because he floats down the river and this guy treats his wounds, in the end, only to be another one of his murder victoms.

        • Guys if u have watched the entire halloween series (excluding the Rob zombie remakes) it explains in halloween: the curse of Michael Myers, it explains that Myers is part if a cult that believes in a supernatural intetety to give people supernatural powers to go on killing sprees therefor giving Myers the ability to withstand anything ok up top i said that watching the entire series will deal with this u only have to know that Myers is unstoppable

  6. Just a couple points to consider about the Patrick Bateman and Francis Dolarhyde discussions. I have read both American Psycho and Red Dragon – two of the best novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading in fact. (I do realize this piece is about the film characters though.)

    In the novel American Psycho, the ambiguity regarding whether or not Bateman really killed people does not exist. He has killed all these people. The ending of the novel is fantastic.

    I enjoyed both Manhunter and Red Dragon, the films. But, the films come nowhere close to doing Francis Dolarhyde’s character the justice that he deserves based on the literary killer. If the films were able to give us the rich, psychotic character that the novel provides, no one would question or doubt the need to include him very high on this list.

  7. Jeff Bridges as Barney in ‘The Vanishing’ was also pretty good.

  8. Although an interesting post in the reference of serial killers.

  9. what about the killer from copycat….that guy copied all of the biggest serial killings in history and did them perfectly. talk about a twisted s.o.b

    • Loved that movie! Harry Connick, Jr. was creepy and great as the psychopath!

  10. I forgot the guy’s name, but the movie Dr. Giggles. I’m not sure of anyone else, but a dentist is one of the last people I want to go crazy

    • His name is Larry Drake. He played a retarded man in a great creepy film “Dark Night of the Scarecrow” that movie scared the CRAP out of me.

  11. I think you forgot John Ryder from “The Hitcher”. Rutger Hauer is absolutely one of the scariest serial killers ever

  12. john ryder is a scary dude lol. dr giggles isnt a dentist i dont think. theres another movie that is called the dentist with corbin bernsen

  13. in copycat i was talkin bout the other guy that was copycating other serial murders but harry connick jr was good in that movie too

  14. I would add the “joker” from the movie The Dark Knight he is crazy as a bed bug and He meets all the above requirements of a serial killer He doesn’t kill for money, He has killed multiple times, His memory is unreliable and a lot is wrong with him… if that doesn’t make him a psychopath I don’t know what does…..

  15. where is michael myers??????????????:o

    • David d. According to halloween: the curse if Michael Myers, Michael possesses supernatural powers that is why he is not on this list

  16. Hi All! I’m looking for the name of a film where a serial killer kept his female victims in some kind of boat house and then would tie them underwater fully clothed after he had killed them. Any ideas???

    • OMG I was looking for the same movie!! I remember watching it on TV and forgot the title of it!!ToT

      • Cabin By The Lake with Judd Nelson @ Tormented and Jenny

    • cabin by the lake

    • Cain by the Lake with Judd Nelson. Good television movie.

  17. UJJJJ I hated the movie Lovely Bones So! SCARY!!!

    POOR GIRLS ♥♥♥

  18. I have no words for these movies :(

    ♥LOVE♥

    YOLO

  19. Mr. Brooks is a good serial killer movie. Untraceable is a decent watch. Could we consider The Wrong Turn and The Hills have Eyes serial killer mutants? Cool list. Thanks.

  20. Disregard my serial killer mutant mention.

  21. I suppose Anton Chigurh from “No Country for Old Men” doesn’t qualify because he was a hit man (and presumably paid for his work), but his methods, especially the “coin toss”, have many of the elements of a serial killer – cold and methodical, and a very disturbing character.

    • It’s unclear whether Chigurh kills for money. In the movie it’s stated that he has “principles” that transcend money, and that even if the money was given back he would still kill. Of course, he needs money to live, but I don’t really think that is why he does what he does. There is something deeper about him.

  22. Freddie Clegg via Terence Stamp
    Mark Lewis via Carl Boehm
    Hans Beckert via Peter Lorre

  23. a list without Anton Chigurh doesn’t make sense for me… don’t even The Joker or Colonel Hans Landa? hmmm, ok…

  24. Based on a true case – Richard Attenborough as John Reginald Christie in “10 Rillington Place”.

  25. wtf list…..perfume is one of the best movie…..

  26. Otis from House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects.

  27. I think that Max Parry from The last horror movie should also be on the list. He’s by far the most convincing serial killer I’ve ever seen in a movie (not to mention that the movie is absolutely awesome, and that Kevin Howarth plays him to perfection). Now, if I had lived in England at the time the movie was released, I probably would have lived a few sleepless nights :)). No, really, I highly recommend this movie to anyone looking for something original and believeable. Also, where is Hannibal Lecter? He is AWESOME, and Anthony Hopkins is just perfect in this role. Really guys, how could you miss him?

  28. Where is GOLGO 13?

  29. Lecter is the best, always.