David Fincher’s Se7en is one of the most beloved thrillers ever made. It tells the story of two detectives (with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman conforming to the classic buddy-cop dynamic of a roguish hotshot young detective, eager to crack his first major case, and a grizzled old-timer veteran cop on the brink of retirement) tracking down a serial killer named “John Doe,” who’s been carrying out murders inspired by the Bible’s seven deadly sins.
Se7en could’ve easily been a hacky, cliched, phoned-in job, but Fincher went above and beyond to deliver the quintessential serial killer movie. Here are ten other serial killer-centric movies you'll love if you couldn't get enough of Se7en.
The Exorcist’s William Friedkin directed this crime thriller about a gay serial killer who targets other gay men. Al Pacino stars as the cop who heads into the world of sadomasochism in pursuit of the killer. Gay rights activists initially protested the film, feeling that it painted the homosexual community in a negative light, and there have been several anti-gay attacks that were attributed to the film.
Perhaps the problem was Cruising’s open-ended finale was that it made its message ultimately unclear and therefore up for interpretation. Either way, Cruising has certainly seen its fair share of controversy, but it’s a compelling thriller.
James Wan and Leigh Whannell have noted the influence of Se7en on their grisly indie debut, which has since spawned a litany of sequels with diminishing returns. What the sequels have missed that made the original so great is the complex plotting. While the sequels have enjoyed all the gory games and blood-stained beartraps of the first one, they haven’t been anywhere near as well-written.
The twist-laden original uses flashbacks to show how the two guys ended up on Jigsaw’s radar, and why they might deserve to be chained up in a grimy bathroom, while a pair of detectives are on the case.
8 Shutter Island
Although it starts off with a relatively straightforward premise—a couple of U.S. Marshals arrive at a mental asylum on a remote island to investigate the escape of a murderer—Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island is a complex, captivating, deeply layered psychological thriller.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, this shocking thriller isn’t the kind of movie that Scorsese often makes (at times, it borders on being a straight-up horror movie), but it has his signature sharpness and eye for sumptuous cinematography. Shutter Island is a dark odyssey into a disturbed mind, culminating in a mind-blowing twist that can’t be seen coming, despite making total sense.
7 American Psycho
Before it was Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale’s most famous role was Patrick Bateman from the ultraviolent satirical thriller American Psycho. Bateman is a soulless suit, desperate to climb the corporate ladder. He’s so obsessed with his job and with being his best self that if a co-worker has a business card with a nicer font than his, he takes them up to his apartment, drugs them, lays down some plastic sheets, and slaughters them with an ax.
Adapted from the controversial Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name, American Psycho is a must-see for any fan of horror cinema’s serial killer-based subset.
6 Summer of Sam
Spike Lee’s dramatization of the crimes of David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz—as Seinfeld’s Newman character once described him, “The worst mass murderer the post office ever produced!”—focuses less on the killer himself and more on his effect on the public consciousness of New York at the time.
Set in an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx in the late 70s and centering on fictional characters, the movie’s greatest strength is its historical context, tying other contemporary New York events like 1977’s blackout and the Yankees’ winning season into its narrative. It’s a powerful snapshot of the city’s fears at the time.
5 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Another disturbing tale of the hunt for a serial killer from David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a Hollywood adaptation of Steig Larsson’s Millennium series of novels. It’s a shame that the movie underwhelmed at the box office (probably due to $90 million being spent on an R-rated movie with graphic rape scenes), because the studio’s intention was to kickstart an adult-oriented franchise.
In today’s franchise-focused filmmaking landscape, all the superheroes and Jedi Knights are mainly there to appeal to kids, so Fincher’s plan to give adults a franchise whose installments they could look forward to (although, let’s face it, plenty of adults look forward to the superheroes and Jedi Knights).
4 Hot Fuzz
If Se7en was a comedy set in a sleepy village in the north of England, then it would look something like Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz. Like Se7en, Hot Fuzz is a buddy cop story about the hunt for a serial killer committing one gruesome crime after another, always staying one step ahead of the police.
It’s the second installment in Wright’s Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy, starring Simon Pegg as a big-city cop who is transferred to a small village up north and Nick Frost as his new sergeant’s son. As always, Pegg and Frost have terrific on-screen chemistry as well as having thrilling action sequences, jump scares, and laugh-out-loud comedy in spades, the mystery plot is genuinely engaging.
3 Taxi Driver
While it’s not technically a serial killer movie in the traditional sense, Taxi Driver is a story about a man whose mindset devolves into that of a serial killer, with an intense, blood-soaked climax that turns it into a serial killer movie. This is Martin Scorsese’s cinematic take on the Vietnam War, focusing on the conflict’s effect on its veterans rather than the conflict itself.
Robert De Niro stars as Travis Bickle, a man who returns from the war to New York with PTSD, which gives him insomnia, leading him to take work as a cabbie, surveying the city that he both loves and hates.
2 Natural Born Killers
Decidedly zanier than Se7en yet just as violent, Natural Born Killers is a satirical thriller about the way the media sensationalizes mass murderers. Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis star as a Bonnie and Clyde-esque pair of killers who kill for the sake of killing and have amassed a celebrity-like cult following.
Originally drawn from a script by Quentin Tarantino, Natural Born Killers is unmistakably Oliver Stone’s film. Stone took the bones of Tarantino’s script and reshaped it to suit his oeuvre. Like all of Stone’s films, it’s a mirror that the director wants to hold in front of American society.
1 The Silence of the Lambs
Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is the crème de la crème of serial killer movies. It’s the only horror movie to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and it was only the third film to win Oscars in all five major categories.
Jodie Foster stars as Clarice Starling, a rookie FBI agent who enlists the help of cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins (who earned a Best Actor win with just a few minutes of screen time), to track down Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), who has been abducting and murdering women in a bid to make a suit out of their skin. It’s grisly, it’s captivating, it’s terrifying—it’s everything you want out of a serial killer thriller, and out of a movie in general.