The films on the list cover multiple genres and approach their source material in various ways. For example, the movies “Monster” and “Psycho” are based on the crimes of serial killers – Aileen Wuornos and Ed Gein, respectively.
“Monster” is an emotionally moving biographical drama that, as critic Nick Rogers noted, “[emphasizes] Wuornos’ fraying sanity, not her crimes’ sensationalism.” Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic, “Psycho,” on the other hand, is a master class in sensationalism, relying on some of the most shocking aspects of Gein’s life – such as his obsession with his mother and comfort around cadavers – to build its story.
The liberties that “Psycho” takes with its source material are not uncommon among the films on our list. Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” which tells the story of a team of men hunting a great white shark after a series of attacks off the coast of New England, is actually based on Long Island-based shark hunter Frank Mundus, who is widely reported to have served as inspiration for Robert Shaw’s character Quint.
While Peter Benchley, the man behind the source novel, would later deny it as an influence, a series of shark attacks that took place in New Jersey in 1916 are also very similar to those in the film. While the movie veers off into fictional territory, the existence of man-killing sharks lurking by resort towns is all too real.
Other films’ true life inspiration may be less trustworthy. The 2014 horror movie “Annabelle” is based on a Raggedy Ann doll whose owner, paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren, claims is haunted. Horror films often claim to be based on true events, yet the truth of these episodes can be difficult to confirm.
The veracity of films such as Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” is much easier to verify. Based on the memoirs of Aron Ralston, the movie details the events after Ralston fell during a hike, had his arm pinned by a boulder, and his wrenching decision to amputate the arm. Ralston told British newspaper The Guardian that “the movie is so factually accurate it is as close to a documentary as you can get and still be a drama.”
To identify the 40 terrifying movies based on true events, 24/7 Wall St. looked at the 819 movies within the biography genre and those tagged on IMDb as being “based on a true story.” For each movie, we considered the Rotten Tomatoes average critic rating, Rotten Tomatoes’ average audience rating, and IMDb average user rating. To be considered, each film had to have at least 5,000 user ratings between IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes and 10 approved Tomatometer critic reviews.
Once we had that list, we used editorial discretion (and knowledge of specific films) to choose those highest rated films that we would consider “terrifying” and adding some additional titles that we deemed essential.
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