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40 Must-See Thriller Movies Based on Real-Life Events

True Crime to the Big Screen: 40 Must-See Thriller Movies Based on Real-Life Events

True crime has always been a captivating subject for people, as it allows us to peek into the darker side of humanity. In recent years, true crime has become increasingly popular in pop culture, with an influx of true crime podcasts, documentaries, and movies. Among these actual crime-based productions, one genre that has stood out is a thriller.

Thriller movies based on true stories offer an added layer of suspense and intrigue, as the audience knows that the events depicted on screen are not just the product of a filmmaker’s imagination but have happened. In this article, we will look at 40 Must-See Thriller movies based on real-life incidents. These movies offer a glimpse into some of the most shocking and intriguing real-life events, from crime dramas to survival tales.

Here, we’ve compiled a list of “40 must-see thriller movies based on true stories”.

Also read: Best Korean Thriller Movies Of 2021 To Watch This Holiday Season! 

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

This timeless thriller, which is based on the real-life incidents following serial murderer Ted Bundy, follows Jodie Foster as FBI agent Clarice Starling along with Anthony Hopkins as the cannibalistic serial murderer Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The movie depicts Starling as she works with Lecter to find “Buffalo Bill,” another serial murderer.


The Silence of the Lambs(1991)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Based on the Anthony Burgess novel, “A Clockwork Orange” is a dystopian crime movie released in 1971. The movie stars Malcolm McDowell as the charming miscreant Alex, following a gang of vicious thugs inspired by real-life British thugs known as “droogs” as they go on a crime rampage and the state’s effort to rehabilitate him using an experimental technique.

The film is renowned for its frightening brutality as well as its investigation of morality and free choice. It is regarded as a classic in the criminal and science fiction genre.


A Clockwork Orange(1971)

The Boston Strangler (1968)

Richard Fleischer directed the crime thriller “The Boston Strangler” in 1968. The serial murderer who terrorized Boston in the 1960s is the inspiration for the movie. The plat centers on the police hunt for the murdered and the criminal’s psychological profile. The movie looks at the idea of the criminal mind and how it helped authorities find the legendary murderer.


The Boston Strangler (1968)

Zodiac (2007)

David Fincher’s 2007 criminal thriller “Zodiac” is a thriller. The renowned Zodiac killer was sought after in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s, and thus the plot of the movie is based on a real-life investigation.

The movie takes account of a police investigator and a cartoonist as they work together to find the culprit and utilize psychological profiling to do so. It examines the idea of the criminal mentality and how it affects the investigation in a captivating and dramatic manner.



The Wolf of the Wall Street (2013)

Martin Scorsese’s 2013 crime film ‘The Wolf of the Wall Street” featuring Leonardo DiCaprio follows the actual account of stockbroker Jordan Belfort and his involvement in a securities fraud case as the inspiration for the movie.

The narrative chronicles the growth and collapse of Belfort and his business, Stratton Oakmont, as well as the unethical behavior that caused it to fail. The movie is a somber description of Wall Street’s excesses and the result of greed.


The Wolf of the Wall Street(2013)

Catch Me if You Can (2002)

Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio feature in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 crime drama “Catch Me if You Can” The movie follows an account of Frank Abangnale Jr, an infamous con man who pretends to be a pilot, attorney as well as a doctor. The movie depicts the cat-and-mouse game between the criminal and the police enforcement while combining suspense, drama, and comedy.


Catch Me if You Can (2002)

American Gangster (2007)

Ridley Scott is the director of the 2007 crime movie “American Gangster.” The movie follows the actual account of Josh Brolin as Frank Lucas, a prominent drug kingpin in Harlen in the 1970s. The film follows the efforts of the investigator trying to bring Lucas down as well as his ascent to dominance in the illegal drug trade. It examines issues of power, corruption, and redemption in the criminal underworld.


American Gangster(2007)

Molly’s Game (2017)

Molly Bloom, a former Olympic-class skier who operated a high-stakes poker game for famous people and the rich, is the subject of the 2017 crime thriller movie”Molly’s Game” The movie is based on her autobiography of the same name, which describes her rise to fame in the underground poker scene and subsequent legal issues. Aaron Sorkin is the director, while Jessica Chastain is the main actor.


Molly’s Game(2017)

Snowtown (2011)

Snowtown is a 2011 crime movie which is based on the real-life story of the Snowtown murders. The movie follows the story of John Bunting and his group of young accomplices who committed a series of gruesome murders that took place in the town of Snowtown, South Australia, in the 1990s. The film is a chilling and disturbing portrayal of the events and the mind of a serial killer.



The Big Short (2015)

The Big Short, a 2015 Tragic Comedy movie which was directed by Adam McKay, is based on the same-titled book by Micael Lewis. The 2008 financial crisis and the folks who predicted it and profited from it are the basis for the narrative.


The Big Short(2015)

A group of investors who gambled against the housing market is followed in the movie, which also follows the results of their actions and how they contributed to the world financial crisis. The movie is a real-life incident that shows the greed of some of the biggest names in the financial sector as well as the shadowy side of Wall Street.

The Bling Ring (2013)

Sofia Coppola directed the 2013 crime drama “The Bling Ring” The film Follows the true story of a group of teenagers who used to break into the homes of Hollywood celebrities between 2008 and 2009. The group’s increasing brazenness and carelessness with their actions, including the results that follow. The movie examines the connection between celebrity and consumerism, and criminal conduct.


The Bling Ring(2013)

In Cold Blood (1967)

Based on Truman Capote’s book, which has the same name. The horrific murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959 is the subject of the Ricard Brooks-directed crime drama movie “In Cold Blood,” which was released in 1967. The video chronicles the investigation and trial of the killers Richard “Dick” Hickck and Perry Smith, providing a horrific representation of the real events.


In Cold Blood(1967)

The Town (2010)

The Town” is a crime thriller based on the true story of a group of bank robbers from Charlestown, Boston, and their attempts to escape the city after a series of heists. The movie focuses on a criminal as he falls in love with a bank manager who is a victim of one of their heists and also follows his attempts to leave the criminal life and go straight. The film is known for its raw depiction of the criminal underworld in Boston, which is based on a real-life story that happened in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood.


The Town(2010)

Black Mass (2015)

The film Black Mass follows the real life of Whitney Bulger; it covers Bulger’s rise to prominence in the criminal underground as well as his friendship with the FBI agent John Conolly, played by Joel Edgerton. Bulger is portrayed by Johny Depp in the movie. The Winter Hill Gang, one of the most notorious criminal groups in US history, is shown in the movie as it happened.


Black Mass(2015)

Goodfellas (1990)

A Martin Scorsese-directed crime movie from 1990, “Goodfellas,” is based on Nicholas Pilleggi’s nonfiction book “Wiseguy.” The plot follows the rise and fall of gangster Henry Hill over three decades, along with his pals and colleagues.

The movie, a classic in the crime genre, depicts the American Mafia’s inner workings and the brutality as well as criminal activity that goes along with it. It follows actual New York-based incidents and individuals.



The Hurricane (1999)

“The Hurricane,” a 1999 biographical sports drama created by Norman Jewison, is based according to the life of middleweight boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who was falsely convicted of murder and imprisoned for over 20 years until being freed. The movie addressed issues of prejudice, injustice, and the strength of tenacity; it is regarded as a genuine real-life event. Denzel Washington plays Rubin Carter in the film.


The Hurricane(1999)

The Infiltrator (2016)

A criminal drama starring Bryan, “The Infiltrator” was directed by Brad Furman. The movie follows the actual account of Government agent Robert Mazur who went undercover in the 1980s to ingress Pablo Escoar and his cartel’s Drug-Trafficking activities. The film follows his perilous operation and how he assisted in dismantling the cartel.


The Infiltrator(2016)

The Lonely Hearts Killers (2006)

“The Lonely Hearts Killers is a crime drama film directed by Todd Robinson. The movie is based on the real-life story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, a criminal couple who lured and murdered several women in the 1940s. The two were known as the “Lonely Heart Killers” due to their use of personal ads victims. The film stars John Travolta and Salma Hayek as the notorious couple.


The Lonely Hearts Killers(2006)

The Bank Job (2008)

“The Bank Job” is a crime-thriller that is based upon the true story of the 1971 Baker Street Bank robbery, in which a group of criminals tunneled into a Lloys Bank in London and stole millions of dollars. The story explores the political and criminal underbelly of the operation and the cover-up that followed. The film is known for its attention to detail and historical accuracy, making it a thrilling and intriguing watch.


The Bank Job(2008)

The French Connection (1971)

“The French Connection” is a crime thriller directed by William Friedkin and based on the real-life story of New York City Police detectives Popeye Doyle and Buddy, who uncovered a massive drug operation in the city. The film follows the two detectives as they infiltrate the drug ring and bring down the Kingpin. The film is widely regarded as one the best crime movie of all time, and it also won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.


The French Connection(1971)

The Bridge of Spies (2015)

“The Bridge of Spies” a drama which is directed by Steven Spielberg and is based according to the true story of American lawyer James B. Donovan and his involvement in the Cold War. The story follows Donovan’s negotiation with the Soviet Union to secure the release of a U-2 spy plane pilot.

And the exchange of a Soviet Spy for an American student during the height of the Cold War. The movie is a portrayal of a historical event that happened and was celebrated for its performances and suspenseful storytelling.


The Bridge of Spies(2015)

The Iceman (2012)

The Iceman is a crime thriller that is based on the real-life story of Richard Kuklinski, a contract killer who worked for organized crime in the USA. The movie portrays Kuklinski’s life as a hitman and his eventful capture by the authorities. Starring Michael Shannon in the lead role, the film is a chilling portrayal of a ruthless killer and his descent into the violent work of organized crime.


The Iceman(2012)

The Kingdom of Shadows (2015)

The kingdom of Shadows is a documentary film directed by Bernardo Ruiz. The film shows the history of the US-Mexico border, The drug war, and the lives of those affected by it.

It follows real-life events and tells the story of the borderland through the eyes of those who live and work there, including border patrol agents, immigrants, and activists. The film provides a unique insight into the complexities of the US-Mexico border and the human impact of the drug war.


The Kingdom of Shadows(2015)

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

The Last King of Scotland is a historical drama that focuses on the real life of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and his relationship with Amin’s brutal dictatorship in Uganda in the 1970s and the political and personal upheaval that ensued. The film portrays atrocities that took place in Uganda under Amin’s rule.


The Last King of Scotland(2006)

The Mule (2018)

The Mule is a crime drama directed by Clint Eastwood and based on the real-life story of Leo Sharp, an elderly man who becomes a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. Starring Eastwood as Sharp, the film follows his journey as a drug mule and the consequences that follow. The movie follows a true-life story that highlights the harsh realities of drug trafficking and the impact it has on individuals and their families.


The Mule(2018)

The Next Three Days (2010)

The Next Three Days is a crime thriller directed by Paul Haggis, which is based on the real-life story of a french teacher who masterminds a plan to break his wife out of prison after she is falsely accused of murder. The story follows the man’s journey as he risks everything to clear his wife’s name and the obstacles he faces. The film is a tale of a man’s unwavering love and determination to free his wife.


The Next Three Days(2010)

Out of the Blue (2006)

A 2006 New Zealand crime drama film which was directed by Robert Sarkies. The film is based on the real-life Aramoana massacre, in which a gunman gunned down around 13 people in a small village in 1990. The film follows the events leading to the massacre and the police response.


Out of the Blue(2006)

The Pianist (2002)

The pianist is a biographical drama which was directed by Roman Polanski and was based on the memoir of the same name by Wladyslaw Szpilman. The film follows the true story of a Jewish pianist, Szpilman, who survives the Holocaust in Nazu-occupied Warsaw and the Warsaw Ghetto during World WarII.

The film highlights the struggle of the Jewish community during the war, the atrocities committed by the Nazis, and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.


The Pianist(2002)

My Friend Dahmer (2017)

Marc Meyer’s drama film “My Friend Dahmer” is based on the actual tale of Milwaukee Cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered and mutilated 17 men and boys between the late 1970s and 1990s. The movie is based on a Novel by john Backdef, a friend from Dahmer’s high school.


My Friend Dahmer(2017)

The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)

The taking of Pelham 123, directed by Tony Scott, is based on the real-life hijacking of the New York City subway train Pelham 123 in the late 1970s. The story follows a subway dispatcher as he tries to negotiate with the hijackers and save the hostages. The film explores the tension and drama of the actual event.


The Taking of Pelham 123(2009)

The Trial of the Moke (1978)

“The Trial of the Moke” is a crime drama directed by Gary Walkow. The film is based on the real-life story of the murderer of Anthony Cook, known as the “Moke” in the press. The story explores the events leading up to the murder, The trial, and the aftermath of the trial.


The Trial of the Moke(2018)

The true Story of Jesse James (1957)

The True Story of Jesse James is a western film directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter. The movie is based on the true story of the notorious outlaw Jesse James, who is portrayed as a Robin Hood-like figure who robbed the rich to give to the poor.

The film explores the life and crimes of Jesse James and the manhunt to bring him to justice. It is considered a classic in the Western genre and one of the most accurate portrayals of the legendary outlaw.


The true Story of Jesse James(1957)

The Whistleblower (2010)

The Whistleblower is a political thriller directed by Larysa Kondracki, and it follows the account of Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and exposed a U.N. peacekeeper’s sex trafficking ring. The film stars Rachel Weisz as Bolkovac and explores themes of corruption, justice, and the abuse of power. The film depicts an actual event that happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1999.


The Whistleblower(2010)

The Witness (2015)

The Witness is a crime-drama film written by James D. Solomon and is based on a real-life story that happened in 1964 in New York City. The film follows the accounts of Kitty Genovese, a young woman who was brutally murdered in Kew Gardens, Queens. It also looks as how her murder was witnessed by several people who did nothing to stop it.


The Witness (2015)

All Good Things (2010)

“All Good Things” is a thriller Movie based on the true story of Robert Durst, a wealthy New Yorker who was accused of murdering his wife in 1982. The film, created by Andrew Jarecki explores the events leading up to the murder and Durst’s subsequent actions, including his involvement in other crimes. The movie is a fictionalized version of real events.


All Good Things(2010)

The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)

The Zookeeper’s Wife was a war drama movie directed by Niki Caro. The movie follows the true story of Antonina and Jan Zabinski, the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo during World War II, the portal of the events that happened during the Holocaust, and the humanity shown by the zookeepers. The film explores themes of courage, survival, and heroism during the worst of times.


The Zookeeper’s Wife(2017)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a thriller cum horror film directed by Tobe Hooper and follows the real-life murders committed by Ed Gein in the 1950s. The movie is about a group of friends who get stranded in Texas and fall prey to a family of wild cannibals led by the iconic character Leatherface.

Known for its graphic violence and disturbing imagery, the film is considered a classic in the genre of thriller and still to this day holds a reputation as one of the scariest movies ever made.


The Texas Chain Saw Massacre(1974)

The Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto feature in Jean-Marc Vallee’s drama movie. The Dallas Buyer Club. The film is based on the real-life accounts of Ron Woodroof, a man diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s who smuggled unapproved medication into Texas to help himself and others suffering from the disease. And it followed Woodroof as he had to battle the medical system and pharmaceutical industries, as seen in the movie.


The Dallas Buyers Club(2013)

Glass Onion (2022)

“Glass Onion” is a crime thriller film directed by Rian Johnson. The film is based on the true story of the notorious and unsolved “Zodiac Killer” case that took place in San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and it follows a team of investigators and reports as they work to uncover the identity of the killer, while also dealing with the personal toll that the case takes on them.


Glass Onion(2022)

3096 Days (2013)

“3096 Days” is a German film based on the real accounts of Natascha Kampusch, a young who was kidnapped at the age of 10 and held captive for 8 years. The film follows her ordeal and her eventual escape. The film is a dramatic retelling of the true story, which received international media coverage and sparked public outrage


3096 Days(2013)

The Girl Next Door (2007)

“The Girl Next Door” is a 2007 crime drama film based on the true story of the torture as well as murder of Sylvia Likens by her caretaker Gertrude Bniszewski in 1965. The movie follows a teenage boy who becomes involved with the girl next door, only to discover the dark secrets of her past and the abuse she’s endured. The film received mixed reactions for its handling of the True-life story.


The Girl Next Door(2007)

Also Read: 40 Best Movies & Thriller Shows Of Hugh Dillon

Written By

I'm a gamer who's not afraid to admit that I mess up on a daily basis. But hey, at least I have a great sense of humor about it! When I'm not gaming, you can find me traveling the world, making new friends, and having conversations that will make your head spin. I'm also a bit of a grammar nerd, so if you see any errors in my bio, please let me know - I'll be sure to fix it up in a jiffy! (See what I did there?) Life's too short to not have fun, so let's game on and make some pun-ishingly good memories together!

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