The 25 Best Movies Based On True Crimes

You just can't make this stuff up

Crime movies have been popular as long as movies have been around, and the world keeps providing ever stranger real-life material for them to use. It'd be hard to invent the terrifying stories behind classics like Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, or more scuzzy works like the vacation-from-hell horror movie Wolf Creek—and they didn't. In recent years, the "based on a true story" conceit has become a tired Hollywood trope, but only because these movies so masterfully blended nonfiction with the wild imaginative possibilities of the big screen. Here are the best movie based on true crimes, ranked.

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American Hustle

Despite what the trailer and posters might make you think, American Hustle is about more than Amy Adams' cleavage. The movie stylishly riffs on the FBI's 1970s ABSCAM sting operation, and is filled with as many twists and double-crossings as era-appropriate pop songs and swishy dance moves. Buy/rent on Amazon

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Catch Me If You Can

It's not Steven Spielberg's best, but Catch Me If You Can ranks among the director's more entertaining movies. It tracks Frank Abagnale's rise as a wunderkind conman. Leonardo DiCaprio has never been more enjoyably charming and slimy. Buy/rent on Amazon

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Zodiac wasn't necessarily the movie horror fans—or fans of David Fincher's previous Seven—expected. Instead, it's a process movie about the people who tried to unmask California's Zodiac Killer. Studiously researched and impeccably shot, Zodiac turns into something larger and more foreboding than a spate of murders. Buy/rent on Amazon

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Memories of Murder

Before South Korean director Bong Joon-ho made international thrillers like Snowpiercer and Okja, he crafted this gem of a murder mystery, based on Korea's first serial murders. He brings his signature pitch-black humour to the story of two detectives in over their heads trying to solve the puzzling killings. Buy/rent on Amazon.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

The best and boldest thing about The Wolf of Wall Street, possibly Scorsese's most indulgent movie, is how fun it makes its crimes look. Scorsese and writer Terence Winter condense fraudulent stockbroker Jordan Belfort's memoir down to basically the most sensational parts, putting you in the headspace of a man who sees other people's money as his own playpen. Buy/rent on Amazon

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Scorsese gets three movies on this list, and deserves all of them. Casino is an underrated '90s gangster effort living in Goodfellas' shadow. The cast—Robert De Niro as a low-level mobster making his way up the casino racket (based on Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal) and Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci as the wife and friend who threaten to tear it down—is entirely perfect. Buy/rent on Amazon

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Summer of Sam

An uncharacteristic movie for Spike Lee, Summer of Sam depicts the effect of the notorious murders of "Son of Sam" David Berkowitz on young men living in The Bronx in 1977. Lee seamlessly weaves the stories together, and John Leguizamo proves he's a real-deal actor. Buy/rent on Amazon

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The twisted, trashy story of South Florida high schoolers who murdered a sadistic friend who had abused them, Bully is a hard one to stomach, but director Larry Clark (Kids) gives the script the no-bullshit delivery it deserves, and Brad Renfro's performance is quietly haunting. Buy/rent on Amazon

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Dog Day Afternoon

The movie inspired by a Brooklyn robbery solidified Al Pacino's legend, in all its spittle-filled, shouting glory. Buy/rent on Amazon

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The French Connection

The fictionalised account of New York City detectives who pursue a French drug smuggler is essentially one long, glorious chase scene. But Gene Hackman's performance and the sobering ending give it moral weight. Buy/rent on Amazon

From: Esquire