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The 11 Greatest Serial Killer Movies of the 1990s – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

The 11 Greatest Serial Killer Movies of the 1990s



In the 1990s, there were several highly acclaimed projects that revolved around the crimes of serial killers, both fictional and real-life figures alike. These projects were helmed by big-name directors and featured famous performers, making them recognizable even if their titles aren’t. Some of these films have become famous for their quality and are considered among the best of all time. This list also includes entries from other regions like New Zealand, Austria, and Belgium. Here are the eleven best serial killer movies of the 1990s, ranked.

11. Blue Steel (1990)
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, one of Hollywood’s leading female filmmakers, Blue Steel features Jamie Lee Curtis in the lead role. The film’s inciting incident sees Officer Megan Turner finding herself in a tight situation as she stops a man from holding up a gas station on her first day on the job. Officer Turner kills the man, and a bystander takes the criminal’s gun, leaving her on the scene with a dead, unarmed man. The film follows Officer Turner’s character development, and comparisons have been made between Blue Steel and Halloween (1978) by John Carpenter.

10. Copycat (1995)
Starring Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver, Copycat sees the featured serial killer basing all of his crimes on the escapades of real-life figures like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. The film features an original score from composer Christopher Young and boasts a notable, idiosyncratic style of storytelling. Critics agreed that the stars performed brilliantly, and Copycat was a box office success.

9. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Directed by Tim Burton and starring his most famous collaborator, Johnny Depp, Sleepy Hollow features clear-cut elements of the fantasy genre on top of its horror inclinations. The film follows Depp’s protagonist Ichabod Crane as he investigates a series of peculiar murders in the titular village. Although it wasn’t a hit with critics, Sleepy Hollow made waves at the box office and deserves a spot on the list.

8. Barton Fink (1991)
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, Barton Fink follows the titular character played by John Turturro, a playwright who moves to Hollywood to transition to screenwriting. He soon discovers dark truths about the industry, and a thrilling yet poetic plot plays out from there. John Goodman plays the serial killer Charlie Meadows, also called Karl “Madman” Mundt, who beheads his victims.

7. Scream (1996)
Directed by Wes Craven, Scream is among the most famous of its kind. The iconic Ghostface killer undoubtedly fits the mold of a serial killer. Ghostface will forever be iconic, and the film’s plot twist sustains the effect of the killer’s indelible character.

6. Basic Instinct (1992)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven, Basic Instinct stars Michael Douglas as San Francisco Police Detective Nick Curran, who investigates the murder of a wealthy rock star. The prime suspect is a writer named Catherine Trammell (portrayed brilliantly by Sharon Stone), with whom Curran becomes romantically involved. The film is most aptly categorized as an erotic thriller and features tangible elements of neo-noir films.

5. Funny Games (1997)
An Austrian-language psychological horror stint from director Michael Haneke, Funny Games follows a pair of psychopathic killers who invade the vacation home of a married couple, their son, and their dog. The film revolves around the pair’s titular set of sadistic games used to torture their victims, and it ends on a wonderful note of poetry despite the controversy surrounding the general nature of its plot and style.

4. Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Directed by Peter Jackson, Heavenly Creatures follows the real-life story of the 1954 Parker-Holmes murder case in Christchurch, New Zealand. It explores the relationship of the primary protagonists, two teenage girls who run away to America. The film’s leads are portrayed by Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet, who made their respective on-screen debuts in this Peter Jackson film.

3. Man Bites Dog (1992)
Directed by Benoît Poelvoorde, André Bonzel, and Rémy Belvaux, Man Bites Dog is a mockumentary black comedy filmed entirely in French. The film follows a team of documentary filmmakers who begin following a charming and charismatic serial killer, and the film’s tone is both dark and funny.

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2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs is a classic thriller that follows FBI trainee Clarice Starling as she seeks the help of incarcerated serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter to catch another serial killer known as Buffalo Bill. The film is widely considered one of the best of all time and won five Academy Awards.

1. Se7en (1995)
Directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, Se7en follows the hunt for a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as inspiration for his crimes. The film’s dark and gritty tone, combined with its memorable performances and plot twists, make it the best serial killer movie of the 1990s.

Some of the most acclaimed projects of the 1990s revolve around the crimes of serial killers, be them fictional characters or real-life figures. Plenty of these projects were by some big-name directors, too, with famous performers in front of the camera to boot. So even if you don’t recognize their titles, you’ll likely know the names of their respective casts and crews.


And, for what it’s worth: a few of the top picks are among the famous titles not just of the nineties, but of all time. And, this list will include entries from other regions, such as New Zealand, Austria, and Belgium. All that said, these are the eleven best serial killer movies of the 1990s, ranked.Related: 10 Best Interrogation Scenes in Movies

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11 Blue Steel

Jamie Lee Curtis in Blue Steel
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, one of Hollywood’s leading female filmmakers, Blue Steel (1990) features Jamie Lee Curtis in the lead role. And off the bat, fans of the crime genre should be enticed by the film’s inciting incident. Her first day on the job, Officer Megan Turner finds herself in a tight situation as she stops a man from holding up a gas station. But when she kills him and a bystander takes the criminal’s gun, Officer Turner is left on the scene with a dead, unarmed man.

She’s then suspended for a time, develops a relationship with a particularly devious counterpart, and ultimately grows with great character development from start to finish. Comparisons were made regarding story structure and archetypes with Blue Steel and Megan Turner (respectively) to Halloween (1978) by John Carpenter and lead character Laurie Strode, also played by Jamie Lee Curtis. But for as famous as that horror protagonist remains today, Officer Megan Turner within this thriller from Bigelow remains remarkably overlooked.

Related: 20 Iconic Female Movie Protagonists of the 1990s

10 Copycat

Holly Hunter in Copycat (1995)
Warner Bros.

Despite starring Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver, this goes down among the lesser-known titles on the list. But as the featured serial killer in Copycat (1995) bases all of his crimes on the escapades of real-life figures such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, this is perhaps among the more interesting premises off the bat, as well. And it boasts a notable, idiosyncratic style of storytelling, to boot.

Copycat goes down as a psychological thriller, and although the director Jon Amiel didn’t pen the script, it does feature an original score from composer Christopher Young. And its stars perform brilliantly from the film’s first frame until its open and poetic end. Critics for the most part agreed with those assessments, and Copycat as a whole accrued great money in theaters for a reason. Definitely check it out, if you haven’t.

9 Sleepy Hollow

Johnny Depp in Sleepy Hollow
Paramount Pictures

This entry stands out as a bit of an anomaly on the list, as Sleepy Hollow (1999) features clear-cut elements of the fantasy genre on top of its horror inclinations. But either way, director Tim Burton teamed up with his most famous collaborator in Johnn Depp to provide film fans with one of the best serial killer movies of the nineties.

Set at first in New York City at the turn of the 19th century, it follows Depp’s protagonist Ichabod Crane who is sent to the titular village to investigate a series of peculiar murders. And the result is a darkly stylistic supernatural horror stint that, sure, wasn’t exactly a hit with critics, but it nonetheless made waves at the worldwide box office. And in the end, Sleepy Hollow without a doubt deserves a spot on the list, coming in at number eight.

8 Barton Fink

Barton Fink by Joel and Ethan Coen
20th Century Fox

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, the titular character in Barton Fink (1991) is played by John Turturro. A playwright who moves to Hollywood while transitioning to screenwriting, he soon discovers dark truths about the industry, and a thrilling yet poetic plot plays out from there.

John Goodman plays the serial killer Charlie Meadows, also called Karl “Madman” Mundt. The staple feature of his killings is that he beheads his victims, which makes for an intriguing dynamic under the surface with the struggle for creativity from Barton, whose case of writer’s block serves as the initial source of conflict. As a whole, the project goes down as rather forgotten in the grand scheme of Coen Brothers movies. But nonetheless, it lands just outside the top five.

7 Scream

Ghostface in Scream 1996
Dimension Films

Most horror movies feature serial killers to some degree of the definition, as they end up killing numerous characters by the time their respective project ends, if they didn’t already classify as a serial killer before the events kicked off. Directed by Wes Craven, the film at hand is among the most famous of its kind, regardless of decade or filmmaker. And the iconic Ghostface killer in Scream (1996) undoubtedly fits the mold at hand.

If you somehow missed this hit meta horror stint from the nineties, the identity of said killer will remain in the dark to sustain the effect of the film’s indelible plot twist. But just know that they warrant a spot on this list if not for their iconic status as movie villains alone, not to mention the quality of their development arc and overall dynamics with other characters. Ghostface will forever be iconic.

6 Basic Instinct

Basic Instinct Catherine Tramell
TriStar Pictures

Most aptly categorized as an erotic thriller, Basic Instinct (1992) by Paul Verhoeven also features tangible elements of neo-noir films. It stars Michael Douglas as Nick Curran, a San Francisco Police Detective who investigates the murder of a wealthy rock star. And things quickly get out of hand.

The prime suspect is a writer named Catherine Trammell (portrayed brilliantly by Sharon Stone) with whom Curran becomes romantically involved. And sure, overall, the product isn’t the best you’ll read about today. But Basic Instinct nonetheless deserves a spot on this list for its performances alone, ultimately starting things off for serial killer movies from the nineties.

5 Funny Games

Funny Games by Michael Haneke
Concorde-Castle

An Austrian-language psychological horror stint from director Michael Haneke, some films fans may recognize this title from the American remake of the same name, also directed by Haneke. But the original Funny Games (1997) is without a doubt the superior title, achieving a tangible tone from the start as it breaks the fourth wall and aestheticizes its thought-out scenes of violence and mental torture.

Following a pair of psychopathic killers who invade the vacation home of a married couple, their son, and their dog, the film revolves around the pair’s titular set of sadistic games used to torture their victims. It ends on a wonderful note of poetry despite the controversy surrounding the general nature of its plot and style. And without a doubt, Funny Games is one of the most well-made serial killer movies of the nineties.

Related: How to Properly Break the Fourth Wall in Film

4 Heavenly Creatures

Heavenly Creatures from Peter Jackson
Miramax Films

Directed by Peter Jackson, this earlier stint of his follows the real-life story of the 1954 Parker-Holmes murder case in Christchurch, New Zealand. It’s an engrossing plot that explores the relationship of the primary protagonists, two teenage girls who run away to America. And that’s where the most noteworthy fact regarding Heavenly Creatures (1994) comes into play.

The leads are portrayed by Melanie Lynskey and, more notably, Kate Winslet. The latter is a massive name in Hollywood with several Academy Award nominations under her belt. But they’re most prevalent in this flick not for their solid performances, but for the fact that this was their respective on-screen debuts. A Peter Jackson film, of all things. They without a doubt help land Heavenly Creatures in the top five.

3 Man Bites Dog

  Man Bites Dog Opening Scene
Roxie Releasing

Directed by Benoît Poelvoorde, André Bonzel, and Rémy Belvaux, this mockumentary black comedy is one of the few foreign-language films on the list, as its filmed entirely in French. But even if you’re not typically into films from other parts of the world, this one is sure to hit home with fans of films that revolve around the topic at hand.

Man Bites Dog (1992) tells the story of a film crew who are making a documentary about a serial killer, recording his crimes for their production. And the fictional piece of cinema itself uses fantastic behind-the-scenes elements of filmmaking that are typically seen in documentaries, like jump cuts (with regard to continuity editing) amid casual conversations. It’s a unique viewing experience that lands at number three.

2 Se7en

Se7en with Morgan Freeman
New Line Cinema

If not the first pick, then Se7en (1995) was likely the film that first materialized in your head upon reading the title of this list. Directed by David Fincher, the serial killer film at hand features Brad Pitt, Morgan Freemon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kevin Spacey in the lead roles. Quite the star-studded cast, even if most of them were still making names for themselves at this point in their respective careers.

They nonetheless performed brilliantly, with the entire project coming into flawless fruition. Se7en boasts one of the greatest third acts ever filmed, with a plot twist for the ages that render Fincher the king of that particular device of storytelling. It’s a gruesome plot with certain scenes being hard to watch at times. But this entry makes it to the penultimate spot almost for its twist alone, not to mention the several other filmmaking tactics that render Se7en a stand-out project from the nineties.

1 The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs by Jonathan Demme
Orion Pictures

Putting aside for a moment the high-quality tactics of filmmaking featured around every corner of The Silence of the Lambs (1991), it’s worth noting that this is also perhaps the most popular movie on the list. Not just the best. Directed by Jonathan Demme, it of course follows Clarice Starling (portrayed by Jodie Foster) who must track down a notorious serial killer known as Buffalo Bill.

The other noteworthy portrayal herein is Anthony Hopkins, who plays Dr. Hannibal Lecter to a career-defining, award-winning degree. In fact, the film as a whole was an absolute mainstay across the board of award associations, even picking up the “Big Five” at the Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Each honor was well-earned, with The Silence of the Lambs topping the list by a long shot.

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