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5 best true crime serial killer movies like Boston Strangler

Hulu has finally released director Matt Ruskin’s latest film, Boston Strangler, starring Keira Knightley, Carrie Coon, Chris Cooper, and David Dastmalchian. Based on the terrifying true story, this movie follows journalist Loretta McLaughlin as she battles the sexism of her time, as well as a corrupt and incompetent justice system, to investigate the titular Stranger’s murders and help bring him to justice.

For those who enjoyed watching this brutal but engrossing true crime film, here are 5 similar biopics about real-life serial killers that are worth a watch.

The Boston Strangler (1969)

Albert DeSalvo in "The Boston Strangler."

This isn’t the first time the Boston Strangler had his own movie. Unlike the more recent biopic, which explores the possibility of there being multiple killers, the 1968 version portrays Albert DeSalvo (played by Tony Curtis) as the definitive Strangler, and it instead follows the head of the “Strangler Bureau” (played by Henry Fonda) investigating the murders. This movie is also unique in the way it repeatedly uses split screens, which makes the film look like pictures from a newspaper, invoking how many people followed the Strangler’s story at the time.

The Boston Strangler does take many creative liberties with the story it’s based on. The most glaring change is how it depicts DeSalvo with dissociative identity disorder and making the film a disturbing journey into the mind of a serial killer. Though this widely inaccurate film may not be top-tier biopic material, its distinctive visual style and Curtis’s Golden Globe-nominated performance as the Strangler still warrants a watch.

Helter Skelter (1976)

A close-up of Charles Manson in "Helter Skelter" (1976).

Based on Vincent Bugliosi’s and Curt Gentry’s book of the same name, this made-for-TV film chronicles the investigation of the shocking Tate-LaBianca murders committed by the Manson Family in 1969. These murders shook Hollywood and the country as a whole, just as the Boston Strangler terrified his city, so Helter Skelter was understandably the most-watched TV film upon release.

The chilling music and disturbing visuals make for a horrifying procedural crime drama, evoking the terror caused by one of the worst series of murders in American history. Though most of the acting in this film may not be realistic, Steve Railsback gives an enthralling and terrifying performance as Charles Manson that will make you feel like he’s jumping out of the screen.

Jack the Ripper (1988)

Frederick Abberline and George Lusk in "Jack the Ripper" (1988).

This underrated TV film presents a gripping account of the inspector who led the search for the titular killer while battling alcoholism. Like in Boston Strangler, the Ripper’s actions stoked fear throughout an entire city, and yet his true identity remains up for debate decades later.

Similarly, the investigation into the Ripper rocks the entire British system, with riots breaking out in the street and the killer possibly being a member of the Royal Family. Featuring a Golden Globe-winning performance from Sir Michael Caine, this crime film is a terrifying and sorely overlooked period piece that should appeal to audiences looking to be thrown back to a much different story.

The Good Nurse (2022)

Two nurses talk to each other in The Good Nurse.

This tense Netflix drama follows the true story of how nurse Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain) helped uncover the truth that her co-worker, Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne), was a serial killer murdering his patients. Though it is a much different story than Loretta McLaughlin’s, The Good Nurse still depicts the basic premise of one woman overcoming the odds to help the authorities unmask a ruthless murderer.

At the same time, Loughren struggles to maintain her family as a single mother with heart problems, similar to how Loretta McLaughlin faces marital problems in her pursuit of the Boston Strangler. The Good Nurse is also injected with true star power thanks to the acclaimed performances of Chastain and Redmayne, which should give audiences a strong dose of true crime drama.

Zodiac (2007)

Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac.

This David Fincher-directed biopic throws audiences back to the late ’60s to depict the dark and thrilling manhunt for the infamous Zodiac Killer. But similar to Keira Knightley’s film, Zodiac follows Robert Graysmith as he goes beyond his role as a political cartoonist and tries to uncover puzzles left by the killer in an obsessive attempt to bring him to catch him.

Featuring the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr., Zodiac keeps its audience on the edge of their seats as it delves deeper into the frightening mystery behind the real-life murderer who continues to baffle authorities and amateur detectives over half a century later. Much like with Boston Strangler, Fincher’s film doesn’t have a concrete conclusion, as the identities of both killers remain an enigma to this day.

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