Skip To Content

    15 Gut-Wrenching Movies That Are Only Made Worse Because They're Based On True Stories

    Thanks, I hate it.


    The other day, I was minding my own business, when I came across this Reddit thread about disturbing movies that people will never watch again. For some reason, at 3 a.m., I decided to read up on these films, and because I'm a true crime buff, I recognized that a lot of these horror stories are based on real-life events.

    Moira telling someone they're no longer allowed to watch true crime before bed

    So here are some of the movies you should add to you DO NOT watch list:

    🚨Warning: This article includes instances of violence and sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.🚨

    1. The Girl in the Box (2016)

    Collen Stan laying in a box
    GIAB Productions / Lifetime

    The film is a fictionalized retelling of the Colleen Stan case. Back in 1977, Colleen was kidnapped by Cameron and Janice Hooker and kept as a sex slave for seven years. She spent a lot of her time in captivity living in a box underneath Cameron and Janice's bed.


    2. The Girl Next Door (2007)

    Meg hanging from the ceiling with a blindfold and gag in her mouth

    The film is based on the real-life torture and murder of Sylvia Likens. Back in 1965, 16-year-old Sylvia was held captive and was physically, mentally, and sexually tortured for three months by her caretaker, Gertrude Baniszewski, her children, and the neighborhood children.


    3. Come and See (1985)

    Flyora looking onward at a distressing scene
    Janus Films / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The film is based on the occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany in World War II and depicts some of the real-life atrocities that the Belarusians had to experience at the hands of the Nazis.


    4. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

    Andrew kissing his baby son, Zachary, on the cheek
    Oscilloscope Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The documentary was made by Kurt Kuenne and it documents the murder of his childhood friend, Andrew Bagby, and the shocking events that involved his wife and child in the wake of his death.


    5. In A Glass Cage (1985)

    Klaus torturing Angelo
    Lauren Films

    The psychological thriller is based on Gilles de Rais, a long-time companion of Joan of Arc, who later gained notoriety as a serial killer of children in satanic rituals.


    6. In This Corner of the World (2016)

    Suzu pointing at something in the distance as Hojo smiles behind her
    Funimation / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The anime takes place in Hiroshima and Kure, Japan, a decade before the atomic bomb was dropped during World War II.


    7. Men Behind the Sun (1988)

    A woman getting tortured as a doctor looks on without trying to help
    Grand Essex Enterprises

    The horror film depicts the gruesome and graphic depictions of the war atrocities committed by the Japanese military at Unit 731. It details cruel medical experiments the unit inflicted upon Chinese and Siberian prisoners toward the end of World War II.


    8. The Pianist (2002)

    Szpilman crying as he walks away from the chaos and disarray of his neighborhood
    Focus Features / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The biographical war drama follows the life of Władysław Szpilman, a Polish Jewish pianist who avoided the extermination camp that took his family because of his musical prowess.


    9. City of God (2002)

    A young boy pointing a gun at the camera
    Miramax /Courtesy Everett Collection

    The film follows the growth of organized crime in the Cidade de Deus suburb of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the late '60s to the early '80s.


    10. The Strangers (2008)

    James being held up by two masked assailants
    Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The horror film is about a couple who's vacationing in a cabin, when one night, they are brutally attacked and terrorized by three masked assailants with no apparent motive. The film is based on the Manson family murders of Sharon Tate and her friends.


    11. Open Water (2003)

    Susan and Daniel floating in the water

    The film follows a couple stranded at sea and fighting to survive in shark-infested waters after their scuba diving boat rides off without them. The film is loosely based on the disappearance of Tom and Eileen Lonergan.


    12. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

    A woman in a mask and leather jacket laying in a box

    The mockumentary horror film shows tapes and tapes of "found footage" documenting the many gruesome crimes of Ed Carver. One of the main crimes seen on these tapes is the abduction, torture, and rape of Cheryl Dempsey, which is loosely based on the Colleen Stan/girl in the box case from the '70s.


    13. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

    Henry holding up a knife to a man's neck
    Greycat Films / Everett Collection

    The psychological horror film is about Henry and Otis, two former prison mates, who go on a random killing and crime spree without any regard or remorse. The film is based on real-life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole from the '60s.


    14. Compliance (2012)

    Becky getting interrogated by her managers
    Magnolia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The thriller follows Becky, a fast food worker, who is brought into the manager's office on suspicion of stealing from the restaurant. An officer on the phone instructs the manager/other employees to search her, which leads to sexual abuse, only for it to come out that it was a scam. This film is based on the strip search phone call scam that took place between 1992–2004.


    15. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

    Emily Rose screaming in torture
    Screen Gems / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The supernatural horror-drama follows Erin Bruner, a lawyer representing Father Richard Moore, who’s on trial for the negligent homicide of Emily Rose after she dies during an exorcism. The film is based on Anneliese Michel, who was exorcised because she was believed to be possessed, when, in fact, it was a seizure condition.


    What are some disturbing films you watched that creeped you out even more when you found out they were based on a true story? Let us know in the comments below.

    TV and Movies

    Get all the best moments in pop culture & entertainment delivered to your inbox.

    Newsletter signup form