It’s not uncommon for fiction to be inspired by real-life events, giving authors and filmmakers plenty of inspiration for ‘based on a true story’ future projects. Real life can inspire some of the most powerful works of fiction, but what happens when the inspiration is turned around? When art stops imitating life and life starts imitating art? It’s a phenomenon that’s actually more common than you might think.
There’s no doubt that movies can be inspiring. Whether it is the aesthetic, the characters, or the plot, movies can inspire many to change their lives for the better. Surely, every filmmaker and writer hopes to inspire and to entertain. But when a dark movie garners dark followers, the inspiration can turn sour. Many have, horrifyingly, been inspired to do rather dark things after finding intimate inspiration in fiction. Surely, you would think that the will of a human being is stronger than that. Driven by passion, boredom or perhaps morbid curiosity, some criminals have been known to act out the crimes of their fictional heroes. Perhaps those parents who keep calling for less violent video games and movies might be on the right track? This list details some of those shocking real life crimes that were inspired by fiction.
10. Dexter (2006)
The hit television series on Showtime has inspired quite a number of crimes. The most famous of these was the case of 17-year old Andrew Conley who strangled his 10-year old brother because he felt that he identified with the main character. While he was awaiting trial, Conley was asking about the series and even discussed major plot points of the show with his lawyers. Another man, Mark Twitchell, was inspired by Dexter’s unique form of vigilante justice; he’s been imprisoned for the murder of a man he met online while he was posing as a women. Even after his trial and conviction, Twitchell continued to watch the show from prison.
9. Project X (2012)
A movie about a group of nerdy teenagers and their party that goes awry was bound to end in copycat parties. Teenagers didn’t view this film as a lesson in what happens when you lose control of your party; instead, many used it as a how-to for the ultimate bender. Because teens tend to emulate what they see on screen, parties with thousands of attendees were sprouting up all over America upon the release of this movie. Teens were also illegally entering abandoned buildings in hopes of throwing the biggest party of the year. The situation became so serious that Warner Bros. had to release a statement telling teenagers all over that it’s just a movie and so, basically… stop it.
8. Scream (1996)
It was set up as a good source to learn how to commit a murder, and a number of copycat crimes arose following Scream’s release. In 2001, a 24-year old man named Thierry Jaradin was propositioning Belgian teenager Alison Cambier, and when she declined his advances, he put on the infamous Ghostface costume and stabbed her 30 times in the same manner that the movie’s first victim died in the opening scene. Jaradin stunned police as he admitted that he modeled the murder after the movie; he had no violent criminal history.
7. The Matrix (1999)
So many people have been inspired to commit crimes because of “The Matrix” that there is an actual legal term known as “The Matrix Defense” where lawyers will advocate that their clients believe they are in an alternate reality. This defense worked for a San Francisco man named Vadim Miesege, who dismembered his landlady because he believed she was sucked into the Matrix. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity. But the most famous case was in 2002 when the infamous Washington D.C. sniper attacks took place. Lee Boyd Malvo was arrested and convicted for his involvement in the heinous acts and it became publicly known that he was obsessed with the concept of the Matrix and the blurred lines of reality and fiction. He even wrote “Free yourself of The Matrix” in his prison cell.
6. The Town (2010)
Apparently there were several people who saw Ben Affleck’s Oscar-nominated movie and were so inspired by donning a nun costume and robbing banks that they wanted to do it themselves: a group of men in New York were able to commit over 60 copycat burglaries from various businesses in Brooklyn and Queens. You could even say that the men involved watch “The Town” like a how-to video, given that their techniques were direct copycats from the movie including cutting the power supply to the location, using bleach to destroy the DNA evidence, and wearing headlamps to see in the dark.
5. Money Train (1995)
This comedic film depicts an elaborate heist that involves a thief named the Torch, who robs a subway toll booth and then sprays it with gasoline and sets it on fire, all with a clerk trapped inside. Of course, in the movie the clerk walks away and survives the blast. Unfortunately, there are some people who have a hard time separating fiction from reality. After the film was released, there was a spate of attacks and attempted robberies targeting subway clerks, all involving lighter fluid sent through a coin chute while being set on fire. One 50-year old tollbooth clerk suffered burns on over 75% of his body and died several weeks later.
4. Saw (2004)
For this one, you may need to sit down. The “Saw” movies themselves were disturbing enough, presenting the psychopathic antics of The Jigsaw Killer. Jigsaw was the anti-hero in the film series who made an effort to teach people the value of human life by putting them in terrifying life-or-death situations. Incredibly, several people were inspired by this.
A mother in Salt Lake City turned in her son and his friend after she overheard them discussing a plot to set up games just like Jigsaw with cameras and camcorders, to teach a lesson to two girls and a police officer. Two teenaged girls in Tennessee were charged with phone harassment after calling a woman in her 50s and adapting a Jigsaw-like voice, telling her that her friend was trapped somewhere in her house and a toxic gas would be released, making her choose between her life or her friend’s. The horror of the prank caused the woman to have a stroke – but luckily she survived.
3. Fight Club (1999)
The first rule about fight club is that you don’t talk about fight club, and the first rule for fans should probably be that you don’t mimic the shenanigans you see in the movie or read in the book. Inspired by Brad Pitt’s character, seventeen-year old Kyle Shaw set off a bomb made of electrical tape, a plastic bottle, and fireworks inside a Starbucks in the Upper East Side in 2009. Shaw pled guilty to the charges of criminal possession of a weapon and attempted arson and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison and five years probation. So much for launching his own, “Project Mayhem”.
2. Twilight (2008)
There are probably several people out there who believe that it was a crime that Twilight was made into a movie in the first place. But Twilight did have a hand in inspiring a few crimes, with the most notable of these involving a young teenage boy in Des Moines. When a 13-year old girl came forward about being bitten by her classmate on her hand the administration investigated, and it was discovered that the boy had bitten ten other students. The boy’s father came forward to say that it was because of the boy’s love for “Twilight” that he committed these acts. The boy was referred to juvenile corrections.
1. Birth of a Nation (1915)
Set in the United States South during and after the Civil War, this notoriously racist and one-sided film was directed by D.W. Griffith. The movie was considered to be cutting edge at the time with its camera angles and close-ups as it depicted the North as the bad guy and the South suffering from the violence of freed slaves. While the film overall was controversial and considered to be distasteful, it sparked a resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan, which had initially disbanded in the 1870’s. The film depicted attacks on white women by black men, which incited heinous crimes on black people with racist motivations.