The media is one of the biggest influences in people’s lives these days. We are constantly surfing the internet to read about things that years ago we probably never would have heard of without spending hours at the library. The extreme availability of information is both convenient, and sometimes detrimental to our society. Today you can simply Google how to make a bomb, and hundreds of webpages featuring step by step instructions will pop up. But be careful. The FBI might be monitoring certain searches, so don’t be surprised if you end up the target of intense scrutiny because of your Google activities.
Anything from video games, to music videos, to books read in classes across the country have been accused of promoting violence, and teaching kids how to commit horrible crimes. Movies in particular tend to be a huge source of inspiration for criminals, because seeing it on the big screen isn’t enough for some people. Here are 10 movies that inspired horrific crimes, making it clear that violence in movies is far from harmless.
Natural Born Killers
The 1994 Oliver Stone film starring Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson depicts how a pair of lovers and mass murderers become famous after the media glorifies their crimes. There are at least 5 major crimes that have links to the movie, including the Columbine High School massacre. The shooters, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were confirmed fans of the movie, and discussed whether Steven Spielberg, or Quentin Tarantino (who originally wrote Natural Born Killers) would be the one to adapt their story into film. They also used the initials “NBK” when referring to their plan to murder their classmates. There has also been at least one lawsuit against Oliver Stone, and Time Warner, claiming that they should take responsibility for the way the subject of their film shaped the actions of others.
Ben Affleck directed and starred in the 2010 film, The Town, about a group of career criminals in Charlestown, Boston who rob banks in nun costumes. Inspired by what they thought was a glamorous, exciting lifestyle, a crew formed in Brooklyn that ended up pulling off up to 62 robberies of small businesses in the Brooklyn and Queens areas. They got away with $217,000 before getting caught despite their efforts to cover their tracks. When they were finally caught, they admitted to being fans of the film, which inspired them to use tactics such as pouring bleach over everything to destroy DNA evidence, and cutting the power supply to their target so the police couldn’t be contacted.
Both the novel and the film adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club was bound to inspire men to turn to violence. The cult following, and the hold main character, Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt) has over his loyal followers was a good indication that the subject matter would lead to copy-cats. Teenager, Kyle Shaw, attempted to put his own “Project Mayhem” into motion by setting off a homemade bomb outside a Starbucks in New York City. Another group of teenagers in Australia held their own “fight club” in a park, which led to the death of one of them from a brain hemorrhage. The film made fighting seem like a catharsis that would serve as an act of rebellion against a society that was emasculating them.
One scene in Magnum Force (of the Dirty Harry franchise) depicts a prostitute’s murder when her assailant forces her to drink drain cleaner. After seeing this scene, the infamous Hi-Fi murderers attempted to use the same method to kill three people during a robbery in Utah. Six men were suspected of the murders, but only three were convicted. They forced five hostages to drink Drano, but when that didn’t kill them, they fatally shot three of them, leaving the other two severely injured. Three US Air Force airmen were arrested, and two were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. They admitted during their trial they were looking for an efficient way to commit murder when they came across the scene in Magnum Force.
Most people recognize Chucky as the evil red haired doll that goes on killing sprees in the Child’s Play franchise. The films caused a controversy over whether the violence depicted would incite violence in children. In the UK in the early 90’s, Child’s Play 3 was cited as inspiration for two murders. 16-year-old, Suzanne Capper was kidnapped, and held for 7 days, before being set on fire. One of her kidnappers used the phrase “Hi I’m Chucky. Wanna play?” to instill terror in Suzanne before torturing her. Chucky was also accused of putting the idea of violence into the heads of the two ten-year-old boys who tortured, and murdered two-year old James Bulger, although it was never much more than a theory.
The ghost face mask has become an iconic way to scare the crap out of someone thanks to the four installments in the Scream franchise. The movies were a huge success, which led to the inevitable copycat crimes. In 1998, 16-year old, Mario Padilla and his cousin, stabbed his mother 48 times, killing her. The boys claimed to be inspired by Scream and Scream 2, and the murder became known in the media as the “Scream murder”. The boys said they needed the money acquired by the murder in order to buy two ghost face outfits, and a voice-changer for their planned killing spree.
A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick‘s A Clockwork Orange is known for its graphic depictions of violence, and has been banned in numerous countries. The most notorious crime inspired by the film involved a young girl being gang raped by a group of men who were singing “Singin in the Rain”. The most infamous scene from the movie involves Alex and his band of “droogs” doing the same thing. Kubrick voluntarily withdrew the film from the British market, and even replaced especially violent sections with tamer versions in order to keep it in circulation in the US. Kubrick and his family even received threats and had protesters come to their home because of the extreme violence in the film.
The horror film The Purge, and its sequel The Purge: Anarchy got people thinking about what it would be like if there was one night a year where all crime goes unpunished. Would you commit murder if you knew you would face no consequences? Before the second installment came out in 2014, there was a social media post from Louisville that went viral announcing a “real life purge”. It turned out to be a hoax started by high school students, but the threat was enough to keep people inside, away from anyone who might actually take the purge announcements seriously. If people are so eager to hint at the possibility of a purge, how long before someone decides to take it upon themselves to set a real life purge into motion?
The Keanu Reeves-led science-fiction action trilogy, The Matrix was another movie that was briefly blamed for the Columbine High School shooting. The film is also the inspiration for “the Matrix defense,” which is a form of an insanity plea. By using this defense, the accused claims he only committed the crime because he thought he was inside the Matrix, and not in the real world. Tonda Lynn Ansley was found not guilty by reason of insanity for shooting her landlady in the head after using the Matrix defense. Whether she actually believed she was in the Matrix or not, she ended up in a mental-care facility instead of prison.
Robert De Niro‘s iconic role as Travis Bickle, an honorably discharged US marine, in Taxi Driver was a huge influence on John Hinckley Jr.’s attempt to assassinate President Ronald Regan in 1981. In the film, Bickle plots to assassinate a Senator. Hinckley’s attempt to assassinate Regan was his way of trying to impress Jodie Foster, who played a prostitute in the film. He had become obsessed with her after watching the movie, and even shaved his head into a mohawk, just like Travis. His defense lawyer played part of the movie for the jury at Hinckley’s trial to demonstrate the extent of his delusion, and he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.