A year or so ago, a man in India went to a funny movie and laughed so long and hard he had a heart attack and died. On a pretty regular basis, there are tragic stories of young boys who are trying to fly like Superman or climb walls like Spider-Man, who fall to their deaths. And reports of a twenty-something X-Men fan who was Wolverine-obsessed and killed his mother and sister with killer claws, has recently revived the debate over whether violence in films contributes to violence in real life. Even more than that, sometimes films not only contribute to violence in real life, they provide the script for copycat murders, r*pes and guns-blasting robberies. And, tragically, these copycat crimes are often not stand-alone affairs, but rather a series of do-it-like-they-do-it in the movies crimes.
Sometimes somebody dies watching a film. If it’s a horror film, all the better for marketing. Sometimes people try to recreate scenes, say from a superhero movie, and die trying. But more often than not, movie scenes inspire copycat crimes – from robberies to murders and back again. Certain scenes in films live on in the minds of obsessed fans and can form the basis for real life murder and mayhem. Here are 15 real life tragedies that, for the most part, were scripted by Hollywood.
15. Natural Born Killers (NBK) – Kill The Parents Scene
Let’s get the granddaddy of all “films that have inspired crime and killing” out of the way. In 1994, Oliver Stone’s satirical crime drama exploded onto the screen. Starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis as Mickey and Mallory, a pair of cold, anarchical natural born killers whose cross-country killing spree leaves dozens of bodies in its wake. There are believed to be more than a dozen NBK-inspired copycat murders, including the 1999 mass murder high school shootings at Columbine. Near the beginning of the film, the pair kill Mallory’s sexually abusive father and waste of space mother and flee. In 1995, 15-year-old Jason Lewis was talking to a friend on the phone, discussing how he was going to kill his parents and hit the road, just like in the film. He put the phone down, shot them with a shotgun, and then came back and announced “I did it. It’s done”. He told police it was because his parents had imposed a midnight curfew on him.
14. The Purge – Random Attack On A Black Man In The Street
The Purge was a 2013 American dystopian horror film with a killer premise. It’s set in a future where once a year the nation allows “The Purge”, a twelve-hour period where emergency services are shut down and anything, including murder and robbery, is allowed. As one affluent family shuts itself up behind a massive security system to wait out the night, the daughter sees a late-night random attack on a black man in the street and lets him into the house. Yes, it leads to all sorts of murder and mayhem. And in May of 2016, when Indiana resident Jonathan Cruz, began his The Purge killing spree, he kicked off his four days of attacks and murders with a late night random street attack on a black man, Billy Boyd. Boyd became the first of his three victims.
13. Breaking Bad – The Body In The Plastic Tub Scene
In 2013, TV anti-hero Walter White, the chemistry teacher turned killer drug dealer, uses hydrofluoric acid in a plastic tub to dissolve the corpse of a young boy who was shot after he witnessed the train heist Walter and his “colleagues” had pulled off. In case you are wondering, that acid won’t eat through plastic, but will gobble up metal. So, they even use the stuff to dissolve the boy’s bike. Then, that same year a guy in Washington State was accused of strangling his girlfriend and then trying to get rid of the evidence by stashing her in a plastic tub full of acid. His inspiration? That episode of Breaking Bad.
12. A Clockwork Orange – “Singin’ In The Rain” Scene
A cult classic. Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clockwork Orange is a futuristic dystopian crime film with a twist. Malcolm McDowell is brilliant as Alex, the sociopathic delinquent leader of a small gang of thugs called “droogs”. They kill, they r*pe, they wreak havoc. Time magazine has called it a ridiculously violent film. Early on in the film Alex goes in for a spot of murder of a husband, followed by the r*pe of his wife. As he gets ready to do the deed, he is singing “Singin’ in the Rain”. Not surprisingly, the film was linked to a number of violent copycat crimes. In 1974, a gang of British youths attacked and r*ped a teenage girl, while singing “Singin’ in the Rain”. In 1973, the film was withdrawn from British release at Kubrick’s request and it was near impossible to see it there until after Kubrick’s death.
11. The Deer Hunter – Russian Roulette Scene
It’s almost impossible to imagine the national angst that the Vietnam War caused in America. And in 1978, The Deer Hunter tapped into that, showing the fates of characters played by Robert De Niro, an impossibly young Christopher Walken and channeling the 70s Meryl Streep before, during and after that epic fail of a war. In one scene, the Americans are being held captive by the North Vietnamese, who force their prisoners into a game of Russian roulette where they pass around a gun with a single bullet in its chamber. And the game goes on until there is only one man left alive. Some report a rash thirty or more Russian roulette deaths after the film’s release in 1978, including a 1980 incident when a man was kidnapped and forced to play the game by a gang of robbers.
10. Dexter – A Bag Over The Head And Bring Out The Power Tools
TV’s Dexter was hugely popular, airing on Showtime from 2006 though 2013. And the show reportedly inspired no end of what Psychology Today called “The Dexter Murders”. You see, Dexter was a serial killer. Make no mistake about that. But he only killed bad guys who deserved it. A kind of psychotic vigilante. And he had very distinctive ways of operating, including placing a plastic bag over his victim’s head. Another trademark? Has to be Dexter’s handy-for-cutting-up-a-body power tools he wielded with such expert skill. He made it look easy. When Psychology Today came out with “The Dexter Murders” piece, it listed quite a few killers who employed copycat Dexter techniques. For example, in 2009 when Dexter fan Andrew Conley, strangled his 10-year-old brother, he placed a Dexter-like plastic bag over the head of his victim. Another case in point: When S&M enthusiast Jessica Lopez strangled another woman, she admitted to channeling Dexter when she pulled out power tools and attempted to do-it-herself like Dexter. She discovered it was harder than it looks and gave up.
9. Taxi Driver – Assassination Scene
It’s 1976 and once again we have Robert De Niro, this time as taxi driver Travis Bickle, a disaffected vigilante gone berserk. The film also stars a young Jodie Foster. In one scene, Travis, complete with a bizarre Mohican, plots to kill an American politician, even showing up at a public event. Enter twenty-something real wannabe assassin John Hinkley, who just happens to be obsessed with Jodie Foster. So, in 1981, he decided to emulate the assassination scene and stages a street shooting of the then President Ronald Reagan. Why? He was hoping to get Foster to notice him. We think it’s beyond bizarre, too. Reagan, of course survived and Hinkley was deemed insane and sent to a psychiatric care unit. You may be surprised to hear he was released in September of 2016 and is living in his mother’s home in suburban Virginia.
8. Magnum Force – Murder Of Prostitute Using Drano
In the 1970s Clint Eastwood was Dirty Harry. And his 1973 Dirty Harry installment Magnum Force, was full of urban violence, death, prostitutes and nasty pimps. In one scene, a prostitute is forced to drink drain cleaner (Drano) and almost immediately obliges by dropping dead. In 1974 a gang broke into an Ogden, Utah audio (“Hi-Fi”) shop, taking hostages and leaving a trail of murder, torture and r*pe. Members of the gang had watched Magnum Force and decided the Drano down the throat gig was a neat way of dispatching victims. But, on the night, the hostages who were forced to drink the caustic liquid were writhing and screaming in pain, but not dying fast enough. So they pulled a gun and began shooting. The so called “Hi-Fi murders” were a sensation, with some criticizing the film for its graphic violence.
7. The Program – Deleted Scene And The Copycat Death
1993’s Disney’s film The Program was bad, didn’t make much money, and would have been totally forgotten had it not been for that one scene. The move is about football players at a big American university and how they coped (or didn’t) with the constant pressure put on them to win at any cost. And when in one scene a drunken macho male character lies down in a busy street to prove how brave he was, he escapes with his life intact. Two teenage boys from Pennsylvania and one from Long Island (New York) weren’t so lucky when in 1993, they attempted to prove they had nerves of steel by doing exactly the same thing. They died and the scene was pulled from the movie. But it lives on YouTube.
6. Conjuring 2 – Final Scene Scares A Watcher To Death
All hell breaks loose in the final scene of 2016’s mega-blockbuster The Conjuring 2. Evil spirits, possessions and the near triumph of evil, all had audiences on the edge of their seats or peeping through their hands. In the film, an English girl living in Enfield, North London is possessed and demonizes into a being that is unrecognizable. A sixty-something movie-goer in India didn’t live to see “The End” at the end of the movie, as he keeled over and died of a heart attack as the final scene came to its climax. Scared to death, maybe. Even more bizarrely, his body was carted away, only to disappear. What happened on YouTube was predictable, with vloggers posting fake videos of possessions and deaths related to the film. As horrible as it sounds, the incident probably didn’t hurt the box office takings. Just the opposite.
5. Nightmare On Elm Street – Stabbing Victim In The Face
There’s a scene in Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Where Freddy Krueger takes down a party guest by slashing him in the face with a bladed glove. And when in 2004 Freddy-obsessed Englishman Daniel Gonzalez, went on a killing spree, that is just what he did to one of his victims. All toll, four people died. In the movie, Freddy employs several heinous weapons, including those spooky knives and in 2004, when paranoid schizophrenic Gonzalez murdered four random people, he was armed with Freddy-like knives. Given six life sentences for the four murders and two attempted murders committed all over England, he committed suicide in his cell in 2007.
4. The Heat – Heist Movie That Inspired The Bloodiest Shootout In American History
The Heat was a 1995 film with, yes, Robert De Niro again. Plus Al Pacino. In it a commando-style gang “of heavily armed thugs dress in full body armor storms a bank in California, terrorizing customers before fleeing in a wild gun battle with the police”. In its 1997 piece, “The Mystery of the Violent Bank Jobs”, The New York Times connected that violent robbery scene to a series of equally violent bank jobs all over the country. Take the assault gear-clad gang with AK-47 assault rifles that held up a bank in Hollywood. They peppered the place with bullets and locked terrified customers and employees in a vault, before launching into a 20-minute standoff with police. At the end of the day, two robbers were dead and several police wounded. As far as the newspaper was concerned, the connection was “provocative”.
3. Child’s Play 3
Everybody knows the Child’s Play film franchise centering around a killer doll “Chucky” who is possessed by the soul of a serial killer. Chucky started life as a “Good Guy Doll”, so he looks like, well, a good guy. But his inner serial killer comes out in some truly frightening, scream-out-loud scenes. Chucky is a killer, plain and simple and in 1991’s Child’s Play 3, he kidnaps and attacks a boy. And the 1993 case of the murder of James Bulger in Liverpool in England was said by some to be based on that scene of frightening violence. Two boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, kidnapped Bulger, beat him and left him to die. The film and real-life killing caused a great public, anti-video nasties outcry in England.
Wes Craven’s 1996 slasher horror film Scream featured Neve Campbell as Sidney, a young girl stalked by a creepy killer known only as Ghostface. David Arquette was the too cute cop in town. Ghostface calls a young girl, then kills her boyfriend, before killing the girl herself. Top10films.co.uk reports the story of a seventeen-year-old girl in France who stabbed a classmate with a kitchen knife. Like the movie, the murderer reportedly had called the victim first and even wore a Ghostface mask while committing the bloody and brutal murder. Scream in general and that scene in particular, leave many believing Hollywood wrote the script for this real-life tragedy.
1. The Sopranos – “Whoever Did This” Episode
In 2002, the “Whoever Did This” episode of HBO’s cult-classic Mafia show sees head thug Tony Soprano, strangling an “associate” and dismembering the body, with a little help from a still living associate. It was a graphic, hard-to-watch scene. And in 2003 when Californians Jason Bautista and his half-brother Matthew Monejo, strangled their mother, they cited that episode as the inspiration, particularly for the fact they strangled her, then chopped off her head and hands before dumping the body in a ravine. See, it makes the body oh, so difficult to identify. As the Orange County Sheriff Department spokesman said, the whole murder/dismemberment thing was “based on a viewing of that show”.