If they’re any good, movies have the incredible power to make the people watching them feel like they’ve been transported to an alternate reality. When watching a good film, viewers stop living their boring, everyday lives and journey to fantasy worlds. Depending on one’s interests, these fantasies may involve dramatic romance, epic adventures, hilarious situations, or for those with slightly darker tastes, brilliantly plotted crimes, plus a whole bunch of not-so-brilliantly plotted crimes on top of that.
Most people could probably name a movie or two they wished they could live in, or at least, one that made them want to hang out with the characters seen in it for a day or two. The more fantastical amongst us might have a harder time accepting these flicks aren’t reality and will end up doing whatever it takes to bring their favorite pictures to life. Obviously, this can be pretty disastrous should the people taking ideas from movies be the same folks who only like the ones about crime.
Unfortunately, this scenario has indeed played out many times, with countless copycat crimes being committed after particularly uncreative crooks got a terrible idea from a great movie. On the plus side, most criminals who needed to take inspiration from Hollywood weren’t that great in enacting their plans, making it easy for law enforcement to catch them before things got out of control. The downside is that plenty of people did get hurt when these goofs tried to emulate their matinee idols without understanding the consequences of doing so. Keep reading to learn about 15 criminals whose crimes were inspired by watching movies.
15 Saw – As Many Copycats As There Were Sequels
With the entire point of the Saw series hinging on the fact there are a shocking number of ways to brutally torture people, real-life villains had plenty of options when deciding to mimic Jigsaw. Luckily, the breadth of that deranged madman’s crimes has proven too much for any one crook to handle, though a number have tried in bits and pieces.
The most horrifying case probably is that of Matthew Tinling, who specifically imitated a scene from Saw VI when severing his roommate’s spine. Unlike Jigsaw, who killed largely for the thrill, Tinling, apparently, was trying to steal his victim’s credit card for meth through torture that went way too far. There was also a case involving two teenagers in Utah turned into authorities by their mother after getting caught planning a Jigsaw-influenced killing spree, openly admitting this inspiration to the cops. Lastly, there have also been reports of terrorizing prank calls containing Jigsaw-styled threats, which sound harmless at first, until you learn a victim suffered an actual stroke out of fear and nearly died from the “game.”
14 The Town – Navahcia Edwards and Lyndon Germel Wesley
Whether they were inspired by film or not, criminals trying to rob a bank probably knows they have to disguise themselves in some way to get away with the crime. As such, most movies that are, in fact, centered on bank heists involve some highly elaborate costumes to make things more memorable for viewers. In Ben Affleck’s 2010 drama The Town, the thieves masqueraded as nuns wearing garish masks, adding an ironic element to the terror they were wreaking on the bank’s employees and patrons.
In the real world, Navahcia Edwards thought this was a pretty brilliant way to entirely hide her body when enacting the same crime seen in the film. Edwards was also a former bank teller herself, giving her inside information on exactly how to steal $120,000 cash from a Chicago bank. On top of that, she had embezzled $20,000 from a different bank where she had worked prior to her night on The Town. Edwards’s co-conspirator and boyfriend, Lyndon Germel Wesley, would admit to the crimes, openly citing the film as their inspiration.
13 Magnum Force – The Hi-Fi Murders
Part of what makes so many crooks think they can pull off the crimes they saw in the movies is the fact most fictional bad guys get away with it, at least for a little while. The more vicious the police force chasing after them, the less likely this is to happen, though, making it a surprise that some outlaws would attempt a plan similar to one foiled by Harry Callahan. Magnum Force, the second film to star Dirty Harry, is similar to the first in the main character’s ruthless pursuit of vicious criminals, one of whom murders a prostitute via forcing her to ingest drain cleaner.
By and large, the infamous Hi-Fi murders committed by at least six former United States Air Force members had little to do with Magnum Force, yet the drain cleaner murder scene in particular would become integral to their own horrific plans. Dale Pierre, William Andrews, and Keith Roberts invaded, tortured, raped, and killed the owners and occupants of a Utah-based Hi-fi Shop, ultimately forcing the victims to drink drain cleaner, as in the film. While the killers admitted they got the idea from Magnum Force, they could have just as easily watched some other film that made murder look easy and done virtually the same thing.
12 Scream – Thierry Jaradin
An ironic take on terror from the very first scene, Scream lampooned horror-movie clichés while also using them to masterful effect. The downside is that in making a statement about why movies' killers are so entertaining, Wes Craven was also creating what a judge once called a “very good source to learn how to kill someone.” Obviously, the vast majority of people who've seen Scream weren’t looking for such a guideline, but a few just may have been, including Belgian cab driver Thierry Jaradin.
In his mid-20s at the time, Jaradin apparently met a 15-year-old girl named Allison Cambier on his daily route. The two soon sparked a friendly relationship, which saw Cambier visit Jaradin at his home to chat about movies. Once Jaradin tried to make things romantic, Cambier rebuffed his advances. Reacting in horrific fashion, Jaradin excused himself to change into a costume fashioned after Ghostface and then murdered Cambier in dramatic fashion. Jaradin later openly admitted the Scream series had heavily influenced his actions.
11 The Matrix – More Than One Person Thought The Film Was Real
This article may be appearing on the Internet, but don’t worry, folks—this is real and not at all part of the matrix. Of course, 99.9% of people on this Earth probably don’t need that reassurance, well aware that The Matrix is no more than a series of films created by The Wachowskis. For a select few conspiracy theorists, however, not to mention those suffering mental illness, the moment Neo took that red pill changed their lives in a very real way.
The idea of criminals thinking The Matrix was real has become prevalent enough that “the Matrix defense” is an actual legal term used in at least three high-profile cases since 1999. In 2002 alone, there was Tonda Lynn Ansley and Vadim Mieseges, two people who independently murdered their landlords because of actions they believed took place in the Matrix. Another man named Joshua Cooke would use the defense a year later after killing his parents. Infamous D.C. sniper Lee Malvo also claimed the Matrix as part of why he committed his deadly acts.
10 Child’s Play 3 – Bernadette McNeilly and Jean Powell
Of all the horrors films out there, the Child’s Play series is one of the last ones anyone would picture getting copied in the real world. For one thing, the films center around a mysterious doll named Chucky who gets possessed by an evil spirit that inspires him to kill, and for something like this to happen in reality is pretty much impossible. That said, it’s nonetheless possible for sick minds to find the evil doll as a kindred spirit, acting out his crimes with the aid of a human body.
Bernadette McNeilly also had Anthony Dudson, Jean Powell, and Glyn Powell to help her murder Suzanne Capper, plus Jeffrey Leigh and Clifford Pook to assist with her kidnapping beforehand. Part of the torture methods included repeatedly playing sound bites from the recently released Child’s Play 3, specifically the murderous doll introducing himself, “I’m Chucky. Wanna play?” Soon, ringleader McNeilly would also start their torture sessions by identifying herself as Chucky and saying she was coming to play. Despite all this, prosecutors believe the film itself had little connection to the crime and was merely a case of the attackers referencing whatever was popular at the time to scare their victim.
9 The Dark Knight – James Holmes
Almost everyone who saw The Dark Knight would agree Heath Ledger’s take on The Joker was one of the greatest encapsulations in film history. Indeed, comic book fans have long been saying this sort of thing about the Clown Prince of Crime for decades, ever since he first challenged the World’s Greatest Detective. Bring The Joker into the real world, though, and the result is one of the most horrific crimes ever directly inspired by popular culture.
On July 20, 2012, in Aurora, Colorado, James Holmes entered a movie theater screening The Dark Knight Rises. Roughly 30 minutes into the film, Holmes unleashed two tear-gas grenades and opened fire on the crowd with a semi-automatic rifle, ultimately resulting in 12 deaths and at least 70 further injuries. Initially, federal officials claimed Holmes admitted his influence outright by claiming he was The Joker, though this report was later put into question. Either way, he definitely did dye his hair bright orange and attack in a manner very similar to the mass murdering clown in question. Add in the movie being played that he picked to make his horrific attack, and the influence speaks for itself.
8 Fight Club – Kyle Shaw And Silent Clubs
Before we get into any specifics, it’s probably no surprise to learn that upon the release of David Fincher’s cult classic Fight Club, countless examples of real-life fight clubs started popping up across the globe. Given the first rule of fight club, not a lot is known about most of these organizations, though enough have been busted authorities can definitely confirm they exist somewhere. Fans of the film know there’s a whole lot more to Fight Club than the gentleman’s group it’s named after, or at least they say there’s more to that organization than just the fighting.
Another key element of Fight Club is a battle against corporate America’s greed and corruption, a war that Tyler Durden uses his slowly building army of macho men to wage. In the film, the fight club plans to set off a number of bombs targeting the biggest corporations in the country, a plan they call Project Mayhem. Considering how many people Durden needed before he felt comfortable enacting his plan, there should be no surprise teenager Kyle Shaw failed when attempting a solo version. All he tried to do was place a small bomb outside a Starbucks, but authorities had no trouble catching the kid and ending his mayhem at a broken door and minor property damage.
7 A Clockwork Orange – Enough Copycats To Get It Banned
No matter how many people unintentionally got hurt by these films and TV shows, all but one of their various directors, writers, and actors have defended them as being unrelated to the sick people who committed the crimes on this list. For what it’s worth, we agree with them, as these criminals usually had something else going on in their lives that made the crimes possible, as well. Despite this, one man who seemed to acknowledge his work caused too much violence was Stanley Kubrick, who had A Clockwork Orange pulled from British circulation for 27 years.
The reason Kubrick felt so inclined to prevent the public from seeing his film hinged on the fact a large number of copycat crimes took place almost immediately after its release. While the larger point of ACW is an examination of free will, most viewers are quicker to recognize the delirious ultra violent acts committed by Alex DeLarge and his band of droogs. Most people find said acts unspeakable, though enough youths in the UK took them seriously around the time of the film's release that Kubrick made his defiant choice. Despite all this, Kubrick would maintain that the film itself wasn’t responsible and that part of why he pulled it was to simply end the controversy.
6 American Psycho – Michael Hernandez
American Psycho’s lead character, Patrick Bateman, is terrifying, specifically because of how casually he blends his vicious murders with acting like a regular everyday normal guy. With friends and acquaintances as his main victims, Bateman can wax philosophical about his favorite Huey Lewis & The News records seconds before chopping someone to bits with an ax, making him one of the more memorable serial killers in film history.
Take away the killing part, and Bateman’s life was fairly enviable, as he was smooth and successful, which is how teenagers like 14-year-old Michael Hernandez might have come to idolize him. Being somewhat deranged, Hernandez was, of course, more interested in Bateman’s ability to get away with murder than his regular life, though, emulating the character by murdering his so-called best friend Jamie Gough. Generally speaking, Hernandez was a fan of the macabre, with police investigations revealing hundreds of murder-related websites on his computer. On top of that, he also allegedly had this obsession with American Psycho, a terrible recipe for poorly plotted real crime.
5 Weekend At Bernie’s – Robert Jeffrey Young and Mark Rubinson
Reading through this list, one might find oneself in desperate need for a laugh, and as it would turn out, hapless crooks Robert Jeffrey Young and Mark Rubinson have got us covered. In case 1980s comedies aren’t your thing, first, let’s take a quick second to describe the seminal Ted Kotcheff picture Weekend At Bernie’s. Two young men named Larry and Richard learn of rampant insurance fraud committed by their company and inform their boss, Bernie, who tries to have them killed for recognizing his scheme. Bernie winds up dead instead, but in order to save their own lives, Larry and Richard need to pretend Bernie is alive.
For the most part, this has little in common with what Young and Rubison did in the real world, except that they also tried to pass off a dead acquaintance as alive for much longer than he actually was. Granted, the mob wasn’t involved like it is in the film, but the criminals likewise took the dead body of their friend Jeffrey Jarrett (no relation to the famous wrestler) to a local bar, using his credit card to pay for a night on the town.
4 Taxi Driver – John Hinckley, Jr.
One of the most complex characters in film history, Travis Bickle ends Taxi Driver considered a hero to countless people, only moments after he attempted to commit a horrifically serious crime. Fed up with what he feels are fake politicians, Bickle plans to assassinate Senator Charles Palpatine, only to find his plan foiled by attentive secret service agents. In his escape from arrest, Bickle decides to enter a house of prostitution and save a young hooker played by actress Jodie Foster.
It was Foster’s connection to the film that later inspired John Hinckley, Jr. to enact a similar plan to assassinate United States President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Of course, Foster was far from impressed by the ordeal, instead horrified that such a vicious act could be performed in her honor. The only positive in the ordeal is that Reagan and all bystanders survived, though some were terribly injured, including Press Secretary James Brady, who died from complications related to the shooting 33 years later.
3 Natural Born Killers – Too Many To Name
Intended to be a condemnation of the many media outlets that seem to glorify violent killers, Natural Born Killers was ironically accused of doing exactly that by many viewers who didn’t get the point. Granted, if their argument is simply that the film is inspiring more violence to occur, there’s no way to deny that suggestion. Mickey and Mallory Knox were themselves modeled after spree killers Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, and a large number of couples would follow in their wake unaware of this original influence.
The earliest example would probably be Sarah Edmondson and Benjamin Darras, who repeatedly watched the film in 1995 before Darras shot two local store owners. A more direct copycat would be Jeremy Allan Steinke, a 23-year-old man who killed his 12-year-old girlfriend’s family and then married her after seeing Mickey and Mallory do the same thing. There have also been countless individuals who killed, hoping to become famous or gain some sort of media attention and who all made it clear they were trying to gain the same reputation as Mickey and Mallory.
2 Dexter – Andrew Conley, Steven Miles, and Super Miranda
In contrast to the many villains portrayed on this list, some movie and television viewers are more noble sorts and aspire to emulate their favorite heroes. It’s great when someone takes after Buffy or Batman or even a lower key hero like Leslie Knope or Atticus Finch. Such is the unfortunate nature of this article, however, that others blur the lines between hero and villain by trying to emulate Dexter Morgan. Throughout his titular series, Dexter uses his status as a forensic technician to undergo a vigilante crime spree, murdering killers he feels have somehow escaped justice.
Obviously, this makes Dexter a pretty vicious criminal himself, and that’s pretty much all courts saw when people in the real world tried copying his crimes. Most notable is probably Mark Twitchell, who was repeatedly said to be influenced by the series during his trial for the murder of Johnny Altinger. There's also a teenager named Steven Miles, who murdered his girlfriend in a manner his own father said was stylized after Steven’s favorite scenes from Dexter. On top of that, a vigilante hero/murderer calling herself Super Miranda, real name Miranda Barbour, claims to have killed between 22 and 100 people on a crime spree meant to rid the world of “bad people,” just like Dexter did on the show.
1 Breaking Bad – There Are A Whole Bunch Of Walter Whites Out There
In the first few seasons of Breaking Bad, audiences heavily sympathized with the plight of the show’s main character, Walter White. On Walt’s 50th birthday, he learns he has cancer, putting a serious damper on his already tough life working two jobs to support a disabled teenage son, plus, another baby on the way. Almost everyone can relate to part of this struggle, but once Walt started dealing with his problems by becoming a meth kingpin, it became a little harder to see things his way.
Well, for most viewers anyway. A shocking number of Breaking Bad fans over the years have been inspired by one part of the story or another, more than we could even name in this article. To summarize, there have been several high school teachers caught selling drugs, meth cooks caught in RVs where they based their operations, hapless killers attempting to kill via ricin or acid baths, and even one dealer who was actually named Walter White. How much the show inspired them varied in every case, but it was endemic enough that prosecuting attorneys started to notice and deem the show as potentially dangerous.
Sources: The Guardian, CNN, Daily Mail, ABC News