What is it about people that draws them to psychopath movies? Is it a desire to understand the deviant mind? Or is it simply a lust for horror and depravity? Whatever the reason for our interest, Hollywood has delved into this genre for decades and with much success. After all, who hasn’t heard of the term ‘bunny boiler’ or the quote “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”?
I’ve always loved movies about psychopaths, so here are my favourites.
**WARNING: THESE DESCRIPTIONS CONTAIN SPOILERS**
16 Must-Watch Psychopath Movies
1. PSYCHO (1960) – Anthony Perkins
If you asked people to name one of the top psychopath movies, then Psycho would rank in the top five. Seemingly innocuous hotel manager Norman Bates lets a room to Marion, a woman on the run from the police. During her stay, Marion overhears Norman arguing with his mother, for which he apologises.
Unbeknownst to Marion, Bates murdered his mother years ago in a jealous rage. Unable to cope with the guilt of his actions, Bates keeps his mother’s body in a mummified state. He assumes her personality along with his jealous rage and kills Marion as ‘Mother’ in the now famous shower scene.
2. THE SHINING (1980) – Jack Nicholson
The Torrance family, Jack, Wendy, and their son Danny relocate to care-take the isolated Overlook Hotel in the Rockies. It is the off-season, and that gives the father an ideal opportunity to write. However, the hotel has a gory history; the previous owner killed his family and then committed suicide. Torrance is an alcoholic but quit after seriously injuring his son in a drunken state.
As the seasonal staff leaves for the winter, they tell the family the hotel is cursed. It retains a ‘shine’ from grisly happenings from the past. Jack is supposed to be writing, but Wendy discovers his manuscript with ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ typed on reams of pages. Jack’s sanity disintegrates, and he attacks his family.
3. FATAL ATTRACTION 1987 – Glenn Close
Many psychopath movies have shocking scenes, but not many enter into our everyday language. We all know the term ‘bunny-boiler’, which describes an unhinged woman determined to get and keep her man. But before Fatal Attraction, this term didn’t exist. In this movie, happily married man Daniel has a brief one-night stand with attractive Alex.
He thinks they are both on the same page and that the encounter was purely sexual, no strings attached. Alex, on the other hand, thinks differently. She cuts her wrists to gain sympathy from Daniel; when that doesn’t work, she attacks his family, including boiling the family’s pet rabbit.
4. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) – Anthony Hopkins
No one understood the psychology of psychopaths until Hannibal Lecter came along. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a brilliant psychiatrist. Unfortunately, he is also a stone-cold psychopath, currently locked up in a maximum-security prison. This man can talk a fellow inmate into biting off his own tongue.
The FBI task Starling with interviewing Lecter. They want insight into a serial killer known for skinning his victims called Buffalo Bill. Lecter is a dangerous psychopath with an impressively high IQ and a lack of conscience who ruthlessly kills anyone in his way.
5. CAPE FEAR (1991) – Robert De Niro
Where Hannibal Lecter uses his intellect, Max Cady uses charm and brute sadist force. Cape Fear is a psychopath movie that focuses on revenge. Cady is a convicted rapist and has spent 14 years imprisoned. Using legal loopholes, he is now free and hunting down his lawyer, Sam Bowden, who he believes is responsible for his incarceration. And he’s right.
Bowden deliberately botched Cady’s defence due to the horrific nature of the rape. Bowden thinks Cady, barely literate, will never find out. But Cady does and first targets Bowden’s lover, raping and beating her nearly to death. Then he sets his sights on Bowden’s teenage daughter, charming her natural emerging sexual curiosity. Cady is strong, fit, frightening, and determined to have ‘his day in court’.
6. SE7EN (1995) – Kevin Spacey
When it comes to psychopath movies, Se7en is one of the goriest and most shocking. We have a similar theme with Silence of the Lambs, in that rookie detective Mills is assigned to the hunt for a serial killer. This killer uses the Seven Deadly Sins as a playbook to show the world the depravity of the human race. We first come across Gluttony, where an obese man has been strapped to a chair and fed to death.
Then a victim of Lust is forced to have sex with a prostitute with a torture device attached to his genitals. The older detective knows it is imperative to get into the killer’s mind, but worries that his young protégé is not taking the killer seriously. However, Mills is young and doesn’t heed the warnings, which have far-reaching consequences for him and his family.
7. PRIMAL FEAR (1996) – Richard Gere
Some psychopaths in movies remain hidden in plain sight until the very end and appear the least likely to have dark traits. Aaron Stampler is one of them. He is a 19-year-old altar boy charged with the brutal murder of a well-loved Catholic bishop.
Stampler is weak, shy, and frightened. He stutters when he speaks. Charged with capital murder, the charismatic and arrogant lawyer Martin Vail believes this is a career-defining case.
However, Stampler has two competing personalities; Aaron and Roy. Aaron is submissive and pliable, but Roy is a psychopath and confesses to killing the bishop. The problem is that Vail cannot now enter an insanity plea halfway through the trial, so he engineers a scenario in court where ‘Roy’ will appear spontaneously.
Aaron is acquitted but slips information he shouldn’t know if he does suffer from multiple personalities. He is Roy; there was never an Aaron.
8. THE BONE COLLECTOR (1999) – Denzil Washington
Another rookie cop teams up with a more experienced detective against the wits of a devious psychopath in number 8 of my top psychopathic movies. Paraplegic forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme is impressed with patrol officer Amelia Donaghy’s instinct for forensics. Together they follow a set of clues revealed by bones and other detritus.
Victims die in horrific ways; including burning alive from hot steam to being left with wounds to attract rats. Donaghy follows the last clue, which reveals the psychopathic killer to be Rhyme’s personal medical equipment technician, a former forensics officer himself. Rhyme testified against him for falsifying evidence, leading to his conviction. Now he is back for revenge.
9. AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000) – Christian Bale
The 1980s were a funny era, weren’t they? Everything revolved around money, wealth, and power. Set in the 80s, Patrick Bateman is in his late twenties, a typical yuppy, living the high life of drugs, girls, and fast cars. This New York investment banker has everything, but underneath lies seething psychotic anger.
He is highly narcissistic, arrogant, and vain but hides these undesirable traits under a mask of congeniality. Bateman goes on an insane killing spree and confesses his crimes to his colleagues. They laugh off his claims as his victims are alive and well. Bateman wonders if his crimes are real or imagined.
10. IDENTITY (2003) – John Cusack
There is a truly gorgeous twist in this psychopath movie. It’s a cold, wet, stormy night in Nevada when ten strangers, including a prostitute and a child, turn up at a rundown motel.
Meanwhile, psychiatrists interview mass-murderer Malcolm Rivers after winning a stay of execution. His defence team is putting forward an insanity plea. They have found evidence to suggest that Malcolm suffers from a multi-personality disorder, so he is not responsible for his crimes. If they can integrate all his personalities into just one, the murderous personality will be eliminated. Malcolm can go free.
At the motel, people die in mysterious ways, with their motel keys nearby. Victims are killed in numerical order, from 10 downwards. The survivors have already learned they all share the same birthday. As Malcolm’s therapy progresses, it becomes clear that the people at the motel are all figments of his personality disorder.
Only one is left, the innocent prostitute. So, in Malcolm’s mind, she follows her dream of planting an orange grove. As she digs, she finds a motel key with 1 on it. The child is the murderer. He kills her and Malcolm is now free.
11. HIDE AND SEEK (2005) – Robert De Niro
Psychologist, Dr. David Callaway, decides to start a new life in New York with his daughter Emily after the apparent suicide of his wife. As they settle in, David works in his study and Emily acquires an imaginary friend she names ‘Charlie’.
Weird things start happening around the house, such as graffiti on the walls, and the final straw is the drowning of their cat in the bath. David insists it is Emily, but she blames Charlie. David makes friends with local woman Elizabeth and invites her and her daughter over for a playdate.
Emily plays hide and seek with Elizabeth but she is pushed out of the window. David finds her dead in the bath and rushes outside to confront the intruder. Back at the house, David notices that none of their belongings has been unpacked.
He realises that he is Charlie and David, and whenever Charlie comes to the surface, David does not remember what he has done. Emily saw both sides of her father and knew he had killed her mother in a fit of jealousy. David created Charlie as he could not deal with this psychopathic episode.
12. FRACTURE (2007) – Anthony Hopkins
Anthony Hopkins seems to have a skill for playing cold-hearted psychopaths in movies. In this one, he plays Crawford, who openly admits to killing his wife, Jennifer, after discovering her affair, but challenges the detectives to prove it. Jennifer’s lover was none other than police detective Nunally, who is called to the initial scene.
Incensed with Crawford’s banal attitude, he assaults him before questioning him at the precinct. Up-and-coming district attorney Beachum considers this an easy case to win. However, Crawford tells the court of Nunally’s involvement and all evidence gathered is considered inadmissible. It is only a mix-up of cell phones that gives Beachum the idea that guns were switched during the initial confrontation.
13. UNTRACEABLE (2008) – Diane Lane
A new website appears on the internet called KillWithMe.com. It begins by live streaming the torture and death of a cat. The website is rigged so that the more people log on and watch, the faster the death will occur. The maker of the website now invents elaborate death traps and kidnaps humans for his audience. FBI agent Jennifer is tasked with shutting down the site and finding the killer.
Victims die from bleeding out to burning to death. The website’s popularity grows, leading to the abduction of one of Jennifer’s team, Griffin. Griffin is slowly submerged into a vat of sulfuric acid but manages to blink out a message in Morse code for the team to find the killer.
14. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011) – Ezra Miller
Kevin is a weird baby. He doesn’t like being cuddled, hates his mother Eva, and won’t play with other children. His mother feels guilty because she cannot love him and feels there is no bond between them. However, Kevin is the polar opposite when he is with his father Franklin. He is happy, engaging, and loving around his dad.
Eva and Franklin go on to have a daughter, Celia. Celia is a normal, happy child, which irritates Kevin. He kills her pets, blinds her with drain cleaner and makes Eva fearful of her son. Out of the blue, Kevin goes on a shooting spree at his school and kills his father and sister. Eva is spared but rebuffed by the community.
15. GONE GIRL (2014) – Rosamund Pike
Movies about psychopaths tend to feature men, so it is unusual to have a female protagonist at the centre of a story. Amy has gone missing; naturally, her husband is the first suspect. Initially, this seems to be a typical he-done-it type of movie, but then we see the lengths to which Amy has fabricated a web of lies, all designed to place her husband as the sole killer.
Amy found out her husband was having an affair and decided to exact her revenge by disappearing and framing her husband. Even close friends mean nothing to her. All that matters is that she gets to keep her husband.
16. GET OUT (2017) – Daniel Kaluuya
There are a family of psychopaths in Jordan Peele’s masterpiece psychopath movie. Chris is a black guy dating a white girl called Rose. They are preparing to visit her parents at a swanky estate, but Chris is worried they don’t know he is black. Rose assures him that her parents already know and are fine about the situation. However, all is not as it seems when he arrives. Guests make racist remarks and the black staff at the house behave oddly.
Chris is a smoker, so Rose convinces him to attend a hypnotherapy session with her mother. Whilst in the session, he sinks into the chair and falls into the ‘sunken place’. Here he is conscious but unable to move. The next day, he finds out that black people are lured to the estate to be hypnotized and imprisoned in the sunken place. Rose’s parents transplant the brains of older people into the bodies of black people.
Was your favourite psychopath movie listed or did I miss it? Let me know, I’m always up for a good psychological thriller!
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