In a world so saturated with media and entertainment, it can be easy to underestimate the influence films have on us.
Movies can have a positive effect—like inspiring us to celebrate life—but movies can also be very dangerous. Unstable viewers are more susceptible to admiring villains, and some may even copy what they see on screen.
Here are some of the craziest stories of movies that actually inspired real-life people to commit real-life crimes, both big and small.
10. The Dark Knight (2008)
Joker (2019) sums up this entire point as Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) ignites a Purge-like breakdown during a talk show, convincing other marginalized members of society to wreak havoc.
Similarly, Paul Dano's Riddler in The Batman (2022) builds and manipulates an entire network of viewers to kill Gotham's people through TikTok (or something like it). Such is the alarming influence of media.
We could dedicate an entire list to Batman-related crimes, given that it's such a dark and popular superhero franchise.
But Heath Ledger's Joker stands out, with one of his trademarks being the changing story of his facial scars, one minute claiming he did them himself but then also claiming that his father did it to him.
In 2009, a supposed "model student" cut a smile into her own face using a razor blade at school and applied the Joker's makeup, then tried to mutilate her teacher.
That same year, the Dendermonde nursery attack took place, in which Kim De Gelder (dressed as the Joker and reeling off The Dark Knight quotes) attacked a class of infants.
Furthermore, the Joker's hostility towards the law was echoed in Jerad Miller's YouTube videos, in which he appeared as the Joker. Miller and his wife would then go on a killing spree in Las Vegas in 2014.
9. Fight Club (1999)
Now this one should come as no surprise. You can almost hear the angry men clamoring down the street after a screening of Fight Club.
Local "fight clubs" (where men beat each other up for fun) became popular after the release of David Fincher's psychological crime movie, based on Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel. But it didn't stop there.
After watching Brad Pitt make bombs out of soap to attack corporations, some viewers sprung to their kitchens to make their own explosives. One man named Kyle Shaw took Fight Club's themes of terrorism to heart, and he was later caught after bragging about his crimes.
8. Saw VI (2009)
We'd hope nobody would be cruel or crazy enough to replicate the torture scenes throughout the Saw franchise, but some have tried.
Firstly, two young girls inadvertently gave a woman a stroke when they called her (during a funeral) with a Jigsaw-inspired threat.
The girls told the stranger that someone was hidden in her house and that she must cut into that person's heart to retrieve a door key before she's gassed to death. Talk about a prank gone wrong!
But that wasn't as bad as one killer who stabbed a veteran 17 times and chopped through his spine, just as it happened in a Saw VI scene—all just to get his PIN and buy some crack.
7. Taxi Driver (1976)
Taxi Driver is centered on one lonely man who takes the law into his own hands, all while thriving off disorder.
Robert De Niro gave the most quoted performance of a lifetime as anti-hero Travis Bickle, a contradictory taxi driver who murders a pimp and tries to assassinate a presidential candidate.
But one thing director Martin Scorsese didn't anticipate was that a mentally ill fan would attempt the same thing on Ronald Reagan.
As Reagan walked to his limo after a speech at the Washington Hilton, a man named John Hinckley, Jr. fired his revolver six times. Despite being hit, Reagan survived—but press secretary James Brady was permanently paralyzed and others were wounded.
Hinckley was sent to St. Elizabeth's Hospital for over three decades on reasons of insanity, having admitted to planning the assassination to impress Jodie Foster (who played a character in Taxi Driver).
6. Scream (1996)
Although Scream mainly just pokes fun at the slasher horror genre, it still managed to arouse some real-life horror of its own at release.
Thierry Jaradin dressed up in the famous Scream outfit—Ghostface's operatic white mask and black robe—before walking into a woman's house and stabbing her 30 times.
Separately, in England, teenagers Daniel Gill and Robert Fuller attacked and left their friend for dead, believing that Scream was sending a secret message to them from the occult (or so they claimed).
5. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
A Clockwork Orange remains one of the most controversial movies ever released to the public.
Stanley Kubrick's dystopian crime flick (based on Anthony Burgess's 1962 novel) was withdrawn from British circulation by Stanley Kubrick himself because the film inspired a string of copycat crimes in the 1970s.
Such crimes included a group of teens (mirroring the film's gang of "droogs") who beat up a tramp and another who stabbed a young girl.
The disturbing scene where the droogs explicitly rape a woman while singing "Singin' in the Rain" was recreated in Lancashire, and that's only the confirmed one. Who knows how many other incidents happened?
Numerous robberies and attacks were also reported, and A Clockwork Orange was eventually banned in South Africa, South Korea, Ireland, and parts of Canada. Nowadays, the film and book are largely accessible.
4. Friday the 13th: Part III (1982)
Mark Branch was 18 years old when he murdered a psychology student while wearing a Jason Voorhees costume.
The famously mute villain didn't get his iconic hockey mask until the third installment, which is what Branch wore when he mutilated freshman Sharon Gregory in her own home.
Gregory wasn't a completely random target. She'd been doing a profile on Branch because she was intrigued by his obsession with slasher horror (from a psychological point of view).
According to his grocery store colleagues, Branch only rented gory films—and when he became a suspect in Gregory's brutal murder, the whole neighborhood pretty much cancelled Halloween.
3. The Exorcist (1973)
Patricia Frazier didn't just kill her daughter after watching a scary horror movie... She cut out her daughter's heart.
After watching The Exorcist—William Friedkin's supernatural horror about a little girl possessed by the devil—Frazier believed her own four-year-old daughter had a demon inside of her.
After her arrest in Wichita Falls, Frazier was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and her legal defense claimed "cinematic trauma" coupled with schizophrenic delusions.
The Exorcist had such a strong impact upon viewers that theaters kept smelling salts on hand for those who fainted. On top of that, several heart attacks were reported during viewing.
2. London After Midnight (1927)
London After Midnight is one of the most sought-after lost movies, as the final print was destroyed in an MGM fire in 1965.
The silent horror film scared a lot of viewers who weren't yet desensitized to movie violence, and the image of "The Man in the Beaver Hat" proved particularly haunting for folks of that era.
About a year after London After Midnight was released, a man named Robert Williams was found face-down in Hyde Park, London.
Visions of the beaver-hatted man had plagued Robert Williams, taunting and threatening him in the park. Williams was found bleeding and clutching a razor blade, claiming that steam was coming out of his ears and visions had made him kill the woman next to him.
Pointing to the body of Julia Mangan, Williams said he was overcome with an epileptic fit when he murdered her, spurred on by hallucinations. He was declared insane and sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.
1. Natural Born Killers (1994)
The entire premise of Natural Born Killers is about an insane young couple (played by Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) who go on a murderous, rampaging road trip.
Some fanatical viewers completely missed the film's point about media sensationalism, instead idolizing the couple's homicidal recklessness.
Screenwriter Quentin Tarantino had already based the characters of Mickey and Mallory Knox on real-life murderers Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. But when director Oliver Stone dramatized them for the big screen, he didn't expect fans to copy them.
While tripping on acid, Sarah Edmonson and Benjamin Darrus watched Natural Born Killers over and over again—then later killed William Savage and permanently paralyzed Patsy Byers.
In 1995, Patsy Byers and her family took legal action against Edmonson and Darrus, as well as director Oliver Stone and the Time Warner company. (After many years, the case was eventually dismissed.)
Separately, a teenage boy decapitated a little girl "to be famous like the Natural Born Killers"; Nathan Martinez murdered his mother and sister; and Eric Tavulares killed the girl he was watching the film with (literally as it was playing).