Se7en is one of my favorite serial killer movies of all time. Serial killers fascinate me, don’t ask me why, and John Doe is one seriously twisted puppy. The hunt to catch him is thrilling, and the twisted ending had everybody screaming, “What’s in the box?”
The list of movies below has the same twisted elements that made Seven such a classic movie.
Movies like Seven, which features serial killers, murders, twisting storylines, and suspenseful surprise endings, include:
- The Silence Of The Lambs
- Shutter Island
- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
- Gone Girl
- American Psycho
- Taxi Driver
There is darkness in all human beings. Most of us, not all, try to suppress our darkness by living in the light. The movies listed below are tales of people for whom the light has been doused forever, and darkness is all that’s left. All of them feature a tale as old as time: Good vs. Evil.
1. The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence A. Bonney, Anthony Heald, and Ted Levine
Clarice Starling is an F.B.I. trainee from West Virginia. Her career is very important to her, and she works hard to advance it. After Clarice graduates, she has aspirations to work under Jack Crawford in the agency’s Behavioral Science Unit.
Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a psychiatrist, and cannibalistic serial killer, who happens to be imprisoned in a maximum-security facility. While still a trainee, Clarice, is tasked to question Dr. Lecter and pick his brains to help the F.B.I. solve a serial murder case.
The media has dubbed the new serial killer “Buffalo Bill,” and to date, he has killed five victims, all of them drowned in natural water bodies. All the victims were stripped of large sections of their skins.
After meeting Dr. Lecter for the first time, Clarice quickly realizes that all interaction with the clever “Hannibal the Cannibal” will form part of a psychological game. She will have to read between the cryptic lines that he will provide.
When the seventh victim goes missing, the daughter of a senator, greater scrutiny is placed on the case. The race to find the senator’s daughter before she is drowned and skinned has begun. To catch a serial killer, Clarice has to trust one of the worst serial killers alive.
2. Psycho (1960)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, and John Gavin
Marion Crane works as an assistant to real estate agent Goerge Lowery. Her biggest gripe in life is that she and her divorced boyfriend, Sam Loomis, can’t get married due to having money issues that directly result from Sam having to pay alimony.
An opportunity presents itself when Marion is instructed to take $40,000 to the bank, a payment from one of Lowrey’s wealthy clients. She decides to take the money and join Sam in Fairvale, California, where he resides. She makes it as far as the Bates Motel.
The isolated Bates Motel has had little business ever since authorities moved the state highway. Friendly yet very lonely, Norman Bates runs the motel. He stays with his mother in a big old house on top of the hill.
Marion never meets Mrs. Bates; however, she hears an argument between the mother and son and deduces that she is an angry and controlling lady. Norman admits to Marion that his mother is mentally unstable and challenging to live with.
Search parties from many a source descend on the Bates Hotel at various times, looking for Marion, where the mentally unstable, Mrs. Bates, awaits them.
3. Saw (2004)
Director: James Wan
Cast: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Makenzie Vega, and Tobin Bell
In a dirty, unused, bathroom two men are waking up. Their ankles are chained to pipes via a chain. Sitting across each other in this hellish room, they spot a dead man lying in the middle of the floor. It seems that he is loosely clutching a hand-held tape player and a handgun.
Each man finds a tape in their back pockets and decides to play it. One of the men receives a threat, while the other doesn’t. The task is simple for the threatened one: Kill the other man by 6:00, or his wife and daughter will die.
In a flashback, we learn of other victims and the games they had to play to survive. The games are all horror situations where you have to make a gut-wrenching decision to survive.
These macabre “games” are the brainchild of the Jigsaw Killer, who doesn’t kill his victims, instead placing them in scenarios where they kill each other or themselves. If you wake up to the following question, “Do you want to play a game?” you are in a world of trouble.
4. Zodiac (2007)
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Brian Cox, and Chloe Sevigny
Robert Graysmith works for the San Francisco Chronicle as a cartoonist. His job description quickly changes obsessed, amateur detective between the years of 1968 and 1983. These are the years that the now-infamous Zodiac Killer terrorized the citizens of northern California and taunted the police with letters and cryptic messages.
Paul Avery is an alcoholic reporter whose drinking gets in the way of doing his job. He and Robert become friends and share a common interest: the Zodiac Killer (and catching him.) Both become obsessed with the case, putting them on a similar path as detective David Toschi, handwriting expert Sherwood Morrill, and Linda Del Buono, a convict who knew one of the Zodiac’s victims.
Robert’s job and his family life become less important as the obsession takes hold of his life, while Paul’s life spirals into drunken oblivion of a mess. Everybody that is deeply invested in the case seems to be losing something in their personal capacity. It seems there is more than one way to lose your life to a killer.
5. Shutter Island (2010)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Emily Mortimer, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, and Max Von Sydow
Teddy Daniels is a U.S. Marshal and, together with his new partner, Chuck Aule, are assigned to investigate the disappearance of child-murderer Rachel Solando. She is a patient at the government-run Ashecliff Hospital for the criminally insane, located on Shutter Island near Boston.
Teddy is a veteran of World War II and is still haunted by what he saw when his army liberated one of the Nazi concentration camps at the end of the war. Even more traumatizing was losing his wife to a fire recently. Teddy seems to have his own agenda for getting onto the island.
Teddy and Chuck are welcomed to the island by the head of the hospital, Dr. John Cawley, and he treats them decently. The other staff members give them a much cooler reception. When Teddy wants to follow up on a lead and is denied access to records, he begins to believe that the senior psychologists have something to hide.
When a hurricane hits the island (cutting off all communication from the mainland), migraines start to cripple Teddy’s ability to think logically and evoke horrible flashbacks from his troubled past. In this confused state, Teddy begins to doubt everything, even his own sanity.
His last lead could explain the mystery of Shutter Island.
6. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, and Joely Richardson
Mikael Blomkvist is the co-owner and editor of Millennium magazine. He has just lost a high-profile case against businessman Hans Wennerstrom for an article he wrote about the man. Because of this damaging scandal, he leaves the magazine in the hands of his lover and co-owner, Erika Berger.
Mikael’s reputation as an investigative journalist is well-known, and when he is contacted by the wealthy industrialist Henrik Vanger to solve a 40-year-old family cold case, it’s no surprise. Vanger offers a large sum of money, and more importantly, some additional information on Wennerstrom that makes Mikael agree to take the job.
Lisbeth Salanger is Henrik’s best computer hacker and the one that did a background check on Mikael. Lisbeth is emotionally detached from life after some damaging events in her life, and she struggles to trust anyone. When Mikael requests an assistant to help him with the investigation of the Vanger family on a Swedish island, she agrees to assist.
Under the guise of working on a memoir about Henrik Vagner, the twosome sets out to uncover the many skeletons that hide in the Vagner family’s closet. Learning to trust each other brings them closer to a dark secret and also forces Lisbeth to see a different life for herself.
7. Gone Girl (2014)
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Niel Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, and Kim Dickens
Nick Dunne, former New York City columnist, and his successful author wife, Amy Dunne, live an extraordinary life in Missouri. The couple has been married for five years, and as per usual Nick is expecting a scavenger hunt, set up by Amy for this coming anniversary, where she leaves clues for him to unravel.
When the morning of the anniversary arrives, Amy has mysteriously disappeared. Nick finds his house has been intruded, evidenced by shattered glass everywhere, overturned tables, and one drop of blood. A media frenzy ensues, and Nick’s life comes under the spotlight.
As time and the investigation progresses, Nick’s stories of half-truths and full-on lies turn the seemingly loving husband into the prime suspect. The media smells blood and acts like a pack of wolves, and Nick has difficulty convincing them that he is innocent. An experienced detective, Rhonda Boney, discovers the first clue that Amy left Nick before disappearing.
The hunt for Amy has begun.
8. American Psycho (2000)
Director: Mary Harron
Cast: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Chloe Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon, Samantha Mathis, and Bill Sage
Patrick Bateman is a 27-year-old Wall Streeter. He moves in high circles, and his closed network is the proverbial “beautiful’ people who can be classified as vain, egomaniacal, competitive, and narcissistic. Appearances count for everything in this highly superficial world.
Like his colleagues and acquaintances, Patrick follows a morning routine to maintain his appearance and fitness. He lives in a constructed world where the presentation of oneself as superior to others is the name of the game. Unlike the others, he recognizes that all of these superficial things- looks, money, and power- are masks to hide what is truly underneath the skin.
Bateman is hiding something/someone inhuman in nature, a dark entity that comprises greed, lust, and disgust, always wanting what others possess. A monstrosity that resents the people who do not meet its expectations and also disgust for himself when falling short of being the best or the winner.
Bateman’s resentment and disgust start manifesting as a driving force that wants him to rid the world of these below-par people. He sees these people as characteristics he wants to free himself from and not actual human beings. Bateman is the American Psycho.
9. Manhunter (1986)
Director: Michael Mann
Cast: William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allan, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Tom Noonan, and Stephen Lang
Will Graham quit his job as an F.B.I. profiler due to the tremendous toil that his last case took on his life. He almost lost his sanity and life while working to catch Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. Will has retired to Florida with his family after incarcerating Dr. Lecter.
The retirement does not last long, as Will is coerced by his old boss, Jack Crawford, to help the F.B.I. catch the elusive serial killer dubbed the “Tooth Fairy.” The Tooth Fairy kills whole families during full moons, leaving bite marks on their bodies, and has wiped out two families so far.
Will promises his wife that he will only examine the evidence and not immerse himself psychologically as he did with his previous case. Being a family man himself drives him to help solve the case, even if it means meeting with his dangerous adversary Dr. Lecter to understand the mind of a serial killer.
The next full moon is on its way as a serial killer waits in the darkness.
10. Frailty (2001)
Director: Bill Paxton
Cast: Bill Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, Powers Brooke, Matt O’Leary, Jeremy Sumpter, and Missy Crider
One night, a father wakes his two sons Adam and Fenton, to tell them that he has received a message from God. An angel appeared to him and explained that he and the boys had been selected to be “God’s Hands.” Their task was to cleanse the demons from this world.
Adam is excited to play the crime-fighting superhero, while Fenton is alarmed by the whole situation. He asks Dad if he could have imagined the entire episode, but his father is adamant that it was real. He makes them take a vow of silence, saying if they tell anyone, then someone will die.
Dad is convinced when a beam of light selects items to use as weapons against the demons, and when he receives a list of names from the angel in another dream, he knows what God wants him to do.
Fenton walks into an F.B.I. office late one evening, pronouncing that he has information about the serial killer known as the “God’s Hands Killer.” Agent Wesley Doyle, the lead investigator, is skeptical until Fenton begins telling the involved tale about his family history.
11. Memento (2000)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Jorja Fox, and Marianne Muellerleile
Leonard Shelby suffers from short-term memory loss resulting from an injury while defending his wife from two attackers. He can remember his life before this devastating incident but is unable to form new memories. The one thing he can remember daily is that he desperately wants to find his wife’s killer and kill him.
Leonard learns to cope with his memory loss through the help of Sammy Jankis, a man who also has short-term memory issues. Leonard uses mechanisms like taking polaroid pictures, writing copious notes on everything documented, even having important information tattooed on his body for future reference. He does this to remind him of his mission and to map his progress.
During a typical day, he meets up with people trying to help him in his investigation. However, each time he meets them for the “first” time, he has to access who they are, why they are trying to help him, and if they have the same intentions as him.
12. Cruising (1980)
Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Richard Cox, Don Scardino, Joe Spinell, and Jay Acovone
A serial killer is at work in New York City. The victims are gay men who frequented the leather S&M underground club scene in Manhattan’s West Village. The killer brutally slays his victims before dismembering them.
The lead investigator, Captain Edelson, offers the job of going undercover to police constable Steve Burns, who wants to become a detective, and sees the opportunity as a quickfire way to get promoted. The instructions are clear. Pretend to be a gay guy who is into the subculture of leather S&M, act as a decoy for the serial killer, and tell no one that he is undercover.
Steve is quickly knee-deep in the mysterious realm of the unspoken subculture. His learning curve is steep, and he quickly needs to learn this world’s complex rules and signals. As he starts to practice what he has learned, he begins to change. How far will he have to go to achieve success? How much of himself can he risk losing as he wanders through this alien and dangerous underworld?
13. Taxi Driver (1976)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks, and Victor Argo
Ex-Marine and Vietnam War veteran, Travis Bickle, is a lonely, insomniac taxi driver in New York City. Travis spends his time at seedy pornography emporiums during the day, and at night he stalks the city streets in his taxi, acutely aware of the cesspool that the world has turned into.
Travis struggles to connect with anyone, really, and he starts to despise the world he lives in, wishing that a force will come and remove the scum of the streets. A complete outsider with an unhealthy level of paranoia, Travis longs to be the savior of New York City.
He becomes infatuated with Betsy, a presidential campaign worker, and a twelve-year-old prostitute, Iris. He sees these “relationships” as missions he needs to complete, becoming the savior that New York desperately needs.
Travis is ready to clean up his filthy city, armed with a distorted hunger and lethal weapons, which will become messengers of truth. Violence is on the menu.
14. M (1931)
Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut, Theodore Loos, Otto Wernicke, Paul Kemp, and George John
Berlin, early 1930s, and children are being abducted and killed by a psychopathic killer, who uses sweets and treats to lure them into his death web. The people of Berlin are on edge when a year has gone by where no arrests have been made. The only evidence that the police have are handwritten notes sent to a local newspaper for publication.
Unknown to himself and the police, a blind beggar who sold a balloon to the serial killer may have vital information regarding the murderer’s identity. The paranoid public also led the police astray with tip-offs made off anyone acting suspiciously. Some even take the law into their own hands, often on entirely innocent people.
The local crime syndicates start to do their own investigations, as the police presence is bad for business. Although united by the same goal, these two opposite forces work differently, and the different approaches could allow the child murderer to escape their search.
I hope you enjoyed the twists and turns of the movies listed above. Se7en is almost impossible to match as it was such a revelation when it hit our cinemas and DVD stores. Hopefully, I came close with a few of them.
Itcher Magazine: 6 Movies like Seven: All in the Twist
IMDB: Se7en (1995)