Movies That Inspired Copycat Crimes In Real Life

It's no secret that movies and video games have been blamed for making people — particularly young people — more prone to commit violent acts. (But no one ever blames the books, do they?)

This blame-game sort of finger-pointing has been happening for a surprisingly long time, as, according to research from the University of Michigan, psychologists have been looking at the influence of fictional violence on the real world since at least the 1960s. Today, with more realistic films widely available, politicians on both sides of the party line are hopping on board with the idea that violent "entertainment" makes for violent people (via CNN). Taking a deep dive into all that research is way too much to even begin to talk about, and in the end, no one's quite sure how much movies really should be blamed. Still, it's undeniable that there are some movies out there that inspired some viewers to reenact some scenes of terrible violence, taking the crimes they saw on screen and committing them in real life.

And here's the surprising thing: They're not all horror movies, and they're not even all movies that are typically thought of as being violent or harmful in any way. And that? That's food for thought.

Project X

Warner Bros. officially puts "Project X" in the "Comedy" genre, and at a glance, it's easy to see why. It's basically a movie about a couple of teenagers who decide to throw a party that goes completely out of control and descends into some majorly destructive anarchy. Did real-world high school students try to throw the same sort of party? Yes, yes they did — and not only did they mimic the widespread destruction of property, but at least one such party turned deadly.

It wasn't long after the 2012 movie released that ABC News was reporting on "Project X"-style parties that started happening across the country. Police put a stop to a 2,000-person party in Miami and another in Michigan, but a Houston party went ahead and partygoers trashed an entire home. When they moved on to another home the following night, law enforcement was waiting for them.

It wasn't enough to stop one party from turning deadly. According to The Hollywood Reporter, hundreds of people were at a Houston "Project X" party, and after locals complained, law enforcement intervened. The party moved to the streets, and at some point, someone pulled out a gun. The shooting that followed claimed the life of 18-year-old Ryan Spikes. Investigator Mark Stephens commented, "When you look at the movie, and you look at what happened here, the parallels are uncanny. It was a copycat. They did everything that I saw in the movie."

The Basketball Diaries

"The Basketball Diaries" starred a very young Leonardo DiCaprio, and it took a hard look at some difficult topics. DiCaprio starred as Jim Carroll, a basketball star who found his life spiraling into little more than a craving for heroin and everything it took to get his fix (via Rotten Tomatoes). But the copycat crime it inspired had nothing to do with drugs.

Included in the film is a dream sequence that involves a school shooting, and according to the Associated Press, that's the part that 14-year-old Michael Carneal reenacted in 1997.

By the time Carneal acquired guns — which History says he had stolen from a neighbor — and opened fire after a morning school prayer meeting, officials surmised that he had been planning the shooting for somewhere around a year. He later confessed that he had been inspired by the school shooting in "The Basketball Diaries," only this very real incident took the lives of three students and wounded five others, including a girl who was paralyzed by the attack. Carneal was put on trial as an adult, and was given a life sentence. The families of the students filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit that attempted to hold both the makers of "The Basketball Diaries" and Carneal's favorite video games — "Quake" and "Doom" — liable, but according to The New York Times, the lawsuit was dismissed when the courts ruled there was no way to predict the copycat shooting was going to happen.


It's almost impossible not to be familiar with "Scream" and the sequels it spawned. That's not only because it revitalized the whole teen slasher genre, but that costume was everywhere for years — including in the home of 24-year-old Thierry Jaradin.

Jaradin lived in a small town in Belgium, and after watching "Scream," The Guardian says he went on to choose his victim. She was 15-year-old Alisson Cambier, and when she stopped by his home to drop off some movies, she also refused his unwanted advances. He later said that what happened next was pre-meditated: He stepped inside, put on that iconic costume, and picked up a few kitchen knives, which he then used to stab her 30 times, just like he'd seen happen in the movie.

Jaradin — who had no criminal past or prior violent offenses — later confirmed that the costume wasn't coincidental, and the murder was inspired by the film.


When Nathaniel White was arrested in 1992 for the murders of six women, it was just days after he had met with the family of his girlfriend's niece, trying to reassure them that he was positive she was going to turn up safe and sound. The 14-year-old Christine Klebbe was already dead, the youngest of his victims.

The New York Times reported that White later admitted to the murders, saying that he'd heard a voice in his head that had told him that he needed to kill. As for the "how," that came from the "Robocop" movies. According to the Associated Press, White killed his victims in methods that he copied straight out of the movies, saying, "I would ... see something violent happen, and it seems to just sink in." In another interview, he explained, "I couldn't help myself. That's why I decided to tell everything. I don't want to do it anymore. I did exactly what I saw in the movie."

It's also worth mentioning that the case has led to a bizarre instance of mistaken identity. In 2020, the Tallahassee Democrat reported that another man named Nathaniel White — living in Florida instead of New York — had been misidentified as the serial killer when his photo was used in a Discovery Channel documentary and subsequently showed up on the serial killer's Wikipedia page.

Fight Club

"Fight Club" was released in 1999, and it seemed obvious that Fight Clubs were going to start popping up. They did.

In 2015, the New York Post reported that a New Jersey daycare teacher and her assistant turned their class into a Toddler Fight Club, with one-on-one bouts and group fights inspired by the film. And yes, they actually called it Toddler Fight Club, particularly when asking parents to adhere to that rule about not saying anything to anyone about it. Because, ya know, Toddler Fight Club should probably not be a thing. That's not even the only time it happened: In 2018, CNN reported on the release of a 2016 video that showed a similar toddler fight club that was organized at a St. Louis daycare.

Fight clubs aren't the only thing that grew out of "Fight Club." In 2009, The New York Times reported that 17-year-old Kyle Shaw had been arrested in connection with a bombing at a New York City Starbucks. Police later said that Shaw had admitted that the movie had inspired him to emulate Brad Pitt's character, who kicks off "Project Mayhem" as a way to put some serious hurt on major corporations. Although he originally pleaded not guilty, Ozy says Shaw ultimately took a deal — and a 3-and-a-half year jail sentence — that he was offered. In a post-prison interview, Shaw described prison as a whole different sort of fight club, and adds that the discipline of martial arts saw him through to his 2013 release.

Nightmare on Elm Street

There's nothing super deep about Freddy Krueger and the "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies. He existed, he hacked and slashed his way through a lot of people, and that pretty much sums it up. It's a strange thing to think about anyone wanting to be like him, but according to The Guardian, Daniel Gonzalez wanted to be like him so much that he went on a three-day stabbing spree in 2004. He stabbed four people (and attacked two others), and afterwards, he and his family said they had previously begged for medical and psychiatric help only to be told "we would have to wait for a crisis to occur."

That brings up some serious questions about the state of mental health resources, but what about the crime? Surrey Live says that Gonzalez had wanted to kill 10 people, but was arrested before he could get to his desired number. He later explained, "I wished life was just fantasy because I thought about doing it. I wondered what it would be like to be Freddy Krueger for the day."

So, he started stabbing, while he said he was being guided by a series of voices he named Misha, Melinda, Katrina, and Jenny Bean. The extent of his illness was argued throughout the trial, and he was ultimately sent to the maximum-security psychiatric facility Broadmoor, where he reportedly tried to commit suicide by biting himself to death.

Magnum Force

"Magnum Force" was the 1973 addition to the Dirty Harry franchise, and as expected, there were a lot of action scenes, violence, and some terrible deaths. Unfortunately for the employees and a few unsuspecting customers of Ogden, Utah's Hi-Fi Shop, some of those deaths would become all too real.

On April 22, 1974, Dale Selby Pierre, William Andrews, and Keith Roberts committed what would become known as the Hi-Fi Murders, and it started with armed robbery and the theft of somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000 worth of electronic equipment. That's not the part that they got from "Magnum Force": It was the murder of their hostages and the format of their getaway that they lifted from the movie ... albeit unsuccessfully.

In the film, there's a scene where someone's executed by being made to drink drain cleaner. Thinking that was an excellent — and most importantly, silent — way to kill someone, that's what they did to their hostages. (Among, says the Chicago Tribune, other incredibly awful sexual assaults and tortures.) They quickly found out that making someone drink drain cleaner does not result in a quick or quiet death, and ultimately, they simply shot their hostages, two of whom survived. Executed Today says that the trio were turned in by their fellow soldiers at the nearby Hill Air Force Base. Pierre was executed in 1987, Andrews in 1992, and Roberts — who wasn't a part of the violence — was paroled in 1987.

Basic Instinct

If anyone knows anything about "Basic Instinct," it's that iconic scene where Sharon Stone crosses her legs. 'Nuff said. But it's the scene where her character, Catherine Tramell, stabs a man to death that was reenacted then posted online, with the title "One Lunatic, One Ice Pick."

The video showed the murder of 33-year-old Jun Lin, who was killed and dismembered by Luka Magnotta. According to the CBC, Magnotta confirmed that yes, he had been responsible for the murder, but insisted that mental illness made him not culpable.

More and more similarities were pointed out, including the fact that the killing itself had been staged to look like the scene from the film. The murder weapon Magnotta used — a screwdriver — was painted the same color as Tramell's ice pick. When he needed a name for the mysterious man he claimed had pushed him to kill, Magnotta chose the name of a never-seen-on-screen character named Manny Vasquez. Magnotta went on the run after the murder, using the alias Kirk Tramell — a shout-out to Stone's character. One of the differences in the crime scene was Magnotta's replacing of the stained glass window of the film with a movie poster for "Casablanca" — but that made sense, considering he was finally caught after fleeing to Berlin (via The Globe and Mail). The connections between the film and the crime were presented at trial, and Magnotta's mother later said (via Oxygen) that she still carried one of her son's treasured possessions: a "Basic Instinct" keychain.

A Clockwork Orange

There are two kinds of people in the world: There are those that think "A Clockwork Orange" is a masterpiece, and those who wonder why it exists in the first place. According to Den of Geek, Stanley Kubrick himself sort of came to be in the latter category.

Contrary to popular opinion, "A Clockwork Orange" was never officially banned in the UK. Kubrick opted to do it himself when there were so many copycat crimes that started popping up, even though he maintained that the film wasn't to blame. Still, they're grisly stuff, and include the 1973 rape of a Dutch girl, who was attacked by men singing one of the film's trademark songs, "Singin' in the Rain" (via PBS).

Then, there was the case of Peter Foster, a man who was so obsessed with the film that according to the BBC, he would often dress in full droogs gear, complete with bowler hat and makeup. It wasn't until 2003 that he was handed two life sentences for the murder of Linda Grimm in 1989 and Linda Wardill in 2002. Both women were killed when they were punched in the stomach — something Foster was said to have replicated from the film. Those weren't his only offenses — in addition to the life sentences, he also got another 22 years for various assaults dating back to at least 1973.


Of all the films that people should emulate, "Saw" might be last on the list ... yet, here we are.

Fortunately, two teens' plans to kidnap their intended victims and reenact the torture scenes they'd seen in "Saw" was foiled when one of their mothers called police after overhearing them discussing their plans. They'd already selected their targets, staked out their locations, and had moved on to hashing out how to best lure them to said locations — and get the cameras and recording devices to document the entire thing, guaranteeing their lifelong notoriety — when the mother of a 15-year-old only identified as John turned them in to law enforcement in 2009. Also involved was his 14-year-old friend — only identified as Noor — and according to ABC News, the parents declined a request for comments.

Thankfully, that plot to turn "Saw" into a very real horror movie stopped before anyone got hurt, but two years prior, someone did get hurt when a pair of 13-year-old girls played a prank phone call on a Nashville woman. According to NBC News, they left a message on the voicemail of Beverly Dickson, with dialogue lifted right out of the film. After being told that a friend was trapped inside her home and had 10 minutes before she was gassed and killed, she suffered a massive stroke. The phone call was traced, and the girls found themselves in juvenile court.

The Purge

"The Purge" might seem like it's trying to make some important point about society, but it's not long before the movie — which basically shows in graphic detail what would happen if all crime was legalized for just 12 hours a year — devolves into bloodshed.

The movies spawned a bunch of sequels and at least one copycat set of crimes. In 2016, ABC News reported that Indianapolis man, Johnathan Cruz, had been arrested for the murders of three people in seemingly unrelated, completely random shootings. Even as his girlfriend claimed he wasn't "come kind of crazy violent person" — a sentiment that the mother of his 3-month-old child agreed with — another witness came forward saying that he had spoken freely about how he was going to be "purging." That was supported by text messages recovered from his phone, including one that said "I Purge every night now ... since im dieing someone else Has to."

In addition to the killing of Billy Boyd, Jay Higginbottom, and Jose Ruiz, Cruz also committed one armed robbery — and according to the Chicago Tribune, he accepted a plea agreement that saw the death penalty taken off the table in lieu of three consecutive life sentences. Parole, too, was off the table.

Wedding Crashers

Here's a surprise entry: "Wedding Crashers," the 2005 romantic comedy starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as the title ne'er-do-wells, who spend their down time scoring free food and drink from wedding receptions ... and taking advantage of the women they meet there — that happens, too. But crimes?

It turns out that yes, "Wedding Crashers" has spawned a rash of incidents inspired by one scene in particular, where a drink gets spiked with Visine. It's played for laughs — of the "poop jokes" variety — in the film, but in real life, it's potentially deadly. Forbes explains that the eye drops work because they constrict blood vessels, and when they're ingested, they can be absorbed into the circulatory system and lead to all kinds of problems — up to and including a coma and death.

And copycat crimes have happened a lot — Lana Sue Clayton got 25 years in jail for the murder of her husband via Visine, and Joshua Lee Hunsucker was charged with using the drops to kill his wife for the insurance money. It's unclear whether or not "Wedding Crashers" served as the inspiration there, but according to the New Haven Register, the movie was definitely the blueprint for Olga Louniakova's poisoning of one of her teachers at the Oxford Academy of Hair Design. She'd apparently meant to poison another student and was charged with reckless endangerment and threatening. She was given two years' probation, and was killed two years later in a bizarre murder-suicide.

The Town

There are a million and one movies out there about bank heists, and "The Town" was the 2010 Ben Affleck flick that, according to Rotten Tomatoes, audiences liked pretty well. So did a set of actual, real-life bank robbers, who lifted the tactics used in the movie and committed their own heists.

And there were a lot of them. According to NBC, the gang wasted no time — robberies started in 2010 with a discount store, and over the next few years, they were linked to no fewer than 62 robberies and burglaries. Tactics copied from the movie include the use of bleach to get rid of any DNA evidence they happened to leave behind, and it was decently successful. By the time law enforcement caught up to the five-man crew, they'd netted around $217,000 from a series of small businesses across Queens and Brooklyn.

Another set of copycat robbers popped up in Chicago the following year. According to ABC, a pair held up a TCF bank while dressed in the same nun costumes that were used in the movie. The disguises, which included nun's habits, rubber monster masks, and black clothes, also seemed to work — witnesses could only give a vague description of the robbers that included their height, and were unsure of other details.

Natural Born Killers

It was Sarah Edmonson's father, Jim, who held his daughter and kept her from running as the FBI approached, saying (via The Washington Post): "You should be brave. No one is going to hurt you. And you should never forget that you have the right to remain silent. You have the right ..."

Law enforcement had shown up on her doorstep after an ex-boyfriend dropped her name in connection with a brutal shooting that had happened 6 months prior. A young woman was caught on the security camera of a convenience store, shooting a clerk — who would survive, but be paralyzed from the neck down — and breaking into a cash register. If it sounds like something right out of "Natural Born Killers," that's because it was.

It was their second murder: According to The Guardian, Edmonson and boyfriend Ben Darras kicked off their crime spree with acid, "Natural Born Killers" playing on repeat, and ultimately, shooting and killing a businessman named Bill Savage. The movie was so definitively linked to inspiring their killing spree that a lawsuit was filed against the film. It was later dismissed, says ABC, and at the time, Edmondson and Darras were both already serving their sentences: Edmondson, her 35 years, and Darras, his life term. In 2010, the Oklahoman reported that Edmondson would be serving her parole time in Oklahoma, while Darras was still appealing his release.

Silence of the Lambs

"Silence of the Lambs" was famously inspired by some real-life crimes, but it also inspired one man to commit a horrible copycat murder as well. The unthinkably violent 1998 murder of an Australian grandmother named Margaret Lauritsen was the sort of thing that rocked the entire nation. It had been committed by her 22-year-old grandson, Anthony, who had disemboweled and nearly decapitated the 67-year-old woman before killing her beloved dog. By the time he was arrested, police say (via The West Australian) that he had also made a list of other people that he wanted to murder — which has led the people on that list to fear his early release. Among those is an aunt, whom he had threatened to kill weeks prior to the murder; when it came time to dispose of the murder weapons, he cleaned them and left them on her bed.

Where does "Silence of the Lambs" come in? Without getting into too much graphic detail — and it gets incredibly graphic — court documents say that after watching the film, he became obsessed with it. Of particular interest was the scene where Hannibal Lecter disembowels a police officer — a scene that he reenacted with his grandmother as the unfortunate victim.

In 2020, it was reported that he was being considered for parole, in spite of backlash from a family terrified that their lives would be in danger.

Taxi Driver

In 1981, an assassination attempt was made on the life of then-President Ronald Reagan. Assassinations are certainly nothing new, but what made this story so strange was that it had been plucked from the movie "Taxi Driver." The entire saga started when John Hinckley Jr. — after watching the film countless times — famously became obsessed with Jodie Foster. There's more to it, though: He also started to seriously identify with Robert DeNiro's character, dressing like him and even drinking his drink of choice (peach brandy).

Just like DeNiro's Travis Bickle, Hinckley fully came to believe that the way to win — and protect — Foster was by assassinating a high-profile figure. According to History, Reagan wasn't even the original target. Hinckley had started out by stalking President Jimmy Carter, but assassination attempts were foiled when he was arrested for carrying guns through Nashville's airport.That was shortly before Reagan was elected, and Hinckley's target changed. Just as "Taxi Driver" descended into the chaos of Bickle trying to protect Foster's character by cleaning up the streets, Hinckley was determined to do the same. Reagan, of course, survived the assassination attempt, and Hinckley used the insanity defense for a not guilty verdict.

In 2021, it was announced that Hinckley had been granted an unconditional release for the following year. He had already been sort of free for the past five years — living with his mother before her death — and along with the announcement came an apology and a hope that Rolling Stone would take an interest in his new music career.