How Movies Have Inspired Real-Life Copycat Crimes

Movies are a popular form of entertainment that can inspire, educate, and entertain millions of people. However, some movies have also been linked to real-life copycat crimes, where individuals or groups mimic the actions or motives of fictional characters. In this article, we will explore some of the most notorious cases of copycat crimes inspired by movies, and the consequences they had for the victims and the perpetrators.

The Colorado Theater Shooting (2012)

One of the most tragic examples of a copycat crime inspired by a movie is the Colorado theater shooting that occurred on July 20, 2012, at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. A lone gunman, **James Holmes**, killed **12 people** and injured **70 others** with tear gas, a rifle, a handgun, and an explosive device. He was arrested near the theater and later found guilty on all 165 counts against him. He received 12 life sentences plus 3,318 years in prison in August 2015¹². The shooting was the deadliest in Colorado since the 1999 Columbine shooting and one of the state's most devastating mass shootings¹. The victims of the shooting are remembered by their loved ones and the community.

Although Holmes did not explicitly claim to be inspired by the movie, he reportedly dyed his hair red and called himself "The Joker", a reference to the Batman villain played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008), the previous installment of the trilogy. He also told police that he had rigged his apartment with explosives, similar to how The Joker booby-trapped a hospital in The Dark Knight. Some media outlets speculated that Holmes may have identified with Bane, the masked terrorist leader who attacks Gotham City in The Dark Knight Rises. However, there is no conclusive evidence that Holmes was influenced by any specific character or scene from the movie.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian film directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Anthony Burgess. It depicts a violent future where a gang of young thugs commit crimes for fun, using a slang language called Nadsat. The film's protagonist, Alex DeLarge, is arrested and subjected to an experimental treatment that aims to cure him of his violent impulses by conditioning him to associate violence with nausea.

The film was controversial for its graphic depiction of violence, sex, and rape, and was banned in several countries. It also inspired several copycat crimes in the UK and elsewhere, where gangs of youths dressed and acted like Alex and his droogs (friends). Some of the crimes included beating up a homeless man, raping a woman while singing "Singin' in the Rain", and murdering a woman with a sculpture resembling a giant penis. Kubrick himself received death threats and decided to withdraw the film from circulation in the UK until his death in 1999.

The Collector (1965)

The Collector is a psychological thriller film directed by William Wyler, based on the novel by John Fowles. It tells the story of Freddie Clegg, a lonely and obsessive butterfly collector who kidnaps a young art student named Miranda Grey and holds her captive in his basement. He hopes to make her love him by treating her well and showing her his collection of butterflies, but she resists his advances and tries to escape.

The film was praised for its performances and suspense, but also criticized for its disturbing portrayal of abduction and imprisonment. It also inspired at least two real-life copycat crimes, where men kidnapped and tortured young women in their basements. One of them was Leonard Lake, who along with his accomplice Charles Ng, abducted, raped, and killed at least 11 people in California in the mid-1980s. Lake was an avid fan of The Collector and had a copy of the novel among his belongings. He referred to his victims as "M-ladies", short for Miranda ladies. Another one was Robert Berdella – a Kansas City mass murderer who targeted gay men and was convicted of murdering six male victims in 1988.

Magnum Force (1973)

Magnum Force is an action film starring Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan, a tough cop who faces off against a group of vigilante police officers who kill criminals who escape justice. The film is the second in the Dirty Harry series, and features a memorable scene where a pimp kills a prostitute by pouring a can of drain cleaner down her throat.

The film was popular for its action and violence, but also condemned for its endorsement of vigilantism and police brutality. It also inspired a horrific copycat crime in Utah in 1974, where two men, Dale Pierre Selby and William Andrews, held five people hostage at an audio equipment store. During the crime, the two men forced their bound captives to drink Drano – a highly corrosive chemical that severely burned their mouths and throats, but unlike in the movie, didn't kill them instantly. The two men then shot their victims, killing three of them. They were later arrested, convicted, and executed by lethal injection.

Scream (1996)

Scream is a horror film directed by Wes Craven, written by Kevin Williamson, and starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette. It is a meta-film that parodies and pays homage to the slasher genre, featuring a masked killer who stalks and kills teenagers while following the rules of horror movies. The film was a huge success and spawned several sequels and a TV series.

The film was also blamed for several copycat crimes, where killers wore the same ghostface mask and costume as the movie's villain. Some of the crimes included stabbing a woman to death in France in 1996, stabbing a mother and daughter to death in Florida in 1998, stabbing a classmate to death in Canada in 1999, and stabbing four people to death in Spain in 2001. The killers often claimed to be fans of the movie or to have been influenced by it.


These are just some of the many examples of copycat crimes inspired by movies. While movies are not responsible for the actions of individuals who choose to harm others, they may serve as a trigger or a model for some criminals who already have violent tendencies. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the potential impact that movies can have on society, and to promote responsible media consumption and critical thinking.

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Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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