Serial Killer Cinema: 4 Films Inspired by Ted Bundy

Handsome, charismatic, intelligent, and the self-described “most cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch you’ll ever meet,” Theodore Robert “Ted” Bundy kidnapped, murdered, mutilated, and often sexually defiled the corpses of dozens of women across multiple states throughout the 1970s.

Bundy’s official kill count stands at 36, but some sources believe the true number may be 100 or higher. Florida executed Ted Bundy via the electric chair in 1989.

Given Bundy’s made-for-the-movies appearance, the nature of how he often lured young female victims into traps by trading on his sex appeal, and the horrific aspects of the actual crimes, the whole horrible, tragically true saga already conveys the feel of a fright film.

Movies based on the life and lives taken by Ted Bundy range from serious-minded to purely sensational. Here are four prominent examples.

The Deliberate Stranger (1986)

Based on the book Bundy: The Deliberate Stranger by Seattle Times reporter Richard W. Larsen, NBC’s two-part TV-movie established the perfectly cast Mark Harmon as an actor capable of real power. Harmon is utterly charming and then entirely terrifying as Bundy, particularly in scenes that depict his frequent modus operandi of picking up young women at discos, the beach, or by pretending to be injured and asking them for help. The Deliberate Stranger remains equally gripping and even frightening once it become a courtroom drama. Bundy’s defense attorney Polly Nelson declared the film to be “stunningly accurate.”

Ted Bundy (2002)

Ted Bundy came out amid a slew of low-budget, direct-to-video serial killer flicks that include Ed Gein (2000), Gacy (2003), and the lone standout of the bunch, Dahmer (2002). Ted Bundy may be the cheapest and weakest of the bunch, and it takes sloppy liberties with the facts of the case. That’s an unfortunate surprise as it was directed by the erstwhile brilliant Matthew Bright, who wrote and starred in the midnight movie milestone Forbidden Zone (1980), and went on to write and direct Reese Witherspoon in the sick-humor crime classic Freeway (1996)

Ann Rule Presents: The Stranger Beside Me (2003)

Barbara Hershey stars as true-crime author Ann Rule in an effective TV movie adaptation of her bestselling book, The Stranger Beside Me. In real life, Rule personally knew and very much liked Ted Bundy (played here by prolific character actor Billy Campbell) during the period he was living a double life as a witty charmer by day and a sadistic serial slayer by night. The film effectively portrays Rule’s eventual questioning of who her friend Ted really is, and Hershey deftly conveys the author’s initial denial and subsequent overwhelm of regret, fear, sorrow, and even guilt as she comes to accept that she was unwittingly in the company of a monster.

Bundy: An American Icon (2008)

After an onslaught of chintzy serial killer biopics flooded video shore shelves earlier in the 2000s, Bundy: An American Icon landed among the last of the lot. Corin Nemec, star of the TV sitcom Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, is too old and essentially too “Parker Lewis” in the title role, and the film’s low-rent production values don’t do him any favors. Writer-director Michael Feifer also fired out the true-crime exploitation cheapies Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield (2007), B.T.K. (2008), and Drifter: Henry Lee Lucas (2009).

Watch Investigation Discovery’s original scripted mini-series, SERIAL THRILLER with ID GO. Each installment of the SERIAL THRILLER trilogy propels viewers into a chilling true crime story of a real-life serial killer. 

Main photo: Mark Harmon as Ted Bundy, The Deliberate Stranger

  • SCOTT GALLANT

    Read Mindhunter by John E.Douglas to discover that Bundy deserves no screen idolatry.

  • Barb Morin

    I have seen three of the four presented and the worst was Ted Bundy. If he had acted in any way that the movie portrayed him, no female would have gone within ten yards of him. Mark Harmon did an incredible job portraying him and Billy Campbell did pretty well, too. But Ted Bundy was a cheap, trashy way to make a film.

  • Lisbeth

    Billy Campbell was way too old to play Bundy. That fact alone made the movie unbearable to watch.