Movies that led to real-life violence

There's a long-standing debate about whether violence in entertainment can inspire real-life events. Will that R-rated slasher or that gore-soaked shoot 'em up encourage impressionable viewers to commit murder? The conversation around this topic has reached quasi-political levels, and while both sides have plenty of talking points, there are a ton of bloody blockbusters that have resulted in copycat crimes or were connected to some pretty deplorable deeds.

The Dark Knight

The 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, was absolutely catastrophic. The tragedy occurred at the Century 16 movie theater, where 12 people were killed and 70 were injured in just a matter of minutes. At the time, that was the most casualties in a shooting in America history, a dark record that wasn't broken until 2016. (It should be noted that "casualty-filled" and "deadliest" aren't the same thing.)

The attack went down on July 20, when a gunman named James Holmes burst into a screening of The Dark Knight Rises and opened fire on the audience. As a result, many speculated Holmes was inspired by the film's predecessor, The Dark Knight. After all, when authorities took him into custody, Holmes reportedly said, "I am the Joker." Things got even crazier when police discovered his apartment was booby-trapped with explosives, which is a movie taken straight from the Joker playbook.

In the wake of the attack, Christian Bale visited with the victims, and director Christopher Nolan publicly condemned the massacre. As the director put it, "The movie theater is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me. Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families."

Project X

In 2012's Project X, a group of teens decides to throw a party, and as you might expect, their little event quickly spirals out of control, spilling across the neighborhood…and into the real world. After the film hit theaters, a series of copycat bashes popped up around the US, and in at least one instance, the results were deadly.

After watching the critically-hated comedy, some kids in Houston, Texas, staged their own raucous event in an abandoned mansion. Eventually, things got so wild that police showed up to disperse the crowds. Unfortunately, the situation quickly turned violent when somebody pulled a pistol. According to one witness, "[The gunman] was just walking, and he pulled out a gun and started shooting, like for no reason." Tragically, several of those bullets struck a nearby teen, and the young partygoer died shortly afterward.

Much like the movie, this Lone Star celebration had disastrous consequences. The situation gets worse when you realize the film's director, Nima Nourizadeh, had refused to condemn the idea of audiences taking his film to heart when planning their own parties. "I don't want to speak whether it is irresponsible or promoting certain things it shouldn't," Nourizadeh told The Hollywood Reporter. "It's an R-rated movie. It all depends on the individual whether you take inspiration from it."

Well, in hindsight, it certainly seems like he should've said something.

Fight Club

David Fincher's adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club has spawned countless hush-hush groups that use their fists to do all their talking. Perhaps the most stunning example happened in 2015, when two daycare workers in New Jersey were charged with pitting toddlers against each other in a Fight Club-inspired brawl. The two reportedly shared their staged bouts of several children, aged four to six years old, on Snapchat and were overheard referencing both the movie and book in the videos.

Meanwhile, the "Project Mayhem" aspect of the movie has also been known to inspire some untoward activities in real life. In 2009, a Manhattan Starbucks was the site of an explosion of a homemade bomb, and police revealed the teen who planted the device was inspired by Fight Club. According to the police commissioner involved in the case, "[The teen's] statements indicated he was launching his own 'Project Mayhem.'" If you'll recall, this particular project is the name for Tyler Durden's anarchic group that plans on destroying America's financial institutions. And as it turns out, the suspect supposedly orchestrated his own at-home fight club before setting off the explosion. Talk about missing the point of a movie.

Scream

Shortly after the release of Wes Craven's Scream, the gory slasher pic was implicated in the chilling 1998 murder of 37-year-old Los Angeles native Rita Castillo. But in a disturbing twist, the killers weren't some random psychos. As it turns out, Castillo was murdered by her son and nephew.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Castillo was stabbed by the teen boys after they'd finished watching Scream and its 1997 sequel. Her one-year-old daughter was in the next room when the attack occurred, but fortunately, the infant was left unharmed. As for the teenagers, they admitted they'd killed Castillo because they needed her money…to plan a Ghostface murder spree. They wanted to buy masks and voice-changing devices, and they'd even supposedly planned to kill a classmate who looked like Drew Barrymore. Fortunately, their grisly dreams didn't pan out, and the boys were convicted of murder.

Saw

In addition to giving us all nightmares, the Saw films have encouraged a whole bunch of copycat crimes. For example, there were two teens from Tennessee who tormented a 52-year-old woman with prank calls, threatening her life with toxic gas if she didn't win their "game." The messages sent the woman into a panic that resulted in a stroke. However, a far ghastlier crime occurred in 2013, when a 25-year-old man tried to imitate a scene from Saw VI by stabbing a former soldier 17 times, hoping to sever his spinal cord. Ultimately, he wanted the PIN number to the man's bank account so he could withdraw cash for crack cocaine. However, according to Judge Timothy Pontius, it seems the murderer was directly inspired by the slasher flick…which was found in his bedroom after the crime.

But believe it or not, there's yet another Saw-inspired crime, one that could've made serial killer history. In 2009, two teens decided to take up the Jigsaw mantle and plan a series of torture killings. The duo wanted to abduct two students and a school police officer, take them to various locations, and torture them to do death on camera. Fortunately, the wannabe bad guys were thwarted when one of their moms overheard their conversation and contacted the police. Looks like these guys won't be playing games anytime soon.

Natural Born Killers

The violence and depravity showcased in Oliver Stone's 1994 crime drama Natural Born Killers has spawned a staggering number of real-life crimes. Most notably, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were believed to have been, at least in part, inspired by the movie when they killed 12 students and one teacher at the infamous Columbine High School massacre. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only school shooting inspired by the Woody Harrelson film. In 1997, 14-year-old Michael Carneal shot at a prayer circle outside his school in West Paducah, Kentucky, killing three classmates and injuring five others. And as you've probably guessed, the shooter cited Natural Born Killers among the movies that fueled his deadly rampage.

In another disturbing incident, an Oklahoma couple admitted to taking LSD and watching Natural Born Killers before embarking on a crime spree that included armed robbery, the slaughter of a Mississippi man, and the shooting of a Louisiana woman, who was paralyzed by her injuries. The latter victim, Patsy Byers, tried to take legal action against Oliver Stone and the company Time Warner, but the lawsuit was tossed out for lack of a solid connection between the movie and the shootings.

The Matrix

When it comes to special effects, The Matrix is one of the most influential films ever made. Unfortunately, this sci-fi flick has also inspired quite a few criminals. Take Lee Boyd Malvo, for instance. Known as the D.C. Sniper, this guy committed a series of terrifying murders in 2002, and he was supposedly so obsessed with the Wachowski film that his defense attorneys incorporated the movie into Malvo's insanity plea. He reportedly identified with Neo and instructed FBI agents to watch The Matrix if they wanted to understand his motives. He even scribbled lines referencing the film in his prison cell, including, "Free yourself from the Matrix."

It wasn't the only time the so-called "Matrix defense" would come up in court. In 2003, a 19-year-old dressed in Neo-like gear proceeded to murder his parents as a sort of grisly homage to the movie. As the killer himself put it, "I just kinda looked over at my Matrix poster, and then I looked over at my gun. I guess you know the rest." And in 2000, a Swiss exchange student believed his neighbor was putting off evil vibes and might suck him into the Matrix, so he slaughtered and dismembered the poor woman.

But while the Matrix defense sounds pretty ridiculous, it actually worked in 2002, when a woman shot her landlady at point-blank range. So why did she pull the trigger? Well, the killer claimed her dreams had been infected by her victim, and oh yeah, that "they commit a lot of crimes in the Matrix." As she further elaborated, the Matrix is "where you go to sleep at night, and they drug you and take you somewhere else." Yeah, that sounds pretty crazy, and evidently, the court agreed because it accepted her insanity plea. But as for Warner Bros., the studio issued a statement separating its fictional series from reality, saying, "Any attempt to link these crimes with a motion picture . . . is disturbing and irresponsible."

Taxi Driver

One of the most infamous examples of a movie inspiring violence involves Robert De Niro, a taxi cab, and a legitimate madman. It all started after a disturbed individual named John Hinckley Jr. grew obsessed with Jodie Foster after seeing her in 1976's Taxi Driver. And similar to the fictional Travis Bickle—who attempts to assassinate a senator—Hinckley decided to impress the actress by shooting President Ronald Reagan on on March 30, 1981. Fortunately, the psycho only wounded Reagan with a ricochet, although he also injured both a Secret Service officer and Press Secretary James Brady (who was left partially paralyzed).

Before embarking on his shooting spree, Hinckley wrote Foster a letter which read, "Over the past seven months I've left you dozens of poems, letters and love messages in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me….I will admit to you the reason I'm going ahead with this attempt now is because I cannot wait any longer to impress you." He would later tout his deadly deed as "the greatest love offering in the history of the world." Well, it was definitely the creepiest.

Queen of the Damned

In 2003, a British man who'd seen Queen of the Damned over 100 times killed his best friend for disparaging the film's central vampire, Akasha. In fact, this guy even claimed Akasha told him to commit the murder. As a justification for his crime, he testified the undead queen had promised him immortality because "if you did not murder somebody you could not become a vampire." So naturally, he bludgeoned his friend with a hammer before stabbing him 42 times, drinking his blood, and eating parts of his skull. After being convicted of the savage murder, the man killed himself in his jail cell a year later, which just proves you should never ever trust a vampire.

Interview with the Vampire

In 1997, a man named Daniel Sterling was convicted of attempted murder after he stabbed his girlfriend seven times after the two had watched Interview with the Vampire. According to The Orlando Sentinel, the victim woke up to find her boyfriend hovering over her and saying, "I'm going to kill you and drink your blood," which is generally a bad way to start your morning. This loser Lestat eventually admitted the film inspired his terrible actions, saying, "I was influenced by the movie. I enjoyed the movie. But I cannot sit here and blame the movie.” We're sure Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt greatly appreciated the review.