Serial-killer movies are not as popular as they used to be

Zac Efron: from high school musical to vile and evil.
Zac Efron: from high school musical to vile and evil.
Image: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
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His crimes were described by a judge as “extremely wicked, shockingly evil, vile.” Now those words appear in the title of a Neflix movie starring Zac Efron about the life of serial killer Ted Bundy. It’s the latest serial killer-themed offering from Netflix, following similar recent releases, including Mindhunter and Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. It’s easy to feel like there’s been a spike in media that depict, focus on, and perhaps even glorify murderous men.

Data from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) reveals, however, that production of such movies is actually on the decline.

Movie entries on IMDb are tagged with plot keywords. By comparing each year’s total number of films released against those tagged with “serial killer,” we found what portion of movies annually have a serial-killer storyline. Despite the small fractions, the trend is clear: Films focused on serial killers are losing popularity on the big screen.

Movies about serial killers tend to fall into two broader genres: thriller and crime. A century-long look at movies tagged as “crime” suggests that we’re not just losing interest in serial killers, but crime films in general. Thrillers, by contrast, have enjoyed growing popularity.

But while crime is on the decline in movies, the opposite is true with TV series listed on IMDb. In fact, in 2018 there was a greater portion of crime television series than crime movies, and that trend may continue. Of the movies and TV series already released this year, nearly 7% of TV shows are crime-based compared to 5% of movies.