Top Movies Based on True Stories: Zodiac

There are hundreds of movies based on true stories- some that are made direct to DVD or for TV and others that are released in theaters. The list below names the top movies (in my opinion) that are based on true stories. Not only are they rated by just how widely known they are, but just how close they stick to the actual occurrence of events.

9. Zodiac: 2007, directed by David Fincher, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith, Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery and Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi.

I’m sure most of you have seen the movie, and if you haven’t, you should make sure to see it- not because it is that great, but because the film does provoke thinking and is a “spot-on” (say that in a British accent) adaptation of the events that have taken place.

The movie is about the “Zodiac” killer of San Francisco during the late 1960s-early 1970s. The Zodiac case is over 40 years old and although it is regarded as a open “cold case,” the case has brought over 2500 to be considered suspects. The Zodiac killer claims to have killed about 38 people, but only 7 are determined to be his victims (although 2 remained alive) according to the police. 7. . . that’s less that the number of people who die from vending machines every year (which is 13).

The movie is closely depicts the actual events that have taken place over the course of those 5 or so years. There is a 1966 case in which the Zodiac killer is suspected of killing another person, but David Fincher decided to depict all the murders except this one, because he wanted the truth and pure facts, so he didn’t want to depict something based on suspicion.

The movie starts out with the shooting of two teens (Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau) in a deserted parking lot. The Zodiac killer shot Ferrin 3 times, killing her and shot Mageau 2 times. As the killer walked away as Mageau screamed away, prompting the killer to return and shoot them again twice.  Mageau survived the shooting, and when he heard that David Fincher was making the movie he said, “Why would I want to see that? I don’t want to remember that time anymore.”

The other victim that escaped death was from the Lake Berryessa scene. Bryan and Cecilia Hartnell were picnicking at Lake Berryessa when the Zodiac Killer arrives and demands their keys and money. After meeting his demands, they were hogtied and stabbed both of them, stabbing Bryan 7 times. While Cecilia died in a hospital 2 days later, Bryan survived and served as a advisor on the film. He was opposed to the film, but changed his mind when he knew Fincher wasn’t trying to parody the events, but depict them accurately. He said, “It became pretty clear that he didn’t want to do something sensational or inaccurate. He was going to recreate things just the way they happened.” He even spoke about his attack, “I was positive I was going to die.” And he was quite astonished the measures Fincher took to make the scene, since Fincher went to that exact lake and the exact place on the anniversary of the attack.

July 24, 1970 letter the Zodiac Killer sent to the san Francisco Chronicle

In the movie, as in real life, there was a woman who was driving around with her baby in the car. She pulled over after a man honked his horn to get her attention, and told her the rear right wheel was wobbly. (Of course, it wasn’t)The man actually loosened the bolts, and when she tried driving off, the wheel fell. Watch the rest of the scene here. In reality, the man drove her to a gas station which was indeed closed, and kept driving for over an hour passing station by station. Her actual police report stated, “She said she was very scared of this man, did not want to get out, but did not tell him to stop the vehicle or let her out.” And just like in the movie, Kathleen (the woman) asked the man if he goes around helping like this, he replied, “By the time I get through with them, they won’t need my help.”  Kathleen jumped out of the car with her baby in her hands when the car slowed down for a stop sign.  She ran into the nearby field and hid in the shadows while the man took out a flashlight and began searching for her, but left after 5 minutes. Although her escape was not featured in the film, the ending of her scene was precise, and the Zodiac did send a letter claiming to have caused her problems.


In all, the film closely portrays the events of the actual Zodiac murders and the events taken by the police and San Francisco Chronicle to stop him. In fact, you can even view the television show in the movie and in real life here, and you can click here to go to a website which states facts about the movie and the real life events.

Movie T.V. Scene:

Real Life T.V. Show:




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