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Where Did These True Crime TV Shows and Movies Drop the Ball?

Mindhunter

Mindhunter is making waves even though it’s relatively new. It’s about two FBI agents nailing down how to catch a killer based on real killers in the ‘70s. The most interesting aspect of this show is how they do this. The two agents go to prisons and speak to serial killers like Edmund Kemper, Monte Ralph Rissell, Jerry Brudos, Richard Speck, and Darrell Gene Devier. The series is actually based on a book, written by a real criminal profiler – John E. Douglas.

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What Mindhunter Got Right

Since it’s based on the novel written by a real criminal profiler, the series is pretty accurate. Holden Ford is based on John E. Douglas, and his characterization is pretty spot on. The interviews are also pretty accurate. In fact, some of the script and quotes were taken from interviews conducted with the serial killers, particularly Kemper’s scenes.

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What Mindhunter Got Wrong

Some liberties were taken with the other protagonists and even with Holden Ford. For example, the whole relationship with Debbie was invented for the show. The interviews also weren’t a problem for anyone as the FBI agents made a point to respect the wishes of the warden. All in all, the book didn’t detail nearly as much pushback from the FBI as the show depicts, but the show is pretty accurate.

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Zodiac

Zodiac depicts the murders of the infamous Zodiac killer from the point of view of a cartoonist who is following the case. It’s an intense thriller that shows how terrifying San Francisco really was during the late '60s and early '70s. It was nominated for quite a few awards and even won some, but how accurate was it really?

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What Zodiac Got Right

The movie did a great job of depicting the people involved to the point where the actors looked eerily similar to the actual individuals involved. That being said, it’s tough to depict a killer that was never truly identified. In general, the film kept key moments of the case but altered it a little for the sake of drama. The real Zodiac did threaten to kill kids off a school bus, mail a piece of the taxi driver’s shirt, and call Melvin Belli on live TV.

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What Zodiac Got Wrong

Zodiac strived for accuracy where it could, but it wasn’t perfect. First of all, Robert Graysmith and Paul Avery had no contact until both left the Chronical years later, meaning every scene involving their friendship was fictional. Another inaccuracy is the scream during the phone call to Melvin Belli. The real call never had the shout, but it was a great selling point for the film. A final huge inaccuracy we want to mention is the Arthur Lee Allen interview. The only thing police heard was Bill White possibly seeing him with bloody knives. 

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The Iceman

The Iceman is the story of Richard Kuklinski, who was a contract killer associated with the American Mafia. All in all, Kuklinski claimed to have killed over 200 people until his arrest in 1986. The film follows this journey as he struggles to work for the mob following his strict morals. In an interview with Michael Shannon, the actor who plays Kuklinski, the movie supposedly focuses on the duality of his life – being both a family man and contract killer.

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What the Iceman Got Right

Kuklinski is a difficult character to portray due to how brutal he really was. The people depicted in the story are pretty accurate. Kuklinski did have a family, worked for Roy DeMeo, and even partnered up with another contract killer, although he was named Robert “Mister Softee” Prongay. In addition to this, he was a contract killer by the age of 19. Finally, he really did have a rule about not killing women.

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What the Iceman Got Wrong

As far as the duality of being a family man, Kuklinski was a frequent abuser. He stabbed his wife at least once and beat her so severely that she miscarried. On top of that, Kuklinski never saved a girl from a sexual predator – that was created out of thin air to humanize Kuklinski. The movie also shows Kuklinski getting a jump on using cyanide to kill someone prior to meeting Mr. Softee (or Mr. Freezy in the film). This is inaccurate as he never used cyanide before meeting Prongay. 

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The Act

The Act is a series on Hulu that tells the story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, a girl who murdered her mother after long-term abuse. Before long, it becomes clear that the mother has Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, although this theory was never confirmed. Overall, Gypsy Rose was treated by at least 150 doctors, all of which Dee Dee did all the talking to give a detailed account of her daughters “symptoms.”

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What the Act Got Right

Much of this horrifying story is accurate. According to Gypsy Rose, many of the medical treatments that Dee Dee forced her daughter through was real. She also did meet her boyfriend online, and he really did kill Dee Dee. Much of the general timeline and story is correct, but other details aren’t so true-to-life.

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What the Act Got Wrong

Many of the relationships in The Act are completely fabricated. One of the biggest is her friendship with Scott, who encouraged her to be more independent. The character was loosely based on a man Gypsy had met at a convention and tried to run away with. Her mother chained her to a bed for two weeks, so Gypsy created an online profile, where she’d later met Nick. It’s important to note that Gypsy Rose didn’t participate in the show’s creation, and the family is considering taking legal action against the creators.

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Monster

Monster was a movie that was based on the real-life serial killer, Aileen Wuornos. She was a woman who posed as a prostitute in order to lure men to an area where she could kill them and take their belongings. The murders occurred between 1989 and 1990. The film itself stars an unrecognizable Charlize Theron as the infamous murderess.

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What Monster Got Right

Aileen Wuornos was most certainly a prostitute, and Selby was semi-real. The real person is named Tyria Moore, and Moore was Wuornos’s longest relationship. In addition to this, Moore did know of at least one of the murders and began to grow suspicious as the killings continued. Wuornos was also sentenced to death and given a lethal injection in 2002.

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What Monster Got Wrong

Pretty much everything else is wrong. The movie humanizes Wuornos in a way that makes you think some of the men deserved to die because she was acting in self-defense. Wuornos herself came out and said she didn’t attack the men out of self-defense. Moore played a much bigger role in convicting Wuornos, but she wasn’t entirely innocent. In the end, Moore agreed to help the police in their case against Wuornos in exchange for immunity.

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Narcos

Narcos is a Netflix series about Pablo Escobar as he becomes one of the most notorious drug dealers the world has ever seen. The show follows Steve Murphy, the real-life DEA agent who was one of the lead investigators during the manhunt of Escobar. For the most part, Netflix tried really hard to stay true to the facts, but that doesn’t mean it got everything right.

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What Narcos Got Right

Considering the series is based on events as remembered by Steve Murphy and his partner, Javier Pena, it’s pretty accurate. Both detectives were extremely dedicated to their jobs and essential to catching Escobar. In summary, Pablo really did run and become a congressman, blow up a plane, and kidnap the justice minister.

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What Narcos Got Wrong

Since it’s based on Murphy and Pena’s accounts, it can be a little biased. For example, Murphy claimed M-19 stormed the Palace of Justice as a cover to burn critical documents. In reality, the documents were burned, but Palace employees set fire to them. Small details are also embellished, like Gacha being ratted out by Navegante, and the role Jorge Salcedo played throughout the whole series.

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Goodfellas

You may not know this, but Goodfellas was based on real people and actual events. Naturally, names were changed and altered for obvious reasons. For example, DeNiro’s character was based on Jimmy “the Gent” Burke. Many people consider Goodfellas to be one of Scorsese’s best films, and it’s definitely worth a watch, but is it true to life?

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What Goodfellas Got Right

Despite changing the character’s names and timelines, the story is surprisingly 95% accurate. Even Joe Pesci’s acting was down pact. While his appearance wasn’t even close to the real Thomas DeSimone, he portrayed the real-life personality of the mobster terrifyingly well.

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What Goodfellas Got Wrong

The biggest thing Goodfellas got wrong is the violence. While it’s described as one of the most violent films out there, the darker parts of the mobsters' real story were dramatically toned down. According to Henry Hill, the real Jimmy “the Gent” Burke was a “homicidal maniac” and was responsible for 50 to 60 murders – far from DeNiro’s cunning and conniving character. 

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11.22.63

This mini-series follows a man who goes back in time to save JFK from being assassinated by finding and stopping Lee Harvey Oswald. Because it stars a character who wasn’t actually alive during the ‘60s, the series naturally took a few liberties. That being said, it isn’t too far from what you’d expect from America during the time period.

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What 11.22.63 Got Right

Staying accurate to the ‘60s was a pretty tough thing to do, but 11.22.63 did a great job. The art and costume department paid close attention to detail. Actor Daniel Webber said that set design made him feel like he was actually in the era through smells, tastes, and textures. As far as the history, many of the basic facts are correct, including the shooter hitting JFK in his convertible from the Texas School Book Depository.
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What 11.22.63 Got Wrong

Since it’s a Stephen King novel, there are going to be a few changes from history. Here are some to keep in mind: Jack Ruby wasn’t a fan of JFK in real life, Oswald likely didn’t try to kill General Walker, George de Mohrenschildt didn't see Oswald after April 1963, and Oswald wasn’t a particularly fantastic marksman. The question of his skill is one reason some people think Oswald wasn’t the actual shooter. 

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My Friend Dahmer

My Friend Dahmer shows us a side of Dahmer we’ve never seen – his teenage years. This is all thanks to being based off a graphic novel written by Dahmer’s high school best friend, John “Derf” Backderf. For this reason, the movie was quite accurate, but it’s important to note that this is based on someone else’s account of Dahmer. That means Backderf couldn’t get it all 100% right.

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What My Friend Dahmer Got Right

Dahmer definitely had a rough childhood. His mother had been in a mental institution, and his parents got a divorce while he was in high school. Dahmer also had a fascination with bones and decaying animals. He would also fanaticize about hurting a male jogger and even waited in the bushes one day with a bat. The director strove for accuracy to a point where he filmed in the house Dahmer grew up in. 

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What My Friend Dahmer Got Wrong

Since My Friend Dahmer was so accurate, it’s hard to find something that it got wrong. That being said, the biggest glaring inaccuracy is the scene when the kids go to DC and meet the Vice President. In the film, it shows the kids meet the VP and speak to him briefly. In reality, the kids could only look at the VP from afar and never said a word to him.

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Dexter

Many people don’t know this, but Dexter could be based on a real-life murderer – Manuel Pardo.  Dexter is a serial killer that satiates himself by killing “bad guys.” He goes after people who are evil in some way like other murderers. At the same time, he works at a crime lab solving crimes as a blood splatter analyst. On both the psychological and crime-solving front, what did Dexter get right and wrong?

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What Dexter Got Right

According to psychopath expert Kevin Dutton, many aspects of his personality are spot on. Some things that often ring true with psychopath's include having violent tendencies as a child and murdering childhood pets. If you look at it compared to his similarity with Pardo, both worked in law enforcement in some way in Miami. Pardo also targeted drug dealers that were trafficking large amounts of narcotics.

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What Dexter Got Wrong

The same psychopath expert claimed that Dexter's voice-over analysis of his actions is extremely unlikely because psychopaths aren’t interested in thinking about their actions as a self-analysis. He's also very attached to his family – something very unusual for his personality type. Compared to Pardo, Dexter works as a blood splatter analyst while Pardo was a cop. Dexter also never robbed anyone, while Pardo went on a three-week robbery and murder spree in 1986.

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