11 of Your Favorite Actors Who Play Notorious Real-Life Killers on Screen

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Zac Efron & Ross Lynch have more in common than you realized. In recent months, the High School Musical alum and the Austin & Ally frontman completely shed their Disney Channel images (though, Zac’s been working on getting rid of his DC image for years at this point) and opted for one of the most controversial roles you can ever tackle: that of a real-life serial killer.

We know, it’s like… Zac?? Ross?? Look at their faces! But, let that be a lesson to you: There isn’t one “look” for criminals; they can be male, female, non-binary, short, tall, fat, skinny, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, white, black, Asian, Latino, etc. And TV/movie execs apparently saw something in the aforementioned two stars, along with the following nine faves, to make ’em think they’d make for good on-screen murderers.

WARNING: The subject matter is pretty heavy, so proceed with caution.

Zac Efron

ROLE: Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

The heartthrob's come a long way since his High School Musical days. Not only is he starring in the upcoming big-screen version of Baywatch — out in theaters May 25 — but he was just cast in the newest project about notorious serial killer Ted Bundy.

Like NCIS' Mark Harmon, the 29-year-old actor will be tackling the role of the famed murderer, kidnapper, rapist, burglar, and necrophile, among other things. This story, however, will be told from the perspective of Ted's longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer, who went years denying the accusations against her lover, but, ultimately, turned him in to the police.

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

Leonardo DiCaprio

ROLE: H. H. Holmes in The Devil in the White City

Though not confirmed, it sounds like Leo will be portraying a real-life mass murderer in one of his upcoming flicks, The Devil in the White City.

Multiple reports suggest that for the Oscar-winner's sixth film with director Martin Scorsese (after Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street), he'll be stepping into Dr. Henry Howard Holmes' shoes. If you're not familiar, triple H is one of the first documented serial killers. (He confessed to 27(!) murders in the 1800s.)

LD purchased the film rights to the book in 2010, but there was talk of its fruition as recently as 2016.

Photo: WENN

Ross Lynch

ROLE: Jeffrey Dahmer in My Friend Dahmer

The 21-year-old has proven to be a versatile talent. He's the lead singer in a band (R5), he was the star of a Disney Channel television series (Austin & Ally) and he's about to play a serial killer. Wow.

"My Friend Dahmer is basically the coming-of-age story of Jeffrey Dahmer," Ross told EW in April 2017. "I play Jeffrey Dahmer around his high school years. [It's about] how he became the serial killer that we know him to be."

"I was looking for a role that would somewhat be a challenge for me," he explained. "I had done a lot of work with Disney, and sort of a younger demographic, and I was excited to do something that maybe people didn't expect from me. And I had a really good time doing it."

The film is to be released this fall.

Photo: FilmRise

Jeremy Renner

ROLE: Jeffrey Dahmer in Dahmer

Prior to Ross, the Avengers star portrayed the guy who murdered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991 — and he did a really good job in the 2002 movie. Director Kathryn Bigelow said the reason she cast Jeremy in The Hurt Locker was because of his performance in Dahmer.

Photo: Peninsula Films

Charlize Theron

ROLE: Aileen Wuornos in Monster

In 2003, the usually-stunning actress from Snow White and the Huntsman looked her worst while portraying Aileen Wuornos, a former prostitute who was convicted of killing six men (though, there's said to be a seventh) in the late '80s/early '90s.

Thanks to her incredible portrayal of the criminal, Charlize scored an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Photo: Newmarket Films

Hayden Panettiere

ROLE: Amanda Knox in Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy

The Lifetime Movie is based on the murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, and the subsequent trials of the suspects, including Amanda Knox, who was Meredith's roommate.

Yes, technically, if you want to get all technical and whatnot, Amanda is not serving time for committing a murder. The young woman, whom Hayden portrays in the flick, was arrested, convicted of the murder... then acquitted. Nevertheless, many still see Amanda as guilty, especially the victim's family. The one serving time for the crime, however, is Rudy Guede.

"I hope, I don't think the family will be upset about the way it was put together," Hayden said around the time of the program's release.

Photo: Lifetime

Gary Oldman

ROLE: Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK

In 1991, Harry Potter alum Gary Oldman was given the task of bringing Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated President John F. Kennedy, to life in Oliver Stone's JFK.

Before filming began, the director reportedly gave Gary several plane tickets, a list of contacts and told him to research for the part on his own. During the process, GO met with the murderer's wife and two daughters. That must've been one uncomfortable meeting.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Alyssa Milano

ROLE: Amy Fisher in Casualties of Love: The "Long Island Lolita" Story

There are a LOT of adaptations based on Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco's ~love~ story. This 1993 tale, which featured Alyssa as Amy Fisher (a.k.a. the Long Island Lolita) was the third made-for-television movie.

In case you didn't know, when Amy was 17, she shot Mary Jo Buttafuoco, the wife of her lover, Joey Buttafuoco. Despite being a teen at the time, she was initially charged with first-degree attempted murder. However, she eventually pled guilty to first-degree aggravated assault and served seven years in prison.

Photo: CBS

Drew Barrymore

ROLE: Amy Fisher in The Amy Fisher Story

On the same night, and at the same time, the Alyssa Milano version of Amy Fisher's tale went to television on CBS, the Drew Barrymore version hit ABC. Drew's, however, garnered higher TV ratings and critical praise.

Photo: ABC

Michael Rooker

ROLE: Henry Lee Lucas in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Nowadays, Michael is known for his portrayal of Yondu Udonta in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. In the '80s, though, it was for his loose portrayal of real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, a man who was convicted of murdering 157 people!!!

Photo: Greycat Films

Laura Prepon

ROLE: Karla Homolka in Karla

As That '70s Show came to an end, but long before Orange is the New Black was even a glimmer, the actress starred in Karla, as its leading lady.

Along with her husband, Paul Bernardo, the Canadian serial killer raped and murdered at least three young women in the early '90s. However, she claimed that her husband was abusive, and that she was an unwilling accomplice to the murders. So, she struck a deal: a reduced prison sentence or 12 years in exchange for a guilty plea for manslaughter.

Photo: Quantum Entertainment

You can reach this post’s author, Kaitlin Cubria, on Twitter and Instagram!

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  • Nicole Ebejer

    How about Darren Criss as the Versace killer on American Crime Story? The episode isn’t technically out yet but it’s worth the mention. Also thanks for everything, this site has helped me out a ton <3, Nicole.