Entertainment

Nearly 2 in 3 Americans Are Fans of Serial Killer Content

U.S. adults say that understanding the psychology of serial killers is the main reason they’re interested in watching TV shows and movies about them, according to a new survey

Image of Evan Peters as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in Netflix's “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
Evan Peters as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the Netflix series "Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story." Nearly 4 in 5 millennials said they’re fans of serial killer content, according to a recent Morning Consult survey. (Courtesy of Netflix)

Netflix Inc.’s new series, “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” a graphic retelling of the titular serial killer’s 17 murders intertwined with the stories of some of his victims, is a massive hit. It’s now the streaming service’s second most-watched English-language series of all time with more than 700 million hours viewed since its debut last month, the company announced.

That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. America has long had an obsession with depictions of serial killers — and now new data proves it.

A recent Morning Consult survey reveals that nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (62%) said they are fans of TV shows or movies about serial killers, while a quarter of U.S. adults describe themselves as “avid” fans of the genre. Nearly 80% of millennials said they’re fans of serial killer content.

America Loves Serial Killer Content

Respondents were asked what kind of fan they consider themselves of shows/movies about serial killers

Survey conducted Oct. 5-7, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

Millennials are most likely to say they’re fans of shows and movies about serial killers

  • Men (65%) were slightly more likely than women (60%) to say they are fans of shows or movies about serial killers. Among generations, millennials (78%) and Gen Zers (74%) were most likely to say they are fans, compared with 67% of Gen Xers and 45% of baby boomers. Studios casting popular actors like Evan Peters, Ross Lynch and Zac Efron as killers like Dahmer and Ted Bundy may increase interest among younger generations — though some have argued against doing so.
  • The majority of U.S. adults (74%) said they have seen, read or heard about Jeffrey Dahmer, while a quarter said they have watched Netflix’s Dahmer series and enjoyed it. The popularity of the series has resulted in several of Netflix’s many serial killer documentaries entering the platform’s Top 10 list this week
  • A&E’s “Bates Motel” (38%), NBC’s “Hannibal” (38%), Showtime’s “Dexter” (37%), Netflix’s “You” (28%) and HBO’s “True Detective” (28%) were among the top TV series about serial killers that respondents said they have watched, in addition to the Dahmer series (36%). “The Silence of the Lambs” (69%) was the top serial killer movie respondents said they have seen, followed by “Psycho” (52%), “Seven” (38%) and “American Psycho” (38%). 
  • About 3 in 4 U.S. adults (76%) said they are true crime fans, while 2 in 5 said there is too much media content about serial killers.
Americans Say the Biggest Reason They Watch Serial Killer Content Is to Understand the Killer’s Psychology

Respondents were asked if the following was a minor or major reason, or not a reason at all, for why they find content about serial killers interesting:

Survey conducted Oct. 5-7, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,580 U.S. adults interested in serial killer content, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

The psychology of serial killers

  • Among U.S. adults who are interested in serial killer content, 89% said “the psychology of the serial killer” is a reason they find the content interesting, while 84% cited “the suspense” as a reason. According to experts, many viewers are drawn to this type of content because it serves as a form of escapism, or due to the adrenaline rush it provides.
  • About 7 in 10 U.S. adults (72%) said they find content about serial killers interesting because it helps them feel more informed about the world. Morning Consult data found that more than half of U.S. adults (52%) said it is appropriate to learn about serial killers by watching a fictionalized TV show or movie about their life.
  • Netflix has received backlash for its Dahmer series, with some in the LGBTQ community, as well as family members of the real-life victims, speaking out against the show, saying it glorifies serial killers and is forcing them to relive their trauma.

Hollywood’s approach to serial killers

Despite some backlash, it doesn’t appear that studios are going to stop pushing out serial killer content anytime soon, given the genre performs so well. But putting more of an emphasis on the victims and their stories, rather than solely rehashing a killer’s crimes, could be a way forward. 

For now, Netflix, among others, is moving full steam ahead: Up next on its release slate is “The Good Nurse,” a movie about serial killer Charles Cullen, starring A-listers Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain. HBO has another season of “True Detective” on the way, while a film about the infamous Boston Strangler is also in the works at Hulu. Netflix did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

The Oct. 5-7, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.