10 Riveting True Crime Movies Made In The '80s

These 1980's films brought true crimes to life. The movies shed light on riveting incidents and in some cases even brought justice to the victims. 

By Gina Tron

Oxygen Digital is kicking off its first-ever themed month in June with Crimes of the '80s. We'll explore big trends (drug cartels), sensational cases ("The Preppy Killer"), the decade's most lethal and infamous serial killers (The Night Stalker, The Grim Sleeper) and more. 

1. Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, 1980

[Getty Images]

This film depicts the horrible true crime of how the Peoples Temple cult figure Jim Jones led more than 900 people to commit a mass suicide via cyanide in 1978 in Guyana, including a death count of 300 children. The followers drank grape Flavor-Aid, which was mixed with poison before their death.

2. Henry: Portrait Of a Serial Killer, 1986

Based on a haunting tale, this criticially acclaimed film is about the murderes orchestrated by Henry Lucas and Ottis Toole. Toole was convicted of six murders and Lucas was convicted of 11, but the lovers confessed to hundreds more. The two have also confessed to cannibalism. Lucas met Toole at a soup kitchen in 1976 and the pair soon began a sexual relationship. Together they began abducting, raping, and murdering people while drifting around the country. Many of their alleged murders took place in the early ‘80s.

3. The Thin Blue Line, 1988

This well known film is often considered to be one of the most influential true crime movies to date. The film blends documentary elements with re-enactments to illustrate the story of Randall Dale Adams, a man wrongfully convicted of murdering a police officer. Adams was sentenced to death for the crime, but this movie actually helped him get released a year after the film first screened.

4. A Cry In The Dark, 1988

[Getty Images]

This film depicts the infamous death of Azaria Chamberlain, an Australian baby who vanished during a 1980 camping trip with her parents. The true crime inspired the infamous quote “A dingo ate my baby.” The movie, which stars Meryl Streep and Sam Neil, shows the aftermath of the baby’s disappearance as the parents struggle with the media storm that ensued after the couple was accused of murdering their baby. It was later confirmed, in 2012, that a dingo actually did snatch the baby.

5. Sid and Nancy, 1986

[Chicago Art Department]

This film portrays the life of the true life murder-suicide of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. The punk rock icon was accused of killing Spungen at NYC’s Hotel Chelsea in 1978. Both were addicted to heroin and knee-deep in a toxic relationship. During an argument, a suicidal Spugen begs to be killed. She attacks Vicious and they fight, resulting in him stabbing her to death. Then, the two apparently fell asleep. A little later, Spungen stumbled into the bathroom, and died. After his arrest, Vicious is bailed out only to commit suicide by an intentional heroin overdose. Fun fact: Courtney Love also makes an appearance in this movie. She originally auditioned tfor the role of Nancy.

6. Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story, 1981

[Alan Light]

Dorothy Stratten, 20,  was the 1980 Playboy Playmate of the Year. She was also murdered by her controlling, estranged husband, Paul Snider that same year.  After shooting his 20-year-old wife, Snider killed himself. Jamie Lee Curtis played the slain playmate.

7. The Atlanta Child Murders, 1985

This film depicts a two-year period (from 1979-1981) in Atlanta when 28 African-American children and adults were murdered. Wayne Williams, 23, was charged with two of the adult murders, but many citizens felt Williams was being used as a scapegoat. The film stars big names like Morgan Freeman, Bill Paxton and Martin Sheen. Williams was convicted of the two adult murders and sentenced to life in prison. Atlanta police announced he was responsible for 23 of the 29 killings but to this day Williams has continued to maintain his innocence.

8. I Know My First Name Is Steven, 1989

This film is based on the true story of a 7-year-old boy who was kidnapped, given a new name, and sexually abused for seven years. Then, the victim remembered his real name and turned his abuser, Kenneth Parnell, in to police. Steven Stayner also saved another boy that Parnell had forced Stayer help kidnap. Stayner was returned to his family and it seemed like a happy ending. Unfortunately, for him and his family the tragedy did not end there. He worked as a technical adviser on the movie, but was killed soon after in a 1989 motorcycle accident. Timothy White, the other boy he saved, served as a pallbearer at his funeral. Stayner’s brother is currently on death row after being convicted of killing four people in Yosemite in 1999.

9. Small Sacrifices, 1989

[Public Domain]

Farrah Fawcett plays Diane Downs in this true crime made-for-TV movie. Downs murdered one of her children in 1983 and attempted to kill her other children after engaging in an affair with a married man (played by Ryan O'Neal), who told her he didn’t want children. I guess her sick plan to win his heart didn’t work. He broke up with Downs and returned to his wife. Fawcett earned both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for the performance, and the movie earned a Peabody Award and an Outstanding Miniseries Emmy nomination. Downs is eligible to be paroled in 2020.

10. The Untouchables, 1987

[Public Domain]

Director Brian De Palma depicted the real life story of FBI agent Elliot Ness in this classic film. The movie stars Kevin Costner as Ness, who tries to take down Al Capone, played by Robert De Niro, in Prohibition era Chicago. Ness joined the Bureau of Prohibition in 1927, and assembling a team of Prohibition enforcement personnel known as "The Untouchables," all to fight the illegal activities of Capone. Ness has been credited for turning around Cleveland, Ohio at a time when the city was ripe with corruption. He reported exposed about 200 crooked police officers and brought 15 other officials to trial for criminal behavior.  The film also stars Sean Connery.

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