Top 10 serial killer TV shows of all time


"People are mesmerised by murder. It commands our attention like no other human phenomenon, and those touched by its ugly tendrils never forget," writes evolutionary psychologist David Michael Buss in his eminently readable 'The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill'. Even as he breaks down the reasons for almost all types of murders to evolutionary principles—he theorises that evolution has equipped the human psyche with homicide and anti-homicide tendencies—and establishes that serial murderers are mere outliers, he observes that people are fascinated by murderers of every kind—serial killers, mass murderers, contract killers, spree killers and even the most ordinary people who, one day, snap and kill. This interest is evident from the sheer volume of TV shows and movies that have a serial killer as the protagonist (or antagonist, if you may). In this episode of The Week Recommends, we have compiled a list of some of the finest serial killer TV series that you can stream right now on various platforms.

10. The Mentalist (Amazon Prime)


Patrick Jane is a former psychic medium, roped in by the California Bureau of Investigation to help law enforcement catch killers using his keen observational skills and psychological insight. Jane, played by Simon Baker, has a troubled past. A few years before the show's pilot episode, he incurred the wrath of a serial killer, Red John, after he claimed that he helped the police profile the latter. Angered, Red Johan murders Jane's wife and daughter. Even as he helps CBI solve various crimes, Jane's ultimate aim is to track down Red John. The show, which ran from 2008 to 2015, is a perfect mix of crime procedural and mystery and will keep you hooked till the end. Baker has been praised for his portrayal of Jane, with The Los Angeles Times calling the actor "virtually irresistible."

ALSO READ : Top 10 thriller series on Netflix

9. Prodigal Son


Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne) is a gifted psychologist who used to work with the FBI as a profiler. He has a troubled past; his father, Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen), is the infamous serial killer known as 'the Surgeon' who committed 23 murders and is incarcerated in an asylum. Gil, an NYPD lieutenant, seeks Bright's assistance to track down a copycat killer who has been inspired by 'the Surgeon'. While the show has plenty of engaging 'crimes of the week', its prime focus is on the dynamics of the charismatic father-son duo and Bright's uncanny ability to view crimes from the perspective of the killer. While Prodigal Son may not be the most original crime show that there is despite trying too hard to shock you with graphic violence, it boasts of some serious acting chops from both Sheen and Payne. If you are a fan of the genre and are looking for something familiar yet engaging, this is certainly a good try.

8. The Fall (Netflix)


Set in Northern Ireland, The Fall, created by Allan Cubitt, follows Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, played by Gillian Anderson, as she tracks down a serial killer who is targetting young women in Belfast. The killer, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), is a seemingly normal, handsome family man with a loving wife and a daughter. But this Nietzsche-quoting serial killer is as twisted as they come. Critics called the show "less sensationalistic and more provocative than most police procedurals." The show goes for tension-building instead of shock value, and there are plenty of twists along the way. The Fall has won a series of awards, including the Irish Film and Television Awards for Best Television Drama and Webby Awards for Best Actress. Although not a groundbreaking show, this cat-and-mouse serial killer thriller is gritty, tense, and well-acted and will surely keep you engaged.

ALSO READ : Top 10 sci-fi series on Netflix

7. Mr. Mercedes


Retired detective Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) is haunted by an unsolved case involving a stolen Mercedes and a massacre at a local job fair. Based on the Bill Hodges novel trilogy by Stephen King, Mr. Mercedes, a cat-and-mouse game between the former detective and a young psychopath, Brady Hartsfield, is a character-driven show with plenty of tension and suspense. Hodges is forced to team up with some unlikely allies, including a teenage boy and a neurotic woman, in his attempts to stop Hartsfield from carrying out his nefarious designs. Set in a bleak Midwestern town, the show, which aired from 2017 to 2019, explores the themes of isolation, obsession and psychological trauma. Mr. Mercedes is elevated by the riveting performances by Gleeson and Harry Treadaway, who plays Hartsfield. If you are in for a moody, atmospheric thriller with great performances, Mr. Mercedes is certainly a great pick.

6. Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Netflix)


Between 1978 and 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17 people, dismembered their bodies, and consumed their body parts. Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, a 10-episode limited series, created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, delves into the grotesque and deranged psyche of Dahmer. The compelling performance of Evan Peters as Dahmer manages to bring you right into the centre of the mind of a truly unhinged man with no remorse. The show, however, isn't just about a madman's murders, it also sheds light on the systemic failure of the police force that is reluctant to act promptly when the victim happens to be a person of colour. Engaging, brutal, chaotic, and unflinching in its portrayal of violence, this true-crime series is sure to send chills down your spine even as it sometimes tends to fall into the foregone genre of exploitation. The show has won a series of awards, including the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Limited Series for Peters.

5. Bates Motel (Jio Cinema)


The 1960 film Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock is arguably one of the finest thriller movies ever made in Hollywood. Based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch, the movie revolved around the investigation into the disappearance of Marion Crane who stayed at the motel owned by Norman Bates. Bates Motel, starring Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga, which ran from 2013 to 2017, is a prequel to Psycho and explores the complex dynamic between Norman and his mother Norma Bates. Set in the fictional town of White Pine Bay, Oregon, the series is a contemporary reimagining of the events that turned Norman into the killer that we saw in Hitchcock's Psycho. The show begins with a murder and a cover-up after Norma and Norman purchase a motel and move into a new town. More murders follow as Norman's mental health deteriorates and Norma attempts to protect him. A perfect blend of psychological horror, family drama, and thriller, Bates Motel is a masterfully crafted and hauntingly atmospheric show that is bound to engage if you are a fan of the genre and loved Psycho.

4. You (Netflix)


Joe Goldberg, a bookstore manager in New York, appears to be a harmless, nerdy young man. You may even find him likable and charming albeit a bit reclusive. He can talk to you about your favourite novel, character and can suggest you books that you are sure to fall in love with. But that's until he meets the girl (or girls, as he tends to fall in love often) he thinks he loves. And from then begins a sinister and twisted game of obsessive stalking, manipulation, deception, and murders. Let not the charming and innocent looks deceive you, Joe is capable of going to any length for the women he falls in love with and to keep them in his control. Based on the books by Caroline Kepnes, the series, starring the dashing Penn Badgley in the lead, isn't just about love, obsession, childhood trauma, and murders. It also serves as a commentary on class and privilege, the follies of the rich and elite, and perceptions of morality. This brilliantly crafted psychological series is sure to interest you if you are fascinated by shows with compelling characters, chilling plot twists, and grisly murders.

ALSO READTop 10 horror series on Netflix

3. Dexter (Amazon Prime Video, Jio Cinema)


A pioneer when it comes to modern TV shows on serial killers, Dexter, based on the 'Dexter' book series by Jeff Lindsay, is about a serial killer with a strict moral code. Dexter Morgan is an emotionally detached, highly intelligent blood spatter analyst working with the Miami Police Department. The soft-spoken Dexter, who has a very traumatic 'origin story', can't resist his urge to kill—he calls this urge his 'dark passenger'. But thanks to a strict 'moral' code that his stepfather instilled in him, he only kills the truly abominable, and only after establishing that his victims are guilty. He kills them after reminding them of their transgressions and shows them their victims. If you are in for an edge-of-the-seat thriller, with plenty of murders and suspenseful drama, Dexter is for you. Michael C. Hall is phenomenal in his portrayal of the complex protagonist who wrestles with his moral dilemmas and inner demons even as trying to as normal as possible for the people around him. Another actor who excels in the show is Jennifer Carpenter, who plays Dexter's adoptive sister and co-worker Debra Morgan. The show was nominated for several awards, including the Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy, and Hall won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in 2020. There are eight seasons of the show for you to binge, and a 10-episode limited series Dexter: New Blood which follows the events of the show's finale.

2. Mindhunter (Netflix)


Based on the true-crime book 'Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit' by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, Mindhunter, helmed by Joe Penhall and starring Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, and Anna Torv in the lead, is about FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench who pioneered the development of serial-killer profiling for the bureau. The two seasons of the series follow Ford and Trench as they interview some of the most prolific serial murderers in the US—of course, their fictional versions—, including Edmund Kemper, Dennis Rader (BTK), Montie Rissell, David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) and Charles Manson among others, to understand their psyche and apply the knowledge to solve future cases. This finely crafted, slow-burning show stays away from everything formulaic about the genre and focuses its attention on the science behind deplorable human behaviour and the rituals and patterns of those who kill for thrill. You don't get pulsating chases or standoffs in this show, but there are plenty of finely written, chilling moments that are bound to scare you as the two leading men interact with pure evil. If you are in the mood for more science and psychology, fantastic performances and slow procedural, Mindhunter is right up your alley.

1. Hannibal


It would be an understatement to say that Hannibal Lecter is one of the most terrifying fictional serial killers. The 1991 movie, The Silence of the Lambs, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring one of the prolific Hollywood actors of our times, Anthony Hopkins as Lecter, is counted among horror classics like Nosferatu and Psycho. If you were mesmerized by the performance of Hopkins as the suave serial killer and cannibal, and thought that there was nothing more to explore in the character of Lecter, wait till you see Mads Mikkelsen don the straitjacket in Hannibal. Developed by Bryan Fuller, the series, starring Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, follows FBI profiler Graham who is being manipulated by forensic psychiatrist Lecter. The bureau brings together the duo to catch killers, but Lecter is only interested in Graham as he is intrigued by the latter's ability to empathize with anyone, including psychopaths. Spanning three seasons, the show has been highly praised for its performances, visual style, and storytelling. But mind you, this show isn't for the faint-hearted as Hannibal does not shy away from going to great lengths to shock the viewers with graphic scenes—there are murder tableaus that may freak you out and the violence is perverse and macabre. If you have the stomach for it, Hannibal is indeed a wild ride!

Join our WhatsApp Channel to get the latest news, exclusives and videos on WhatsApp