Throughout the years, there have been many attempts to capture the life of Ted Bundy on film, though few have hit the mark. Often, they’re more closely connected to the imagination of the director than actual facts, so I’ve listed my favorite Ted movies. These are based on elements that are closest to fact and in referencing fictional films, whose Ted actor comes closest to his actual mannerisms and behavior.
1. Ted Bundy (2002): My all-time favorite Ted Bundy movie is the aptly named, Ted Bundy. This is a hotly contested pick because most people don’t care for it. That’s okay, because this is my list and I’m basing this on my idea of a good Bundy film. Personally, I like Michael Reilly Burke as Bundy. The first scene where he’s talking to himself in the mirror and making creepy sounds is chilling. Burke has an incredibly disingenuous smile that reminds me of Bundy’s “politician smile.” Not everything in this movie is exact, but it addresses Ted’s love of socks and his history of stealing, something most Bundy movies avoid. Bundy’s well-known story about stealing a large plant and his ability to escape without capture is emphasized. The film alludes to his practice of keeping the heads of some of his Washington state victims and shows both Lake Sammamish abductions. It also includes Liz’s story about Ted pushing her out of a boat then refusing to help her. Overall, though the acting isn’t fantastic, the presentation of Bundy facts is pretty good.
2. The Riverman (2004): While this movie is more about Bundy’s bid to help Washington authorities capture the Green River Killer, Cary Elwes really brings Ted to life. For those of us who have loved Elwes since The Princess Bride, it was no surprise that he did such a great job with the character. Even his “British-sounding American accent” was spot-on, but perhaps he had the advantage since he already has the English accent. His conversations with Bruce Greenwood’s Bob Keppel were insightful and the final reveal where Bundy admits what he was doing with the heads was accurate, if not, completely unnecessary. (We all know what he was doing with the heads!)
3. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019): Here is your chance to listen to the tapes recorded by journalists Hugh Aynesworth and Stephen Michaud, later published in their book “The Only Living Witness.” This movie isn’t where you’ll hear Ted actually accept responsibility for his crimes, but it’s clear that he’s confessing without confessing. The third-person confessions were a way for Ted to brag about his crimes without being legally liable. However, what draws me in is his hearing his voice juxtaposed with the news reports and videos of the era while seeing what the public thought of him while he was in prison and on trial. Considering the amount of media about Bundy in the 1970’s and 1980’s was not nearly as much as we see about serial killers these days, it’s still easy to understand why people were fascinated by him.
4. Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer (2020): Finally we hear Bundy’s story from the brave women around him. Elizabeth Kloepfer, Bundy’s ex-fiancee, tells her tale of love and disappointment after a 7 year long relationship with him (1969-1976). Her daughter, Molly, knew Ted between ages 3-10 and reveals his very shocking and inappropriate behavior in this documentary. Polly Nelson, Bundy’s appeals attorney (read her book, Defending the Devil), explains what life was like trying to save the life of one of America’s most hated men. Carol DaRonch dives into her 1974 escape from the clutches of Ted, and Karen Sparks discusses barely surviving her attack while sleeping in her basement apartment. One of my heroes, Ken Katsaris, is interviewed about Ted’s very public indictment in July 1978 for the murders of the Chi Omega sorority sisters and attempted murders of 3 others in Tallahassee. Other investigators interviewed include Colorado detective Mike Fisher, arresting Pensacola police officer David Lee, King County detective Bob Keppel, among others. This is a very well-made documentary, so you’d do well to watch it.
5. The Deliberate Stranger (1986): This is an oldie, but goodie. Mark Harmon portrays Ted so well that at certain angles, you could almost mistake the two, especially when he’s wearing Ted’s trademark turtleneck! This is a made-for-TV movie, so it can be forgiven for not being completely accurate, but it’s actually a pretty good film. Some of the murder scenes aren’t nearly as graphic as we’ve come to expect in the 21st century, but barring this, watching Bundy’s life story play out again until he’s finally behind bars isn’t so bad when Mark Harmon is playing him. Interestingly enough, per his attorney Polly Nelson, Bundy refused to see this film stating the media was once again assuming he was guilty of the crimes for which he was charged. Bundy was irritated he wasn’t presented to the public as the innocent man he claimed to be.
These may not be the movies you would choose about Bundy, but here is your chance to speak out. Leave a comment giving your favorite Ted Bundy movie and tell me why! Let’s start a conversation.
Great list! I was surprised by Zac Ephron’s portrayal in Shockingky Evil. The scene where he stares down the growling dog until the dog submits gave me chills.
What about Bundy books? What are your favorites?
Thanks so much for your comment, E.C. The dog scene in the new movie never happened, but I believe it was related to Ann Rule’s comment that her dog didn’t like Bundy. Let’s face it, Joe Berlinger took a lot of poetic license with that movie. I’ll be posting a list of my favorite Bundy books later this year, so hang in there, it’s coming! Feel free to comment your favorites here as well.
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Oh, I had no doubt the dog scene was made up, just thought the scene itself was good. I know the film was not particularly factual- like that final “hacksaw” scene that I don’t think was a real thing.
Looking forward to the book lists!
The hacksaw scene was based on a conversation Bundy had with Bill Hagmaier, not with Liz. It wasn’t nearly as dramatic. Stay tuned, maybe the book list will be my new post!
Mark Harmon did “Ted” better than “Ted” did himself. Bundy had moments caught in pics when he looked decent, but overall, his looks were mediocre and he had a flat head, gross teeth, and a strange way of expressing himself. No movie quite captured the true Bundy. As for books, I’d have to say Ann Rule’s book got me hook, line, and sinker!
Thanks! Could you compare and critique the Amazon and Netflix series? I thought both were really good. I generally don’t watch dramatized versions of Bundy, so can’t speak to the movies. I turned Zac Efron off 10 minutes in. I don’t know,—something about them always seems cheesy to me. Probably because I’m so familiar with the real Bundy.
BUT, had never heard of Bundy when I was a young teen watching “The Deliberate Stranger” and was mesmerized by Harmon’s performance! My mom and I watched together and she undoubtedly became more conservative in keeping an eye on me. The randomness of the murders was truly frightening for parents.
Per the above commenter, Ann Rule hooked me too! I think this is the case for a lot of the “more mature” Bundyphiles. Having known little about him at the time, I didn’t realize the factual errors. But for sheer readability, Rule really showed her writer’s chops AND she actually knew him. RIP Ann Rule.
Finally, I too love Ken Katsaris. What a guy. You should think about a blog post in memory of Bob Kepler who died recently. I always wondered how much Bundy info he would take to his grave with him. I’m somewhat conflicted on that topic. I’m sure the entire experience was particularly traumatizing for him. Seemed like a really nice guy.
Sure, I’d be happy review the Amazon & Netflix series about Bundy on a future post. Yes, the Zac Efron movie was pretty much all fantasy. The big “reveal” in that film was actually based on a conversation that Detective Hagmaier had with Bundy, not something Ted told Liz. I will certainly consider a post about Bob Keppel. He was a fantastic detective and I continue to kick myself for not having reached out to him prior to his death. I am very lucky to have spoken with Katsaris for both my blog and my new book. Thanks for your comment!