This Is the Zodiac Speaking: Movies inspired by the real serial killer


Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are the two cops – one a weary and cynical veteran, the other a young and impulsive hotshot – who are put on the case of a killer who stages gruesome murders modeled on the Seven Sins capital. Like he would with the cops in Zodiac 12 years later, Fincher portrays his detectives as men driven to the brink of madness by the almost supernatural web the killer weaves, while the murderer taunts them with clues and messages.

While SevenJohn Doe (Kevin Spacey) has a motive for what he does and allows himself to be captured as part of his plan – something that certainly never happened with the Zodiac – both the fictional killer and the real life seem like they come from another, darker world, judging us in ways we can’t begin to understand.

Zodiac (2007)

David Fincher’s masterful combination of psychological suspense and engrossing procedural remains the final cinematic word on the subject of the Zodiac Killer as it reaches the 15th anniversary of its release. Fincher and screenwriter James Vanderbilt craft an immersive, information-rich but still chilling mystery in which their main characters – several hard-nosed cops (Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards), a burnt-out reporter (Robert Downey Jr.) and an obsessive newspaper cartoonist ( Jake Gyllenhaal) – all begin to show signs of damage as their probes hit wall after wall.

The filmmakers finger Arthur Leigh Allenthe only suspect ever named by police in the case, as the zodiac and film lean heavily in favor of that outcome, but even then Zodiac fucks with your mind even more, replacing a final resolution with an open sense of unease that lingers long after the film is over. Whether or not you agree with their conclusions, the film is an enormous well of knowledge about the killer and a truly brilliant document of a time, place, and ever-baffling enigma.

The Batman Riddler
Pictures from Warner Bros.

The Batman (2022)

Forget Frank Gorshin’s Laughing, But Still Oddly Menacing Prince of Puzzlers of Old Batman TV series or live cartoon rendition of Jim Carrey’s “It Goes to 11” of the same basic model. The Riddler in Matt Reeves The Batman, and played by Paul Dano, may wear a suit, but his mask and olive green terrorist-like military jacket are a far cry from the neon lime jumpsuits worn by his two predecessors. It’s as radical a reimagining of Edward Nashton/Nygma as ever, and it matches the dark, funereal Gotham City that Reeves created for his epic.

The Riddler here is a hybrid of John Doe and the Zodiac, throwing in copious amounts of clues and numbers while weaving the morbidly staged tableaux of his victims into his puzzles (there’s a bit of Jigsaw to Seen there too, although The Batman pushes against but does not cross his PG-13 line). Dano even dons goggles similar to those displayed in a famous font sketch of the Zodiac, but he’s a bit more like John Doe in what drives him to commit his horrific crimes.


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