But for some biopics and dramatizations, a charming, charismatic actor is ideal for the role of these persuasive criminals. And for others, a serious disguise is necessary to ensure that a stunningly hot actor embodies both the character's dramatic personality and eerie looks without a hitch.
Some of the country's most notorious serial killers and cult leaders have been reimagined for the big and small screen, and the following 10 projects have cast a seriously attractive lead to either show off their good looks or hide them deeply under pounds of makeup, prosthetic features or props.
Check out their transformations and learn more about the disturbing real-life characters they portrayed below.
Zac Efron was tapped to portray Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a biopic that is currently in production. The actor dons fuller hair and a dated wardrobe, but he didn't have to drop any of his muscle for the role, as Bundy was known for his handsome, charismatic features.
In reality, Bundy used that charm to lure his victims in before sexually assaulting, killing and sometime performing lewd acts on his victims' corpses. He was executed in 1989 at age 42 after confessing to murdering 30 women, including a 12-year-old. Police speculate that the true number of victims at Bundy's hands may be much higher than he revealed.
For FX's The Assassination of Gianni Versace, showrunners cast former Glee star Darren Criss to play Andrew Cunanan, the man who murdered famed fashion designer Gianni Versace. The show began its 10-episode run in January to highliht the happenings surrounding Cunanan's killing spree and Versace's final days.
Like Bundy, Cunanan was known for his charm and wit, as well as his pathological lies to position himself as a variety of different characters, from the son of a farmer to the a male escort or celebrity figure. Before he shot and killed Versace in 1997 on the front steps of the designer's home in Miami, Cunanan killed at least four other people.
He was put on the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted List, but police did not detain him before he ended his life via a gunshot eight days after killing Versace. He was 27 years old.
Keeping in line with the teen stars-turned-actors playing serial killers (like Efron and Criss), Disney's Austin & Ally star Ross Lynch morphed into Jeffrey Dahmer for the 2017 film My Friend Dahmer. The movie focused primarily on the years before Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, began his killing spree in 1978.
Though he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder and a psychotic disorder, Dahmer was found fit to stand trial for the murders and body dismemberment of 17 men, 16 of which he was found guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and died in 1994 after being beaten to death by a fellow inmate at 34 years old.
Actress Charlize Theron channeled serial killer Aileen Wuornos for the 2003 film Monster, a project by Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins which chronicled Wuornos' story from childhood until her first murder conviction.
Wuornos murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990 by shooting them at point-blank range. She claimed that all of the killings were in self-defense as all of the men either raped her or attempted to rape her while she was working as a prostitute.
Despite her own justification, Wuornos was convicted of six of the murders and was sentenced to death; she was executed by lethal injection in 2002 at 46 years old.
Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch, who played Tim Riggins in Friday Night Lights, returned to Texas to portray cult leader David Koresh for Paramount's TV minseries Waco, which premiered in January.
Koresh was the leader of the Branch Davidian religious cult that made headlines in 1993 when a federal raid of their compound led to a 51-day hostage-style siege. In the initial gunfight, four ATF Bureau agents and six Davidians were killed and Koresh was reportedly shot, but he lived until the FBI was cleared to charge the compound and the remaining Branch Davidians burned the center. Barricaded inside the building, Koresh and 78 others died amidst the blaze, including 22 children.
Following his death, several ex-members of Koresh's cult have since accused him of child abuse and statutory rape.
For NBC's show Aquarius, Gethin Anthony, who played Renly Baratheon in Game of Thrones, channeled notorious cult leader Charles Manson for two seasons in 2015-2016. While the series focused on fictional Det. Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny), the plot centered around work to track down the famed killer.
In reality, Manson formed what became known as the Manson Family community in California in the '60s and alongside the group, he murdered or conspired to murder at least nine people, including actress Sharon Tate and her unborn child. His belief in "Helter Skelter," an impending apocalyptic race war, is what allegedly drove him to issue the killings, lending his group to be positioned as insane and violent.
Manson was originally sentenced to death, but his sentence was altered to life with the possibility of parole after California revoked the death penalty statute in 1972. He served out his life sentence at California State Prison and died in November 2017 at age 83.
In FX's 2017 series American Horror Story: Cult, Evan Peters got to play four famous cult leaders, in addition to the show's main character and group leader Kai. Peters played Koresh, who Kai viewed as a spiritual mentor, as well as Manson, Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite.
As Jones (pictured above), Peters disguised himself to portray an American religious leader of the Peoples Temple cult, who initiated a mass suicide and mass murder in Jonestown, Guyana. Nearly three decades after the group's creation, reports that human rights abuses were taking place in the Peoples Temple in Jonestown in 1978 led US Congressman Leo Ryan to launch an investigation into the cult; he and others were shot and killed whole boarding a flight with ex-members of the group.
Jones then committed a mass suicide of 918 of his followers by forcing them to drink cyanide-laced punch. His actions, referred to as the Jonestown Massacre, sparked the American-English phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid."
Also in AHS: Cult, Peters portrayed Applewhite, leader of the Heaven's Gate cult that committed mass suicide in 1997.
Sonny Valicanti portrayed an eerie ADT serviceman in Netflix's series Mindhunter, which premiered in 2017. While the show has not named him outright, the character is widely thought to be Dennis Rader, a mustached man known as the BTK Killer or BTK Strangler.
Rader gave himself the name BTK in one of his many letters to police and the media, which stands for “bind, torture, kill” — his preferred method of execution. Rader's killings occurred between 1974 and 1991, but he was not caught by authorities until 2005.
He is currently serving 10 consecutive life sentences in Kansas after being convicted of and confessing to 10 murders.
Leonardo DiCaprio is set to reunite with director Martin Scorsese to star in The Devil In the White City, a film based on Erik Larson's nonfiction book of the same name. The film is currently in development and does not have a release date.
The story follows serial killer H.H Holmes, a man who constructed a "Murder Castle" hotel for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago that was equipped with hidden passages, gas chambers and a crematorium to carry out his madness.
Before his 1896 execution, Holmes confessed to murdering at least 27 people, but he was suspected of carrying out several more slayings. In many reports, Holmes was regarded as America's first serial killer.