Zodiac Killer in popular culture

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The crosshair-like symbol used by the Zodiac Killer in signing his correspondence

The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer who operated in Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s. His identity remains unknown. His crimes, letters and cryptograms to police and newspapers inspired many movies, novels, television and more.

This article lists only entertainment ("popular culture") inspired by the events, not documentary media.


  • The Zodiac Killer (released April 6, 1971) was directed by Tom Hanson and starred Hal Reed and Bob Jones.[1]
  • Dirty Harry (released on December 23, 1971), directed by Don Siegel, was filmed in San Francisco. In the movie, which is very loosely based on the Zodiac case, the killer (played by Andrew Robinson), who calls himself "Scorpio", at certain points sends intimidating letters, with the handwriting based on the real life killer's and kidnaps a school bus full of children and threatens to kill them all.[2][3]
  • The "Gemini Killer" in the movie The Exorcist III (released on August 17, 1990) was also loosely based on the Zodiac Killer.[4]
  • The Zodiac Killer is mentioned in the film The Addams Family Values (1993). While at Summer camp, Wednesday, Pugsley and Joel go over a set of "Schizos and Serial Killers" trading cards, with Joel mentioning the only cards he doesn't have are "Jack The Ripper and that Zodiac guy". Pugsley then offers to trade an Amy Fisher card for Joel's Black Widow card.
  • A short film entitled Disguised Killer (2000) was produced in Vallejo; set in the present, it is based on the Lake Herman Road murders.[5]
  • In 2005, Lions Gate Entertainment released The Zodiac Killer. Set in the modern day, the films features a nursing home employee who begins copycatting the Zodiac, angering the original killer, who is revealed to be a member of a moralistic secret society, and who has been living under the guise of Zodiac expert Simon Vale (portrayed by writer and director Ulli Lommel). Two years later, the company released Curse of the Zodiac, a loose retelling of the original murders, also written and directed by Lommel.[6]
  • In 2006, THINKFilm released The Zodiac.
  • Hunting the Zodiac, a documentary by John Mikulenka, was screened for the public in San Francisco on March 3, 2007 at the 4Star Theater.[7]
  • Zodiac, directed by David Fincher, is based on the two non-fiction books by Robert Graysmith: Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America's Most Elusive Serial Killer. Filming locations included San Francisco and Los Angeles, and it opened in theaters nationwide on March 2, 2007.[8]
  • The Zodiac Killer made a brief appearance in a flashback scene of the Martin McDonagh film Seven Psychopaths in 2012. Here he is presented as a down-to-Earth hippy who lives with a number of white rabbits and displays a Gandhi poster on his wall.


  • According to an interview with Jim Morrison, The Doors' song "Riders on the Storm", from 1971, is partly based on the Zodiac Killer.[citation needed]
  • The death metal band Macabre's album "Sinister Slaughter", from 1993, features a song entitled "Zodiac", about the killer.[9]
  • The bottom of the cover art of Guns N' Roses' album "The Spaghetti Incident?", from 1993, contains a code using the killer's symbols, which has been deciphered as "fuck'em all".[10]
  • San Francisco metal band Machine Head's 1997 album The More Things Change... features "Blood of the Zodiac", inspired by the Zodiac killer.
  • The Japanese horror punk band Balzac have a side project band, founded in 2004, consisting of the same band members that is called Zodiac. Song lyrics make frequent references to the words and actions of the Zodiac Killer.
  • German EBM band SAM 2008 album "Synthetic Adrenaline Music" features a track called "Zodiac Killer".
  • Kamelot's album Poetry for the Poisoned, from 2010, features two songs, "Dear Editor" and "The Zodiac", about the Zodiac Killer.[11]
  • The song "National Disgrace" by Atmosphere contains a reference to The Zodiac Killer.
  • Japanese doom metal band Church of Misery wrote a song about the Zodiac in 2013 entitled "Sick of Living", quoting Zodiac's cryptic nature and the infamous piece of poetry carved under the desktop in the Riverside City College library.
  • American deathrock band Christian Death's 2000 album Born-Again Antichristian features a track called "Zodiac (He Is Still Out There...)", about the Zodiac Killer.
  • Death 2 by New York-based Rap group Flatbush ZOMBiES features a reference made by Meechy Darko towards the Zodiac Killer.
  • The song "Rich as Fu*k" by Lil Wayne features the line "What's your name, what's your sign, Zodiac Killer. All rats gotta die even Master Splinter".


  • Towards the end of Sanford and Son, season two, episode one, titled "The Light Housekeeper," Fred begs Lamont not to leave him alone as the Zodiac Killer has never been captured.
  • The season 2 episode of Nash Bridges, titled "Zodiac," has the inspectors following a copycat using the same methodologies as the original killer.
  • The Zodiac case forms the basis for "The Mikado," a second season installment of the television series Millennium. The episode, featuring a fictionalized version of the Zodiac Killer known as Avatar, was written by Michael R. Perry and first aired on February 6, 1998.[12]
  • In the George Lopez episode "Max's Big Adventure", Benita Lopez says how she read about the Zodiac Killer in the newspaper as a bedtime story for George.
  • The show Psych has a recurring serial killer/killers "Yin/Yang", whose crimes bear similarity to the Zodiac Killer's, played by Ally Sheedy.
  • The series Heroes character Sylar, portrayed by Zachary Quinto, is loosely based upon the Zodiac Killer. Sylar taking his name from a watch mirrors one theory regarding the Zodiac Killer. One suspect was allegedly given a "Zodiac" brand watch that had the same logo (a crossed circle) that the killer used to sign his letters. Also of note, before one alleged victim died, she was followed by a suspicious man wearing horn-rimmed glasses.
  • A Season 6 episode of Medium, entitled "The Medium is the Message," portrayed a killer called "The Libra Slayer" who showed a proclivity for symbols. His case was decades old, much like the Zodiac Killer's.
  • The Zodiac Killer is mentioned numerous times in Criminal Minds, a television program which follows a team of profilers at the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. On January 18, 2012, the episode "True Genius" was aired, featuring a Zodiac Killer copycat active in the Bay Area. Recurring villain George Foyet, a.k.a. "The Boston Reaper", was heavily based on the Zodiac.
  • In season 6, episode 16 of Parks and Recreation ("Galentine's Day"), April (Aubrey Plaza) and Donna (Retta) give Leslie (Amy Poehler) a stuffed bear that, with the press of its paw, plays a friendly voice recording from Ann (Rashida Jones) to make Leslie feel better when missing her best friend. Leslie then finds out that April also included her own recording: "I'm just an unbiased bear, but I think Ann sucks. Also... [deep, gravelly voice] I am the Zodiac Killer."
  • During an episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart sarcastically admitted that he is the Zodiac Killer.
  • In the American Horror Story: Hotel episode "Devil's Night," the Zodiac Killer's ghost is a guest in James Patrick March's dead serial killer party. He wears a mask, and he is completely silent.
  • The "Magnifying Glass" episode of the MacGyver reboot (original air date 02/10/17) features the team tracking down a Zodiac Killer copycat.

Video games[edit]

  • In the 2007 video game Manhunt 2, the player character Daniel Lamb is modeled after the Zodiac Killer's composite sketch.
  • The Zodiac Killer is mentioned once in the 2010 video game Heavy Rain, and the Origami Killer of the game is based somewhat on him.
  • The main antagonist of 2010's Cause of Death volume 4, "Zero", is largely inspired by the Zodiac Killer.
  • Watch Dogs 2 features a pre-order mission where the protagonist Marcus Holloway has to find the Zodiac Killer and solve his mystery.
  • Zodiac is a passive item added in the Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth expansion, represented by the crosshair symbol.


  • The California Crime Book, "Horror-Scope For Murder (The Zodiac Killer)", a 1971 novel by Robert Colby.
  • Great Crimes of San Francisco: True Tales of Intrigue by the Bay, “This is the Zodiac Speaking...”, a 1974 novel by Duffy Jennings.
  • Zodiac Killer: Still at Large, a 1977 novel by Cliff Smith Jr.
  • Great Unsolved Mysteries, "Zodiac-The Sign of Death", a 1978 novel by James Purvis.
  • The Zodiac Killer, a 1979 novel by Jerry Weissman.
  • Zodiac, a 1986 novel by Robert Graysmith.
  • One Was Not Enough: True Stories of Multiple Murderers, "The Zodiac Killer", a 1986 novel by Georgina Lloyd.
  • Duet For The Devil, a 2000 novel by T. Winter-Damon & Randy Chandler.
  • Zodiac Unmasked, a 2002 novel by Robert Graysmith.
  • San Francisco's Finest: Gunning For The Zodiac, a 2012 crime suspense thriller by Joseph Covino Jr.
  • The Zodiac Paradox, a 2013 tie-in novel with the television series Fringe, features the Zodiac Killer being brought from the show's parallel universe due to one of Walter's experiments.


  • An article in The Onion satirically depicts prominent actor Dick Van Dyke confessing to the Zodiac murders.[13]
  • During the 2016 United States presidential campaign, various opponents of Texas Senator Ted Cruz's candidacy initiated a farcical rumor on Twitter that Cruz was the Zodiac Killer. The topic has picked up interest as an internet meme even as claimants have stated that they do not believe it seriously.[14][15][16][17] In a February 2016 survey of Florida voters done by Public Policy Polling, 10% of respondents stated that they believed Cruz was the Zodiac murderer while 28% felt that the possibility could not be ruled out.[15] Cruz was born in 1970, the year the last confirmed Zodiac-related killing was committed. One columnist observed that the rumor campaign’s persistence, despite its complete implausibility, is "a matter of style over substance".[16] Several people involved with the meme acknowledged to National Public Radio that they were aware that Cruz could not be the killer, and added, "... it's all about a feeling they have about Cruz: they think he's creepy."[17]


  1. ^ Beldin, Fred. "The Zodiac Killer > Overview". AllMovie. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  2. ^ "Dirty Harry (1971)". Filmsite.org. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  3. ^ "Zodiac Killer Movies | Zodiac Murders | The Zodiac Movie | Serial Killers". Zodiackiller.com. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  4. ^ "The Exorcist III Info, Trailers, and Reviews at MovieTome". Movietome.com. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  5. ^ "Disguised Killer". asianamericanfilm.com. Retrieved 2010-04-25. 
  6. ^ "The Serial Killer Cinema of Ulli Lommel". Hollywood Action House. Retrieved 2010-08-21. 
  7. ^ "Hunting The ZODIAC: A Documentary". 
  8. ^ "Just the Facts: David Fincher's Zodiac". stopsmilingonline.com. Retrieved 2010-07-15. However, the Zodiac blueprint is derived largely from the “original case files” of the serial killings that terrified Northern California throughout the late Sixties and Seventies. 
  9. ^ Macabre - Sinister Slaughter album Encyclopedia Metallum - The Metal Archives.
  10. ^ Axl's history of personal hints regarding a song/or concept on the next album, in the previous album. MYGNR Forum. February 3, 2013. Retrieved on February 7, 2013.
  11. ^ Kamelot (2010). Poetry for the Poisoned. Kamelot Media Group LLC. 
  12. ^ "The Mikado". millennium-thisiswhoweare.net. Retrieved 2010-07-31. 
  13. ^ "Dick Van Dyke Finally Confesses To Zodiac Killings". 
  14. ^ Fechter, Joshua (February 19, 2016). "Here's why some people think Ted Cruz is the Zodiac killer". SFGate.com. Retrieved May 21, 2016. 
  15. ^ a b "Pollster asks Floridians if Cruz is the Zodiac Killer". TheHill. 
  16. ^ a b Calhoun, B. (February 23, 2016). Is Ted Cruz Any Number of Serial Killers — Or Every Serial Killer? SF Weekly, retrieved April 18, 2016.
  17. ^ a b "#MemeOfTheWeek: Ted Cruz And The Zodiac Killer". NPR.org.