Jack the Ripper is one of the most endearing figures in history. One of the world’s first serial killers, he—or they—were never apprehended and there are a limitless amount of theories about who they might have been. While this was a horrific event in history, the mystery of it allows the imagination to run wild in fiction.
On film and television, Jack the Ripper has been interpreted in endlessly different ways. Some things try to stick to the facts and the history, try to be a straightforward account of the story. Others are much more imaginative, taking a supernatural bent or bringing the Ripper into the modern era.
We dig through the history behind this mysterious figure, like any good Ripperphiles—but instead of uncovering the truth, we’re uncovering their history on the big and small screen to find the most memorable incarnations of Jack the Ripper to date.
This BBC TV series dedicated its entire first season to the focus of Jack the Ripper in a way no show had ever really attempted to do before. It worked immensely well. This is one of the most in-depth explorations of the Ripper we’ve ever gotten on the screen and definitely deserves a spot on this list.
One of the later Hammer productions, Hands of the Ripper also felt extremely influenced by the rise of the Italian giallo films. It’s got a wealth of atmosphere as well, of course, but there’s a surprising amount of bloodshed for a Hammer film at the same time.
Murder by Decree
It seems obvious. Why not pair the most enigmatic killer in history with the most intelligent detective in all of fiction? This wasn’t the first or last movie to combine Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper, but it was the best. Christopher Plummer’s Holmes was at the top of his game in this one. Definitely worth a watch, especially if genre mash-ups are your thing.
Edge of Sanity
What’s better than Anthony Perkins playing Jack the Ripper? Anthony Perkins playing Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in the same movie. This one reimagines Jekyll’s alter-ego Hyde as the Ripper, which is interesting and sort of makes sense, given the timeframe. Thanks to a recent Blu-ray release, this one’s started to be rediscovered. It’s probably never going to be hailed as a classic, but there’s still a lot to like about it.
Okay, this one’s sort of a copycat—maybe Ripper possession?—story, but it’s definitely worth mentioning on any list of Jack the Ripper movies. It’s a weird but really tense thriller that gives you two James Spaders for the price of one as he winds up playing his own twin brother.
Maybe the most famous Jack the Ripper film. It strays far from the graphic novel source material and seems to divide audiences, but I kind of love it. The cast, look, overall style are all terrific. Ian Holm’s performance, once everything is revealed, is absolutely chilling. There’s a heavy, thick atmosphere and the visual style and tone almost make it feel like Silence of the Lambs by Gaslight.
Time After Time
This is the most bizarre premise on the whole list. HG Wells builds a time machine that is stolen by Jack the Ripper and races to the modern-day 1970s to stop him. Nothing about it should work, but it’s so endearing that it’s now being turned into a TV series over forty years after its release. It’s such an inventive, stylish thriller. Malcolm McDowall is great as Wells and David Warner gives what is easily one of the best Ripper performances, if not the very best.