This list includes not only direct adaptations, but also works of fiction in which Leopold or Loeb appear as characters in someone else’s story or where the story/antagonists were inspired by the case.
These are organized by the date they were released, from oldest to newest.
For a full list of the fiction inspired by this case see this page, which includes plays, songs, short stories, novels and more.
In 1948 Alfred Hitchcock filmed an adapted version of Patrick Hamilton’s play. The story was brought to New York and the names of all involved were Americanized; the two murderers changing to Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan. Many assume that Phillip, the more passive, represents Leopold and that Brandon, the more aggressive, represents Loeb, but both characters share about an equal measure of traits and histories from each of the boys. The film, shot in a series of continuous takes designed to make the movie feel like a play, and it was thematically similar to the play, discussing the feelings of superiority and learned philosophy that backed the motive for murder. In a heavy-handed speech at the end of the movie James Stewart, former teacher to the murderers and their victim, damns the philosophy and action he himself inspired.
Though the movie was altered from the original play, but many of the scenes stick closely to the original, and the crew worked as hard as possible to sneak references to the killer’s sexualities through the censors. Though the word ‘homosexuality’ or indeed the relation to the Leopold-Loeb case was never mentioned, most of the cast and crew understood what was going on. Both killers were played by gay or bi actors who kept the relationship in mind, and Arthur Laurents, who wrote the screenplay, was gay as well, and living with Farley Granger, who played Phillip, when Rope was being written and filmed. It was banned in some cities upon its release for this ‘controversial’ material.
In 1959 a movie version of Compulsion was released, adding fuel to the fire as Leopold and his lawyer Elmer Gertz were preparing to sue Meyer Levin, 20th Century Fox and a long list of over 60 movie theaters that used Leopold’s name or likeness in the film’s marketing. As fiction goes, it steps off the psychological focus of its past incarnations, cutting out the point of view of older Leopold and spends the last third of the movie with Orson Welles who plays the Darrow stand-in. Judd and Artie remain similar to their earlier versions; Artie is manipulative, high-strung and popular, Judd is reserved, philosophical and sarcastic.
Their relationship is masked more for movie audiences, though the trailer hints tantalizingly: “Do you know the strange relationship that existed between them?” The movie has several lines that hint at a relationship and Judd especially shows his strong feelings for Artie, though nothing is ever stated or suspected outright. Despite Leopold’s bitter fight against the movie, he later admitted that he thought Dean Stockwell did a “bang-up job” portraying him.
Beyond the Night
Written in 1963-1964 by Don Murray with Leopold’s approval, Beyond the Night was to be a film version of Leopold’s autobiography with the addition of many years of Leopold’s life in Puerto Rico. Though this project never got beyond the planning stages, a screen treatment does exist. This short outline version creates a melding of Leopold’s prison time, smashing together important events and characters in the guise that they were all connected. It is nothing but kind in its treatment of Loeb, who is popular, generous and protective of Leopold. The movie would have focused on Leopold’s good deeds in prison, telling a very favorable story of his rehabilitation, both after Loeb’s death and while working in Puerto Rico. A central theme of the piece revolved around Leopold falling in love with his wife Trudi and finally being grateful that his life had been saved in 1924.
Darrow is a tv movie from 1991 starring Kevin Spacey as Clarence Darrow. The movie, told from the perspective of Darrow’s son Paul, spends about fifteen minutes on the Leopold-Loeb case, as the closing section of the film. Many details are changed, but an excerpt from Darrow’s closing speech is quoted verbatim in a more than six-minute monologue. Leopold and Loeb in this version are obnoxious, ungrateful and without remorse. They are proud of their crime and Leopold in particular seems especially unconcerned with the pain they’ve caused or the situation they’ve ended up in. Understandably, more attention is paid to Darrow and his wife Ruby, and the hardship and triumph caused by their association with the case, rather than to Leopold or Loeb themselves.
In 1992, as part of the New Queer Cinema movement, Tom Kalin released Swoon; a study into the perception of stories, history and homosexuality. This independent movie brings the relationship of Leopold and Loeb to the forefront while mocking the censorship that came before it. They are portrayed essentially as a married couple, exchanging wedding rings and living together in a rented apartment. Swoon mixes reality, showing video of the real Nathan Leopold and often recreating quotes and scenes almost verbatim from transcripts, with obvious fiction, as the boys entertain their drag queen friends and Leopold listens to language lessons on technology that hadn’t been invented in 1924.
The movie emphasizes the king-slave phantasies entertained by Leopold, and places him in a more passive role, often showing him to be visibly scared of the sadistic and in Kalin’s opinion, “sociopathic,” Loeb. In contrast to the majority of films, the movie does not dwell on heavy-handed morality lectures and actually follows the boys to jail. Even more surprisingly, it ends not with Loeb’s death, but with Leopold’s, after some short scenes documenting his grief over Loeb and his remaining prison years. Though the movie can be confusing and vague it offers an interesting perspective and reaction to the fiction of the past.
Funny Games (1997 and 2007)
These films much more belong in the camp of films inspired by Leopold and Loeb rather than based on them. The original Austrian Funny Games was directed by Michael Haneke and stars Frank Geiring as Peter and Arno Frish as Paul, (also called Tom and Jerry, Beavis and Butthead, their real names unknown) the two characters who were inspired by Leopold and Loeb. The movie was remade almost shot-for-shot in 2007 with the same director but a different English-speaking cast, with Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet playing Paul and Peter. Though no reference is made directly to Leopold or Loeb, the actors were aware of the inspiration, and a few reported doing some research into the case and personalities of the boys. Pitt joked in an interview that it was his second time playing a Leopold-Loeb character, referencing his role in the 2002 film, Murder by Numbers.
This movie begins with a family arriving at their vacation home, beginning to unpack and unwind, until some genteel and polite young men come over, asking a small favor. The men, who introduce themselves as Peter and Paul, quickly create chaos for the family; imprisoning them in their home, torturing them and making them play sadistic games, all with a detached air of amusement and control. The movie was made as a criticism of horror movies and audiences who love to watch human suffering, and though not a direct Leopold and Loeb adaptation, it carries many themes present in other works about them.
Murder by Numbers
Murder by Numbers, which premiered in 2002, offers an unconventional look at the crime. Transported to the modern world of the early 2000s, the movie splits its focus between the lives of Justin Pendelton (Michael Pitt) playing the Leopold character, Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling) playing Loeb and the investigator (Sandra Bullock) who is working to solve the murder they committed.
The film plays up the themes of wealth, superiority, precociousness and the goal of outsmarting the police that connect it to its roots. These killers, as did the boys they were based on, leave several clues and are caught, turning against each other in their confessions. Their relationship to each other and their true personalities are also more complicated than they first appear.
This movie premiered in Australia in November of 2006 and was released in America in 2007 under the title Murderous Intent. The film was originally conceived as a documentary on sociopaths, the writer was interested in the combination of two people, who through their relationship become something bigger and more dangerous than either of them apart. Over many years, the idea evolved into a fictional psychological thriller and exploration of the relationship between two intelligent English high school students.
The story begins with the arrest and interrogation of Alex Forbes for the murder of Nigel Colbie. Flashbacks that track the length of Alex and Nigel’s relationship make up a large part of the movie, along with the work of a forensic psychologist and a police detective who work to solve the murder and several others committed previously by the pair. The movie is not a direct adaptation but the main characters and several of their traits and parts of their relationship grew out of the writer’s research into Leopold and Loeb.
Directed by Raphaël Neal, this French independent film premiered in 2014 and saw its American video release in 2015. The film, based on a book of the same title by Leslie Kaplan, begins with a motiveless murder carried out by Damien and Pierre, two rich high school seniors. They kill to test a philosophical theory of Damien’s, who plays the Loeb archetype of the more devious and unfeeling, that a crime committed without a reason has no culpability. The bulk of the movie follows the teenagers down their path to paranoia, helped along by a woman named Eve who suspects them of their crime, and their growing obsession with World War 2 and the crimes committed by army officers.
Blood Brothers (originally called The Divine Tragedies) was written and directed by Jose Prendes, premiering in 2015. The movie stars Graham Denman and Jon Kondelik as Charles and Thomas, step-brothers who turn to serial killing. Thomas is the more assertive and Charles the more reserved, but both brothers are intelligent and eloquent, and both have a taste for blood. Their goal is a prefect crime, an artistic and iconic murder, which once committed, completely changes the dynamic of their relationship. Charles begins to hallucinate and grows increasingly violent, losing control over his thoughts and actions while Thomas becomes overwhelmingly remorseful of what they’ve done. This escalates as a police officer, played by Ken Foree, closes in on the pair. While not a strict adaptation, Prendes was heavily inspired by the personalities and motives of Leopold and Loeb when creating this work.
A short film by director Dan R. Harris, which he describes as a “Glam Rock” exploration of the relationship between Leopold and Loeb and the crimes leading up to the Franks murder. In the style of Swoon it weaves truth and fiction and melds the years so it is unclear when the events are supposed to be taking place.