Is The Good Nurse a true story? The Netflix movie explained

The Good Nurse
(Image credit: Netflix)

What starts off as a warm friendship between coworkers quickly turns deadly in The Good Nurse, Netflix's latest thriller from Danish director Tobias Lindholm.

When Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain) is pushed to her physical and emotional limits by the rough and demanding night shifts at the ICU, help suddenly arrives in the form of a new, seemingly thoughtful and empathetic nurse named Charles Cullen (Eddie Redmayne). Things seem too good to be true, however, after patients in their ward mysteriously begin dying at an alarming rate. All signs point to Charlie, forcing Amy to risk her life in order to bring him to justice.

The movie is based on the 2013 nonfiction book, The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber.

Is Netflix's The Good Nurse a true story?

The Good Nurse

(Image credit: Netflix)

The real Charles Cullen was a prolific serial killer, one who operated as an 'Angel of Death' over the course of his sixteen-year career as a nurse in Northern New Jersey. Rather than put the spotlight solely on Cullen and his crimes, the film focuses on Amy Loughren, Cullen's real-life coworker and confidant who worked tirelessly to bring him to justice.

According to The New York Post, it was Loughren who first suspected Cullen was responsible for the mysterious deaths in the ICU where the two both worked. Cullen ordered a long list of drugs from the hospital's pharmacy, which created a peculiar scenario: one drug pushed the patient to the end of their life, while the other was meant to save them at the last moment. 

Loughren took notice of this, the way he hardly ever filled out his patient's charts, and the way he found himself taking care of a patient he wasn't even assigned to and using the servers to look up their current health status – something nurses were never known to do.

The Good Nurse

(Image credit: Netflix)

In both the movie and in real life, it's Loughren – not the police – that is able to coax a confession from him. The film ends before his trial, which saw the state of New Jersey sentencing him to 18 consecutive life sentences.

The two kept in touch, not out of Loughren's concern or empathy for Cullen, but because she wanted closure: she was worried that she, in unknowingly aiding Cullen during their shifts, may have harmed another patient. Though she didn't get the answers she wanted, she was able to see how "charismatic" he was and "how easy it was to be drawn in." "It was a process of being able to forgive myself for not seeing it," she said. Cullen has 29 confirmed victims, though experts have estimated that he could be responsible for up to 400 throughout the entirety of his almost two-decade-long career.

Netflix has released a few true-crime-inspired movies and shows in recent weeks. We recently went over whether The Watcher's true story – though that series' ending has proven controversial. Likewise, the streamer's Dahmer series has had its detractors for various reasons. For some watch recomendations, check out our lists of the best Netflix shows and best Netflix movies to watch now.

Lauren Milici
Senior Writer, Tv & Film

Lauren Milici is a Senior Entertainment Writer for GamesRadar+ currently based in the Midwest. She previously reported on breaking news for The Independent's Indy100 and created TV and film listicles for Ranker. Her work has been published in Fandom, Nerdist, Paste Magazine, Vulture, PopSugar, Fangoria, and more.