Which streaming docs are the darkest?
Netflix has become a surprising home for a legion of true crime documentaries. As the true crime landscape exponentially explodes in popularity, the streaming giant has featured a ton of must-see sensationalized docs that explore world famous crimes and those who committed them … but also many lesser-known law breakers.
Each true crime doc explores those who commit the act, those who are affected by the criminal’s actions and above all else — provide an explanation for how these were able to happen.
The nature of the crime is varied on this list of 15 of Netflix’s must-see true crime documentary entries. From murder to kidnapping and even white collar financial swindling, this is an equal opportunity look at the sensation that is true crime and those who document it and most importantly, put it into a larger societal context.
1. ‘WILD WILD COUNTRY’
What it’s about: The 2018 doc goes inside a killer cult that made headlines in the ‘80s, the so-called Rajneesh movement. The cult’s leader, Osho, and his wife, known as Ma, worked their way into thousands of peoples’ lives before their world came crashing down in their Oregon home.
The gory details: Residents of the small town where the group moved in Oregon were utterly shocked and terrified when news broke that the Rajneesh movement was behind the largest bioterrorist attack that had ever occurred on US soil. Local ranchers and the group had been clashing since Osho and Ma arrived. The six episode series also shows the largest case of illegal wiretapping on record and the world’s largest personal collection of Rolls-Royces!
2. ‘MAKING A MURDERER’
What it’s about: The show (that ran between 2015 & 2018) became a sensation the moment it dropped on the streaming service. That first season — that put the true crime documentary on the map with its gripping look at a Wisconsin man who was wrongfully charged and convicted of murder — is as thrilling as any Alfred Hitchcock flick.
The gory details: Steven Avery may have been the man at the center of Making a Murderer, but the American justice system was also put on trial in this gripping series. By the end, fans were looking at how society tackled crime and those who authorities believe committed them (and everything that comes along with that — from profiling and stereotyping to a multitude of stereotypes gone astray). The title of the true crime documentary could not be more apt. This documentary is wickedly unusual in that this is a story of a man wrongly charged with a crime who could be cleared by DNA evidence … only to become the prime suspect in a horrific new crime.
3. ‘THE INNOCENT MAN’
What it’s about: One of the literary world’s most popular and respected authors, John Grisham, had only tackled non-fiction once before with his book The Innocent Man. It made the leap from the page to Netflix with the 2018 true crime documentary that put the spotlight on a pair of Ada, Oklahoma murders and the wild series of events that followed. The Innocent Man mixed fresh footage with riveting archival video and photos.
The gory details: The “wrongfully charged” genre was well-received likely due to Grisham’s writing and notoriously intense attention to detail. It followed the suspects from conviction to freedom. The show was essentially a visual page-turner. The doc became even more compelling when two additional suspects landed behind bars with both having claimed that they were also innocent.
4. ‘EVIL GENIUS: THE TRUE STORY OF AMERICA’S MOST DIABOLICAL BANK HEIST’
What it’s about: Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a true crime documentary that is based on a robbery that would become known as the Pizza Bomber Heist? The 4 part series, Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist, takes viewers back to the beginning of the 2000s in Erie, Pennsylvania. A robbery had gone deadly wrong and made headlines across the country very quickly.
The gory details: The FBI was called in and had a difficult time discovering who was responsible until a break in the case came from the most unlikely of sources.
5. ‘CASTING JONBENET’
What it’s about: This 2017 docuseries presented a new outlook into one of the most gut-wrenching and unsolved crimes in recent American history. JonBenet Ramsey was only six when she was murdered. She was found in the basement of her family’s Colorado home back in 1996, and to this date, her killer has not been brought to justice. This series used local actors from Colorado to tell the story of Ramsey’s death. Prepare to be disturbed in some very surprising ways.
The gory details: The young actresses who auditioned believed that they were trying to score a part in a dramatization of the iconic murder. The result is a sensational study that in many ways chronicled the genre of true crime itself.
6. ‘ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT’
What it’s about: On the surface, the Broberg family seemed to have it all. Through Abducted in Plain Sight, director Skye Borgman documented exactly how that family was almost destroyed by neighbor Robert “B” Berchtold’s obsession with 12-year-old, Jan.
The gory details: The film landed in 2017 and ran through the festival circuit before Netflix aired it early in 2019. It is hard to avoid spoilers when describing the film. Let’s just say this: the case had countless jaw-dropping twists and turns that will certainly fascinate.
7. ‘DIRTY MONEY’
What it’s about: The 2008 financial crash saw several Wall Street icons go from prominence to penniless in a matter of days. Dirty Money landed in 2018 and is a true crime documentary that feeds the fire of those still expecting justice from those who contributed to the U.S. financial freefall. Donald Trump is featured in Alex Gibney’s Netflix series
The gory details: One episode focused on the payday loan industry. Another episode exposed the VW emissions scandal. There are firsthand accounts from those charged and whose lives were ruined, which add layers to the power of the doc.
What it’s about: Documentaries are notorious for filmmakers heading out with one mission in mind and then discovering that the story took them in an entirely different direction. That was firmly the case with Icarus. Director Bryan Fogel wanted to show how easy it is to use performance-enhancing drugs in the uber-competitive world of cycling without getting caught. In the end, his film wound up being a fierce indictment of Russia and its systemic use of the drugs.
The gory details: One of the subjects of Icarus was Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of the Moscow Antidoping Centre. He got so comfortable with Fogel that when his interviews were completed, he had unwillingly exposed how his government got away with this cheating … for years. Things just get stranger from there. Icarus is so powerful that it won an Oscar for Best Documentary.
9. ‘AMANDA KNOX’
What it’s about: There are sensational, headline-grabbing murder stories, and then there is Amanda Knox true tale. In 2016, Netflix premiered their story about Knox and provided a comprehensive chronicle of the woman who was charged with an Italian murder (twice), served four years in an Italian jail and was acquitted (twice).
The gory details: Knox and her trials made international headline. Amanda Knox painstakingly shows the media’s obsession with her story as well as the legal angles that all added up to a murder that still has folks across the world eager to know what exactly occurred. The greatest asset the entire true crime documentary had going for it is the surprising participation of Knox herself.
What it’s about: Kidnapping is this Netflix documentary’s focus. Captive is an “it can happen to you” true crime tale. The episodes explored many different subjects, but they all shared one thing in common — how hostage negotiators were employed and how successful (or not) they were in attempting to free those held Captive.
The gory details: Even more shocking from the Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity starring Matt Damon, Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise) produced doc was that internationally, these types of crimes are on the rise. Captive set itself apart from the crowded true crime landscape with its ability to get insight from all involved — the victims, their families, the negotiators and even the kidnappers.
11. ‘CONFESSIONS WITH A KILLER: THE TED BUNDY TAPES’
What it’s about:Ted Bundy was a terrifyingly attractive serial killer. His slaughter of 30 women in the ‘70s made headlines, but insight into his crimes, his mentality, his victims and law enforcement’s exhaustive effort to capture him has never been more revealing and approachable than in Netflix’s Confessions with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. Hearing from the man himself will produce its share of nightmares.
The gory details: The charismatic killer described his crimes in the most matter-of-fact and truly frightening manner in these tapes. The true crime documentary also adds emotive layers with its heartbreaking interviews with several women who managed to escape his attacks. Inside the mind of a killer has been done before, but with Confessions with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, it became easy to see how that allowed him to get so close to so many of his victims.
12. ‘STRONG ISLAND’
What it’s about: Racial injustice permeating the American legal system is just one of the strong elements that makes Strong Island one of Netflix’s more powerful true crime documentaries. This one could not hit closer to home as the filmmaker, Yance Ford, delves deep to discover why his brother’s murder could become the poster case for legal inequalities in the United States.
The gory details: William Ford, Jr. was a black 24-year-old teacher and was killed by Mark Reilly, a white 19-year-old car mechanic. Strong Island showed how racial injustice would produce a case where the filmmaker’s brother wound up being a suspect in his own murder. In the process, the true crime doc did a stunning job of not only spotlighting this heinous crime and its subsequent injustice but gave viewers priceless insight into how this didn’t happen in a vacuum. Ford laid out the impact of racial segregation of the Jim Crow South, his own family’s history and how intertwining those two laid the groundwork for his brother to be in the situation he was in.
13. ‘OUT OF THIN AIR’
What it’s about: The Reykjavik Confessions lay at the heart of Out of Thin Air. Six people were falsely accused of playing a role in the disappearances of two people. The British-produced documentary took viewers to Iceland and honed in on how Guðmundur Einarsson and Geirfinnur Einarsson vanished.
The gory details: Again, no spoilers here, but let’s just say that what made Out of Thin Air so riveting was the picture it painted of the art of confessions in criminal cases. Often, those key elements to prosecuting people with a crime were coerced or produced in a way that could not be further from the truth.
14. ‘THE CONFESSION TAPES’
What it’s about: Just like those Bundy tapes, The Confession Tapes took killers’ confessions to learn more about the psychological and motivational elements of committing a murder (or murders).
The gory details: In The Confession Tapes, these convicted killers claim their confessions contained very little truth. The film illustrates how a criminal’s lies make it difficult for the victim’s family to find closure and move on.
15. ‘I AM A KILLER’
What it’s about: The 2018 true crime documentary I Am a Killer leaves nothing in question about the guilt or innocence of these felons. Viewers hear about the crimes that were committed directly from the source. The accused describe how they were carried through and what they were feeling while being charged and convicted.
The gory details: These are not just any crooks. I Am a Killer interviewed death row inmates, and their freedom in expressing themselves is as fascinating as it is fear-inducing.