The Best Crime Documentaries on Netflix
There’s nothing quite like the thrill of attempting to crack the code of an unsolved crime. But when it comes to crime stories (and well, life), the truth is best place to start, which is why crime shows and movies based on the cold hard facts are the most fascinating to watch.
And while you can get your true crime fix with podcasts, nothing compares to watching a murder mystery, wrongful conviction, or bank heist unfold before your very eyes. If you’re brave enough to handle the truth, consider adding these true crime movies, documentaries, and docuseries to your Netflix queue.
1. Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)
Abducted in Plain Sight, directed by Skye Borgman, played the film festival circuit a few years ago before Netflix gave it a home in 2019. Since its arrival on the streaming service, it has infuriated/captivated hordes of viewers who can’t quite believe the story of how the seemingly perfect Broberg family was nearly destroyed, singlehandedly, in the mid-’70s by a sociopathic neighbor, Bob “B” Berchtold, who was obsessed with their 12-year-old daughter, Jan. But this description doesn’t do the documentary justice, as what unfolds happens to be one of the most mind-boggling cases perpetrated by an insanely conniving man who managed to kidnap Jan not once… but twice. While Abducted in Plain Sight is one of true crime’s craziest films in recent history, it’s also yet another terrifying look at how one man’s manipulation can destroy several lives, and how adults and the justice system continually fail young victims of sex crimes.
2. Amanda Knox (2016)
Amanda Knox has been convicted and acquitted of murder twice as the primary suspect in the murder of her roommate while studying abroad in Italy. Directors Rod Blackhurst (Here Alone) and Brian McGinn (Chef’s Table) revisit the embattled media sensation’s tangly story here with peerless access to key players and new archival footage. The doc explores both sides of Knox’s case — though Knox’s participation gives you an idea of which way the film leans in terms of her guilt or innocence — ultimately asking viewers to put themselves in her situation, then ask “Do you suspect her?” or “Do you believe her?” Dust off your Crazy Walls, guys.
3. Cold Case Files (2017- )
There’s something especially tragic about cold cases, often sitting untouched for decades without justice or peace for the victims and families involved. Cold Case Files brings what resolution can come of those stories, though, keying in on infamous unsolved cases, the reasons they went cold, and how they were reopened today. Like its cousin Forensic Files, this is one of those docuseries that has been running for years, but its form and ability to revisit forgotten cases remains strong. Netflix just has the recent Blumhouse-produced reboot (excellently narrated by Danny Glover), but it’s just as satisfying and worth a binge.
4. The Confession Tapes (2017- )
After hours of grueling police interrogation, is it possible that you might find yourself confessing to a crime that you may or may not have committed? This has happened so often that Netflix released a docuseries about it. The Confession Tapes examines cases in which people convicted of murder detail how they believe they were forced into confessing under pressure, even in some instances where those convicted maintain that the claims are completely false. While the series may seem like just another true crime binge, over six stories told in seven episodes, The Confession Tapes narrows in on one specific phenomenon and its unfortunate grasp on the criminal justice system.
5. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019)
A chilling companion to Joe Berlinger’s forthcoming Zac Efron-led movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, this four-episode docuseries from the same director adeptly explores the life and psyche of infamous serial killer Ted Bundy and the frenzied investigation into his many heinous crimes against women. Never-before-heard audio from interviews conducted with Bundy during his time on death row is at the series’ helm, but old news footage and fresh interviews with surviving victims and investigators tell the full, sordid story in a way that will satisfy even the most jaded true-crime fan.
6. Dirty Money (2018- )
White collar crime is still crime! From Alex Gibney (Going Clear), this docuseries investigates the world’s biggest and baddest businesses — including Donald Trump’s. Other subjects include a maple syrup heist (the most Canadian crime ever), the exploitative payday loan industry, and the VW emissions scandal. The 12 episodes will surely have you shaking your fist at the global corporatocracy.
7. Evil Genius (2018)
Though true crime documentaries often follow the course of one incident, the best ones tend to unfurl like an onion, with layer upon layer of shocking developments. Netflix’s own Evil Genius, for example, which surprisingly tackles a bank heist, bombing, and ruthless scavenger hunt full of twists and turns, all allegedly at the hands of one woman, in four 45-minute episodes. The series looks at Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong’s seemingly diabolical plan of robbery and murder, examining what possibly could be the motive of this siege that perversely undermined authorities.
8. The Confession Killer (2019)
Notorious serial killer Henry Lee Lucas confessed to killing over 100 people. In reality, Lucas is confirmed to have murdered his mother and 11 others, which is heinous enough — but what is nearly as much of a subject for concern is how Texas law enforcement was manipulated to fall into his trap of false confessions for the sake of their own ease. Instead of just giving a rundown on who the serial killer is, this five-part Netflix series examines the failings of law enforcement to show how they were played and neglected to seek justice for those whose cases remained unsolved. It’s yet another tale about the holes in the criminal justice system, but one of the most compelling in recent history.
9. Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (2020)
With his access to vast wealth and proximity to incredible power, Jeffrey Epstein, the predatory billionaire at the center of an international sex-trafficking ring, is a uniquely gripping subject for an investigative documentary. So, it was hardly surprising that Netflix jumped on a four-part documentary series, directed by Lisa Bryan and executive produced by Joe Berlinger (Paradise Lost trilogy) and James Patterson, the author of countless bestsellers and a non-fiction book on the subject. While Epstein died under mysterious circumstances while in prison in 2019, viewers actively searching for conspiracy fodder with this doc will instead find a carefully sourced, self-consciously scrupulous attempt to untangle some of the mysteries in Epstein’s biography, while also giving voice to the many young women he abused. Filthy Rich is an infuriating watch, as it largely leaves the figure it’s about unknowable, but the survivors are heard and understood. Their stories shine a light on a case that’s still yet to be fully cracked.
10. Killer Inside:The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
Everything changed for the former New England Patriots player when he was investigated and charged for murder. This three-part documentary uses court room footage, phone calls, and interviews to show how Aaron Hernandez went from a star athlete to a convicted killer, who ultimately died in prison.
11. Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer
Meet Luka Magnotta, who shared videos of the ways he harmed and killed animals online for the world to see. After stumbling on the videos, a group of online sleuths launched a manhunt to find him and bring him to justice. Only once they started digging, they find he is responsible for one of Canada’s most infamous crimes, the murder of Lin Jun.
12. The Keepers (2017)
True crime docs are a dime a dozen these days, but The Keepers takes the genre to another level by dealing in both micro and macro layers of a story involving sexual abuse, murder, police corruption, and the Catholic Church. At its center is the strange disappearance and death in 1969 of a schoolteacher nun named Sister Cathy Cesnik, a case that continues to be investigated by her former students, who the filmmakers follow. Numerous shocking twists are revealed over the course of the seven-episode series, as the haunting mystery turns disturbing exposé and then circles back around again.
13. The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann
Here’s what happens when a beach vacation turns into a nightmare. When 3-year-old Madeleine McCann vanishes from her parent’s hotel room in Portugal, police wonder if her own parents are to blame or if she was abducted and sold into sex trafficking. Both theories are equally terrifying.
14. The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez (2020)
Some documentaries make your stomach turn; this one will enrage you. Over the course of six episodes, documentarian Brian Knappenberger (Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press) investigates each and every misstep of the LA justice system and Child and Family Services to prevent the abuse and eventual murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez. The series is one of the hardest of the bunch to watch, being absolutely unforgiving in its plea for our systems to be better at supporting the most vulnerable, but it’s a story that needs to be heard.
15. Making a Murderer
It’s believed that the truth will set you free … unless your name is Steven Avery. First, he served 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Just two years after he was exonerated, he became the prime suspect in the murder of a 25-year-old photographer. So, where does he stand now?