True crime is more popular than ever, and Netflix has an excellent selection of true crime documentaries and docuseries that produced themselves or they’ve acquired from other sources. The 10 documentaries and docuseries listed here are equally riveting and chilling, and in some cases, they’ll shock you and will probably make you angry.
10. Making a Murderer
When talking about the best true crime documentaries – not just on Netflix, but ever made – it’s impossible not to include Making a Murderer.
The 10-part documentary is the engrossing story of Steven Avery of Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. In 1985, Avery was arrested and convicted of sexually assaulting a woman. Avery ended up serving 18 years in prison for the assault, but he maintained his innocence the entire time. In fact, he would have been paroled, but a condition to get parole was that he had to take responsibility and show remorse for his actions and Avery refused to admit to the sexual assault.
After 18 years, he was exonerated by DNA, and he was released from prison. He ended up suing Manitowoc County. While his lawsuit was pending, Avery was arrested and charged with the murder of 25-year-old Teresa Halbach. He, along with his nephew Brandan Dassey, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Writers and directors Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos edit the series in a way that makes a strong argument that Avery and Dassey were, at the very least, victims of miscarriages of justice. Or it’s quite possible that they were set up by the Manitowoc County sheriff’s department as revenge for the civil suit.
Season two of Making a Murderer is about the aftermath of the documentary, and is set to be released sometime in 2018.
9. Real Detective
Homicide detectives visit the worst type of crime scenes and talk to people whose lives have been shattered and will never be the same again. Understandably, this can take emotional toll on the detectives.
Real Detective is a Canadian docuseries that blends interviews and re-enactments of crimes that really disturbed and haunted the veteran homicide detectives that investigated them. When a hardened detective gets choked up re-living the details of a murder, it shows the true horrors of the crime and its consequences.
We all must eat. It’s as simple as that. Even though we need food, most of us can’t grow our own, and we have to buy our food from a store. But have you ever really thought about where that food comes from?
Netflix’s Rotten is a six-part docuseries, and each episode looks at a different food industry, like the milk, fish, and garlic. As you probably guessed from the title, there are a lot of problems within the industry.
Yes, the documentary has an activist slant to it, but it’s that’s not exactly its focus. Instead, it’s a fascinating true crime series. It looks at small, individual crimes within each industry, as well as vast conspiracies revolving around something as innocuous as garlic.
Rotten is a must-watch for true crime buffs, people who love conspiracy theories, or those who are suspicious of the corporate world.
7. The Hunting Ground
The Hunting Ground is an Academy Award-nominated documentary about the disturbing prevalence of sexual assault on American college campuses and the shocking way the assaults are handled by the universities.
This documentary is important to see now, more than ever, because of the #MeToo movement. One aspect of the movement that people are critical of is, should these women be believed explicitly or are they just attention-seekers? If they really were sexually assaulted, why didn’t they speak up sooner? Of course, there is legitimacy to those questions because false accusations of sexual assault can destroy an innocent man’s life.
The Hunting Ground features several heartbreaking examples of why some women choose to be remain silent, but the story of Florida State student Erica Kinsman explains it the best.
Kinsman accused Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of sexually assaulting her in 2012. The police officer who investigated the allegation was a Florida State alum and booster. He only performed a rape test a year after the accusation, he never took DNA, and he didn’t interview any witnesses. Meanwhile, Kinsman was skewered on national television as an opportunist, and on-campus she was threatened and harassed so much that she dropped out of school. Winston went on to be drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and signed a four-year deal for $23.35 million with a $16.7 million signing bonus.
The Hunting Ground isn’t a perfect documentary, but its subject matter should outrage you.
6. Amanda Knox
Amanda Knox, who was from Seattle, was living in Italy in 2007. In November, her roommate Meredith Kercher was stabbed to death. Knox told the police she spent the night at her boyfriend’s home, and she returned to find Kercher dead. DNA evidence and bloody fingerprints placed petty criminal Rudy Guede in the apartment on the night of the murder.
Why the case of Amanda Knox is so fascinating and horrifying to so many people is explained in one sentence by Knox at the beginning of the documentary about her case: “I am either a psychopath in sheep’s clothing, or I am you.”
The documentary examines the crime from all angles and goes beneath the tabloid headlines, and it’s up to the viewer to decide: is Knox a monster, or a victim of justice gone awry?
5. The Seven Five
The line between the police and criminals should be clearly defined. Cops are good, and criminals are bad. But real life doesn’t work that way, and sometimes cops can cross that line and get involved in some serious criminal activity. The best documentary about cops gone wrong is The Seven Five directed by Tiller Russell.
The focus of the documentary is ultra-dirty New York Police officer Michael Dowd, and the corruption within the 75th precinct of the New York Police Department during the 1980s.
The Seven Nine is often compared to Martin Scorsese’s classic Goodfellas, but it is about crooked cops. What makes The Seven Five so excellent is how candid and charismatic the interviewees are. It’s clear many of them have moral compasses that are pointed in different directions than most people. Their compasses are so off that they believe the bad guy of the story is the man who eventually did the right thing. By the end, you understand what they mean, even if you don’t agree with them.
In the true crime documentary genre, Errol Morris is the arguably its biggest rock star. His 1988 documentary, The Thin Blue Line (which is also available on Netflix) helped get a wrongly convicted man off death row.
Arguably, his most fascinating documentary is Wormwood, which is a four-part miniseries on the death of Frank Olson. Olson was scientist who was part of the secret CIA mind-control program Project MKUltra.
On November 28, 1953, Olson was found dead after falling from the 10th floor of a hotel in New York City. His death was highly suspicious, but it was ruled a suicide. 20 years later, the CIA revealed that 10 days before he died, Olson was covertly given LSD.
The documentary takes an exhaustive look at every detail and theory of what happened to Olson on the night that he died. Did he commit suicide? Was he murdered? Was he secretly given drugs again and then killed himself? Was he a victim of mind control? Using Hollywood actors, Morris enacts all the scenarios, ending with what makes the most sense.
3. Casting JonBenet
Casting JonBenet examines one of the most infamous unsolved crimes of the 20th century: the murder six-year-old child beauty pageant contestant JonBenet Ramsey. Early on the morning of the day after Christmas 1996, JonBenet’s mother Patricia Ramsey called the Boulder, Colorado, 9-1-1 dispatch to say her daughter was missing. Patricia said that she found a three-page ransom note demanding the same amount of money as her husband’s recent bonus from work. JonBenet’s body was found in the basement of the family’s home about eight hours after Patricia called 9-1-1. An autopsy revealed she died from a fractured skull and strangulation.
Casting JonBenet records the casting of amateur actors who lived in Boulder, Colorado, where the Ramsey family lived, to re-enact the crime and its aftermath.
Through the re-enactments, the actors discuss the crime from what they know about it. Then they try to put themselves in the same mindset as the Ramseys. By taking this approach, it brings a fascinating perspective to the murder. Were the Ramseys acting naturally in the days and months after their daughter died? Or were they hiding a dark secret?
2. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Documentarian Kurt Kuenne grew up with Andrew Bagby, who became a doctor as an adult. Bagby was a very likable guy, but he didn’t have much luck when it came to relationships. In November 2001, Bagby was shot to death by his ex-girlfriend, Shirley Jane Turner.
For most documentaries, the murder is the subject, but it’s what happens after the murder that makes Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father as riveting as it is haunting. And that’s all we’ll say about this one, because you really need to see it for yourself to feel its impact. Be warned, this documentary will stay with you for a long time after you see it.
1. Long Shot
Long Shot tells the amazing story of Juan Catalan, who was accused of killing 16-year-old Martha Puebla. Martha had just testified against a gang and Catalan’s brother was one of the co-defendants. Catalan swore he was innocent, and he says that he was at a Los Angeles Dodgers game the night of the murder.
Long Shot is the shortest documentary on the list, but it is one of the most powerful. Without giving away too much detail, it’s about how sometimes, against all odds, the stars align perfectly, and long shots work out.