13 True Crime Documentaries You Should Stream Right Now

6 minute read

The popularity of true crime as a genre continues to grow, especially as Netflix’s latest documentary series, An Innocent Man, follows in the steps of popular Making a Murder. Audiences have grown addicted to podcasts that re-examine cold cases like the Peabody-winning In the Dark, while books like Michelle McNamara’s memoir about her obsessive search for the Golden State Killer, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, top bestseller lists. Even parodies of true crime series, like Netflix’s American Vandal and The Onion’s A Very Fatal Murder, have found legions of fans.

The best docuseries about true crime have brought about real change or justice, attracting new lawyers to take up the cases of some of these documentary subjects. Others of these works probe our judicial system for flaws. And many simply mine the prurient and disturbing details of a real tragedy for entertainment value. Either way, there’s no denying the mass appeal of these types of stories.

If you’re looking to spend a night in watching a documentarian try to unravel a complicated case, there are plenty of options, from recent hits like Wild Wild Country and Evil Genius to classics like The Staircase and Paradise Lost. Here are the best true crime documentaries and docuseries.

The Innocent Man (2018)

Based on John Grisham’s first nonfiction book, the documentary focuses on two different murders that took place in a small town in Oklahoma in the 1980s. Two of the men convicted of the crimes claim their innocence, and as Grisham and the filmmakers comb over the investigations, parallels begin to emerge.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Making a Murderer (2015)

This was Netflix’s breakout true crime hit. The docuseries’ filmmakers have been praised for their dedication (they filmed over 10 years) and criticized for their possible bias in favor of subject Steven Avery, a man twice accused of murder, and his nephew Brendan Dassey. But few real-life stories have this many twists and turns. The saga continued with Making a Murderer: Part 2, which followed Avery’s and Dassey’s respective appeals processes.

Where to Watch: Netflix

The Jinx (2015)

If you haven’t seen The Jinx—or read about the revelations from the documentary in the news—you need to watch the “Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.” The six-part series explores the life of a wealthy man implicated in the disappearance of his wife, the murder of a family friend and the death of a neighbor. The final episode of The Jinx nearly broke the internet, and with good reason.

Where to Watch: HBO

The Staircase (2005)

The Staircase, a 2005 documentary series by French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, is often held up as one of the best examples of the genre. Novelist Michael Peterson becomes the center of a criminal investigation after his wife is found dead at the bottom of a staircase. Lestrade never tries to solve the murder, but rather examines how the criminal justice system treats Peterson. Lestrade added two more episodes to the original eight in 2013 and another three in 2018.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Into the Abyss (2011)

Ostensibly about two teenagers who commit a triple homicide, Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss is really an examination of the morality of the death penalty. The famed director is able to get his subjects—including both those who would be subject to the death penalty and those who would carry it out—to open up for an emotionally wrenching film.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Paradise Lost Trilogy (1996)

In three movies (made in 1996, 2000 and 2011), the filmmakers follow the courtroom drama surrounding three teenage boys—Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin, known as the West Memphis Three—accused of killing three eight-year-olds. The trilogy was one of the first documentaries to have a major real-life impact on a trial.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

Wild Wild Country (2018)

The Netflix original show veers from the structure of most traditional true crime series by examining a cult that moves from India to Oregon. Before the cult’s leaders are accused of criminal behavior, Wild Wild Country is one of the rare docuseries that lends sympathy to both sides, in this case members of the cult and their unhappy new neighbors. A true pop culture phenomenon, the series catapulted an esoteric cult into the mainstream.

Where to Watch: Netflix

There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane (2011)

A mom drives the wrong way on the highway and causes an accident that kills eight people, including herself, her daughter and her three nieces. After medical reports claimed that Diane Schuler had alcohol and drugs in her system at the time of the crash, director Liz Garbus investigates alternative scenarios.

Where to Watch: HBO

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

One of the most influential documentary films ever made focuses on the murder of a policeman and the hitchhiker accused of committing the crime. Filmmaker Errol Morris builds a near-unassailable case for Randall Dale Adams’ innocence.

Where to Watch: Netflix

The Aileen Wuornos Movies (1992)

Charlize Theron won an Oscar playing serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. But before Theron’s portrayal made the case famous, Nick Broomfield filmed Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992). Wuornos never denied her guilt, so Bloomfield focuses on Wuornos’ rising notoriety. His follow-up film, Aileen: Life & Death of a Serial Killer centers on Wuornos’ last interview in her prison cell in 2003.

Where to Watch: Netflix

The Central Park Five (2012)

Ken Burns and his daughter Sarah Burns teamed up to investigate the infamous “Central Park jogger murder.” Five black and Latino boys (Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise) landed in prison for the beating and rape of a white woman, even though evidence showed they did not commit the crime. The documentary doesn’t pick apart the crime scene; instead, the Burnses zoom in on the social and political tension surrounding the racially-charged case.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime

The Keepers (2017)

The emotional Netflix true crime series centers on the unsolved murder of young nun Sister Cathy Cesnik. Cesnik knew about cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic church, and many of her former students posit that she was silenced. Most true crime series focus on the suspects, but The Keepers gives a voice to the survivors.

Where to Watch: Netflix

Evil Genius (2018)

This documentary series is not about our broken criminal justice system or society’s ills. It’s about a truly bizarre crime involving a collar with a bomb attached, a scavenger hunt and a gun hidden inside a cane. It’s an outrageous case that only becomes more captivating—and bizarre—in the final episode when a crucial witness makes an appearance.

Where to Watch: Netflix

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com