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MoviesThe best true crime documentaries on Netflix in the US

The best true crime documentaries on Netflix in the US

America is in the throes of true-crime addiction, and Netflix deserves a good share of the credit (or blame). Starting with Making a Murderer, the streamer has made documentaries chronicling murders, vanishings and other mysterious happenings one of its main tentpoles, and in turn has helped move true crime from pop culture’s trashy margins to the centre of the entertainment conversation.

Is that a good thing – that we’ve turned sordid, often gruesome tragedies into gristle for the content machine? Really, that’s a discussion for another time. Because if you’re already hooked, all you really want to know is what you should watch next. Netflix is overflowing with true-crime docs, but in the rush to capitalise on the craze, not all of those on offer are worth even the most obsessed fan’s time. The following, however, all deserve a binge.

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Best true crime documentaries on Netflix US

Wild Wild Country (2018)

Photograph: Netflix

1. Wild Wild Country (2018)

In 1981, the utopian Rajneesh cult established itself on a sprawling piece of land in rural Oregon. Three years later, the group committed the largest bioterrorist attack in American history. This six-part, Emmy-winning series revived this odd, forgotten moment in US history, via interviews with bewildered townsfolk and Ma Anand Sheela, the former right-hand woman to guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, still unrepentant after all these years.

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Wormwood (2017)

2. Wormwood (2017)

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  • Documentaries

Leave it to Errol Morris to fully reimagine the docudrama. In this six-part series, the legendary documentarian tells the story of Frank Olson, a CIA agent who jumped to his death from the window of a New York City hotel room in 1953. Although ruled a suicide, the incident remains shrouded in controversy – particularly given the revelation that Olson had been secretly dosed with LSD as part of the agency’s ‘Project MKUltra’ experiment. Morris blends interviews (including with Olson’s son) with high-level dramatic reenactments starring Peter Sarsgaard, creating something utterly unique.  

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Tell Me Who I Am (2019)

Netflix

3. Tell Me Who I Am (2019)

It takes a certain amount of emotional remove to enjoy true crime as entertainment, but no amount of desensitisation will absorb the gut-punch of Tell Me Who I Am. Ever since losing his memory in a motorcycle accident at age 18, Alex Lewis has relied on his twin brother, Marcus, to fill in the gaps of his childhood. Marcus, however, has purposely omitted one significant part of their lives: that he and his brother were sexually abused by their mother. Now in their fifties, the secret is out, and the siblings attempt to reconcile their relationship to each other, to their mother and to themselves. Documentaries of any stripe don’t get more personal, nor powerful.  

Casting JonBenet (2017)

4. Casting JonBenet (2017)

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  • Documentaries

A different kind of true crime doc, Casting JonBenet isn’t so much about the still-unsolved 1996 murder of six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey in Boulder, Colorado, but the ongoing American fascination with the case. Using a Boulder-area casting call for a movie about the killing as a framework, director Kitty Green interviews the actors about their own feelings and interpretations of the real people they’re auditioning to play. It’s an insightful and often funny exploration of how even the most horrifying crimes can simply become pop-culture over time – and in a roundabout way, an interrogation of the true crime genre itself. 

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Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened (2019)

Netflix

5. Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened (2019)

Sure, there was a world-record amount of delicious schadenfreude in watching a bunch of vain rich kids get stranded on an island with nothing to eat but cheese sandwiches. But the Fyre Festival wasn’t just an overambitious failure – it was a legit con job. Two nearly identical docs about the misbegotten festival dropped around the same time, but Netflix’s produced that meme, so it wins by default.

Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

Netflix

6. Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

Equal parts disturbing and perplexing, Abducted in Plain Sight looks at the curious case of Jan Broberg, a 12-year-old from small-town Idaho who was twice kidnapped by a family friend – and whose parents effectively let it happen. Why? Well, let’s not spoil anything, but let’s just say it will leave you stupefied.

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The Tinder Swindler (2022)

Photograph: Netflix

7. The Tinder Swindler (2022)

A decade after Catfish, dating-app scammers have only grown in their sophistication. Meet Simon Leviev, an Israeli fraudster who managed to con millions of dollars from various women by essentially pretending to be James Bond. Using testimonies from three victims, Don’t F*** with Cats producer Felicity Morris weaves a tightly focused yarn out of Leviev’s exploits, which has already produced one positive outcome: getting him permanently banned from Tinder.

Making a Murderer (2016-18)

Photograph: Netflix

8. Making a Murderer (2016-18)

Along with the Serial podcast, the two seasons of Making a Murderer helped reignite a mass interest in true crime in the mid-2010s. It focuses on Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man convicted of a murder he may or may not have actually committed – although the filmmakers lean strongly toward ‘may not’. The first series lays out the suspicious circumstances that landed Avery and his alleged accomplice, Brendan Dassey, in prison. The second is about what happened after the show brought the case to national attention.

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Murder Among the Mormons (2021)

Netflix

9. Murder Among the Mormons (2021)

Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess co-directed this miniseries about Mark Hofmann, a rare documents dealer specialising in Mormon artefacts who turned out to be an expert forger. That’s not really a spoiler, nor will it ruin anything to say that someone ends up dead – the title is not a euphemism – but it’s best not to say much more about this bizarre and twisty saga than that.

Tiger King (2020)

Still: Courtesy Netflix

10. Tiger King (2020)

The phrase ‘Hey, all you cool cats and kittens’ will forever trigger flashbacks to the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. This documentary about the feud between Florida-based roadside zoo operator Joe Exotic and animal rights activist Carole Baskin found a huge captive audience when it dropped in March 2020. We probably didn’t need a whole second season, nor a multi-part dramatisation starring Kate McKinnon, but the original series more than lives up to its tagline of ‘Murder, Mayhem and Madness’.

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Amanda Knox (2017)

Netflix

11. Amanda Knox (2017)

As straightforward as the title, this is an effective primer on the Amanda Knox saga for anyone who has spent the last 15 years living on Mars, without access to tabloids or episodes of Inside Edition. It benefits from the involvement of several key figures, including Knox – the American student twice convicted, and twice exonerated, of killing her Italian flatmate – and a sleazy journalist representing the sensationalist media coverage that made the case a worldwide obsession.

American Nightmare (2024)

Image: Netflix

12. American Nightmare (2024)

In 2015, a man in Vallejo, California, called the police to report his girlfriend had been abducted from their home. When she returned days later seemingly unscathed, the media began to refer to the incident as ‘the real-life Gone Girl’ – the implication being that she was lying. In this three-part series, the creators of The Tinder Swindler lay out the strange details of the case while also interrogating the disturbing culture of disbelief surrounding it, which included not just the general public but the authorities as well.

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The Girl in the Picture (2022)

Image: Netflix

13. The Girl in the Picture (2022)

In 1990, a young woman was found barely clinging to life on the side of a highway in Oklahoma City, the victim of an apparent hit-and-run. But as authorities dug into her identity, it became clear that her death was no accident – and the details of her life more confounding than anyone could have guessed. Skye Borgman, director of Netflix true-crime standout Abducted in Plain Sight, tackles yet another story that’ll leave viewers slack-jawed.  

Don't F*** with Cats (2019)

Netflix

14. Don’t F*** with Cats (2019)

This three-part docuseries begins with a dark web video of a man gleefully suffocating two cats and only gets more screwed up from there. (It doesn’t actually show the full video but the audio and descriptions are bad enough.) A leftfield hit, the series details the online search for the feline abuser that played out mostly in chat rooms and Facebook groups, before graduating into an international manhunt when it turned out the suspect was killing more than just animals. It’s a bizarre tale that also touches on the dangers of the Internet’s mob mentality.

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Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. (2022)

Image: Netflix

15. Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. (2022)

In the early aughts, Pure Food and Wine was one of New York’s premier vegan restaurants, making its owner, Sarma Melngailis, the gluten-free toast of the city’s food scene. Then she met a guy named Anthony Strangis, and everything fell apart in spectacular fashion. We’re talking about money laundering. And a manhunt. And strange religious sects. Oh, and a ‘meat suit.’ Bad Vegan doles out the unbelievable details slowly over the course of its four episodes, but the deliberate pace only makes each revelation that much more jawdropping.

Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami (2021)

Netflix

16. Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami (2021)

A spinoff of Billy Corben’s addictively entertaining – if somewhat problematic – films about the Florida drug trade of the 1980s, this six-part series focuses on two friends, Sal Magluta and Willy Falcon, who established one of the biggest cocaine rings in the United States. Like Corben’s standalone docs, the show has surprises and batshit-crazy details around every corner. Also like the movies, the story is told with such flair it could be accused of glorifying its subjects, who ordered murders and whose business ruined untold thousands of lives. Still, once you start watching, it’s damn hard to stop.

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Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019)

Netflix

17. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019)

Known as the ‘Jack the Ripper of the United States’, Ted Bundy killed more than 30 women in the mid-1970s before being caught, convicted and eventually executed in 1989. Thirty years later, director Joe Berlinger unearthed hundreds of hours of never-before-heard death row interviews with Bundy. They form the basis of this chilling docuseries about one of the most notorious serial killers in American history. It’s one thing to hear about his crimes in third-person; to hear the murderer describe them himself is another nightmare entirely.

Unsolved Mysteries (2020-)

Netflix

18. Unsolved Mysteries (2020-)

Twenty years after its initial run, Netflix resurrected the anthology series whose theme song alone used to give kids nightmares in the ’90s. In truth, the reboot doesn’t much resemble the original: it has no narrator, nor does it contain dramatic reenactments, and each hour-long episode focuses on a single mystery. (The theme gets a remix, too.) But it maintains the spirit of the show, presenting each cold case with atmospheric spookiness. Also, it keeps the tradition of mixing up the mysterious murders and disappearances with paranormal phenomena – the one about the ghosts of the 2011 Japanese tsunami needs to be turned into a movie, stat.

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Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (2020)

Netflix

19. Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (2020)

At this point, the world probably doesn’t need a primer on convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, his powerful connections and the suspicious circumstances of his death. Instead, director Lisa Bryant puts the focus on his victims, allowing them to speak for themselves and put his crimes into a human – rather than merely political – perspective. Filthy Rich is crucial for that reason alone.

Lover, Stalker, Killer (2024)

Image: Netflix

20. Lover, Stalker, Killer (2024)

It’s been a big year for stalking on Netflix. In this true-life tale of romantic fixation, the broad synopsis is fairly straightforward: man meets woman on a dating site, woman becomes obsessed, woman’s texts become increasingly deranged and threatening. Like Baby Reindeer, the devil is in the life-ruining details, which no one should have spoiled – just throw it on and prepare for a wild ride.

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Killer Sally (2022)

Image: Netflix

21. Killer Sally (2022)

Like most true crime docs, Killer Sally has a salacious logline: in 1995, California bodybuilder Sally McNeil killed her husband, fellow bodybuilder Ray McNeil, allegedly after he targeted her during another of his frequent ‘roid rages’. But like the genre’s better entries, director Nanette Burstein goes deeper than the sordid details – without skimping on them – and drills into what is really an exploration of how the legal system treats abused women. 

The Confession Killer (2019)

Netflix

22. The Confession Killer (2019)

No one disputes that Henry Lee Lucas – the inspiration for the deeply disturbing cult flick Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – is a murderer. But could any individual, short of Attila the Hun, really kill nearly 600 people? And how could the police have believed Lucas when he ‘confessed’ to doing just that? That’s the question directors Robert Kenner and Taki Oldham set out to answer. The Confession Killer isn’t so much about murder as a justice system that would rather close cases than solve them.

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Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer (2021)

Netflix

23. Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer (2021)

Like the Zodiac Killer in 1960s San Francisco, the rash of murders and sexual assaults attributed to the so-called ‘Night Stalker’ paralysed Los Angeles in 1985. This gripping series chronicles the wave of terror that swept over the city through the lens of the two determined detectives who ultimately tracked him down.

The Most Hated Man on the Internet (2022)

Image: Netflix

24. The Most Hated Man on the Internet (2022)

It doesn’t take long into this three-part docuseries to realise that the title is not particularly hyperbolic. In fact, Hunter Moore, founder of the ‘revenge porn’ site IsAnyoneUp.com and self-proclaimed ‘professional life ruiner,’ is likely reveled in the designation. In the early 2010s, Moore posted thousands of nude photos of women without consent, and gave smirking interviews sloughing off the outrage. But this doc isn’t exactly about him – it’s about Charlotte Laws, who launched a tireless campaign to get her daughters’ private photos taken down and Moore’s site off the internet.

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