The true crime renaissance shows no signs of stopping, and human history has no shortage of graphic and shocking tales ripe for filmmakers and documentarians to revisit for streaming audiences. Netflix has led the charge in preserving true crime classics like Errol Morris's 1988 non-fiction film The Thin Blue Line, and rapidly producing ghastly tales about the worst, most violent days in people's lives. These true crime films, shows, and documentaries are not for the faint of heart. But for many, the abyss of human behavior is impossible not to stare into. Thankfully, Netflix will check in with you every few episodes to make sure that abyss isn't staring back.
Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist
A man walks into a bank with a bomb locked around his neck. It’s a terrifying, impossible-to-imagine situation, and it’s only the beginning of
Evil Genius, Mark and Jay Duplass’s second slam-dunk true crime documentary. It’s a nuanced and compelling story, but the depraved lengths one woman went to in organizing the heist are true nightmare fuel.
Netflix produced a follow-up to the Peabody-winning 2004 docuseries about the trial of Michael Peterson, who was convicted of murdering his wife, Kathleen. The Staircase is the second time documentarian Jean-Xavier de Lestrade has revisited the story of how Kathleen wound up in a pool of her own blood at the bottom of the stairs in her own home. It continues to captivate viewers thanks to the pure level of access de Lestrade was given from the beginning and the rollercoaster of emotions as Michael’s guilt or innocence wavers in and out of focus.
The Confession Tapes
Kelly Loudenberg’s seven-part series The Confession Tapes turns the true crime genre on its head. Instead of a breadcrumb trail of clues and inferences leading to a guilty monster behind bars, it explores the heartbreaking phenomenon of false confessions elicited by police. With a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this untrue crime series is a must-watch.
Making a Murderer Parts 1 and 2
It’s been three years since Making a Murderer broadcast the story of Steven Avery’s wrongful rape and murder conviction, lawsuit against the cops, and subsequent conviction for another murder, along with his nephew Brendan Dassey. The tale won four Emmys and, along with Serial, helped cement the current true crime craze into the national psyche. In October, filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos released Part II through Netflix, following the attempt by attorney Kathleen Zellner to overturn Steven Avery’s conviction for the the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach. The details of the crime are gruesome, but more horrifying are the miscarriages of justice behind the case.
This isn’t a murder documentary, but the scale and depravity of the true corporate crimes outlined in Academy Award winner Alex Gibney’s Netflix series are, at times, just as haunting. The standout episodes follow the internet’s favorite pharma bro punching bag Martin Shkreli and, in an episode titled “The Confidence Man,” President Donald Trump. “You have to [empathize with these people],” Gibney told the Guardian , which is the scary part of watching Dirty Money. “Otherwise, you inhabit a view of the world that I don’t believe in, which is that there are good people and bad people, whereas I believe we’re all a mixture of both.”
I Am a Killer
I Am a Killer is 10 straight episodes of chilling one-on-one conversation with convicted murderers on death row. Just as harrowing as their crimes are the glimmers of humanity that often shine through the dingy prisons and monochromatic uniforms. The inmates grapple with their crimes, the system punishing them, and their own eventual mortality. Particularly uncanny is the case of Deandra Buchanan, who doesn’t remember killing his aunt, step-father, and girlfriend—but also doesn’t deny that the evidence against him is damning.
The Thin Blue Line
The award-winning non-fiction film that pioneered Errol Morris’s iconic blend of interviews and staged visualizations is just as powerful 30 years later. The Thin Blue Line follows Randall Dale Adams, an Ohio man wrongfully convicted of murdering a Texas cop. He was exonerated after Morris’ examination of the circumstances around his arrest brought national attention to the case.
Morris has mastered his style and technique over the last three decades, bringing it all the bear in his investigation into the CIA’s mind control program, Project MKUltra. It’s centered on the mysterious death of Frank Olsen, a bacteriologist who researched biological warfare and worked for the CIA. It’s known that his supervisor secretly dosed him with LSD, and nine days later he died by plummeting from a window. Some have suspected murder for years, and Morris gets as close to what really happened as possible in a cinematic six-part series, aided by transfixing performances by Peter Sarsgaard, Molly Parker, Christian Camargo, and Jimmi Simpson.
Remastered: Who Shot the Sheriff?
On December 3, 1976, Bob Marley, his wife Rita, and his manager Don Taylor were shot at his home in Kingston, Jamaica. Two days later he was slated to perform for 80,000 people at a concert called Smile Jamaica. Remastered: Who Shot the Sheriff is a deep dive into the the mystery of who made the attempt on Marley’s life, and why. It’s the first in a series of music documentaries that examine pivotal intersections between art and politics.
Amanda Knox’s horrifying story of living abroad in Italy and winding up embroiled in an eight-year murder trial is truly a modern horror story. This Netflix documentary by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn presents her story in its full, terrifying depth with unprecedented access to Knox, her former Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, and infamous prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, who remains convinced of her guilt to this day.
American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson
It’s no accident that the first season of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s American Crime Story anthology won nine Emmys and landed a remarkable 97 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The performances by Sarah Paulsen as dedicated, but unlucky prosecutor Marcia Clark, Sterling K. Brown as her partner Christopher Darden, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as OJ himself are truly top tier. But the pacing and narrative will glue your eyeballs to the screen for all 10 episodes. For those that didn’t live through it, the series really drives home why this case so powerfully captured national attention. (We highly recommend pairing with the eight-hour docuseries O.J.: Made in America, which is streaming on Hulu.)
David Fincher is ideally suited to direct this cerebral take on the origin of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit. It’s a dark, gritty, terrifying look into the underbelly of the human mind. It’s easy to imagine FBI Agent Holden Ford and behavioral psychologist-turned-FBI Agent Bill Tench , who use insight gathered from captured serial killers to solve special murders, would be the type of detectives needed to hunt down Tyler Durden.
America’s most famous militant luddite anarchist, Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. The Unabomber, goes head to head with FBI investigator Jim Fitzgerald in the first season of the Discovery Channel’s new true crime anthology series, Manhunt. Of course, in reality the 20-year investigation—the FBI’s longest-ever—was conducted by a huge team with a ton of databases, but it’s better for the tight script. The killer performances from Paul Bettany and Sam Worthington as Kaczynski and Fitzgerald don’t hurt either, altogether landing the series a whopping 93 percent on the Tomatometer.
Despite a title that will have little meaning for Americans unaware of recent events in Norway, 22 July is a film that addresses the startling violence of a right wing terrorist who impersonated a police officer, blew up a government building in Oslo, and then attacked a youth leadership camp on a nearby island. American director Paul Greengrass, of Bourne series fame, casted Norwegian actors for this unique story, which doesn’t just follow the hunt for the domestic terrorist behind the attacks, but one survivor’s struggle throughout the aftermath.
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