Can’t get enough true crime content? Then check out 15 of the best true crime documentaries to satisfy your morbid fascination.View in gallery
Throughout history people have been captivated by acts of violence, and criminal intent. From asking why people commit these crimes, to wondering how they can pull them off in the first place.
And although these questions often go unanswered, the fascination remains. All the while giving rise to entire catalogues of information on the criminals, their crimes, and most importantly the victims.
For anyone who enjoys a deeper look at the psyche, and methodology of criminals, true crime documentaries can help further your personal research. And in some cases, they even help close cases.
Best True Crime Documentaries on Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Amazon Prime
With true crime documentaries, viewers are able to get more information, interviews, and theories they wouldn’t receive through the news media. And true crime obsessed viewers wouldn’t have it any other way.
Therefore, we came up with a list of 15 of the best true crime documentaries to stream in 2021. And there’s something for everyone. From ongoing docuseries, to the best documentaries of the past. All are sure to captivate, and all are worth watching.
1. Tiger King
At the start of 2020, with the world bracing for the uncertainty of a global pandemic, the “Tiger King” began his reign on what has become one of the best true crime documentaries on Netflix.
And with lockdowns in place, the world suddenly has nothing better to do than take in the train wreck that is Tiger King.
But there’s more to this true crime documentary than just redneck romanticism and big cats. By the end of this wild escapade, the exotic animals are a sideshow act to Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, and the rest of the crew.
What you expect to be an inside look at petting zoos and illegal animal trades goes way beyond your wildest imagination. And what unfolds is a trail of drugs, extortion, and murder.
A “who done it” true crime documentary for the ages. And it doesn’t end there. You can catch a new season of Tiger King streaming on Netflix on November 17th, 2021.
WATCH ON NETFLIX
2. Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer
For criminal profilers, a history of animal abuse is often an early sign of something even more sinister. So when mysterious videos of someone torturing kittens began circulating the internet, a group of vigilante crime fighters formed.
Although it’s obvious that the person in those videos is sick, what remains unknown is far more disturbing.
By forming a Facebook group to track down the animal abuser, the vigilante group opens a frightening can of worms.
Through the use of cyber forensics, teamwork, and common sense, the group uncovers a dark, twisted truth – they’re hunting a murderer.
Will the killer be stopped? Are the cops looking in the right places? Find out how the story unfolds in one of the best true crime documentaries. And remember, don’t f**k with cats.
WATCH ON NETFLIX
3. The Vow
Even though multi-level marketing feels like a cult, it’s usually nothing more than a petty pyramid scheme.
But one self proclaimed personal empowerment guru takes it many levels beyond the norm. With the help of the rich and famous, clever promises, and charisma, Keith Reniere is able to take hold of the minds and bodies of NXIVM’s members.
For an extensive look at the cult’s heinous acts, HBO interviews cult experts and some of NXIVM’s former members. And it’s quite the star studded group for a true crime documentary.
So how did Hollywood stars such as Alison Mack, and Sarah Edmondson get caught up in a cult of racketeering, and sex trafficking? And just how dark do the crimes of NXIVM get?
If you’re eager to learn more about the inner workings of the secretive cult, then you need to watch HBO’s true crime documentary series, The Vow.
WATCH ON HBO
4. Amanda Knox
What began as an exciting semester abroad ends in a whirlwind of courtrooms, murder, and satanic cults. How Amanda Knox became a household name is a story many know. But what really happened?
In her own Netflix true crime documentary, Amanda gets to tell her side of the story. And she attempts to shed light on her ill treatment at the hands of the Italian legal system.
Sadly this case is one with many victims. While Amanda lost years of her life, Meredith Kercher suffered a horrific death.
And with many believing that this is a case of college student deviant behavior, Amanda sets out to clear her name. Because even though the courts overturn her conviction, the public eye has left its mark.
You can hear her side of the story in her self-titled true crime documentary, Amanda Knox, streaming on Netflix.
WATCH ON NETFLIX
5. American Murder: The Family Next Door
For some people the perfect life requires sacrifices. And with those sacrifices, comes resentment.
Or maybe the grass starts to look greener on the other side of the white picket fence. But even with the warnings not to trust the green grass on the other side, it’s often too tempting.
And for Chris Watts, the picturesque picket fence life didn’t satisfy him anymore. However, instead of leaving his wife Shanann and their two daughters, Chris did the unimaginable – he took their lives.
Even for the avid true crime fans, American Murder: The Family Next Door is jarring. Because in this true crime documentary, it’s Chris taking the viewer on a manhunt to find Shanann and their two daughters.
Through the use of crime scene reporting, Shanann’s vlogs, and text messages, viewers get intimate with the details of the case. And find out what it takes to drive a father to do the unthinkable to his family.
WATCH ON NETFLIX
During the 90s it became nearly impossible to escape gossip news. With networks broadcasting longer, the need for more topics grew. And true crime became a ratings sensation.
Oftentimes due to networks sensationalizing events, we feel a disconnect from the situation. Instead of tragedies, they become our nightly entertainment. Of course if anyone is guilty of letting their morbid curiosity get the best of them, it has to be true crime fans.
But some cases become bigger than the genre itself, as seen with Lorena Bobbitt.
In the 90s Lorena Bobbitt threw her husband’s severed penis into a field. And even today it’s seen as a running gag. However, when you take a look at the big picture, it’s a tragic tale.
Instead of making crude jokes about the case, Jordan Peele’s Lorena challenges the viewer to see the case from a new perspective. Because the Bobbitt household wasn’t a happy one. And Jordan Peele’s 2019 true crime documentary serves to reexamine the events driving Lorena’s actions.
Want to experience the rise of tabloid culture? Then stream Lorena on Amazon.
WATCH ON AMAZON
7. The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness
If you’ve heard of the Son of Sam murders then you know this case is as bizarre and disturbing as they come. And if you aren’t familiar then you’re in for a wild ride. Because as gruesome as the Son of Sam murders get, the reason why is even more out there.
When originally confessing, David Berkowitz, or rather Son of Sam, told investigators about his involvement in a satanic cult.
But it didn’t stop there. Berkowitz then shares that he gets orders to kill from his neighbor’s dog.
Even though prosecutors have a confession, questions about the murders remain. Did Berkowitz act alone? Or did he mean it when he said that there are other Sons out there?
The Sons of Sam is a true crime documentary that sets out to document the personal investigation of Maury Terry. And Terry’s evidence points to more than one assailant.
But what do you think? Is this case still open, or did police convict the sole perpetrator? Go ahead and watch The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness to see where Terry’s investigation takes you.
WATCH ON NETFLIX
8. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
After years of avoiding the media, real estate tycoon, Robert Durst, sits down for a series of interviews. And the resulting footage, along with police evidence, and a questionable confession, are now one of the best true crime documentaries.
First, Robert Durst is a suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack. Then, he becomes a suspect in the murder of his friend, Susan Berman. And finally, he admits to killing his neighbor, Morris Black, in self defense. However, due to a lack of evidence, he receives an acquittal.
However, Durst can’t avoid the consequences of his vile actions much longer. Because following the release of The Jinx, Durst is taken into custody. And with the timing of his arrest and the release of the documentary overlapping, the court of public opinion is on the case.
As of 2021, Robert Durst is awaiting sentencing in regards to his role in Kathleen McCormack’s disappearance and death. And he will be serving a life sentence for the murder of Susan Berman.
So catch up on the details of the Durst cases and stream The Jinx on HBO.
WATCH ON HBO
9. We Were Children
For each story told through a true crime documentary, there are countless other victims whose stories go untold. And for the indigenous peoples of North America, those stories are in the thousands.
In order to help share the victim’s stories, the team behind We Were Children uses their platform to highlight two individual cases. And by doing so, they’ve been able to spread awareness of the horrific residential school system.
With a dramatic retelling, the documentary acts as a memorial for the victims. And We Were Children goes on to serve an important role in the fight for justice.
If you want to learn more about the inhumane treatment of indigenous peoples within the residential schools, stream We Were Children.
WATCH ON AMAZON
10. Murder Among the Mormons
There’s big money in antiquities and historical documents. And where there’s heavy cash flow, it’s safe to say there’s crime. Which sets the stage for Mark Hoffman, a master forger and renounced Mormon, to make money off of the LDS Church.
But eventually Hoffman’s prolific forgery enterprise blows up in his face – literally.
After getting himself into some pretty serious debt, Hoffman runs out of ways to repay his business associates. So, he devises a plan to set off a couple bombs in order to get a few people out of his way. Then in order to throw the police off his trail, Hoffman bombs his own car.
And in Netflix’s 2021 true crime documentary, Murder Among the Mormons, viewers get to piece together Hoffman’s actions. While also learning about the black-market for historical documents and artifacts.
WATCH ON NETFLIX
11. Unsolved Mysteries
One of the biggest names in true crime documentaries is Unsolved Mysteries. And Unsolved Mysteries has been casting new light on cold cases since the 80s. Even helping to solve or bring new evidence forward with cases the series covers.
After the docuseries went off the air for a decade, it came back streaming on Netflix. Between the show’s original popularity, and the current demand for true crime documentaries, Unsolved Mysteries is getting a second season.
For the Netflix series, the creators use a strict crime documentary format. Unlike the original show that would shift between chilling tales of paranormal events, and unsolved cases.
You can catch up on the Unsolved Mysteries reboot streaming on Netflix before the next season airs in 2023. Or stream older episodes on Hulu.
12. Forensic FilesView in gallery
If you’re looking for a true crime documentary series that’s perfect for casual viewing, then check out Forensic Files. Additionally, you’ll get 14 years of in depth, yet episodic, retellings of criminal investigations and the science behind the scenes.
When first on the air, Forensic Files goes by the title Medical Detectives–which ultimately fails to match the direction of the show. Originally, the show focuses more on medicine, infectious diseases, and accidents. But the ratings for the true crime episodes steal the show. Ergo the name change.
Instead the show focuses on the forensic sciences behind the cases. And unlike many true crime docuseries, Forensic Files covers both big and small cases. As long as they can highlight the investigation’s use of forensics.
And since it’s episodic, you can jump around. Or just binge the entire collection on Netflix, and Hulu.
WATCH ON NETFLIX AND HULU
13. I Am a Killer
While so many true crime documentaries choose to simply discuss the perpetrators, some take it even further.
With the true crime docuseries I Am a Killer, each episode features a new death row inmate. And each inmate has a chance to tell their version of events.
So, you don’t learn about their crimes solely from the investigative point of view–or just from the point of view of the victim’s loved ones. Instead, you hear it from the very people that are locked up for those crimes.
Find out exactly what drove these people to kill. And hear them out as they discuss the crimes they’re currently awaiting execution for.
If you enjoy getting into the mind of murderers, and convicts, then I Am a Killer is a must-watch show.
WATCH ON NETFLIX
14. Making a Murderer
Following the release of true crime podcast Serial, people can’t get enough of true crime. And it isn’t long before Netflix releases Making a Murderer, a true crime documentary that propels the genre to new heights.
For ten years, filmmakers document the life of Steven Avery, a man on trial for the violent rape and murder of Teresa Halbach. But Avery’s case is unique due to a previous wrongful conviction.
Following his release, and as of May 2006, Avery is the only exoneree from Project Innocence to be charged with a violent crime.
But there are some issues with Avery’s case. However, with the popularity of Making a Murderer, new information is coming to light. And Avery’s legal team is still working hard to discover the truth.
Not only does Making a Murderer receive high praise, but it also helps expose flaws within the American criminal justice system.
Was there a coverup for a bigger crime? Did they coerce a testimony out of Avery’s nephew? And what really happened to Teresa Halbach if Avery didn’t kill her?
These questions and more will plague your mind after watching the genre defining true crime documentary, Making a Murderer.
WATCH ON NETFLIX
15. The Keepers
While it’s no secret that the Catholic Church has many scandals, the scandal surrounding Cathy Cesnik remains as such – a secret.
After missing for two months, Cathy Cesnik’s body is found in an open trash dump in Lansdowne, Maryland. And despite her status within the church, her case remains unsolved to this day.
Eventually, a dark secret unravels – Joseph Maskell, a priest at the school Cesnik taught at, is sexually abusing students. And Cesnik may have known. However, the case goes cold for decades before anyone comes forward with new information.
But thanks to former students at the school, more information has slowly come to light. Due in part to the Netflix true crime documentary The Keepers.
Finally able to tell their stories, the students sit down to discuss the wicked crimes of Father Maskell.
Although his involvement in the disappearance and death of Cesnik is unknown, the allegations against him are damning.
If you want to learn more about Cath Cesnik’s disappearance, then you need to stream The Keepers on Netflix. And you can decide for yourself if Maskell is to blame.
WATCH ON NETFLIX
Why Do We Watch True Crime Documentaries?View in gallery
As it becomes a challenge to avoid true crime, many question the popularity of the genre, and why others watch it.
But the truth is, crime is fascinating.
However, true crime also serves as a catharsis, or a means to ease anxieties for many. By watching true crime, viewers are able to overcome their terror response, and feel more in control of crisis situations.
And at the end of the day, the little adrenaline rush from true crime documentaries keeps us coming back for more.
Best True Crime Documentaries: Conclusion
If you couldn’t already tell, there’s never been a better time to love true crime documentaries. But with so many great options to choose from, and new releases on their way, it can be hard to keep up.
Therefore, these are the best true crime documentaries to get newbies started, or for longtime fans to revisit.
Do you have any of your own theories about these true crime documentaries? Share them with us in the comments below!