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Culture

21 Of The Greatest True Crime Documentaries To Stream Right Now

Ashlyn Davis Ashlyn Davis

21 Of The Greatest True Crime Documentaries To Stream Right Now

Here’s a marathon of sensational documentaries to satisfy a limitless true-crime appetite. 

The true-crime genre has taken on a life of its own over the years. Every possible platform out there is filled with terrifying portrayals of real-life people and shockingly corrupt justice systems and no one can seem to get enough of it. The Tiger King craze is a testament to that. 

While new documentaries will most certainly be released over the next decade, there are many that merit a watch not only for their wild storyline but for the style and execution of a delicate subject matter. Each of the following films or series has been nominated or awarded at prestigious film festival circuits, some have gone on to win Academy Awards and Emmys. In other cases, they’ve crossed over into real life and have helped free the innocent or build cases around the guilty. While there is no ultimate list of true crime documentaries, these are the ones that every person interested in the genre needs to see at least once. 

1. Thin Blue Line

Do not let the production date deter you. This is 1988 documentary is certainly not the first true crime documentary ever made but it most certainly paved the way for a new beginning in the genre. Errol Morris, now regarded as one of the all-time greats in documentary tackles the story of a roadside cop murder, using elevated reconstructed scenes and set-piece interviews to create a number of varying perspectives.

Awards: International Documentary Award and New York Film Critics Circle Awards.

Watch on Amazon Prime

2. Casting Jon Benet

JonBenet Ramsey was the 6-year-old pageant that became the victim of an unsolved murder exhaustedly covered by the press. This led to a myriad of conspiracies. Director, Kitty Green manages to find an ingenious way to unfold the story by casting locals in a meta-narrative reconstruction of the crime. The casting process allows for odd insights into their own lives and often throws up odd connections to the Ramsey family while also playfully offering up all the conspiracies the audience is yearning for in the process. A must watch, and totally stand out in style.

Awards: Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winner 

Watch on: Netflix 

2. The Staircase

Perhaps the greatest whodunnit? This follows the trial and conviction of crime author, Michael Peterson after he was accused of murdering his wife after she had bled to death at the bottom of their stairs in their North Carolina home. Peterson was the only person in the house at the time but all the evidence seeming to point to a perfectly respectful and happy relationship.

Awards: Peabody and International Documentary Award

Watch on Netflix

2. The Imposter

A uniquely styled documentary with a veneer that makes you question in situ scenes with reconstruction about a mischievous young man in Spain who claims to a grieving Texas family that he is their 16-year-old son reported missing for 3 years. 

Awards: SXSW, and BAFTA.

Watch on Amazon Prime (Included with subscription)

4. OJ Made In America

This was awarded an Oscar and was accepted by the academy as the longest every nominee coming in at over 8 hours. In reality and in distribution terms it Is, in fact, to be digested as a series however it would not have qualified for the academy awards had it not applied as a film. 

Quite simply the best and most compelling socio-political true documentary of our time. OJ Simpson experienced one of the biggest falls from grace after evading culpability for the brutal murder of his wife Nicole Simpson and filmmaker Ezra Edlermann examines his character and history with fastidious details while lifting the veil of on police brutality in the state of California, in parallel to dramatic effect.

Awards: Oscar Winner

Watch on Amazon

5. Paradise Lost-Trilogy

Joe Berlinger, director of both recent Ted Bundy documentary and fiction releases, started his illustrious career with a case that shocked America. Three teenagers are accused of a horrific crime of killing three children, supposedly as a result of involvement in Satanism. Things, of course, turn out to be much more complex than initial appearances and this film presents the real-life courtroom drama to the viewer, as it unfolds.

Awards: Sundance Nominee

Watch on Amazon or HBO (Via Hulu plan)

6. Central Park Five

In 1989 a jogger was assaulted, raped and then murdered in New York’s Central Park, and five young black and Hispanic boys were subsequently charged with the crime, even a young Donald trump weighed in at the time publicly calling for them to be executed. The five boys maintained their innocence and spent years fighting the convictions, hoping to be exonerated. It is now the subject of a dramatization on Netflix by the name of “When they see us”. 

 Awards: Peabody Awards, Emmy Nominee 

Watch on Amazon 

7. Capturing the Friedman’s

Not your everyday True Crime movie, but perhaps a similarly ambiguous and disconcerting experience, This is the story of what at first seems to be a typical, upper-middle-class Jewish family suddenly rocked by the news that their dad and his youngest son are charged with awful and shocking crimes against young children in their community. Forcing us to question what a normal family really looks like from the outside looking in.

Awards: Oscar nominee 

Watch on Hulu (via HBO plan) 

9. Strong Island

This harrowing story is directed by and features Yance Ford- the sister of the victim that the film centers on. In April 1992 William, her brother, a 24-year-old African-American teacher in New York, was killed by Mark P. Reilly, a 19-year-old white chop shop mechanic. Even despite the twists and turns, and police injustices the strength of this film lies more in the sheer weight of testimony from Yance and her mother who articulate events with remarkable clarity and emotion.

Awards: Oscar nominee 

Where to watch: Netflix

10. Audrie and Daisy

The very contemporary and socially important look at the effects that online bullying has on the lives of teenagers and their community. Audrie and Daisy were both involved in sexual assault cases in small communities that chose to protect the boys involved rather find justice for the girls. Social Media proving to be fundamental in the crime, the cover-up and the fightback.

Awards: Sundance nominee 

Watch on Netflix

11. Untouchable

With justice having only just been served, this documentary looks at a number of brave victims as they come forward to expose the tyrannical sex abuser and former Hollywood executive, Harvey Weinstein, as he protected himself using his wealth and enforcing a culture of fear.

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Awards: Sundance nominee 

Watch on Hulu

12. Fear of 13

The emotional and compelling “tell all” of a convicted murderer who has spent 23 years on Death Row tells his story of re-education and redemption.

 Awards: Grierson Award Nominee

Where to watch: Netflix

13. The Seven 5

Michael Dowd stole money and dealt drugs while patrolling the streets of 80s Brooklyn and is remarkably frank about his loss of morality in the eventful and distressing tale of the dirtiest cop in NYC history.

 Awards: Doc NYC and Edinburgh Film Festival 

Where to watch: Amazon Prime 

14. Tabloid

With already one movie on the list Errol Morris’s Tabloid tells the highly unusual story of the very charismatic Joyce McKinney, who in 1977 was accused of kidnapping and raping Kirk Anderson, an American Mormon missionary.

 Awards: Chicago Film Critics Awards 

Watch on Amazon Prime

15. The Jynx

 This mini-series probably has the most dramatic true crime moment ever caught on camera. It tells the devious and malevolent life of New York real estate heir Robert Durst, an accused murderer very happy to offer up his version of events with empathic confidence.

 Awards: Emmy award winner

Watch on HBO

16. Scientology Going Clear

Conceived from a Pulitzer prize-winning book, the household name Alex Gibney deconstructs the absurd claims of the church of Scientology by untangling its bizarre history of and lifting the lid on the founder, L. Ron Hubbard. He interrogates it’s celebrity affiliation and gains access to some compelling ex-members and the abuse they went through while under the church’s supervision.

 Awards: Emmy award winner

Watch on HBO

17. Operation Odessa

Quite possibly the most bizarre and completely off the wall true crime doc, in the same vein as Precinct 75, as after all it’s the same fantastic filmmakers. Operation Odessa, a real life edge of your seat thriller about a Russian mobster, a Miami playboy and a Cuban spy who teamed up to sell a nuclear submarine to a Colombian drug cartel.

 Awards: Golden Reel Award

Watch on Netflix

18. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

 It would not be a must-watch documentary list without a Nick Broomfield title. Aileen Wuornos is claimed to be the world’s first female serial killer. A hitch-hiking prostitute who killed seven of her clients. In the films she is now on death row in the State of Florida. The documentary hears her version and the context behind the crimes, alongside her born-again Christian mother, Arlene Pralle, and her rather exploitative lawyer, Steve Glazer. As time passes and Broomfield begins to look beneath the tag of mass murder, he sees that Aileen could in fact be perceived as a victim in the harrowing circumstances of her own life.

Awards: Sundance Nominee 

Watch on Amazon Prime

19. Leaving Neverland

Many people will have heard of this film due to the sheer fame of the accused in question: At the peak of his fame, Michael Jackson began long-term relationships with two young boys, aged 10 and 7, by winning the trust and reverence of their families. Now, adults and almost thirty years on, they tell the story of how they were sexually manipulated and exploited by Jackson. 

Awards: Emmy Winner

Where to watch: HBO

20. The House I Live In

Now, this is a slightly more cerebral watch and looks at the macro effects of drugs and US drug policy set in Washington. A deep and penetrating look inside America’s criminal justice system, revealing the profound human cost of U.S. drug policy. The film covers both human stories and the hard facts behind the system.Ω

Awards: Oscar Winner

Watch on Amazon Prime

21. 3 ½ Minutes 10 Bullets

This devastating and shocking story details the murder in Florida of the unarmed African American teenager and the trial of his white shooter. Director, Marc Silver’s s access is on the victim’s side and very successfully uses the film to tell a story of the unfortunate justice imbalance in a still racially divided state.  50%

Awards: Oscar Nominee

Watch on HBO