Even as kids, we’re drawn to the tension between good and evil, and true crime embodies our fascination with that dynamic. Here’s a list of true-crime movies and documentaries you can binge-watch during the Coronavirus outbreak to escape daily stresses through narrative transportation. While some may consider binge-watching a waste of precious time, the opportunity it provides for healthy disconnection is invaluable.
Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019) on Netflix. Ted Bundy was one of Americas most notorious serial killers. He was convicted in the deaths of more than 30 women before being caught in 1978. Thirty years after Bundy’s 1989 execution, this docuseries brings viewers into the mind of the criminal known as the “Jack Ripper of the United States.” Oscar-nominated director Joe Berlinger pieces together archival footage and audio recordings of Bundy that were made while he was on death row to provide the unique perspective of hearing the killer analyze his own life and motives. More than 100 hours of interviews were used to create this four-part series.
Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer (2020) on Amazon. After years of silence, Ted Bundy’s long-term girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall, her daughter Molly, and other survivors come forward for the first time in a docuseries that reframes Bundy’s crimes from a female perspective. The series reveals how Bundy’s pathological hatred of women collided with the culture wars and feminist movement of the 1970s in one of the most infamous crime stories of our time.
The Confession Killer (2019) on Netflix. Henry Lee Lucas was known as America’s most prolific serial killer, admitting to hundreds of murders, but, as DNA results contradict his confessions, will they expose the biggest criminal justice hoax in U.S. history?
Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (2019) on Netflix. A twisted criminal’s gruesome videos drive a group of amateur online sleuths to launch a risky manhunt that brings them into a dark underworld.
Murder in the Bayou (2019) on Hulu. Based on a best-selling book, this five-part true crime docu-series investigates the unsolved murders of 8 women whose bodies were discovered in drainage canals and on desolate back roads in and around Jennings, Louisiana. In examining the lives of the young victims, the series uncovers secrets of this troubled town. These discoveries lead to even more shocking accusations by victims’ relatives and friends of corruption, bad actors and institutional injustices that have left the town still searching for truth.
The Jinx: The Life And Deaths Of Robert Durst (2015) on HBO. The groundbreaking six-part documentary delves into the strange history of real estate heir Robert Durst, long suspected in the still-unsolved 1982 disappearance of his wife as well as the subsequent murders of family friend Susan Berman and neighbor Morris Black. Featuring an extended, revealing interview with Durst himself, “The Jinx” results from nearly a decade of research by the filmmakers, who expose police files, key witnesses, never-before-seen footage, private prison recordings, and thousands of pages of formerly hidden documents.
Interview with a Serial Killer (2008) on Netflix. In this jailhouse interview, Arthur Shawcross, the Genesee River Killer, shares candid details of his crimes and his surprising family bonds.
See No Evil: The Moors Murders (2006) on Amazon. A killing spree in the Manchester area claims the lives of children during the 1960s.
Interrogation (2020) on CBS All Access. The interrogation of a young man who is charged and eventually convicted of brutally murdering his mother.
Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (2020) on Netflix. Through interviews with friends, players and insiders, this docuseries examines how Aaron Hernandez went from an NFL star to a convicted killer.
The Case Against Adnan Syed is on Sky Atlantic (2019) on HBO. A re-examination of the 1999 disappearance and murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee in Baltimore County and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed.
I Am the Night (2019) on TNT/Hulu. This limited suspense drama is inspired by true events, telling the tale of teenager Fauna Hodel, who was given away at birth. The mystery of Fauna’s origin has never greatly affected her, until one day she discovers something that makes her question everything. An investigation leads Fauna to reporter Jay Singletary, and together they follow a trail that ends at the doorstep of infamous gynecologist Dr. George Hodel, a man involved in some of Hollywood’s darkest debauchery, and possibly, its most infamous unsolved crime.
The Preppy Murder: Death in Central Park (2019) on AMC. The documentary takes a deeper look into the murder of Jennifer Levin, exposes evidence that was inadmissible in the trial and looks into the circumstances that made the story unfold the way it did. America’s untamed ambition in the mid-1980s, the rarified lifestyle of New York’s privileged prep school kids, sexism, elitism, an all-out tabloid media war that blamed the victim and an imperfect justice system.
The Staircase (2018) on Netflix. In 2001 novelist Michael Peterson’s wife died, and he claimed she perished after falling down stairs at their home. The medical examiner, however, determined that she had been beaten with a weapon, which led to Peterson becoming a suspect in what would become a murder investigation. This series, which began with eight episodes in 2005 before being updated in 2013 and 2018, follows the investigation as it proceeds from Peterson’s arrest to a verdict being reached in the ensuing trial. The real-life courtroom thriller offers a rare and revealing inside look at a high-profile murder trial and an examination of contemporary American justice.
I Am a Killer (2018) on Netflix. Featuring never-before-seen footage with unprecedented access to prisons across the United States, this crime documentary series gives insight into the stories of prisoners who are awaiting their fate on death row. Each episode profiles a different prisoner convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Recounting the events that led up to their crime, the killers reveal their motivations and how they now view their actions. Viewers’ attitudes are challenged by different viewpoints and the prisoners’ stories about how split-second decisions changed the course of their lives.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace (2018) on Netflix. The second season of the FX true crime anthology television series American Crime Story.
The Confession Tapes (2017) on Netflix. When is a confession not a confession? When it’s involuntary, coerced or downright false. Those are the claims made by the subjects featured in this true-crime series. Each episode goes inside a case in which a murder suspect made a confession but later backtracked. Episodes include interviews with investigators, lawyers, wrongful conviction experts and people close to those involved in the cases. Audio and video recordings of the suspects’ interactions with members of law enforcement are also presented to help determine the legality of the confessions.
Casting JonBenét (2017) on Netflix. After two decades of media speculation and public fascination, filmmakers explore the macabre legacy of the world’s most famous child-murder case.
The Investigator: A British Crime Story (2016) on Netflix. Mark Williams-Thomas has 11 years of police experience, specializing in child protection. Over the last two decades he has been investigating major crime, including the unveiling of Jimmy Savile as a sexual abuser.
A Crime to Remember (2013-2018) on Investigation Discovery. Actual murder cases from the 1950s and ‘60s get sleek, cinematic treatment in this series, transporting viewers back to a pre-forensics era when sometimes it was more about how suspects looked than what they did that determined guilt. Narrative by a fictional bystander (who “knew” the victim) drives the hourlong episodes, while reporters who covered the case explain how the events impacted society. Artfully crafted re-creations play out like period thrillers, staying true to fashions and styles, while spotlighting cultural taboos and social norms surrounding each case.
CRIME AND RELIGION
The Family (2019) on Netflix. An enigmatic conservative Christian group known as the Family wields enormous influence in Washington, D.C., in pursuit of its global ambitions.
Wild Wild Country (2018) on Netflix. When a controversial guru builds a utopian city in the Oregon desert, it causes a massive conflict with local ranchers. This docuseries chronicles the conflict, which leads to the first bioterror attack in the United States and a massive case of illegal wiretapping. It is a pivotal, but largely forgotten, time in American cultural history that tested the country’s tolerance for the separation of church and state. Brothers Mark and Jay Duplass serve as executive producers on the series.
The Keepers (2017) on Netflix. This docuseries tackles the unsolved murder of Cathy Cesnik, a beloved nun and Catholic high school teacher in Baltimore. After disappearing on Nov. 7, 1969, Cesnik’s body was found nearly two months later—but to this day, the killer remains unnamed. In the ‘90s, the case returned to the spotlight after one of Cesnik’s former students accused the high school’s chaplain of sexual abuse, and claims that she was taken to Cesnik’s then undiscovered corpse and threatened. Director Ryan White pieces together the story through conversations with friends, relatives, journalists, government officials and Baltimore citizens, hoping to uncover the truth.
Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses(2015). A family unwittingly kills one of their own during a four-day exorcism.
Paradise Lost Trilogy (1996) on YouTube. The three-part HBO documentary follows the trials of the West Memphis Three: teenage boys who were charged with killing and mutilating the bodies of three young boys in a Satanic ritual.
BANK HEISTS, KIDNAPPINGS, DISAPPEARANCES, AND CORRUPTION
The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann (2019) on Netflix. The documentary takes a detailed look at the disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCann, who vanished from the seaside resort of Praia de Luz in Portugal, while on holiday with her family.
Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist (2018) on Netflix. A true crime documentary series about the murder of Brian Wells, a high-profile 2003 incident often referred to as the “collar bomb” or “pizza bomber” case.
Murder Mountains (2018) on Netflix. In Humboldt County, California, the big business of legal marijuana brings in visitors from around the world. Some are never seen again.
Abducted In Plain Sight (2017) on Netflix. In this true crime documentary, a family falls prey to the manipulative charms of a neighbor, who abducts their adolescent daughter. Twice.
The Moorside (2017) on Amazon. This complex drama about the real-life disappearance of 9 year-old Shannon Matthews drew over 10 million UK viewers. Sheridan Smith stars.
Captive (2016) on Netflix. The documentary explored the escalating international trend of hostage-taking and the efforts that are taken in response.
The Seven Five (2014) on Amazon. Former NYPD officer Michael Dowd tells how he and his partner committed a long list of crimes, including running their own cocaine ring, while on the job in the 1980s and early ‘90s.
Natascha Kampusch: The Whole Story (2010) on Netflix. A Viennese child who was kidnapped and held captive in a basement before escaping after eight years reveals her headline-making story of survival.
WOMEN ON TRIAL
Inventing Anna (2020) on Netflix. This upcoming American drama web television limited series was created and produced by Shonda Rhimes, based on the New York Magazinearticle “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People” by Jessica Pressler.
The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley (2019) on Amazon. With a new invention that promised to revolutionize blood testing, Elizabeth Holmes became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, heralded as the next Steve Jobs. Then, just two years later, her multibillion-dollar company was dissolved.
The Dropout (2019) on ABC’s 20/20 (S41 E28). This is the story of Elizabeth Holmes and the fall of her start-up Theranos is an unbelievable tale of ambition and fame gone terribly wrong.
Lorena (2019) on Amazon. Lorena Bobbitt became a household name in 1993 when she cut off her husband’s penis. She became the butt of jokes as her story became a fixture on cable news. Twenty-five years after the case of Lorena and John Bobbitt, executive producer Jordan Peele reinvestigates the story that made headlines around the world. “Lorena” explores vital moral issues and the missed opportunity for a national discussion about domestic violence and sexual assault that surrounded the scandal. The four-part series, which looks back at the trial and the media coverage of it, includes interviews with the Bobbitts as they look back at the newsmaking incident a quarter-century earlier.
The Act (2019) on Hulu. Dee Dee Blanchard is overprotective of her daughter, Gypsy, who is trying to escape the toxic relationship she has with her mother. Gypsy’s quest for independence opens up a Pandora’s box of secrets, which ultimately leads to murder. The stranger-than-fiction true-crime series is based on a 2016 BuzzFeed article that detailed the shocking 2015 crime. Oscar winner Patricia Arquette and Oscar nominee Chloë Sevigny star in the Hulu original series.
Mommy Dead and Dearest (2019) on HBO. The documentary film is about the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard, for which her daughter, Gypsy Rose Blanchard, and Gypsy’s boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, were accused.
Amanda Knox (2016) on Netflix. She was twice convicted and acquitted of murder. Amanda Knox and the people closest to her case speak out in this illuminating documentary.
MURDER, RACE, AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke (2019) on Netflix. This documentary film is about Sam Cooke, the artist and activist, and the circumstances and controversy surrounding his murder.
When They See Us (2019) on Netflix. In 1989 a jogger was assaulted and raped in New York’s Central Park, and five young people were subsequently charged with the crime. The quintet, labeled the Central Park Five, maintained its innocence and spent years fighting the convictions, hoping to be exonerated. This limited series spans a quarter of a century, from when the teens are first questioned about the incident in the spring of 1989, going through their exoneration in 2002 and ultimately the settlement reached with the city of New York in 2014. The cast is full of Emmy nominees and winners, including Michael K. Williams, John Leguizamo, Felicity Huffman, and Blair Underwood. Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Ava DuVernay co-wrote and directed the four episodes.
The Devil Next Door (2019) on Netflix. A Cleveland grandfather is brought to trial in Israel, accused of being the infamous Nazi death camp guard known as Ivan the Terrible.
Cold Case Hammarskjöld (2019) on Oxygen. Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl are trying to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjöld. As their investigation closes in, they discover a crime with even farther reaching consequences.
The Disappearance of the Millbrook Twins (2019) on Oxygen. In 1990, 15-year-old African American twin sisters Dannette and Jeannette Millbrook disappeared in Augusta, GA. Despite being one of the few cases of missing twins in American history, their disappearance gained little media attention. Law enforcement dismissed the girls as runaways. For decades, their family pleaded for help, but the case went cold. Now, former prosecutor Laura Coates and retired detective Page Reynolds examine the case in a search for justice.
Strong Island (2017) on Netflix. When filmmaker Yance Ford investigates the 1992 murder of a young black man, it becomes an achingly personal journey since the victim, 24-year-old William Ford Jr., was the filmmaker’s brother.
Time: The Kalief Browder Story (2017) on Netflix. The criminal justice system tragically failed 16-year-old Kalief Browder, who spent three years in Rikers Island jail awaiting trial—two of those years in solitary confinement—after being arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack. The case was never prosecuted, the charges were ultimately dropped, and Browder committed suicide after his release. His story and the challenges it poses to a basic understanding of American liberties are central to this six-part documentary. It’s a comprehensive review of the case, using first-person accounts, archival footage, and cinematic re-creations of key scenes from Browder’s life. Exclusive interviews with a wide range of people connected to the story, from politicians to close friends and family members to social reformers, are also featured.
OJ: Made in America (2016) on Amazon. The American documentary, produced and directed by Ezra Edelman for ESPN Films and their 30 for 30 series, was released as a five-part miniseries and in theatrical format.
The People vs. O.J. Simpson (2016) on Netflix. This is the first season of the FX true crime anthology television series American Crime Story. The season revolves around the O. J. Simpson murder case and is based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson (1997).
Ken Burns: The Central Park Five (2013) on Amazon. In 1989, five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem were arrested and later convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park. The Central Park Five tells the story of that horrific crime, the rush to judgment by the police, a media clamoring for sensational stories and an outraged public, and the five lives upended by this miscarriage of justice.
TORTURE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE
The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez (2020) on Netflix. A boy’s brutal murder and the public trials of his guardians and social workers prompt questions about the system’s protection of vulnerable children.
Delhi Crime (2019) on Netflix. Based on a Delhi gang rape case, this crime drama follows the Delhi Police investigation into the finding of the men who perpetrated the crime.
Surviving R. Kelly(2019) on Netflix. This documentary series reveals young women emerging from the shadows and uniting their voices against singer R. Kelly. Celebrated as one of the greatest R&B singers of all time, R. Kelly’s career has been plagued with rumors of abuse, pedophilia, and predatory behavior toward women. Now, survivors are stepping forward to detail new allegations about his physical, mental, and sexual abuse. More than 50 interviews with those who include civil rights activist Tarana Burke, musicians John Legend and Sparkle, talk show host Wendy Williams, and R. Kelly’s family members shed light on the singer’s controversial past.
Unbelievable (2019) on Netflix. When a teen reports being raped, then recants her story, two female detectives follow evidence that could reveal the truth; based on a true story.
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019). Filmmaker Eva Orner examines the dramatic rise and fall of hot yoga founder, Bikram Choudhury. Orner covers many of the details addressed in the podcast miniseries ‘30 for 30’.
Tricked (2013) on iTune. Examining all sides of America’s sex-trafficking trade, which destroys lives as it generates $3 billion a year, and following the Denver vice squad as they pursue sex traffickers and rescue victims of the trade.
Appropriate Adult (2011) on Amazon. Drama exploring the complex relationship between serial killer Fred West and trainee social worker Janet Leach.
Capturing the Friedmans (2003) on Amazon. While preparing a documentary about children’s birthday party entertainers, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki learned that one of his subjects, professional clown David Friedman, was the son and brother of two men who had been convicted of child sexual abuse in a high-profile 1980s criminal trial. Using home videos made by the Friedman family before and during the trial, as well as new interviews, Jarecki explores the conflicting stories of the accused, the alleged victims and the investigators.
For Life (2020) on ABC. Inspired by the life of Isaac Wright Jr., “For Life” is a fictional serialized legal and family drama about an imprisoned man, Aaron Wallace, who becomes a lawyer, litigating cases for other inmates while fighting to overturn his own life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. His quest for freedom is driven by his desperate desire to get back to the family he loves and reclaim the life that was stolen from him. Aaron’s complicated relationship with a progressive female prison warden helps shine a light on the flaws and challenges in the U.S. penal and legal systems.
The Innocent Man (2018) on Netflix. Two murders that shook the small town of Ada, Okla., in the 1980s gained national attention and even led to renowned author John Grisham writing a nonfiction book about the crimes. Now Grisham serves as an executive producer for this six-part docuseries (which shares its name with his 2006 book ) that takes a closer look at the notorious deaths. “The Innocent Man” includes interviews with the victims’ friends and family members, Ada residents, attorneys, journalists and others involved in the case -- including Grisham himself. The series, directed by Clay Tweel (“Gleason”), blends new footage with compelling archival video and photos.
Long Shot (2017) on Netflix. It is a short documentary film about how Juan Catalan is arrested for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. A TV show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, contains raw footage that is helpful in the case for Juan’s proof of innocence.
Out of Thin Air (2017) on Netflix. A notorious murder case is picking up 40 years after six were convicted for two strange murders in Iceland, after doubt is cast on the original confessions.
Shadow of Truth (2016) on Netflix. The four part documentary mini-series examinesthe mysterious murder case of 13-year-old Israeli Tair Rada and the subsequent conviction of a Ukrainian immigrant.
Making a Murderer (2015) on Netflix. Exonerated after spending nearly two decades in prison for a crime he did not commit, Steven Avery filed suit against Manitowoc County, Wis., and several individuals involved with his arrest. Shortly after, however, Avery found himself behind bars again, this time accused of the murder of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach. She was last seen on Avery’s property, where she was to photograph a vehicle. Avery and nephew Brendan Dassey were tried and (spoiler alert) convicted of the crime. But that’s not the end of the story. When Columbia graduate students Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos read about Avery, they felt his story would make an interesting documentary. Neither PBS nor HBO were interested, but Netflix took on their concept to produce the docuseries, which generated plenty of publicity and prompted petitions to have Avery’s case reviewed, though officials in Wisconsin insist all the evidence is not presented in the program.
Dream/Killer (2015) on Netflix. A father takes on the judicial system after his son is convicted for a murder based on a dream.