28 Best Netflix Documentaries Based on True Crime

Crime documentaries are the flavor of season. I won’t be wrong to state that documentaries based on true crime have suddenly become the talk of the town (read: internet). They are being rabidly sought after. People who in the past would complain about movies being too long are now binge-watching crime documentaries for hours and hours.  There is something about the dark side of humanity that fascinates us. We, as humans, are curious to understand our dark sides better and that’s what draws us to these documentaries. The suspense and mystery are added bonus. Not to mention, most of these shows are so well made that you can’t take your eyes off them. If you are one of those who love documentaries based on real crime, you have come to the right place. Here’s the list of some really good crime documentary movies on Netflix that are available to stream right now.

28. The Real Godfather (2007)

Fictional stories can often be found in the past as real events, and every crime story has a pint of truth from which the inspiration strikes. From all the infamous mafia legends that have attracted attention all over the world, here’s a documentary about one of those who has left his footsteps imprinted deep and strongly. In the midst of the Sicilian mafia, Bernardo Provenzano stands high as perhaps the boss of all bosses, during his intense activity that lasted decades and decades, until he finally got caught and put in prison. This manhunt is central in this intriguing piece of work that offers a whole lot of the answers to the questions we might face, once diving into this world of danger, violence and Italian criminality.

27. The Galapagos Affair : Satan Came To Eden (2013)

A strange and fascinating story leads the way into the exotic landscape of a little Galápagos island called Floreana. Back in the 1930’s, Friedrich and Dore, two German individuals wanting to exclude themselves from society, leave their respective families in order to live a secluded life in this Ecuadorian inhabited paradise. However, they’re not the only ones who wish to walk the warm ground and wet their feet in the clear water. Let’s just say this obscure tale leaves two possible murders on the way which might or might not get solved. Starring Cate Blanchett and Diane Kruger as voice actors amongst others, it’s a technically well-crafted documentary with loads to feed the eyes.

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26. Tower (2016)

This documentary took a different approach in depicting the horrors of a unforgettable crime. Through rotoscopic animation combined with archival footage, we are given an innovative perspective on historical storytelling. It was August 1st 1966, when a man opened fire from the University of Texas Tower, killing 16 people and wounding many more. From the victims to the saviours, we are told this unforgettable disaster with striking energetic illustrations, that might be strange to some and amazing to others. Give it a chance and experience this cinematic route in between the documentary world.

25. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)

As the title suggest, here we are with a documentary full of rich content concerning an important theme and individual who goes by the name of Marsha P. Johnson. Marsha was an African American drag queen and activist for gay and transvestite rights. Although facing difficult situations and downgrading forces, she was always full of life and the memories her friends kept of her are joyful and powerful. On July 6 of the year 1992 she was found dead in a river, opening a mysterious case ready to be investigated. In between archive materials and interviews, activist Victoria Cruz takes the lead and opens doors into the death of Marsha P. Johnson.

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24. Aileen : Life and Death of A Serial Killer (2003)

Aileen Wuornos is the notorious serial killer that has left this planet with a story that can perhaps never be fully understood and cleared up to its true facts. Portrayed by Charlize Theron in “Monster”, Aileen was a prostitute living on the road who murdered 7 men. After being apprehended, she lived 10 long years on death row before being executed in 2002. Nick Broomfield took a special interest in this unusual persona and followed her  case, which ended up in a 1992 documentary and this 2003 follow-up. With an authentic  approach that deals with close-up facts and investigations, this documentary takes us right into the court room and gives us a troubling insight into the life and death of Aileen Wuornos.

23. Casting JonBenet (2017)

Unsolved crimes can be influential factors for the pick of one documentary or another. However, it doesn’t give us the answer to the crime committed in 1990, we are given a different way of crafting a documentary. In this Kitty Green film, various actor are being cast for the roles of important individuals involved in the murder of 6-year-old beauty pageant JonBenét Ramsey. The mother, the father, the brother, police officers and more are all respectively dressed the same way and given the freedom to act, express and speculate on the murder that moved a whole country. Emotive, fascinating and intriguing at all times, it’s a work of art unique on its own.

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22. Amanda Knox (2016)

This Netflix-distributed documentary dives into the complex case of Meredith Kircher’s murder in 2007, while focusing on Amanda Knox, an American exchange student who was roommates with the victim and therefore a serious suspect. At only 20 years of age she was convicted and spent four years in an Italian prison for a murder she did not commit. With a suspenseful combination of archive footage and interviews of the people connected to the occurrence, Amanda is ready to tell her story to the world, a disastrous incident that’ll grab your attention without a doubt.

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21. Out of Thin Air (2017)

A shocking story about a crime with no evidence rules the intrigue of this amazing documentary. “When murder is just a memory”, says the slogan of the film, it surely means something isn’t right. If we rewind back some decades, we’ll find ourselves in 1976 in the mesmerising landscapes of Iceland. In that year, two men disappeared leaving no trace behind. What to do when a case needs assailants to be accused? Soon six individuals confessed to the crimes, but we already know there’s a trap in this simple-looking story. Be ready to become disturbed and strangely amazed by this scandalous event.

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20. The Imposter (2012)

This documentary, which at times comes to feel like a fiction movie because of its amazingly-produced reenactments and mind-blowing plot, depicts a crime that keeps developing into more suspicious alleys, leaving you stranded in the mids of a true story that seems to have been taken out of a best-seller book. Nicholas Barclay, a blonde 13 year-old from Texas disappears in 1994. Three years later, a boy with dark hair and a French accent is found in Spain, and claims to be the missing child. This is Frédéric Bourdin, a serial impostor who has pretended to be hundreds of identities throughout his life. A depiction of this mysterious adventure begins, with Bourdin and the family members at the centre stage relating the events to the smallest of details.

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19. I am a Killer (2018)

We are already familiar with tons of true crime shows which focus on the cases from the investigator and victim or family point of view. But Netflix’s ‘I Am a Killer’ allows viewers to experience crimes as a first-hand account from the perpetrators themselves. Season 1 of this documentary, which debuted in 2018, focuses on 10 death row inmates over its run of 10 episodes. Each episode explores how a particular offender ended up committing capital murder and what was his history. While some are pretty frank about the events surrounding the cases, others adopt a more mysterious approach. Overall, the brutality and bluntness of this show make it a must-watch for fans of true-crime docu-series. You can watch this series here.

18. The Innocent Man (2018)

‘The Innocent Man’, an American true crime documentary television series, first aired on Netflix on December 14, 2018. It is an adaptation of John Grisham’s non-fiction book, ‘The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town’ written in 2006. The first season comprises 6 episodes and chronicles the strange events surrounding two murder cases in Ada, Oklahoma, committed between 1982 and 1984. For some reasons, the offenders Ron Williamson, Dennis Fritz, Tommy Ward, and Karl Fontenot, had given false confessions. And the documentary explores just that, which raises many more interesting questions. You can watch this series here.

17. Who Took Johnny (2014)

The true story of Johnny Gosh’s disappearance in the early 80’s is an intriguing and disturbing mystery that’ll definitely grab the attention of anyone interested in missing children’s cases or simply in an important part of history. It has been 30 years since this 12 year-old-boy never returned home while delivering the morning newspapers, a story which has had many turns and twists, conspiracy theories and unsolved responses. His mother appears as the central figure in this compelling documentary which shows us the important activity she undertook in order to fight against kidnapping, children abuse and the quality of law enforcement. A heartbreaking story with a door still open.

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16. The Witness (2015)

More than 50 years ago Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered at the front steps of her apartment building. This horrendous disaster led to the formation of the so-called “bystander effect”, after The New York Times published an article claiming there was a large number of witnesses at the crime who did not act in the victim’s defence. Through an emotional journey and impactful closeness, Kitty’s brother now tries to uncover the truth through a personal investigation. A powerful documentary that questions various aspects of this tragic past, while portraying the victim as the kind person that she was, bringing her to life in the memories of the ones who knew her and in the thoughts of the ones who didn’t.

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15. Shadow of Truth (2016)

The Israeli true-crime series, ‘Shadow of Truth’ originally premiered on the Israeli channel HOT8 in March 2016. It was later released for the international audience on January 27, 2017, by Netflix. This award-winning documentary is about the murder of the 13-year-old girl Tair Rada, whose body was discovered in her school bathroom. Further investigations led to the arrest and trial of Ukrainian migrant Roman Zadorov, who was employed at the school.

Each episode of this 4-part series explores a different aspect of the case: episode 1 deals with the version of the police and prosecution, according to which Zadorov is guilty; episode 2 focuses on Zadorov’s defense team. the next episode explores the social-media theory that Tair’s classmates were the real culprits; episode 4 details the testimony of a man who claims that his ex had confessed about the murder on the day of the incident. Giving a real-time view into the flaws of the judicial system, ‘Shadow of Truth’ had received wide critical acclaim upon its release. You can watch this series here.

14. The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019)

Another docu-series that created quite a stir in social media is the Netflix Original, ‘Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes’, which was released on January 24, 2018. This 4-part series brings to the small screen for the first time over 100 hours of interviews and archival footage of the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. It also documents interviews with his family, witnesses, relatives, friends, surviving victims, and the law enforcement members who had worked on his case. Each episode covers the life of Bundy, from his childhood to his crimes, arrests, escapes and final death. Accompanied by archival footage, police evidence, personal photos, and Stephen Michaud’s 1980 death row interviews, The Ted Bundy Tapes makes for an intriguing watch. You can watch this series here.

13. The Keepers (2017)

Yet another American docu-series that received wide critical acclaim and raised questions about sexual abuse within the church is the 7-episode show, ‘The Keepers’, which was released on Netflix on May 19, 2017. It is about the unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a nun who taught English and drama at Archbishop Keough High School, Baltimore. Her body was later discovered in a dumpster in the suburbs of Lansdowne and the case remains unsolved till date. As per her students, the authorities covered up the case because A. Joseph Maskell, a priest in the school, was involved. Apparently, he was guilty of sexual abuse of girl students and Cesnik came to know about it. This knowledge might have led to her final murder. Creating quite a bit of controversy upon its release, ‘The Keepers’ draws inspiration from riveting, real-life terror and tries to expose long-buried, harrowing secrets while narrating the story in an interesting, brilliantly assembled way. You can watch this series here.

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12. First and Last (2018)

Any inmate, when imprisoned for the first time, finds his/her starting day at the prison to be the most difficult. Amidst unfamiliar surroundings and new people, this day makes any prisoner apprehensive. Well, ‘First and Last’, a true crime docu-series which premiered in 2018, tries to explore an inmate’s transformation from his/her first day of imprisonment to his/her last day of release. Since both these dates hold different kinds of emotions for the prisoner, this docu-series documents these notable days during the incarceration period of inmates at Georgia’s Gwinnett County Jail. You can watch this series here.

11. Forensic Files (1996)

Forensic Files, as the name suggests, explores how forensic science makes the most amazing reveals in crime scene investigations, such as homicides, violent crimes, make-believe accidents, and disease outbreaks. It first debuted on TLC in 1996 and adopts the ‘whodunit’ approach where each case is presented as a mystery. The procedure in each episode of 30 minutes begins with the investigation and then ends with an arrest or acquittal. Involved in the process are pathologists, medical examiners, police officers, detectives, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and friends and families of the victims or suspects. Lab tests are also shown in the form of video footages and mostly, names of victims and their families are altered for privacy concerns. You can watch this series here.

10. Women Behind Bars (2008)

‘Women Behind Bars’ is a reality television series that examines women inmates in the American prison system. The female offenders profiled on the show range from victim-killers, felons, drug-abuse victims to simply drug users.  For example, there’s a Missouri-based inmate called Baby Doll who murdered another young woman to prevent her from testifying against the former’s boyfriend. This is a pure case of manipulation. Another case is about Stacey Lannert, a victim of sexual abuse, who killed her father after years of suffering from sexual molestation.

The above are just a few examples from the show. Each episode of ‘Women Behind Bars’ explores the life of a woman, convicted of murder. Sometimes, the stories are moving and emotional, sometimes intriguing, and often surprising. Apart from understanding the motives behind murders, the show also explores how it is like to be incarcerated and what is the life that follows after that – behind bars. If you wish to hear a first-hand account of horrific crimes committed by women and the interesting stories behind them, then this show is for you. You can watch this series here.

9. Girls Incarcerated: Young and Locked Up (2018)

‘Girls Incarcerated: Young and Locked Up’ is a documentary television series that aired on Netflix on March 2, 2018. This 8-episode show focuses on young, teenage inmates of the Madison Juvenile Correctional Facility in Madison, Indiana. While Brianna is proud of playing the “bad girl” role, she realizes that she needs to change for her own future. Paige and Heidi get into a scuffle. Chrissy and Aubrey are waiting for their release, but the latter has her own issues once she sets foot outside. Najwa cannot go home as she doesn’t have a guardian and Chrissy, after her release, finally gets the chance to spend quality time with her family. Girls Incarcerated gives a hopeful insight into lives inside prisons, because juveniles have the opportunity to start afresh after they are released. The show adopts a very unique approach to storytelling that places it above many other docu-series. You can watch this series here.

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8. Inside the Criminal Mind (2017)

‘Inside the Criminal Mind’ attempts to explore the psychological machinations that drive criminals to commit horrific crimes. Each episode delves into one category of offenders – serial killers, kidnappers, crime lords, and cult leaders. Experts then try to profile and analyze this criminal behavior and urge viewers to understand the psychology of such repeat offenders. The format follows explanation of unnamed murders, via reenacted clips of the incidents and crime scene photos. Narrators also ask if a certain type of criminal – for example, serial killers – are created because of an abusive childhood or if this mentality is simply hardwired into their psyche. Within a span of just 45 minutes, each episode answers many big questions. Watch it if you want to witness something new in the realm of the true crime genre. You can watch this series here.

7. Drug Lords (2018)

This docu-series,  which premiered in 2018, focuses on the most notorious drug lords and the law-enforcement officials who are determined to expose and capture them. Featuring famous drug kingpins, including high-profile leaders such as Pablo Escobar, this true-crime documentary delves deeper into the strongholds of these men, their alliances, family members, and their establishments. Each episode focuses on a particular drug lord and chronicles his story, including his success, arrest, conviction, and sometimes, death. You can watch this series here.

6. Dirty Money (2018)

Dirty Money, yet another Netflix Original, is a true-crime documentary series that deals with corporate corruption. Each one-hour-long episode takes up one particular case and explores it in detail by interviewing the key participants in the incident. The show comprises a total of 6 episodes in season 1, with all parts premiering on Netflix on January 26, 2018. You can watch this series here.

5. Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons (2016)

Journalist and host Raphael Rowe takes viewers on a journey within the walls of the most rigorous jails in ‘Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons’, which first released in 2016. Rowe travels to different countries and gives us a real-time view of the lives of prisoners as well as guards in the famous prisons located in various locations. For example, in Philippines, we get a glimpse of Rizal Jail, where inmates do dance performances and cook for each other. In Poland, we see Piotrkow Prison which harbors an extreme isolation cell and guards receive intensive riot training. Again in Mexico and Honduras, we see the El Hongo and Danli Prisons respectively. Rowe also covers other institutions in Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Ukraine, and Belize. Each episode follows how the guards struggle to control and reform prisoners, whereas the latter try to adjust to their surroundings. You can watch this series here.

4. The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Errol Morris, who directed this fabulous documentary which has been praised and respected throughout the years, had worked as a private detective before jumping on the motion-picture train. This explains a lot. “The Thin Blue Line”, a film which has influenced many other productions because of its style and visual construction, tells the story of Randall Dale Adams, a man who was at the wrong place and at the wrong time in October 1976. After a police officer was shot, Adams was apprehended and sentenced to death in Dallas, Texas. 12 years later and one year after the release of this documentary, he was exonerated. Take a look at his story.

3. Making a Murderer (2015)

Making a Murderer is an American true crime documentary that had taken the Internet by storm upon its release. Shot over 15 years, it is the real story of Wisconsin-based Steven Avery, who was wrongly accused of the sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen and had to serve 18 years in prison, since his arrest in 1985. Two years after his release, he was again charged with the murder of Teresa Halbach. Another accused and convicted suspect, in this case, was Brendan Dassey, Avery’s nephew.

Season 1, which was released in 2015, is about the events surrounding Avery’s arrest in 1985, his release in 2003, his second arrest in 2005, conviction in 2007, and Brendan’s arrest, prosecution, and conviction. Season 2 explores the aftermath of Avery’s false arrest on his family, him being framed of murder, and coercion of his confession by prosecutors. You can watch this series here.

2. Evil Genius (2018)

Evil Genius is a 2018-released Netflix Original 4-part series which documents the murder of Brian Wells in 2003. This case is also popularly referred to as the “collar bomb” or “pizza bomber” case. When Wells was killed during a bank robbery after the detonation of an explosive collar which was forcibly locked to his neck, producer and narrator Trey Borzillieri started investigating the case when he got hold of evidence which suggested that this might have been a planned murder. He started correspondence with Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong in 2005 while she was still in prison and extracted several vital bits of information about this cold case. You can watch this series here.

1. The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann (2019)

The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann is an 8-part docu-series that premiered on Netflix in 2019 and documents the highly publicized disappearance of three-year-old Madeleine McCann when she was on a vacation with her family in a resort in Portugal in 2007. Till date, there is no information about her whereabouts. In this documentary, we are given a detailed glimpse into the case, where filmmakers Emma Cooper and Chris Smith conduct interviews with the authors of the book ‘Looking for Madeleine’, the Portuguese cops who were involved in the case, and tourists staying in the same resort as Madeleine’s family at that time. You can watch this series here.

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