You know what they say: fiction has nothing on real life. The following true crime documentaries walk the green mile from infamous murders and wrongful convictions to chilling transgressions of the digital age. Prepare to have your jaw permanently dislodged. Here are the best true crime documentaries on Netflix right now.
1. Amanda Knox
Carve out an hour and half for Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn’s definitive account of how Amanda Knox went from American foreign exchange student to murder suspect and one of the most despised women in Italy. Told through one-on-ones with Knox, her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, and former Daily Mail journalist Nick Pisa, this one’s a paralyzing portrayal of trial by media.
2. The Witness
As the trailer puts it: In 1964, Kitty Genovese was murdered on the streets of New York. The New York Times reported that 38 people watched and did nothing. It’s that story—a misreport—that has plagued her brother, a Vietnam war vet named Bill, ever since. Here, Bill and director James Solomon go door-to-door interviewing the witnesses—including the killer—all in an effort to discover the truth behind what really happened that night.
3. Making a Murderer
Sure, you’re probably familiar with this pop culture phenomenon, but revisiting it after Brendan Dassey’s blocked release in November 2016 may be in order. For the uninitiated, Dassey is the nephew of the crime doc’s featured subject, inmate Steven Avery. Both were arrested for the murder of Teresa Halbach, whose charred remains were discovered on the Avery property. But as MaM makes clear, the case is far from cut and dry. Set in America’s heartland, this haunting investigation will send chills down your spine, and make you seriously question the criminal justice system.
4. The Hunting Ground
Kirby Dick’s documentary dives into the realities of on-campus rape. Dick illustrates how easy it is to overlook these victims and allow predatory behavior to continue unabated. The film calls out 100+ very well-known universities sitting on the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights investigation list: Go ahead—see if your alma mater is one of them.
5. The Fear of 13
This one’s a little different, as it turns the lens on a condemned man on death row and allows him to tell his story. His name is Nick Yarris, and he was convicted of beating, raping, and murdering a Pennsylvania woman in 1981. Throughout, Yarris maintains his innocence, but it’s not until the end of this gripping documentary that the ambiguity is resolved.
6. The Act of Killing
Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer took a serious risk when he and executive producers Werner Herzog and Errol Morris set out to make The Act of Killing. The crew trekked to the tropics of Indonesia—where death squad members are celebrated for the mass executions of leftists back in the 1960s. The filmmakers then challenged these unrepentant killers to reenact their killings via whichever American film genre they preferred. Warning: This one’s a very unsettling watch.
7. Who Took Johnny
It’s been 34 years since young Johnny Gosch vanished while on his paper route in a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa. The case is heartbreaking, and made all the more haunting by the many bizarre developments that have surfaced in the wake of his disappearance. Who Took Johnny follows Johnny’s mother, Noreen Gosch, on her decades-long quest to find her missing son.
What is it with the media’s fascination with women, sex, violence, and women-sex-and-violence? Errol Morris explores such territory in Tabloid, a documentary about the real-life story of one Joyce McKinney, or as she’d have you address her, Miss Wyoming 1973. Arrested in 1977 for what eventually became known as the “Mormon sex in chains case,” McKinney shares her story. It’s one helluva ride.
9. Cartel Land
10. Audrie & Daisy
Because it wouldn’t be a modern-day roundup without the addition of techno-crime, we offer you Audrie & Daisy. A look at the effects of online bullying, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s documentary tracks two unrelated female teenagers’ stories, both of which involve online shaming, humiliation, and, in the case of Audrie, death. It’s shocking how quickly our humanity can vanish from behind a computer screen.
11. The Thin Blue Line
Widely considered one of the best documentaries of all time, Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line argues the case for a convicted man’s innocence—and the Texas man was eventually freed because of it. Through reenacting the crime, examining the evidence, and offering a more realistic chain of events, Morris created the crime doc that would set the gold standard for subsequent filmmakers.
12. Team Foxcatcher
Two thousand fourteen’s creepy crime drama tells the dark tale of Olympic wrestler Dave Shultz, who met an untimely end at the hands of his unstable millionaire coach John du Pont. This true crime doc peers into the stranger-than-fiction case, using previously unreleased footage to track du Pont’s chilling descent into madness.
13. The Imposter
Bart Layton’s real-life thriller unfurls a series of dramatic reenactments that will leave you gasping all the way to the final scene. In this doc, a serial imposter pretends to be a missing boy from Texas, and is welcomed home by the boy’s family, despite obvious inconsistencies in his story—the missing boy had blue eyes and the imposter has brown ones, for example. So many questions, so many shockers, and such an amazing watch.
Featured Still from "The Witness" via Five More Minutes Productions