Here at The Lineup, we’re always on the hunt for killer true crime documentaries. Not just the docs that everyone else has seen, but the little-known titles and the tragically overlooked gems.
So we dug through the depths of Netflix to find the best true crime documentaries you need to watch right now. What are you waiting for? Grab the remote and get your fix.
Updated 01/2019. This article covers titles available to U.S. Netflix users.
Out of Thin Air (2017)
Forty years after Iceland’s most notorious murder cases, director and documentarian Dylan Howitt attempts to chronicle the convoluted circumstances around two men’s mysterious disappearances, and how seven people ended up confessing to their murder.
In 1974, an 18-year-old male vanished after attending a party. Months later, after driving to a cafe following a late night call, a 32-year-old father was never heard from or seen again. Authorities turned to a group of young people involved in a recent embezzling scheme who would eventually confess—despite limited evidence—and served out their sentences.
Decades later, questions about how their confessions were obtained - including alleged torture by authorities - have been raised, calling attention to one community's horrific response to others’ horrific acts.
Making a Murderer (2015-2018)
Making a Murderer was perhaps the first sign that Netflix would soon come to dominate the true crime world. Filmed over the course of ten years, the first season focused on Steven Avery, who was wrongly convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder, then, upon his release, accused and convicted of Teresa Halbech’s death. Earlier in 2018, Netflix released a second season, following a new attorney who has taken on Avery’s case.
The Keepers (2017)
Who killed Sister Cathy Cesnik is the question that begins Netflix’s smash hit true crime docu-series, The Keepers. But as any professional binge-watcher knows, the real story is much darker and far more complicated than that. The Keepers has it all—abuse, religion, history, murder, family secrets, conspiracy, and a decades-old cold case. Throw in some dedicated amateur sleuths who will stop at nothing to discover the truth of what happened to their beloved teacher and you’ll see an obsession in your future.
This 1992 documentary focuses on the remaining three brothers of the Ward family. The Wards grew up in a tiny town in upstate New York: At the time of filming, Munnsville had less than 300 residents. The brothers owned and worked on the family farm, were mostly illiterate, and made less than $7,000 a year between the four of them. When the second youngest brother died in 1990, it was at first thought the cause was simply poor health. Then, it became clear that the youngest, Delbert, had killed him—although it seemed to be a mercy killing due to William’s failing health. It never becomes fully clear just what happened to William on June 6, 1990. But the portrait painted of this family will fascinate.
Casting JonBenet (2017)
This unusual documentary about the unsolved murder of JonBenet Ramsey approaches its subject through the lens of casting a fictional film on the case. Director Kitty Green interviews actors from the place of the crime, Boulder, Colorado, in the form of auditions for the main players of the story: JonBenet herself, her mother Patsy, her father John, and more. Through their auditions, the actors reveal their thoughts on the case, creating a compelling portrait of the lasting impact of JonBenet’s murder on the Boulder community and on society in general.
Long Shot (2017)
One of the strangest true crime stories we’ve come across, Juan Catalan’s freedom hinges on one thing: Curb Your Enthusiasm. This documentary shows the flaws of the justice system alongside an unlikely celebrity connection.
Evil Genius (2018)
Evil Genius brought one of the strangest true crime cases back into light. In 2003, a pizza delivery worker standing outside a local bank with a bomb locked around his neck was spotted by the police. Believing that the bomb was fake, but that the man posed a real threat, the police put Brian Wells in handcuffs. As Wells leaned against a police car, the bomb went off. News teams broadcast the man’s gruesome death. And the story only gets weirder from here. The four episode mini-series will keep you riveted til the very end.
The Murder Detectives (2015)
In 2014, 19-year-old Nicholas Robinson was stabbed outside a pub in Bristol, leaving behind a bereft mother, father and fianceé. Filmed in real time over 18 months, The Murder Detectives follows the investigation into Robinson’s death as illuminating details are unearthed. Showing the real work of murder investigations, this show isn’t afraid to get into the dirt alongside the inspectors hoping to help Robinson’s family understand what happened to their beloved son.
The Fear of 13 (2015)
Being sentenced to 105 years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit is beyond nightmarish. But that’s exactly what happened to Nick Yarris, who was convicted of murder and sat on death row for 21 years before DNA evidence vindicated him in 2004. The Fear of 13 is Nick’s story, narrated by him and featuring only him, in a unique one-man-show.
The Innocent Man (2018)
Based on John Grisham’s 2006 nonfiction book, The Innocent Man follows two murder cases in one small Oklahoma town. When the convicted killers of one murder were set free by DNA evidence after 11 years on death row, many other cases were thrown into a suspicious light. This twisty true crime tale will leave you with unanswerable questions about our justice systems.
The Staircase (2004)
It would be very easy to argue that The Staircase was the series that made the true crime genre popular. And when Netflix announced that they’d financed another three episodes focusing on Michael Peterson’s final trial, viewers were thrilled to take another look at the infamous case. Whether you’ve been keeping up with the series since 2004 or you’re looking for your next great binge, The Staircase is here for you.
Amanda Knox (2016)
Over a decade later, it’s hard to explain or describe the intensity of the Amanda Knox case and the attendant media coverage. When a British exchange student, Meredith Kercher, was found dead in the apartment she and Knox shared with two Italian women in Perugia, suspicion immediately fell upon Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. Five days after Kercher’s murder, Knox was arrested and charged with her roommate’s murder. Despite the fact that another man was convicted of the murder in 2008, Knox and Sollecito were held in jail for nearly four years. This Netflix original gets into just what made the case so compelling and horrifying to spectators around the world.
Team Foxcatcher (2016)
If you saw 2014’s Foxcatcher, starring Channing Tatum and Steve Carrell, you’ll be familiar with the rise and fall of the very wealthy and very eccentric John E. du Pont. It was du Pont’s dream to build an American Olympic wrestling team that would dominate the sport. He brought several athletes to live and train in his state-of-the-art gym on his sprawling family farm. But somehow du Pont’s dreams ended in cold-blooded murder—it was a tragic, seemingly senseless crime that few could have anticipated.
Strong Island (2017)
This true crime documentary is one of the more achingly sad entries on the list–don’t say we didn’t warn you. Covering the murder of William Ford in 1992, Strong Island is directed by the victim’s younger brother, Yance Ford. William was killed in Central Islip. He was only 24 years old at the time, a high school math teacher. His killer, 19-year-old Mark Reilly, shot him after William complained to his auto body shop about the quality of the repairs done on William’s girlfriend’s car. Reilly was arrested and charged with manslaughter–but an all-white grand jury declined to indict him. This personal, deeply felt documentary was nominated for a 2018 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
Sour Grapes (2016)
Many, if not most, true crime documentaries take a murder or kidnapping as their central inspiration. This unusual documentary, instead focuses on a man named Rudy Kurniawan, who became known for his large-scale wine fraud. With each falsified bottle of wine, Kurniawan was able to bring in as much as $95,000. Sour Grapes combines true crime, a glimpse at the lifestyles of the truly, unimaginably wealthy, and oenophila into a seductive documentary.
Using rotoscopic animation and narration from the surviving victims,Tower recreates the events of August 1, 1966, when a lone sniper went up to the clocktower on the University of Texas at Austin campus and started firing at random. By the end of his rampage, 16 people were killed and several dozen were wounded. The animation makes it feel like you are watching these events unfold in real time. Tower is one of the most compelling movies of 2016, regardless of genre.
This heartbreaking documentary released in 2016 covers the difficult terrain of the Newtown Massacre on December 14, 2012, when 20 elementary school students and six of their teachers were murdered by gunman Adam Lanza. With the cooperation of several of the victims’ families, filmmaker Kim A. Snyder paints a searing portrait of grief and anger at the system that led to this horrific event.
Wild Wild Country (2018)
When Wild Wild Country debuted, it was the center of conversations for weeks to come. The cult that took over an Oregon town in the 1980s was back—and everyone had opinions about Sheela. If you somehow managed to escape the hubbub around this series when it came out back in early 2018, there’s no better time than now to discover the strangest story ever told by Netflix.
Over the course of his 20-year career, Errol Morris has been regarded as a veteran true crime documentarian with a knack for profiling the peculiar. His latest is Wormwood, a four and a half hour, six-part Netflix miniseries that harnesses the narrative strengths of previous screen successes like The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War, and Tabloid while redefining his signature visual style and the genre itself.
In this docudrama with a fictional twist, Morris takes on a potential suicide/alleged murder, a CIA cover-up, LSD experiments, and secret government conspiracies that stretch back decades. Using re-enactments and long-form interviews, Morris uses a deceased agent’s son's search for answers to help find the truth in this bizarre tragedy.
The Seven Five (2014)
New York City was not the most pleasant place to live in the 1980s. It was the height of the crack cocaine epidemic, crime was at an all-time high—and criminal activity had seeped into the ranks of the New York City police department. NYPD officer Michael Dowd worked in the city’s 75th precinct for 10 years, running drug deals and accepting bribes. His arrest and subsequent trial led to one of the largest scandals in NYPD history, revealing dozens of crooked cops in its wake.
A Murder in the Park (2014)
There have been plenty of documentaries about wrongful conviction, a hot-button issue in the American criminal justice system. But what if the person released may have actually committed the crime? A Murder in the Park explores the other side of the coin with the story of Anthony Porter. Porter was convicted of murdering two people in 1982. His conviction was then overturned due to the work of a Northwestern professor and his students. Soon though, many of the Northwestern class’ claims would be called into question. This disturbing and overlooked documentary is a fascinating account of a deeply complex case.
Interview With a Serial Killer (2008)
This chilling documentary gets up close and personal with an actual serial killer, Arthur Shawcross. A tight 45 minutes, Interview with a Serial Killer gives viewers horrifying insights into the Genesee River Killer’s many crimes, including reported cannibalism. Bonus: A new entry into the Interview with a Serial Killer series is coming to Netflix on January 24th, this time with Ted Bundy.
Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses (2015)
In 2007, Janet Moses’ death was plastered all over the news and local headlines. The young Wainuiomata mother was only 22 when she drowned after four days of a brutal exorcism conducted at the hands of her family, an effort to lift a makutu, or curse. The nine family members involved were charged with manslaughter after attempting to, in their eyes, relieve Moses of a grave disturbance within her.
In this docudrama, viewers are taken back through the difficult days leading up to Moses' death. Through expert interviews, court testimony and dramatic reenactments, you are offered a rare look into how one family’s deep, determined love mixed so dangerously with cultural belief to tragic effect.
Shadow of Truth (2016)
Thirteen-year-old Tair Rada was found brutally murdered on a cold December day in 2006. Her body had been stuffed inside a locked bathroom stall at her school in Israel. Her murder rocked the community, leaving children afraid to attend school. Just a week later, a Ukrainian immigrant named Roman Zadorov was arrested and confessed to Tair’s murder. But Zadorov’s confession was just the beginning of the mystery of Tair’s death. Many things didn’t add up, from DNA evidence to other possible suspects, leading many to believe that Zadorov may have been wrongfully convicted.
Featured photo from "The Innocent Man" via Campfire