The world of true-crime documentaries is a disparate one. Once you move beyond the usual suspects, such as Making a Murderer, The Jinx, and The Case Against Adnan Syed, it can be hard to determine which, among the dozens of offerings available to stream, are worth hours of viewing.
Still, there’s value to be found in this treasure trove of content. True-crime documentaries, when done right, can impart on us important information regarding justice systems across the world, criminal investigations, as well as violence and its aftermath.
We have rounded up 10 true-crime documentaries that tick these boxes. Some of them are recent, while others were released several years ago and contributed to shaping the true-crime genre as we know it today.
1. Who Killed Little Grégory? – Netflix US and UK
This five-part series, released in November 2019, documents the 1984 murder of four-year-old Grégory Villemin near Docelles, France, as well as the convoluted investigation that followed. It’s a thorough deep-dive into one of France’s most infamous cold cases, which continues to haunt the public to this day.
2. Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story – Netflix US and UK
Cyntoia Brown was released from custody in August 2019 after a receiving the public support of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna, LeBron James, Cara Delevingne, and Snoop Dogg. She had been sentenced to life behind bars for killing a man who had picked her up for sex, back when she was 16. Murder to Mercy, released in April 2020, chronicles her bid for clemency.
3. Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich – Netflix US and UK
Based on the 2016 book of the same name by James Patterson (one of Jeffrey Epstein’s neighbours in Palm Beach, Florida), Filthy Rich is a sweeping look at the Epstein case which amplifies the voice of many victims. It provides a comprehensive account of the accusations faced by Epstein at the time of his death, while also examining the financier’s position in a broader picture of wealth and power.
4. The Confession Killer – Netflix US and UK
What happened when a man confesses to hundreds of murders – only for inconsistencies to start appearing in his stories? This five-part miniseries, released in December 2019, is a compelling examination of false confessions and their consequences.
5. I Love You, Now Die – HBO in the US/Amazon Prime in the UK
Michelle Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2017, in connection with the death of her 18-year-old boyfriend Conrad Roy III. Carter, then 17, was accused of causing Roy’s death by sending him texts urging him to die by suicide. After pleading not guilty, she was sentenced to 15 months behind bars, and released in January 2020 for good behaviour. I Love You, Now Die seeks to examine the case in a multifaceted way, questioning the narrative put forward by the prosecution.
6. Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped by Boko Haram – HBO
Back in 2014, Boko Haram extremists kidnapped 276 Nigerian school girls in Chibok, Northern Nigeria. Stolen Daughters, released in 2018, features some of the survivors, documenting their time in captivity as well as their re-entry into society.
7. There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane – HBO in the US/Sky in the UK
This 2011 documentary centres around a 2009 Taconic State Parkway crash, during which 36-year-old Diane Schuler drove 1.7 miles in the wrong direction on the New York highway, killing herself, her daughter, her three nieces, and three people in an oncoming SUV. No criminal charges were filed in the case – “Diane Schuler, as you know, died in the crash, and the charges died with her,” district attorney Janet DiFiore said at the time. White it doesn’t involve a criminal investigation, There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane is a worthy examination of tragedy and its aftermath.
8. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley – HBO in the US/Amazon Prime in the UK
There’s something endlessly fascinating about the Theranos saga, which saw the blood-testing startup being valued at more than $10bn before crumbling after a 2015 Wall Street Journal investigation poked holes in the company’s successful narrative. CEO Elizabeth Holmes is scheduled to face criminal fraud charges later this year, so now’s the time to dive into The Inventor if you overlooked it at the time of its 2019 release.
9. Ted Bundy: Falling For a Killer – Amazon Prime Video US and UK
Released in January 2020, Falling for a Killer features landmark interviews with Elizabeth Kendall, Ted Bundy’s former girlfriend, and her daughter Molly, who once regarded him as a father figure. The documentary seeks to retell the Bundy story through the lens of the female lives he took, threatened, or changed forever. It’s a valuable contribution to the Bundy true-crime subgenre – perhaps the only one that was still needed in 2020.
10. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills – HBO in the US/Sky in the UK
Released in 1996, Paradise Lost was a precursor in the modern true-crime genre. The documentary, the first part of a trilogy, focuses on three teenagers (Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr, and Jason Baldwin) accused and convicted of a triple child murder despite a lack of evidence. It’s worth watching all three instalments to follow their legal journey, from what has been widely regarded as their wrongful convictions all the way to their release under an Alford plea in August 2011.