With Emmy-award winning, powerhouse shows and limited series like The Crown and The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix has mastered the art of streaming, giving the term “binge” a whole new meaning. But a huge part of those accolades is thanks to its unwavering run of excellent true crime documentaries for the past 6 years. Some of these docs dominated pop culture upon their releases, while others provided eye-opening expos&és about some of society’s most powerful and dangerous people. Taking a look at some of the company’s best documentary films and short series, we are ranking Netflix’s top 10 true crime documentaries.
10Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel
The disappearance of Elisa Lam at the Cecil Hotel (nicknamed “Hotel Death”) is one of the more mysterious and disturbing stories in Netflix’s catalog. The four-episode documentary tells the history of America’s deadliest hotel, the people who came and went, and the viral disappearance that made it a national sensation. With unexplained security footage and the rest of America chiming in on the investigation via social media, Lam’s disappearance and eventual finding makes for spine-tingling non-fiction storytelling. The series covers interviews with the case’s main operators, like law enforcement, and the hotel’s main subjects, like Amy Price, a former Cecil Hotel manager. Looking at Lam’s life prior to her migration to Los Angeles, it gives a step-by-step look at what she could have been up to during her short time in the states – until her actual location is revealed at the end.
9Killer Inside: The Mind Of Aaron Hernandez
Not only is it a three-episode saga of one of the NFL’s most skilled tight ends, but it’s a story that America was on the edge of their seats waiting to get the full scoop on. Killer Inside: The Mind Of Aaron Hernandez breaks the story of former Super Bowl champion, Aaron Hernandez, and the multiple murders he was involved in. The series dives deep into the Hernandez’s story before his incarceration and death. Journalists sit down with some of the people that were closest to Hernandez throughout the years, specifically his former high school, college, and professional football teammates. This is a multi-layered story that covers both the facts and speculations behind Hernandez’s murder accusations as well as the life of Hernandez and the struggles he carried with him throughout his entire football career. It was a much needed story to be told and journalist Kevin Armstrong executed terrifically.
8American Murder: The Family Next Door
A true family tragedy that the world watched unfold and, thanks to social media, filmmaker Jenny Popplewell reopened the case in 2020’s American Murder: The Family Next Door. The film investigates the murders of Shanann Watts, who was pregnant at the time of her death, and her two children, Bella and Celeste. Examining archival footage from Shanann’s Facebook and interviews with those that knew the family most, the film takes us through the disappearance of the three victims. Filled with interrogation footage of the murder’s prime suspect, Shanann’s husband Chris, this film is a rollercoaster ride of the case’s most shocking revelations. With the alleged murderer analyzed right in front of us, audiences are still left questioning the culprit up until the film’s final sequences. This tragic story and subject matter are Netflix’s bread and butter when it comes to true crime, and Popplewell delivers an enticing-although not so easily digestible at times-film that fits perfectly into the genre.
The crimes in the next documentary on our list-although it falls into the true crime genre-aren’t as gruesome as the ones we’ve mentioned so far. But the story of the failed 2017 “Fyre Festival” is about greed, deception, and jaw-dropping moments that ruled the internet upon its release. With real stories from people that attended the botched festival to event producer Andy King’s meme-worthy testimonials, Fyre is a once-in-a-lifetime story that intrigued millions. The Fyre Festival was coordinated by its founder, Billy McFarland, and an entire crew of professionals who never really saw through Billy’s plans. Promoting the festival with the help of some of social media’s biggest influencers (i.e. Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid), it was a real idea that imploded on its coordinators and attendees all the same. Watch filmmaker Chris Smith’s documentary Fyre and see in real time how Billy McFarland scammed his way into infamy.
One of this list’s most provocative documentaries, The Keepers is the story of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a nun who was murdered over 50 years ago. Like the few brave journalists and filmmakers who have faced the Catholic Church in the past, this seven-episode docuseries looks into the clergymen and women who fought to keep this story under wraps for so long. It puts major institutions like the Church on the hot seat, calling for some accountability for those in power. With all of the raised questions that the documentary provides aside, it is an enticing and shocking story that belongs on this list-because of the magnitude of a crime that’s over 50 years in the making.
5Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem And Madness
If we’re talking about pop culture phenomena, Tiger King, the story of Joe Exotic, is also a seven-part series that made national headlines during it’s release in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. With most of the world shacked inside with more time on their hands than ever, Tiger King dominated streaming platforms as well as social media. The story follows Exotic and his eclectic crew over at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, Oklahoma. With a front row seat of the zoo’s daily operations, we are taken into a multi-zoo drama between some of America’s most famous exotic animal keepers. Joe Exotic faces a multitude of issues inside and outside of his zoo on a daily basis and this documentary captures every second of it. From murder conspiracies to the spotlight it shines on the mistreatment of exotic animals in America, this Emmy-nominated documentary gives a unique look into the never-before-seen world of exotic zoo keeping and the drama that is attached to it.
4Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
Like that of Aaron Hernandez, The Ted Bundy Tapes is a documentary that America was waiting for; the country’s most notorious serial killer. Telling the story of the man who helped coin the term serial killer, this documentary explores the mind of Ted Bundy, the man behind over 20 homicides in the 1970s, and it’s captured within audio and video recordings of Bundy before his execution in 1989. Here we see Bundy as transparently as possible, through his own words, while law enforcement and mental health professionals break down the footage. Paving the way for future documentaries like The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, The Ted Bundy Tapes is undoubtedly one of the best real-life examinations of a serial killer. It puts you in the same room as Ted Bundy; something that is hard to pass up as a curious audience member.
3Room 2806: The Accusation
Room 2806 is the story of French politician and former director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the sexual assault allegation that forced him into resignation. At one time in his career, one of the world’s top 25 most powerful people, Strauss-Kahn’s scandal is broken down by those who were directly involved. Filmmaker Jalil Lespert sits down with the hotel housekeeper that was assaulted by Strauss-Kahn, Nafissatou Diallo, as she gives a harrowing recount of the traumatic incident. Dating back to 2011, the four episodes in this series explore every twist and turn during Strauss-Kahn’s scandal, a story that had major ramifications and led to the birth of detrimental government conspiracies. Discussing both the corruption within politics and sexual assault awareness, this series packs a punch with its storytelling. It takes some of society’s most taboo subjects like sexual assault, politics, and corruption and blends them together into a fast pace, bingeable docuseries.
2Making A Murderer
The murder conspiracy that very well paved the way for what we know today as the true crime documentary, Making A Murderer was yet another pop culture sensation upon its 2015 Netflix release. One of the few docuseries to receive the rights to a second season, it follows the story of convicted murderer Steven Avery and his alleged framing in not one, but two murders. The film covers the whole story-that is still unfolding-with everything from Avery’s childhood to his release from prison after 18 years on a “wrongful” conviction. The documentary is a true rollercoaster ride that predates mostly all of Netflix’s award-winning true crime filmography. It’s the documentary that gave audiences the itch for true crime and made the Netflix docuseries a staple of this new era of streaming.
1Evil Genius: The True Story Of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist
While docs like Making A Murderer paved the way for those that are thriving today like Tiger King, it’s the 2018 Netflix docuseries Evil Genius that is the peak of its true crime genre. Breaking the story down into four episodes, &Evil Genius&} follows Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and her involvement in a deadly bank heist in Erie, Pennsylvania, known as the “pizza bomber” case. Filmmaker Trey Borzillieri covers every facet of this story and it is meticulously broken up in four episodes, exploring each major incident from the case in full depth. As one of the best-told stories of any Netflix documentary along with it’s sure-to-entertain subject matter, Evil Genius had its work cut out for itself. The doc shows how the citizens of a small Pennsylvania town made headline news. It’s an honest look into the lives of ordinary people on the surface, and monsters on the inside.