Ever since its inception, Netflix has given the term “binge” a whole new meaning thanks, in part, to its unwavering run of excellent true-crime content. From fictionalized recreations like Mindhunter and Dirty John to hard-hitting scandals like Dirty Money, Rotten, Catching Killers, and even an Unsolved Mysteries reboot, it’s clear Netflix has gone all in on the true-crime bandwagon.
A large portion of the true-crime content on Netflix consists of true-crime documentaries. These eye-opening Netflix exposés have gone on to dominate the pop culture lexicon upon their release, providing an inside look into some of society’s most thrilling and unique crimes. Here’s a look at some of the platform’s best true-crime documentaries. Oh, and don’t worry — there’s far more than murder afoot!
Updated on December 16th, 2023 by Amanda Minchin: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.
24 Mumbai Mafia: Police vs. Underworld (2023)
Ask anybody who lived in Mumbai, India during the ’90s, and they’ll have a story to tell about the infamous 1993 Bombay serial bomb blasts. Referred to as “India’s 9/11,” the attacks were orchestrated by notorious gangster Dawood Ibrahim. This act of violence shocked both the nation and the world, shaking the entire city as families feared for their lives. People were afraid to walk the city streets. Families stayed indoors to keep their loved ones safe.
Mumbai Mafia: Police vs. Underworld unveils the story behind one of India’s deadliest terrorist attacks. Produced by Morgan Matthews and Sophie Jones, and co-directed by Raaghav Dar and Francis Longhurst, the documentary was released on Netflix in English and Hindi in January 2023. This riveting documentary navigates the Mumbai underworld and the gangsters that shaped the fabled Indian city during the ’90s.
A Mumbai True Crime Case
This is a front-row seat into the inner workings of crime and corruption on the unforgiving and rough streets of Mumbai city during that era. It also sheds light on prominent gangster Dawood Ibrahim and his crime syndicate, D-Company, while exploring how the Mumbai police countered Ibrahim and his associate’s threats to make Mumbai’s streets safe once more. From “encounters” to investigations, and even kill counts, this documentary additionally reflects on the tactics the Mumbai police were forced to resort to in order to bring Ibrahim and his syndicate to justice.
At the same time, it also reflects the consensus of public opinion at that time. This all culminates in an eye-opening documentary that delves into one of the most elusive and deadly Indian mob bosses’ criminal exploits and the battle for supremacy in Mumbai, and serves as a subtle reminder of the international mob scene.
23 Capturing the Killer Nurse (2022)
Based on the 2013 book by Charles Graeber, Capturing the Killer Nurse follows the string of death and destruction by former ICU Nurse and serial killer Charles Cullen, who is thought to have murdered at least 40 people. Cullen committed his crimes in the New York tri-State region, an area bursting at the seams with hospital conglomerates trying to one up each other. This made his long-term killing spree all the easier. In an area notorious for long-distance commutes, he was able to silently travel back and forth from care home to hospital to rehab for years before he was eventually caught.
A Film About Charles Cullen
This film, which was directed by Tim Travers Hawkins, highlights every patient’s (and their family’s) worst fears. To go through a grueling health scare and come out the other end of things good as new… only to be struck down by the very health care provider who has sworn an oath not to harm you. Perhaps just as sickening, however, is the level of bureaucratic idiocy that kept his dealings shoved under the rug for years.The events of Capturing the Killer Nurse would also be reimagined in The Good Nurse, a Netflix film which features Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne.
22 Murder Among the Mormons (2021)
Murder Among the Mormons may read like something out of a dramatic action flick starring Harrison Ford in the title role. Unfortunately, this story is all too real. It starts out with a case of three mysterious explosions that take the lives of Mormon community members Steven Christensen and Kathleen Sheets. From there, the story unfolds into one of religious intrigue, uncovering a long-standing forgery scandal from right within the walls of the Mormon church.
Murder, Mormons, and Measom
Morality and religion often go hand in hand in stories like this, making them absolutely rife for the true-crime enthusiast. The order for this series was reduced from six episodes to three when it reached Netflix. While audiences would likely have appreciated more time sitting with this incredible story, the condensed runtime makes it easy enough to appreciate, even under the guise of this particular restriction. The series is also notable for being created by Jared Hess and Tyler Measom, with the former previously directing Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre.
21 Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (2021)
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 docuseries Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel tells the history of one of America’s deadliest hotels, the people who have come and gone there, and the viral disappearance that made it a national sensation. The series covers interviews with the case’s main operators, like law enforcement and Amy Price, a former Cecil Hotel manager, looking deep into Lam’s life before she migrated to Los Angeles.
The Disappearance of Elisa Lam
This case ignited an internet sensation, with hundreds of internet sleuths weighing in on the cause. This film combines their efforts, alongside those of law enforcement, in a unique step-by-step look at just what Lam could have been up to during her short time in the United States, ranging from conspiracy theories to the potential role mental health played in her death. With unexplained security footage and the rest of America chiming in on the investigation via social media, the eventual conclusion of this tale makes for spine-tingling storytelling. It’s stories like this that’ll make you think twice about staying in a hotel.
20 Room 2806: The Accusation (2020)
Room 2806 is the story of a French politician and former director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the sexual assault allegation that forced his resignation. Before this, he was one of the world’s most powerful people. Strauss-Kahn’s scandal was broken down by those who were directly involved. For instance, filmmaker Jalil Lespert sits down with Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel housekeeper who was assaulted by Strauss-Kahn. Throughout its course, she unveils her harrowing account of the traumatic incident. Dating back to 2011, the four episodes in this series explore every twist and turn of the scandal, a story that not only had major ramifications but also led to the birth of detrimental government conspiracies in the process.
Room 2806 is a Geopolitical True Crime Story
With discussions about both sexual assault awareness and corruption in politics, this series packs a punch. It takes some of society’s most taboo subjects, including sexual assault, politics, and corruption, and blends them into a fast-paced, binge-able docuseries. After all, who doesn’t love documentaries about controversial scandals?
19 Amanda Knox (2016)
The name Amanda Knox sends whispers and questions about murder down the spine. The true story, however, is not nearly so simple. Twice convicted and later acquitted for the 2007 murder of roommate Meredith Kercher while studying abroad, Amanda Knox deftly considers the role the media played in her trial while also highlighting her time spent behind bars and beyond.
A Condensed Amanda Knox Case
With so much content out there about this case and its participants, it would be near impossible to squeeze every last conjecture into a convenient hour and a half runtime. While by no means a complete picture of events, this movie captures the sense of competing outlets of information that were nearly as divisive as they were decisive in sealing this young woman’s fate for years.
18 The Keepers (2017)
One of this list’s most provocative documentaries, The Keepers, tells the story of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a nun who was murdered over 50 years ago. Sister Catherine was a high school teacher who at the time suspected a priest at the school of engaging in sexual intercourse with underage students. Her murder occurred long before widespread allegations took the country by storm years later.
The Keepers Has a Shocking Story to Tell
Just like the brave journalists and filmmakers who have faced the Catholic Church in the past, this seven-episode docuseries takes a deep dive into the clergymen and women who fought to keep this story under wraps for so long. It puts major institutions like the Church in the hot seat, calling for some accountability from those in power. Putting all the questions that the documentary raises aside, it is an enticing and shocking story that belongs on this list because of the magnitude of a crime over 50 years in the making.
13 Best True Crime Movies, Ranked
There are so many true crime movies, but here are the best of the best.
17 Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. (2022)
Netflix is no stranger to stories about good old-fashioned swindles and cons. This is one of them, albeit with a bizarre true-crime story to tell.
Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. follows the recipe for disaster that was the relationship between well-known vegan restaurateur Sarma Melngailis and then husband Anthony Strangis, which led to Melngailis stealing money from her own restaurant in order to pay a deity for immortality. Spoiler alert: things didn’t work out as planned.
Plenty of Beef in Bad Vegan
This four-part docuseries by director Chris Smith shows what lengths people are willing to go to get everything they want, including an extension on life… no matter how improbable it seems. This tonally driven series keeps audiences in the dark, piecing together the situation much like those involved were forced to do. Fans of Bad Vegan may also enjoy Rotten, which covers the sometimes seedy sides of the food industry.
16 Killer Inside: The Mind Of Aaron Hernandez (2020)
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 Hernandez’s life both before his incarceration and after his sudden death. Journalists sat down with some of the people who were closest to him throughout the years, including his former high school, college, and professional football teammates.
A Look at Aaron Hernandez
Not only is this 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 its seats waiting to get the full scoop on. This is a multi-layered story that covers both the facts and the speculations behind Hernandez’s murder accusations. It also highlights his life and the struggles he carried with him throughout his entire football career. This is a much-needed, all-encompassing look at a complicated story, one that is executed to perfection by journalist Kevin Armstrong.
15 The Tinder Swindler (2022)
The Tinder Swindler chronicles the acts and schemes executed by Israeli Simon Leviev, who allegedly conned a whopping $10 million from his victims over two years. This juicy and addictive British true-crime documentary showcases Leviev’s despicable actions. Born Shimon Hayut, he posed as a Russian-Israeli diamond mogul who used the popular dating app Tinder to trick women into lending him money. He would then wine and dine the ladies on a private jet he borrowed from one of his other victims.
The Tinder Swindler Will Steal Your Attention
One of the best documentaries of 2022, this Felicity Morris-directed film delves into Leviev’s methods of obtaining illicit funds, including claiming he was the target of enemies, sending forged bank documents, and even outright threats. This startling and heartbreaking documentary showcases his victims as they worked together to bring this conman to justice.
14 Killer Sally (2022)
Killer Sally reads like the John and Lorena Bobbitt trial on steroids … perhaps literally. Former marine and rising professional bodybuilder Sally McNeil is at the height of her career when she’s convicted of murdering her husband Ray, who was also a bodybuilder and in the marines. Was this an open and shut case of marital discord turned awry? Or something much more insidious? This documentary features Sally recounting the time leading up to the trial, as well as her adventures on the other side.
Killer Sally Mixes Bodybuilding with Murder
Gender roles arguably play a huge part in this narrative. In another time, another place, it’s possible that Sally’s crime would have been seen for what it was — a classic case of self-defense against an abusive husband. Or, perhaps not. Instead, jurors turned to the VHS tapes of Sally showing off her skills, the ones that arguably paid the bills and were some of her bestsellers, in order to make a final judgment.
13 Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist (2018)
While docs like Making A Murderer paved the way for those that are thriving today, the 2018 Netflix docuseries Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist is arguably the peak of the true-crime genre when it comes to over-the-top stories. Evil Genius follows Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong’s involvement in a deadly bank heist in Erie, Pennsylvania, known also as the “pizza bomber” case, an incident that was televised all too well at the time.
Evil Genius Tells a Shocking Story
By breaking the story down into four episodes, filmmaker Trey Borzillieri can cover just about every facet related to the case. Each episode explores a major incident from the case in depth, while also showing how the citizens of a small Pennsylvania town made headline news. Easily one of Netflix’s best-told stories, this honest look into the lives of ordinary people on the surface and monsters on the inside is sure to entertain.
12 Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019)
The Ted Bundy Tapes was the documentary America needed, finally hitting streaming after thirty long years. It follows Ted Bundy, one of the despicable men who helped coin the term serial killer. This documentary explores the mind of Bundy, the man behind over 20 homicides in the 1970s. Everything is captured thanks to audio and video recordings taken of Bundy before his execution in 1989. It is here that we see Bundy as transparently as possible, through his very own words. Law enforcement and mental health professionals were also introduced to help break down the footage.
The Ted Bundy Tapes is Comprehensive
Paving the way for future documentaries like it, The Ted Bundy Tapes is undoubtedly one of the best real-life examinations of a serial killer, as told in his own words, ever. Being in the same room as Ted Bundy while still tucked away safely in the privacy of your own home is something that’s just too hard to pass up. Plus, when you’re done with this one, there are even more insights into other serial killers, including John Wayne Gacy, throughout this series.
11 Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (2021)
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal is a film/documentary hybrid that serves as an intriguing topic of discussion for parents and youngsters about the prospect of higher education in America. Directed by Chris Smith, this documentary explores how the deeply-flawed higher education system in the US created a “side door” for the children of wealthy families through a mix of live-action footage and recreated scenes. The plot of this documentary follows the 2019 Varsity Blues scandal involving Rick Singer, a man who facilitated admission for kids from over 750 families throughout his tenure. To do so, he accepted illegal bribes in the millions under the guise of tutoring.
Operation Varsity Blues is Eye-Opening
The fact that parents who were willing and able to pay for illicit test-taking and counterfeit documents to secure their children’s admission into the country’s top colleges is atrocious. Rick Singer, the mastermind, is played by Matthew Modine in the film. His reenactment of Singer’s conversations with parents, showing how he could exploit them to perfection, is eye-opening. The film also reinforces the ease with which he was able to operate for years thanks to the for-profit college system.
10 Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (2019)
The gripping 2019 true crime docuseries Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer is a must-watch on Netflix not just for the title. This twisted program unveils the effort internet sleuths and animal lovers will go to for justice. After witnessing a horrific viral video in which a man suffocates two kittens in a vacuum seal bag, Las Vegas data analyst Deanna Thompson and Los Angeles resident Tom John Green join forces to create a Facebook group to identify the culprit.
Don’t F**k with Cats Is Not for the Faint of Heart
The plot seems simple enough… at first. The initial crusade is noble. In the end, it is partially successful, saving some lives while subsequently ruining others, sometimes making John Wick look like a teddy bear by comparison. Far more revealing than shocking, this series is, surprise, a profile of a vicious serial killer in the making. Considering the content of their burgeoning crimes, it’s a minor miracle they were caught when they were.
9 American Murder: The Family Next Door (2020)
Filmmaker Jenny Popplewell reopened an infamous case in 2020’s American Murder: The Family Next Door, which is one most true-crime fans know by heart. The film investigates the murders of Shanann Watts, who was pregnant at the time of her death, along with her two children, Bella and Celeste. The film takes us through the disappearance of the four victims, a family tragedy that the world watched unfold thanks to home security cameras and social media.
American Murder Features the Chris Watts Case
Filled with interrogation footage of the murder’s prime suspect in the form of Shanann’s husband, Chris, this film is a roller-coaster ride of the case’s most shocking revelations. It examines archival footage from Shanann’s Facebook page, as well as interviews with those who knew the family most. The now-convicted murderer is analyzed from beginning to end, and audiences are left questioning the culprit right up until the final sequences of the film. This tragic story is Netflix’s bread and butter, and delivers an enticing film that fits perfectly into the genre.
8 Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)
- Release Date
- January 16, 2019
The crimes in the next documentary on our list may not be nearly as gruesome as the ones we’ve mentioned so far, but the level of incompetence and deception featured is indescribable. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened tells the story of the failed 2017 Fyre Festival, which was coordinated by its founder, Billy McFarland, alongside an entire crew of professionals whose plans just never came to fruition. Filled with depictions of greed, deception, and jaw-dropping moments that ruled the internet upon its release, this documentary includes real stories from people who attended, including event producer Andy King’s meme-worthy testimonials.
Fyre Fest Was Fully Fraudlent
So what launches this into true-crime territory? In a word, fraud. Promoting the festival with the help of some of social media’s biggest influencers, from Kendall Jenner to Bella Hadid, this very real idea unapologetically imploded on both the coordinators and attendees as the date of the event approached. People arrived having paid thousands for subpar conditions, having to sleep in unabashed FEMA disaster tents while fighting over scarce supplies of water and food. Watching filmmaker Chris Smith’s documentaryFyre, you can see in real-time just how Billy McFarland scammed his way into infamy in this bonkers documentary about utter chaos. It’s a great film for aspiring entrepreneurs, if you want to avoid a similar disaster in the future.
7 Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey (2022)
Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey is a deep dive into the criminal nature of extreme religious groups. This inside look into the insidious nature of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) will have the viewer’s skin crawling. The name alone comes from a phrase coined by Leader Rulon Jeffs, which was used to describe how women should behave towards their husbands. Co-directed by Rachel Dretzin and Grace McNally, the series loosely follows the rise and fall of the next leader, the overbearing Warren Jeffs, i.e. “The Prophet.” On the lam for years, he was found to have had non-consensual sex with underage girls, even going so far as to take several of them on as wives in illicit marriage ceremonies.
Pray and Obey is a Christian True Crime Story
This film serves to frame the real story, which is that of the survivors, many of whom were interviewed for this project. Though stories of bizarre organizations and malicious cults are a dime-a-dozen nowadays, Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey‘s subject and the numerous perspectives provided — both from members of the cult and those outside of it — give it a unique edge over its contemporaries. With only four episodes, it’s a series that you can quickly watch in as little as a day.
6 Don’t Pick Up The Phone (2022)
Long touted as a classic demonstration of when obedience towards figures of authority goes wrong, Don’t Pick Up The Phone highlights a rampant series of hoax calls that plagued fast-food restaurants all over the US in the late 90s and early 2000s. Spanning from Massachusetts to Kentucky, a multitude of employees at chains from McDonald’s to Pizza Hut to Applebees were affected. The caller would insist that a staff member at their location had committed a crime and needed to be detained until police arrived. What often followed was a thorough and violating search of the “offending” employee. Floored by the sheer number of reported and underreported instances, investigators struggled to connect the dots to a single person or location.
Don’t Pick Up The Phone is Incredibly Psychological
What elevated these hoax calls was their ability to cause otherwise well-meaning employees to commit egregious acts of violence toward their coworkers. What makes this story even worse is the lack of correspondence not just between victims and police, but also within these well-established franchises. Not only did they know this was happening, but they did little if anything to prevent it from continuing. The culmination of events in this mind-boggling tale will prove riveting for viewers who appreciate a little psychological intrigue with their true-crime machinations.
5 Icarus (2017)
Sometimes a brilliant story just falls right into your lap. Such was the case for Bryan Fogel’s Icarus. While investigating illegal doping in sports, Icarus director Bryan Fogel meets Grigory Rodchenkov, who turns out to be the director of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory. The two soon became fast friends, and it is through this friendship that Fogel uncovers Rodchenkov’s involvement in Russia’s state-sponsored Olympic doping program. It turns out Rodchenkov not only knows about it — he oversees it.
Rodchenkov goes on the record, stating that he and his team were forced to swap the Russian Olympic team’s steroid-containing urine samples for clean ones ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics. After considerable media upheaval and publicity, Fogel winds up flying Rodchenkov down to Los Angeles to ensure his safety. All the while, the threat that he’d be forever silenced by the Russian government is all too real.
Icarus is an Incredible Story
This documentary is as engaging as it is revelatory, plunging viewers headlong down the rabbit hole of doping in sports. The film won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 90th Academy Awards, with praise being directed at Rodchenkov for his bravery in the face of incredible danger. The investigation spurred by this documentary, among others, would have an incredible real-world impact, leading to the creation of the Olympic Athletes from Russia designation for the 2018 Winter Olympics.