Featuring high-powered shows and Emmy-winning limited series such as The crown and The Queen’s GambitNetflix has mastered the art of streaming, giving the term “binge” a whole new meaning. But a large part of those accolades is due to his unwavering series of excellent true crime documentaries over the past 6 years. Some of these documents dominated pop culture in their releases, while others provided revealing revelations about some of the most powerful and dangerous people in society. Taking a look at some of the company’s best documentaries and short series, we ranked the top 10 Netflix true crime documentaries.
10Crime Scene: The Disappearance at Hotel Cecil
Elisa Lam’s disappearance at Hotel Cecil (nicknamed “Hotel Death”) is one of the most mysterious and disturbing stories in the Netflix catalog. The four-episode documentary tells the story of America’s deadliest hotel, the people coming and going, and the viral disappearance that made it a national sensation. With unexplained security footage and the rest of the United States stepping into the investigation via social media, Lam’s disappearance and final find make the nonfiction narrative chilling. The series covers interviews with the main operators of the case, such as law enforcement, and the main subjects of the hotel, such as Amy Price, former manager of Cecil Hotel. Looking at Lam’s life prior to his migration to Los Angeles, it shows step by step what he might have been doing during his short time in the states, until his 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 its seats waiting to get the full scoop. Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez tells the story of former Super Bowl champion Aaron Hernandez and the multiple murders he was involved in. The series dives deep into the history of Hernández before his incarceration and death. Reporters sit with some of the people closest to Hernandez over the years, specifically his former teammates from high school, college, and the professional soccer team. This is a multi-layered story that covers both the facts and the speculations behind Hernandez’s murder allegations, as well as Hernandez’s life and the struggles he led throughout his entire soccer career. It was a much needed story to tell and journalist Kevin Armstrong was horribly executed.
8American Murder: The Family Next Door
A true family tragedy that the world saw unfold, and thanks to social media, filmmaker Jenny Popplewell reopened the case in 2020. 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. By examining archival footage from Shanann’s Facebook and interviews with those who knew the family best, the film takes us through the disappearance of the three victims. Filled with footage from the interrogation of the main suspect in the murder, Chris, Shanann’s husband, this film is a roller coaster ride of the most shocking revelations of the case. With the alleged murderer analyzed in front of us, the public continues to question the culprit until the final sequences of the film. This tragic story and theme is Netflix’s bread and butter when it comes to true crimes, and Popplewell delivers a tantalizing, if not so easily digestible, movie that fits the genre perfectly.
The crimes in the next documentary on our list, while belonging to the true crime genre, are not nearly as gruesome as the ones we’ve mentioned so far. But the story of the failed “Fyre Festival” of 2017 is about greed, deception, and the amazing moments that have ruled the internet since its launch. Featuring true stories from people who attended the failed festival and meme-worthy testimonials from event producer Andy King, Guy it is a once in a lifetime story that intrigued millions. The Fyre Festival was coordinated by its founder, Billy McFarland, and a whole team of professionals who never really saw Billy’s plans. Promoting the festival with the help of some of the most influential people on social media (i.e. Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid), was a real idea that imploded on its coordinators and attendees anyway. Watch the documentary by filmmaker Chris Smith Guy and see in real time how Billy McFarland scammed his way to infamy.
One of the most provocative documentaries on this list, The Guardians is the story of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a nun who was murdered more than 50 years ago. Like the few courageous journalists and filmmakers who have stood up to the Catholic Church in the past, this seven-episode documentary series looks at the clergymen and women who fought to keep this story a secret for so long. It puts important institutions like the Church in the hot seat, asking for some responsibility for those in power. Leaving aside all the questions posed by the documentary, it is a tantalizing and shocking story that belongs on this list, due to the magnitude of a crime that has been in the works for more than 50 years.
5Tiger King: Murder, mayhem and madness
If we talk about pop culture phenomena, King tiger, the Joe Exotic story, is also a seven-part series that made national news during its launch amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With most of the world crammed inside with more free time than ever, King tiger dominated streaming platforms as well as social media. The story follows Exotic and his eclectic crew in Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, Oklahoma. With a front row seat to the daily operations of the zoo, we step into a multi-zoo drama between some of America’s most famous exotic animal keepers. Joe Exotic faces a multitude of problems inside and outside his zoo on a daily basis and this documentary captures every second. From murder conspiracies to the spotlight that focuses on the mistreatment of exotic animals in America, this Emmy-nominated documentary offers a unique look at the never-before-seen world of exotic zoo ownership and the drama attached to it.
4Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
Like Aaron Hernandez’s, The Ted Bundy Tapes It is a documentary that the United States has been waiting for; the most notorious serial killer in the country. Telling the story of the man who helped coin the term serial killer, this documentary explores the mind of Ted Bundy, the man behind more than 20 homicides in the 1970s, and is captured on audio and video recordings of Bundy before his execution in 1989. Here we see Bundy in the most transparent as possible, through their own words: while law enforcement and mental health professionals analyze the images. Paving the way for future documentaries like The disappearance at the Cecil hotel, The Ted Bundy Tapes is hands down one of the best real life reviews of a serial killer. It puts you in the same room as Ted Bundy; something that is hard to miss as a curious member of the audience.
3Room 2806: The prosecution
Room 2806 is the story of the French politician and former director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the accusation of sexual assault that forced him to resign. At one point in his career, one of the 25 most powerful people in the world, the Strauss-Kahn scandal is broken down by those who were directly involved. Filmmaker Jalil Lespert sits with Strauss-Kahn’s assaulted hotel housekeeper, Nafissatou Diallo, as he tells her a heartbreaking account of the traumatic incident. The four episodes in this series, dating back to 2011, explore every twist and turn during the Strauss-Kahn scandal, a story that had major ramifications and led to the birth of damaging government conspiracies. By discussing both corruption within politics and sexual assault awareness, this series packs a punch with its storytelling. It takes some of society’s most taboo topics, like sexual assault, politics, and corruption, and blends them into a fast-paced and compulsive documentary series.
2Making a killer
The murder conspiracy that nicely paved the way for what we now know as the true crime documentary, Making a killer was another pop culture sensation upon its Netflix release in 2015. One of the few documentaries to receive the rights to a second season, it follows the story of convicted murderer Steven Avery and his alleged framing of not one, but two murders. The film covers the entire story, which is still unfolding, with everything from Avery’s childhood to his release from prison after 18 years of an “unjust” conviction. The documentary is a veritable roller coaster ride that for the most part predates all of Netflix’s award-winning true-crime filmography. It’s the documentary that gave audiences a wish for true crime and made the Netflix documentary series a staple of this new era of streaming.
1Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist
While the docs like Making a killer paved the way for those who are thriving today as King tiger, is the 2018 Netflix documentary series Evil genius that’s the peak of his true criminal genre. Dividing the story into four episodes, Evil genius} follows Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong and her involvement in a deadly bank robbery in Erie, Pennsylvania, known as the “pizza bomber” case. Filmmaker Trey Borzillieri covers all facets of this story and it is meticulously divided into four episodes, exploring each major incident in the case in depth. As one of the best-told stories of any Netflix documentary along with its theme sure to entertain, Evil genius he had his work done for himself. The document shows how the citizens of a small Pennsylvania town made the headlines. It’s an honest look at the lives of ordinary people on the surface and the monsters on the inside.