While true crime books have been hugely popular for a long time, it's really only in the last few years that the genre has become one of the most addictive things to watch on TV. In general, fans of procedural crime and murder case investigation had to make to do with fictional shows such as CSI, or feature-length movie documentaries liked those pioneered by Errol Morris. But the huge success of the Netflix production Making a Murderer in 2016 bridged both worlds. By taking the episodic format of procedural shows and applying it to a fascinating real-life murder case and trial, it created one of the year's must-see series.
Its popularity inevitably led to a flood of true crime shows on Netflix. It would be a mistake to suggest that the streaming giant invented the true crime series--it obviously didn't, and some of its best offerings pre-date both Making a Murderer and the service itself. But there's little doubt that Netflix has become the go-to destination for true crime TV fans, with a wealth of gripping, disturbing, fascinating, and unusual shows hitting over the past couple of years.
While the majority of these shows unsurprisingly focus on violent crime, there's a variety in the way they approach their subject matter. Some series document investigations and court cases in real time, while others take a more retrospective approach, using the passage of time to explore both the cases and their effects on those involved. There are shows that use a single crime as a springboard to examine a range of issues, and series that reveal some the darkest and weirdest extremes of human behavior. With so much on there, it's hard to know to where to start, so we've chosen 12 of the very best true crime shows currently available on Netflix. Let's investigate...
12. The Confession Tapes
This is one of the most disturbing true crime series around--but not because of any terrible crime. Instead the lid is lifted on the process of extracting confessions from suspects and reveal the levels of corruption, manipulation, and coercion that are used to get a confession. Each episodes features a different case, and while the cases themselves aren't necessarily that interesting, it's a fascinating and often infuriating look at the way the rules are bent (and broken) to ensure that justice is "served."
11. Cold Justice
Cold Justice is a bit glossier than some of the entries of the list, but it's no less enthralling. Produced by TV veteran--and Law and Order creator--Dick Wolf, it follows former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and her team as they attempt to solve a series of "cold cases"--unsolved murders that have been abandoned by the police. The show is as much about giving victims' families a sense of a closure as it is about catching a killer (not all of the cases are solved), and it frequently delivers a real emotional punch.
10. Murder Mountain
The set-up to this 2018 show is tailor-made for a true crime series. It's an exploration of the dozens of mysterious deaths and disappearances that have occured on an huge expanse of northern California's marijuana country, with the infamous "murder mountain" the center of these incidents. It's a sprawling saga that incorporates a variety of local weed farmers, law enforcement officers, private detectives, and families of the victims, and shows how disturbingly easy it is for someone to simply "vanish" in a sprawling wilderness where the rule of law does not seem to apply.
Over the course of nearly 40 years, Errol Morris has made a series most fascinative, gripping, and inventive true crime documentaries, from 1982's groundbreaking The Thin Blue Line to the more recent Tabloid. His latest effort is Wormwood, a six-part series that starts with the mysterious death of a biological warfare scientist in 1953 and expands into a story about psychotropic drug testing and CIA cover-ups. Like all of Morris's work, it's highly unconventional both in terms of its structure and its visual style and uses actors Peter Sarsgaard and Molly Parker in disorientating recreations of these covert experiments, alongside interviews with the relatives of those involved at the time.
8. The Staircase
This hugely influential 2004 French production help set the template for the true crime genre. It follows the trial of writer Michael Peterson, who was accused of killing his wife in North Carolina in 2001; her body was found at the bottom of a staircase. Peterson is a fascinating figure, and because the show predates the current wave of true crime shows, the participants are less guarded and conscious of the medium as they might be today. It's a slow and methodological show that really dives into the evidence presented during the trial. In 2017, Netflix produced several new episodes, which covered additional developments in the case over the intervening years.
7. Evil Genius
There are many dark and disturbing stories told in the shows on this list, but few as weird as the one covered in Evil Genius. It's the type of show that relies on not knowing too much going in, but in short, it begins when a pizza delivery man with a bomb attached to his neck is sent--by someone--to rob a bank in Pennsylvania in 2003. Things don't end well for him, but that's only the start of a crazy and totally unpredictable real life mystery that spans several years and many, many twists.
6. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
The most recent show on this list, Conversations with a Killer is an accompaniment to Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the upcoming movie from director Joe Berlinger. While the film is a recreation of the life of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy (played by Zac Efron), Berlinger's series is a far more disturbing proposition. It truly delves into the mind of this infamous murderer using interviews with Bundy, law enforcement officials, and the families of his victims to attempt to find a clue as to why he killed at least 30 people between 1974 and 1978.
5. Partners in Crime
While many of the shows on this list spend many hours picking apart single cases, the Hong Kong-set Partners in Crime takes an approach more in common with fictional procedural series. Each episode presents several cases and explores how the police are assisted by forensic examiners, pathologists, dentists, computer whizzes, and other civilian experts. And these cases are seriously weird--the very first episode explores the notorious 1999 murder where a severed head was found crammed inside a Hello Kitty doll. Partners in Crime might be very dark at times, but each episode flies by and is a nice antidote to some of the more protracted true crime shows out there.
4. The Murder Detectives
There's something truly gripping about a true crime show that is filmed as a case is developing, as opposed to one that looks back on the past events. This three-part British series was shot over an 18-month period and explores the investigation into the murder of a young man outside a bar in Bristol and focuses as much on his family and the effect his death had upon them as it does the case itself. It's both heartbreaking and gripping in equal measure.
3. The Keepers
The stunning The Keepers explores the investigation into the 1969 murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a young nun at a Catholic school in Baltimore, who was about to blow the whistle on the sexual abuse taking place at the school before her death. Like many of the best true crimes series it quickly expands its scope beyond a single incident, in this case going on to expose a shocking conspiracy of silence that involved both the church and law enforcement agencies. It's a powerful and moving series that treats its subjects with great sensitivity but never holds back from revealing the terrible nature of the crimes inflicted upon them.
2. Wild Wild Country
True crime doesn't have to mean serial killers and gruesome murder. The highly acclaimed Wild Wild Country tells the story of a cult movement that moved into a small Oregon community in the late '80s and slowly began to take over the town. It's utterly compulsive viewing that goes into a some very dark and strange places but never loses a level of sympathy for those involved on all sides. It was one of the most talked about Netflix shows of 2017, so if you missed it, it's an absolute must-watch.
1. Making A Murderer
It was Making a Murderer that turned Netflix into the go-to service for true crime shows. The series reached way beyond hardcore devotees of the genre to a wider, mainstream audience and showed how the long-form binge-watching nature of Netflix could really lend itself to this type of epic, addictive storytelling. The story of Steven Avery, who was charged with the murder of a woman named Teresa Halbach after having already been wrongly convicted for an earlier killing, was as compelling and unpredictable as any fictional thriller. A second season was released in October last year, that added new details to this already fascinating story.