From Real to Reel: The Top 25 True-Crime Documentaries of 2023/24

Top 25 True-Crime Documentaries of 2023/24: It seems like there’s more of it everywhere you turn. Even true crime purists are finding it difficult to keep up with the deluge of nonfiction tales of scandalous transgressions, false convictions, and shady frauds that networks and streaming platforms are producing

(As an example, consider the incredibly riveting documentary American Nightmare that Netflix released this year or the soon-to-be-released HBO spinoff of The Jinx.)

The finest true-crime documentaries add principled reporting to the mystery they cover, focusing as much, if not more, on the victims as on the criminals whose minds capture ours. 

Although what one person considers true-crime garbage is another’s treasure, these suggestions avoid the genre’s more vile tendencies, but they do their best to capture the format’s varied modes, from serious digests to sleazy diversions. 

You may watch any of our recommendations online or rent them, and when you’ve finished, there are many more to choose from.

Best True-Crime Documentaries of 2023/24

1. The Central Park Five (2012)

The Central Park Five FULL SPECIAL | PBS America

The false conviction of five Latino and Black teens was one of the most tragic events of the twentieth century. Following the 1989 assault and rape of a white lady in Central Park, police pressured the group into confessing.

However, the DNA evidence that cleared their names over a decade later has cast the case as a prime example of discriminatory legal methods. The five men’s lives were profoundly affected, and the documentary by Ken Burns details the events surrounding it.

2. Crazy Love (2007)

Crazy Love (2007) Official Trailer #1 - Documentary Movie HD

An underappreciated classic from a time when true crime wasn’t commonplace, this adrenaline rush by Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens is a veritable feast of disturbing facts. New York City attorney Burt Pugach is at the center of the titular romance. He had an affair with a younger woman and had hired assailants to assault her after she ended the affair. 

And if you think that’s crazy, you’d be right; that’s just the beginning. “One of the most celebrated crimes of passion in New York history” was the description given to the incident by the New York Times.

3. The Crime of the Century (2021)

The Crime of the Century | HBO Documentary | Interview with Director Alex Gibney

Bribery behind the scenes and in boardrooms is where some crimes unfold over time. That’s the tale of the continuing opioid crisis in America, as told by Alex Gibney in HBO’s scathing two-part exposé. 

Part one follows the story of OxyContin, an addictive medication that expanded due to shady dealings done by certain greedy Sackler relatives. The second one explores fentanyl, a commonly prescribed opioid that pharmaceutical company officials encouraged doctors to administer excessively.  

Lawmakers and medical powerhouses, according to Gibney’s informants, are to blame for the crisis’s neglect. The documentary justly bears the term, “resolute,” due to the seriousness and enduring significance of the subject matter.

4. The Keepers (2017)

The Keepers | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

The intriguing tagline of this seven-part Netflix series, “Who Killed Sister Cathy?” is enough to pique interest. The nun in question is Catherine Cesnik; she went missing when she was 26 years old after receiving confidential information about a priest’s sexual abuse of children at a Catholic all-girls school. 

Two months subsequently, her remains were found. Ryan White (The Case Against 8, Good Night Oppy) draws a detailed, devastating connection between the attack that happened before Cesnik could speak out about it and her death; yet, the case is still unresolved.

5. Cropsey (2009)

Cropsey - Urban Legend Documentary - Full Movie

In search of a documentary that simultaneously ranks among the greatest terrifying horror films of all time? At the beginning of Cropsey, we hear about a Staten Island urban legend from the 1970s: the kidnapping of children. 

A specter associated with a notoriously violent mental institution that closed its doors in 1987 circulated among the locals. Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, who were co-directors of the film, pinpoint the horrific kidnappings and their impact on the town to a prisoner convicted of comparable atrocities. 

As they travel, they come across subterranean passages, what seems like Satanic worship, serial murderers, and a complex web of myth-making that brings up a lot of disturbing concerns.

6. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Dear Zachary - A Letter To A Son About His Father | 2008 | 1080p |

Dear Zachary is an emotionally charged and aggressive indictment of the Canadian judicial system for its lenient handling of the case of Andrew Bagby, a medical school resident and childhood best friend of filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, who was murdered by his mentally unstable ex-girlfriend. 

In Kuenne’s film, we see Bagby’s parents fighting for custody of their grandchild after she gave birth to his child. In addition to documenting the life of a man whose departure has devastated those closest to him, it is a moving tribute to a life cut short.

7. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (2020)

I'll Be Gone In the Dark (2020): Official Trailer | HBO

The Golden State Killer was a serial killer profiled in a best-selling book by true-crime blogger Michelle McNamara, who was married to comic Patton Oswalt. Focusing on the victims rather than the culprit, the HBO documentary series based on her work revolves around McNamara’s research.  

It’s also a touching portrait of McNamara, who took a cocktail of prescription meds before she passed away, never seeing the arrest that came from her dogged reporting.  

8. The Imposter (2012)

The Imposter Official Trailer #1 - Sundance Documentary (2012) HD Movie

The 2012 critically praised true-crime smash that Bart Layton penned about a French con artist who fooled a Texas family into thinking he was a long-lost relative breathed new life into the genre.   

In addition to focusing on a trickster, The Imposter is utterly preoccupied with the terrifying conditions that caused the family to fall for the deceit. Watch the clip and then read David Grann’s fascinating piece about the same story in The New Yorker.  

9. The Jinx (2015)

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst - Trailer - Official HBO UK

Despite its outlandish origin story, HBO’s The Jinx became an instant hit upon its release. The three murders that New York real estate heir Robert Durst was suspected of perpetrating served as inspiration for a little- seen fiction film directed by Andrew Jerecki (Capturing the Friedmans).

Durst was so impressed by the film that he asked Jerecki to capture his life. Durst became a public spectacle and further implicated himself, but being played by Ryan Gosling would be an incredible experience for anyone. 

An intriguing examination of criminality, resentments within affluent families, and distorted self-mythology is presented in the six-part series. According to HBO’s recent announcement, there will be a second season.

For those who are passionate about gaining more updates and insights about celebrities and entertainment, peruse our earlier posts where we’ve delved deeply into all the particulars.

10. Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York (2023)

Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York | Official Trailer | HBO

Only after the third episode of Last Call, a four-part series on HBO is the identity of the killer revealed. Instead of delving into the killer’s mind, the show follows the lives of the Northeastern gay and bisexual men who were victims of his crimes.

Tragically, these murders occurred during and just before the AIDS epidemic, when the government and law enforcement were already reluctant to provide aid to the LGBTQ community. Anthony Caronna (Susanne Bartsch: On Top),  in adapting Elon Green’s 2021 book, paints a detailed picture of a demographic that has been plagued  by a political body that didn’t want anything to do with them. 

11. Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God (2023)

Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God | Official Trailer | HBO

Cult management, like most industries, is run by men. Amy “Mother God” Carlson’s” story provides a welcome shift in gender roles; she was a self-proclaimed messiah whose adherents broadcasted their conspiracy-theoretic New Age spirituality on YouTube for all to see.

After Carlson’s followers left the so-called 3D world for a commune in Colorado, she fed them the panacea that would prove to be her downfall. Love Has Won is one of the most colorful and absurd cult images to date, thanks to director Hannah Olson’s (The Last Cruise) access to a plethora of film that exposes the group’s frustrating dynamics.  

12. Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art (2020)

Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art - Documentary Trailer - Now on Netflix

Documentaries about art forgeries and theft have emerged as a distinct subgenre; examples include Art and Craft, This Is a Robbery, and The Painter and the Thief.

All of those games are good, but the premise of Made You Look is the most fascinating: the biggest art world high-end forgery swindle ever.    

From a single painting by Mark Rothko fetching $5.5 million at auction, the number of imitators quickly grew to sixty, including works by artists like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol.   

With the ability to fool a gallery director and art experts into thinking the pieces were real, the film delves into philosophical questions like, “How can counterfeits slip by in an industry so committed to legitimacy?”  

13. Making a Murderer (2015–2018)

Making A Murderer | Trailer [HD] | Netflix

Since its release, Making a Murderer has served as a focal point for discussions over police brutality, false convictions, and the morality of true crime as a genre.   

That was the outcome following the premiere of the first season on Netflix. The show followed a Wisconsin man who had been exonerated of murder charges and was now litigating over his previous sentencing.   

Although a penchant for immoral behavior was not novel, the imitators who sprang from the Emmy-winning show created by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos are difficult to avoid.   

(You should also see American Vandal, which is a fantastic satire.)    

14. McMillions (2020)

MCMILLIONS Official Trailer (HD) HBO Docuseries

Three things usually come to mind when one thinks about true crime: cults, corporate espionage, and murder. An excellent illustration of the second category is McMillions.    

A former police officer known as “Uncle Jerry” cheated his way through McDonald’s Monopoly stickers, winning lucky customers money, for 12 years. 

The six-part documentary reveals this fraud scam, which totaled $24 million. Jerry rigged the competition with the help of a criminal ring that allegedly included mafia ties  while he was head of security at the marketing firm that oversaw the fast food chain’s advertising. This HBO comedy gives his con the attention it deserves.

15. Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017)

Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017) - A Gypsy Rose Blanchard Documentary

The mother-daughter psychodrama at the heart of this HBO documentary is breathtaking, even if you are already familiar with the details.   

Director Erin Lee Carr (Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop, I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth V. Michelle Carter) reveals the truth behind a mid-2010s internet disaster that sparked Hulu’s The Act and has a Munchausen-syndrome-by-proxy twist. 

A seemingly happy Mississippi woman named Dee Dee Blanchard was murdered by her    daughter, who had caused or created a number of her mother’s diseases. One of the most bizarre true crime phenomena of our century is recounted in Mommy Dead and Dearest.  

16. O.J.: Made in America (2016)

O.J.: Made in America with Director Ezra Edelman

O.J.: Made in America took home the hardware at the Academy Awards and the Emmy when films played in theaters and on television were both eligible for nominations. It was sports documentary maker Ezra Edelmen’s magnum achievement since it won a PeabodyAward among other accolades. 

Made in America, which runs for approximately eight hours (divided into five TV episodes), is well worth watching in its entiretyIt avoids sensationalism in favor of analyzing the notorious athlete’s problems through the complex prisms of racism, sports, and celebrity culture; it’s like an anti-true-crime documentary.

17. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills 1996 Trailer | Documentary

The expansive film by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky received high praise for its exclusive access to the infamous West Memphis Three case, in which three teenage males were found guilty under questionable circumstances of killing three children in what was allegedly a Satanic ritual. 

Paradise Lost features some of the most extensive courtroom and judge’s chamber footage ever seen in a true-crime film. Two further films followed the men as they continued their mission to clear their names.  

18. Prophet’s Prey (2015)

Prophet's Prey | Official Trailer | SHOWTIME Documentary

This list could include some of the documentaries directed by Amy Berg, who has been nominated for an Academy Award.

West of Memphis is about the West Memphis Three, Deliver Us From Evil, a Catholic priest who abused 25 children, and The Case Against Adnan Syed reexamines the procedures that inspired the popular podcast Serial.

President Warren Jeffs of a conservative Mormon sect—actually a polygamist cult—becomes Berg’s focus in Prophet’s Prey. Jeffs is presently receiving a life sentence after being found guilty on two charges of sexual abuse of a child. His ascent and fall as a leader whose villainy was concealed by  religion is chronicled in the film.

19. The Staircase (2004)

The Staircase | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

War author Michael Peterson was found guilty of the 2001 murder of his wife in this tangled miniseries directed by Frenchman Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, who had previously won an Oscar for his documentary on false convictions, Murder on a Sunday Morning. 

Many people have their ideas of what transpired that night, and Peterson himself has maintained his innocence. With subsequent installments delving into fresh details of the case, what began as an eight-episode chronicle has grown to thirteen. As Max’s 2022 scripted series with Colin Firth and Toni Collette demonstrates, the details continue to pique interest.

20. Strong Island (2017)

Strong Island | Full Feature | Netflix

A 24-year- old Long Island teacher named Yance Ford was fatally shot in April 1992 after approaching a white man at an auto body shop to discuss a repair.

The victim was unarmed. The decision by the grand jury not to press charges further plunged Ford’s already shocked family into an existential crisis. 

The filmmaker became the first openly transgender person to receive an Oscar nomination when Strong Island was named to the Best Documentary Feature lineup.

He is well-known for his work with PBS and the queer-history docuseries Pride. The film goes  back to the original occurrence and shows how it changed his family.

21. The Thin Blue Line (1988)

The Thin Blue Line Trailer

The urtext of genuine crime is an essential component of any true crime bibliography. An acclaimed film by Errol Morris delves into the case of a guy from Dallas who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of a police officer. The film eventually uncovers his innocence and identifies the true culprit.    

The methods used in The Thin Blue Line were revolutionary for their time. The vérité impartiality that was largely considered fundamental to documentary filmmaking during Morris’s period is subverted by his stylized music and visual choices, which make his subjects seem like characters in a fictional plot. 

The film was not even considered for an Academy Award because of his reenactments, which were deemed sacrilegious in nonfictio at one point. Morris and The Thin Blue Line are now acknowledged as having contributed to the overall shape.  

22. Time: The Kalief Browder Story (2017)

TIME: The Kalief Browder Story Trailer

There is no chilling murder or corporate chicanery in this scathing six-part series. Rather, the topics covered by Time are incredibly relatable.

The ordeal that was Kalief Browder’s three years of incarceration at Rikers Island, including two years in solitary confinement, without a trial or official conviction began when he was sixteen years old, when the Bronx police arrested him for allegedly stealing a backpack.    

Based on Browder’s narrative, director Jenner Furst—known for more polished true-crime films like LuLaRich and The Pharmacist—indicts the penal system and the racial legislation that caused this injustice.

23. Tower (2016)

Tower Official Trailer 1 (2016) - Documentary

Snipers on top of the University of Texas building in Austin, Texas, killed 16 people and wounded 30 others in 1966, marking the first mass shooting at a U.S. institution.     

In this film adaptation of an article from Texas Monthly, director Keith Maitland uses rotoscope animation and archive material to tell the story of that tragic day. Tower commemorates a terrifying turning moment in U.S. history, but it isn’t an easy watch.

24. Voyeur (2017)

Voyeur | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

Voyeur is purportedly about a Colorado hotel owner who set up a system to watch his customers have sex. However, the issue of invasion of privacy is just as significant as the journalistic malfeasance at hand.   

In 2016, Gay Talese released a book centered around the titular father of two, exposing the man’s claimed inaction upon seeing a murder. After fact-checkers questioned portions of Talese’s reporting, she briefly distanced herself from the book.   

The intertwined stories of the owner’s predatory behavior and Talese’s repurposed fantastical elements form a complex moral evaluation in the film Voyeur, directed by Josh Koury and Myles Kane.  

25. Wild Wild Country (2018)

Wild Wild Country | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix

Holy Hell and The Vow are just two of many cult documentaries that begin with a tour of temporary utopias. Imagine a community of like-minded individuals living in a haven away from the stresses of regular life.

Things always turn gloomy after that. Rajneeshpuram is a spiritual-sexual ashram that started in India and relocated to rural Oregon under the tutelage of a demigod whose senior deputy was found guilty of attempted murder and assault.  

Wild Wild Country, possibly the most riveting cult documentary to date, follows this ashram. Bioterrorism, arson, and immigration crimes were allegedly committed by the maroon-clad mob along the way. 

The Emmy-winning filmmakers Chapman Way and Maclain Way create a vivid picture of life inside Rajneeshpuram by combining intriguing footage from the commune with interviews from the present-day and news archives.  

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