The 20 Best True Crime Shows on Netflix That Will Chill You to the Bone
Dig into the real life stories hidden behind the headlines with these in-depth investigations and dramatizations of the most riveting true crime stories in recent decades.
Fear City: New York vs The Mafia (2020)
Fear City examines the “golden era” of the mob in 1970s New York City. Viewers meet former mobsters, including members of legendary crime families such as the Gambinos and the Genoveses, as well as the law enforcement officials who, for a time, seemed helpless to stop them. The series follows an FBI operation to wiretap as many mobsters as possible, eventually using the tapes to bring these criminal families to justice. Fans of The Sopranos won’t be able to get enough of this series, which also features a cameo from disgraced Trump lawyer and former NYC mayor, Rudy Giuliani.
Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer (2021)
Dubbed the Night Stalker, serial killer Richard Ramirez appeared to attack without pattern or motive in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas between the summers of 1984 and ‘85—baffling city police in the process. After his picture appeared on TV and in newspapers across the state, an enraged mob in East Los Angeles caught Ramirez in August of 1985. Later convicted of 13 counts of murder, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries, Ramirez never once expressed remorse for his brutal crimes before his prison death in 2013. Featuring interviews with both the survivors of Ramirez’s brutal attacks and the cops who eventually sent him to prison, Night Stalker is an unflinching look at the devastation one psychopath can inflict.
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Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (2020)
Based on the 2016 book of the same name, this true crime doc explores the life of Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy financier whose sex trafficking ring preyed on vulnerable, underage women. Largely told by the survivors of Epstein’s crimes, Filthy Rich focuses on the failures of law enforcement and the collective efforts of the women whom Epstein abused to seek a just end to the trauma they endured—even in the wake of Epstein’s mysterious jail cell death. Filthy Rich is a primer for what’s to come in the Epstein case, as prosecutors continue to work to bring down his alleged circle of co-conspirators.
Evil Genius: The Story Behind America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist (2018)
Even the most creative screenwriter in Hollywood could not come up with a story like the one that actually unfolded in Erie, Pennsylvania in 2003. Evil Genius starts off like a madcap caper, only to come to an abrupt stop when the man at the centre of a bank heist, pizza delivery man Brian Wells, is killed by a bomb that’s been locked around his neck. The series looks at the events that led to Wells’ death—including a pizza order, a scavenger hunt, and a plot to rob a local bank of a quarter of a million dollars.
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The Keepers (2017)
In 1969 a nun teaching at an elite all-girls Catholic high school in Baltimore failed to return home from an evening shopping trip—her body was discovered near a garbage dump two months later. Eschewing sensationalism and demonstrating a keen respect for the many victims who came forward to tell their stories, The Keepers uncovers the long history of sexual exploitation and abuse within the school, branching out to detail accusations against the Archdiocese of Baltimore, who victims claim covered up horrific violence. The docuseries follows former students trying to determine whether the death of their beloved teacher was part of the cover-up and offers the kind of justice that comes from finally finding a platform to tell your story.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)
How do you scam globe-trotting millennials out of their hard-earned cash? Simply hire a bunch of social media influencers to sell tickets to a flashy party that may or may not exist. Rapper Ja Rule and entrepreneur Bill McFarland did just that in 2017, defrauding would-be partiers of thousands of dollars while simultaneously stranding them on an island in the Bahamas without sufficient shelter, food, or *gasp* cell service (never mind the “luxury experience” they’d been promised). Cut to concert attendees forming an angry mob that operated under an “every person for themselves” mentality and you’ve got the makings of a highly entertaining documentary… plus an FBI investigation.
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Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (2021)
“Bad things keep happening here.” That’s the succinct and accurate description of the Los Angeles hotel known as The Cecil, where murder, suicide, and drug overdoses are a regular occurrence. Advertised as convenient downtown accommodations to travellers unfamiliar with the city, The Cecil sits in the heart of LA’s so-called ‘Skid Row’—a community besieged by poverty, substance abuse and mental illness. The series zeroes in on the 2013 disappearance of hotel guest Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old Canadian woman visiting California for the first time. After the LAPD releases an elevator security video of Lam, internet sleuths from across the continent converge on the Cecil to try to solve her disappearance—to disastrous results.
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Amanda Knox (2016)
Amanda Knox says it best herself: either she’s a “psychopath in sheep’s clothing” or she’s simply one of us, in the wrong place at the wrong time, stumbling across a murder that she didn’t commit but was convicted of nonetheless. Following Knox’s eventual exoneration, this chilling documentary features in-depth interviews with Knox herself who, as UK media repeatedly and gleefully pointed out during her trial, can come across as cold and unfeeling. The doc skewers both the media coverage of the case and the Italian authorities’ handling of the investigation. In doing so, it also argues that a person isn’t necessarily a murderer because she handles trauma in a way the public can’t access or understand.
Tiger King (2020)
True crime fans who managed to get through 2020 without seeing Tiger King are a bit of an anomaly. However, the investigation into the feud between a big cat keeper in Oklahoma and a self-proclaimed wild animal advocate in Florida remains a riveting rewatch, especially in light of the developments in the Joe Exotic case that have taken place since the series premiere. (Plus, there’s also Exotic’s campaign to be pardoned by former US president Donald Trump before his term ended earlier this year). If at first you came down on the side or Team Exotic or Team Baskin, what we know now about these two should put viewers firmly in the camp of Team Tiger.
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Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning 2015 story, Unbelievable follows 18-year-old Washington state resident Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), who one day is sexually assaulted in her apartment. Unbelievable quickly moves forward to a second, equally devastating crime: a foster kid who’s recently aged out of the system, Adler is later revictimized at the hands of a justice system that doubts her story and pressures her to recant. Three years later in Colorado, two female detectives (Toni Colette and Nurse Jackie’s Merritt Wever) investigate a string of sexual assaults that may be connected to Adler’s. Unbelievable puts the lie to the idea that there is a “correct” way for a victim to respond to sexual assault or a single way to process trauma.
Wild, Wild Country (2018)
The sleepy county of Wasco in rural Oregon provides the setting for one of the strangest cult experiments in US history. After purchasing a large ranch outside the tiny town of Antelope, Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers begin to clash with the locals over politics, sexuality, gun rights, vigilantism and the massive influx of newcomers in a community where the previous population had numbered just 50 people. Wild, Wild Country is a lesson in how corruption can take the goal of peaceful coexistence and turn it into a power grab involving murder plots, poisonings, fraud, and abuse.
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The Ripper (2020)
The Ripper presents a considered and contextualized telling of the crimes of serial killer Peter Sutcliffe during his five-year reign of terror in late 1970s Manchester and West Yorkshire, prioritizing the voices of victims. The filmmakers behind the four-part series highlight not only how both media and police failed to protect Sutcliffe’s female victims by initially writing them off as prostitutes, but also how the economic depression of the era forced low-income women into sex work to survive. The examination of the social factors surrounding the case and how they fed into Sutcliffe’s ability to continue his attacks forms the crucial heart of the series.
The Staircase (2018)
Michael Peterson isn’t a likeable protagonist in the 13-part docuseries that examines the mysterious death of his wife, Kathleen, and his ensuing trial. But does that make him guilty? Even for criminal justice experts, it’s nearly impossible to say. French director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade spent more than a decade documenting the case against Peterson as it moved through the courts, becoming bogged down by accusations of evidence tampering and revelations about Peterson’s private life. Convictions are overturned, a family is divided, and just when viewers think they have the case figured out, the series takes another shocking turn.
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Making A Murderer (2015)
Steven Avery is introduced to audiences as a man who spent nearly two decades in prison following a wrongful conviction for sexual assault and attempted murder. Just two years after DNA evidence exonerated him in 2003, Avery was charged with a second murder. This is where the two-season long series Making A Murderer picks up the story, relaying the new case against Avery, the involvement of his family, and local law enforcement’s apparent determination to see Avery return to a life behind bars. The best crime documentaries present all the evidence and leave audiences with the burden of deciding guilt or innocence for themselves. This one does exactly that.
Athlete A (2020)
Gymnastics is arguably the toughest sport in the world. While boxers and rugby players may hurl themselves towards each other in an effort to score, gymnasts hurl themselves through the air without fear of the bar, beam or ground below them. The sport produces an elite set of athletes who perform at the highest levels with no complaints about broken toes and fractured spines. Athlete A not only exposes the kind of abusive behaviour that goes into creating that combination of toughness and obedience, but it lays bare the ways in which that conditioning led directly to Dr. Larry Nassar being able to sexually assault more than 330 top US gymnasts with apparent impunity.
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Surviving R. Kelly (2019)
In the 1990s and throughout the 2000s, fans and the media celebrated R. Kelly’s musical innovations and pop stars with even bigger profiles than his own clamored to collaborate with him. Meanwhile, the women and girls he targeted carried the weight of the truth: that this talented musician was a serial abuser who allegedly got away with assaulting underage girls. Despite the wave of accusations against Kelly, many of his famous colleagues—including Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson, Erykah Badu, and Celine Dion—initially refused to speak out against him. Surviving R. Kelly gives a long overdue platform to the women who endured his abuse and came out the other side, strong enough to share their stories.
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019)
Bikram yoga—a series of 26 yoga poses performed in high-temperature settings—is known for its hard-core devotees and dedicated practitioners. But for the students of its founder, Bikram Choudhury, that kind of strict discipline and devotion opened the door for sexual harassment and assault. Bikram documents yoga’s #MeToo moment and the failure of legal systems to stop a known abuser from continuing to exploit his students both physically and financially. Through its storytelling, the series demonstrates how a charismatic leader can turn simple exercise into dangerous cult-like worship.
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The FBI first began examining the psychology of criminality in the late 1970s, laying the groundwork for the familiar criminal profiling seen in nearly every police procedural today. Executive produced by director David Fincher (Seven), Mindhunter dramatizes those early days spent poking around inside the minds of serial killers such as Edmund Kemper, Charles Manson, and David Berkowitz so police could become better, faster, and more adept at catching the violent criminals of the future. It’s a must-see for anyone who wants to know why these kinds of crimes occur and who the people behind them really are.
The Devil Next Door (2019)
In 1986, retired Ukrainian-American auto worker John Demjanjuk was extradited from his home in Cleveland to Israel to be tried for crimes against humanity during the Second World War. Accused of being the notorious extermination camp guard known as Ivan the Terrible, Demjanjuk always maintained his innocence—even in the face of Holocaust survivors who claimed he was responsible for so much suffering. Aided by revealing interviews and gripping trial footage, The Devil Next Door takes a hard look at how difficult it is to prosecute war crimes, decades after they were committed, and thousands of miles away from where they took place.
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The Pharmacist (2020)
Like Erin Brockovich before him, Dan Schneider was an average person who went up against a powerful industry because no one else was willing to take it on. The death of Schneider’s son during a drug deal gone awry indirectly leads him to examine a suspicious pattern of prescribing at local Louisiana pharmacies including his own. The trail heats up from there, leading all the way to a powerful pharmaceutical company and the shady marketing tactics that have led to an opioid epidemic across North America. The Pharmacist lifts the veil on opioid addiction and points a finger at the true perpetrators behind it.
Now that you know the best Netflix crime shows, check out 10 true crime movies that will chill you to the bone.