12 of the most gripping true crime documentaries to binge right now
To celebrate the release of 'I'll Be Gone in the Dark', we've rounded up all our favorite real life horror stories.
Still from I'll Be Gone in the Dark.
Everybody loves a good story, especially when it’s true. That’s probably why true crime documentaries continue to spike in viewership even when the world around us is just as packed with shocking twists and jaw-dropping moments of injustice. As it turns out, we love to be scared from a safe distance. Since Making a Murderer landed on Netflix in 2015, streamable true crime has grown into nothing short of a sensation, and with hundreds of documentaries across several streaming platforms -- and plenty of time at home to view them all -- it can be tough to discern which ones stand out from the rest.
To celebrate the release of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, HBO’s addicting new docuseries about the Golden State Killer (on June 28), we streamed dozens of hours of true crime to narrow down our favorites below.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
This six-part documentary series based on the book of the same name follows Michelle McNamara and her obsessive search for the Golden State Killer, a serial killer operating in California throughout the 70s and 80s. Tragically, Michelle died two years before the book was published and two months before the killer was brought to justice, forming the documentary into a multi-faceted, expansive character study that covers a lot of emotional ground. Part murder mystery, part examination of our society’s fascination with true crime, and part celebration of Michelle’s legacy, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark gives a voice to the voiceless. Stream this on HBO Go/HBO Max.
I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter
When 18-year-old Conray Roy III was found dead in his truck by apparent suicide, his family and authorities were prepared to point the finger at his depression, which he’d been battling for years. Then they looked at his cell phone. This fascinating court case examines weeks of text messages Conrad received from his girlfriend, 17-year-old Michelle Carter, encouraging him to kill himself. There’s no question about whether or not she did it -- the proof is in their phones -- but whether or not what she did was a crime. I Love You, Now Die digs into the psyche of morality and teenage depression in the digital age. Stream this on HBO Go/HBO Max.
Strong Island is as much a documentary about systemic and interpersonal racism as it is a deeply personal portrait of family and grief. Filmmaker Yance Ford recounts the 1992 murder of his own brother, William Ford Jr. A black teacher from Long Island with no criminal record, William was shot and killed by Mark Reilly, a white auto body shop employee with a history of shady business dealings. The grand jury, made up of 23 white people, voted not to indict Reilly for manslaughter, accepting the district attorney’s findings that he acted out of self-defense. The documentary was nominated for an Academy Award, making Yance Ford the first openly transgender filmmaker to receive the nomination. Stream this on Netflix.
The Central Park Five
The 1989 case, which saw five Black and latino teenage boys wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for raping a woman in central park, was featured in Ava DuVernay’s 2019 Emmy-winning limited series When They See Us. This 2012 documentary is just as gripping and even more compelling, as the real Central Park Five are the ones telling the story. It’s a devastating and prevalent example of systemic racism and police misconduct, and a glaring reminder of just how little has changed in the last 30 years. Stream this on Amazon Prime.
Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
Notorious 70s serial killer Ted Bundy’s story has been a warning to young women for decades, but this four-part docuseries from filmmaker Joe Berlinger provides new insight into his life and murders. Berlinger combed through hours of interview footage between Bundy and a psychologist in 1980, while he was on death row, to create a gripping, reflective confessional of his crimes. The series gives us a comprehensive look at all the disturbing details of Bundy’s case, plus makes clear the many failures of the legal system while he was still at large. Stream this on Netflix.
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
Never has the ‘fake it till you make it’ sentiment been applied more literally than in the case of CEO Elizabeth Holmes. She was just 19 years old when she founded the now-defunct tech company Theranos, a startup looking to revolutionize blood testing and healthcare in the US. Once valued at over 10 billion dollars, a 2015 investigative report from the Wall Street Journal revealed Theranos not only lied about its lab technology and test results, but used intimidation tactics on former employees to make sure the truth never came out. Plus, the story is about to continue in real-time: Elizabeth Holmes is set to go to trial in August, on 12 counts of fraud, and could spend up to 20 years in prison if she’s convicted. Stream this on Hulu and HBO Go.
Abducted in Plain Sight
The kidnappings of Jan Broberg in the 70s are so unbelievable that even the documentary can’t fully explain the crazy, manipulative power Robert Berchtold had over the Broberg family. Still, Abducted in Plain Sight tells an intriguing story: when Jan Broberg was 12 years old, she was abducted by her neighbor, Robert Berchtold, who was decades her senior. When he brought her back, he spent years entrapping Jan’s family into a web of trust, lies, and compliance, and then kidnapped her again, this time under much more dire circumstances. Stream this on Netflix.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich
You might think you’ve heard all there is to know about millionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s life of leisure and underage sex trafficking. The media frenzy surrounding his 2019 arrest, and then suspicious death behind bars, gave the grisly details of his abuse nationwide attention, implicating dozens of other rich, powerful men with his little black book and fanning the flames of the #MeToo movement. What makes Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich so compelling is that we hear the story from the point-of-view of his victims. In addition to widely covering Epstein’s history of crime and deceit, the four-part series provides a semblance of justice by giving voice to some of the women who were forcibly silenced for so long. Stream this on Netflix.
The Innocence Files
This nine-part docuseries from The Innocence Project focuses on victims of the criminal justice system, mainly Black men, who were wrongly accused or whose prosecutions were mishandled. Through individual stories of racism and injustice, The Innocence Files aims to paint a larger picture of the deep fractures embedded in the American criminal justice system. Stream this on Netflix.
In the middle of the night in 1993, Lorena Bobbitt sliced off her husband’s penis with a kitchen knife while he slept. He’d been raping and abusing her for years, and she’d finally had enough. Marketed as a man’s worst nightmare, the story made national news, and the media turned Lorena into a laughing stock while her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, became a star. From executive producer Jordan Peele, Lorena is a four-part docuseries that examines the sensationalism that surrounded and contributed to one of America’s first big domestic violence cases, and features 2019 interviews from Lorena and John Wayne. Stream this on Amazon Prime.
This documentary covers the physical and emotional trials of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in real time after they were exonerated for the murder of Meredith Kercher, Amanda’s roommate in Italy while she was studying abroad. When filmmakers Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn set out to tell the story in 2011, they used the open-ended nature of the case to their advantage. The extreme candor they extracted from Amanda, Raffaele and prosecutor Giuliano Mignini during interviews is testament to the filmmaker’s dedication to journalistic integrity -- something that was clearly lacking during the tabloid-crazed coverage of the trial. Stream this on Netflix.
The Great Hack
The Great Hack is a mind-blowing and terrifying look into the rise and fall of Cambridge Analytica, the data company that tracked and harvested information from hundreds of thousands of Facebook users and then used that data to make targeted ads to aid in the 2016 republican presidential campaign and Brexit. At its peak, the company supposedly had 5,000 data points on every single person. Scarier still, the documentary makes clear that even though Cambridge Analytica is gone, the kind of data mining capabilities they brought to light are still out there, subtly eroding our individual liberties one Facebook survey at a time. Stream this on Netflix.