To say true crime documentaries are addictive is a big understatement. We’re taking them anyway we can get them, whether we’re binging them on TV or catching up on the latest buzz-worthy podcast. What’s the draw? Turns out reality is, well, pretty damn dark, kids. And the fact that there’s so much insanity out there is both shocking and compelling.
There’s also the cultural element. There’s no such thing as one-and-done where true crime series are concerned — you’ve still got hours of discussions to dig into online and opinions to share on social. It doesn’t really end until you’ve moved onto the next documentary about murderous spouses or notorious serial killers or entire families gone missing. Convinced yet? We’ve got you covered with eight of the best true crime documentaries to watch on Netflix right now.
It’s no secret that athletes have used drugs to enhance their performance through the years. What’s always surprising is when they’re actually caught — leading to the kind of global renown that folks like Lance Armstrong can attest is pretty unsavory. Icarus unwittingly deep dives into the subject when director Bryan Vogel goes on a personal doping investigation by abusing the system on his own.
He self-injects various PEDs into his bottom and attempts to build his stamina — all while trying to pass the very tests created to halt that kind of activity in its tracks. Fogel connects with Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, a Russian anti-doping expert, who goes rogue and blows the whistle on the pro-PED system he created for Russian Olympians. Putin coined Rodchenkov a “jerk,” and, yep, he’s on the Kremlin’s hitlist, too. Trust, you’ll never watch sports the same way again.
Sure, true crime docs are fascinating, but they’re also tragic at their core. That’s the feeling one remembers when watching Team Foxcatcher, about the 1996 murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz at the hands of multimillionaire John du Pont. Schultz was one of several athletes that du Pont invited to train at his Pennsylvania estate, Foxcatcher Farm.
He used his fixation on wrestling as a general excuse to bring the amateur wrestlers to his estate. Schultz and Du Pont grew close, but ultimately, on one fateful winter day, the latter shot the 36-year-old wrestler for unknown reasons. The documentary offers a fascinating take on this disturbing story of broken trust.
Abducted in Plain Sight
What you need to know about Abducted in Plain Sight can really be summed up in a simple sentence: teenager Jan Broberg was kidnapped twice by her older neighbor, Robert Berchtold. What you really need to know, of course, is how the hell that could have happened.
The documentary explores the unsettling story of a man who essentially brainwashed the girl’s religious parents by ensnaring them in a world of sordid lies and convinced them to drop the kidnapping charges leveled against him. That alone is jaw-dropping, but this story has a little bit of everything — affairs that both of Jan’s parents had with Berchtold, for example, and an alien abduction aside that you really have to see to believe (and even then, the jury is out).
Some stories grip global headlines and never seem to let go. Such is the case with Amanda Knox, the story of the American exchange student who was convicted two times of murdering her flatmate, Meredith Kercher, during an academic year in Italy. While Amanda was eventually acquitted on both occasions, a swirl of press reports, tabloid stories, and general controversy followed.
Forensic professionals in the United States disagreed with the guilty verdict, believing that the evidence presented did not adequately link Knox to the crime. This documentary delves into the case, interviewing both Amanda and the people in her life to provide a glimpse of the story through a different, more personal lens.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich is ultimately an outrageous tale of pure injustice. The documentary follows the billionaire’s undoubtedly squalid path of child sex abuse and trafficking. While little new information is divulged, there is something to be derived from this example of using influence to best the American justice system.
Epstein did just that, entering into a plea deal that allowed him to stay out of prison and using intimidation tactics to threaten survivors who, in many cases, had not even told their parents about what happened. The documentary shares this distressing story through that lens, leading up to the many conspiracy theories surrounding his eventual 2019 suicide in a New York jail.
The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez
It takes some grit to absorb The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez. This is the heart-wrenching story of Fernandez, an eight-year-old who was abused by his mother and her boyfriend during the eight months that he lived with them. Fernandez never knew stability in his young life: he was shuttled from family member to family member before his mother was eventually awarded custody.
Her aims were dubious, as many family members expressed concerns that she was neglectful to her other children and that she was in it only for welfare benefits. The greatest tragedy is in learning that Fernandez’s death from blunt force trauma, malnutrition, and neglect at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend could have been prevented. He reported the abuse to many, including family members and his teacher.
Wild Wild Country
If you’re fascinated by cults, Wild Wild Country takes you on an unpredictable journey that follows the grip Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, had on his followers. Thousands were swayed by the spiritual leader’s words, both in India and throughout the West. Eventually Rajneesh purchased an Oregon ranch and developed a city called Rajneeshpuram.
The saga is eye-opening and shocking, delving into a whole array of cult-specific dramas circling around mass poisoning and massive donations of money. The documentary offers a shocking look at the control Rajneesh exerted over his followers and the many psychological abuses that preyed on their vulnerabilities.
The English do a mean mystery, and it turns out their true crime docuseries are nothing to sniff at either. The Ripper explores the investigations surrounding the West Yorkshire and Manchester serial murders that occurred between 1975 and 1980. The Yorkshire Ripper, as he was known, behaved in much the same way as Jack the Ripper.
The series includes interviews with survivors and victims’ family members. The hot take here, for those focused on distilling misogyny at play, is that the media did not pay attention to the killer’s first few victims, all of whom were sex workers. It was not until the murder of a teenager that they sat up and took notice. The chronological series follows law enforcement’s attempts to capture the killer.
True crime documentaries no doubt tug at our emotions — but these series also make it clear that there’s so much more to them than meets the eye. This is, after all, real life.