True crime documentaries are gritty, compelling, intriguing, and sometimes terrifying.
1 Dear Zachary: a Letter to a Son about His Father
There is so much I could say about this crime documentary, but not much I dare share for fear of ruining it. It begins as a video album meant to introduce a son to the father he's never destined to meet, but it turns into … something else. I can also say that it is the best documentary I have ever seen – the story, the cinematography, the set-up, the techniques, the soundtrack, and even the subject matter – and it is the most heartbreaking. I also want to say that Andrew Bagby is still an inspiration, as are his parents, and I think the world is a sadder, lesser place without him.
2 The Jinx: the Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
I have not seen this yet, simply because I haven't reached its slot on my must-watch list. However, I bet you heard about it even if you haven't seen it yet. Robert Durst's story, all on its own, is … strange and sick and very sad, and evidently this doc is full of bombshells, especially the one Durst drops in the film's final minutes.
3 The Thin Blue Line
This is probably one of the most popular true crime documentaries ever. Detailing a murder case and all its appeals, it's full of intrigue, crime, perjury, and plenty of corruption. It's an eye-opening look at the justice system, one that may leave you chilled and wondering what might happen to you if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.
4 The Paradise Lost Trilogy
Many crime documentaries play an enormous part in making sure justice is served, which is one of the reasons why “Making a Murder” has captured the attention of amateur sleuths and true crime aficionados all over the world. The three Paradise Lost films take place over decades, beginning back in 1993 with the gruesome murder of three young boys and the quest to find their killers, which lead to the incarceration of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. It's worth it to watch all three in a row. Take a weekend for a binge.
5 West of Memphis
After that, watch this one, which is unrelated in that it's not part of the trilogy, but which still follows the Robin Hood Hills tragedy. Instead of focusing on the three boys accused of the murders, however, it focuses on a couple of the parents and presents some very interesting information.
I think this documentary is particularly relevant right now. Watch it, if you can bear it, and I think you'll see why. There is a lot of hate in this world. There is a lot of ugliness. You can only hope that we can eradicate it by spotlighting it.
7 The Central Park Five
This is another famous true crime documentary about an infamous case – and an infamous miscarriage of justice. Five teenagers were ultimately convicted of a heinous, brutal rape, in spite of maintaining their innocence over and over again. The documentary tackles racism, fear tactics, and how tragically it is to twist justice.
8 Into the Abyss
Werner Herzog is just such an excellent documentarian, always willing to tackle weird, sensitive, or taboo topics. This is a look at Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, convicted of a senseless series of cold-blooded murderers. As the documentary takes place, we discover that Perry is days away from his execution. This isn't a look at the guilt or innocence of the two men, making it different from other crime docs, but it's still a wonderful watch.
9 The Staircase
Is Michael Peterson guilty? Is he innocent? Did he do it? Did America's legal system fail?
10 The Imposter
This documentary is so sad, so creepy, and so eerie. I dare you to watch it without getting chills. Well, I dare you to get through it without getting chills because, full disclosure, it starts out a little slow.
11 Brother's Keeper
Not so with Brother's Keeper. If you're anything like me, it will capture you from the first minute. It delves deeply into the criminal justice system as well, but the range of issues it uncovers is simply stunning. It's particularly meaningful to me because it took place near where my parents live, and close to where I went to college, making the ultimate rallying of the town around Delbert Ward even more touching.
12 Capturing the Friedmans
This documentary still haunts me. It deals with a father and son on Long Island, accused of widespread child sexual abuse. Did they do it? Was there mass hysteria involved? After you've watched it and made up your own mind, I recommend you research the Friedmans today.
13 There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane
This case is not just tragic, but downright strange. I mean, absolutely bizarre. You may have to watch it more than once and you'll still be left with questions.
Cropsey takes place on Long Island, as well. In fact, Cropsey is Long Island – at least, it's Long Island's legend. But what happens when an urban legend is really real?
15 Kids for Cash
This is a fairly recent case, and it's just … deplorable. Deplorable and sad and, unfortunately, not really surprising.
16 Crazy Love
This documentary … does not end the way you expect it to. If you like love stories and true crime, it's the perfect pick. To say that it's intriguing is a vast understatement, but you'll have to watch it to find out what I mean.
17 Lost for Life
You'll feel some things after you watch this. I think it's particularly relevant today, as well. The doc focuses on a range of young men who were given life sentences when they were still minors. It gives the audience something to think about – mainly, is it for juvenile defenders to remain in jail for the rest of their lives for crimes committed before their brains were fully developed?
18 The Prince of Pennsylvania
This is the true story behind the movie Foxcatcher. That's all I can say without giving away too many spoilers.
And this documentary … this still has me speechless. It's incredibly interesting, on a variety of levels.
Zoo is gross. I need to get that out there. The subject matter – bestiality – is taboo and there are graphic depictions, acts, and fantasies described within. There are also clips of a horse having sex with a man named Mr. Hands.
21 Just, Melvin: Just Evil
I saw this years ago on HBO and I've never been able to stop thinking about it. Melvin Just was just evil. To date, YouTube is the only place I've seen the complete documentary online. I recommend watching it. Today. Now.
Hate, greed, insanity, revenge, passion, drugs – crime is everywhere, unfortunately, and bad things happen even in our own backyards. Has “Making a Murderer” turned you into a true crime docu-fanatic yet?
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