A Definitive List of the Best True Crime Films and TV Series
Humans behaving badly; it’s terribly addictive
Zac Efron—our beloved Troy Bolton, team captain of the Wildcats—aroused considerable controversy earlier this year by playing real-life psychopath Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile on Netflix. Viewers cried foul because production was accused of glamorizing the “legacy” of one of the most notorious killers in America. Did they really?
How can a charming, well-spoken man be capable of murder? With the onslaught of documentaries, series and podcasts, let’s face it, we are fascinated with the genre. This new age of true crime is verily addictive as media explore the inner workings of the minds of troubled men and women; after all, one isn’t born a (serial) killer.
If you’re drawn to such lurid content—we’re not judging—here’s a definitive list of the best true crime films and TV series for your viewing pleasure; you’re welcome.
The latest masterpiece from—yet again—David Fincher showcases the inner workings of murderers. It’s loosely based on the nonfiction true crime book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by the original “Mindhunter” John E. Douglas. The psychology-driven team uncovers horrors behind these murderers—and their motives behind it. A lack of remorse and empathy are key defining features of a serial killer. From Charles Manson, Edmund Kemper to David Berkowitz, they’ve got all the most notorious serial killers on the show. Binge-watch all two seasons on Netflix.
Unbelievable is a factual retelling of a series of rapes between 2008 to 2011 in Washington and Colorado based on the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning piece from ProPublica and The Marshall Project entitled An Unbelievable Story of Rape. It was written by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong. It features a masterful performance by Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart). Read the full Wonder review here.
Fincher is no stranger to true crime and thriller films having directed Se7en (arguably the best serial killer film around, but I’m willing to deliberate) and the aforementioned Mindhunter. The follow-up to his early box office success is Zodiac. The self-proclaimed Zodiac Killer is behind at least five and possibly even up to 37 murders in California from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. He sent taunting letters to the police and included cryptograms to be solved. To this day, the identity of the killer is still unidentified. Watch it for the gore—or for Jake Gyllenhaal (or both).
The Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by the Boston Globe in 2002 is the subject of Spotlight, which was the recipient of the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2016. A group of old-style journalists uncovers the conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse made by the Catholic Church in Boston for decades—inevitably leading to a full investigation on the church and its figures of authority. Mark Ruffalo (yet again), Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton are at the helm of the newsroom drama.
In Changeling, Christine Collins (ngelina Jolie) made national headlines in the 1920s after her kidnapped son is returned to her but—as any mother would know—is not convinced that he is her nine-year-old boy. The Los Angeles Police Department commits her to an asylum instead of facing the charges so as not to taint their “image.” How great a mother’s love is, and how great the depth she would go to keep her children from harm—but is she too late?
Devil’s Knot (2014)
In 1994, the West Memphis Three were tried for killing three young children as part of a satanic ritual. The brutal murders made national headlines and attracted a dedicated investigator. He is determined to prove the truth to a grieving mother and the rest of the world. Devil’s Knot stars Academy Award Winners Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth.
Charlize Theron bagged her first Academy Award—her first nomination, too—in 2004 for her role as Aileen Wuornos, America’s first known female serial killer. No one is born a murderer; her tortured past as a prostitute brought her to shoot and kill seven men in 1989 and 1990. She was executed in 2002. Monster was directed by Wonder Woman and I Am the Night’s Patty Jenkins.
Have more recommendations for the best true crime films? Leave them in the comments below!
Art Alexandra Lara