A pair of the 39 tigers rescued in 2017 from Joe Exotic's G.W. Exotic Animal Park.

Best true crime series of all time

Written by:
January 16, 2024
Marc Piscotty // Getty Images

Best true crime series of all time

These days, true crime stories are virtually inescapable. Thanks to the rise of citizen investigations and social media, even ordinary people can play a role in solving a heinous crime, whether it just occurred or was abandoned decades ago. The rise of streaming services like Netflix and Max has played a significant role in the proliferation of true crime content, with the genre becoming one of Netflix's most successful outputs.

Over the years, the true crime genre has faced backlash for sensationalizing or trivializing the very dark atrocities of its subject matter to tantalize viewers. On the flip side, shows like "The Keepers" and "The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez" dig into the institutional shortcomings that allow these crimes to occur, like corruption within the Catholic Church and the failures of the child protective system. When done right, this genre can make viewers aware of a stranger-than-fiction string of crimes while making them think more deeply about the structures around them. But when it comes to true crime series, which represents the best of the genre?

To find out, Stacker examined IMDb data on all true crime TV series listed on the online entertainment database. The top 25 shows were then ranked according to IMDb user ratings. Votes broke ties. To qualify for this list, the show or miniseries in question needed at least 5,000 votes and be listed as part of the crime and documentary genres within IMDb's database.

Without further ado, here are the top 25 true crime series ever made.

#25. Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey

- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- On air: 2022

Netflix's docuseries "Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey" tells the story of Warren Jeffs, who currently leads the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a polygamous offshoot of the Mormon church. The show features interviews with several ex-FLDS members, who bring crimes perpetuated by Jeffs—namely, forcing women and girls as young as 12 into marriage—to light.

The series does not flinch in showing the gravity and horror of Jeffs' crimes, which required a multiagency operation, a private investigator, and the relentless work of a local journalist to build a legal case. But the harrowing tales of the survivors and the courage it took to break free make the series stand out.

#24. I'll Be Gone in the Dark

- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- On air: 2020-2021

The seven-episode HBO series "I'll Be Gone in the Dark" details how true crime writer Michelle McNamara's extensive writings revived interest in the Golden State Killer, a California criminal who committed 50 sexual assaults and 13 murders in the 1970s and 1980s.

Although McNamara died of opioid use disorder before she finished the book, authorities ultimately used her findings to help authorities apprehend the killer, who turned out to be former cop Joseph James DeAngelo. The series was executive produced by McNamara's widower, the comedian Patton Oswalt, and features interviews with DeAngelo's relatives and survivors of his attacks.

#23. The Confession Killer

- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- On air: 2019

Netflix's "The Confession Killer" tells the story of Henry Lee Lucas, who infamously confessed to committing as many as 600 murders. Many of these confessions turned out to be lies, but at least three can be traced back to him: those of his mother, ex-landlord, and girlfriend.

Directors Taki Oldham and Robert Kenner spend the series diving into how Lucas was able to lure law enforcement into accepting his confessions of guilt. The film interviews victims' families and law enforcement to expose how institutional shortcomings allowed his lies to continue.

#22. House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths

- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- On air: 2021

The Netflix series "House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths" delves into the case of the Chundawat family. In 2018, 11 blindfolded family members were found dead in their Dehli home. The docuseries notes the youngest son, Lalit, formed a cultlike order within the family due to his belief he could commune with their dead father. Otherwise, it sticks to using information available in the public domain and through interviews rather than resorting to sensationalism.

"House of Secrets" received generally positive reviews, with Telegraph India naming it as Netflix's best Indian true crime series yet.

#21. Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez

- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- On air: 2020

The Netflix documentary "Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez" explores how its eponymous subject went from celebrated NFL player to convicted murderer. The series paints a picture of Hernandez beyond the headlines using news, trial coverage, and interviews. It pinpoints the factors that contributed to his downfall, including (controversially) a case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy that may have contributed to impaired impulse control and judgment.

Hernandez's lawyer, Jose Baez, criticized the film for including photos and audio recordings of his client's daughter and dwelling on the role that Hernandez's sexuality played in his decision to later murder his friend Odin Lloyd.

#20. The Confession Tapes

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- On air: 2017-present

Rather than focusing on one crime case, this two-season Netflix series explores various wrongful murder confessions and the specific circumstances that led to them. Cases mentioned include that of Atif Rafay, who confessed to murdering his parents and sister in 1994, and Karen Boes, a Michigan woman convicted of killing her 14-year-old child in a house fire.

The series cautions audiences on the flaws of interrogation tactics and methods and shows how they can cause particular harm to the innocent.

#19. Surviving R. Kelly

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- On air: 2019-2023

The Lifetime docuseries "Surviving R. Kelly" features interviews with over 50 participants detailing the titular R&B star's history of pedophilia and sexual abuse over the years. Interview subjects include John Legend, Chance the Rapper, Wendy Williams, and Kelly's family. Following the series' release, Kelly was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2022 due to his history of psychological and sexual abuse.

#18. American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- On air: 2023

This three-part Netflix docuseries provides a behind-the-scenes look at the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing utilizing reenactments, first-person archival footage, and interviews with law enforcement. The series spoke with many who were at the forefront of the tragic event and even covered online mania and Islamaphobia that took hold in the hunt for the culprits of the attack.

"American Manhunt" goes into such detail that some outlets have taken pains to warn audiences of the potential traumatic consequences of living through these events again, even through a small screen. Although the series received largely positive reviews, Decider writer Joel Keller noted that "less gimmicks and more in-depth information on the particular parts of the event would have made for a better docuseries."

#17. I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- On air: 2019

This two-part HBO documentary delves into the story of Michelle Carter, who was arrested and placed on trial for involuntary manslaughter after she sent a series of texts to her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, urging him to die by suicide (which later happened).

Although Carter was unsuccessful in proving her innocence, "I Love You, Now Die" combs through the couples' years of messages, providing a more complex look at the moral, psychological, and mental health issues behind the case.

#16. The Devil Next Door

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- On air: 2019

Netflix's "The Devil Next Door" centers on Cleveland grandfather John Demjanjuk, who was extradited to Israel in the late 1980s and found guilty as a war criminal after several survivors identified him as notorious Nazi death camp guard Ivan the Terrible.

Although Demjanjuk's initial conviction was overturned, he was ultimately identified as a Nazi guard at a different camp and sentenced to five years of prison in 2011, receiving two years of credit because of his pretrial detention. He died while free, awaiting his appeal, in a German nursing home at the age of 91.

Upon its release, "The Devil Next Door" faced backlash from Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki: He demanded that maps of the camps located in modern-day Poland be updated to show they were operated by Germans.

#15. Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- On air: 2021

This 2021 Netflix docuseries details how young detective Gil Carrillo and his older partner Frank Salerno caught Los Angeles' infamous "Night Stalker," Richard Ramirez. Between 1984 and 1985, Ramirez committed 13 murders, 14 burglaries, 11 sexual assaults, and five attempted murders.

While his crimes were terrifyingly random, the docuseries chooses to focus instead much of its attention on its law enforcement protagonists, as well as survivors and reporters involved in the case.

#14. Evil Genius: The True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- On air: 2018

This four-part docuseries dives into the bizarre 2003 "pizza bomber" case, in which a pizza delivery driver attempted to rob a bank with a collar bomb around his neck and ultimately died upon its detonation.

Authorities later found that local woman Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong orchestrated the scheme—she reportedly sought money to have her boyfriend and father murdered. The series features several in-depth interviews with Diehl-Armstrong, who was known for her intellect despite being implicated in several murders.

#13. Tiger King

- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- On air: 2020-2021

Premiering right around the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Netflix's much-memed "Tiger King" is arguably the best-known true crime docuseries in recent memory.

The show delves into the strange world of big cat ownership, following larger-than-life figures like Joe Exotic, who was convicted of putting out a hit on his nemesis, Carole Baskin, who runs Big Cat Rescue and has been accused of murdering her husband. The docuseries also features Bhagavan "Doc" Antle, a big cat owner who allegedly coerced several teenage girls to work 100-hour weeks at his ranch.

"Tiger King" was criticized by animal rights activists for its irresponsible portrayal of so-called big cat conservation.

#12. The Pharmacist

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- On air: 2020

"The Pharmacist" follows Louisiana pharmacist Dan Schneider's quest to apprehend key figures behind the opioid epidemic after his son, Dan Jr., was killed while trying to buy crack in 1999. Although the devastating impacts of the opioid crisis are now well known in popular culture, the docuseries demonstrates how one person's search for justice and catharsis can help bring systemic injustices to light.

#11. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- On air: 2019

Netflix's "Conversations With a Killer" draws from over 100 hours of archival footage and interviews with infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. The series spans several years, from his earliest crimes to his arrests and subsequent escapes from law enforcement.

"Conversations With a Killer" drew some controversy for not digging deeper into the ramifications and causes of Bundy's behavior. As its Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus says, "Laced with troubling irony, ['Conversations With a Killer'] skirts introspection, making it just as illusive as its subject."

#10. The Staircase

- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- On air: 2004-2018

"The Staircase" follows the strange case of Michael Peterson, a novelist tried for his wife Kathleen's murder. Although he was ultimately not implicated due to a lack of evidence, the case took some strange turns, from claims that an owl attack was behind her murder to arguments that Peterson's sexual preference for men was to blame.

#9. The Keepers

- IMDb user rating: 8
- On air: 2017

Netflix's "The Keepers" traces the disturbing story of Sister Catherine "Cathy" Cesnik, a Catholic nun and English teacher who may have been killed for threatening to publicly accuse the priest at her all-girls school of sexual abuse in 1969. Including interviews with Cesnik's friends and some of her students, who are sexual abuse survivors, director Ryan White illuminates Cesnik's story and calls out the structural abuses of power within the Catholic Church that allowed such crimes to occur.

#8. Don't F--- with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer

- IMDb user rating: 8
- On air: 2019

"Don't F--- with Cats" begins by highlighting a horrific instance in which the Canadian porn actor Luka Magnotta uploaded a video of him killing kittens online in 2010. From there, this Netflix docuseries follows a group of amateur internet detectives who set out to bring Magnotta to justice, only to discover he was also responsible for the murder of Chinese international student Jun Lin in 2012.

#7. Dirty Money

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- On air: 2018-2020

"Dirty Money" exposes the history of corrupt financial dealings within corporations and the predatory capitalist practices that allow the figures involved to succeed. Each episode touches on a different case, from the Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist to former president Donald Trump.

#6. The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- On air: 2020

Many true crime series set out to highlight the institutional failings that allow heinous crimes to occur, and that is certainly the case with Netflix's "The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez." The documentary details the child abuse and subsequent murder of its titular subject, an 8-year-old California boy, in 2013.

Director Brian Knappenberger illustrates how Gabriel was let down by the American child protective and welfare systems, as he was transferred from the care of extended relatives to his mother Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre, who tortured and eventually killed him.

#5. Wild Wild Country

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- On air: 2018

Named for the Bill Callahan song "Drover," which features prominently in the series, "Wild Wild Country" documents how controversial guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his commune entered into controversy with local rural Oregonian ranchers in the 1980s. This strife eventually led to the largest bioterror attack in the United States, courtesy of his right-hand woman, Ma Anand Sheela.

After the Netflix show's release, the Osho International Foundation, which manages Rajneesh's estate, claimed that the docuseries "does not give a clear account of the real story" on their website. "Wild Wild Country" went on to receive numerous accolades, including the 2018 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.

#4. Unsolved Mysteries

- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- On air: 1987-present

Although many of the true crime series on this list were born in the streaming age, there are, of course, important predecessors in the genre. One is the Robert Stack-hosted "Unsolved Mysteries," which uses interviews and reenactments to explore unsolved cases, from crimes to paranormal conspiracies. The show ran for 12 seasons from 1987 until 2010. Although it initially aired on NBC, the Lifetime network and Netflix later revived the series.

#3. Making a Murderer

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- On air: 2015-2018

"Making a Murderer" is one of Netflix's earliest true crime ventures on this list. The show focuses on Steven Avery, accused of sexually assaulting and murdering Penny Beerntsen, whose last sighting was on his property. Avery served 18 years based on a wrongful conviction and was convicted alongside his nephew, Brendan Dassey.

Filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos explore what contributed to these convictions, from intellectual capacity to complicated histories with the law. Following the first season's release in 2015, a 500,000-signature petition urging the president to pardon Avery reached the White House.

#2. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- On air: 2015-2024

"The Jinx" features exclusive intel and an interview with Robert Durst, an American real estate heir who was a long-time suspect in the disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack, the 2000 murder of his friend Susan Berman, and the 2001 murder of his neighbor Morris Black. The series faced widespread attention when Durst was arrested on murder charges for Berman's death the day before the show's finale aired. He was later convicted of the crime.

#1. Forensic Files

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- On air: 1996-2011

Another forefather of the true crime genre, "Forensic Files" has aired over 400 episodes following criminal cases from their initial investigation until their legal resolution, using re-creations along the way. The show emphasized how investigators use forensic science, like DNA and fingerprint technology, to solve crimes, but also took its cues from fictional crime drama, which led to its success.

Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.

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