True Crime Documentaries From The '80s And '90s Every Fan Of The Genre Should See

Over 300 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of True Crime Documentaries From The '80s And '90s Every Fan Of The Genre Should See
Voting Rules

Vote up the docs every true crime junkie should watch.

The 1980s and '90s were filled with films that became cult classics, like The Outsiders, Footloose, Clueless, and 10 Things I Hate About You. Each film solidified its status in Hollywood as a timeless comedy, romance, or coming-of-age movie.

While those three categories continue to dominate the big screen, another genre made its mark on 1980s and ‘90s films: true crime documentaries. With the recent boom in true crime content both online and in film, this roundup of true crime documentaries released during the 1980s and '90s is sure to give true crime fans some ideas - if they haven’t seen these films already.

Photo: The Iceman Tapes / HBO

  • The Brandon Teena Story, directed by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir, recounts the murder of Brandon Teena, a transgender man from rural Nebraska.

    Tenna was murdered after two local males discovered he was a trans man. News footage and documents from the murder investigation highlight the documentary as Muska and Olafsdottir attempt to shed light on Teena and the crime that ended his life.

    Interviews conducted with people closest to Teena, including several ex-girlfriends, helped piece together the last moments of the young man's life.

    258 votes

    Available On:

  • 4 Little Girls
    Photo: 4 Little Girls / HBO
    225 VOTES

    4 Little Girls, directed by Spike Lee, follows the story of four African American girls who were murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, AL, in 1963.

    On September 15, 1963, members of the Klu Klux Klan placed bombs near the church before Sunday service began. Four little girls were killed in the explosion, and between 14 and 22 more church members were injured. The crime sparked outrage, and Lee interviewed various friends and family members of the four girls to highlight the political turmoil of the 1960s.

  • Paradise Lost
    Photo: HBO
    286 VOTES

    Paradise Lost

    Paradise Lost, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, follows the trials of the West Memphis three. In 1993, three boys were accused of murdering three other boys in an alleged Satanic ritual in West Memphis, AR.

    Berlinger and Sinofsky interview multiple people involved in the case, including the parents of both the accused and the victims. They also focus on the boys' trials and their subsequent verdicts.

    In 2000 and 2011, Berlinger and Sinofsky created two follow-up documentaries regarding the case, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations and  Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.

    286 votes
  • The Thin Blue Line, directed by Errol Morris, follows the trial and conviction of Randall Dale Adams. In 1976, Adams was involved in the shooting of Dallas police officer Robert Wood.

    In the documentary, Morris attempts to uncover the truth regarding the actual assailant, as inconsistencies and loose ends plagued Adams’s case. While investigating, Morris makes a shocking discovery that leads to a life being saved and another being locked behind bars forever.

    156 votes

    Available On:



  • 5
    183 VOTES

    Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer

    Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, directed by Nick Broomfield, follows Broomfield’s attempt to interview Wuornos through a long process of mediation through Wuornos’s lawyer and adoptive mother.

    Wuornos was sentenced to death for shooting and robbing seven of her male clients after she engaged in street prostitution. Broomfield's documentary questions the fairness of her trial and was used by the defense to highlight the incompetence of her original lawyer.

    183 votes
  • 6
    144 VOTES

    The Killing of America

    The Killing of America, directed by Sheldon Renan and Leonard Schrader, focuses on the director's viewpoint of America and its declining state.

    The documentary interviews a retired sergeant from Los Angeles Sheriff’s department and several interviews with convicted killers to convey the country's woes.

    Notable moments in history are also highlighted in an attempt to display the violence that occurred throughout America in the 1960s and '70s, such as the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, serial killers Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, and the murder of John Lennon.

    144 votes