True crime documentaries, if done well, elicit the same kind of emotions people feel after watching 10 episodes of Making a Murderer on Netflix. From Ken Burns to Werner Herzog, the crime documentary has taken center stage in recent years, stepping beyond a mere headline and examining the details that can change public perception and, in many cases, the final outcome of a case.
Documentaries like Making a Murderer make viewers' blood boil, divide them on just exactly who is right and wrong, and even cast doubt on the American justice system. Steven Avery served 18 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit and was then convicted of a murder many believe he also didn’t commit. This fact fits hand in hand with the theme of documentaries like the Paradise Lost trilogy, The Central Park Five, and Serial.
Documentaries like The Jinx and The Thin Blue Line make headlines because the documentarian uncovers new evidence that sparks a new trial, with varying outcomes. Robert Durst incriminated himself on camera. A key witness in Randall Dale Adams’s trial was enough to get him off death row and released from prison. Pressure from musical icons and filmmakers following the West Memphis Three case culminated in the release of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley 18 years later.
Why are viewers so fascinated with the true crime documentary and true crime TV shows? The best crime documentaries put the audience at the center of the story with access to information that may unlock an unsolved mystery. True crime miniseries offer more time to deeply examine the story. The documentarian has time on their side and they can focus on one story to uncover details and even evidence that was overlooked or hidden the first time around. In the hands of a seasoned and determined filmmaker or journalist, this access can be quite powerful.
If you’re looking for crime documentary series like Making a Murderer or documentaries like The Jinx, you'll find them below. There are also other disturbing cases that haven’t gotten that level of attention. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of true crime coverage out there to take in. Each of these great documentaries makes an emotional impact, so maybe throw on a comedy or take a break between viewings.