True crime has had an upsurge in interest over the past decade, and for every lurid headline, cold case, or famed slayer, there's been a wealth of books, TV series, and movies to follow.
Of course, some movies get more attention than others - so it's time to shine a light on a handful of underrated true crime movies from the 2010s that were overshadowed, faded away at the box office, or went virtually unnoticed. These movies may not be household classics - yet - but they'll fill the void for anyone who needs their true crime fix. Some are based on incidents we've all dissected and discussed at length, while others examine stories you may have never even heard of. For fans of all things dark and twisty, prepare for the binge of the decade.
With such an all-star cast, you might be surprised you've never heard of or seen Lawless, a 2012 film centering around three bootlegging brothers in the moonshine business. Set in the 1930s, Lawless provides all the visuals and details one could want in a Prohibition-era period piece. The Bondurant brothers (the real-life inspiration for the story) are legendary in Virginia for not only their moonshine, but also for the lives they claimed during their exploits.
Shia LaBeouf plays the youngest and most sensitive brother, while Tom Hardy plays the eldest and least squeamish of the trio. Speaking of squeamish, there may be some parts of the film that require eye-covering or even fast-forwarding. Take an illegal liquor trade and throw in Chicago gangsters and no enforced law, and gore shall ensue. It's worth it, though, even just for Hardy's thick rural accent and a Depression-era Jessica Chastain.
Actors: Jessica Chastain, Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, + more
Directed by: John Hillcoat
It's possible that with Netflix's release of its documentary series, Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, six months prior, people weren't quite ready to dive into the fictional version. Or it could be that no one was chomping at the bit to see their beloved erstwhile Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) playing a serial predator. Maybe the title was just too long. Whatever the case, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile provides a glimpse into the charming, attractive side of Ted Bundy, following his relationship with ex-girlfriend Liz Kendall (Lily Collins).
As he impressively evokes Bundy's growing desperation, Efron excels at switching between charmer and psychopath. In some moments, you might find yourself, like Liz, asking, "Wait, could this guy really have done all of these terrible things?" In a bit of poetic license near the end, the film finally makes Bundy answer this question definitively. No matter how convincing his assertions to the contrary often seem to be, ultimately the answer is "yes."
Actors: Zac Efron, Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, Jim Parsons, Haley Joel Osment, + more
Directed by: Joe Berlinger
2017's American Made seemed to fly under the radar (pun intended). The flick was Tom Cruise's lowest box office opening since 2012, but if anything, it proved the actor was still more than capable of playing the fast-paced, action-packed leading roles that made him a star. Based on real-life pilot Barry Seal, American Made tells the story of a pilot hired by the CIA to do fly-over recon missions in South America who ends up becoming heavily involved in the Medellin Cartel.
American Made is terrifying, wild, and fun all at the same time, and it's just shady enough to seem real. By the end, you'll certainly find yourself reaching for your phone to search for the real story - the ultimate mark of a good true crime film.
Actors: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Domhnall Gleeson, Jayma Mays, Jesse Plemons, + more
Directed by: Doug Liman
If you're looking for the gory details of Jeffrey Dahmer's misdeeds, this is not the right film. And perhaps some of the lackluster audience reactions are due to the fact that not a whole lot happens in the film itself. My Friend Dahmer, based on the graphic novel by a high school friend of the Milwaukee Cannibal, tracks Dahmer's high school days leading up to his first slaying in 1978. The film is more slice-of-life than murder mystery - though to be fair, Dahmer's slice of life includes a lot more animal abuse than most.
The movie doesn't try to offer rationalizations or answers for what made Dahmer into the terror he became. Rather, it shows him grappling with common teenage hardships - the divorce of his parents, his popularity amongst his peers, loneliness - and uncommon ones as well. His fascination with corpses, for instance, speaks to a long-present darker side to his psyche. The filmmakers don't ask viewers to pity Dahmer, but the film does raise questions about nature versus nurture, and whether there's anything that could've been done to put him on another path.
Actors: Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Dallas Roberts, Anne Heche
Directed by: Marc Meyers