Photo: Collider
Photo: Collider

1. Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is a gripping look at the infamous Los Angeles landmark: in particular, the history and socioeconomic conditions that have contributed to it’s dark, haunted reputation. Joe Berlinger’s documentary digs into the viral 2013 case of Elisa Lam, who was last seen at the Cecil and found dead in the hotel’s water tank nearly a month after she disappeared. Without purporting to solve the mysteries of the case, the documentary logically and thoroughly follows all possible leads in a case that has inspired many conspiracy theories over the years.

2. The Ripper

This doc is not about the infamous Jack, but another British murderer. The Yorkshire Ripper, Peter William Sutcliffe, terrorized Northern England through the '70s and '80s, evading capture for years largely due to the sexism and classism of the police at the time.

3. American Murder: The Family Next Door

The Netflix original documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door is a harrowing, infuriating chronicle of the 2018 Watts family murders that uses social media posts, law enforcement recordings, text messages, and home video footage to revisit the events that unfolded. It examines the disappearance of Shanann watts and her two children, and the horrible events that followed as her husband was questioned by police as to his potential involvement in her disappearance. The film largely keeps the focus on the victims, making it a standout amongst many true crime documentaries. It lays bare the lies that our social media profiles can carry, and the toxicity that festers in the heart of far too many American relationships. – Adam Chitwood

4. Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer

Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer chronicles the crimes of notorious California killer Richard Ramirez in the '80s. Told primarily from the perspectives of the homicide detectives on the case, this doc focuses on the frustrating investigation that dragged on for months before Ramirez was finally captured.

5. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

Just that name alone should sell this film. Attenborough has been doing environmentally-focused documentary work for years, and in a time where we really could be paying more attention to our environment, his Netflix documentary is a must watch. Not only does it offer some keen perspective on Attenborough’s life, but it highlights just how much nature has changed since the natural historian has been alive.

6. I Am a Killer: Released

I Am a Killer: Released tells the story of a convict who is released from prison 30 years after being sentenced to death for murder. Then, once he’s a free man, his version of events changes dramatically. If you like true crime, this one is a quick binge.

Photo: Netflix
Photo: Netflix

7. Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer

Deeply disturbing and incredibly wild, Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer tells a tale that begins when a video of a cat murder is posted online. While the sleuths of the internet set out to find the killer, the attention he receives leads him to post even more gruesome videos. It’s a dark and twisted binge.

8. The Staircase

Practically every true crime podcast has covered the legendary, haunting case of Kathleen Peterson, but if you aren’t a junkie yet and you’re looking to get into true crime, The Staircase is the place to start.

9. Athlete A

Over 500 women have accused Larry Nassar, a former trainer for USA Gymnastics, of assault. In Athlete A, directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk seek justice for those women. The documentary hones in on the story of Maggie Nichols, who came forward about Nassar’s abuse in 2015—as well as the local newspaper reporters who made Nassar’s crimes a national story.

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10. Abducted in Plain Sight

The words “bonkers”, “crazy”, and “wild” might come to mind while watching the true crime documentary Abducted in Plain Sight, but they would all be negated by the disturbing story that unfolds in Skye Borgman’s film. The narrative follows the Broberg family, whose daughter Jan was abducted not once but twice by their neighbor Robert ‘B’ Berchtold. The details of those abductions certainly fall into the realm of stranger-than-fiction, but the methods of Berchtold are that of a true monster and predator who ripped the Broberg family apart simply so he could get at Jan. Yes, the details of the story are jaw-dropping, but the overall narrative is far more unnerving. – Matt Goldberg

11. Ugly Delicious

Here’s a general rule of thumb: If culinary legend David Chang digs a restaurant, chef, or anything edible, really—best to put it on your radar. Follow Chang’s adventures in Ugly Delicious, where he adds some Food World 101 lessons along with visits with his favorite chefs and trips to out-of-the-way spots. (Plus one excursion at Outback Steakhouse.)

12. Becoming

Michelle Obama turned her life into a bestselling memoir back in 2017, and in 2020 Netflix released a documentary following the former First Lady on her book tour. The film shows glimpses of the tour, as well as moments from Obama’s life detailed in the book, such as her Chicago childhood, campaigning with her husband, and life in the White House.

13. Abstract: The Art of Design

Eight artists and designers, ranging from architectures to footwear designers, show a window into their problem-solving worlds through this docuseries.

14. Crip Camp

Crip Camp takes a look into a summer camp that revolutionized the disability movement. Focusing on a group of teens attending the camp, the deeply affecting documentary explores an era when disability rights were tragically ignored.

15. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

Before creating Zac Efron's portrayal of serial killer Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, filmmaker Joe Berlinger interviewed journalist Stephen Michaud about his revealing conversations with Bundy while he was in prison.

16. 13th

Ava DuVernay examines the legacy of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution—which officially ended slavery—and the ensuing Jim Crow era, the mass incarceration of African Americans, and the modern-day prison industrial complex that acts as slavery-as-punishment.

17. They'll Love Me When I'm Dead

The famed director Orson Welles changed cinema forever with his prestigious career, but his final film—The Other Side of the Wind—was unfinished and unseen for decades. Here's the behind-the-scenes story of one of the most infamous movies in film history.

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18. Icarus

Director Bryan Fogel intended to experiment with doping in order to win a cycling competition—only his investigations into the practice opened up a bigger, more sinister scandal in this Oscar-winning doc.

19. Knock Down the House

An award-winning, behind-the-scenes view of the campaigns of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin—four women with no political experience or corporate money.

20. I Called Him Morgan

The turbulent relationship between jazz saxophonist Lee Morgan and his wife Helen is the subject of this fiery documentary. Told through Helen's own narration from an interview before her death in 1996, the film is a somber recollection of an artist whose career was cut short in a tragic act of violence.

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