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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Five Instantly Gripping True-Crime Documentaries That You Won't Be Able to Turn Off

Truth really is stranger than fiction, as these twisty real-life tales show — and you can stream them all.
By Sarah Ward
December 08, 2020
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By Sarah Ward
December 08, 2020
  shares

FIVE INSTANTLY GRIPPING TRUE-CRIME DOCUMENTARIES THAT YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO TURN OFF

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Truth really is stranger than fiction, as these twisty real-life tales show — and you can stream them all.

True-crime documentaries aren't just having a moment. They've been monopolising everyone's viewing lists for the past decade, and making us all fans of the gripping genre in the process. The secret (well, other than the thousands of secrets each true-crime doco is brimming with)? The breadth of topics, because this field can cover everything from fast food scams and unsettling cults to personal quests to catch an elusive serial killer.

No matter the subject matter, scenario, illicit acts or people responsible, great true-crime documentaries all have two other things in common: they're impossible to stop watching once you've started, and they'll make you want to seek out more once your series of choice has come to an end. Of course, there are so many to choose from, so we've teamed up with streaming service Binge to pick five standouts that you can feast your eyes on right now — including via a 14-day free trial for new customers.

  • 5
    I'll Be Gone in the Dark

    It’s possible to wish that I’ll Be Gone in the Dark told its story in another way, and to still find yourself captivated by every single thing the six-part series serves up. In fact, there’s no way to watch this immensely personal true-crime docuseries and not wish that author Michelle McNamara was a part of it in a very different way. She’s the reason the show exists, and her obsessive work investigating the Californian murderer known as the Golden State Killer helped keep the case alive. She even wrote a book that shares this program’s name, but she died from an accidental overdose in 2016, before it was published.

    I’ll Be Gone in the Dark charts McNamara’s quest to expose the man who committed at least 13 murders and 50 rapes between 1973–86, but it also intertwines McNamara’s own story — including interviews with her husband Patton Oswalt. If you think you’ve seen every spin on the true-crime genre there is, you’ll change your mind when you watch this highly detailed and also intimately personal series.

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  • 4
    McMillion$

    If you’ve ever played along with McDonald’s regular Monopoly promotion, then you’ll want to watch McMillion$. The marketing campaign itself is rather simple — handing out Monopoly tokens with burger purchases, which corresponds to the game’s squares and lets customers win big. But in the 90s in America, someone worked out how to rig it and handpick the lucky folks taking home $1 million cheques, as well as other prizes.

    Smartly, McMillion$ plays this 100-percent true tale as a whodunnit. If you don’t already know the details, we’d advise you to keep it that way until you watch the docuseries’ six very compelling and very bingeable episodes. You might not think that a show that spends so much time talking to FBI agents in nondescript offices would prove quite so gripping, but the case they uncovered is both complex and jaw-dropping. The interviews with the promotion’s controversial winners, and with other figures involved with the scam, also have to be seen to be believed.

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  • 3
    The Vow

    Watching The Vow, you can be forgiven for wondering how the details and events that fill its frames all managed to actually happen. It tells a tale that seems like it should be a work of fiction, as many of the best true-crime docuseries do. But as the old adage goes, truth is stranger than fiction — and that definitely proves to be the case when there’s a creepy self-improvement group involved.

    NXIVM dates back to the 90s, but it wasn’t until the past few years that it started attracting newspaper headlines, with its leader Keith Raniere first arrested and indicted, and then convicted of a spate of crimes including sex trafficking. Across its first nine-episode season, The Vow chats with former members of the group about their unsurprisingly disturbing experiences, and also spends time with journalists who’ve dedicated a hefty chunk of their lives to exposing NXIVM. Yes, it’s one helluva story.

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  • 2
    I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth Vs Michelle Carter

    When Massachusetts teenager Conrad Roy was found dead in his truck in 2014, in a Kmart parking lot, it was ruled a suicide. But then the police investigating his passing discovered text messages sent to Roy by his 17-year-old girlfriend Michelle Carter, and noted the onslaught of words encouraging him to take his own life. That’s the case that I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth Vs Michelle Carter delves into, splitting the details across two parts — with the first charting the prosecution’s side of the story, and the second focusing on the defence.

    It’s a tragic and complicated case, and it’s also one that inspires a plethora of questions, all of which filmmaker Erin Lee Carr handles with sensitivity. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, as she did the same with 2017’s Mommy Dead and Dearest as well, which stepped through the now well-known murder of Dee Dee Blanchard and its links to Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

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  • 1
    The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

    Back in 2010, Ryan Gosling starred in a crime drama called All Good Things, playing a real estate heir suspected to be behind his wife’s disappearance, as well as other murders. It isn’t a highlight on his resume, but you’ll see the feature very differently once you’ve watched six-part HBO docuseries The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst — because Gosling’s character is based on Durst, and because filmmaker Andrew Jarecki directed both the movie and the series.

    True crime isn’t a new genre, but The Jinx proved one of its big hitters when it was initially released in 2015. While it was originally airing, Durst was arrested on murder charges, with the criminal proceedings still ongoing to this day. Jarecki’s series draws upon more than 20 hours of interviews with Durst, conducted over a number of years, and it’ll drop you right into the middle of a twisty case. The minutiae is best experienced by watching, but the show’s finale isn’t easily forgotten.

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To watch your way through all of the above titles, head to streaming platform Binge — where you can sign up for a free 14-day trial, then keep working your way through its jam-packed catalogue for $10 per month (based on Binge Basic, its first subscription tier).

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