We will not judge you for liking True-Crime entertainment. Furthermore, we will indulge your interest in this particular genre. Why are we fascinated by the awful things people can do? The question is fitter for a psychologist, a sociologist, or a priest. I can go as far as saying it gives us some twisted comfort. “At least that awful thing did not happen to me!” we say. “Yet. That “yet” is killer, the word that turns real-life horror into suspense.
Here is a list of the best true-crime documentaries released in 2023, with something extra from the Popflick library. Check them out!
Writer Elon Green won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime award for his non-fiction book "Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York." The book, published in 2021, is a harrowing narrative following the case of a murderer preying on gay men in the Nineties. With the community still reeling from the impact of the AIDS crisis, the nightmare extended beyond the bars where the so-called "Last Call" murderer picked up his unsuspecting marks. The homophobia deeply embedded in institutions like the police and the media diminished the crimes and dismissed the victims. Director Anthony Caronna adapted the book into four-hour-long episodes, available to stream on Max. In a moving display of corrective justice, the series focuses on the victims, surviving relatives, and law enforcers investigating the case, giving back the humanity the system callously stripped off. It's a must for serial killer documentaries buffs.
Faith, politics, and media combust in the Duggar family saga. Discovery Health Networks latched on to failed conservative politician Jim Bob Duggar, exploiting the attention-grabbing composition of his family: over a dozen kids, with more on the way. The unbridled fertility comes from the belief that good Christian couples must have all the kids God sends - yes, birth control is forbidden for them -.
The TV special titled “14 Kids and Counting” was a ratings hit. Their popularity grew over time, just like their brood. The family became a PR juggernaut when the reality show “19 and Counting” aired. The spell broke down when accusations of child abuse and molestation tarnished their image. This series tracks the rise and fall of the Duggar Empire through the testimony of scholars, journalists, and family members who broke off with the party line. This 4-episode Prime Video series tracks the rise and fall of a phenomenon that recharged the conservative movement in the pre-Trump era. Duggar may be toast, but his “ministry” lives on.
A story with many things America likes: fast food, weight loss, a relatable underdog, and crime. Lots of crime. Wait, no. America does not "like" crime, just crime documentaries. We do enjoy seeing bad guys getting their just desserts. It's even better when he does not look like our idea of a criminal.
Jared Fogel was a regular guy. He became famous in the late ‘90s when he lost 245 pounds through a self-fashioned dietary regime based on eating Subway sandwiches. Media attention made him a folk hero, and the food franchise promptly hired him as a spokesperson. The ad campaign made him a national celebrity. At the same time, he was harboring a habit of collecting child pornography and pedophilia. How he got caught is one of those stranger-than-fiction stories. This three-episode series available on Max gives airtime to some of his victims, speaking in front of cameras for the first time, and the people involved in the hunt of a predator hidden in plain sight. How Subway survived this without changing its name is a case study for marketing scholars.
If the sensationalism-mongering of most “true crime” programming rubs you the wrong way, this movie is for you. Filmmaker Nancy Schwartzman earned a nomination for a Peabody award for her debut documentary “Roll Red Roll” (2018). Her new film premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where it competed for the Grand Jury Prize. It was promptly snatched for distribution by Netflix.
The movie follows journalist Rae de Leon, working with the Center for Investigative Reporting, as she follows a disturbing trend in law enforcement. Over four years, De Leon tracked 160 cases of victims of sexual abuse turned into subjects of investigation for allegedly filing false reports. Some of them were even condemned for a crime they did not commit. If you have ever wondered why women think twice about denouncing rape, this is why. We hope movies like this help lawmakers get on the side of victims.
Self-proclaimed apostle Naasón Joaquín Garcia leads a Christian ministry with 5 million followers in 58 countries. But this Mexican homegrown cult is facing an existential threat, with its leader imprisoned in the United States, under investigation for 26 charges of human trafficking, possession of child pornography, and rape. Five women accused him in 2019 as the church closed ranks around the heir of a spiritual and political empire. “La Luz del Mundo” (The Light of the World) was funded by García’s grandfather, who passed it on to his son. This documentary by Mexican filmmaker Carlos Perez Osorio goes deep into the history of this institution, where pious words hide a culture of patriarchal abuse. The movie will premiere on Netflix on September 29.
True crime stories are thriving in Mexico. Between the late ‘90s and early Aughts, Mexico’s purported first serial killer was responsible for the murders of up to 48 elderly women - hence, the nickname “Mataviejitas,” the little old-lady killer. Maria Jose Cuevas’ sensitive documentary tracks the murderer's exploits while giving voice to the victim's families. It’s a heartening trend that filmmakers aim to remind us of the human cost of these crimes, traditionally exploited for morbid fascination. Available to stream on Netflix.
It may be a stretch to include Academy-Award winner Laura Poitras' latest film in this list. Still, her riveting look at photographer Nan Golding's campaign to drive the Slacker family off the art world is related to true crimes planned in executive suits. It's a massive true crime documentary, to be more exact. The owners of Purdue Pharma unleashed an opioid epidemic in America, all for filthy lucre.
Golding and fellow protesters campaigned to pressure museums to cut ties with the millionaires. It was not easy, considering the millionaires were generous patrons who made considerable donations to art institutions over the years. Nominated for a Best Documentary Academy Award, it was released this year with a limited theatrical release. It is currently streaming via Max.
The opioid crisis also inspired fictional takes, like Hulu's "Dopesick" limited series, featuring Michael Keaton, and Netflix's "Painkiller," starring Matthew Broderick, Uzo Aduba, and Taylor Kitsch.
There are still a few months to go in 2023, so expect this list to grow. Also, you can catch some timeless true-crime docs and fiction at Popflick. Check out “H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer.” This title is particularly interesting for movie buffs. Holmes’ criminal exploits are the subject of Erik Larson’s non-fiction best-selling book “Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America” (2003). Martin Scorsese optioned the book, hoping to bring it to the screen. The last incarnation of the project was a limited series for HULU with Leonardo Dicaprio, which was regretfully delayed until further notice. This story has the making of classic horror films.
The murderous surgeon who stalked the World’s Fair in Chicago for victims is considered the American version of Britain’s Jack the Ripper. Track the similarities watching “The Unsolved Killings of Jack The Ripper.” (2023), with moody recreations of late XIX Century London with first-person narration from the Inspector charged with solving the murder of Annie Chapman. She was the first acknowledged victim of the infamous murderer.
For more contemporary nightmare fuel, there is the TV series “Serial Killer Culture,” focusing on historical murderers, survivors, and the people fascinated by their terrible exploits. You will find unexpected insights into well-known monsters like John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, and Jim Jones. Foreign film fans may enjoy - if that is the right word - “Effigy: Poison and the City.” The movie dramatizes the case of Gersche Gottfried, a German matron from the early XIX century with a penchant for poisoning people with arsenic. The murderous instinct is eternal.
In the autumn of 1888, a string of bloody murders rocked East London. Known to history as Jack the Ripper, there are many theories as to who was guilty of the brutal Whitechapel killings.Stream Now
Want to get an email when we publish new content?Subscribe today