The Best True-Crime Dramas to Watch Now
Ever since the true-crime genre exploded in 2014 thanks to several hit podcasts and docuseries, prestige TV soon followed with a number of star-studded, scripted series. Ryan Murphy was one of the first out of the gate with The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, which was met with critical acclaim and several Emmy wins, including one for Sarah Paulson’s portrayal of Marcia Clark. It was soon followed by Manhunt: Unabomber starring Paul Bettany, David Fincher’s Mindhunter, Connie Britton in the adaptation of the Dirty John podcast, and The Act on Hulu.
With the genre showing no signs of slowing down, with recent premieres including Dr. Death on Peacock, ET has rounded up the best true-crime series you can watch on all the major streaming platforms, including Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and more.
A Confession tells the story of Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher’s (Martin Freeman) efforts to catch the killer of 22-year-old Sian O'Callaghan who first disappeared in March 2011. Meanwhile, Karen Edwards (Imelda Staunton) watches as Elaine O’Callaghan’s (Siobhan Finneran) search for her missing daughter reminds her of her own efforts to find her 20-year-old daughter who disappeared eight years prior. “It’s a heartbreaking story,” says Staunton, who was initially unaware of the crimes until she signed on to the series. But once she learned of it, she felt it was important that this tragedy was told -- and “told with great intelligence and sensitivity,” she adds.
Joey King stars in the eight-episode drama as Gypsy Rose Blanchard, whose mother, Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette), had Munchausen syndrome by proxy and manipulated her into believing she was wheelchair-bound suffering from a series of chronic illnesses. In a stunning turn of events, Gypsy helped plot her mother's murder with the help of a boyfriend she secretly met online. "[The Act] is never one tone. It's not as simple as it seems," King says.
Adapted by Sarah Polley for the screen, Alias Grace weaves in and out of the life of Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), an Irish immigrant and servant girl who finds herself thrust into the public spotlight as a “celebrated murderess” after her master and his mistress are brutally killed at their farm. Grace and stableman James McDermott are both convicted of the crime. While McDermott (Kerr Logan) is hanged, Grace is sentenced to life imprisonment. “I think in light of all the discourse about sexual harassment, there’s something really important about the story we’re telling,” Gadon says of the source material. “It’s funny, because I was an English minor and I remember reading Margaret Atwood in school and thinking, ‘This is too aggressive, we’re beyond this.’ But then I started to work, and I heard Margaret’s voice in my head and she was right. There are still so many issues that women face in society that get covered up or go un-talked about.”
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
The fashion designer’s shocking murder gets a star-studded treatment from Ryan Murphy, who turned American Crime Story’s first installment -- focused on the O.J. Simpson trial -- into a pop-culture phenomenon. Former Glee star Darren Criss steps into the role of glib gigolo Andrew Cunanan, who went on a murder spree in 1997, killing five men during a cross-country reign of terror, the last of whom was Versace on the front steps of his Miami home. Cunanan died by suicide eight days later, leaving no suicide note and no motive for his crimes.
In the first season of the anthology series adapted from the podcast of the same name, Connie Britton portrays successful interior designer and mother of two Debra Newell, who gets scammed into a marriage by John (Eric Bana). During the course of their relationship, he gaslights and manipulates her until her family puts a stop to his behavior. "Our world is becoming increasingly bizarre, so a lot of the interesting stories are the true ones," Britton says, adding that when it came to playing a real-life person, it was a unique challenge. "Knowing that she is alive and well, and this experience happened to her, I wanted to be really respectful of that because it really gave me some very specific guidelines to go by."
Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story
The anthology true-crime series turns its attention to the saga of Dan and Betty Broderick’s divorce that ended in a double homicide in season 2. This time, the scorned couple is portrayed by Christian Slater and Amanda Peet, who gives a searing performance as Betty. “The first season of Dirty John was a story of twisted love and coercive control -- and both these insidious elements are also present in and integral to the story of Betty Broderick, whom I have wanted to write about since I became a writer,” says Alexandra Cunningham, who adapted what Oprah Winfrey once deemed one of “America’s messiest divorces” for the screen.
Based on the Wondery podcast of the same name and starring starring Joshua Jackson, Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin, Dr. Death tells the terrifying real story about Dr. Christopher Duntsch, a neurosurgeon in the Dallas, Texas, medical community whose patients end up permanently maimed or dead. “I think if he knew he was evil in some ways, it would be an easier character to play because you can kind of separate yourself out from it,” Jackson says of Duntsch, not realizing just how heavy the experience would be. “But because he thought he was the hero of this story, he thought -- still to this day -- that he is the victim of other people’s bad behavior.”
Escape at Dannemora
The Ben Stiller-directed limited series centers on the 2015 escape of two convicted murderers, Richard Matt (Benicio del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano). Joyce "Tilly" Mitchel (Patricia Arquette), who worked at the New York prison alongside her husband, Lyle Mitchell (Eric Lange), provided the inmates tools to aid in their escape. After a three-week manhunt that cost $23 million, Matt was killed by authorities and Sweat was shot and taken into custody. "You don't usually get that interesting [of a] part as a woman, that complicated. So I think that's part of it," Arquette says of why she jumped so quickly into another "crazy woman." She is also quick to note she can be a bit of a "crazy woman" too. "If you saw my packrat piles, you would question my scruples."
The Hunt for a Killer
This crime drama based on the true story of detectives Pelle Åkesson (Anders Beckman, Midsommar) and Monica Olhed (Lotten Roos, The Bridge) and their hunt for the killer of 10-year-old Helén Nilsson, who was murdered in 1989. Unsolved for 15 years, the case traumatized the citizens of Sweden and left one small community in shambles. That is, until Åkesson and Olhed were eventually, against all odds, able to bring justice and apprehend Nilsson's killer.
I Am the Night
Based on the real-life story of Fauna Hodel, who was given up at birth and raised to believe she was mixed race only to discover she most definitely wasn't, the six-part 1965 noir drama directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Chris Pine paints a stunning portrait of a woman peeling back the layers on her own identity, as she confronts the sinister truths about her family's possible involvement in the legendary Black Dahlia murder. "Her story was the most incredible story I had ever heard. So dark, so interesting," Jenkins says of the project. "By the time we ended up getting to make it, the story had become so universal and personal to me and to all of us, because all of us really struggle to find ourselves and our identity, and who we want to be in the world. Seeing how that works through the journey of this woman who stumbles into the very worst possible things you could discover about yourself was a fascinating reason to tell the story."
The Investigation recounts the exhaustive effort the Danish police put into solving “the submarine case” and the events surrounding the 2017 murder of Swedish freelance journalist Kim Wall, who died and was dismembered aboard a miniature submarine while interviewing its owner, Danish entrepreneur Peter Madsen. Unlike typical true-crime dramas, which tend to recount gritty details of the crime at hand, Mindhunter director Tobias Lindholm keeps the series focused entirely on the investigation, with Søren Malling (A Hijacking) leading the cast as Jens Møller, Head of Homicide for the Copenhagen Police, alongside Pilou Asbæk (Game of Thrones’ Euron Greyjoy) as chief prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen. Pernilla August (Star Wars prequels) and Rolf Lassgård (The Hunters) portray Wall’s parents, Ingrid and Joachim.
The Loudest Voice
Based on the 2014 book The Loudest Voice in the Room by reporter Gabriel Sherman, the limited series chronicles the rise and fall of Roger Ailes (Russell Crowe), a polarizing media figure, who resigned from Fox News amid sexual harassment allegations in 2016, and died the following year. Crowe didn’t know a lot about Ailes when the opportunity to portray him first came his way, however, after reading the early scripts, he was immediately captivated. “I was reading the first three scripts that they sent me, they were just fantastic pieces. Then, doing my own due diligence and looking into his life and seeing what this complicated gentleman had been through, it was just something that I couldn't turn down,” Crowe says. Admittedly, the role was, as the actor described it, a “hell of a long job” and a “very difficult" one.
Manhunt: Deadly Games
After breaking out with Mindhunter, Cameron Britton is once again playing a real-life person in trouble with the law. This time, he’s taking on the story of Richard Jewell, who was wrongfully accused of being responsible for the deadly 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, on season 2 of the anthology series. While Britton, who is 35 years old, was not familiar with the story, he mentioned he was playing Jewell to those that were. “There were folks who thought that Jewell still did it, which definitely inspired me to do the best I could to tell this story -- a story that needs to be told,” the actor says. "What makes it so compelling," he continues, is that the story is incredibly long and elaborate. There are a lot of factors going into it. The media side, the FBI side, the ATF side. It’s definitely stranger than fiction.”
The first season follows FBI agent and criminal profiler James “Fitz” Fitzgerald (Sam Worthington) as he pioneers new forensic linguistics to find and ultimately capture Ted Kaczynski (Paul Bettany), the nation’s deadliest serial bomber in history. The 8-episode series written by Andrew Sodroski offers a perspective of the FBI’s hunt not often seen. “I had no idea Jim Fitzgerald was a real person,” director Greg Yaitanes says. After reading Sodroski’s script, he found himself googling the FBI agent, who is now an author and has appeared as an expert on The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey and served as a technical advisor for Criminal Minds. “I found that Jim was real and very much at the center of this case and I had never heard of him. I thought it would be a good challenge to see how I could, with all this anticipation of telling the story of the Unabomber, tell it through another character.”
Director David Fincher’s second dive into the world of serial killers, following Zodiac, centers on the men who began profiling serial killers for the FBI, in part, by using interviews with imprisoned criminals to help collect characteristics of those who may kill and kill again. Some of the real-life people portrayed include Ed Kemper, known as the “Co-Ed Killer” after murdering eight people in the 1970s; Rissell, a teenage rapist and murderer captured at 19; Brudos, who was known as the “Shoe Fetish Slayer”; Speck, who went on a spree at a Chicago hospital, killing eight nurses; and Rader, the infamous BTK Killer who operated for years before being caught in 2005. When it comes to portraying the serial killer, breakout star Cameron Britton says, “I feel like I had to give a bit of myself up to play Ed. I had to be a little willing to be honest with the darkest corners of myself.”
The Pembrokeshire Murders
From the producers of Bodyguard, this three-part series brings to life an extraordinary cold case of two 1980s unsolved double murders and the pursuit of Welsh serial killer and former game show contestant John Cooper. While documented in the press, it’s the first time this story is being dramatized, with Luke Evans playing newly promoted Detective Superintendent Steve Wilkins, who decides to reopen the cases in 2006 and bring justice to the victims and their families decades later. “I only imagine when a detective or investigative team decides to open a cold case, it must be very nerve-wracking,” the actor says, adding, “I’ve always been fascinated with biopics and true crime and so it triggered a lot of interest to me immediately when I read it.”
The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
In the first season of the anthology series, American Crime Story explores the chaotic and highly captivating lives of the legal teams battling to convict or acquit the football legend in the deeply polarizing double homicide case. The star-studded cast includes Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson, Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran and Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden. Protective of Darden, Brown felt that he had to be an
advocate for the lawyer tasked with proving Simpson was guilty of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson. Darden was largely criticized by the African-American community at the time of the trial for being a sellout and a traitor. “I put a lot on myself to say while this person may have been seen in a particular prism 20 years ago, we did not get the full picture,” Brown says. “I hope, in part with my portrayal, people will get a more well-rounded idea of who he was as a man and what he was dealing with.”
In the Netflix series, Tahar Rahim portrays the 1970s “Bikini Killer” and fraudster, Charles Sobhraj, who was responsible for murdering over a dozen Western tourists along the Hippie Trail of Southeast Asia. As depicted on the show, he eventually gets into a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a junior Dutch diplomat (Billy Howle), who sets off a chain of events that eventually leads to the capture of Interpol’s most wanted man at the time. “I’ve always wanted to explore evil,” Rahim says of wanting to find a character that was the most distant from who he is in real life. However, getting into the headspace of Sobhraj proved to be more difficult than he expected. “I couldn’t find any connection at all. He’s a murderer, a con man, manipulator. And he did all those horrible things.”
Unbelievable is the harrowing Netflix miniseries based on the true story of a serial rapist, and the victims and detectives who help put him away for good. Among the ensemble cast is Kaitlyn Dever, who shoulders a heavy half of the heartbreaking saga as Marie Adler, the first victim of the rapist -- whose story was detailed in the 2015 news article "An Unbelievable Story of Rape," by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, on which the series is based. Marie's recounting of her assault is dismissed by police, who later pressure her to recant and charge her with filing a false report, publicly branding her as a liar and putting her entire livelihood at risk. "It made me so angry reading it," Dever recalls of the script, and the real-life case it was based on, "knowing that it feels so recent in time, but yet it's been an issue for far too long."
When They See Us
From Ava DuVernay, the Netflix limited series tells the human story behind the Central Park Five case, which saw five black and Latino teenagers wrongfully convicted of brutally raping a white female jogger in 1989 after being coerced by police into making false confessions. After serving years in prison, the men were later exonerated and won a lawsuit against the city. While the case made headlines at the time and was later the subject of a Ken Burns documentary, the stories of the five boys and their families had remained largely untold. Among the ensemble cast is Jharrel Jerome, who portrays one of the wrongfully convicted, Korey Wise. “It was definitely the hardest thing I had to do in my life, personally, to get into that headspace even though I knew that no matter what, I would never fully get there the way Korey was,” the actor says. Helping his performance, however, was the fact that Wise and other men were on set. “If you’re in the presence of a man who has been through what he’s been through, it’s very easy to feel somber, it’s very easy to feel heartbreak with them.”
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