The Netflix Original Series Making a Murderer has gained a cult following after its debut last month. The in-depth documentary series details the odyssey of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, released, and then sentenced again for a different crime. The series spends 10 episodes, 10 hours, investigating the story and showing the second trial in real time.
The meticulous procedure of Making a Murderer has turned everyone who sees it into a junior investigator. And, since much of the case is still open-ended, there are plenty of opinions to go around. But Making a Murderer is only the latest in a long line of investigative documentaries and documentary series that have made crime and the ensuing court cases easy watching for the layman.
Let’s take a look at some other films and series that preceded Making a Murderer that are just as addictive and compelling. Here are five great ones you’ll want to seek out while waiting for Steven Avery’s case to be resolved:
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Directed by Errol Morris
This is the film that changed the game. Documentaries up until 1988 were stagnant and without style. That doesn’t mean they were bad; they were simply unimaginative. Then, along came Morris who inserted reenactments into his narrative tale of Randall Adams, a Texas man arrested and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. The Thin Blue Line recreates the night a Dallas police officer was shot and a blue car sped away into the night. Morris inserts interviews with everyone involved and eventually determines Adams is innocent. After the film’s release, Adams’ conviction was overturned and he was set free, making The Thin Blue Line one of the most important documentaries, if not films, ever made. [Watch it on: Netflix]
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)
Directed by Kurt Kuenne
Get the Kleenex out, this is one of the saddest and most infuriating films you’ll ever see. Dear Zachary is a film of incredible depth that began as a love letter to the director’s best friend, Andrew Bagby. Bagby, a cherubic, saint of a man who touched everyone around him, was found murdered at a Pennsylvania State Park in November of 2001. All signs pointed towards Bagby’s ex-girlfriend—a strange woman named Shirley Turner, who took off for Canada after Bagby’s body was found. While Bagby’s parents tried to extradite Turner to face charges, the Canadian legal system allowed her to remain free. She revealed she was pregnant and soon gave birth to Bagby’s son. The film charts all these events, one after another, with astonishing honesty, until the final events unfold. I won’t ruin them here, but prepare yourself. What happens will crush you. [Watch it on: Netflix]
Directed by Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio
A thrilling documentary about a real-life boogie man who supposedly roamed the tunnels and killed children beneath the Willowbrook State School for the mentally handicapped on Staten Island, NY in the 1970s and 80s, Cropsey isn’t your traditional horror movie. It begins like The Blair Witch Project, but the directors (who grew up scared to death of the urban legend) have actual ties to the story and the deaths they investigate are very real. The film begins by presenting a suspect, Andre Rand, a convicted kidnapper who worked as an orderly at the State School and lived in the woods nearby. Cropsey, the idea, had long been a part of schoolyard tales on the East Coast and the filmmakers trace the timeline of the Rand case wondering if he’s the real deal. [Watch it on: Netflix]
Paradise Lost: Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000)
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2010)
Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofky
The trilogy chronicling the case of the West Memphis Three should be seen together to fully appreciate the insanity of the brutal murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993 and the aftermath. The horrific crime scene spurned local law enforcement to act fast and, in that haste, three more young men lost their lives to the criminal justice system. In their three Paradise Lost films, Berlinger and Sinofsky chronicle the events from start to finish, when the wrongly convicted boys (now men) had their sentences overturned and were set free. [Watch it on: HBO Go]
The Jinx (2015)
Directed by Andrew Jarecki
The Jinx laid groundwork last year for Making a Murderer when it proved the long-format documentary could work on popular television (sorry Ken Burns). HBO saw huge viewership numbers and critical acclaim for its six-part miniseries which told the story of millionaire and accused murderer Robert Durst. Focusing on two separate murders Durst was directly involved in, Jarecki questions him in the present about his past and eventually breaks through, causing cases to be reopened and Durst to face the music once again. I won’t ruin what happens, but part of what makes The Jinx fascinating is the shocking arrogance of Durst himself, who sets out to “clear his name.” [Watch it on: HBO Go]
5 Intense True Crime Movies Like 'Making a Murderer'