The current obsession with true crime
There has never been a time in recorded history when people were not fascinated by stories about the very bad (and very real) things that people do to one another. But interest in true-crime documentaries tends to spike at times when society feels the most “vulnerable,” according to true-crime expert and author Diane Fanning, who helped walk Reader’s Digest through the current true-crime zeitgeist. So it’s not surprising that the pandemic has seen an apparent “revving up” of our collective cultural craving for true-crime documentary programming.
Moreover, the pandemic has landed many people who never before identified as “television watchers” at home in front of their TVs. True-crime expert M. William Phelps, who has authored 45 true-crime books and produced and hosted numerous true-crime television and podcast programs, explains to Reader’s Digest that streaming services such as Netflix have been doing everything they can to satisfy the increased demand for programming.
In fact, with the veritable glut of true-crime documentaries that have been streaming of late, it can be tough to know which are worth watching, let alone rise to can’t-miss status. That’s why we decided to investigate which are the best true-crime documentaries on Netflix, the streaming service that currently dominates the true-crime documentary genre.
How we came up with the best true-crime documentaries on Netflix
Because we wanted to base our study of the best true-crime documentaries on Netflix on as broad a swath of empirical evidence as possible, we started off by using Rotten Tomatoes’ ‘freshness’ algorithm to eliminate any program for whom the critical reception amounted to a freshness score below 70. Then we narrowed these down to the top 30 using a combination of professional reviews and viewer comments. Finally, we went back through the list and added in a few that missed the official cut but have, for one reason or another, captivated the public interest. Read on for the best of the best true-crime documentaries on Netflix.
Remastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke
Release date: 2019
In 1964, the Black singer-songwriter, Sam Cooke, who is sometimes referred to as the ‘father of modern soul music,’ was shot to death at the age of 33. With responsible and thoughtful storytelling that includes generous time and energy spent celebrating Cooke’s life, talents, and unfulfilled aspirations, Remastered is much more than your average documentary about a tragic, inexplicable act of violence. Sam Cooke was more than just a talented musician; he also stood morally opposed to segregation and took issue with performing in segregated venues.
Cooke’s murder has never been solved, and the circumstances surrounding it shine a bright light on a number of racial and civil rights issues that have been coming into clearer focus since the murder of George Floyd. Even its title (Two Killings) is thought-provoking since it refers to the fact that Cooke lost more than just his life and promising future; he also lost his reputation, thanks to victim-blaming, much of which appears to have been racially motivated.