The Best True Crime Movies | Film Review
Well, here we are. I'm not surprised you're here. I'd probably read this article too, because like you, I am also a true crime aficionado and I love learning about true crime and forensics. Some may call it an addiction, but I call it what it is, a thirst for knowledge; knowledge of the macabre. But so what, you know? I'd venture to guess a ton of people are in this little (well, not so little) club and want to know more, more, more, and even more about true crime.
I've watched probably thousands of movies at this point and when I see "Based on a True Story" or "Inspired by a True Story", I just have to know how many liberties these writers have taken. I also just kind of want to know what really happened because I'm that weirdo. You are too, so don't get all high and mighty, Broseph.
Anyway, along the way I've watched some very interesting movies and read the true stories behind them. The films listed below are some of the best true crime movies I've seen and have some of the most interesting and sometimes heartbreaking true stories behind them. I've divided the list into regular movies and documentaries, with descriptions under each film.
Here's the list:
Alpha Dog (2007)
Alpha Dog is a film about a drug dealer and his friends who try to get a guy to pay back his debt to the drug dealer. The drug dealer can't seem to get the guy to pay back his debt, so he kidnaps the guy's brother in order to force him into paying back the debt. When the drug dealer discovers he might face a long sentence in jail for kidnapping, he orders his friends to kill the guy's brother.
Alpha Dog is about the real-life murder of Nicholas Markowitz. I'm not sure just how many liberties the writers took, but the story in the movie is very similar to how Nicholas Markowitz was murdered. It's a very good movie with great acting and it's heartbreaking to know that Nicholas was murdered by heartless people for no real reason.
Casino is a film about how the Mafia ran Las Vegas' casinos and how the FBI eventually shut the Mafia-run casinos down.
I didn't know until I watched this movie, but Las Vegas casinos were really run by the Mob. This movie is based on the book, Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi. If you are interested in Mafia history, you might like this movie. The film itself is really good and full of great actors.
In Her Skin (2009)
In Her Skin is a film about an Australian family searching for their missing daughter, Rachel Barber, and about another girl who used to live near the Barbers, Caroline Reed Robertson. The way the two girls' lives intertwine becomes more evident as the film progresses.
In Her Skin is about the murder of Rachel Barber by Caroline Reed Robertson. This film is really hard to watch both because Rachel's murder was absolutely senseless and brutal, but also because Caroline's life was so hard to witness. She was obviously very mentally ill (you can find information and pictures about her (basically) manifesto and cruel notes she would write to herself online). The performance by Ruth Bradley is so real and just hard to watch, I alternately hated her and felt sorry for her "character", but thought she did a great job nonetheless. The film is based on the book (written by Rachel's mother) Perfect Victim by Elizabeth Southall.
Bernie is a film about a man named Bernie who befriends a local wealthy elderly widow named Marjorie Nugent. Their relationship becomes volatile and ends in a surprising and violent way; yet instead of the local townspeople blaming Bernie and siding with Marjorie, the victim, they instead side with Bernie.
Bernie is based on the true story of the relationship between a man named Bernhardt "Bernie" Tiede and Marjorie Nugent of Carthage, Texas. Bernie befriended and was living with the wealthy widow when Marjorie suddenly stopped talking to her friends and family. Authorities soon learned that Bernie murdered Marjorie by shooting her in the back, then placed her body in a deep freezer, all the while spending her money. This case is interesting because Bernie was so well-liked and Marjorie was seen as a very cantankerous person, so people in his town felt that Bernie should not be prosecuted for his crimes. The trial had to be moved to a different town so Bernie could get an unbiased trial.
Pain & Gain (2013)
Pain & Gain is a film about a group of (idiots) men called the Sun Gym Gang who targeted victims they believed were wealthy in order to gain their assets. The Sun Gym Gang members kidnapped, tortured, extorted, and murdered (some of) their victims, yet the ways they went about these crimes were absolutely ridiculous.
Pain & Gain is based on the true story of a group of men dubbed the Sun Gym Gang from Miami, Florida. Although the movie doesn't get the all the facts of the true story correct, the true story is just as crazy in its own way, and in some ways, even crazier. I liked learning about the true story after I watched the film because after I saw a visual depiction of these morons, it was easy to imagine these idiots trying to plan these crimes that rarely worked out.
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Catch Me If You Can is a film about a man named Frank Abagnale, Jr., who began his life of crime as a young teenager. Frank made an infamous career out of defrauding several businesses, universities, and people out of money. Frank forged checks, committed check fraud, forged documents to show he was a graduate of universities and forged documents and identification to show he was a doctor, a lawyer, and a pilot. Eventually Frank was caught and tried for his crimes, but found a new purpose in life when he began working for several companies and organizations, helping them to combat fraud and security threats.
Catch Me If You Can is based on the book Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale, Jr. and Stan Redding. Although the movie is based on the book and is very similar to the book, the book itself may not be completely true. Frank has stated that his co-author may have exaggerated some of the content in the book and when people have tried to contact the businesses, organizations, universities, and people that Frank defrauded, many have claimed that they never heard of Frank. I'm not sure how much of his life story is true, but the movie is a great movie and there is a lot of material that seems to be true and confirmed by Pan Am and the FBI, so it is definitely worth the watch.
There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane (2011)
There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane is a documentary about a woman named Diane Schuler who was responsible for a fatal car crash in 2009 on the Taconic State Parkway in Mount Pleasant, New York. The crash killed Diane, one of her children, three of her nieces, Michael Bastardi, Guy Bastardi, and Dan Longo. The sole survivor was Diane's young son. Diane was held responsible because her Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was 0.19%, with the legal limit being 0.08%. Diane's autopsy also revealed she had high levels of THC (found in marijuana), which meant that it was likely Diane smoked marijuana just before the crash occurred. The documentary focuses on why it was so unlikely that Diane would have purposely endangered her own children and nieces, as well as the safety of complete strangers, as she was usually very controlled, loving, and responsible.
I think this is such an interesting documentary because it is such a mystery as to what occurred before the crash that devastated so many lives. In the interviews with Diane's family and friends, it does seem as if she was very responsible, but that she may have had a hidden side not many had seen, as she had childhood trauma, chronic pain, anxiety and depression that she may have self-treated with marijuana and (sometimes) alcohol. However, it seems very unlikely that she would have purposely tried to murder her children and nieces, as well as three innocent men. This documentary drives me crazy because as much as I try to look for clues as to what could have made Diane imbibe so much alcohol and marijuana and cause such a catastrophic loss of lives, there aren't any real answers.
Beware the Slenderman (2016)
Beware the Slenderman is a documentary about two young girls who begin to believe that the Creepypasta creation, Slenderman, is real. The two young girls believe that they need to murder their best friend in order to protect their families from the Slenderman, because if they don't, the Slenderman will kill their families. They also believe that they will be able to join the Slenderman after they complete the murder. The documentary focuses on these two girls, their victim, their families, and the investigation and trial that followed the attempted murder.
I liked this documentary because it showed me just how much mental illness and influence from the internet can impact vulnerable children. The families of the perpetrators talk about how mental illness impacted the girls to the point where they wholeheartedly believed the Slenderman was real and that they'd be in danger if they didn't go through with their plan to hurt their friend. I was so happy to learn that their friend survived the attack and also happy to learn (through news websites) that both girls were found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, because I believe they really can be rehabilitated and helped. This documentary showed me that it is so important to monitor children and teenagers who are naive and easily influenced by material they see and read on the internet. It is also very important to educate children and teenagers about mental illness, what it looks like, what it feels like, and that it's okay to ask questions about mental illness.
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)
Dear Zachary is a documentary about a man named Andrew Bagby, who fathered a son, Zachary, with a woman named Shirley Jane Turner. In November of 2001, Andrew broke up with Turner over her increasingly disturbing, controlling behavior, and Shirley drove from Iowa to Pennsylvania (where Andrew lived) and murdered Andrew in cold blood. After murdering Andrew, Shirley fled to Canada (where she was a citizen) and gave birth to Zachary. Even though she was a murder suspect, she was allowed to keep custody of Zachary. Andrew's parents moved to Canada to be able to gain custody of Zachary and to try to get Shirley to surrender to extradition to the United States for the murder trial. Through a series of legal maneuvers in Canada, Shirley was first arrested and jailed, but then released after a Canadian judge deemed her "no threat to society". Shirley regained joint custody of Zachary, much to Andrew's parents' dismay. On August 18, 2003, Shirley took Zachary and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean in a murder-suicide.
This documentary is devastating to put it bluntly. It was one of the saddest, most heartbreaking cases I've ever heard of in my life. I thought to myself, how was Shirley not a threat to society? She murdered an innocent man in cold blood, without remorse, without a care as to how it would affect anyone else. There were so many people who could have stopped her from hurting Zachary, yet no one in the Canadian justice system did anything to try to prevent her from hurting him. The injustice that occurred is just mind-boggling, but one thing I was thankful for was after this case, Canada changed their laws regarding custody of children when it comes to suspected murderers. I'm so proud of Andrew Bagby's parent's, David and Kathleen Bagby, for fighting to change Canada's bail laws and fighting to protect other children from heartless killers. I hate that sometimes it takes something like this to happen to change laws that don't protect the innocent, but I am thankful that other children can't be harmed now. I don't think it's possible to watch this documentary without crying, so keep some tissues handy.
These are some of the best true crime films and documentaries I've watched so far. Do you have any recommendations? Did you find a new favorite film or documentary in this list? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.