The only thing wilder than the stories that fuel this streaming list is the fact that all of them are based on real-life crimes.
No, really. From religious fanatics committing heinous murders to Silicon Valley upstarts conning the most brilliant minds in tech and medicine, housewives wielding axes, deadly staircases, political scandals, and Columbian kingpins — every great crime drama on TV right now comes with an “inspired by” attached. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites but here’s your warning: all of these shocking, unbelievable crimes, cons, and conspiracies really happened. That might be hard to wrap your brain around once you watch these shows.
Under The Banner of Heaven
1 season, 7 episodes | IMDb: 7.5/10
Andrew Garfield, Wyatt Russell, and Daisy Edgar-Jones star in this detective neo-noir based on a true crime story that weaves hundreds of years of religious oppression and violent misogyny into a heinous murder that rocks a tight-knit town. Garfield plays Detective Jeb Pyre, a devout member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints who begins to question his own faith when a high-ranking Mormon family is implicated in a disturbing double homicide that has roots in the radical fundamentalist beginnings of the LDS religion. Weighed down with heavy themes and dizzying amounts of exposition, there’s something gripping about this twist-filled drama that’s only made better by some incredible performances from its main cast.
1 season, 5 episodes | IMDb: 7.2/10
Riding on the coattails of her standout performance in The Sinner, Jessica Biel is back with another disturbing yet engulfing role in Candy. Biel is transformed into Candance Montgomery, a 1980’s wife, mother, churchgoer, and homemaker who is accused of killing Betty Gore, the wife (and fellow mother, churchgoer, and homemaker) of Alan Gore – the man Candy’s been having an affair with. Biel keeps viewers on the edge of their seats as a small-town incident turns into a dark and disturbing scandal, rocking their close-knit community and shocking followers around the world.
1 season, 8 episodes | IMDb: 7.5/10
The story of Elizabeth Holmes is a rise-and-fall saga for the ages. Once referred to as a medical pioneer, girl boss, and the new Steve Jobs, people quickly switched to using titles like con-artist, liar, and fraud when her blood-testing company Theranos didn’t deliver on its promise of revolutionizing the healthcare industry. Amanda Seyfried gives a stunning performance in The Dropout, embodying Holme’s all-black outfits, quirky habits, and baritone voice to a tee as she cheats her way through Silicon Valley.
1 season, 8 episodes | IMDb: 7.2/10
While you may know the story of Michael Peterson and the suspicious death of his wife Kathleen–who died after falling down the stairs in her home–from the docuseries of the same name, this limited series manages to be even more gripping. Flanked by Toni Collette as Kathleen Peterson and Michael Stuhlbarg as David Rudolf (his lawyer), Colin Firth gives an exceptional performance as Michael – a renowned novelist and deeply-embedded family man who finds himself at the center of his wife’s jarring death.
The Girl From Plainville
1 season, 8 episodes | IMDb: 6.4/10
Eerie, perplexing, and downright scary, The Girl From Plainville is an unprecedented crime story unlike any other. Elle Fanning plays Michelle Carter, a teenage girl that’s accused of “murdering” her boyfriend Conrad Roy III by convincing him to kill himself via texts and phone calls. Part tragic love story and part pure insanity, this enthralling miniseries not only touches on this bizarre story and case but also speaks volumes about the downsides of current mental health treatment and practices, from the standpoint of both victim and perpetrator.
When They See Us
1 season, 4 episodes | IMDb: 9/10
The Central Park Five case continues to be a charged (and sadly, still relevant) moment in our shared cultural history which is why Ava DuVernay’s limited series exploring the young men who were wrongfully accused of sexually assaulting a white woman in Central Park in the late 80s is such a vital watch. Not only does this show sport an unfairly talented cast, but DuVernay pushes past the initial instinct to simply focus on the courtroom drama by giving us the full, devastating picture of how quickly a corrupt police force and a racially biased society can destroy the promise of young Black men’s futures.
1 season, 9 episodes | IMDb: 6.8/10
Bizarre accents, posh penthouses, and an elaborate grift that takes audiences around the world – in VIP style, of course. There’s a reason this drama, based on a viral expose in New York Magazine, became this year’s binge-watching guilty pleasure. Anna Delvey, played here by Ozark breakout Julia Garner, was a magnetic social climber who forged nearly every detail about her past, her rich parents, and her unlimited financial resources to con some of the wealthiest and most powerful names in New York City. The series gives some attention to the quest to tell her story, taken on by a scrappy journalist played by Anna Chlumsky, but the watchability factor comes from how well Garner translates this unbelievable premise – that this girl was able to dupe influential elites with just a well-timed name drop and some designer duds.
1 season, 3 episodes | IMDb: 7.6/10
David Tennant is terrifying in this three-part series that chronicles the disturbing exploits of one of the UK’s most prolific serial killers. As Dennis Nilsen, Tennant is chilling, somehow making the necrophiliac appear even more unsettling on screen. Nilsen murdered dozens of boys and young men, storing them beneath the floorboards of his London flat and using them to fulfill his sexual fantasies and the show doesn’t shy away from his most gruesome acts. You’ve been warned.
1 season, 8 episodes | IMDb: 8.4/10
Unbelievable – the inconceivable story of a series of rapes across the American West – explores the true power of suggestion. Kaitlyn Dever plays Marie, an 18-year-old rape victim who, after being interrogated and intimidated by the police, backtracks on her report. However, as comparable rapes continue to occur in different locations, detectives Karen Duvall (Merrit Wever) and Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) team up to connect the dots between the starkly similar events. This investigative saga crafts a deeply engaging drama that exposes the gaping holes in the treatment of rape cases in today’s criminal justice system.
American Crime Story
3 seasons, 30 episodes | IMDb: 8.4/10
Ryan Murphy scours the most scandalous true crime stories in history to fuel the action in this anthology series. His first target was the trial of OJ Simpson, which gave audiences a riveting look at the main players in a murder case that divided the country and featured the most memorable high-speed chase to ever be televised. Season two of the series focuses on the shocking murder of designer Gianni Versace by Andrew Cunanan, a crime that weaves in everything from homosexual prejudices of the time to familial legacy. The show’s third season goes to the White House to give Monica Lewinsky a voice in the biggest political scandal of our time, focusing on then-President Bill Clinton’s abuse of power that ruined a young woman and an entire political party.
1 season, 8 episodes | IMDb: 7.6/10
Based on a popular podcast, this Peacock series turns Joshua Jackson into a narcissistic sociopath armed with a scalpel and protected by a healthcare system that regularly fails its patients. Dr. Christopher Duntsch was one of the top neurosurgeons in the country until more and more people who went under his knife started turning up paralyzed or dead. Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin play two respected surgeons in his field who, alarmed at Duntsch’s treatment of his patients and lack of care for his staff, began investigating his background and discovered the golden boy of medicine was just a pathological liar with an oversized ego and a willingness to risk lives in order to pad his own pockets.
1 season, 6 episodes | IMDb: 7.6/10
This is a Swedish true-crime drama so yes, there will be subtitles. If you allow that to be a barrier of entry, you’re missing out on a truly thrilling murder investigation that manages to highlight the horror of its central crime while not exploiting its victims and giving audiences a sympathetic view of law enforcement’s role in bringing killers to justice. Kim Wall was a young journalist with a promising future whose life was cut short thanks to the subject of her next big story, a man who built his own submarine. You get a good grip on who the murderer is early on in the case, but it’s the job of catching him that will hold your interest until the very end.
3 seasons, 30 episodes | IMDb: 8.8/10
The spectacular rise and community-destroying fall of Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his Medellin cartel is documented in this gritty crime drama that would eventually spawn a spin-off series – which is just as good. Wagner Moura plays the charismatic kingpin, a young upstart from a rough neighborhood who schemed his way to the top and gained the support of his people by giving back to those in need. But Escobar’s excess and paranoia would soon threaten his carefully cultivated cocaine-fueled kingdom when DEA Agents Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal) and Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) make it their personal mission to take him down.
2 seasons, 19 episodes | IMDb: 8.6/10
This series from David Fincher recounts the formation of the FBI’s behavioral science unit, a team of agents whose job it is to study the patterns of serial killers so that law enforcement can catch them. By now, we recognize the importance of predicting the behavior of monsters, but most of this show follows pioneers in the field trying to convince hardboiled detective types that the psychological aspect of killing is just as important as the physical violence associated with the act. Jonathan Groff plays Holden Ford, a character based on the real-life John E. Douglas (the inspiration for Jack Crawford in the Hannibal series) who, along with his partner (played by Holt McCallany) sits down with some of the most notorious psychopaths in history – think David Berkowitz, Ed Kemper, and Charles Manson – in order to understand the drive to kill.
1 season, 6 episodes | IMDb: 7.9/10
The true story of this 19th-century house servant accused of a double homicide was interesting enough to warrant a literary adaptation by Margaret Atwood, but this limited series gives it new life and audiences a new appreciation for historical crime dramas. Sarah Gadon gives a brilliant turn as Grace Marks, a young woman accused of killing her employers. While Grace is serving her time in a mental asylum, a pseudo-psychologist comes to take her measure, giving her an opportunity to tell her side of the story. The problem? Grace is an unreliable narrator and the show never wants you convinced of the truth, one way or the other.