The Tiger King documentary series proved to be a raging success for Netflix while claiming the streaming giant’s “Most Popular” list spot for weeks, and for solid reason. The project piled on heaping helpings of insanity within seven episodes — not only from the big-cat trading standpoint but through wild mullets, extreme polygamy, drug use, faux country music, and exhausting rivalries — while shining the light on frontman Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic.”
The streaming crowd couldn’t get enough of Mr. Exotic, who arguably tapped into the zeitgeist with his showman’s flair, and although Netflix also aired an aftershow episode, the thirst for guilty documentary pleasures shall not be quenched. Tiger King followup projects continue to simmer while Exotic languishes behind bars (that murder-for-hire business sealed the deal), but the streaming world is here to give the people what they want. Here are similarly bonkers TV docuseries and documentary films that you can watch right now.
Run Time: 102 minutes | IMDb: 6.8/10
There’s retroactive Tiger King flavor in this story of two North Carolina men who duked it out over a mummified foot, which happened to rightfully belong to one of men, yet he initially lost it in a small plane crash. I can’t believe that I just typed those words, and it gets even stranger as this documentary traces the steps where this foot went amiss, somehow got basted-mummified, tucked into a storage space, and then put up for auction. The purchaser discovered the foot (what a day that was) and marketed his discovery into a tourist attraction, and that’s only the beginning of the madness. Yet this story isn’t simply an oddity-filled circus. Nope, filmmakers Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel manage to stir up some genuine emotion in this story, which ends up being slightly heartwarming despite all the voyeurism and grossness on display.
1 season, 6 episodes | IMDb: 7.3/10
Mark Wahlberg executive produced his addictive and twisty saga of fast-food fraud — which transpired through the innocent-enough looking 1990s McDonald’s Monopoly promotional game — that spanned a decade. Mafia dons were in on this thing, the FBI got big-time involved, and Agent Doug had the time of his life in a story that’s so strange, it must be true. Before all was said and done, this scam produced $24 million worth of stolen, black-marketed winning tickets and corresponding dirty deeds until an anonymous tipster set things in motion for the whole scam to come crumbling down. There’s blackmail, intrigue, duped players, and an honest-to-god sting operation with insane “undercover” tactics, all to nab the scoundrels and bring them to justice. It’s great.
Run Time: 85 minutes | IMDb: 7.3/10
The greatest conman among wine connoisseurs, Rudy Kurniawan, gets the spotlight here for his elaborate schemes carried out upon members of the ultra-swanky community of serious wine tasters and collectors. His high-stakes game involved infiltrating a massive market while pocketing millions from CEOs who believed his charade. It’s difficult to feel too sorry for some of Kurniawan’s targets, including a Koch brother who dropped several million on falsified vintage wine. And while Kurniawan is undoubtedly a smooth operator, he’s still the Joe Exotic of wine snobs, so this conman’s maneuvers (and his swagger) are truly engrossing to behold.
Cold Case Hammarskjöld
Run Time: 128 minutes | IMDb: 7.6/10
Conspiracy theories abound in this film from Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger, who digs into the 1961 plane crash that killed Swedish diplomat and former United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld. The cause of the crash serves as the jumping-off point for one bonkers theory, but somehow, another conspiracy theory about white supremacists and HIV/AIDS surfaces, and then there’s an explosion of shadowy mercenary organizations. One gets the sense that Brügger (who shoots this project with a vaguely theatrical flair at times) is unreliably presenting this tale because it feels like a mockumentary. In the end, perhaps he got in far deeper than he ever planned with this project, and it’s difficult to know what to believe, but that’s part of the fascination factor.
Abducted in Plain Sight
Run Time: 91 minutes | IMDb: 6.8/10
At first, this doc presents what seems like a straightforward enough situation — a 12-year-old girl in 1970s Idaho is seduced and kidnapped by a neighbor, but this is no cut-and-dried story. There are no easy answers here, given that this neighbor excelled as a conman and somehow managed to fool the girl’s family away from believing the truth. Manipulation and coverups abound, along with a critique on suburbia and the blind spots that can arrive with religion. It’s a confounding story that will cause viewers to gasp at the screen in disgust and disbelief, all while unable to stop staring at the increasing outlandishness that continues to unfold. It’s grim stuff but nonetheless transfixing.
Don’t F**k With Cats
1 season, 3 episodes | IMDb: 8.1/10
If you’ve spent much time online over the past year — and let’s face it, you know the truth here — you’ve at least heard about this series (which carries a subtitle, Hunting An Internet Killer). This truly absurd documentary found its roots in an animal rights-focused Facebook group, which included members that tracked down the person responsible for viral animal cruelty videos. Two members of the Facebook group followed painstaking clues and obvious giveaways from the cat-killer, and after one serious snafu, they ended up tracking down Luke Magnotta, who (of course) graduated from murdering animals to killing people. Magnotta’s thirst for attention and notoriety not only got him busted, but his acts turn this doc into a disturbing sociological study for the Internet age.
Three Identical Strangers
Run Time: 96 minutes | IMDb: 7.7/10
This project digs deeper into the relatively well-covered 1980s media circus surrounding three triplets, David Kellman, Eddy Galland, and Bobby Shafran, who were separated and adopted out to different families, only to encounter each other around college age. Archival footage and interviews follow the reunion stories of these three charismatic, Jewish-American young men, yet the media whirlwind and celebratory times gradually give way to a slightly darker side of the story. There, we see an examination of family and ethics by director Tim Wardle, who found himself intrigued by Laurence Wright’s coverage of the trio in the New Yorker. However, even the more serious aspects of the story are outshined by plenty of humor and heart in this documentary.
1 season, 4 episodes | IMDb: 7.8/10
The opioid epidemic gets personal in this Netflix documentary series about a small-town pharmacist, Dan Schneider, whose pursuit of justice for his son’s killer came back to haunt him on the job. Doctors who become dealers come under harsh scrutiny here as Schneider becomes an unlikely hero while helping to expose the river of alarmingly powerful OxyContin prescriptions coming his way from seemingly healthy patients. This leads him back down the tragic path that led to his son’s addiction and demise, and Schneider makes it his mission to prevent other families from suffering the same fate. Big Pharma never faced down such a formidable foe, and this documentary is for anyone who needs to be convinced that one voice can make a world of difference.
Run Time: 83 minutes | IMDb: 8.1/10
Tiger King exposed the downright appalling behavior of the big-cat-people culture, but 2013’s Blackfish laid the animal-abuse illuminating blueprint for at least one of the Netflix documentary’s subjects. Carole Baskin straight-up claimed that she was convinced to participate in Tiger King by directors who promised to shine the same light on the big-cat trade that Blackfish did while exposing SeaWorld for its shameful captivity practices. Baskin’s expectations didn’t exactly work out for her, but Blackfish is nonetheless worth revisiting for the eye-opening story within this activist project, which made the case that the aggressive behavior of so-called killer whales is actually a product of SeaWorld practices. The documentary isn’t an easy watch and argues that Tilikum the orca had no chance at a normal demeanor, given the unethical and reckless manner in which he was raised, and the film acts as a cautionary tale to all of mankind.
1 season, 4 episodes | IMDb: 7.6/10
The full title of this true-crime documentary series is Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist, and that’s not an overstatement. Known as the “pizza bomber case,” this series follows the tragic 2003 results of an elaborate robbery scheme (in Erie, Pennsylvania) that ended with the death of a pizza delivery man, Brian Wells. He appeared to have been forced to walk into the bank to demand money while believing that this act would spare him after an elaborate scavenger hunt. However, the neck-collar bomb around Wells’ neck exploded, and the series attempts to unravel the bizarre path that led him to participate in this heist. The project ultimately delivers insight into the various parties involved, but it’s still a somewhat frustrating exercise to witness, along with being an unpredictable and unsettling ride.
Run Time: 90 minutes | IMDb: 7.0/10
It’s always refreshing to highlight a documentary that isn’t tragic, although that easily could have been the case. Filmmaker Crystal Moselle (the Skate Kitchen director who will soon bring the follow-up Betty series to HBO) introduced the world to the six Angulo brothers, an extremely sheltered set of siblings who were essentially raised on Reservoir Dogs, The Dark Knight, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, among other badass movie selections. Their tastes seem atypical at best, given that the siblings were mostly confined to their small NYC apartment by a mentally-ill father and homeschooled by their mother. The boys eventually take to the streets in this doc, though, and they are a sharp-dressed vision to behold, given their penchant for costume-and-prop crafting and cinematic flair. It’s somehow an uplifting tale, even though story edges into exploring childhood abuse, and there are unsettling moments and suggestions of trouble brewing behind the brothers’ smiles. However, it’s clear that the group has become as well-adjusted (and personable) as possible by not only leaning on each other but on their favorite films while making the most of an extraordinary situation.