Best true crime of 2023

Daisy Phillipson
Stills from Russell Brand: In Plain Sight, Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God, and Take Care of Maya

This year has seen some impeccably-made, eye-opening true crime films and shows – these are our top picks for the five best true crime documentaries of 2023. 

There are many reasons why true crime aficionados tune in when a new documentary arrives. The psychological appeal is one, as they provide both an intriguing and educational experience. But arguably the most compelling is the sense of justice that can often be derived from the reopening or examination of a case. 

Streaming services have revolutionized the genre, making a vast array of content readily accessible and allowing for a more diverse range of stories to be told, from high-profile events to lesser-known but equally gripping cases. 

Any fears we may have had that streaming could dilute the category were swiftly proven wrong in 2023, with a plethora of fascinating documentaries hitting platforms over the past 12 months. So, without further ado, here is our ranking of this year’s five best true crime documentaries. Warning: Some may find this content distressing.

5. Russell Brand: In Plain Sight

Coming in at fifth place is Russell Brand: In Plain Sight, an explosive documentary film exposing sexual misconduct and abuse allegations against Russell Brand, as part of a joint investigation between The Sunday Times and Channel 4 Dispatches. The word chilling comes to mind – not only due to the claims made against one of the UK’s most famous and revered comedians but also how blatantly Brand himself alluded to his alleged behavior for so long. The documentary led to a police inquiry, while also placing a question mark over his recent political rhetoric shift. 

Where to stream: Channel 4

4. Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets

If you grew up in the 2000s, chances are you’ve heard of the Duggars. They were once a household name thanks to their TLC show 19 Kids and Counting, presenting Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their ever-growing brood as a seemingly “perfect” family. But behind the scenes, the truth was far more sinister than anyone could have imagined. Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets is an eye-opening documentary series that exposes sexual, emotional, and physical abuse within the Duggars, and how the fundamentalist Christian sect they were a part of brushed aside these horrific crimes. What’s more, it highlights an important but often forgotten message: don’t believe everything you see on TV.

Where to stream: Prime Video

3. Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God

Cults dominated the true crime landscape in 2023, but perhaps none were quite as affecting as Love Has Won. Detailing the shocking life and death of leader Amy Carlson (better known by her followers as Mother God), the HBO series masterfully examines the more shocking practices of the group, culminating in police uncovering a mummified body covered in glitter and Christmas lights. What makes this such a riveting watch isn’t just the subject matter, but also the way in which filmmaker Hannah Olson weaves the information together so that the pacing never lets up. Equally as enthralling is the fact that so many of Carlson’s followers were willing to appear on camera and speak openly about some of the more explicit details of what they experienced. 

Where to stream: Max

2. Take Care of Maya

Take Care of Maya achieved what it set out to do: evoke emotion while shining a light on an area of injustice in the US. Moving, poignant, and deeply frustrating to watch, Henry Roosevelt uses archive footage and present-day interviews to meticulously weave together a complex story of the unthinkable tragedy that befell Maya Kowalski and her family. Adding to the impact of Take Care of Maya was the court case that followed its Netflix release, resulting in a financial win and a semblance of justice for the remaining Kowalskis, though not one that could turn back the clock on the devastation they endured. 

Where to stream: Netflix

1. The Curious Case of Natalia Grace

In first place is undoubtedly The Curious Case of Natalia Grace, a truly stranger-than-fiction tale that we haven’t stopped thinking about since it aired earlier this year. Though six 40-minute episodes might feel like overkill for any other case, not one minute is wasted, with each detail outdoing the last in terms of shock factor. Ultimately, the doc boils down to two conflicting accounts: one side claims an exploited Ukrainian child was abandoned by her adoptive family, while the other alleges Grace is a dangerous psychopath who masquerades as a child to exploit her guardians.

Though the truth remains murky to this day, this docu-series gives space for viewers to make up their own minds, allowing the jaw-dropping subject matter to speak for itself. If you’re invested in the case, be sure to check out ID’s follow-up doc, Natalia Speaks, when it arrives on January 1.

Where to stream: Max

For more of our true crime coverage, hit the links below:

Love Has Won’s “3D” hospital | How did John Gotti die? | Who Killed Jill Dando? | Where is Gypsy Rose Blanchard now? | Russell Brand most shocking moments | Scouts Honor | The Lucie Blackman Case | The Isabella Nardoni Case | Where is Natalia Grace? | Who are the Duggars? | Victim/Suspect explained | Missing Dead or Alive explained | The Playing Card Killer | Take Care of Maya | HBO’s Burden of Proof explained | How to watch David Fuller: Monster in the Morgue | How to watch Hart family murders documentary | The Deepest Breath | True story of Last Call

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