No matter how big or small, one little white lie can change a life forever. HBO Max is currently home to several fascinating true-crime series that make it their mission to find the truth and wash away the many bloodstained lies that have covered confounding cases. Sometimes, these journalists and filmmakers are successful in finding the truth, but they oftentimes fail, and that is what makes these stories all the more captivating.
If you’ve burned through the classics like Tiger King: Murder, Madness, and Mayhem (and the dramatized series Joe Vs Carole), Nightstalker,and Making a Murderer on Netflix, HBO Max contains several engrossing true-crime series that are worth the watch. Whether it be con artists, murderers, or Hollywood stars, every kind of criminal under the sun is examined with unflinching detail. Addictive and devastating, these series shine the spotlight on important societal issues and prove why it’s essential to tell these stories.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated July 2022 to include Mind Over Murder and Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults.
Director: James Lee Hernandez, Brian Lazarte
Who knew that the Mcdonald’s Monopoly game had so much true crime behind it all? McMillions looks at the fraud behind the corrupted McDonald’s Monopoly game from 1989 to 2001. The con, which totaled $24 million, involved not only the FBI but everything from PR firms to the mob. The true winning ingredient of McMillions is its colorful cast of characters, which sometimes robs the limelight away from the actual victims of this fraud. Directed by James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte, the six-episode documentary follows both the perpetrators of the crime and the law enforcement hunting it down. Chief among its cast of characters is FBI agent Doug Mathews, who at one point quite literally shows up in a golden suit to emulate a golden French fry and nearly destroys an undercover operation. As the series chases after the elusive “Uncle Jerry” it becomes clearer that beneath the surface of this wacky heist there are real victims who have had their lives affected by these people taking advantage of the system set in place by McDonald’s. For those who aren’t interested in murder in their true crime, McMillions is the perfect dose of weird and intriguing to binge-watch. — Therese Lacson
Mind Over Murder (2022)
Director: Nanfu Wang
Mind Over Murder is a true-crime docuseries you have to see to believe. The show dives into a murder case from 1985 where six people were convinced of killing a beloved grandmother in the community. The seemingly straightforward crime quickly turns into anything but, as the group is exonerated by DNA evidence in 2009. The mind behind acclaimed documentaries like Hooligan Sparrow and One Child Nation, Nanfu Wang masterfully presents a commentary on how unreliable memory can be in stressful situations like these and how flawed our judicial system really is. – Taylor Gates
Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults (2020)
Directed by: Clay Tweel
If you burned through series like Netflix’s Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey, Scientology and the Aftermath, or one of the several NXIVM-themed documentaries, you’re sure to become invested in Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults. The series explores the UFO religion Heaven’s Gate, which was led by Marshall Applewhite. Featuring never-before-seen footage of the cult, the series explores the organization’s bizarre beliefs and rituals leading up to the tragic mass suicide in 1997. – Taylor Gates
Generation Hustle (2021-present)
Created by: Yon Motskin
If you’re a fan of shows like Inventing Anna and WeCrashed, you’re sure to be a fan of this docuseries. In fact, there are even episodes that discuss both the real-life Anna Delvey and Adam Neuman. This show follows young entrepreneurs risking it all for fame and fortune – and frequently using some questionable methods. From impersonating everyone from Hollywood agents to Saudi Royal princes, Generation Hustle explores the lengths people will go to in order to make it big. – Taylor Gates
The Way Down (2021-2022)
Director: Marina Zenovich
This documentary explores the incredible story of the life and untimely death of the leader of the controversial Remnant Fellowship church in Tennessee, Gwen Shamblin Lara. Former members swear it’s a cult; current members assure you it is anything but. Regardless, it is a fascinating story watching what started as a weight loss program slowly spiral into a devout church with millions of dollars. Interviews with former members detail what it was like on the inside and how they watched Gwen transform into a complicated leader whose way of running things may have gotten a tad out of control. The series was supposed to be three episodes, but with the untimely death of Shamblin, the producers released two more. Funny how people are more willing to talk when the person they’re afraid of is no longer around for retribution. – Jennifer McHugh
The Vow (2020-2022)
Director: Jehane Noujaim & Karim Amer
NXIVM may be confusing to pronounce, but it is one of the most recognizable modern-day cults. Touted as a leadership and personal evolution program, the group quickly devolved into something way more sinister. Keith Reniere, the leader, as well as a few of his devout followers have been sentenced to prison time for their crimes. The documentary follows survivors in their post-NXIVM lives and happens to have incredible footage from the inside as one of the former members, Mark Vicente, was the group’s historian. The access to the behind-the-scenes footage is something that needs to be seen to be believed. You will see firsthand the level of manipulation and degradation used to brainwash followers through tense workshops, seminars, an odd scarf promotion system, and (inexplicably) volleyball. The series was renewed after one season, and season two is expected to drop sometime in the near future as it covers the trials of the leaders and the reactions of the former followers. – Jennifer McHugh
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019)
Director: Alex Gibney
An incisive and illuminating documentary in which Alex Gibney pulls back the curtain on the greed lurking right underneath us, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley is one of the most incredible investigative works that has to be seen to be believed. It centers on the now infamous Elizabeth Holmes, an entrepreneur who built a cult of personality that she used to sell a lie about her startup company — a lie that she carried on for years. She promised that she could provide comprehensive medical tests from only a single drop of blood. It was a potentially revolutionary idea that Holmes had to deceive people into thinking she could achieve when it became clear that the technology was not yet there. The film shows how all-encompassing this lie was, taking us step by step through how big it all got before blowing up in her face when a few courageous whistleblowers came forward. It is a portrait of both Holmes and a broken industry that not only let this happen but also fed much of her motivations. Even if you’ve heard the story, going back to see the documentary that lays it all out remains an eye-opening experience. – Chase Hutchinson
I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter (2019)
Director: Erin Lee Carr
I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter reckons with modern technology, and how the criminal justice system is still catching up to the ever-changing and ever-evolving world of texting and social media when crimes are committed within the devices we hold in our hands. Receiving nationwide coverage due to its disturbing subject matter, the law found itself in uncharted territory when teenager Conrad Roy committed suicide after his girlfriend, Michelle Carter, continuously encouraged him to do so over countless texts.
A jarring and shattering look into the damaging effects social media can have on teenagers’ mental health in addition to the power written words can hold, I Love You, Now Die, asks where we draw the line and who should be held accountable in such matters. Taking viewers into the courtroom as Carter is tried for involuntary manslaughter, the result is a grueling, two-part documentary series that paints a conflicting portrait of mental illness. The true story has also been developed into a Hulu original limited series, The Girl from Plainville, starring Elle Fanning as Carter as she goes on trial.
I’ll be Gone in the Dark (2020-2021)
Director: Liz Garbus
What makes the HBO original documentary series, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, stand out amongst other true-crime series is that it chooses to give a voice to the victims and survivors of the Golden State Killer instead of focusing on the killer himself. Following journalist Michelle McNamara’s remarkable investigation into the unsolved identity of the Golden State Killer, a title she coined, the series accompanies her as she goes about the process of solving the case while writing the best-selling true crime novel, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer.
A serial rapist and serial killer who wreaked havoc upon both couples and women in California during the 70s and 80s, police were never able to catch the culprit despite the frequency of his attacks. The series is interspersed with interviews of McNamara and countless survivors as they tell their stories, but McNamara tragically died before she was able to finish writing her book or find out the killer’s identity. As the investigation spanned over several decades, Joseph James DeAngelo was eventually arrested in 2018 and officially deemed to be the Golden State Killer. Thanks to McNamara’s colleagues and widower, Patton Oswalt, the group was able to put together the last portion of the book with her extensive notes, and the result is an all-consuming deep dive into one of the biggest and most elusive cold cases that lasted for far too long.
Murder on Middle Beach (2020)
Director: Madison Hamburg
Murder on Middle Beach is a haunting story about a son trying to solve his mother’s murder. Directed in full by Madison Hamburg, this four-part documentary series dives into the mystifying and brutal murder of his mother, Barbara Hamburg. To this day, the case remains unsolved, and Madison’s quest to find the truth is heartbreaking and profound as he plays the role of both a sleuthing detective and grieving son. Growing up in an affluent, nice Connecticut town with a seemingly happy family, darkness lurked beneath the surface which then resulted in a messy divorce between his parents.
Several years later, everything came boiling to a head when Barbara Hamburg was discovered murdered outside her home. The series takes viewers on a wild goose chase full of red herrings and sketchy suspects as Madison interviews everyone from his aloof father, to his aunt, and even his own sister as they’ve all become a suspect in his mother’s murder at one point or another. Murder on Middle Beach can easily be binged over the course of one weekend and never wavers while following one son’s search for not only answers in a puzzling murder mystery, but for peace and acceptance too.
Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children (2020)
Director: Sam Pollard, Maro Chermayeff, Jeff Dupre, Joshua Bennett
An unspeakable horror was occurring in Atlanta from 1979 through 1981. A serial killer was wreaking havoc upon the city, and at least 30 African-American children and young adults were disappearing or found murdered. Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children is a heavy but necessary viewing as it explores who receives attention from both the media and police amidst murder investigations, and who doesn’t.
After 21 terrifying months of funerals and missing flyers, police arrested 23-year-old Wayne Williams for the murder of two young adults while also connecting him to the murders of 10 children. After his conviction, most of the cases were closed in 1982 without ever going to trial, and to this day, many still feel like the various cases were unjustly halted before it could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Williams was responsible for every disappearance and killing. The case was then officially re-opened in 2019 by the mayor of Atlanta, and the series continues to divulge new information surrounding the case as skepticism of Wayne’s guilt remains amongst the victims’ families.
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (2015)
Director: Andrew Jarecki
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst needs no introduction, as it’s one of the most lauded and shocking true-crime series ever made. Following New York real estate heir Robert Durst, director Andrew Jarecki sat down with Durst for a series of extensive interviews beginning in 2010 pertaining to his suspected involvement in three murder cases. Durst was suspected of causing the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack, in addition to killing his friend, Susan Berman, in 2000 and his neighbor, Morris Black, in 2001.
Though he was tried and acquitted of murdering Black in 2003, It’s dumbfounding that Durst was able to walk free for so many years when there was so much evidence racked up against him. The ending will leave your jaw on the floor as everything concludes in the infamously shocking finale, and It’s safe to say The Jinx is unlike any other true-crime documentary out there.
Lady and the Dale (2021)
Director: Nick Cammilleri, Zackary Drucker
A fascinating tale of a talented grifter, Lady and the Dale uncovers the wild crimes and cons of Elizabeth “Liz” Carmichael. Amidst the gas crisis during the 1970s, Carmichael started the Twentieth Century Motor Car Company, which included a three-wheeled, gas efficient car called the Dale, and she soon found herself in some hot water with both the law and media. Uncovering a crime-filled past, this was not Elizabeth’s first rodeo, and she’d practically been on the lam for her entire life before getting thrust into the spotlight while advertising the Dale. A four-part limited series, Lady and the Dale is a masterfully told journey about the creative rise and demise of one woman, and it will have you guessing till the very end.
The Case Against Adnan Syed (2019)
Director: Amy J. Burg
By now, almost everyone has listened to at least one true-crime podcast or watched one true-crime series. It’s all thanks to the now-famous case surrounding convicted murderer, Adnan Syed, a high school student who was found guilty of murdering his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999. After journalist Sarah Koenig released the 2014 podcast, Serial, which details the crime and goes on to find glaring inconsistencies in the case built against Syed, the podcast quickly became a phenomenon and was downloaded over 100 million times.
Throughout the past two decades, Syed has continued to insist upon his innocence despite his life sentence, and many people, including his family, believe him. The HBO documentary series, The Case Against Adnan Syed, continues to delve further into the murder case while following Syed’s family in 2016 as they work on obtaining a re-trial based upon newfound evidence.
Allen v. Farrow (2021)
Director: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
It took over 30 years for Hollywood to reckon with the fact that they continued to celebrate Woody Allen well after he was accused of sexual assault in 1992 by his 7-year-old daughter, Dylan Farrow. Turning into an all-out war between Allen and his longtime partner and Dylan’s mother, actress Mia Farrow, she never backed down in advocating that her daughter was telling the truth despite much of the media and the law siding with the then, all-powerful Allen.
Looking back on the crime, Allen v. Farrow contains a surplus of home video footage while also interspersing audio recordings from Allen’s 2020 memoir, Apropos of Nothing, and it paints a dark family portrait of pain and deception. Also providing a searing look into a flawed system that too often protects the abuser and not the victim, it conducts several interviews with Dylan and Mia Farrow as they dive into their past with a modern lens in the wake of the #MeToo and Times Up movements.