Top 10 TV True Crime Biopics
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Beca Dalimonte
We will never cease to be morbidly fascinated by true crime. For this list, we'll be looking at the best adaptations of true crime stories for the small screen. Our countdown includes "Dr. Death", "The Girl from Plainville", "The Dropout" and more!
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 TV True Crime Biopics. For this list, we’ll be looking at the best adaptations of true crime stories for the small screen. Is there any true crime story you would like to see adapted into a series? Let us know in the comments!
#10: “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” (2022)
More often than not, series about real life serial killers inherently inspire controversy, and “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” is no exception. Shortly after the series dropped on Netflix, social media was abuzz with posts criticizing the true crime miniseries. Most of this criticism stemmed from reactions to the series by the family of one of Dahmer’s victims, who asserted that the series “retraumatized” them and that they were never contacted by Netflix, or showrunner Ryan Murphy, about the show’s creation. Nonetheless, all of the controversy only made “Monster” more enticing to viewers. The series became an overnight sensation, raking in views equivalent to that of “Stranger Things”’ fourth season, and once again proving that any press is good press.
#9: “Dr. Death” (2021-)
As a Peacock original, “Dr. Death” didn’t receive nearly the same publicity as its contemporaries of the same genre, but it more than made up for its obscurity with its stellar critical response. Based on the podcast of the same name, the series focuses on Christopher Duntsch, a neurosurgeon infamous for maiming his patients. This malpractice included everything from operating on the wrong part of a patient’s back to allowing a patient to bleed to death. Although the premise could have easily led to a gory, inappropriate disaster, the series twists viewer expectations by focusing a significant amount of its runtime on those trying to get Duntsch disbarred rather than on the titular doctor. There is no glorification to be seen here!
#8: “Candy” (2022)
It’s hard to imagine how someone could get away with a murder they confessed to, but Candy Montogomery did just that. This eponymous series about the days before and after her crime attempts to explain her story and just how she convinced a jury to let her walk free. Critics raved about the series’ choice to present the story as a nonlinear narrative, and praised the performances of its series leads Jessica Biel and Melanie Lynskey. Pop star Justin Timberlake also makes a surprising appearance in a recurring role as Deputy Steve Deffibaugh, proving once again that he has what it takes to be a serious dramatic actor.
#7: “The Girl from Plainville” (2022)
Can a person be convicted of manslaughter for sending text messages? This may seem like a nonsensical question, but it became all too real of a scenario for the parents of Conrad Roy when it was discovered that his girlfriend had sent a series of texts encouraging his self-imposed death. A two-part documentary was released covering the case in 2019, but largely focused on the highly publicized trial and ensuing verdict. It wouldn’t be until 2022 that “The Girl from Plainville” provided an in-depth dramatized portrayal of the days leading up to Roy’s death. The series humanized its teenage subjects in a way that trial footage never could, and attempted to explain how such a horrific thing could happen to someone so young.
#6: “The Act” (2019)
Every once in a while a news story comes along that proves the old adage that the truth is stranger than fiction. This is certainly true of the story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, a teenage girl who helped kill her mother. In order to control and isolate Gypsy, Dee Dee claimed her daughter had a myriad of health conditions including leukemia, asthma, and muscular dystrophy from a young age. Unnecessary medications and claims of lost medical records helped to sell the lie - both to doctors and Gypsy herself. Although “The Act” was late to adapting the unbelievable tale, following a documentary and Lifetime film, the performances made the series worthwhile, even landing Joey King an Emmy nomination and Patricia Arquette an Emmy win.
#5: “The Dropout” (2022)
In 2003, Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of college to found Theranos, and quickly became the world’s youngest woman to be a self-made billionaire. Unfortunately, Theranos was built on a lie. A series of challenges and investigations led to the unraveling of the health tech company, exposing one of the most egregious cases of corporate fraud in American history. The white collar crime was chronicled on a popular podcast entitled “The Dropout,” which eventually led to a dramatized series being made under the same name. Even more intriguing than its predecessor, the series easily maintained week-by-week popularity, and, according to Nielsen Holdings, was the most watched show in the week of its penultimate episode’s release.
#4: “Unbelievable” (2019)
Many true crime stories lend themselves to the thriller genre, delving into the psyche of a presumed killer or conman as they leave a trail of victims in their wake. In contrast, “Unbelievable” is a more slow-paced and emotion-fueled story, portraying a timely look at the Washington and Colorado serial assault cases through the eyes of Marie, a teenager charged with falsely reporting a crime. Although the series lacks the heart-pounding tension of other true crime fare, it still manages to be an engrossing drama with stand-out performances from leads Kaitlyn Dever, Merritt Wever, and Toni Collette. “Unbelievable” also carries an important message along with its intriguing story, highlighting the difficulty of reporting sex crimes and the lengths some victims must go to be believed.
#3: “Landscapers” (2021)
In 1998, William and Patricia Wycherley were buried in their own backyard. Fourteen years later, they were finally found. The culprits behind their death were determined to be their daughter, Susan, and her husband, Christopher, who had been using the Wycherley’s identities to commit fraud and purchase costly movie memorabilia in the years following the death. Starring Olivia Coleman and David Thewlis, “Landscapers” takes a darkly comedic look at the criminal couple and their path to the courtroom. Flawlessly executed fantasy sequences mirroring the films Susan and Christopher loved help to set the series apart from other true crime, as does its surprisingly sympathetic slant to its morally gray subjects.
#2: “When They See Us” (2019)
Traditionally, true crime series focus on criminals we are meant to root against. Murderers, conmen and others who you hope to see behind bars by the final episode. In contrast, “When They See Us” focuses on a case the court got wrong. As important as it is engaging, the series is based on the Central Park jogger case, which involved five young men charged with involvement in an assault they had nothing to do with. The boys convicted were all Black and Latino, with their race playing a significant role in their indictment. The dramatization made reevaluating the decades-old case unavoidable, forcing viewers to grapple with the dangerous imperfections of the American justice system.
#1: “The Staircase” (2022)
In December of 2001, a woman by the name of Kathleen Peterson was found bleeding at the bottom of her staircase. Although her husband insisted the death was an accident, local police were unconvinced. The case almost immediately caught the attention of a French film crew, who created an over ten hour documentary, titled “The Staircase,” which focused on the trial and its subjects over the course of several years. Four years after the final entry, HBO released a meta series with the same title, focusing not only on the Petersons but on the French film crew who followed them throughout the trial. The result is a complex, nuanced dramatization of the case, which provided a depth to Kathleen that was impossible in the docuseries.