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9 Documentaries That Are Better Than the Movies About the Same Topic

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9 Documentaries That Are Better Than the Movies About the Same Topic

Fans should view movies inspired by documentaries with an open mind, particularly true-crime films. Movies often omit information, archival footage, and crime scene photos, either too raw to include in the films or information we’ve learned in a well-researched documentary. Former law enforcement officials and experts set the scene for fans awaiting gory details, while some audiences are solely into the actor’s portrayal of an infamous serial killer.

The biopic of an icon can make a disappointing film when movie buffs feel they received all the facts about the hero or heroine from the documentary. No matter which you prefer, movie or doc, sometimes one medium tops the other. Check out these documentaries that made it to a streaming service near you and are better than their movie sibs.


9 Whitney v. I Wanna Dance with Somebody


Naomi Ackie as Whitney Houston in the 2022 film I Wanna Dance with Somebody may not have been plausible to audiences, but the actress showed commitment to the role. The flick leaves out aspects of the late singer’s life pertinent to viewers’ understanding of why Houston’s ending was so tragic. The alcohol and drugs are just the tips of the iceberg in Houston’s whirlpool of hiccups, and director Kasi Lemmons seems to skip over the sine qua non of Whitney Houston, almost leaving Ackie to fend for herself, which she does just fine. It is partly why this movie feels like a possible end to Whitney Houston films. The costume changes and wigs are fabulous, and the classic I Wanna Dance with Somebody music video recreation takes pop music lovers back to a time when the public witnessed the first Black “girl next door.”

Related: Crime Inc.: The Only Mafia Documentary Series You Need to Watch

Whitney is harrowing, but the unflattering details in this documentary are necessary to garner sympathy for the late Houston. The 2018 doc reveals new discussions and speculations about Houston’s alleged abuse by a family member and how she never confided in her mother or recovered. Director Kevin MacDonald uses ample home video footage filmed by Houston’s controversial friend, Robyn Crawford. The movie coyly addresses Houston and Crawford’s love affair. But, the documentary lets Houston’s handlers and friends drop details on her sexuality and identifies the person who introduces the singer to cocaine.

8 O.J.: Made in America v. The People v. O.J. Simpson

O.J.: Made in America movie poster
ESPN Films

American Crime Story: The People V. OJ Simpson is a 10-part miniseries with a soap opera appeal. The show presents the re-enactment of the 1995 OJ Simpson murder trial, with a stellar performance from Courtney B. Vance as the confident and flamboyant lawyer, Johnny Cochran, who defends Simpson. The documentary houses goodies on the athlete’s personal life, but the series outright depicts Simpson as the master manipulator of his “Dream Team” law posse. Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson brings the same Rod Tidwell arrogance from Jerry Maguire, and David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian (a lawyer on the Dream Team) nails the attorney’s surprised reaction after hearing the verdict. Director John Singleton and his strong cast make this program one of FX’s most critically acclaimed and successful miniseries in the network’s history.

OJ: Made in America is an explosive documentary ushering in many surprising facts about the disgraced athlete, leading to the arrest in the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. Here is where family secrets unfold — Simpson and a friend interrupt his father and gay lover when he shows up for a visit. The doc acts almost as an evangelist for Simpson’s talent — fans oblivious to Simpson’s dual career step away with an understanding of why and how the famed football star and actor became a phenomenon. Between chilling details from police reports, heartbroken friends, and 911 calls of a battered Nicole speaking in a timid voice, Made in America is a heavyweight documentary, quoting Simpson as saying, “If she hadn’t opened that door with a knife in her hand, she’d still be alive.”

7 The Hunt for a Serial Killer v. The Night Stalker

Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer movie poster

When fans saw The Night Stalker, they were probably elated to see Lou Diamond Phillips. He sizzled as Richard Ramirez, the serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles in the 1970s, but the film is from the lawyer’s perspective while investigating a past Ramirez crime. She interviews the killer behind bars in hopes of soliciting information that saves a death row inmate in Texas accused of two Ramirez murders — a mother and her toddler son. Fans get no rare crime photos, and the movie doesn’t chronicle every murder. Instead, there’s a weird dynamic between the lawyer and Ramirez. Director Megan Griffiths teeters on the lawyer’s sexual attraction to Ramirez in the film and focuses more on the effects of her childhood trauma.

Detective Gil Carrillo told a couple, “You’re lucky. This guy’s bad. No. He’s really bad.” The overworked investigator describes Ramirez, or as the press dubbed him, The Night Stalker, to a couple who fatefully dodges his murderous wrath in Netflix’s four-part series Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer. The streaming service shows off its incredible research skills in this well-documented, pull-no-punches production chronicling Ramirez’s reign of terror over Los Angeles. The doc delves deep into graphic details and exceptionally walks the audience through the dark days and personal lives of the detectives assigned to the case. What unfolds in the documentary is the lack of discrimination. Ramirez cowardly pounced on victims when they were most vulnerable — usually at night while they were sleeping — but, unlike most serial killers, he didn’t just target women. The greasy-haired, tall, skinny man with rotten teeth and body odor tormented and murdered men, women, and children. Netflix consistently produces incredible documentaries because they’re unafraid to “go there.” ​​​​​While the film The Night Stalker touches on what possibly triggered Ramirez’s taste for evil, The Hunt for a Serial Killer reveals the murderer’s father hanged him upside down in a cemetery overnight when he was a child as a punishment.

6 Devil in Disguise v. The Hillside Strangler

The Hillside Strangler: Devil in Disguise

Stephen Johnston and Chuck Parello write a somewhat comical beginning to the 2004 movie, The Hillside Strangler. Two cousins, Kenneth Bianchi (C. Thomas Howell) and Angelo Buono (Nicholas Turturro) murdered many women society deemed less than valuable — prostitutes and drug users. One of the film’s star qualities is Turturro. His Joe Pesci-esque sound and mannerisms are a win and a much-needed energy boost. The actor is hilarious as a serial killer, nearly turning this true crime into a dark comedy. Parello also directs the film and supplies it with all the 1970s trimmings for authenticity — polyester clothing, shaggy rugs, and retro furniture. Howell plays a weak, easily influenced, and maladjusted man on a killing spree while expecting a child, but the movie is still no match for the documentary.

In thedocuseriesHillside Strangler: Devil in Disguise, viewers discover Buono has a relationship with an underage Sheryl Kellison, unaware of her lover’s murderous behavior. Kellison’s mother warns police that Buono needs investigating. They ignore her, giving the second half of the Hillside-strangling duo time to murder other women. The movie provides comic relief with Turturro delivering zippy quips between killings, but the Peacock documentary is an eerie walkthrough designed to educate audiences about the bloodthirsty cousins (they even ravaged two girls of ages 12 and 14), and the tug-of-war game between the police, the media, and the killers.

5 Falling for a Killer v. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile

A photograph of Ted Bundy with his long-term girlfriend, Elizabeth Kendall
Amazon Prime Video

Fans who think Zac Efron makes serial killer Ted Bundy look adorable in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile shouldn’t feel too guilty. Director Joe Berlinger knew he needed to cast someone that made audiences understand why so many women trusted this stranger. The 2019 film stars Efron as a charming, dashing family man who pleads innocent until he confesses to his longtime live-in girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall during a prison visit. The film focuses on Bundy and Kendall’s relationship and stays true to the facts, as told by Kendall in a documentary), but the Berlinger film has Kendall moving on from Bundy a little too soon. While her pining away for him lingers throughout the film, the character gets credited with more strength than the real-life Kendall. As entertaining as Efron and the movie are, the doc offers compelling scenes, not dialogue, some truth, and fiction. According to Kendall’s daughter, Molly, she destroys Bundy’s last letter to her mother instead of delivering it to her. The film shows Kendall reading it.

The Prime Video documentary Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer may make fans question the common belief that psychopaths are incapable of emotions. Did Bundy truly love Kendall and her daughter, Molly? Viewers hear the producer chastising Kendall when she admits to communicating with Bundy after his abduction arrest. Usually, producers are neither heard nor seen in documentaries. However, Kendall sympathizing with a killer is so beyond the scope of what Trish Wood (producer) can conceive that she asks Bundy’s lover from behind the camera, “Why would you do that?” The 2020 doc consists of five episodes complete with oodles of pictures that tell a decent love story (in the beginning) between Kendall and Bundy. If the audience didn’t know better, they’d think it were a tale about endless love instead of a narcissistic psychopath wreaking havoc on seven states.

4 What Happened, Miss Simone v. Nina

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Nina is not a bold biopic. It’s a soft recount of a civil rights activist and superstar singer with mental health issues who perhaps deserves a film that befits the entertainer. The 2016 Cynthia Mort movie starts with Nina Simone entering a hospital and appointing a facility aide as her assistant. Zoe Saldana portrays Simone as Saldana in dark makeup, padded clothing, and a prosthetic nose. But, the actress does unveil an attractive singing voice, using it instead of Simone’s, partly due to the singer’s daughter protesting against Saldana playing the role. With Simone’s missteps carefully illustrated in the film, fans must watch the documentary to grasp what happened to the late singer.

Simone’s daughter said about her mother, “She had this love affair with fire.” Netflix reveals pages of the late singer’s diary reading, “I love physical violence.” Netflix’s What Happened, Miss Simone is a transparent documentary highlighting Simone’s career and personal life. The doc is so translucent, the singer’s daughter confirms Simone’s account of her physical abuse from her manager/husband. The program also provides some fun facts about the singer’s friends, or as Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone, recalls, the “Who’s Who of Black America.” Playwright Lorraine Hansberry was Lisa’s godmother, and Malcolm X and his family lived on the same block, so his wife Betty Shabazz became “Auntie” to Lisa. In this powerful 1-hour-and-42-minute documentary, Simone fans are privy to never-before-seen photos and the performer’s diary entries in her handwriting on display as she narrates in between special appearances from those who knew her best.

3 Who Killed Malcolm X v. Malcolm X

Who Killed Malcolm X?

Spike Lee’s 1992 Malcolm X may have given Denzel Washington one of his best performances and Lee’s most superb films, but the biographical movie left much to be desired by many critics. Audiences do get a glimpse into what motivated the slain activist into Islam, but it doesn’t concentrate enough on the most significant and captivating parts of his early life, nor does it attempt to investigate the truth behind his murder. To Lee’s credit, many elements surfaced about Malcolm’s murder 30 years after he researched and filmed the movie. While Malcolm X has all the mahogany and tweed of a Spike Lee film — beautifully shot, well-acted, and all the other Lee trademarks like creating a floating illusion by placing the actor on a dolly attached to a mobilized camera — we still don’t learn a great deal about Malcolm. Sure, pretentious scenes illustrating Malcolm using the Fruit of Islam (FOI) outside a police precinct to bully authorities into aiding a badly-beaten fellow member make great movie moments. But, what fans don’t get in the 3-hour-and-22-minute film, they can find in the documentary.

Produced by Fusion, the Who Killed Malcolm Xdocumentary is packed with detective work by a Malcolm X-inspired Black Muslim determined to find the real answers behind Malcolm’s murder. The six-part doc includes sit-downs with former NYPD officers who conversed with the activist and insight from members of the Nation of Islam who witnessed the organization’s original leader, Elijah Muhammad, and Malcolm’s relationship. FBI and NYPD notes on Malcolm scurry across the screen, reeling in audiences, making them a part of the detective work. Today, most of what fans thought they knew about Malcolm X’s last day at the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, maybe fiction.

2 The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes v. Dahmer

Conversations with a Killer the Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes

Jeremy Renner portrays Jeffrey Dahmer in the 2002 film Dahmer. Director David Jacobson chooses to camouflage graphic sex scenes in a stream of flashes set to disco music. Dahmer is a complicated man but depicted as simplistic, even while murdering unsuspecting men. Strange changes in this movie make fans ask, “Why?” If fans watch the doc before the film, they’ll see Dahmer drugging his victims in a nightclub instead of the bathhouse that bans him. One of his last surviving victims escaped and returned to Dahmer’s home with the police, but the film recreates the fact into a requited love with Dahmer rejecting his victim.

Where else can fans find a mention of the Emperor from Star Wars and Jeffrey Dahmer in the same program? In the Netflix documentary, Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes, the serial killer’s lawyer said that Dahmer was into demonic images, so he purchased yellow contact lenses to look like Emperor Palpatine, allowing him to feel in control of his victims. The film may have only been eerie because viewers know the story’s origins. But, the doc is haunting for its retelling of Dahmer stories — his method of seducing young men, then breaking down and dissolving their human remains. Doctors and analysts can’t determine what made Dahmer become a cannibal homicidal maniac. But, with their help, Netflix does a deep dive into the necrophiliac’s background and sadistic rituals. Every episode of this three-part doc is riveting and informative.

1 Muhammad Ali v. Ali

Muhammad Ali

Michael Mann’s 2001 Ali, starring Will Smith as Muhammad Ali, is a slow-moving film filled with Smith’s charismatic efforts and Ali’s bravado. Mann and Smith don’t create the best magic together in Ali, although it would be difficult to imagine anyone other than Smith playing the part. With the actor’s natural joke-telling ability and taking ownership of the lens in every scene, Smith builds immediate trust with fans. The 2-hour-and-32-minute feature addresses some of the athlete’s most impactful moments, including his Vietnam draft, his rift with Malcolm X, and the Joe Frazier fight. But, there was more to Ali and Frazier than a boxing match. Ali created a true enemy in his opponent, and the documentary explores what ignited the fallout.

Related: The Best Documentary Oscar Winners of All Time, RankedNot many documentaries can be over eight hours long, with fans dreading an end. The 2021 PBS documentary Muhammad Aliis a history lesson surrounding the athlete’s adventurous career like no other. Viewers get a three-for-one doc delivering Ali the boxer, race relations, and his alliance with the Nation of Islam. It mirrors reading an issue of National Geographic as Ken Burns, Sara Burns, and David McMahon create a travel itinerary through spectacular pictures and meticulously unravel Ali’s noncompliant, discontent, unorthodox strategy to becoming the “The Greatest of All Time.”

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