ByKarly Rayner, writer at
Movie Pilot's celebrity savant
Karly Rayner

As a major documentary fan, I am repeatedly being reminded that real life is often darker, bloodier and more intense than any fiction.

A lot of movie fans often avoid this genre because it is seen as pretentious and boring (which a lot of documentary films definitely can be!), so I have attempted to put together a list of the most violent, harrowing documentaries I have seen alongside their cinematic long-lost twins.

So, prepare to enter a world where no special effects are needed to bring a harrowing tale to life and see if you can find an edgy Netflix date for the evening:

7. Dawg Fight/Fight Club

Year Documentary Released: 2015

Similarities: While Fight Club centers around everyman white collar workers disillusioned with the monotony of life, Dawg Fight is born from much more raw and dangerous beginnings.

Set in an underprivileged area of Miami, Florida, this documentary follows men who risk broken bones and severe head injuries from organized bare knuckle fighting. The rules are simple, no hits to the back of the head and no groin strikes. Outside of that, anything goes. Once you step into the ring, you can’t step out.

Although the extreme violence of the fighting is hard to watch, the documentary explores how the matches organized by the charismatic Dhafir “Dada 5000” Harris could be beneficial to the area.

By encouraging people to settle grudges and disputes in the open instead of in shady back alleys with guns, Harris argues that this arena to let off steam has actually saved lives.

Most Harrowing Moment: While the scenes of brutal knock outs doled out by bare fists and brute force are disturbing, by far the most harrowing scene involves violence that occurred outside the ring.

A fan favorite named Chauncey is shot by his girlfriend's brother in the middle of the documentary and the scenes of his eyelids blindly flickering while he lays festooned in wires in the intensive care unit are truly haunting.

Is It on Netflix? Yes


6. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer/Monster

Year Documentary Released: 2003

Similarities: Patty Jenkins' Monster is a dramatic reenactment of Aileen Wuornos' life, so the similarities between her movie and Bloomfield's documentary are numerous.

Bloomfield's dark and disturbing documentary about one of America's best known female serial killers gives us a personal introduction to Wuornos herself and the flaws in her case that will leave you pondering the inner workings of the legal system.

Most Harrowing Moment: By far the most harrowing moment of the documentary is Nick Bloomfield's final interview with Aileen Wuornos before she is executed.

Clearly mentally ill, Wuornos rambles incoherently about how the police knew about her first murder and encouraged her to kill to garner lucrative movie deals.

Despite her obviously deranged mental state, Wuornos is executed in a move that was probably designed to garner support for the Jeb Bush election campaign (who signed her execution warrant and who's psychologists ruled Wuornos sane in just 15 minutes).

Is It on Netflix? Yes


5. Titicut Follies/American Horror Story: Asylum

Year Documentary Released: 1968

Similarities: While it attempted to channel the horrors of the historic asylum system, American Horror Story: Asylum, for all it's gore, is easy watching compared to the historic documentary below that shows us the real deal.

Most Harrowing Moment: It's hard to pick out a single moment of the seminal documentary that is the most upsetting because every single casual moment that these severely mentally ill people suffer is a sucker punch.

This harrowing look at the way these vulnerable people are ritually humiliated, forced to walk around naked and abused instead of treated reveals a system that is rotten to the core. You won't forget this one in a hurry.

Is It on Netflix? No


4. General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait/The Last King of Scotland

Year Documentary Released: 1974

Similarities: Known as 'The Butcher of Uganda' and responsible for the deaths of 300,000 people, Idi Amin is a compelling subject who has inspired a handful of movies. Probably the most compelling portrait is definitely Forest Whitaker's turn as the dictator in The Last King of Scotland.

The biggest similarity between these two movies is the humor and charm that mask Idi Amin's murderous urges and dangerously unhinged nature. It is easy to see the Amin that fooled Dr. Nicholas Garrinton in General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait and this juxtaposition with his sinister statements is truly chilling.

Most Harrowing Moment: This truly bizarre portrait of a dictator whose neurosis and brutality has the entire nation of Uganda on it's knees is made unsettling by something incredibly unexpected. Humor.

Idi Amin dictates how he is portrayed in this film and it's hard not to crack a smile as he trains soldiers on a slide that was almost certainly pillaged from a kids playground...until you hear the other things the monstrous figure has to say.

From spouting anti-semitic rants quoting Nazi favorite The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as truth, to the fact that the failing foreign policy minister was found dead in the Nile two weeks after filming wrapped, Amin is consistently revealed to be an erratic, brutal man who chillingly has the power to do exactly what he pleases.

Is It on Netflix? No


3. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills/Devil's Knot

Year Documentary Released: 1996

Similarities: Devil's Knot explores the complications of the West Memphis Three's trial so there are a wealth of similarities here.

Most Harrowing Moment: This darkly fascinating documentary about the supposedly satanic murders of three 8-year-old boys is a portrait of a town torn to shreds by tragedy.

For me, one of the most shocking moments was when the step-father of one of the victims reenacts his step-sons murder at the crime scene while vowing how he will claim his vengeance.

The fact that the 'confession' of a teenage boy with an IQ of 70 was enough to convict three people despite there not being any physical evidence to link them to the crimes, lays bare the toxic influence of small town prejudice.

Wearing black, listening to metal music and having an interest in reading about the occult was enough to convince a jury that three teenagers were guilty of savage murders.

All three suspects were freed in 2011.

Is It on Netflix? No


2. Narco Cultura/City of God

Year Documentary Released: 2013

Similarities: Although they are set in totally different countries, the indiscriminate brutality of drug culture takes center stage in both of these movies.

From shocking levels of violence to a total disregard for human life, both Narco Cultura and City of God explore populations who have been desensitized by how bloodshed has trickled its way into the fabric of everyday life.

Most Harrowing Moment: The endless parade of bloodied mangled corpses is sickening enough in itself, but it is the bravery of the local police and the futility of the work they do that is truly heartbreaking.

A number of investigators die during the course of the documentary in their line of work, despite the fact that extreme corruption means none of the murder cases they open end in conviction.

Derogatorily nicknamed 'bullet collectors,' sadly this is exactly what the police are thanks to the unimaginable power of the drug cartels in a small town where nearly 500 people are murdered each year.

Couple this with the narcocorrido musicians who live safely in America and make their living glorifying the drug lords, and you have a picture that will make you sick to your stomach.

Is It on Netflix? Yes


Honorable Non Violent Mention

1. The Imposter/The Changeling

Year Documentary Released: 2013

Similarities: In The Changeling a missing child is replaced with an obvious fraud, and The Imposter shares the same plot but supercharged.

In an unbelievable true story, a 23-year-old serial French trickster named Frédéric Bourdin claims to be Nicholas Barclay, a Texas boy who disappeared at the age of 13.

Despite having brown eyes when the Nicholas Barclay had blue and a strong French accent, Bourdin convinced the Texas family he was their missing son who had been abducted by a child sex ring.

He lived with them for almost five months before his true identity was revealed.

Most Harrowing Moment: This entire documentary is so fact paced and unbelievable that your heart will be hammering double time the whole way through. It is honestly one of the most gripping things I have ever watched.

Is It on Netflix? Yes



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