Lifetime True Crime Movies That Hit the Mark

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Lifetime is known for its original 'Ripped From the Headlines' movies that retell the events that grip the nation and even the world.

If you have ever seen one, you know it can be challenging to get over the low-budget production and corny writing, but that's part of their addiction.

They tend to get filmed quickly, air quickly, and hire people looking to make a breakthrough acting debut.

Lead Photo for Lifetime Movies

However, the astonishing cases they feature are the ones that had a stranglehold over the media for their horrifying uniqueness, and the ones we recommend have some surprisingly big names.

These movies somehow come together in a way that makes them 'so bad, they're good,' just like the breeds of dogs that are 'so ugly, they're cute.'

Cop At Lisa McVey House

No matter which side of the fence you may land on, here are the Lifetime movies that genuinely hit the mark.

Believe Me: The Abduction of Lisa McVey

This is a Canadian-American true crime film starring Katie Douglas, a Canadian actor who some might know from Ginny & Georgia.

Douglas plays Lisa McVey, a 17-year-old living in Tampa, Florida, with her negligent grandmother, Diane (Kim Horsman), and Diane's boyfriend, Morris Elwood (Bruno Verdoni).

Lisa McVey in Room

Her grandmother is relatively indifferent to the abuse Lisa endures at the hands of Morris, and Douglas's portrayal of this character is part of what makes the movie a step above others.

One night, on the way home from her job at a doughnut shop, Lisa is kidnapped by Bobby Joe Long (Rossif Sutherland).

The movie has some frustrating parts, as real cases do, and many aspects are hard to digest, but they did an excellent job of not prolonging them to the point of discomfort.

Lisa is brilliant and inspiringly resilient. Everything she thinks about and remembers while being held captive is only to her benefit.

Rossif Sutherland as Bobby Joe Long

Despite a horrible home situation, she never gives up. She is strength to its very core.

The story is intriguing and gripping. The action is spot on, and Douglas's acting is way above Lifetime's norm.

Surprisingly, so is the script for the movie as well. It can be difficult to convey such harrowing events.

Things like sexual assault, child abuse, incest, rape, and kidnapping are triggering subjects, but this movie does a great job of bringing awareness to the world of the real problems that most are lucky to be sheltered from.

Sgt. Pinkerton and Lisa McVey

Abducted: The Carlina White Story

This Lifetime ripped from the headlines movie is shocking, horrifying, and a parent's worst nightmare.

It tells the story of Carlina White (Keke Palmer), who was taken from a New York Hospital as a baby by Ann Pettway (Aunjanue Ellis).

In 1987, White's biological parents, Joy (Heather-Claire Nortey) and Carl (Eli Goree), took Carlina to the hospital when she was just 19 days old for a high fever.

Carlina and Biological Parents

Pettway experienced many miscarriages but fiercely wanted a baby.

After getting out of the psych ward, Pettway pretends to be a hospital nurse and secretly kidnaps Carlina and brings her to Bridgeport, CT.

Joy and Carl are distraught when they realize their daughter is missing. They put up posters, file a police report, and talk to the press.

Meanwhile, Pettway brings the new baby home to her family and raises her as her own with the help of her sister Cassandra (Afton Williamson).

Ann and Cassandra

The movie then fast forwards to Carlina, renamed Nedra/Netty by Pettway, as a teenager who we soon find out is pregnant.

We also see that Joy (now played by Sherri Shepherd) and Carly (Roger Cross) have split up and have their own families.

However, Joy never gives up looking for Carlina. This shows just how much of a toll losing a child takes on people.

Once again, the actors like Palmer, Ellis, Williamson, and Shepherd are part of the reason this movie is so highly recommended.

Keke Palmer as Carlina White

As much as the astonishing crime is part of the appeal, the movie is about so much more than that due to Elizabeth Hunter's crafty storytelling.

It broaches topics of hope, exploitation, recovery, class conflict, family issues, and nature vs. nurture without going over the top.

Hunter highlights what results from trauma rather than the more excitable, dramatic moments.

It is a real story showing the raw emotions of uncertainty, heartbreak, love, and the scars humans can leave on our lives.

Sherri Shepherd as Joy White

Murdaugh Murders: The Movie

In 2023, it was hard not to know the name, Murdaugh. Despite this being considered a dramatic reenactment, it is not too far off base.

The litany of allegations and crimes committed by a family that really came down to one man is genuinely jaw-dropping.

The drama was already there, but no one really knows what transpired during these crimes in the sense of the exact words said and the true thoughts of Alex Murdaugh.

Bill Pullman as Alex Murdaugh

This is a two-part movie that follows Alex (Bill Pullman), Maggie (Lauren K. Robek), and Paul (Curtis Tweedie) Murdaugh through Pual's fatal boat accident, their maides death, and the eventual death of Paul and Maggie with all the cover-ups in between.

Not to mention all the legal cases brought to Alex from his work at his family's law firm in South Carolina's low country.

He wanted so badly to maintain his privileged life that he was willing to do anything, and I mean anything, to keep it.

They were a highly respected family in South Carolina, or highly feared, whichever you deem fit, and the power they held was unsurmountable.

Paul Murdaugh

I mean, they were the judge, the jury, the prosecution, and the police.

Alex did whatever was necessary to protect his family, which included his other son, Buster, but he was not as big of a thorn in his father's side.

One of the first heinous cover-ups that is talked about is the death of Paul's friend Mallory, caused by him driving his boat drunk.

That gave the first look at how easy it is for Alex to devise a plan that puts the blame on someone else and is far away from the Murdaughs, and just how much pull he has with the legal system.

Mallory Beach and Anthony Cook

Not only that, but he has a lack of remorse as well.

The fact that one family got away with everything they did for so long makes this movie shocking and puts it on this list.

There is so much content. It is unbelievable.

Each crime, the boat crash, the maid's murder, Alex's embezzlement, and the murder of his wife and son, could each stand alone, each being their own movie.

Lauren K. Robek as Maggie Murdaugh

What's even crazier, those are just the crimes that could be proven.

More than just following a family, it shows the sadly true side of reality. The rich and powerful can get away with almost anything.

It's not just the Murdaughs. They are just the most public family who probably could've kept going if Alex hadn't murdered his son and wife.

All of it came together to be the last straw for the people around them, and during his actual trial, I was prepared to see him walk.

Don Hamilton and Alex Murdaugh

This addictive storyline made for an addictive movie. If you don't know all the details, sit down and enjoy.

Cleveland Abduction

This recommendation does not come lightly. It is terrifying, some parts are hard to watch, and it reveals the evil in this world.

Michelle Knight (Taryn Manning), Amanda Berry (Samantha Droke), and Georgina "Gina" DeJesus (Katie Sarife) went through hell and back, to say the least, at the hands of Ariel Castro (Raymond Cruz) in Cleveland, OH.

Taryn Manning as Michelle Knight

So, while the true-crime movie can teeter on the edge of being 'too agonizing to profit off of,' it reveals the brutal truth those women faced, making it hit the mark.

No one was sugarcoating their experience. Plus, Knight has done interviews with Dr. Phil and wrote the book on which the movie is based.

If you are unfamiliar, Ariel Castro abducted Michelle Knight, a 21-year-old single mother, while on the way to court.

She accepted a ride from him because she was in a rush, and he was the father of someone she knew.

Raymond Cruz as Ariel Castro

However, he held her captive and soon after abducted two more girls, Amanda Berry and Georgina DeJesus.

Knight's survival strength came through her faith in God and being reunited with her son.

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In their years of captivity, the three became friends, and together, they created a force against Castro's torture that is the definition of inspiration.

One of the girls, Amanda Berry, became pregnant with Castro's kid, and Knight delivered the baby.

Cleveland Abduction

Cruz and Manning's acting is top-notch, filling the roles with dexterity and awe.

That, along with the emotionally touching aspect of the girls' determination, makes it one of the best Lifetime movies.

Who Killed JonBenét?

This Lifetime movie looks at the notorious murder of JonBenét Ramsey, a 6-year-old beauty queen who was found dead in her home in Boulder, CO, in 1996.

JonBenét Ramsey

As someone who lived a street down from the Ramsey house in Boulder, I assure you that the house and this case are still being discussed.

Many theories and pointed fingers are still circulating about JonBenét's murder (Payton Lepinski).

The first finger was directed at 9-year-old brother, Burke Ramsey (Kiefer O'Reilly), who was accused and interrogated.

Patsy (Julia Campbell) and John Ramsey's (Michel Gill) reluctance to cooperate, plus a ransom note in Patsy's handwriting, made the guilt fall on them for quite some time.

Patsy, John, Burke Ramsey

The possibility of a random intruder and a kidnapping gone wrong is also a theory held by many.

The latter was brushed off fairly quickly by the police and the movie but not by the family or members of the public, making it disagreeable for some viewers. 

It's frustrating, yes, but so was the case itself.

The police had tunnel vision and BPD, and the lead investigator in real life was borderline incompetent, later being demoted for mishandling cases.

Police Outside of House

The crime scene was beyond what is considered to be disturbed, and the infamous ransom note left more questions than answers.

It's a case of competing theories, without a doubt.

What makes this dramatic reconstruction worth watching is how the sordid details are described in the movie.

It provides an understanding of a case that is one of the country's most absurd and enthralling mysteries.

JonBenét Funeral

I Am Elizabeth Smart

This movie details the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, who narrates it and, after watching it once, did not watch it again due to its accuracy.

In 2002, Smart (Alana Boden) was kidnapped in the middle of the night by Brian David Mitchell (Skeet Ulrich) in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee (Deirdre Lovejoy), were religious fanatics who subjected Smart to crazy religious rituals while holding her in an encampment for nine months.

Elizabeth, Brian, Wanda

Mitchell abuses Smart and tells her that his followers will kill her family if she doesn't listen to him.

She then becomes his 'second wife' and makes her pick a new biblical name.

He claims to receive visions from God and is a prophet named Immanuel.

It's an intense and unprecedented movie for Lifetime, completely recontextualizing suffering.

The Real Elizabeth Smart

In one scene, you hear Smart screaming and begging Brian to stop raping her. The camera then goes to the real-life Smart.

She asks, "Do you want it to stop?" then says, "So did I."

It's chilling. But it's this very aspect that makes it a triumph. Smart's narration adds depth in a way we never see.

She is impactful, poised, and astounding, only elevating the movie to something beyond comparison.

Elizabeth Smart

Girl in the Box

Girl in the Box is one of the most intense Lifetime movies.

It's the true story of Colleen Stan (Addison Timlin), a girl who, in 1977, tries to hitchhike from Eugene, Oregon, to California to surprise her friend on their birthday.

A couple named Cameron (Zane Holtz) and Janice Hooker (Zelda Williams) offer a ride, but only to kidnap her to keep her for Cameron's twisted sexual desires for seven years.

Colleen Stan in Car

They looked trusting, were young, and didn't seem bad.

However, this movie is a reminder that looks can be deceiving, as viewers realize in the beginning.

The two kept Colleen trapped in a box for up to 23 hours a day under their bed.

Cameron has seriously sick "desires," and Janice goes along with his torturing of other women because if it weren't for them, it would be her.

Zane Holtz as Cameron Hooker

It's a story of brainwashing, brutality, and heartbreak.

However, it is also a story of triumph and a grim reminder of the evils in this world who wear inviting faces.

A lot happens in this movie, making it hard to believe someone endured this and that anyone could do it.

Lifetime movies. The term "hit-or-miss" would be an understatement.

Addison Timlin as Colleen Stan

However, the movies in the article are beyond "hits" and will have you rethinking the classic Lifetime movie stereotype.

Comment below which ones you agree or disagree with!

Eve Pierpont is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow her on X.

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