The 50 Best Miniseries of All-Time

Updated June 6, 2024 • Staff

One and done, that's how miniseries seasons work. It's always so much more enriching to watch 4 different stories with different casts and themes than watching 4 seasons of the same show. So in this list, we count down the best mini-series of all time.

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50.

Black Cake

We don’t really know our parents the same way they know about us. Black Cake recognizes this, and takes that discrepancy to create a compelling mystery, expanding on that hidden world with themes of generational trauma, intercultural dynamics, and lost heritage. With the show doing justice to the book’s moments, the mystery of Eleanor Bennett’s former life is already compelling in and of itself, but it’s made even more so as her children try to make sense of it, changing their strained dynamic. It’s layered, well-written and deeply personal. It’s a unique story that has to be told.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Adrienne Warren, Ashley Thomas, Cara Horgan, Chipo Chung, Faith Alabi, Lashay Anderson, Mia Isaac, Rebecca Calder, Rupert Evans, Simon Wan, Tom McKay
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch Black Cake on Hulu for free
49.

The Sympathizer

After the only war the Americans have lost, American post-Vietnam war portrayals tend to lean as patriotic revenge fantasies or romanticized disillusionment, but rarely do they portray the people caught in between. HBO’s The Sympathizer is an adaptation of the Pulitzer winning novel of the same name, and while it’s mainly an American production, Park Chan-wook and Robert Downey Jr.’s collaboration sticks to the Captain’s perspective, as the unnamed mole protagonist writes his confession years after from a jail in Vietnam. Chan-wook excellently mirrors his approach to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s agile storytelling, shifting time periods and languages the same way the Captain shifts perspectives, though Nguyen’s dry humor sometimes wavers when translated to the screen. Still, it’s certainly a well-crafted, ambitious depiction coming from a unique perspective.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Alan Trong, Duy Nguyen, Fred Nguyen Khan, Hoa Xuande, Kiều Chinh, Nguyễn Cao Kỳ Duyên, Phan Gia Nhật Linh, Robert Downey Jr., Sandra Oh, Toan Le, Vy Le
Rating: TV-MA
48.

Landscapers

In Landscapers, what could’ve been a tedious story based on yet another true-crime affair is transformed into a fantastic fable that challenges and reimagines truth in imaginative ways. It’s more like a play than anything, complete with revolving sets, multicolor lights, and the occasional breaking of the fourth wall. But when it’s not staged like a theater show, then it has fun experimenting with form and genre. The series is masterfully edited to blend reality with the cinema Susan and Cristopher love so much, so sometimes they’re in soft-focus black and white, other times they’re in technicolor flair. It’s a technical wonder, but thanks to Colman and Thewlis’ performances, it’s also a twisted love story and an emotional roller coaster.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Actor: Daniel Rigby, David Hayman, David Thewlis, Dipo Ola, Felicity Montagu, Kate OFlynn, Olivia Colman, Samuel Anderson
Rating: TV-MA
47.

Godless

Very violent, very Western, and, in a breath of fresh air: very female. Godless is a grim and visually stunning series about a small New Mexico town populated almost entirely by women, including Alice Fletcher, a reserved and self-reliant widow played by Michelle Dockery. Roy Goode (played by Jeff Daniels, who won an Emmy for it) is an outlaw chased by a much worse outlaw, Frank Griffin, who is taking in by the mysterious, gun-toting widows. Written and directed by Scott Frank and executive-produced by Steven Soderbergh, Godless is an honest and powerful show with amazing performances. So amazing, it's hard to single one of them out. If you love Westerns but sometimes find them too foreseeable, this show is for you.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Drama, Western
Actor: Jack O'Connell, Jack O'Connell, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Sula, Joleen Baughman, Kim Coates, Luke Robertson, Merritt Wever, Michelle Dockery, Rio Alexander, Sam Waterston, Samuel Marty, Scoot McNairy, Tantoo Cardinal, Thomas Brodie-Sangster
Rating: TV-MA
46.

Sharp Objects

Based on Gillian Flynn's 2006 debut novel, the two actors are showcased by director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club). Amy Adams stars as the troubled crime reporter Camille Preaker, who investigates a serial murder in her hometown after a stint at a psychiatric hospital. The second female lead is Patricia Clarkson, who stars as Camille's oppressive mother, a small-town socialite. Uncovering the mystery of the city of Wind Gap, anti-hero Camille must delve into the town's gruesome history well as that of her own family, while also confronting her trauma and self-harming behavior. This three-pronged plot and great acting makes for a tense thriller drama. A slow-burner without being slow—grim and disturbing—and one that also packs a lot of insight into the ramifications of abuse.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Actor: Amy Adams, Chris Messina, David Sullivan, Eliza Scanlen, Elizabeth Perkins, Henry Czerny, Lulu Wilson, Madison Davenport, Matt Craven, Miguel Sandoval, Patricia Clarkson, Sophia Lillis, Sydney Sweeney, Taylor John Smith, Violet Brinson
Rating: TV-MA
45.

The Looming Tower

The incredible script for this Hulu-produced series comes courtesy of Lawrence Wright, who wrote the Pulitzer-winning book the series is based on, and Dan Futterman, the Oscar-nominated writer who gave us Capote. It is an eye-opening, semi-fictional account of how the CIA and the FBI took conflicting approaches to counteract Al-Qaeda in the lead-up to 9/11, withholding information from each other, and obstructing a unified strategy to combat terror. The disagreements between the two security services are numerous and the relationship between their staff is hostile. At the top, Jeff Daniels plays John O'Neill, the seasoned head of the FBI's Counterterrorism Center, while Peter Sarsgaard stars as Martin Schmidt, the chief of the CIA's respective facility, who are both amazing. Then there's Ali Soufan, played by Tahar Rahim, who is one of only handful FBI agents who speak Arabic back in 1998, just three years before the Towers fell. With all this testosterone flying about, the women in this show are marginalized to the fairly weak romantic storylines, but other than that the series gets a lot of stuff right. Writing, acting, and action are on point and make The Looming Tower a gripping as well as insightful watch.

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Drama, Thriller, War & Politics
Actor: Alec Baldwin, Annie Parisse, Bill Camp, Jeff Daniels, Louis Cancelmi, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard, Tahar Rahim, Virginia Kull, Wrenn Schmidt
Director: Alex Gibney, Ali Selim, Craig Zisk, John Dahl, Michael Slovis
Rating: TV-MA

Free Watching Options:

Watch The Looming Tower on Hulu for free
44.

Vigil

Vigil is a murder mystery/political thriller set in the depths of British waters, particularly in the nuclear-powered missile submarine HMS Vigil. When a navy officer dies and a fishing trawler disappears at the same time and place, Detective Chief Inspector Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) is sent in to investigate the case.

While Vigil mostly dove under the radar when it first came out last year, the BBC production is drawing in new audiences as it streams on Peacock. Watching it, it’s easy to forget that this isn’t a box-office production, because it looks and sounds every bit like one. It’s got a massive budget, an epic scale, a thrilling political premise, and talented actors across the board—what’s not to love?

Our staff rating: 8.1/10
Genre: Crime, Drama
Actor: Adam James, Anjli Mohindra, Connor Swindells, Gary Lewis, Martin Compston, Paterson Joseph, Rose Leslie, Shaun Evans, Stephen Dillane, Suranne Jones
Rating: TV-MA
43.

Flint Town

Since the 1960s, Flint, Michigan, has experienced a series of shocks. When General Motors downsized their workforce by several 10.000, the town's population nearly halved. Unsurprisingly, it later became known for being one of the most dangerous cities in the US and for off-the-charts crime statistics. Since 2014, Flint again rose to tragic fame for a public health emergency due to contamination of its local water supply. Flint Town homes in on this perpetual state of crisis through the eyes of the local police department, who had to grapple with this dire scenario, while losing more funding year over year due to the city's deteriorating financial situation. The few officers that are left for policing are at breaking point. The result is a gripping and rich docuseries with a host of strong characters. But it is also a brutal and sobering account of the extent to which an American city is being allowed to fail.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Action & Adventure, Crime, Documentary
Actor: James Tolbert, Karen Weaver, Wayne Suttles
Director: Drea Cooper, Jessica Dimmock, Zackary Canepari
Rating: TV-MA
42.

The Staircase

The latest addition to the murder mini-series genre is the incredible thriller “The Staircase.” It originally aired in 2004, but the producers took the same director and allowed him to add new episodes in 2018 to complete the story. 

The plot: A famous American novelist’s wife is found dead, and he is accused of killing her. His life comes under scrutiny as everyone asks whether she died in an accident or was murdered. If you liked their other hit, “Making a Murderer,” you will love this. You should also definitely check out “The Keepers” or Netflix’s binge-worthy crime documentary, “Evil Genius.”

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Mystery
Actor: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
Director: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade
Rating: TV-MA
41.

Formula 1: Drive to Survive

There are only 20 seats in Formula 1 each year, meaning that drivers are not only racing to win but to be kept on the roster. With the big stars, Ferrari and Mercedes, habitually shrouded in secrecy, Formula 1: Drive to Survive focuses more on the back of the grid. Lewis Hamilton, the five-time world champion, is rarely seen, for example, giving more room for other stories to unfold, including that of Günther Steiner, the Italian team principal of the Haas Formula One Team. That is not to say there are no big reveals. Even if you think Formula 1 is a decadent, testosterone-driven sports for rich Europeans, Drive to Survive might be welcome crash course into what makes this sport so appealing for many and might also have the potential to change your mind. If not, it is still a very well-made, slick, and engaging docuseries that will have enthusiasts and newcomers thoroughly entertained.

Our staff rating: 8.2/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Charles Leclerc
Rating: N/A

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