Best crime dramas on Netflix: great detective series to watch
It’d be criminal to miss the best crime dramas on Netflix.
There's something cathartic about watching the best crime dramas. Given true crime dramas have gripped the world in the past few years, the genre as a whole can be pretty exhausting. When you’re done debating your Adnans and Averys in Serial and Making a Murderer, it can be almost relaxing to settle down with a cuppa and some fictional Netflix detective series.
UPDATE: The fifth season of Better Call Saul is well underway now and cements the show as one of the greatest of all time. While it took a while for it to release itself from its Breaking Bad shackles, the new season brings it closer to BB as ever but still retaining its wit and independence. Brilliant stuff but we're disappointed its not even making the top 10 of our best crime dramas on Netflix guide. Get voting!
Here’s a round up of the best crime dramas on Netflix that you can watch right now. No need to wait on tenterhooks for the next episode to appear, because seriously, what kind of a person just watches one episode of a TV series anymore? Certainly not the ones going through our best Netflix TV shows article.
Few genres lend themselves so readily to binge-watching as crime, by virtue of the fact that there’s a mystery to be solved and therefore a reason that you have to get to the end right now.
Here are some crime shows that should be eating up all your weekends for the foreseeable future, or if you’re looking for something else, make sure to check our guide to thebest sci-fi TV series and best Marvel movies.
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Best Netflix crime dramas
This show has a novel premise, with two FBI agents from the bureau’s Behavioral Science Unit interviewing a laundry list of real-life and well-known serial killers in order to try to find out what’s going through their heads. We’ve already seen portrayals of the likes of Ed Kemper and Montie Rissell, while the upcoming second season is expected to introduce audiences to Charles Manson and, according to some rumours, David Berkowitz.
When Sherlock launched in 2010 it immediately had the feeling of a show that would be beloved for years, as if it had already been around for decades but we’d only just noticed. Even once you know how all the crimes were committed it still bears repeat viewing for the beautifully drawn friendship between Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.
3. Line of Duty
The most popular drama series ever broadcast on BBC Two, this thrilling show about a police anti-corruption unit set in the West Midlands is now available on Netflix. The story follows Steve Arnott, a Detective Sargeant who refuses to cover-up the shooting of an innocent man, and exposes the dirty underside of the British Police. The whole thing is only heightened by the fact that the actual British police refused to cooperate with the show's producers, so they instead relied on anonymous information from serving officers.
4. Peaky Blinders
If Gangs of New York had a sequel and that sequel was set in Birmingham, this is what it would be. An absolute British triumph of television starring Cillian Murphy as crime boss Tommy Shelby as he runs rackets post World War I with his flat-capped gang, The Peaky Blinders. Notable appearances from Sam Neill other big names couple together to make it one of the best things the BBC has made in years.
5. Breaking Bad
Obviously. We’re not going to berate you if you haven’t seen it yet, but you know you’ve got a treat in store when you do get round to it, and that you’re probably going to have to cancel all your plans until you’ve finished it.
One of the best British crime thrillers of recent years, with Idris Elba playing the growling Detective Chief Inspector who blurs the lines between right and wrong in order to get the job done. As the series develops, the crimes stretch across multiple episodes and the complications of Luther’s life become ever more tangled, making it almost impossible to watch just one episode.
7. The Sinner
The Sinner upends the classic crime show format by showing the bloody murder – and who did it – from the get-go. Instead, we spend a fascinating season investigating why the crime was committed in the first place. Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman put in totally pitch-perfect performances and we now have a second season to enjoy.
8. Happy Valley
Across two seasons, police sergeant Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) grapples with the seedy, drug-plagued communities of West Yorkshire while dealing with her alcoholic sister and the suicide of her daughter. But, as if she hasn’t got enough to deal with, things soon take an even darker turn for her family. Lancashire won a BAFTA for her stunning performance. And season three is incoming.
Slotting straight into the same universe as the original Cohen Brothers film, Fargo is a charming (and bloody) indie-fied crime series for the coffee house generation. All ironic jumpers, funny characterisations, suspense and Billy Bob Thornton sporting the worst haircut of his career. Essential viewing for anybody with eyeballs. Three seasons are now available on Netflix.
10. Manhunt: Unabomber
You might already be familiar with the infamous hunt for the Unabomber, who carried out a number of bombings from 1978 onwards. Whatever you know about the case, though, it’s well worth checking out this fictionalised account of the search, which stars Paul Bettany as the terrorist and Sam Worthington as Jim Fitzgerald, a real FBI agent involved in the case. The miniseries includes just eight 45-minute episodes, so you should be able to binge your way through it in no time at all.
In its third thrilling season - with a separate Narcos: Mexico drama to boot - now is the perfect time to watch José Padilha’s series about the rise of notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Filmed in Colombia and following Escobar’s life from 1970 to 1992, there’s plenty of action in this true-to-life account. The show even includes real archival footage of the era for an extra (frighteningly) realistic feel.
Dark quickly transcends the crime genre and morphs into a freaky, truly scary, brain-expanding exploration of time and space. But it keeps at its core a gripping mystery of kids that keep disappearing from a small town. Watch in German but with English subtitles – the English dubbing is a bit naff.
Based on true events, the series follows a young woman (Kaitlyn Dever) accused of lying to the police about a rape, and two detectives (Toni Collette and Merritt Wever) who begin to find the truth as they investigate a spate of similar attacks. It's not the easiest watch and it will almost certainly make you cry and shout with frustration, but it's compelling storytelling of the treatment of sexual assault victims, with all twists and turns you expect from a true crime drama. There are eight episodes in total, each lasting approx. 50 minutes.
14. White Collar
As slick as crime shows get, this stars Matt Bomer as a high class conman who makes a deal with the FBI after he breaks out of prison and is recaptured. He suggests that he uses his considerable devious skills to help his captors bag bigger fish in return for a life lived on the outside. The pleasure is in never being sure who’s tricking whom.
15. Better Call Saul
OK, so it might not have the same edge-of-your-seat discomfort as Breaking Bad but the televisual return of Saul Goodman definitely has its own weight. Charting the rise (ok, flatline) of Walter White’s future lawyer from morally challenged good guy to hustlin’ legal trickster, it’s a modern classic in its own right. The fifth season of the show is now on Netflix, so get bingeing!
A smart – and at times very, very dark – reworking of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon does the impossible: turns Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter back from a pantomime villain into a legitimately scary monster. It doesn’t rush to trade off the more familiar elements from the book or previous movies, instead using a “killer of the week” procedural format to develop the relationship between the psychotic Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and possibly psychotic FBI agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). Tasty.
17. Sons of Anarchy
A series that follows an outlaw biker gang as they run guns, drugs and shoot their way through rival gangs like there’s no tomorrow and Scarface never existed. The whole thing is based around Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which, let’s face, it is a bona fide classic. Throw in motorbikes and more Mexican stand-off situations than you could throw a sombrero at and you’ve got some seriously addictive telly. We’re even set to get a spinoff soon, in the form of Mayans MC.
What better subject matter for a crime series than the greatest unsolved murder case of all time – Jack the Ripper? This time though, detectives pursue a Ripper copycat killer in modern-day London. It’s gritty, gripping stuff, and likely to make you a mini Ripper expert as you watch. The second series focuses on a copycat of the Krays’ grisly crimes, while the third series recreates the Ratcliff highway murders. It’s nice to get a bit of a history lesson with your crime.
19. Criminal: UK
It may not have been out long but this Netflix Original is an instant hit. Set in within the four walls of an interrogation room, London investigators go after three suspects, each accused of some pretty horrific crimes. It’s packed full of Britain’s best including David Tennant, Hayley Atwell, Lee Ingleby (Luther, Line of Duty), Rochenda Sandall (Line of Duty, Bandersnatch) and playing the big boss Katherine Kelly. If three episodes isn’t enough for you, there are nine more episodes set across France, Germany and Spain - each with different casts and storylines.
20. The StrangerWatch now on Netflix
British crime drama is usually seen on the Beeb and ITV, so it's great to see Netflix try its had at Brit crime and this one is a corker. When a stranger enters the life of Adam Price, something is revealed about his wife that turns his life upside down. This is a twisty, turny thriller that gets a little confusing but is a lot of fun.
21. Don't F*ck with CatsWatch on Netflix now
You don't want to miss this. It is one of the strangest tales to ever hit Netflix and is the true story of a cat killer and how trying to figure out who this person is, another huge revelation is revealed. We don't want to spoil this one, but if you want a compelling watch then this is for you.
22. SafeWatch now on Netflix
Safe is a cracking British thriller with a stellar cast. Dexter's Michael C Hall is Tom a widowed surgeon who lives a peaceful life until his eldest daughter goes missing. Over the episodes we find out that the rich neighbourhood he lives in is not quite what is seems.
23. Orange Is The New Black
The US doesn’t need John Oliver to dictate the failings of its penal system for comedic effect – no, it already has Orange Is The New Black, the pitch black comedy based on the experiences of Piper Kerman and her memoir about living for a year in a women’s prison. The episodes just get better and better and with season six now added there’s no excuse for missing out on this show.
Undercover follows stellar British lawyer Maya Cobbina (Sophie Okonedo) as she fights to save the life of a man on death row in the States. But the real drama is about to explode back home when something about her husband’s past is revealed. Come for the gripping plot, stay for Okonedo’s out-of-this-world performance.
This noir detective drama has actually been made twice - one with Welsh dialogue and once with English. The latter is on Netflix, and it follows the story of a troubled detective on the run from his London past. With murders and small town secrets a-plenty, it’s an incredibly gripping show that doesn’t lose its human element.