The Staircase, starring Academy Award winner Colin Firth and Toni Collette airs its final episode on June 9th, 2022. This true-crime miniseries exemplifies HBO’s ability over the years to capture provocative yet believable stories. Superior production value bringing real-life and fictional dramas to the small screen has become the expectation of TV viewers around the world with HBO holding the torch for some of the best-created miniseries of all times.
The TV fans of Ranker voted for the best HBO had to offer, showcasing a rich menu of period dramas, thrillers, true-life crime dramas, and zany comedy-dramas, all exhibiting HBO’s superb storytelling even around difficult subjects.
Note: Ranker lists are live and continue to accrue votes, so some rankings may have changed after this publishing.
10 Generation Kill (2008)
Generation Kill, a war drama by the creators of The Wire, David Simon, and Ed Burns, is based on the viewpoint of Rolling Stone’s reporter, Evan Wright, who joins the Recon Marines in the 2003 attack on Baghdad. The growing confusion and raw disillusion of the platoon and battalion Wright has joined is seen in the strong performances from actors like Alexander Skarsgård.
The popularity of this series can be attributed to the fact that the viewer gets a true insider perspective of how it really was the first few weeks of the Iraq War. This is only complemented by highly authentic fight scenes and battle moments capturing the chaotic, disorganized unfurling of the attack and hunt for Saddam Hussein. With 11 nominations and 3 Emmy wins, its raw appeal placed it firmly on Ranker’s list.
9 Landscapers (2021)
Landscapers, starring the iconic Olivia Coleman from The Crown, redefines how a true-crime series is unraveled by its dark yet intimate portrayal of the Nottinghamshire couple, Susan and Christopher Edwards who managed to hide the murder of Susan’s parents for over a decade.
The whimsical and artistic rendering of the story compels the viewer to try to comprehend how this delightful couple who love the films of Gerard Depardieu could have committed such an act of horror. The popularity of Landscapers rests not only on Olivia Coleman’s well-deserved reputation for bringing to life complex, bizarre characters but also on Director Will Sharpe’s ability to reel the viewer into this web of real-life dark fantasy normally reserved for art-house movies.
8 Sharp Objects (2018)
Dark crime dramas continue to dominate the Ranker list with Sharp Objects. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) the riveting performances of the troubled crime reporter Camille Preaker played by Amy Adams is augmented by the equally charged portrayal of her critical mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson).
Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, the series according to the author almost had a spinoff, The Woman in White, based on a key scene where a young boy claims that the girl who was murdered, Natalie, was taken by the Women in White. The subtext of female mythology and rage gives an interesting texture to this series and possible reason for its continued popularity. The investigation of the unlikely murder of two young girls in Wind Gap, Missouri earned Clarkson the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress as well as earning the series multiple SAG and Emmy nominations.
7 The White Lotus (2021)
The White Lotus is a comedy-drama with a sinister undertone cleverly layered on top of the comedic prowess of Jennifer Coolidge. Standout performances by Alexandra Daddario (True Detective, Percy Jackson films) and Jake Lacy harness the viewer’s attention along with the decadent and zany events surrounding a group of strangers spending a week in a tropical resort.
The popularity of The White Lotus could be attributed to its satirical treatment of today’s wealthy society. Class lines between the rich and those that serve them with the threat of an impending murder gives a complexity to the plot and a need to find out the dark truth, a common thread seen in many of HBO’s hits.
6 The Night Of (2016)
Beautifully shot and paced to keep viewers on the edge, The Night Of shows the aftermath of a night out with a charming stranger whose death falls squarely on Ahmed’s character and whose innocence is hard to prove.
The popularity of this New York-based crime drama firmly rests on the silent yet strong performances from Oscar award-winning Riz Ahmed as the Pakistani-American suspect matched by the infallible John Turturro as his defense attorney. The subtext of racial profiling and fall from innocence gives the viewer a lot to think about it. Based on the critically acclaimed BBC show, Criminal Justice which aired in 2008, this series received many accolades including 13 Emmy nominations and five Emmy wins.
5 The Pacific (2010)
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hank’s creation, The Pacific, is a war drama focusing on the Japanese-American conflict during World War II seen through the varied lives of three US Marines played by James Badge Dale, Joseph Mazzello, and Jon Seda (actor on La Brea, Chicago Fire).
Unlike more polished war dramas, this war drama put it all on the line and resonated with viewers by bringing to life the intense gory realism of war against the Japanese and its brutal repercussions. Cementing HBO’s track record of excellence in the war drama genre, The Pacific received 24 nominations and won eight Emmy Awards.
4 John Adams (2008)
Period drama is also represented in the Ranker list in the colorful, star-studded miniseries, John Adams which is an inspirational colonial story of America’s founding and President Adam’s pivotal role in US history.
This period drama is brilliantly directed by Tom Hooper whose authenticity in portraying everything from the mannerisms to the colors worn during the colonial era enhances the viewing experience. The important role of Abagail Adams in the success of her husband and birth of the nation is reminiscent to how history portrays Clementine Churchill. The nuanced and rich performances by Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney playing John and Abigail Adams earned this miniseries 4 Golden Globe Awards and 13 Emmy Awards.
3 Mare Of Easttown (2008)
The small-town crime thriller, Mare of Easttown, is equally gripping in its painful depiction of Mare Sheehan’s (Kate Winslet) despair and how small communities like Eastown deal with the murder of one of its young citizens.
The series beautifully unfolds the dark and interwoven web of suspects, bad life choices, and dreariness of existence accented by the great performances of Emmy award-winning Jean Smart as Mare’s mother. Similar to the movie Fargo, the understated performances and weight of unsolved murders grip the viewer from the first episode. The steely seemingly impenetrable character of Mare as a small-town detective sergeant contrasted against her history of being a local sports legend is performed magnificently by Kate Winslet and adds to the complexity and appeal of this miniseries.
2 Chernobyl (2019)
The five-part miniseries, Chernobyl, the baby of HBO and Sky UK, received global acclaim for its historical and creative integrity in depicting one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters along with the herculean cleanup efforts taken in 1986.
With the amazing Hollywood cast of Emily Watson, Paul Ritter, Jared Harris, and Stellan Skarsgård, who won a Golden Globe for his riveting performance, this series holds a permanent place for all fans of the miniseries format. Bringing a tragedy of this proportion to life is no small feat, but global reviews showed that this HBO series stirred its viewers imaginations by its realistic depiction of the large scale of helplessness. Viewers were also inspired by how beautifully Chernobyl depicted the courage to overcome these insurmountable odds contributing to the popularity of this series.
1 Band Of Brothers (2001)
With seven Emmy awards and twenty nominations, Band of Brothers, is in a league of its own setting the standard for HBO in its realistic but heart-wrenching portrayal of the true story of the “Easy Company”, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment who fought in World War II.
The comradery, innocence, and grim realities of this regiment who fought bravely in Europe managed to capture the pulse of viewers worldwide with its brilliantly crafted depiction of D-Day. The viewer gets to intimately know Easy Company and feels acutely its victories and losses contributing to its permanent place of excellence in the miniseries genre. Dream partners Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks created their magic in this top-ranked favorite of all time seen in its incomparable performances ranging from actors Damian Lewis to David Schwimmer. The series won seven Emmys and countless other awards including the Peabody which is no wonder given that it was inspired by the direct recollections of veterans.
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Author: Asha Nanavati