Some of the most groundbreaking and award-winning TV shows over the past four decades have come from HBO. From the early days of The Sopranos to the current cultural phenomenon of Game of Thrones, HBO has continuously raised the bar for what television can achieve. Here are 20 of the best HBO TV shows of all time.
1. Mare of Easttown (2021)
A detective (Kate Winslet) in a small Pennsylvania town investigates a local murder while dealing with personal problems and a quickly unraveling community. This seven episodes-long mini-series made a big splash, earning four Prime Time Emmys. The show accurately captured the small-town charm of Delco, and Kate Winslet and Evan Peters gave phenomenal performances. There were never any plans for a second season, but series creator Brad Ingelsby said it's not out of the question due to its success and popularity.
2. Westworld (2016-2022)
In a futuristic Wild West theme park, the artificially intelligent hosts begin to gain consciousness and question their existence while human guests indulge their primal desires. While Westworld was ultimately canceled, it garnered a significant fan base thanks to its ambitious and brilliantly executed first season.
As the seasons went on, the plot became more complicated and began to lose or disappoint its fans. However, after a solid first two seasons and a misstep in season three, they were heading back on track in the fourth season when their plans were cut short by HBO pulling the plug. It remains one of the most interesting sci-fi premises and examples of intriguing world-building on television.
3. Band of Brothers (2001)
Based on the true story of a World War II unit, this mini-series follows the soldiers of Easy Company as they fight their way through Europe and witness the horrors of war. With an impressive 9.4 rating on IMDb and 6 Primetime Emmys, it earned critical acclaim and became a cultural phenomenon.
4. The Sopranos (1999-2007)
Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), a New Jersey mob boss, struggles to balance his criminal enterprise with his personal life as he seeks therapy and tries to keep his family together. As the series progresses, the line between Tony's personal and professional life becomes increasingly blurred.
5. True Blood (2008-2014)
In a world where vampires have come out of the coffin, a small Louisiana town becomes the center of supernatural activity as vampires, werewolves, and other creatures battle for power and survival. The characters become embroiled in increasingly dangerous and complex conflicts involving powerful vampire and supernatural organizations, religious extremists, and their struggles with love, addiction, and mortality.
6. Succession (2018-2023)
The dysfunctional and wealthy Roy family battles for control of their global media and entertainment conglomerate as the aging patriarch's health declines. As the family battles for power, alliances are formed and broken, secrets are revealed, and everyone's true colors are exposed in this darkly comedic and satirical take on the ultra-wealthy and their cutthroat quest for power.
7. Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
Based on George R.R. Martin's book series, this epic fantasy drama follows the political intrigue, warfare, and supernatural forces at play in the fictional world of Westeros. Throughout its eight seasons, Game of Thrones captivated audiences with its epic storytelling, stunning visuals, and memorable characters.
It became a cultural phenomenon that spawned numerous spin-offs, merchandise, and worldwide fandom, despite its disastrous eighth season, which we should all pretend never happened.
8. True Detective (2014-Present)
Each season of this anthology series follows different detectives investigating grisly crimes while dealing with their personal demons. The standout season that put this show on the map was its first season, starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in some of the darkest roles of their careers.
9. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-Present)
Comedian Larry David plays a fictionalized version of himself in this improv-heavy comedy series that follows his daily life and absurd misadventures. With Larry's penchant for getting into awkward and cringe-worthy situations, the show provides a hilarious and sometimes uncomfortable look at modern social norms and etiquette.
10. Watchmen (2019)
Watchmen is set in an alternate history where superheroes are outlawed, and a new generation of masked vigilantes rise up to confront racism, authoritarianism, and a conspiracy that threatens the world.
11. The White Lotus (2021-2023)
This darkly comedic series follows the guests and staff at a luxury resort in Hawaii as their idyllic vacation turns into a chaotic and tense experience. Through its eclectic cast of characters and their interactions, the show satirizes the excesses and absurdities of luxury tourism and the larger issues of class, privilege, and entitlement.
12. Big Little Lies (2017-2019)
In a wealthy California town, a group of women navigates their complicated relationships, secrets, and scandals while dealing with the aftermath of a tragic event. The show's exploration of domestic abuse, motherhood, and female friendship struck a chord with audiences and critics, earning multiple awards and praise for its powerful performances and nuanced storytelling.
13. The Last of Us (2023-Present)
Based on the popular video game, this upcoming series follows a man and a young girl as they travel across a post-apocalyptic America, facing danger and forming a deep bond. As Joel and Ellie traverse a post-apocalyptic landscape fraught with danger and despair, they must confront their demons and make difficult choices in a world where survival often comes at a significant cost.
14. Euphoria (2019-Present)
A group of students navigates the complexities of adolescence, addiction, and identity in a world of social media. Through its raw and unflinching portrayal of the highs and lows of adolescence, the show tackles a range of issues, including mental health, addiction, and the impact of social media on young people's lives. The show has faced controversy for what some viewers deem as an inappropriate depiction of teenagers.
15. The Wire (2002-2008)
Set in Baltimore, this critically acclaimed series explores the interconnected worlds of law enforcement, drug dealers, politicians, and citizens caught in the middle. With its gritty and realistic depiction of urban life, the show exposes the systemic flaws and corruption in America's criminal justice system while offering a nuanced and empathetic portrayal of its diverse characters and their struggles.
16. Chernobyl (2019)
Chernobyl was a miniseries that ran in 2019 on HBO about the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The series explores a lot of the untold stories of the incident, including the people who were forced to stay behind and clean up in the aftermath of this horrible man-made catastrophe. It's only five episodes but it's worth a watch!
17. Rome (2005-2007)
Rome only ran for two seasons, but the show tried to account for what life looked like in the final few days of the Roman Republic. This dramatic series dramatized the lives of the everyday people and those in power as the greatest empire was about to fall.
18. Veep (2012-2019)
When former Senator Selina Meyer becomes Vice President of the United States, she realizes the job she just worked so hard to get is nothing like she thought. The show follows as Meyer puts out political fires and tries to deal with her new title. The show stars the hilarious Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer, making this show extremely funny.
19. Deadwood (2004-2006)
Set in the town of Deadwood, South Dakota, this show follows the stories that came out of the Custer massacre in 1876 as the town sinks into a land of lawlessness. The stories of the three men and the rest of the town intertwine with each other, creating a riveting Western show to watch. The show was on for three seasons before ending in 2006.
20. Barry (2018-2023)
Barry has just finished its five-year run, and during that time, fans loved watching this show. It stars Bill Hader as Barry, a hitman from the Midwest who decides he is going to go to Los Angeles to execute a hit on an aspiring actor, but he ends up finding himself in the middle of the LA theater scene with a community acting group.