What makes for the best streaming movies and shows these days? The top shows are engaging, unique, appealing to a broad audience, and don’t leave you hanging. They can cover a lot of genres, but they’re always easy to binge and great for sharing with friends. Production quality, acting, plot, and art all factor into this, of course – and it’s a good sign when a show is getting a lot of buzz or winning significant awards.
It’s no surprise, then, that Netflix’s astronomical hit Stranger Things is our top pick. It combines watchability, buzz, excellent quality, and so many of the other factors that we looked for – plus it’s available on one of the easiest streaming services to get and binge with. However, make sure you take a look at all our choices for many different options: We’re sure there’s something for everyone.
Top 20 Best Streaming Movies and Shows
#1 Stranger Things (Netflix)
Award: TOP PICK
WHY WE LIKE IT: One of the most viewed streaming shows in the world and best streaming shows on Netflix, Stranger Things delivers on almost every level. This show about small-town kids unraveling giant conspiracies and dealing with psychic terrors from beyond is timeless, both an homage to stories of the past while exploring something entirely new. Plus, it balances the fine line of a family-friendly show with something for everyone from horror fans to those who like teen romance. Take a look at our Fire TV vs Roku 3 review to decide how you want to watch your favorite shows.
#2 The Americans (Amazon)
WHY WE LIKE IT: Spy thriller shows and movies can be tough to find these days, but The Americans is one of the best, with a simple but effective premise: Russian agents settle down in Washington D.C. and pretend to be a happy American family, while delving into all sorts of espionage. The show does an excellent job of playing with this concept without getting too ridiculous, making for incredibly bingeable TV. This is among the best shows on Amazon.
#3 Atlanta (Hulu)
WHY WE LIKE IT: Atlanta is a fascinating look at, well, Atlanta – specifically the underground music scene and tensions of the city, as explored by mastermind Donald Glover. The story follows two cousins trying to make it big in Atlanta’s rap scene to win fame and help out their families. More seasons are on the way for this hit show, and it’s easy to see why.
#4 Better Call Saul (Netflix)
WHY WE LIKE IT: While Better Call Saul is a prequel show of sorts to Breaking Bad, you don’t really need to know or remember Breaking Bad to appreciate this remarkable show. It follows Saul Goodman, an attorney who isn’t quite a con man, trying to do the best he can by juggling life, family problems, dangerous criminal connections, morals, and romance. It has even more wry humor than Breaking Bad, but with a core of meaningful drama that’s sure to impress. This is definitely one of the best shows on Netflix.
#5 Big Mouth (Netflix)
WHY WE LIKE IT: On paper, Big Mouth sounds audacious – a quirky adult animated show voiced by comedians and exploring puberty in lurid detail. In practice it’s also audacious, but works incredibly well and has won acclaim as a bold push for sex education and empathy for tweens going through all the changes puberty can hit them with… plus a lot of humor and hormone monsters, of course. If you haven’t tried it out yet, give it a shot.
#6 Bob’s Burgers (Hulu)
WHY WE LIKE IT: Bob’s Burgers quickly found a niche as a family-friendly animated comedy about a family trying to run a small business burger joint, and getting into crazy adventures more or less every day. There’s a reason it’s gone on for so many successful seasons, as there’s a character for everyone in the family to identify with, and an ultimately heartwarming plot that doesn’t rely nearly as much on zany humor as its alternatives.
#7 The Boys (Amazon)
WHY WE LIKE IT: The Boys skyrocketed to become one of Amazon’s most viewed shows of all time within just a few weeks after it was released. Based on a comic series, the show is a gritty re-telling of a Justice League-like band of superheroes who are actually corporate-controlled sleazebags and psychopaths – and a band of underground resistance fighters trying to take them down. It’s dark, funny, and has a ton of memorable roles, so it’s no surprise so many people got hooked.
#8 Devs (Hulu)
WHY WE LIKE IT: If you’re looking for original content that’s truly, you know, original, you should really try Devs. Hulu’s show explores software development, quantum computing, and reality-bending theories like nothing has before. It’s a bit wild, but incredibly fun to binge. Plus, as a miniseries the story is complete and easy to digest without investment in a lot of seasons (something else we like to see). You’ll need the best streaming device so that you can watch this show.
#9 The Expanse (Amazon)
WHY WE LIKE IT: If you sorely miss Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones, The Expanse should be your next binge of choice – even more so since Amazon rescued the show and began producing more seasons to wrap up the story. The show follows groups of haves and have-nots in a new “wild west” era as earth colonizes the solar system – often without concern for human lives in the process.
#10 The Good Place (Netflix, Hulu)
WHY WE LIKE IT: The Good Place is another unique creation that’s hard to describe, and impossible to explain without spoilers. It’s a comedy, a philosophy class, and a drama about good and evil all at the same time: The series follows a small group of souls as they explore the afterlife and find that things are a little more complicated than anyone expected. That makes for an excellent show whether you’re laughing or crying, and easily one of the greatest sitcoms of the decade.
#11 The Handmaid’s Tale
WHY WE LIKE IT: The now-famous story follows a “handmaid,” a female slave in a dark version of American future ruled by a harsh theocracy. Starring Elizabeth Moss, the show deals with escape, revolution, revenge and core imbalances in society. Think of it as a drama-focused version of Hunger Games for a much more adult audience – and a show that constantly delivers, even when it’s hard to watch.
#12 Knives Out (Netflix, Amazon)
WHY WE LIKE IT: Knives Out is a brilliant movie with an all-star cast and original plot courtesy director Rian Johnson. Mimicking the crime novels of the 20th century, the story follows a detective trying to solve the murder of a rich novelist, and dealing with his bizarre clan (all of them suspects) along the way. It’s funny, weird, and surprisingly insightful.
#13 The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
WHY WE LIKE IT: Well-deserved of its awards, the show follows an ambitious housewife in late 1950s NYC who discovers she wants more – specifically, she wants to become a comedian in underground clubs. This upends the lives of everyone around her, and both hilarity and drama ensue. Featuring brilliant character roles from some of today’s leading comedic actors, Maisel is fun to watch, easy to follow, and overall incredibly enjoyable.
#14 Mr. Robot (Amazon)
WHY WE LIKE IT: Brilliantly shot and plotted, Mr. Robot follows a hacker that wants to get out of a dead-end life and do… something else. As a result, he gets involved in an underground of hacking, crime, social resistance, corporate greed, and mind-bending twists. There’s not much else to say without spoilers, but if this techie masterpiece isn’t on your list, make sure that it gets there. If you don’t have a streaming device, take a look at our Apple TV vs Roku 3 comparison.
to determine what’s best for you #15 Ramy (Hulu)
WHY WE LIKE IT: Ramy sometimes gets billed as a comedy, but there’s more drama than anything in this fascinating look at the first-generation Muslim in America, trying to navigate millennial life and faith at the same time. It’s heartfelt and often heartbreaking, but refreshing in its honest and pathos – and yes, the comedic moments are great, too.
#16 Sex Education (Netflix)
WHY WE LIKE IT: A sleeper hit from Netflix starring Asa Butterfield, Sex Education follows a mother and teenage son who both try using sex therapy skills to make a business and manage their lives – often to both disastrous and hilarious effect. It’s not exactly realistic, but it’s very fun and incredibly charming… plus Netflix is eager to keep this hit going.
#17 Space Force (Netflix)
WHY WE LIKE IT: Space Force was marketed as a comedy similar to The Office, also starring Steve Carrell, but focused on the fictional future of the new (non-fictional) Space Force of the United States. But the show proved to be more than that – a more serious look at people with lots of responsibility stuck in positions that make them uncomfortable, doing the best they can. The humor is great but stay for the well-done somber moments.
#18 The Umbrella Academy (Netflix)
WHY WE LIKE IT: Now going on its second season, The Umbrella Academy follows a batch of misfit children who were trained to be superheroes and now, as adults, must reckon with the abuse and pain they faced… oh, and save the world again. It’s not like any other hero show you’ve seen, and that’s almost always a good thing for this riveting series.
#19 Veep (HBO)
WHY WE LIKE IT: This caustic comedy following Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President of the United States has stacked up awards for good reason. The hilarious take on American politics will have you laughing and wincing every other moment. Dreyfus is incredible, but there are stand-out performances from many members of the cast and a biting script that never lets up.
#20 Watchmen (HBO)
WHY WE LIKE IT: Watchmen is an odd thing, a miniseries designed as a sequel to follow the famous graphic novel (but largely ignoring the movie made about it). Like the book, it follows an alternate, hero-filled version of the world, but decades after the original event in an era where vigilantes are hunted down for. Exploring racism, social justice, technology, and the fallibility of human nature, it’s one of the best shows in years and well worth your time.
How We Decided
We started by watching a lot of TV shows (and movies)! Of course, opinions can be relative, so we also did a lot of research on reviews, ratings, recommendations, and what data that streamers have released about the shows that people like to watch. Good scores, lots of buzz, and star power certainly helped. We also tried to pick a variety of shows/movies to prevent getting stuck in one genre for too long.
We also paid particularly close attention to the original content. Even if you don’t take into account original content that’s only available on one service and just lump them all together, that’s still a lot of amazing, award-winning shows that you can’t find on cable or satellite, which means they get awarded extra points and are more likely to be on the list.
We also awarded more points for shows that are ongoing, or have satisfactory resolutions. After all, it’s great to start a high-quality new show, but very disappointing to find that show was canceled before it had time to end properly. Likewise, we give a bit of an edge to newer shows.
Streaming Movies and Shows FAQs
How Do You Access Streaming Shows?
The best streaming shows are available from services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, and similar services. As long as you have an internet connection, you can download apps for all these services, sign up, and start watching whenever you want. These apps are widely available on different devices (pretty much everything with a screen). Of course, you do have to pay monthly subscription fees, which vary based on the app and packages.
Can You Watch Streaming Shows and Movies for Free?
Legally, your primary option is a free trial program. Pretty much every major streaming service offers a free trial that lasts for a couple of weeks, which is easily enough time to try out shows that you are interested in. Some streaming services specialize in entirely free content, but of course these tend to have much more limited libraries.
Is Streaming More Affordable Than Cable?
That depends, but in general, streaming will always be more affordable than cable. You can stack three or four streaming service fees and still save money each month compared to what you would spend on cable. However, you do have to give things up for streaming services if you want to cut the cord on cable: Streaming won’t have the same live events or episodes that cable will have, and content from your favorite channels is not guaranteed.
What’s the Best Streaming Service?
We actually have a guide to discuss that very thing! But in general, Netflix has the best combination of a big library, lots of options for everyone, great original content, and high-quality streaming. Hulu tends to be better for live events, Disney+ is great for kids, HBO focuses on quality over quantity, and Amazon has a lot of niche favorites.