Movies & TV

The 20 Best HBO Series of All Time, Ranked

Don't stop believing! [smash cut to black]

Well before Game of Thrones came to be, HBO was pumping out premium content. Actually, if you're enjoying this "golden age of television," then you probably have HBO to thank. The premium cable broadcaster is responsible for some of the most prolific television shows of all time. At any given point, HBO has been nominated for over 100 Emmy awards in a single year. So we thought, "What if we sat down and tried to rank the best 20?" Turns out, it's very difficult. At least 10 of these could contend for the top spot and at least another 10 were painstakingly cut from the list, but who reigns number one? Read on to see.

20| Girls

Lena Dunham's star vehicle that came after Tiny Furniture fell on and off the list, but ultimately the comedy series that started out with so much promise really did capture the voice of a generation. Sometimes it felt a little heavy-handed, a little naked, and a lot obnoxious, but wasn't that the point? If nothing else, Dunham broke down some major walls for series to come.


19| Westworld


No one wants Westworld to be on this list more than Westworld. At times, the show is so obtuse in how badly it wants to be the smartest show on television that it's a turn off. But when Westworldturns out a solid episode, it's one of the best on television. Also kudos to developing a cast led by such strong actresses.

18| Silicon Valley

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Silicon Valley nearly missed its window. The tech-brother of Entourage, Siliconmanages to tell its story with considerably fewer jerks than its bro-y counterpart. The comedy continues to draw critical acclaim heading into its most recent (and yet again delayed) season.

17| True Blood

Dark horror set in Louisiana, based around sharp-talking vampires with sharper teeth? Sign us up. The sexy premium cable drama features some of the best television work out there, and Anna Paquin shines in it.

16| Insecure


Insecure is phenomenal. The Issa Rae-creation deserves more love than it gets, and it provides a lens that we haven't seen much in the television landscape: a comedic look inside the life of two black women trying to find success after college through the complications of being in their 20s.

15| Boardwalk Empire

What happens when you combine Steve Buscemi, New Jersey, and prohibition? You end up with a really great HBO show. Boardwalk Empire only falls so low because the rest of the list is so incredibly strong.

14| Looking


Looking is one of the first of its kind. While Queer as Folk and Queer Eye may have cleared the path, Looking looked (no pun intended) to revolutionize the way that stories are told about gay men. The series was always a bit of a little engine that could, but its reverberations are still being felt after its ultimate demise.

13| The Comeback


Well. I got it! The four words are a hallmark of the Lisa Kudrow staple. It's also one of the inaugural shows to be cancelled and then years later get the revival treatment. Lisa Kudrow never quite got her due for the show or the strange brand of comedy she brought to it.

12| Big Love


RIP Bill Paxton and the show that managed to corral Chloë Sevigny, Ginnifer Goodwin, Amanda Seyfried, and Jeanne Tripplehorn into one series about polygamous marriage. God only knows where we'd be without Big Love.

11| Getting On

Laurie Metcalf has always been a bit of an underrated actress. Pair her off with the likes of Niecy Nash and Alex Borstein, and you have one of the most accomplished casts on television representing overworked doctors and nurses in one of the most overlooked comedies on HBO.

10| Six Feet Under


On the surface, Six Feet Under is just a darkly comedic look at death through the guise of a funeral home. The writing is smart and the acting is stellar, but when you look back on the series, you realize that the cast was kind of stacked: Peter Krause, Lauren Ambrose, Rachel Griffiths, and Dexter before he was Dexter? Damn.

9| Big Little Lies


In the crusade that is Reese Witherspoon's takeover of media, Big Little Lies might be her most successful TV venture to date. Based on a novel of the same name, the series followed along with the book's plot pretty closely before getting renewed for a Season Two. But with just one season under its belt, Big Little Lies has proven to be a juggernaut of HBO programming.

8| Deadwood


Deadwood is the kind of period piece that feels like it just belongs on HBO. The drama, set in a lawless mining town in post-Civil War America, is one of HBO's most recognizable exports.

7| Curb Your Enthusiasm

Improv on television? Sounds like a recipe for disaster. But former Seinfeldco-creator Larry David managed to create one of the most hilarious comedies on television by simply basing the comedy on himself. More than that, you'll never hear the theme song without knowing exactly what mood it provokes.

6| Veep


Selina Meyer predicted something that we could have never seen coming: what happens when someone absolutely bananas ends up in the highest office in the land. But more than that, Julia Louis-Dreyfus created a character that set her far apart from her Seinfeld years, proving herself to be one of the most iconic comedic performers of our time.

5| Game of Thrones


Placing Game of Thrones is difficult because it's a phenomenon in its own right. If The Sopranos defined this genre of high-end television, then you have to give GoT the credit for reinventing it. The show has a following unlike anything in recent memory, as well as some of the most intense scenes we've seen on TV in a while.

4| Sex and the City


Revolutionary for its time, I couldn't help but wonder... could this list ever include Sex and the City outside of the top five? That's a hard no. The adventures of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte defined a generation and set up the idea that a show about women could be just a risqué as anything else on television.

3| The Sopranos

Never has a cut to black caused so much controversy. But well beyond its shockingly ambivalent ending, the mob series set the tone for modern, elevated television. The Sopranos is responsible for television as we know it, and ultimately, no other show on this list would be what it is without the guidance of The Sopranos.

2| The Leftovers


A controversial top choice, The Leftovers ends up toward the top because it dared to be adventurous in a way a lot of shows shy away from. The Damon Lindelof show had all the makings of great television: big mysteries, a controversial ending, and a crash course in just how good Carrie Coon is.

1| The Wire

At the top of every HBO list is one of the culprits: The Sopranos or The Wire. While The Leftovers may have edged out The Sopranos, it's just impossible to beat The Wire: a show that captures the gravity of the Baltimore narcotics scene in a way that is hard to describe. The Wire isn't just the top of the HBO list, but maybe all TV series lists.

This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Justin Kirkland
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture. Prior to Esquire, his work appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, and USA Today. He is from East Tennessee and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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