Best Emmy-nominated shows of all time

Written by:
September 20, 2020

Best Emmy-nominated shows of all time

The first Emmy Awards show took place at the Hollywood Athletic Club in 1949. Hosted by Walter O'Keefe, tickets to the show were five dollars and only six awards were handed out—one award went to a ventriloquist. Named after the image-orthicon camera tube, or "immy," which was instrumental in capturing images for television, the Emmys were created by the Television Academy to award excellence in the television industry. The Emmy Award statue was designed to be a winged woman, representing the arts, holding up an atom, representing science and was modeled after television engineer Louis McManus's wife, Dorothy McManus. As time went on, the Emmy Award gained acclaim and grew into one of the most prestigious awards in the entertainment industry.

Over the years, the Emmys have come to be known as an awards show where anything might happen. From an impromptu make-out between "Veep's" Julia Louis-Dreyfus and "Breaking Bad's" Bryan Cranston to an unsuccessful prank to steal Betty Thomas's award to Viola Davis's powerful speech on diversity in the entertainment industry—the Emmy Awards have always brought together visionaries and artists with diverse perspectives. With a new era of television comes a new format for awards shows. Following in the footsteps of 2019's host-less Academy Awards ceremony, the Emmys will go without a host for the first time this year.

In celebration of the upcoming 2020 Emmy Awards, Stacker has compiled a comprehensive ranking of the best Emmy-nominated shows of all time based on IMDb user ratings. Data was sourced in September 2020. All drama, comedy, competition, variety, anthology, and limited series that have been nominated for at least one Emmy and have over 5,000 IMDb user votes were considered in the ranking. However, nature documentary series were not considered in this list.

Read on to see if your favorite shows make the list.

You may also like: 25 most popular Emmy-nominated shows of 2019

#50. Mr. Robot (2015–2019)

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Votes: 321,404

With its feverish plot and striking cinematography, anarchist-oriented “Mr. Robot” felt like nothing else on TV when it premiered in 2015. Examining issues like corporate capitalism and mental health, and tapping into societal fears around computer security and surveillance, “Mr. Robot” centers on brilliant, depressed Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a computer hacker drawn into an Anonymous-style hacker collective bent on erasing debt. Malek won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, while composer Mac Quayle won Outstanding Musical Composition for his tense electronic score.

#49. Daredevil (2015–2018)

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Votes: 353,822

Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is a blind lawyer by day who transforms into the vigilante Daredevil by night, using finely honed senses and martial arts skills to bring down bad guys in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City. “Daredevil” is part of the television branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Daredevil’s escapades influenced by the film franchise, as when the Avengers demolished much of New York City in “Avengers: Infinity War.” “Daredevil” was nominated for several technical Emmy awards, including Outstanding Main Title Design, Outstanding Sound Editing, and Outstanding Stunt Coordination.

#48. Dexter (2006–2013)

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Votes: 630,023

A show about everyone’s favorite murderer with a heart of gold, “Dexter” made gruesome crime scenes complex and binge-able. Earning five nominations for his starring role, Michael C. Hall plays sociopathic Dexter, a blood-spatter analyst by day and killer of wrong-doers at night. Miami has never looked the same.

#47. Cobra Kai (2018–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 61,934

The modern-day sequel to “The Karate Kid,” “Cobra Kai” premiered on YouTube Premium and was co-executive produced by the original “Karate Kid” himself, Ralph Macchio. Long after their 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament fight, Daniel and Johnny’s rivalry has taken a new form: competing dojos.

#46. The Shield (2002–2008)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 70,298

This lauded FX crime series follows a corrupt police unit that was based on corrupt police divisions in the LAPD in the late 90s. Star Michael Chiklis took home the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series after the first season made waves. It was nominated for six Primetime Emmy’s total.

#45. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (2017–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 72,698

The second hit from “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, this bubbly New York comedy follows a '50s housewife-turned-comedian through a series of precarious events with just the right amount of provocative edge. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” earned Sherman-Palladino her much-deserved first Emmy nominations.

#44. Fleabag (2016–2019)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 84,841

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s British dramedy follows Fleabag, a complicated, viciously funny Londoner played by a magnetic Waller-Bridge. While season one explored Fleabag’s trauma, its second season delivered a transcendent and devastating love story as Fleabag falls in love with an attractive priest (Andrew Scott). The Academy took notice, with the second season nominated for 11 Emmy awards and taking home six, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actress for Waller-Bridge, and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.

#43. Oz (1997–2003)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 86,896

One of HBO’s early forays into long-form dramatic television, Oz takes place in (and is short for) the maximum security Oswald State Correctional Facility. Only ever nominated for two Emmys, it was heralded for its guest stars and ensemble performance.

#42. This Is Us (2016–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 96,783

“This is Us” follows three generations of the Pearson family, with their sometimes-tragic stories told through flashbacks over the course of four seasons (with a fifth coming in November 2020). The ensemble cast includes Sterling K. Brown, Mandy Moore, and Milo Ventimiglia, among many more. The show has garnered 10 Emmy nominations, with Sterling K. Brown taking home the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

#41. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 98,983

With a whopping 42 nominations dating back to 2002, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” took “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David out from behind the camera to spotlight his signature deadpan comedy style. Only winning two awards out of its 42 nominations, what this comedic series lacks in awards, it makes up for in very quotable dialogue.

#40. BoJack Horseman (2014–2020)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 103,542

An imaginative blend of self-deprecation, snappy pop culture wit, and thorough character development, Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s animated dramedy has been nominated for Outstanding Animated Program for the past two years as its come to a close. Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Alison Brie, Aaron Paul, Paul F. Tompkins round out the stacked principal cast, but the series has even more star power in its long list of A-list guests.

#39. The Crown (2016–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 118,022

While “The Crown” is most notable for its exorbitant production budget of $130 million, making it the most expensive TV series ever made, the Netflix show has earned its place as a TV heavy hitter. Following the intriguing life of Queen Elizabeth II (played by Claire Foy in the first two seasons and Olivia Coleman in the upcoming third season), “The Crown” takes the audience through the difficult ins and outs of navigating royal life. The show’s impressive cast and dedicated following earned it 13 Emmy nominations in 2018, with the show winning five that year.

#38. Six Feet Under (2001–2005)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 118,156

A favorite of film buffs, the dark HBO comedy “Six Feet Under” captures the lives of a dysfunctional family who own a funeral home in Los Angeles. Led by Oscar-winning “American Beauty” screenwriter Alan Ball, the show received 23 Emmy nominations in its first season alone. The same year, the series won a Golden Globe for best drama series and a Peabody Award for entertainment.

#37. Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 149,652

“Battlestar Galactica” tells the story of a society obliterated by their android enemies, the Cylons. The last of this society remains to venture forth to the fabled 13th planet: Earth. As a much-loved sci-fi series, it’s no surprise that this show earned several nominations in special effects, but the show has also earned a notable number of nominations for its strong writing.

#36. Rome (2005–2007)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 151,357

This historic drama set in the last days of the Roman Republic stars Kevin McKidd as Lucius Vorenus, a Roman soldier serving the republic as it transitions to an empire. It features many well-known figures of the Roman era including Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, making it an easy favorite for history buffs. With recurring nominations in costume design, makeup, and visual effects, this show excels at its ability to transport viewers back in time.

#35. Downton Abbey (2010–2015)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 157,680

This BBC creation took the U.S. by storm, quickly gaining a massive cult following from American audiences. This unlikely hit transports audiences back to the post-Edwardian era and into the Grantham family’s sprawling estate, from which the show gets its title. Led by notable British stars like Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville, the show also helped launch the careers of newcomers like Michelle Dockery.

#34. The Boys (2019–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 174,323

After an avalanche of superhero films and series over the past decade, show developer Eric Kripke swooped in to capture the anti-hero sentiment. The dark show investigates questions like, “What happens when a superhero kills an innocent bystander in the process of saving the city?” and other such unaddressed aspects of caped crusading. Karl Urban leads the principal cast. The series has received one Emmy nomination for Outstanding Sound Editing For A Comedy Or Drama Aeries (One Hour).

#33. The Mandalorian (2019–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 189,064

Disney’s first live-action TV show in its ever-growing roster of adventures set in a galaxy far, far away, “The Mandalorian” follows Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and “Baby Yoda”—a colloquial name for the adorable puppet creature that is not actually Yoda but another creature of the same species who is a toddler at age 50. “The Mandalorian” was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series and won several Emmys in the award show’s creative categories, including Visual Effects, Production Design, and Sound Editing.

#32. Arrested Development (2003–2019)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 271,309

“Arrested Development” follows the ridiculous misadventures of the Bluth family in Orange County, California. The once-wealthy family faces trouble when its patriarch is charged with a white-collar crime, which leaves them all penniless. Through five seasons and one movie, “Arrested Development” charmed audiences with its somewhat frustrating humor, and it solidified the careers of many of its actors, including Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, and Portia de Rossi.

#31. Better Call Saul (2015–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 306,039

An off-shoot of TV sensation “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul” follows the life of character Saul Goodman before the events of “Breaking Bad.” Before he was Saul Goodman, Walter White’s morally corrupt lawyer, he was Jimmy McGill, a small-time lawyer in Albuquerque, N.M., just trying to survive in an exploitative world. While this spin-off has gained recognition through the success of “Breaking Bad,” it has earned accolades in its own right, pulling an impressive 32 Emmy nominations throughout the lifespan of the show.

#30. South Park (1997–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 323,661

From the comedic minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, this long-running animated series follows the boisterous, troublemaking adventures of foul-mouthed friends Cartman, Kenny, Stan, and Kyle. The show often borders on the offensive but has kept viewers engaged by putting a comedic spin on topical political and social issues that are otherwise very serious.

#29. The Simpsons (1989–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 356,617

Premiering in 1989 and still going strong, “The Simpsons” follows the suburban lives of the Simpson family from Springfield, Ill. with some offbeat twists and turns. Approaching the premiere of the show’s 31st season, the show has become the longest-running prime-time scripted series in the history of television.

#28. House (2004–2012)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 404,372

“House” brought to life everyone’s favorite curmudgeonly genius: Dr. Gregory House. Actor Hugh Laurie’s highly referenced role on “House” earned him six Emmy nominations. The always-skeptical Dr. House brought the flawed world of medical diagnosis into people’s homes, while inevitably winning audiences over with his keen sense of humanity.

#27. Westworld (2016–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 411,649

This HBO sci-fi series invents a western amusement park like no other. Wealthy guests can live out their fantasies by interacting with AI “hosts,” with no consequences. Based on the 1973 Michael Crichton movie of the same name, the series is lead by a star-studded cast, including Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, and Thandie Newton.

#26. House of Cards (2013–2018)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 456,666

Based on the BBC series of the same name, this U.S.-based version follows Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey), a Democrat from South Carolina who is passed over for Secretary of State and exacts his revenge with his equally manipulative wife, Claire Underwood (played by Robin Wright). After sexual assault allegations against Kevin Spacey surfaced, the show made the executive decision to remove his character from the script, moving Robin Wright to the starring role.

#25. Chappelle's Show (2003–2006)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 51,884

Regarded as one of the greatest comedy sketch shows of all time, Chappelle’s Show became the avenue through which the world met Dave Chappelle. Known for his boundary-pushing comedy that cuts to the socio-economic core of America’s racist past and present, Chappelle was nominated for two of the shows three Emmy’s (Writing and Outstanding Variety or Comedy Series). The third nomination was for Outstanding Directing.

#24. The West Wing (1999–2006)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 60,962

Written by Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin and Emmy-winner Felicia Wilson, “The West Wing” took audiences inside the personal lives of White House staffers in the presidential West Wing. Over seven seasons, the show earned an incredible 95 nominations with 26 wins.

#23. Freaks and Geeks (1999–2000)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 126,190

The show that launched a thousand careers, “Freaks and Geeks” remains a one-season legend. Conceived from the mind of a young Judd Apatow, the series captured the uncomfortable angst and confusion of teens growing up in 1980s suburbia. With a cast including James Franco, Busy Phillips, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and Linda Cardinelli, it’s hard to fathom this show doing poorly in the ratings.

#22. Twin Peaks (1990–1991)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 169,570

David Lynch’s iconic first television series follows an FBI agent, played by Kyle MacLachlan, as he investigates the murder of a young woman in the town of Twin Peaks. Known for its unconventional narrative, and eerie, surreal tone, this series introduced the masses to what is now David Lynch’s signature filmmaking style.

#21. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 185,133

This sitcom follows the depraved and scheming exploits of Mac, Charlie, Dennis, Frank, and Dee—a group of friends dubbed “The Gang.” With many of the outlandish, moral-bending plotlines resulting in slapstick humor, it’s not surprising that this show earned all three of its Emmy nominations in stunt coordination.

#20. Seinfeld (1989–1998)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 247,205

A live-action sitcom written by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, “Seinfeld” follows four single friends battling the absurdities of living in New York City. Solidifying the term “New York humor,” the show grew a strong national audience and maintains its devoted following 30 years later.

#19. Narcos (2015–2017)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 341,050

This Netflix series chronicles the life of Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar and other drug cartels through the region. With the rise of the cocaine trade, the cartels gained power that they enforced through bloodshed. The series has been followed by another centered on the drug trade in Mexico, titled “Narcos: Mexico.”

#18. Black Mirror (2011–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 418,508

Netflix’s sci-fi anthology of dystopian, technology-based scenarios has earned a cult following with its particular brand of psychological storytelling. From killer robot bees to a cartoon bear elected to office, each episode encapsulates a different fear that audiences didn't know they had. In 2018, Netflix released a film in addition to the series titled “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” with multiple endings. This was the streaming service’s first foray into interactive movies.

#17. Stranger Things (2016–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 768,391

This beloved Netflix show satisfied the country’s craving for '80s sci-fi kitsch. The story follows a group of childhood friends in a typical-Midwestern-town, complete with government labs, alternate realities, and monsters.“Stranger Things” has earned an impressive 30 Emmy nominations (and six wins) in its short three-season tenure.

#16. Gravity Falls (2012–2016)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 67,891

The Disney series “Gravity Falls” follows the story of twins named Dipper and Mabel Pines who are sent to spend the summer with their great-uncle in the mysterious town of Gravity Falls. This animated children’s show has an unlikely star-studded cast, including Jason Ritter and Linda Cardellini.

#15. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 76,525

After earning an Emmy for his work as a writer and contributor on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” John Oliver’s distinct voice got the attention of HBO. The series includes Oliver’s comedically British takes on world news that happened throughout the week. The show has earned him nine additional Emmy awards.

#14. Fargo (2014–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 310,008

Based on the Coen brothers’ feature film of the same name, this anthology series follows various stories of crime that inevitably lead back to Fargo, North Dakota. In fact, the Coen brothers co-produced the series with writer Noah Hawley, who wrote each season to exist in a different era with an entirely new cast and story. The show has featured a number of highly acclaimed actors including Billy Bob Thornton, Kirsten Dunst, Ewan McGregor, and Ted Danson.

#13. The Office (2005–2013)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 379,582

Welcome to the Scranton, Pa. branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Under the guidance of branch manager Michael Scott, a group of oddball office workers brings humor (and heart) to the workplace. Shot as a single-camera mockumentary, the show earned itself 42 nominations and launched the comedy careers of huge stars like Steve Carell, John Krasinski, and Mindy Kaling.

#12. Friends (1994–2004)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 786,211

“I’ll be there for you…” And they were. They were there for us through thick and thin, through heartbreaks and gut-wrenching laughs, through awkward weddings and recipes gone wrong. With a whopping 62 nominations, the decade-long series launched the careers of some of the biggest stars of the 1990s and 2000s, including Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, and Courtney Cox. This year marks the show’s 25th anniversary, and through all the years since, the show has seemingly only gained fans.

#11. The Twilight Zone (1959–1964)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Votes: 68,779

With a two-note theme song that instantly makes your heart race and raises the hairs on your neck, “The Twilight Zone” set the precedent for shows that blur the boundaries between horror, sci-fi, and drama. With an impressive 150-episode run, the series has become a prominent part of pop culture. A reboot premiered earlier this year.

#10. Batman: The Animated Series (1992–1995)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Votes: 84,374

This iconic show from the DC Universe followed the escapades of the dark, moody protagonist, Batman, and his trusty sidekick Robin. While the Batman series of the 1960s largely represented its main characters as campy crime-fighters, this show was praised for its film noir aesthetic and the complexity of its characters.

#9. Firefly (2002–2003)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Votes: 239,492

In an odd mashup of genres, “Firefly” is a Western space drama set in the year 2517, when humans have occupied a new star system. It follows the ragtag renegade crew who live aboard a spaceship named Serenity. The show gained accolades for its stunning narrative and its popularity lead to the creation of a feature film titled “Serenity.”

#8. True Detective (2014–present)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Votes: 484,682

Much like “Fargo,” “True Detective” is a crime anthology series that switches up stories and casts each season. Written and created by Nic Pizzolatto, the HBO series follows detectives over various eras and has earned excellent reviews from critics for its strong casts and unique cinematography. Casts over various seasons have featured Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell, Mahershala Ali, Woody Harrelson, and Rachel McAdams.

#7. Sherlock (2010–2017)

- IMDb user rating: 9.1
- Votes: 779,052

This modern update of British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original series of stories stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the ever-perceptive detective Sherlock Holmes. Set in current times, “Sherlock” brings his Victorian-era archetypal detective expertise into today’s forensic landscape. A TV movie titled “Sherlock: The Abominable Bride” was also released in relation to the series.

#6. Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–2008)

- IMDb user rating: 9.2
- Votes: 232,867

This animated series portrays a world divided into four nations—the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads—with the Fire Nation hoping to overthrow the other three. The Avatar, who can control all four elements, has disappeared but returns to bring back peace to the world. The Nickelodeon series has become known for its innovative incorporation of the Japanese tradition of anime with Western animation.

#5. The Sopranos (1999–2007)

- IMDb user rating: 9.2
- Votes: 287,587

“The Sopranos” was an iconic precedent-setting drama from HBO that changed how television shows portray nuanced and complex stories with character development that rivals feature films. This year marks the show’s 20th anniversary and the announcement of a prequel named “The Many Saints of Newark” starring James Gandolfini’s son, Michael Gandolfini.

#4. Rick and Morty (2013–present)

- IMDb user rating: 9.2
- Votes: 354,729

After sociopathic scientist Rick Sanchez reunites with his adult daughter and moves in with her family, he takes his grandchildren traveling through alternate dimensions. The adult animated series is created by Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland and is broadcast on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.

#3. The Wire (2002–2008)

- IMDb user rating: 9.3
- Votes: 275,038

Created by former police reporter David Simon, “The Wire” portrays the lives of criminals and corrupt police in West Baltimore, Maryland. The show takes on the perspectives of both drug dealers and of law enforcement, and despite earning only two Emmy nominations, gained a dedicated following over its five seasons.

#2. Game of Thrones (2011–2019)

- IMDb user rating: 9.3
- Votes: 1,706,463

Based on George R. R. Martin’s best-selling fantasy book series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” “Game of Thrones” took the world by storm becoming a show that the nation watched together every Sunday night for nine years. Arguably one of the most iconic shows of this decade, “Game of Thrones” integrated strong visual effects, strong character development, and sophisticated writing to create cliffhangers that left viewers on the edge of their seats until the following week. With a whopping 160 nominations, the show won 47 Emmys total in its lifetime of airing.

#1. Breaking Bad (2008–2013)

- IMDb user rating: 9.5
- Votes: 1,392,827

The best Emmy nominated show of all time is Vince Gilligan’s drama “Breaking Bad.” Following the story of high school-chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-dealer Walter White, “Breaking Bad” introduced viewers to the ultimate antihero of our time. Pushed into cooking meth by the financial burden of his inoperable lung cancer, the series juggles Walt’s unfortunate situation with the moral slippery slope that eventually destroys his life.

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