TV

Best crime TV shows of the ’90s

Written by:
June 22, 2021
Home Box Office

Best crime TV shows of the ’90s

The decade that gave us boy bands, Pokémon, and reality TV also brought some of the best crime shows of any generation. Emerging technology in the 1990s created new methods to catch criminals, and TV writers deployed those tactics throughout their scripts. Special effects and CGI also raised the level of how viewers could consume crime TV, leading to mind-bending plots and edge-of-your-seat drama. For some, however, traditional detectives and their trusty sidekicks are always more than enough to remain entertained.

Stacker compiled data on all crime TV shows from 1990-1999 and ranked them according to IMDb user rating, with ties broken by votes. To qualify, the show had to have at least 1,500 votes. Only English-language shows were considered.

Some of the highest-voted shows only lasted one season, while others were spun-off into other equally successful series. Of course, the most popular crime shows led to a trove of T-shirts, special-edition DVDs, and even movies. Keep reading to discover which “Law & Order” is the most revered among audiences, how Batman was refreshed for audiences in the '90s, and which Oscar-winning director unsuccessfully tried to launch a film based on a group of animated nocturnal heroes.

You may also like: 100 movies that became TV shows

1 / 25
20th Century Fox Television

#25. Picket Fences

- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Years on the air: 1992–1996

David E. Kelley is known for his television work on hospital and legal dramas, but in the early '90s, he produced a unique show about a small Wisconsin town where a lot of weird things happen. With characters often talking about—and investigating—death, the show gave new meaning to dark humor.

2 / 25
British Broadcasting Corporation

#24. Silent Witness

- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Years on the air: 1996–present

This BBC offering was one of the first shows to focus on forensics in crime investigations. Now, with two-plus decades on the telly, “Silent Witness” is Britain’s longest-running crime series and has been characterized as “comfort viewing” despite its focus on corpses. Viewers stateside can catch it on BBC America.

3 / 25
ITV Productions

#23. A Touch of Frost

- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Years on the air: 1992–2010

David Jason was a well-known actor in Europe before 1992, but it was his role as Detective Jack Frost on “A Touch of Frost” that endeared him to swarms of audiences for his grumpy, inquisitive demeanor. Jason has said he hopes the show returns, but even without a reboot, his legacy seems intact: The actor was knighted in 2005.

4 / 25
Anglia Television

#22. Touching Evil

- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Years on the air: 1997–1999

Focused on an elite unit of crime investigators, “Touching Evil” originated in the U.K. with an American version following in the early 2000s. Robson Green starred in the original alongside Nicola Walker, who went on to star in several other crime series like “Unforgotten” and “Spooks.”

5 / 25
Shed Productions

#21. Bad Girls

- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Years on the air: 1999–2006

Maureen Chadwick scored a hit with this drama based inside a women’s prison in London. The show doesn’t shy away from issues like sexual violence and domestic abuse while also diving deep into personal relationships developed among characters. The success of the series even led to a musical by the same name.

You may also like: Primetime TV shows that have stood the test of time

6 / 25
Cry Wolf

#20. New York Undercover

- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Years on the air: 1994–1999

Crime series mastermind Dick Wolf brought “New York Undercover” to FOX in 1994. The show made itself distinct from other cop dramas of the era with its multicultural cast (critics at the time noted a “hip-hop style” to many episodes). Al Green, James Brown, and Brandy were among the musicians to guest star. Talks of a reboot have ramped up.

7 / 25
John Wells Productions

#19. Third Watch

- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Years on the air: 1999–2005

The term "third watch" refers to the last shift of the day for police and firefighters. “Third Watch” featured several notable actors, including Bobby Cannavale and Nia Long. After 9/11, the New York-centric show dedicated several scenes to the real first responders who died during the attacks.

8 / 25
Alliance Atlantis Communications

#18. Due South

- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Years on the air: 1994–1999

The Canadian series “Due South” was created by Paul Haggis, who went on to write Oscar-winning films including “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby.” The show has the unique premise of a Canadian mountie seeking justice in Chicago.

9 / 25
20th Century Fox Television

#17. Millennium

- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Years on the air: I 1996–1999

Created by the same folks behind “The X-Files,” “Millennium” follows a former FBI agent on the trail of the mysterious Millennium Group. Some critics cite “Millennium” as a companion piece to “The X-Files,” but the show’s creators have so far shut down rumors of a revival. In 2019, a documentary was released that reflected on the show's legacy, titled “Millennium After the Millennium.”

10 / 25
Wolf Films

#16. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Years on the air: 1999–present

What would a list about crime shows be without the series that gave us the infamous “dun dun” intro? That sound is the universal signal for Detectives Stabler, Benson, and Tutuola, played by Mariska Hargitay, Christopher Meloni, and Ice-T. The “Law & Order” universe rivals the MCU in size; recently, “Law & Order: Organized Crime” reintegrated Meloni’s character as he crosses paths with his former SVU colleagues while on a new assignment.

You may also like: The best streaming services for sports in 2021

11 / 25
Ron Galella Collection // Getty Images

#15. Brimstone

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Years on the air: 1998–1999

Despite airing only one season, “Brimstone” wowed viewers who tuned in to watch a dead detective track down souls to return them to hell. Many of the show's characters had superpowers and Peter Horton, star of “Thirtysomething,” shone in the lead role.

12 / 25
HBO Animation

#14. Todd McFarlane's Spawn

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Years on the air: 1997–1999

This animated series was broadcast on HBO and Cartoon Network and won one Emmy. The show is based on McFarlane’s “Spawn” comic book series, which he launched in 1992. A film adaptation also hit theaters in 1997, and several video games have been released based on the Spawn character.

13 / 25
Buena Vista Television

#13. Gargoyles

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Years on the air: 1994–1996

In this animated series, a crew of gargoyles protect New York City at night then turn to stone during the day. Though intended for kids, the show featured complex themes, an all-star voice cast, and many references to Shakespeare. Jordan Peele tried to bring a live-action “Gargoyles” film to the big screen but was unsuccessful.

14 / 25
Warner Bros. Animation

#12. Batman Beyond

- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Years on the air: 1999–2001

It's unsurprising that the Caped Crusader would make a best-of list of crime fighters, but the Batman most people are familiar with isn't the star of this animated hit. “Batman Beyond” follows a young Batman hero following in the footsteps of Bruce Wayne. Many critics appreciated a new perspective from the DC Comics universe and a change from rehashing the traditional storylines.

15 / 25
Ellipse Animation

#11. The Adventures of Tintin

- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Years on the air: 1991–1992

The stories of a young, crime-fighting reporter named Tintin have charmed audiences since the 1920s, and a new generation was introduced to the artist Hergé’s most popular creation in the early 90s. Alongside Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, and the trusted dog Snowy, Tintin solved mysteries in Asia, on the high seas, and even outer space. Steven Spielberg directed a 2011 movie version of “The Adventures of Tintin” starring Jamie Bell.

You may also like: Best 'Simpsons' episodes of all time

16 / 25
A+E Networks

#10. Cracker

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 1993–1996

Cracker tells the story of a criminal psychologist based in Manchester, England. Although the protagonist, Dr. Edward “Fitz” Fitzgerald, isn't without his sins, Robbie Coltrane crafted such a compelling, intricate character that he won three BAFTA awards for “Cracker.” In 1997, an American version of the show was broadcast on ABC.

17 / 25
Canal Sur Televisión

#9. Detective Conan

- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Years on the air: 1996–present

Also known as “Case Closed,” this anime debuted on Japanese TV in 1996, after the success of a manga of the same name. Years later, American audiences, who had previously consumed episodes mostly through bootlegs, were finally able to watch “Detective Conan” regularly on Cartoon Network. The show follows high schooler Jimmy Kudo as he helps local authorities solve crimes.

18 / 25
Warner Bros. Animation

#8. The New Batman Adventures

- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Years on the air: 1997–1999

Along with “Batman Beyond,” this animated series was credited for its inventive stories that strayed from the classic DC narratives. Batgirl, Robin, and other side characters were given prominence, and slick animation styles gave the show an edgy feel. Capitalizing on the success of the two late-90s animated Batman series, a new Batman series called “Caped Crusader”—slated to air Cartoon Network and stream on HBO Max—went into development in May of 2021.

19 / 25
Baltimore Pictures

#7. Homicide: Life on the Street

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Years on the air: 1993–1999

David Simon might be best known for his reporting that led to “The Wire,” but his book “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets,” was also the impetus for a TV show called “Homicide: Life on the Street.” The show collected scores of Emmy and Peabody awards, thanks to a cast that included Melissa Leo, Andre Braugher, and Richard Belzer. Following detectives in Baltimore, the show had several crossovers with "Law & Order."

20 / 25
Ten Thirteen Productions

#6. The X-Files

- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Years on the air: 1993–2018

“The X-Files” was known for dealing with supernatural and extraterrestrial beings, but the show also had several episodes about crime. “The X-Files” was a pop culture phenomenon that brought with it merchandise, movies, and even appearances on “The Simpsons.” There were reboots after the original run; but for now, the series is dormant.

You may also like: 100 best 'Seinfeld' episodes of all time

21 / 25
New World Television

#5. Profit

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Years on the air: 1996–1997

“Profit” had a sole memorable season, but Adrian Pasdar’s performance as Jim Profit is still hailed by critics. A 2005 DVD included four unaired episodes, closing the chapter on an eight-year cliffhanger. In 2018, rumor had it a reboot of "Profit was in development.

22 / 25
Granada Television

#4. The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Years on the air: 1991–1993

Picking up three years after “The Return of Sherlock Holmes” left the airwaves, “The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes” brought nine new episodes of mysteries featuring one of fiction’s favorite detectives. The storylines were typical fare: tracking down murderers, blackmailers, and missing persons. Jeremy Brett returned as Sherlock Holmes.

23 / 25
Rysher Entertainment

#3. Oz

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Years on the air: 1997–2003

“Oz” was a prison show that broke the rules, helping to establish HBO as a leader for dramatic television. Set in the fictional Oswald penitentiary, the show featured an ensemble cast, including Chris Meloni, J.K. Simmons, and Ernie Hudson. Inside the prison, various groups fought for control (including the smuggling of illegal products), and there were captivating stories of betrayal, family, and fellowship.

24 / 25
Medstar Television

#2. Forensic Files

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Years on the air: 1996–2011

Narrated by Peter Thomas, “Forensic Files” followed forensic scientists as they worked to solve crimes and unravel medical mysteries. The true-crime series was an anchor of Court TV, and even its reruns brought in tons of viewers. In 2020, “Forensic Files II” launched on HLN to huge ratings.

25 / 25
Home Box Office

#1. The Sopranos

- IMDb user rating: 9.2
- Years on the air: 1999–2007

Few families exposed the intricacies of crime like the Soprano family, which captivated television audiences worldwide with dramatic twists and turns for almost a decade. James Gandolfini became a star portraying mobster Tony Soprano, a complex man who struggles to balance running a crime family with his own family at home. Although fans still debate the final episode, “The Sopranos” is considered by many to be one of the best TV shows, period.

You may also like: The best streaming services in 2021

Trending Now