Best Emmy-nominated shows of all time

Written by:
August 23, 2019
Home Box Office (HBO)

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 2019 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 August 2019. 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

1 / 50
Left Bank Pictures

#50. The Crown (2016–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 85,512

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.

2 / 50
Home Box Office (HBO)

#49. Deadwood (2004–2006)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 86,039

The Western is certainly not dead, as evidenced by “Deadwood’s” cult fan following. Set in the 1800s, the show tells the tumultuous story of the crime-ridden town of Deadwood, S.D. With multiple Emmy nominations rolling in the year of the show’s premiere in 2004 through to the show’s end in 2006, the cast, set design, and costume design recreated the wild west and all of its tribulations to high acclaim. The show gained such a significant following that HBO released a TV movie, “Deadwood: The Movie,” on Aug. 19 of this year.

3 / 50
Home Box Office (HBO)

#48. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000–present)

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

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.

4 / 50
Home Box Office (HBO)

#47. Six Feet Under (2001–2005)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 111,734

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.

5 / 50
Home Box Office (HBO)

#46. Rome (2005–2007)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 142,695

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.

6 / 50
British Sky Broadcasting

#45. Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 142,709

“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.

7 / 50
Carnival Film & Television

#44. Downton Abbey (2010–2015)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 144,172

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.

8 / 50
AMC Network Entertainment LLC

#43. Better Call Saul (2015–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 254,827

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.

9 / 50
Comedy Central

#42. South Park (1997–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 303,947

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.

10 / 50
20th Century Fox Television

#41. The Simpsons (1989–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 337,172

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.

11 / 50
Heel & Toe Films

#40. House (2004–2012)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 381,016

“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.

12 / 50
Showtime Networks

#39. Dexter (2006–2013)

- IMDb user rating: 8.7
- Votes: 604,381

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.

13 / 50
British Broadcasting Corporation

#38. I, Claudius (1976)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 14,445

This 1976 BBC miniseries covers the history of the early Roman Empire by following its emperor, Claudius. Adapted from the book that bears the same title, “I, Claudius” won an Emmy for Outstanding Art Direction for a Drama Series.

14 / 50
Cartoon Network Studios

#37. Over the Garden Wall (2014)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 29,852

“Over the Garden Wall” is Cartoon Network’s first animated miniseries from creator Patrick McHale. It follows the adventures of brothers Wirt and Greg, who find themselves lost in a strange forest and must make their way home. With an accomplished cast including Elijah Wood, Chris Isaak, Christopher Lloyd, and John Cleese, this series is packed with unlikely star power.

15 / 50
Hurwitz & Schlossberg Productions

#36. Cobra Kai (2018–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 35,097

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.

16 / 50
Amazon Studios

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

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 46,600

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.

17 / 50
John Wells Productions

#34. The West Wing (1999–2006)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 56,819

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.

18 / 50
Apatow Productions

#33. Freaks and Geeks (1999–2000)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 120,081

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.

19 / 50
Lynch/Frost Productions

#32. Twin Peaks (1990–1991)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 156,911

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.

20 / 50
3 Arts Entertainment

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

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 172,870

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.

21 / 50
Castle Rock Entertainment

#30. Seinfeld (1989–1998)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 228,900

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.

22 / 50
20th Century Fox Television,

#29. Arrested Development (2003–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 258,676

“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.

23 / 50

#28. Narcos (2015–2017)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 302,443

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.”

24 / 50
NBC Universal Television

#27. The Office (2005–2013)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 307,384

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.

25 / 50
Bad Robot

#26. Westworld (2016–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 358,073

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 / 50

#25. House of Cards (2013–2018)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 435,353

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.

27 / 50

#24. Stranger Things (2016–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.8
- Votes: 645,403

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.

28 / 50
Disney Television Animation

#23. Gravity Falls (2012–2016)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 55,576

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.

29 / 50
British Broadcasting Corporation

#22. Pride and Prejudice (1995)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 68,858

The six-part British miniseries was adapted from Jane Austen’s iconic novel by writer Andrew Davies. With Jennifer Ehle playing Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth playing the brooding Mr. Darcy, the show was a success in both England and the United States. The show catapulted Colin Firth to fame with American audiences and inspired his later role as the love interest Mark Darcy in “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”

30 / 50
Home Box Office (HBO)

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

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 69,335

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.

31 / 50

#20. Black Mirror (2011–present)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 343,287

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.

32 / 50
Warner Bros. Television

#19. Friends (1994–2004)

- IMDb user rating: 8.9
- Votes: 693,029

“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.

33 / 50
Forward Movement

#18. When They See Us (2019)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Votes: 40,005

Ava DuVernay’s controversial drama series about the Central Park Five premiered on Netflix earlier this year. The limited series follows five young black men wrongfully convicted of attacking and assaulting a female jogger in Central Park. The cast is rife with Emmy-nominated actors including Felicity Huffman, John Leguizamo, and Michael K. Williams.

34 / 50
CBS Television Network

#17. The Twilight Zone (1959–1964)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Votes: 62,757

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.

35 / 50
Warner Bros. Animation

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

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Votes: 76,569

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.

36 / 50
20th Century Fox Television

#15. Firefly (2002–2003)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Votes: 228,448

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.”

37 / 50
MGM Television

#14. Fargo (2014–present)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Votes: 279,462

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.

38 / 50
Home Box Office (HBO)

#13. True Detective (2014–present)

- IMDb user rating: 9.0
- Votes: 450,563

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.

39 / 50
American Documentaries Inc

#12. The Civil War (1990)

- IMDb user rating: 9.1
- Votes: 11,401

A Ken Burns documentary classic, “The Civil War” surveys the United States’ most pivotal war. The PBS miniseries follows the Civil War from the abolitionist movement to the assassination of President Lincoln to Reconstruction. On the 25th anniversary of the film, PBS aired a restored high-definition version of the series.

40 / 50
Florentine Films

#11. The Vietnam War (2017)

- IMDb user rating: 9.1
- Votes: 13,033

Another of Ken Burns’s signature historical documentaries, this 10-part series is narrated by actor Peter Coyote. The entire series cost around $30 million to make and about 10 years to produce. Containing over 80 interviews, “The Vietnam War” portrays several viewpoints on the conflict from both sides.

41 / 50
Hartswood Films

#10. Sherlock (2010–present)

- IMDb user rating: 9.1
- Votes: 720,928

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.

42 / 50
Nickelodeon Animation Studios

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

- IMDb user rating: 9.2
- Votes: 195,895

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.

43 / 50
Home Box Office (HBO)

#8. The Sopranos (1999–2007)

- IMDb user rating: 9.2
- Votes: 258,661

“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.

44 / 50
Apple Corps

#7. The Beatles Anthology (1995–1996)

- IMDb user rating: 9.3
- Votes: 5,586

Part of a bigger anthology including a three-volume set of double albums and a book about the Beatles’ history, “The Beatles Anthology” was a TV miniseries featuring accounts by the members of the band themselves, with no outside narrator. The series was broadcast on ITV in England and on ABC in the U.S., and it was later released as a box-set with the other items in the full anthology.

45 / 50
Home Box Office (HBO)

#6. The Wire (2002–2008)

- IMDb user rating: 9.3
- Votes: 250,719

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.

46 / 50
Harmonius Claptrap

#5. Rick and Morty (2013–present)

- IMDb user rating: 9.3
- Votes: 286,043

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.

47 / 50
Home Box Office (HBO)

#4. Game of Thrones (2011–2019)

- IMDb user rating: 9.4
- Votes: 1,576,351

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.

48 / 50
Home Box Office (HBO)

#3. Band of Brothers (2001)

- IMDb user rating: 9.5
- Votes: 329,916

This HBO mini-series tells the story of Easy Company of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division and their heroic mission in Europe during World War II. The series starred Ron Livingston, Scott Grimes, and Damian Lewis, and reached critical acclaim, earning it 20 nominations and seven wins.

49 / 50
Home Box Office (HBO)

#2. Chernobyl (2019)

- IMDb user rating: 9.5
- Votes: 334,660

Based on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine, the show takes us back to that fateful night at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant when an accident leads to the destruction of an entire town and its people. The HBO miniseries mixes artful cinematography and an expert cast to illuminate the heart-breaking human aspects of the catastrophic explosion.

50 / 50
High Bridge Productions

#1. Breaking Bad (2008–2013)

- IMDb user rating: 9.5
- Votes: 1,243,503

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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