It’s hard to believe that twenty years ago, Netflix didn’t even exist. Today, the company operates in over 190 countries, distributing movies and TV shows and now making new ones. Has any company had such an impact on the entertainment industry since the dawn of television?
Also see our article How To Watch Netflix On Your TV – The Ultimate Guide
In August of 1997, Reed Hastings was charged a $40 late fee by Blockbuster, and teamed up with Marc Randolph to start an online DVD delivery service with no late fees. In 2007 they started offering on-demand streaming video service in addition to the DVDs by mail.
The first original series premiered on Netflix in 2013: House of Cards. The show was nominated for nine Prime-time Emmy awards and won three. By the end of that year, Netflix’s stock had tripled in value. While the broadcast networks stay stuck in the dark ages with their Nielsen ratings and their advertising models, the world of television has exploded with quality and content that were heretofore never dreamed of. I haven’t watched a TV commercial in years. Why would I when I can DVR my cable TV shows and fast forward through the commercials, or watch all the streaming commercial-free television that Netflix has to offer?
I can’t wait to see what they do over the next twenty years. Here are some of the great original programs Netflix has on offer, streaming now.
If you’re interested in going deeper into Netflix, check out our list of the best movies streaming on Netflix, and the best Netflix shows available to download.
33. Happy Valley
Created by Sally Wainwright of Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley is a show about a town where everyone seems to be in pain, and they turn to alcohol and drugs for respite from lives of endurance and hardship against the backdrop of the stunningly beautiful English countryside. Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) is a fierce Yorkshire detective whose daughter killed herself after being raped and impregnated. Catherine decides to raise the baby, moving in with her sister (Siobhan Finneran) after her marriage falls apart. But Catherine's investigation puts her on the trail of an evil that goes much deeper than one perpetrator.
32. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
This comedy was created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, and stars Ellie Kemper in the title role. 29-year-old Kimmy was rescued from a doomsday cult after spending 15 years as an underground hostage, held by the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (played by Jon Hamm). She moves to New York to begin her life as an adult, and we get to follow her as she discovers our weird modern world with enthusiasm and zany naivete.
31. The Get Down
This musical drama about the birth of hip-hop and the death of disco is set in the South Bronx in 1977. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “It suffers from a 90-minute pilot that will be divisive in its aesthetic choices--think West Side Story, not Spike Lee--but rises again in the next two episodes to give all the crazy a chance at becoming something really good.” If you had a strong opinion about Moulin Rouge or 1996's Romeo + Juliet, you'll probably feel similarly about The Get Down; series co-creator Baz Luhrmann directed both of those films in his signature bombastic style.
30. Last Chance U
This football documentary series is focused on the East Mississippi Community College’s championship football team, the Lions. Since Buddy Stephens took over as coach, the team has won a trio of national titles and become a reliable feeder program to the SEC and even the NFL. The football stadium is packed for every game and the community identity has become tied to the fate of the Lions. As the six-episode first season opens, the Lions are on a 24-game winning streak.
29. Peaky Blinders
The series tells the story of an Irish-Gypsy gang coming to power in 1920-ish Birmingham, England. Their leader is Tommy Shelby, the second son, haunted by the trauma of fighting in World War I. An anti-hero in the modern mold, Tommy is smart but cold as he employs all manner of illegal activities to raise his family from poverty to wealth and power. To do that, he must evade Inspector Campbell (Sam Neill), the Belfast detective dispatched by Winston Churchill himself to clean up the town.
28. Mako Mermaids
This Australian show is geared for young kids (which is a nice change from the darkness and violence that define so many Netflix originals). It's a follow up to the series H20: Just Add Water, about three teenage girls who transformed into mermaids. In this series, the mermaids find themselves in trouble when an unwitting boy gets himself transformed into a merman (merboy? merperson) too.
27. Tales by Light
This Australian documentary series follows renowned photographers around the world as they search for images of strange, fascinating, and beautiful places and cultures.
26. Arrested Development
Netflix’s revival of this beloved but canceled by Fox series was not a disappointment to its fans. Although it takes the writers a minute to regain the show’s footing, the comedy starts to pay off quickly and gets better as it goes along. In fact, each one of the fifteen episodes is so jam-packed with jokes and call-backs that you might need to re-watch the episodes a couple of times to make sure you didn’t miss any of them. As an additional draw, the season has many cameos by famous funny people such as Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Ben Stiller, Ed Helms, Terry Crews, Judy Greer, Andy Richter, Jeff Garlin, Liza Minelli, John Beard, and more. The real heart, however, comes from the show's main cast, fleshed out by Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Jessica Walter, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Cera, Tony Hale, David Cross, Portia de Rossi, Alia Shawkat, and Ron Howard. It’s pure genius.
The first of many Marvel-Netflix partnerships, this show was created by Steven S. DeKnight and Drew Goddard. Daredevil follows the adventures of Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox), a blind lawyer by day and masked vigilante by night. As Murdock fights crime in his spare time in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, he faces down organized crime and eventually more supernatural threats. Daredevil set the bar for Marvel’s Netflix offerings, with strong performances, visual style to spare, and impressive martial arts action.
24. Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones is a “super” private eye hired to find a pretty NYU student who’s vanished, but it turns out to be more than a simple missing persons case in the Marvel Comic-based series. Kristen Ritter is fabulous in the title role as a super-powered private eye who mostly wants to be left alone, and David Tenant is terrifying as the villainous Kilgrave, an eccentric psychopath with the power to control minds.
23. Gracie and Frankie
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin play the titular characters in this hilarious show. The two women form an unlikely friendship after their husbands announce that they are in love with each other. Gracie and Frankie have never particularly liked each other, but they move in together and provide support as they try to navigate the next phase of their lives.
22. Chewing Gum
Michaela Coel, creator and star of this comedy series, plays Tracey Gordon, a motormouth brought up by a religious fanatic mother. Tracey is desperate to lose her virginity, and the series is a battle between godliness and desire. It’s filthy, funny and has a Christian perspective, but nothing is taboo.
21. Hemlock Grove
This is a Netflix original Horror TV Series. In the titular, fictional Pennsylvania town, there is a spate of brutal murders. Roman Godfrey, a wealthy inhabitant, and newcomer Peter Rumancek team up to investigate, but each harbors his own dark secret. All three seasons are available for a good, long binge.
20. Luke Cage
In this Marvel superhero story, Mike Colter plays Luke Cage, an ex-con with unbreakable skin and super strength who also made an appearance as a short-term love interest on Jessica Jones. Luke wants to live a quiet life, but his determination to right wrongs makes him a reluctant hero of Harlem—and a target for local gangsters with big plans. When Pop, the barber he works for, is murdered, this serious and soulful man becomes the reluctant hero, righting some of the wrongs in the neighborhood. That means he has to come up against Cottonmouth Stokes, the gangster who runs a nightclub—and the neighborhood. This third series from Netflix and Marvel stands out with both a thoughtful focus on its largely African-American cast and a winking 70s Blaxploitation aesthetic. It's tons of fun.
19. The Fall
The latest, third season wraps up the cat-and-mouse game between Jaime Dornan’s baby-faced serial killer Paul Spector and Gillian Anderson's relentless detective Stella Gibson. A trademark of the series was the way its creators made you worry that Stella was falling for Spector. I mean, who wouldn’t. Soap-opera plot devices in the third season aside, there’s still a lot of good writing and acting that will help you suspend your disbelief and go along for the ride.
18. One Day at a Time
Although I wasn’t a big fan of the original show, Netflix’s remodel feels both fresh and familiar. It stars Rita Moreno and Justina Machado. Single mom Penelope, played by Machado, is a nurse and veteran of Afghanistan. She lives with her daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez), son Alex (Marcel Ruiz) and mother, Lydia (Moreno). Their oddball superintendent (Todd Grinnell) is a well-meaning hipster. Although the show uses many tried and true sitcom tropes, it still feels current, as well as consistently funny and warm.
17. White Rabbit Project
The newest project for the MythBusters build team is very educational, but don’t let that stop you. This 10-episode series explores various feats of technology and inventiveness. It covers topics ranging from replicating super powers to the strangest weapons used by the Allies in WWII to the most intriguing gadgets. More interesting than MythBusters ever was, the team spends each episode recreating things that happened in history, searching for answers as to why they did or didn’t work. It stars Grant Imahara, Kari Byron, and Tory Belleci, who Netflix approached after they were released from Mythbusters in 2014.
16. A Series of Unfortunate Events
Fans of the delightfully dismal book series and movies won’t be disappointed in this adaptation starring Neil Patrick Harris as the wonderfully wicked Count Olaf. Author Daniel Handler adapted his own material and co-produced the series, which allows a more faithful re-telling than the big-screen version starring Jim Carrey. Season one captures the first four volumes of the thirteen. The troubles of the Baudelaire orphans are lots of fun for us with gorgeous, Tim Burtonesque set design and high production values.
Eight strangers from cities around the globe begin having experiences that defy explanation--it turns out they all experience whatever the other seven feel. The original premise from the Wachowskis delivers on its promise, as this highly enjoyable series travels the world over. We are introduced to each character’s life, in Mumbai, Mexico City, Nairobi, Seoul, London, Berlin, Chicago, and San Francisco, as the eight refreshingly diverse central characters learn to use each other’s strengths to overcome personal troubles and adjust to a life with seven people psychically connected to them.
The premise of six people who rise from the dead may have you expecting a zombie story, but this Australian drama feels more like a fun, paranormal, outback soap opera. Patrick Bramhall stars as the small-town sheriff who lost his wife (Emma Booth) to cancer, only to have her return and discover his new, very pregnant wife is none other than her former best friend (Emily Barclay). That's just one of the complications that arise when the dead--sometimes long-dead--come back. This is light fare, best left for those evenings when you don’t want to think too hard.
This Netflix original series begins in the late 1970s and follows the rise of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar from his first involvement in the cocaine trade. The story is told through the eyes of American DEA Agent Steve Murphy, who works with a task force with the Colombian authorities trying to end the flow of cocaine into the US. The series unfolds in the style of a docudrama, which might be difficult to follow at first, but the story is fascinating, and you may very well find yourself rooting for the bad guys at times.
12. The Crown
Before watching The Crown, I’m ashamed to admit, I had no idea Queen Elizabeth was such a bad-ass. Watching the show, I fell in love with her, and ever since have watched every documentary and movie I could find on the royal family. Being a natural skeptic I felt sure the series whitewashed the story but was gratified to discover that the parts I admired most were part of recorded history. The series begins with Elizabeth’s marriage to Prince Philip and King George’s ailing health, along with Winston Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister for the second time. I watched the entire series over one weekend!
11. Black Mirror
This British anthology series from Charlie Brooker plays out the fraught interactions between technology, society, and the security state. It's been compared to a modern Twilight Zone, where each episode takes on a different high-concept, elaborately cyberpunk horror story. Episodes often feature well-known film and television stars such as Jon Hamm, Domhnall Gleeson, Hayley Atwell, and Jessica Findlay-Brown.
10. Fuller House
This sequel to the sitcom Full House, which ran from 1987 – 1995, follows the character of DJ, who is now a veterinarian and the widowed mother of three sons. Many of the original cast members reprise their former roles, although Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen opted out. Fans of the original will love it.
9. House of Cards
This is the series that started it all. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is the ruthless congressman who manipulates politicians and his own agenda from behind the scenes, with the help of his equally Machiavellian wife, Claire (Robin Wright). From the first moments, it’s clear that this is a man you don’t want to be on the wrong side of. The problem is, most of his victims don’t see it coming, instead falling for his honey-smooth Southern Drawl and bland good looks. Spacey is so charming and his rise to power so darkly engaging that House of Cards is a wild ride.
They have arrived from a bleak and hopeless future to save us all from our greatest enemy: ourselves. A group of operatives from far in the future is sent back to the 21st Century to fix some of society’s problems and avoid systemic collapse. In order to do this, each “traveler” is placed into the body of a person, seconds before their death. Eric McCormack stars as FBI Agent Grant MacLaren and team leader of a group of five travelers, each living a double life.
7. Orange is the New Black
Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) has been sentenced to fifteen months in prison after being ratted on by an ex. Now she must leave her fiancé and life behind and learn to live in women’s prison. Orange is the New Black has become Netflix’s most-watched original series. It’s also won many awards and is the only television series to have won Emmys in both the Comedy and Drama categories. After four seasons and three more to come, the show is still going strong. The original lead has been replaced by an immense cast that keeps the show vibrant and entertaining without any sign of weakening.
6. Marco Polo
This engaging, pulpy bit of historical fiction based loosely on the life story of Marco Polo, the Venetian merchant who traveled to China’s Silk Road with his father and was left there as guest of the Kublai Khan. Fans of the first season won’t be disappointed by the second. Benedict Wong is fascinating as the Kublai Khan, a lovable bad guy. His cunning wife, Empress Chabi, is played by Joan Chen, stealing every scene with her sharp tongue.
5. Stranger Things
In Hawkins, Indiana, a boy disappears, and a telekinetic girl (Millie Brown) turns up at the same time. The series is a spot-on homage to 1980s culture and the films of Steven Speilberg, John Carpenter, Stephen King, Robert Zemeckis and George Lucas, among others. Look for stand-out performances by the kids in the ensemble, as well as by Winona Ryder as the mother of the missing boy.
4. The OA
Brit Marling stars in and co-created this series with director Zal Batmanglij. The OA is a mysterious, suspenseful tale about a young blind woman who is kidnapped and disappears for seven years, only to return with her sight restored. She can’t or won’t say who took her or where she’s been, and seems clueless about the restoration of her sight. As the season unfolds, she slowly brings a group of teens and a middle-aged teacher into a world of mystery and suspense. There’s a lot of fun on the way there, and bingeing The OA is a terrific way to spend a lost weekend.
This complicated, violent, gory look at the world of Canadian Fur Traders in the 1700s stars Jason Momoa, the beast of an actor best known as Khal Drogo on Game of Thrones. Here he plays Declan Harp, a half-Irish, half-Native American seeking revenge against the British Hudson Bay Trading Company, and Momoa electrifies every scene he appears in. But Canada’s beautiful, expansive wilderness is arguably the real star.
2. 13 Reasons Why
A teenage girl commits suicide, and no one knows why--until she tells them, in a series of tapes. But to understand what happened, the community will have to face some unpleasant truths. This new series is a solid, surprisingly mature adaptation of the young adult novel by Jay Asher. The teen characters are well developed, and the end result can be heartbreaking. The show has received criticism for glamorizing teen suicide, which is something parents should be aware of and teens may wish to avoid.
1. Dear White People
This satirical series is a remake of the movie by the same name from 2014, and it's been pretty universally acclaimed as clever, provocative, and current. The show tackles racial politics and race relations, following a handful of black students as they try get by at a majority-white college. One student produces a radio show, where "Dear White People" gets its name, that tries to tackle these issues head-on.