The 20 Best Cop Shows on Netflix

TV Lists Netflix
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The 20 Best Cop Shows on Netflix

There are 342 entries for Netlfix’s Crime TV Shows category, but we wanted to narrow our search to shows where the focus is as much on the police as the perpetrator. We are, however, generous in our definition of police. The cops in the following shows can be heroes or villains. They may be beat cops, feds or even private detectives, if they’re helping their uniformed colleagues. They might be solving murders, bringing down organized crime or just trying to get their personal lives together. The shows listed here might occur in the past, present or even distant future. But they all feature men and women who have sworn to serve and protect.

Here are the 20 best cop shows on Netflix:

20. River

Creator: Abi Morgan
Stars: Stellan Skarsgård, Nicola Walker, Adeel Akhtar
Network: BBC One

The premise sounds daft, to be honest: The brilliant Detective Inspector John River (Stellan Skarsgård) spends his days solving cases alongside the “ghost” of his deceased partner, Detective Sergeant Jackie Stevenson (Nicola Walker). But creator Abi Morgan, of the gone-too-soon BBC series The Hour, invests this under-the-radar crime drama with potent insights about the nature of memory, trauma, loss and grief. The one and only season (so far) is only six episodes, perfect for an autumn afternoon binge. —Matt Brennan

19. Gotham

Creator: Bruno Heller
Stars: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart-Jones, John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Chiklis
Network: Fox

Gotham is a polarizing TV series. Any superhero-themed program is sure to bring its critics, but Batman is a character near and dear to the American heart—as he’s the last universally beloved billionaire—and it was certainly a risk going with a prepubescent Bruce Wayne. I’m a big fan of Gotham, and even I’ll admit that I’m not completely sold on its interpretation of the franchise’s main character. But that’s OK, because Gotham isn’t about Batman. It’s about the villains. And they’re almost all great. The Penguin serves as the yin to Jim Gordon’s yang. Cory Michael Smith’s depiction of the Riddler belongs in the Batman hall-of-fame. Monaghan’s Joker would make fans of The Dark Knight proud. Anthony Carrigan’s infamous hitman Victor Zsasz is a perfectly sardonic bit of comic relief. And stick Fish Mooney in any gangster TV show or movie, and tweak the surrealism depending on context, and she’ll fit—that’s just how good Jada Pinkett Smith is. Fish Mooney did not originate in the comics, and the creators of Gotham should be universally commended for springing such a Gotham-y character to life out of the ether. —Jacob Weindling

18. Marcella

Creator: Hans Rosenfeldt, Nicola Larder
Stars: Anna Friel, Nicholas Pinnock, Ray Panthaki, Jamie Bamber, Jack Doolan, Nina Sosanya. Charlie Covell, Sophia Brown
Network: ITV

Called “devastatingly unsettling” by The Guardian, Marcella stars Anna Friel (of the late, much lamented Pushing Daisies) and is one of the more recent entries in the rapidly expanding genre of Nordic or Scandinavian noir, with previous examples including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the two Wallander TV series, The Killing and The Bridge, among others. Of particular note, Marcella co-stars the incomparable Sinéad Cusack (A Room With a View, Eastern Promises), Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica) and Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones). —Mark Rabinowitz

17. Altered Carbon

Creator: Laeta Kalogridis
Stars: Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, Martha Higareda, Chris Conner, Dichen Lachman, Ato Essandoh, Kristin Lehman, Trieu Tran, Renée Elise Goldsberry
Network: Netflix

Netflix’s new sci-fi series Altered Carbon rivals HBO’s Westworld in terms of both beautifully constructed future worlds and naked bodies that are essentially ciphers, devoid of human soul. The cyberpunk noir show follows a resistance fighter revived into a new body, or “sleeve,” centuries after his revolution has failed. To win his freedom he must solve a murder mystery for one of the super-elite ancient Meths (short for that Biblical old-timer Methuselah), who buy new cloned bodies to house their back-up personalities, housed in a data core at the base of the brain stem. The technology, which allows for resurrection of the dead and instant travel across star systems, raises questions about religion, justice and familial relationships, like when agnostic police detective Kristin Ortega brings her grandmother home in the body of a pierced, tattooed convict to celebrate All Hallows Eve—her neo-Catholic family believes a soul brought back from the dead can never rest. It’s hard sci-fi without much of a sense of humor, but the acting (Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, Renée Elise Goldberry), directing (Game of Thrones’ Miguel Sapochnik handles the pilot) and visual effects give the genre a claim to prestige television, and the hardboiled drama and blockbuster-worthy fight scenes have so far kept me coming back for more. —Josh Jackson

16. Collateral

Creators: David Hare
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Nathaniel Martello-White, Jeany Spark, Nicola Walker, John Simm, Billie Piper, Hayley Squires
Network: BBC Two

It looks like Netflix may have a serious contender in the limited series categories at the Emmys this year with Collateral, a co-production with BBC Two. The four-episode series takes place in London over the course of four days after the fatal shooting of a pizza-delivery man. Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan plays Kip Glaspie, a detective inspector who refuses to accept this killing as a simple random murder and seeks out the darker truth hidden in the shadows. Collateral features a mostly British cast, including Billie Piper (Doctor Who, Penny Dreadful), Nicola Walker (MI-5) and John Simm. —Mike Mudano

15. Criminal Minds

Creator: Jeff Davis
Stars: Mandy Patinkin, Thomas Gibson, Lola Glaudini, Shemar Moore, Matthew Gray Gubler, A. J. Cook, Kirsten Vangsness, Paget Brewster, Joe Mantegna, Rachel Nichols, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Aisha Tyler
Network: CBS

Criminal Minds is the stuff of dreams for those of us interested in a more macabre cop show. Similar to Law & Order: SVU, the series delves into the psychology of its criminals, thanks in large part to Dr. Reid, the show’s quirky, lovable, genius-boy psychologist (played by Matthew Gray Gubler). But there’s also the darker side to these plots, and Criminal Minds—which centers on far more violent crimes than the average cop show—is not one to watch late at night by yourself. —Annie Black

14. Wallander

wallander 20.jpg
Creator: Henning Mankell
Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Sarah Smart, Tom Hiddleston, Richard McCabe
Network: BBC One

Kenneth Branagh is marvelous in this moody procedural based on the novels of Henning Mankell, and the original Swedish film adaptations. A police officer on southern Sweden’s picturesque coast, Branagh’s Kurt Wallander must solve a run of freakish crimes. He’s also up to his grizzled scruff in the throes of an existential tailspin, which makes, say, the image of a 15-year-old girl seeing him, panicking and setting herself on fire an even tougher trauma to process. Branagh gives an aptly measured, introspective performance, a man who observes everything, but can’t make sense of anything anymore, the very least of which is himself. Wallander is a study in visual contrasts: saturated color schemes, dramatic plays of shadows and light, extreme changes in focus. It’s an artful complement to the detective’s largely internal struggle, which also includes issues with his adult daughter and Alzheimer’s-afflicted dad (David Warner, exceptional as ever). —Amanda Schurr

13. Seven Seconds

seven seconds
Creator: Veena Sud
Stars: Clare-Hope Ashitey, Beau Knapp, Michael Mosley, David Lyons, Russell Hornsby, Raúl Castillo, Patrick Murney, Zackary Momoh, Michelle Veintimilla, Regina King
Network: Netflix

The Killing’s Veena Sud returns with another searing look at how an adolescent’s tragic death ricochets through a community. When narcotics officer Pete Jablonski (Beau Knapp) hits and kills Brenton Butler with his car, his boss forces him to cover up the crime while Brenton’s parents (a stellar Regina King and Russell Hornsby) search for answers. Even in her hungover state, functioning alcoholic and assistant prosecutor K.J.Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey) knows something is not right. Michael Mosley is Joe “Fish” Rinaldi, the homicide detective not wanting to see this as anything less than an open-and-shut case. K.J. and Fish are a terrific pairing: Their reluctant rapport is the series’ biggest strength. As with The Killing, the characters and performances outshine the sometimes meandering and cliched story. Seven Seconds tells an imperfect but thought-provoking story of whose lives are valued, how good people do bad things, and how bad people can still be good. As the grieving mother, King is devastating. As a parent myself, her performance cuts me to my very core. Ashitey is a revelation, creating a character that will simultaneously infuriate you and evoke your sympathy. You’ll root for her even when she’s doing so much self-destruction. And the pilot’s final image, of Brenton’s blood sprawled over the Jersey City snow, will haunt you for days. —Amy Amatangelo

12. Broadchurch

broadchurch 20.jpg
Creator: Chris Chibnall
Stars: David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Arthur Darvill
Network: ITV

The former Doctor Who stars in this riveting crime drama that focuses on the murder of a young boy. David Tennant is detective Alec Hardy, who with his partner Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) must infiltrate a close-knit community on Britain’s Jurassic Coast. Of course, everybody in town has a secret, and no one takes kindly to the mounting media attention. As Hardy and Miller continue their investigation, the mystery unfolds in a slow, deceptively languid fashion, lingering on the effects of the child’s death upon the town’s residents. Creator-writer Chris Chibnall (another Doctor Who vet) is a master of atmosphere (a haunting, piano-driven score, the glistening seaside vistas) by taking his time with the details, he keeps the whodunit at a slow boil that rewards patient viewers. —Amanda Schurr

11. Longmire

Creators: John Coveny, Hunt Baldwin
Stars: Robert Taylor, Katee Sackhoff, Lou Diamond Phillips, Adam Bartley, Cassidy Freeman, Bailey Chase
Network: A&E, Netflix

There’s a quiet radicalness in Westerns which take their settings not as relics of historical romanticism, but as they live and breathe in the modern world, stereotypes meeting reality to tell richer and more universally relatable stories than even the best gunslinging 19th-century allegories ever could. See: Justified’s lawless mountains of Raylan Givens’ Eastern Kentucky, economically and ideologically bust after decades trapped in between coal and drug titans but fighting to stay alive. See: Wynonna Earp, trapped in the hardscrabble Rockies frontier town of Purgatory, isolated by terrain and weather (and demonic magic), but fortified by the technological muscle and scientific might of a secret government agency. But see, above all, Longmire, whose stories (adapted from Craig Johnson’s mystery series of the same name) most successfully disambiguate modern life on the frontier from that shown in the genre’s Golden Age in the 1950s. Mysteries—especially serialized ones—depend on their setting to be a character as much, or even more than, their human subjects. In a mystery, the details that the human characters react to and obsess over change case to case, mystery to mystery. For those characters to develop meaningfully, then, they need some unchanging circumstances that will constrain and challenge them. Enter, the setting. Longmire succeeds on the rough and modern specificity of Absaroka County, Wyoming: sparse in population, brittle in settler-Indian relations, rich in swaths of land and resources that will as soon kill you as make you rich. It’s the precise place Walt Longmire could be both gruff, law-bending Sheriff and warm best friend to occasional rez vigilante Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips). It’s exactly the kind of place a Philly cop (Katee Sackhoff) looking to start over might escape to do so quietly. It’s the best place an achingly ethical lawyer (Cassidy Freeman as Cady, Walt’s daughter) could set up a legal services office to employ and protect federally ignored and abused local tribal members. It’s the unlikely place where a bank robbery can be followed by a staged bear mauling can be followed by the poisoning of a Basque sheep farmer can be followed by an Indian foster care fraud ring bust. On top of all the that, it’s the place all of this could happen against a sky so wide and a horizon so vast and natural resources so baldly on display that every single crime—even Walt Longmire’s—makes sense, the result of Absaroka County’s residents feeling the wrench of freedom colliding with isolation. After six seasons, Longmire is, like the best mysteries, a reflection of the best and worst of its place, and is, like the best Westerns, a reflection of our national mythology. But in its clear-eyed modernity, it is also a reminder that mythologies thrive by evolving. —Alexis Gunderson

10. Happy Valley

Creator: Sally Wainwright
Stars: Sarah Lancashire, Steve Pemberton, Siobhan Finneran, George Costigan, Joe Armstrong, James Norton, Adam Long, Charlotte Murphy, Karl Davies, Kevin Doyle
Network: BBC One

You haven’t seen Happy Valley yet? You need to fix that right now. The plot centers on a kidnapping in the down-at-the-heels English town of West Yorkshire. I could say more, but the greatness of this show is so immediately self-evident that if you commit to watching the first ten minutes, there’s a 60- to 80-percent chance that you’ll have finished the full six-episode first season before you go to sleep. And then you can berate all your friends who remain in the dark, just as I’ve done to you. —Shane Ryan

9. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Creators: Dick Wolf
Stars: Christopher Meloni, Mariska Hargitay, Richard Belzer, Dann Florek, Michelle Hurd, Stephanie March, Ice-T, BD Wong
Network: NBC

The first spin-off of Law & Order is so shamelessly its best—the only remaining member of the Law & Order family still on the air and arguably the only reason why Ice-T still has a job. The tropes here, a constellation unto itself, a universe of infinite drinking games, are legion—from the hilarious seething of the dearly missed Elliott Stabler (Christopher Meloni), to the lifelong travails of the forever-strong Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay), the characters who day in and day out must endure the depravity of New York City’s never-ending parade of perverts are each a shell of barely contained emotion, be it rage, or trauma, or some viscous, volatile mixture of the two. This is to be expected: the show’s most surprising strength is its continuing desire to push past every overused archetype or narrative crutch to return, again and again, to the psyches of the people whose whole lives are filled with such intense tragedy. The main characters of Law & Order: SVU aren’t necessarily broken people—they’re just people who’ve broken so many times they’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel put-together again. They’re also people who once had to square off against Robin Williams in an episode where he was pretty much like the Riddler on Ritalin. It was, as you can guess, the kind of TV for which TV was invented. —Dom Sinacola

8. The Sinner

sinner power list aug 7.jpg
Creator: Derek Simonds
Stars: Jessica Biel, Christopher Abbott, Dohn Norwood, Abby Miller, Bill Pullman, Carrie Coon, Natalie Paul, Hannah Gross
Network: USA

Season One of The Sinner, her first regular TV role since the earnest WB soap 7th Heaven, is Jessica Biel’s Breaking Bad moment: The actress, who is also an executive producer on the series, leaves it all on the screen as young mother Cora Tannetti. When we first meet Cora, she is clearly beleaguered—ensconced in the family business and dealing with oppressive in-laws who want to consume her time and tell her how to raise her son, Laine (Grayson Eddey). She’s got a loving husband, Mason (Christopher Abbott), who slowly comes to realize that perhaps he never knew his wife at all.

There’s a lot of busyness to The Sinner—it’s a show fond of imagery (a particular paisley pattern becomes important), muted tones and long pauses—but I was still drawn into the story as Cora’s past slowly starts to unravel. Biel has left all vanity behind—she wears no visible make-up, no fancy clothes; her hair looks haphazard—to play a woman clearly struggling to survive on a daily basis. Her grief and pain are palpable. Even behind her seemingly vacant eyes, we know there’s something there. —Amy Amatangelo

7. Luther

luther 75.jpg
Creators: Neil Cross
Stars: Idris Elba, Ruth Wilson, Steven Mackintosh, Indira Varma, Paul McGann, Saskia Reeves, Warren Brown, Dermot Crowley, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Kierston Wareing, Pam Ferris, Rose Leslie
Network: BBC One

Idris Elba kicks ass and pays the consequences as an emotionally damaged police officer who can’t leave his work at the office. “You care about the dead more than the living,” John Luther’s estranged wife accuses him. And she’s right—the detective chief inspector is consumed by his cases, and a months-long suspension seems to have done little good for his mental health. Luther is nothing short of mesmerizing, slicing through suspects with the angry efficiency of a man on the brink. His already tenuous grasp on civility and basic sanity is tested further by the mind games of a woman (The Affair’s Ruth Wilson, seductive and threatening), he knows to have killed her own parents. Psychological sparring aside, this is Elba’s show, so white-hot is Luther in his rage and determination to overcome it. “Do you not worry you’re on the devil’s side without even knowing it?” wonders the tormented cop. Luther’s dread is palpable—and contagious. —Amanda Schurr

6. Dexter

dexter 75.jpg
Creator: James Manos Jr.
Stars: Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, David Zayas, James Remar, C.S. Lee, Lauren Vélez
Network: Showtime

The character development of Dexter Morgan over eight seasons was fascinating to follow. If Season One saw us trying to come to terms with our empathy towards a serial killer, we were eventually cheering an old friend’s slow progression towards something akin to humanity. His moral code might be a world away from ours, but he often does a better job adhering to it than the rest of us. In addition to the constant edge-of-your-seat plot twists, each season gave us incredible guest stars as allies and antagonists, including Jimmy Smits, John C. Lithgow, Peter Weller, Mos Def, Edward James Olmos and Julia Stiles. —Josh Jackson

5. Narcos

narcos 75.jpg
Creators: Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro
Stars: Wagner Moura, Boyd Holbrook, Pedro Pascal, Joanna Christie, Maurice Compte, Stephanie Sigman, Manolo Cardona, André Mattos, Roberto Urbina, Diego Cataõ
Network: Netflix

One popular line of criticism has it that Narcos romanticizes the violence and degradation associated with the Colombian drug wars—and drug culture in general—and I would agree that the excellent Wagner Moura plays kingpin Pablo Escobar so engagingly that he becomes a sort of Walt White-esque antihero. And the rhythms of the documentary-style narration are fast-paced in a way that’s reminiscent of Guy Ritchie, whipping us along at an almost breakneck speed. Nevertheless, this valid criticism misses the important point that we are watching a work of fiction based on historical figures—not a realdocumentary. And when viewed that way, Narcos was one of the most successful new shows on TV, in how it managed to flesh out some very dark characters and tell a complicated story with such urgency and clarity. This is not the hyper-realist drug fiction of Traffic or 2015’s wonderful Sicario, but as conflict entertainment goes, it succeeds wonderfully. —Shane Ryan

4. Mindhunter

Creator: Joe Penhall
Stars: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hannah Gross, Anna Torv, Cotter Smith and Cameron Britton
Network: Netflix

The name and the description may have you assuming that this is a typical network procedural: FBI agents interview psychopaths in order to catch murderers. But Mindhunter is as much Mad Men as it is Law & Order. Produced by David Fincher and Charlize Theron, the story follows two real-life agents, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff, the original King George III in Hamilton on Broadway) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), along with consulting psychologist Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) in the FBI’s nascent Behavioral Science Unit. Joe Penhall’s series is based on a similarly titled true crime book. Interviewing and cataloguing convicted serial killers (a phrase the trio invents) leads to them helping on active cases, but it also affects each of their personal lives in different ways. Cameron Britton is particularly unforgettable as notorious murderer and necrophiliac Edmund Kemper. —Josh Jackson

3. The Fall

The Fall 75.jpg
Creator: Allan Cubitt
Stars: Gillian Anderson, Jamie Dornan, Valene Kane, Séalinín Brennan, Colin Morgan, Bronagh Taggart, Niamh McGrady, Sarah Beattie, John Lynch
Network: BBC

Metropolitan Police Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is bereft of drama, deliberate in everything she does, like a predator that’s long transcended basic human mores. Even in sexual encounters, she’s a person of finely tuned method, in tune with the necessity for sex more than the exigencies of obtaining it with any sort of delicacy. It’s suiting, then, that she hunts for a kindred spirit throughout Northern Ireland, her target the meticulous serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), his name the most obvious accouterment of this dead-serious, deadly simmering procedural. Throughout three seasons, The Fall blurs the lines between the good side and the bad side, breaking down justice until it’s little more than justification to a hierarchy of humanity wherein the strongest and smartest deserve more freedom—more life—than the rest of the disposable herd. —Dom Sinacola

2. Sherlock

Creators: Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss
Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Mark Gatiss, Rupert Graves
Network: BBC

One has only to look at the sterling track record of Steve Moffat to witness a showrunner god in the making. The guiding hand behind such English hits as Press Gang and Coupling, Moffat has gained the most attention for resuscitating Dr. Who into the Anglo-Saxon ambassador of science fiction. But Moffat and frequent collaborator Mark Gatiss transcended their best work with Sherlock, the BBC drama that hijacks Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic sleuth into the present with awe-inspiring intelligence and style. Calling Sherlock a television show is a tad deceptive, though; the series has produced two seasons consisting of three 90-minute episodes each. In other words, the Sherlock team has averaged a feature film every three months since the Summer of 2010. The immaculate second season dug deeper into the psychological fault lines of Holmes, played with sterile arrogance by Benedict Cumberbatch (or as Seth Meyers noted on SNL, the only man with a name more ridiculous than Sherlock Holmes). When the audience wasn’t trying to piece together the mystery of the week, we were finding fleeting clues to the guarded humanity of London’s finest “Consulting Detective,” usually to the chagrin of long-suffering accomplice John Watson (Martin Freeman) and volatile love interest Irene Adler (Lara Pulver). —Sean Edgar

1. Twin Peaks

twin peaks.jpg
Creators: David Lynch, Mark Frost
Stars: Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Mädchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Richard Beymer, Lara Flynn Boyle, Joan Chen, Eric Da Re, Sherilyn Fenn
Network: ABC

At its heart, Twin Peaks was a detective story, with Dale Cooper (Kyle Maclachan), a stalwart, by-the-book FBI agent, descending upon the small logging town of Twin Peaks to investigate the murder of a young woman. But since this was a TV series conceived using the weird and wonderful visions of David Lynch, it wound up being so much more. Like its nearest antecedent, Blue Velvet, it explores the weirdness that lies beneath the surface of Anytown, U.S.A., including a lot of soap opera-like psychosexual drama and assorted oddball characters like The Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) and agoraphobic Harold Smith (Lenny Von Dohlen). The horror of the show came in with the supernatural underpinnings of this storyline, with the killer of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) potentially being an otherworldly force that goes by the name of Bob. Through Lynch’s lens and through the guise of actor Frank Silva, that spirit haunted every last scene in the show, no matter how outlandish and far-reaching it got. With the help of Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score and the atmosphere created by the set designers, you spent the entirety of the two seasons waiting for something terrible to happen to everyone on screen. And it only made those moments—when things did go sour—feel that much worse. Though Twin Peaks: The Return, which debuted on Showtime in May, is not yet available on Netflix, its wild surrealism and resistance to narrative confirm the visionary nature of Lynch’s original. —Robert Ham