Ozark, Narcos and Better Call Saul: The best crime dramas on Netflix

The streaming service has shared some of the biggest and best shows in crime drama over the last 10 years. Here's our pick of the must-see series waiting to be watched.

By Katie Archer Published: 21 April 2021 - 3.38pm
Netflix Ozark Laura Linney, Jason Bateman

If crime drama is your thing, you’ll be spoilt for choice at Netflix which has a seemingly never-ending supply of gritty series.

From drug lords to serial killers, London gangs to US crime bosses and everything in between, there’s a huge range of Netflix Originals as well as the best from other broadcasters that has been snapped up by the streaming service.

Take a look over our pick of favourite crime dramas and find your newest binge watch.

Narcos

Narcos Netflix

Gritty gangster drama series Narcos follows the true story of Colombia’s infamously violent drug cartels, presided over by Pablo Escobar, and the DEA agents who attempted to bring him to justice.

This series is not one for the faint-hearted, with plenty of bloodshed, fighting and shoot outs, but it’s also a fascinating tale of the drugs world in the 70s and 80s.

Narcos was so successful that it also spawned a spin-off, Narcos: Mexico, on top of its three-season run, so there’s plenty to get your teeth into here.

Criminal

Criminal David Tennant Netflix

Criminal is the sort of ambitious series concept that would only ever work at Netflix, and it’s a jewel in the crown of their crime drama programming.

Criminal is, in fact, four series, written and performed in four different languages - English, German, Spanish and French. Each series takes place entirely in the same police interview room – except in each one, the room apparently belongs to that country’s detectives. Regardless of language, every episode is an individual drama of its own. 

It’s a unique take on the genre as each crime mystery plays out purely through description by the detectives and suspects, but despite the lack of location, there’s definitely no lack of drama.

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad AMC

Along with The Wire and The Sopranos, Breaking Bad is one of those modern classic crime series that it’s almost unthinkable to have missed.

If you didn’t get Breaking Bad fever the first time round, the whole series starring Bryan Cranston as high school chemistry teacher Walter White and Aaron Paul as his former student Jesse Pinkman is available to stream on Netflix.

Diagnosed with cancer and unable to see how his family can afford his care, Walter sets about creating one of the purest forms of crystal meth on the market, with Jesse as his (not very) streetwise dealer.

But it isn’t long until the drug captures the attention of big-time cartels, landing Walter and Jesse in the midst of a drug war they are completely ill-equipped to deal with.

As well as the five original seasons, Breaking Bad also has a Netflix spin-off film, El Camino, and an equally popular prequel series…

Better Call Saul

Better Call Saul Netflix

The timeline is all back to front with this prequel, as Better Call Saul is set in the years leading up to the events of Breaking Bad but was released after the main series.

We’re currently up to season five and after a slowish start, the drama has started to surpass Breaking Bad in terms of scale of the story.

It features Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman, a fan favourite character from Breaking Bad was Walter and Jesse’s 'criminal' lawyer, and is the tale of how a small-time attorney ended up defending some of the most unsavoury characters in New Mexico.

Saul was introduced as more of a comedy character, but his backstory – under his real name of Jimmy McGill – becomes more traumatic with each series, and as the prequel gets ever closer to dovetailing with the original show, we’re dreading finding out why his partner Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) never made it to the Breaking Bad era...

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Ozark

Ozark Netflix

It’s one of Netflix’s biggest hits, with the cast and plot of a Hollywood blockbuster making it a must-see series that is about to head into its fourth and final season.

Jason Bateman plays strait-laced Chicago accountant Marty Byrde. When Marty's business partner gets mixed up with the mob he, wife Wendy (Laura Linney) and their children, escape to the remote Ozark mountains to start a new life away from danger.

However, Marty’s criminal past soon catches up with him and the family end up doing business with some seriously scary associates, from local murderers to drug cartels. Expect shockingly violent cliffhangers throughout.

The cracks in the Byrdes’ marriage begin to widen as Wendy unexpectedly thrives in her new role as crime boss, and one of the series’ standout performances comes from Marty’s right-hand woman Ruth, played by Julia Garner.

Power

Rapper 50 Cent collaborated on this six-season crime series about drug dealer James St Patrick who’s determined to build a life as a legitimate business owner through his nightclub.

However, it isn’t as easy as just shrugging off his past, with police still pursuing him, tricky financial dealings, and his marriage crumbling around him.

50 Cent also stars in the series as Kanan Stark, James’ friend-turned-rival, in the power struggle that navigates every level of the crime business.

Designated Survivor

Designated Survivor Kiefer Sutherland Netflix

Kiefer Sutherland led one of the most successful TV series ever made as the star of 24, so viewers were rightly excited to see him heading up another thrilling show.

He plays “designated survivor” Thomas Kirkman, the US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who overnight is promoted to the highest office of President when an explosion kills everyone else in the presidential line of succession at the State of the Union address.

Not only does Kirkman have to get to grips with his lack of experience in leadership, he’s also set on a course to try to discover who was responsible for the explosion – and why.

Line of Duty

Line of Duty BBC

Mother of God, this is a good series – and whether you’re looking to find out what all the hype is about or just want to relive all those tense interview room moments, Netflix is the place to go for series 1 to 5.

Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) transfers to police anti-corruption department AC-12 after refusing to cover up a shooting in his previous team, and joins forces with Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) and fellow detective Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) in one of TV’s greatest trios.

The trio are on a relentless quest to bring down a Midlands-based organised crime group who are blackmailing various police officers, and to identify corrupt boss 'H'. Below this overarching plot, each series focuses on its own storyline about a different bent copper at the mercy of the OCG who AC-12 are investigating.

Guest stars have included Thandie Newton, Keeley Hawes and Lennie James, with Kelly Macdonald playing the latest corrupt detective in series 6.

Rarely is a series as universally popular as Jed Mercurio’s police procedural, and rarely does one have quite so many jaw-dropping cliffhangers – it’s definitely a classic in the making.

Top Boy

Gritty London gang drama Top Boy started life on Channel 4, but after being dropped and then championed by celebrity fan Drake, it transferred to Netflix for its third series.

Confusingly, Netflix presented season three as the first one and renamed the original two series Top Boy: Summerhouse after the fictional Summerhouse estate in Hackney where it is set.

Starring Ashley Walters and Kane Robinson as Dushane and Sully, it follows them struggling to work their way up in the world and fight off violent rivals by controlling the estate’s drugs and crime networks.

How to Get Away with Murder

A little glam, a little silly and utterly addictive, this fast-moving crime drama starring Viola Davis can easily hook you and draw you in for six series.

Davis plays skilled lawyer and university lecturer Annalise Keating, who along with five of her best students becomes embroiled in a murder plot that they must use all of their legal cunning to get away with.

On top of this, each episode sees the team tackle a different case that Keating is working on to find innovative ways of helping her clients get away with murder and whatever other crimes they’ve committed.

Good Girls

Christina Hendricks couldn’t be more different from her glamorous Mad Men character Joan in this series about an unlikely crime trio.

She plays mum and betrayed wife Beth, who along with her sister and friend is sick of struggling to make ends meet – so they decide to rob a supermarket, in the process attracting the attention of much larger-scale criminals.

It starts out as a desperate move, but Beth grows to love her life of crime as did viewers, with Good Girls streaming its fourth season in 2021.

Mindhunter

Mindhunter Netflix

Period crime drama Mindhunter follows the FBI’s newly-formed behavioural science unit of the 70s, which began the groundbreaking work of psychological profiling for some of America’s most notorious killers.

Featuring serial killers such as Son of Sam, BTK and Edmund Kemper, it sees detectives Holden Ford and Bill Tench attempt to get inside their twisted minds with the help of psychologist Wendy Carr.

Mindhunter’s second series followed the notorious Atlanta murders of 1979 to 1981, where Wayne Williams was found guilty of murdering two adults but the cases of 26 dead children were officially left unsolved as he was never tried for them.

Fargo

TV series of hit films aren’t always a great idea, but Fargo, based on the Coen brothers' 1996 movie of the same name, has carved out four successful seasons.

Each one is set in a different era with a different cast, although each one has a slight overlap and features a different murder that its characters become involved in.

Star castings have included Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Kirsten Dunst, Ted Danson, Ewan McGregor, Chris Rock, Jason Schwartzman and Jessie Buckley, making it worth watching for its actors alone.

White Lines

White Lines Daniel Mays Netflix

This was a huge release for Netflix in 2020. Although it only ran for one season, White Lines was the perfect viewing for a lockdown summer when our usual Mediterranean holiday haunts were out of bounds.

Switching between the present day and 90s Ibiza, it saw Zoe Walker (Laura Haddock) trying to investigate her brother’s murder when he was found dead on the White Isle 20 years after going missing while working there as a DJ.

Daniel Mays, Laurence Fox and Angela Griffin also starred in the gloriously frothy, sun-soaked murder mystery full of larger than life characters.

When They See Us

When They See Us Netflix

Emmy-winning true crime series When They See Us is difficult but compelling viewing illustrating the systemic racism in police investigations.

It dramatises the 1989 case of a white woman who was raped and assaulted in New York’s Central Park, and tells the stories of the five young black men who were falsely accused and prosecuted for the attack.

Tough scenes show the far-reaching effects on the suspects and their families, and the series even came with an Oprah Winfrey special where she interviewed the cast as well as the real-life exonerated five.

The People vs O.J. Simpson

When the team behind American Horror Story branched out into true crime, they started big with the infamous O.J. Simpson case.

American footballer-turned-actor Simpson was the prime suspect in the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her lover Ron Goldman. A dramatic car chase around LA was only the prelude to one of the most notorious celebrity court cases of all time, in which Simpson, represented by lawyer Robert Kardashian (father of Kim and family), was controversially found not guilty.

The ensemble cast includes Cuba Gooding Jr as Simpson, David Schwimmer as Kardashian, Sarah Paulson and John Travolta as other prosecution and defence lawyers, and Selma Blair as Kris Jenner.

Giri/Haji

If you missed this gang crime drama when it premiered on BBC Two, you can catch up at your leisure on Netflix.

Giri/Haji, meaning Duty/Shame in Japanese, sees a Tokyo detective travel to London in search of his brother who was thought to be dead, but who is now accused of murdering a relative of a Japanese crime syndicate member, threatening to spark a gang war.

Set between London and Tokyo, it stars Takehiro Hira and Kelly Macdonald as detectives from vastly different cultures joining forces to try to prevent a crime wave taking hold.

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