The boundary between movies and television is becoming blurred in an era of endless content. TV is no longer bound by the assumption that it can’t be cinematic. Showrunners of the modern era recognize that the craft doesn’t have to be sacrificed just because of the medium, and streaming giants with big budgets are producing quality television that is not only entertaining but technically sound.
Today, content viewing doesn’t have to be a choice between just a movie or just a series. There’s some kind of TV show for any movie watcher out there, and these series are just as cinematic as some of the Oscar-winning favorites.
10 ‘Yellowstone’ (2018-2023)
Bringing the iconic feel of a Western movie to television was certainly a feat for Yellowstone creators John Linson and Taylor Sheridan. In a genre-honored tale, Kevin Costner upholds his title as one of the best leading men as the Dutton family patriarch, holding off corrupt politicians as they attempt to encroach on his family’s Montana homestead. Sheridan’s storytelling details translated beautifully to television as Yellowstone quickly became a fan favorite, earning it a spot on IMDb’s Top-Rated series list.
While the premise isn’t wholly original, bringing it to the television screen created a revitalization of a genre that allowed it to remain competitive in the streaming era. The popularity of the series earned it two successful spinoffs with Yellowstone: 1883 and Yellowstone: 1923, and more on the way.
9 ‘The White Lotus’ (2021-)
A whodunnit series in its own right, this HBO original could very well have been individual films. For two unique seasons with only one cross-over storyline, The White Lotus takes place at the elaborate titular hotel chain where over the course of a week, the guests manage to clash, ultimately ending with a dead body being removed from the hotel. The series’ brilliance comes from the first episode revealing the removal of the deceased; however, the identity is unknown until the very last episode.
With brilliant build-ups and pacing, each episode feels like a movie. Each guest has their own curious backstory and questionable motives that keep audiences guessing until the reveal. This Golden Globe and Emmy-winning series created by Mike White is the ultimate TV version of Clue that audiences have been missing.
8 ‘The Crown’ (2016-2023)
Star-studded, The Crown is period-piece television at its best. Netflix threw its hat into the ring of British period storytelling after seeing the unbridled success of BBC’s Downton Abbey. The series follows the political and personal lives of the royal family under Queen Elizabeth II era from the 1940s through the later years of the 20th Century.
The production value is immaculate and feels very much like an Oscar-winning design. An IMDb Top-Rated series, The Crown is a multi-award-winning series from acting to writing and all the technical awards in between. With a Netflix budget, this cinematic series feels very much like a period drama feature film.
7 ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (2017-)
Based on the chilling novel by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale remains one of television’s best adaptations. The Emmy-winning series stars Elisabeth Moss as June, one of many women forced to live as a concubine in a dystopian future where the country is run under a dictatorship. Not only is Moss excellent in her lead performance, but the cinematography supporting her is award-winning.
Cinematographer Colin Watkinson is behind the infamous close-ups of Moss that have become a staple within the Hulu series, allowing the emotional performance to land with a harder impact. This series has so many elements that allow it to screen like a movie, from the bold colors to the brutality that used to be reserved for R-rated features.
6 ‘Stranger Things’ (2016-2022)
Transporting viewers of all ages back to the 1980s, Stranger Things is one of the best Netflix original series to grace streaming. For the town of Hawkins, things are not as they seem after the disappearance of a young boy forces his mother, the police chief, and his friends to come face-to-face with dark supernatural forces to save him.
Like any good tween movie franchise, Stranger Things introduced a cast of young rising stars and allowed them to grow up before the audience’s eyes. Created by the Duffer brothers,this series resembles a blend of iconic genre movies like The Goonies, It, E.T., and Stand By Me. The successful stylization of the decade, without feeling forced, blended with excellent sci-fi, establishes Stranger Things as a cinematic treasure.
5 ‘Euphoria’ (2019-)
This high school series is the furthest stretch from the Disney and Nickelodeon imagination. HBO’s Euphoria features an intimate look at a group of high schoolers and their converging paths as they navigate their identities with issues of sex, drugs, and violence. This Primetime Emmy Award-winning series screens like a movie with brilliant editing, voice-over narrations, and a few fourth-wall breaks.
Led by the amazing Zendaya, Euphoria explores a dramatized version of the teenage years, yet audiences are enthralled as weekly if it were a feature film aired in multiple parts. It’s a series featuring completely calculated chaos that succeeds because of the cinematic ingredients showrunner Sam Levinson brought together.
4 ‘Black Mirror’ (2011-)
In this Netflix original, each episode feels like its own sci-fi movie. A British anthology series, Black Mirror is known for its shock-factor episodes centered around ethical dilemmas and the role of technology in the present and future. This IMDb Top-Rated series elevated the genre to the point where a handful of sci-fi movies would’ve been better as Black Mirror episodes.
With its home on Netflix, Black Mirror takes advantage of its platform and produces longer episodes, some over an hour. The production value of the storylines, sets, and camera work would trick an unsuspecting sci-fi viewer into believing they’re watching a feature film.
3 ‘The Last of Us’ (2023-)
This video game adaptation established itself early as one of 2023’s best series of the year. With outstanding premiere streaming numbers, The Last of Us continued to hook audiences week after week with its emotional storytelling and dedication to filmmaking. The series is about a hardened survivor and his treacherous journey to transport a 14-year-old girl to a medical facility in the post-cordyceps outbreak world.
The showrunners Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin never sacrifice good television and storytelling for unnecessary violence and gore. Purposeful, the series remains loyal to its source material but also produced one of the best episodes of TV this decade with episode three —”Long, Long Time” — an original backstory, exclusive to the HBO series.
2 ‘Hannibal’ (2013-2015)
This TV series was truly gone too soon for fans of cinematic television and the Hannibal Lecter franchise. Created by Bryan Fuller, Hannibal follows the infamous cannibal psychiatrist as he played cat-and-mouse games with the FBI before his capture. The series starred Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal with a performance that rivaled that of Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins.
Fuller’s take on Lecter and his relationship with FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) are deliciously artistic, giving audiences are given a seat at Hannibal the Cannibal’s dinner table. The cinematography, production design, and editing make solving homicides look like an art form. Despite a new case every episode, like a movie, the series felt like one long exquisite movie instead of an episodic series.
1 ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ (2018)
If this were a movie, The Haunting of Hill House would surely land multiple Oscar nominations. From cinematography to brilliant editing and strategic storytelling in between, this horror adaptation is an IMDb Top-Rated series. The 10-episode miniseries is based on the Shirley Jackson novel and the foreboding supernatural forces that lurk within the grand walls of Hill House. Four estranged siblings attempt to confront their childhood memories and the house that drove them apart.
Created by Mike Flanagan, the Netflix original featured a seamless flow between past and present as the Crain family toggles between their current life and their childhood. Each episode features a different perspective from each member until the paths converge in an emotional conclusion.
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