For when you want a bit more than a movie but not too much.
The trend of shows that run for several seasons has been taking a backseat for a while. Although with streaming there’s always the opportunity to binge-watch, not everyone has the time to wait for a new season to arrive while you are left with the nail-biting cliffhanger of the previous one. Sometimes that wait can be very frustrating and other times, you just lose interest. Ergo, miniseries! Since its inception, HBO Max has offered its fans a wide variety of limited shows and miniseries. From hard-hitting crime stories to gripping thrillers, tense dramas, and dark comedies, HBO Max’s library is a curation of all kinds of genres and content that you can keep exploring one after another, and you’ll never run out of options.
It’s like a very long movie but not so long that you have to spend months in suspense. Almost all of them feature award-winning stars and have been critically acclaimed, with some even winning several awards. So, without further ado, check out our list of the best miniseries streaming on HBO Max that you can binge-watch right now!
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Creator: Damon Lindelof | Genre: Superhero Action Drama | Episodes: 9
Cast: Regina King, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart
If you have seen Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie version then we also recommend the series for you to sit and compare who made the better adaptation. But do note that the movie and the series are vastly different from each other. Based on the iconic 1986 DC comic series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen (2019) is a superhero dystopic action drama that reimagines the setting and characters of the original comics. The series is essentially a sequel rather than a remake, with the story set 34 years after the events of the book that examines the consequences of Ozymandias’ (Jeremy Irons) actions. The series focuses on Sister Night/Angela Abar, played by Regina King, a Tulsa detective who dresses up as a nun to fight crime and encounters a white supremacist group called the Seventh Kavalry. Over the course of her investigation, Angela uncovers a plot that ties together the past, present, and future of her world.
Watchmen has been praised for its complex and riveting characters, mature themes, and strong socio-political narrative, which led the series to win 11 Emmy Awards, including the ones for best lead and best supporting actor for King and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II respectively.
Irma Vep (2022)
Creator: Olivier Assayas | Genre: Comedy Drama | Episodes: 8
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Vincent Macaigne, Adria Arjona, Carrie Brownstein, Tom Sturridge
In 1996, French filmmaker Olivier Assayas made the comedy-drama Irma Vep, which was critically acclaimed for its embedded narrative (film-within-a-film), where the protagonist was played by Maggie Cheung in a fictionalized version of herself. In 2022, Assayas returned to remake the story as a film-within-a-series featuring Alicia Vikander as the protagonist, keeping the same plot and characters.
The series follows Mira, a disenchanted American movie star who is vying for the role of her lifetime. She heads to France to star in the remake of the French classic Les Vampires in a garish retake. Disillusioned by her career, breakup, and her complex new acting role, Mira starts to lose her grip on her real self and her film character, blurring her concept of fiction versus reality. The eight-episode series, like its predecessor movie, was also highly acclaimed by critics and fans alike, with special praise for Vikander’s performance.
Mare of Easttown (2021)
Creator: Brad Ingelsby | Genre: Crime Drama | Episodes: 7
Cast: Kate Winslet, Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart, Angourie Rice, Evan Peters
As much we love Kate Winslet in offbeat, heart-wrenching dramas, the Titanic star is equally brilliant in crime thrillers, as Mare of Easttown (2021) proves. In the limited crime drama series, Winslet stars as the titular Marianne “Mare” Sheehan, a local police detective. 25 years ago, she was a high school basketball champion, which made her a local hero. But in the present day, she is a bitter, divorced detective who is unable to solve a missing person case for over a year, making the townsfolk doubt her credibility. When another local teenager goes missing in the same way, Mare resolves to solve the case at any cost while navigating her personal struggles and inner demons.
During its run, Mare of Easttown had record-breaking ratings, with the massive viewership reportedly crashing HBO Max network servers during the series finale. The series also received rave reviews from critics and fans alike for its tightly-knit narrative and dark atmosphere, not to mention Winslet’s performance, which earned her an Emmy and a Golden Globe.
I May Destroy You (2020)
Creator: Michaela Coel | Genre: Dark Dramedy | Episodes: 12
Cast: Michaela Coel, Weruche Opia, Paapa Essiedu
This British dark comedy-drama series comes from English writer, producer, and actor Michaela Coel, who shot to fame with her breakthrough comedy series Chewing Gum.
Set in London, I May Destroy You (2020) follows Coel as Arabella Essiedu, a Twitter star-turned-novelist in her 20s, who gained overnight success with her book and is a celebrated millennial icon. While stuck on her second book, she decides to take a break and go around town exploring the wild nightlife. But when one such adventure turns out to be a messy night of blackouts, bloodshed, and blurry flashbacks, Arabella resorts to her friends, lovers, and random distractions to cope with the trauma.
The 12-part series has been critically acclaimed for the portrayal of a woman on the edge, and for exploring subjects like social media influence, racism, consent, and rape culture, but with provocative humor that leans towards the darker side. I May Destroy You also won several awards, including two BAFTAs and two Emmy Awards, both earned by Coel for acting and writing.
Over the Garden Wall (2014)
Creator: Patrick McHale | Genre: Dark Fantasy Adventure | Episodes: 10
Voice Cast: Elijah Wood, Collin Dean, Melanie Lynskey, Christopher Lloyd
Patrick McHale, the creator of Adventure Time and writer of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio, also created this animated dark fantasy series, based on his animated short film Tome of the Unknown. Made in the classic rubber hose animation style, Over the Garden Wall (2014) follows two bickering half-brothers Greg and Wirt who get lost in a mysterious forest. As they try to find their way home, they encounter a series of fantastical things and strange characters, including a troubled woodsman, a demanding witch, a cheeky bluebird, and an eccentric baron, whom they have to learn to trust for their own good. But the two siblings must also watch out for the frightening, hungry Beast who wants to eat the boys for his meal.
The Emmy-winning series has been praised for its folklore-inspired narrative and the limitless imagination of the creator, which paints the quintessential “enchanted forest” that’s full of wonders and dangers. With 10 bite-sized episodes, this animated fantasy series seems like a great watch when you want something interesting and satisfying but not too dragged out. The series has also been adapted into comic books and graphic novel series.
Angels in America (2003)
Creator: Mike Nichols | Genre: Social Drama | Episodes: 6
Cast: Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Patrick Wilson, Mary-Louise Parker, Emma Thompson
This 2003 series is based on Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning two-part stage play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, and features Al Pacino in his first major television role. Set in 1980s New York City, Angels in America features a collection of various characters with intersecting lives and their stories, exploring poignant themes of the era like AIDS, the Reagan administration, and the changing socio-political climate of America. The series follows the stories of several gay men, each of whom is struggling with emotional issues or medical conditions like AIDS, mental health, heartbreak, and so on, told through fictional and historical characters and passionate symbolism. Ambitious and gripping, this drama series also boasts an ensemble cast with many A-listers of Hollywood, all of whom deliver mind-blowing performances. Hence, the 11 Emmy Awards Angels in America won were no surprise to the audience.
I Know This Much Is True (2020)
Creator: Derek Cianfrance | Genre: Drama | Episodes: 6
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Melissa Leo, Michael Greyeyes, Kathryn Hahn, Imogen Poots
If you want to know what Mark Ruffalo has been up to between Avengers: Endgame and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, this drama series could be the right answer. This 2020 series is based on the eponymous 1998 novel by Wally Lamb and sees the MCU star in a very different characterization from his other works. Set in the early 1990s, I Know This Much is True (2020) sees Ruffalo in the double role of twin brothers Dominick and Thomas Birdsey. Thomas suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, with occasional episodes, while Dominick tries to help him and does everything he can to get him released from the mental hospital.
Ruffalo’s convincing performance in two strikingly opposite roles in this drama earned him an Emmy Award. At the same time, his co-stars Kathryn Hahn and Imogen Poots are equally brilliant. If you like stories about people with difficult lives who still hold onto hope, then I Know This Much is True is just what you would enjoy. It’s touching, heartbreaking, and hopeful, all at the same time.
The Young Pope (2016)
Creator: Paolo Sorrentino | Genre: Religious Drama | Episodes: 10
Cast: Jude Law, Diane Keaton, Silvio Orlando, Javier Cámara, Scott Shepherd
This 2016 religious drama was the first Italian television series to be nominated for an Emmy Award and stars Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley) as the titular pope. When Lenny Belardo, a young cardinal from America, becomes the first American pope in history, he takes the name of Pius XIII and goes on to change the system to suit his own needs. Alongside his chief adviser and confidante Sister Mary, played by Diane Keaton, he challenges the established traditions of the Vatican, causing chaos and disruption inside and outside the Vatican. But is he really what he appears to be?
Though it is billed as a drama, The Young Pope (2016) has a lot of thriller elements in its plot, which slowly unfurls as you progress through the series. Despite negative feedback from religious communities, the series received mostly positive reviews from the audience for its slick, stylish visuals and intriguing drama. Originally released as a limited series, The Young Pope was followed by a sequel series The New Pope in 2020, with Law reprising his role and John Malkovich joining the cast.
The Night Of (2016)
Creator: Richard Price and Steven Zaillian | Genre: Crime Drama | Episodes: 8
Cast: John Turturro, Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp, Payman Maadim, Poorna Jagannathan
Meeting a stranger, partying with them all night, and finding them killed the next morning is quite a common trope for crime thrillers. But it’s not the plot but the execution that matters, and The Night Of (2016) does it quite well, as reviews say. The series is based on the first season of the British series Criminal Justice created by Peter Moffat and is in turn created by Academy Award-nominee Richard Price and Oscar winner Steven Zaillian. British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) stars as the protagonist in this crime thriller, playing Nasir “Naz” Khan, a college student in Queens, New York.
One night, Naz steals his father’s car and gives a lift to a mysterious woman, ending up having a wild night of sex and drugs with her. Soon after, he wakes up to find the woman stabbed to death, with no recollection of what happened the past night. When he is charged with the murder of the woman, Naz must prove his innocence with the help of his newly appointed lawyer, John Stone, played by John Turturro. The crime drama thriller has been described as “a richly crafted, exquisitely performed mystery” with ample tension that is classic of a good mystery, so it’s certain to keep you hooked through its eight episodes and leave you in shock with the final discovery. The Night Of earned several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and won five Emmy Awards, including one for Riz Ahmed as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series.
Creator: Craig Mazin | Genre: Historical Disaster Drama | Episodes: 5
Cast: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, Paul Ritter, Sam Troughton
The massive accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant happened decades ago, but it remains relevant and significant to the rest of the world. And when real-life events of such magnitude are captured in a story, it makes them more impactful. And that’s what this 2019 historical drama series does. Based on the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, this limited series explores what went down during one of the worst accidents in the history of mankind. It also depicts the people who were involved and who responded to the accident and how many became heroes as they put their lives in danger to save the rest. Chernobyl (2019) also features (through fictionalized characters) some of the lesser-known people who were affected by the disaster, like the firefighters, first responders on the scene, volunteers, the miners, and so on.
While the actual event is depicted as is in the five-part series, the creators of the show built a tense, dramatic atmosphere to emphasize the graveness of the situation, and it can be a little hard to watch. However, as a work of fiction and drama, the series has been critically acclaimed for the performances, cinematography, precision of facts, direction, screenplay, and overall narrative, not to mention the stellar cast that portrayed it all. Chernobyl won several awards and accolades from critics and fans, including two Golden Globe Awards and three Primetime Emmy Awards.
The Staircase (2022)
Creator: Antonio Campos | Genre: Biographical Crime Drama | Episodes: 8
Cast: Colin Firth, Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbarg, Dane DeHaan, Olivia DeJonge
Ever since the State v. Peterson case first became public news in the early 2000s, it has popped in and out of the headlines, with several film and television productions made after it. But the latest dramatization by HBO Max is a more intense look into the crime, and everyone involved. The Staircase (2022) follows the real-life case of American writer and aspiring politician Michael Peterson, who was convicted of killing his wife Kathleen Peterson when the latter was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in their home. As the investigation into the case proceeds, followed by a tumultuous legal battle, it brings out suppressed emotions, and the buried history of the rest of the family members, putting everyone’s relationships to the test. Meanwhile, a team of French filmmakers takes an interest in the story, which also adds new perspectives to the case.
Although the biographical drama series is based on the award-winning true-crime documentary of the same name by French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, the show’s creator Antonio Campos (The Devil All the Time) gives a certain depth to the characters, bringing out everyone’s true selves and making the story all the more intriguing and gripping.
Sharp Objects (2018)
Creator: Marti Noxon | Genre: Psychological Thriller | Episodes: 8
Cast: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Matt Craven
Before she became a literary sensation for Gone Girl, novelist Gillian Flynn debuted with the novel Sharp Objects in 2006, which got adapted into a television series in 2018. And like her other stories, the series Sharp Objects (2018) also features a dark, psychological story centered on a disturbed protagonist. So, if you like Gone Girl or Dark Places, then Sharp Objects should definitely be next on your list (meaning both the novels and their adaptations). The series follows Camille Preaker, a crime reporter who returns to her hometown to report the murder of two young girls. Camille suffers from alcoholism with a history of self-harm and was recently released from a psychiatric hospital. So, when she returns home, it makes it difficult for her and her family, especially her mother, Adora, who keeps pushing Camille to face her demons.
Packed with suspense, thrill, crime, and mystery, this series makes for a complete watching experience, which is only elevated by the brilliant performances delivered by Amy Adams as Camille and Patricia Clarkson as Adora. On its release, the eight-episode series was highly acclaimed for its filmmaking, narrative, tone, and performances, receiving several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress for Clarkson.
The Girl Before (2021)
Creator: J.P. Delaney | Genre: Psychological Thriller | Episodes: 4
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Jessica Plummer, Ben Hardy
If you like stories with the classic women-in-peril trope, then The Girl Before (2021) is right on point. However, this limited thriller series leans more towards the psychological angle rather than a crime angle. The series features Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Jane Cavendish, a young, single woman who moves into a beautiful, minimalist home designed by an enigmatic architect, Edward Monkford, played by David Oyelowo. Jane falls in love with the extraordinary architecture and interiors of the new house, but Edward has stipulated some dos and don’ts for the new tenant. As she continues to stay on, while adhering to the strange rules, Jane makes a shocking discovery about the previous tenant who occupied the house before her. The more she learns, the more unnerving it becomes for her.
The series has ample edge-of-the-seat moments and a tense atmosphere, accentuated by Mbatha-Raw’s convincing performance, as is usually the case with most of her roles. The Girl Before is as short as a miniseries can get, with only four episodes, so it gets over before the story feels dragged.
Catherine the Great (2019)
Creator: Philip Martin | Genre: Historical Drama | Episodes: 4
Cast: Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Rory Kinnear, Gina McKee, Kevin R. McNally
Is there any character Helen Mirren can’t play, and convincingly so? Of course not! That also includes her role as the iconic Russian empress, Catherine II, as in this historical drama.
The four-part limited series follows the rise and fall of the czarina’s reign from 1764 to 1796. The plot also explores her affair with the Russian military leader, Grigory Potemkin, which evolves into a unique relationship between the two historical characters, and how that shaped the future of Russia. If historical legends full of drama, scandal, and political conflicts excite you, then definitely give this series a try. An Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated series, Catherine the Great (2019) had mixed reviews from critics with the exception of great appreciation for Mirren’s performance and the grand visuals.
The Outsider (2020)
Creator: Richard Price | Genre: Crime Horror-Thriller | Episodes: 10
Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Cynthia Erivo, Jason Bateman, Paddy Considine, Julianne Nicholson
It’s fair to say that Stephen King’s novels make for some of the most spine-chilling thrillers horror movies and series. The Outsider (2020) is definitely one of them, as reviews have shown. This horror thriller series is based on King’s eponymous novel from 2018 and has been adapted by Richard Price, who also created The Night Of (also on this list). Set in Georgia, The Outsider follows the gruesome murder of a young boy, with a suburban parent, Terry Maitland, being accused of the murder. When local police detective Ralph Anderson starts to investigate the case, he lands on a string of bizarre events surrounding the murder and discovers clues that don’t seem to add up. Jason Bateman plays the role of Terry and Ben Mendelsohn plays Detective Anderson. Bateman also directs the first two episodes of the series.
Released in 2020, this network original became quite popular among fans. Despite being a slow burn, the story of The Outsider is driven by its narrative, which blends psychological thriller, horror, crime, and drama, all elevated by excellent performances.