In February 2011, Amazon announced that Amazon Prime members could access thousands of streaming movies and TV shows for free as part of its subscription service.
Today, it is estimated that there are over 100 million people in the U.S. who have access to Amazon Prime features, including its streaming video library. That’s a massive addressable audience for any TV show, current or classic, spread across devices ranging from smartphones to big screen TVs.
Let’s take a look at the best Amazon Prime shows, including both original shows exclusive to the service, and older shows first shown by other outlets.
Editor’s note – This list of best Amazon Prime shows will be updated as shows leave and others are added to the service.
Doctor Who (2005)
One of the biggest sci-fi shows worldwide, Doctor Who first started way back in 1963. It chronicles the adventures of “The Doctor”, a human-looking alien from a race known as the Time Lords, who tries to fight evil and save folks. The Doctor’s arsenal includes quick thinking, a sonic screwdriver, and a TARDIS, a machine that can travel in any point in space and time, but is locked in its outward appearance to look like a British police call box. The original series was canceled in 1989, but in 2005 the BBC finally revived it, and it has been a huge hit ever since.
Amazon Prime Video has the exclusive U.S. streaming rights to the 2005 revived series (Classic Who is available on another streaming service, BritBox). While the show has changed actors several times over the past 14 years (most recently to a female playing the role, Jodie Whittaker), it still retains that sense of wonder, humor, and adventure, with some fantastic storytelling and acting, and imaginative visual effects. Of course, it would not be Doctor Who without the monsters, as the Doctor deals with the tank-like Daleks, the sinister Silence, the robotic Cybermen and the truly scary Weeping Angels. Doctor Who is, without a doubt, one of the best Amazon Prime shows.
The Man in the High Castle
Based on the classic novel by the late Philip K. Dick, this Amazon Prime original show takes place in the 1960s, but in an alternate timeline where Nazi Germany and Japan won World War II, and occupy the coasts of either side of the U.S. This “what if” series tells the tale of several characters in this alternate Earth, who discover a series of movies that show the US winning World War II.
This series, obviously, expands from Dick’s original novel and shows the characters not only realizing that they are on an alternate Earth, but that it might be possible to actually travel to the timeline where the U.S. and its allies won World War II. Three 10-episodes seasons are available to stream on Amazon Prime now, and a fourth and final season is planned for release in 2020. The Man in the High Castle is not only one the best Amazon Prime shows, but perhaps the best original Amazon Prime TV drama series.
Originally shown on the SyFy cable channel, the first three seasons of this excellent sci-fi epic are now available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. Based on The Expanse novels by “James S. A. Corey” (actually a pen name for two writers, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), the show takes place hundreds of years in the future, where humanity has colonized the entire solar system. However, there are now factions in various locations in the system: Earth, Mars, and the “Belters” who live in the outer system.
The show not only has a huge cast and an epic feel, but it may have some of the best visual effects ever made for a space-based sci-fi series. The good news is that Amazon head Jeff Bezos, an admitted big sci-fi fan himself, loved The Expanse so much that when SyFy decided not to renew the show for a fourth season, Bezos got Amazon Prime Video to pick up the rights and approve production of that fourth season. It will be shown sometime in 2019.
The Americans may be the best TV show that most of you may have never watched. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, a normal married couple who live in the Washington D.C. area in the early 1980s with their two kids. Sounds like a standard family drama, right? Wrong. Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are actually two deep-undercover KGB spies who are actively trying to gain intel for the Soviet Union.
This show has tons of twists and turns, especially as Philip starts to enjoy his time in the U.S., while Elizabeth sticks with her KGB training and her ideology. Oh, and their two kids have no ideas their mom and dad are spies. All six seasons of The Americans are available to stream now, and it is a no-brainer for our best Amazon Prime shows list.
If you thought no one but Sir Anthony Hopkins could portray the brilliant serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, then check out this short-lived series that originally aired on NBC. Mads Mikkelsen gives us a highly creepy performance as Dr. Lecter, and Hugh Dancy plays FBI profiler Will Graham, who has to hunt down Lecter after he reveals himself to be a killer and a cannibal.
The series takes place before the first Hannibal Lecter novel by Thomas Harris, Red Dragon, for the first two and a half seasons. However, it actually adapts that novel for the second half of its third and final season. It’s too bad that this frightening show got canceled before the series could adapt the other Lecter novels, but what is available is still excellent, if you are not too squeamish.
We have seen tons of movies and TV shows about the British class system, but none of them have been as entertaining as this show. Originally shown on ITV in the U.K. and on PBS in the U.S., Downton Abbey is centered on a fictional estate in the British countryside, and all of the people who live and work there in the early part of the 20th century. Real world events of the time affect both the Crawley family and their domestic servants.
The show puts the spotlight on the many changes in the class system in Britain during that time period, as the aristocracy start to lose their once massive influence on society. The show has some great writing and terrific performances by the cast, who make you care about what happens to them through the years. All six seasons are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video and it will get you ready for the upcoming feature film revival, which will be shown in theaters in 2019.
In the early 1990s, Star Trek ruled TV in terms of space-based sci-fi shows. However, a sci-fi author named J. Michael Straczynski had an idea for a space series that would be different. It would be designed as a five-season story, with a beginning, middle and end, instead of being composed of mostly stand-alone episodes. The result was the syndicated series Babylon 5, and it took the sci-fi community by storm.
Set on the Babylon 5 space station hundreds of years in the future, the show not only told a massively epic story of wars, alien conflict, and deep secrets, but it did so with an endgame in mind, which is something that many TV shows have done since then. In addition, Babylon 5 was the first TV show to use CGI for its visual effects almost exclusively. While the effects look a bit dated now, Babylon 5’s story is still worth watching. You can stream the five seasons of the show on Amazon Prime Video, but sadly the service did not add the many spin-off movies that were made before, during and after the show’s main run.
This show not only has a cool premise but also has a visual style unlike any TV show made before or since. The show centers on Elliot, a computer programmer who is also a secret hacker. He gets recruited by a mysterious group who want to use Elliot’s skills to bring down what they claim are evil corporations.
The idea of a computer hacker anti-hero is a good one, and Rami Malek is perfect as Elliot, a smart man who also has some serious mental health issues. Those issues bleed into the camera work for the series, which sometimes places the camera at odd angles, in part to give us a glimpse as to how Elliot sees the world. You can stream the first three seasons on Amazon Prime Video now, to prepare you for the fourth and final season, which will be shown on USA Network later in 2019.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
The most recent Amazon series could be the best one yet for the Amazon Prime Video service. It centers on a woman in New York City in the late 1950s, who decides to become a stand-up comedian after her husband leaves her. The show won an Emmy Award in 2018 for Best Comedy Series and its star, Rachel Brosnahan, also won that year for Best Actress in a Comedy series. It’s also won, or been nominated for, many other major awards over the past couple of years.
Even though it’s labeled as a comedy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has a lot of drama as well, as you might expect from its creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who also created Gilmore Girls. It’s also a great look back in time in the late 1950s, where women were just beginning to make themselves known in the workforce for more than just being a teacher or secretary. The first two seasons of the show are available to stream now, and a third season is on its way, with a planned release in late 2019. It may be number one on our personal best Amazon Prime shows list.
HBO shows on Amazon Prime Video
We are cheating a bit for this last entry on our best Amazon Prime shows for two good reasons. One is that the HBO shows that you can stream on Amazon Prime Video are, simply put, some of the best television ever produced. We are talking classic dramas like The Sopranos, The Wire, Band of Brothers and Boardwalk Empire. It also has the network’s funniest comedy shows like Veep, Sex and the City and more.
The other reason we are putting these shows in one category and listing is that they may not be on Amazon Prime Video for much longer. HBO’s owners at WarnerMedia, which is now a part of AT&T, had previously said they planned to remove all the HBO shows from Amazon Prime Video by the end of 2018. That has not happened as predicted, but we expect that those HBO shows could be delisted from Amazon Prime any day now, (especially since WarnerMedia plans to launch its own streaming video service as well) So you had better binge on those shows right now, because you might be forced to pay an extra fee to access them on another service soon.
What’s your favorite Amazon Prime TV show?