The 10 Best Crime Dramas You Can Stream For Free

Joel Stice

Read Time 4 minutes

Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini in Fox Searchlight’s The Drop.

Cops and robbers is undoubtedly one of the oldest stories in the history of movies. The crime genre lends itself so well to film because it taps into the underbelly of society and can pull from real-life events out of newspaper headlines. Making a good crime movie that stands out isn’t easy though. The right script has to land in the hands of actors and a director capable of bringing the story to life and giving the story some grit and believable drama.

We’ve lined up 10 movies that feature every sort of good cop, bad cop, mobster, and crook imaginable. Best of all, these crime dramas are free to watch without a subscription.

1. Chinatown
Release Date: 1974
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway

This neo-noir mystery film is considered not just one of Jack Nicholson’s best films — considering his lengthy body of work that’s a saying something — but a standout in the crime genre. Set in 1920s Los Angeles, a private eye who’s trying to expose an adulterer finds himself ensnared in a web of murder and greed. The movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won an Oscar for “Best Original Screenplay.”

2. True Romance
Release Date: 1993
Director: Tony Scott
Starring: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper

This may be a movie directed by Tony Scott, but make no mistake, writer Quentin Tarantino’s stamp is all over it. The movie that has a video store clerk running off with a prostitute after stealing a gangster’s cocaine is about as close as Tarantino will ever come to rom-com. The handful of scenes with Gary Oldman alone are worth the watch.

3. Drive
Release Date: 2011
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston

For not speaking much throughout the movie, Ryan Gosling gives one of the most exciting performances of his career thus far. Gosling plays a Hollywood stuntman who makes his real money on the side working as a getaway driver. If you’re in the mood for some good car chases and a perfectly suited soundtrack to boot, then this movie is just what the doctor ordered.

4. Hard Eight
Release Date: 1996
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: John C. Reilly, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow

It was Boogie Nights that put director Paul Thomas Anderson on the map in Hollywood, but his first feature film was a sign of things to come. The neo-noir crime drama centers around a professional gambler who takes a protege under his wing, but things soon spiral out of control when a cocktail waitress enters the picture.

5. Narc
Release Date: 2002
Director: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Ray Liotta, Jason Patric

When it comes to crime dramas, the go-to movie with Ray Liotta is, of course, Goodfellas. It would be a mistake to overlook this excellent movie, however, and it received positive reviews from both audiences and critics alike. The story centers on two police officers toeing the line of what’s right and what’s wrong while trying to solve the murder of an undercover narcotics officer.

6. The Drop
Release Date: 2014
Director: Michaël R. Roskam
Starring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini

One of James Gandolfini’s last movies, The Drop is an excellent crime film that’s also not afraid to tug at your heartstrings. Tom Hardy plays a Brooklyn bartender who finds himself entangled with mobsters and a robbery gone wrong. The movie could have coasted on the crime story alone, but the connection between the central character and a rescued dog adds an extra layer that makes it a standout in the genre.

7. Walking Tall
Release Date: 2004
Director: Kevin Bray
Starring: The Rock, Johnny Knoxville

The Rock may be jumping out of burning skyscrapers and saving the planet from giant monsters these days, but 14 years ago he was cutting his teeth in cop movies. The reboot of the 1970s film based on the true story of Sheriff Buford Pusser has the Rock kicking butt and taking names to breakup the corruption that plagues a small Washington town. If you like watching the Rock whoop up on some bad guys, then you should enjoy this fun popcorn flick.

8. Pride and Glory
Release Date: 2008
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight

Pride and Glory came out just a few years after The Departed and the film noticeably takes an influence from Martin Scorsese’s work. Centered around a multi-generational family of New York City police officers, the movie explores the boundaries of police corruption and loyalty. Both Farrell and Norton give strong performances and the movie succeeds in capturing the gritty side of the big apple.

9. Murder in the First
Release Date: 1995
Director: Marc Rocco
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Christian Slater, Gary Oldman

Loosely based on real-life events, the movie focuses on a public defender who takes the case of an inmate who has been wrongfully convicted and sent to Alcatraz. The movie boasts an all-star cast with Kevin Bacon and Christian Slater giving some of the best performances of the early part of their careers. If you’re a fan of a good law and order film, this is a must-see.

10. Manhunter
Release Date: 1986
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: William Peterson, Brian Cox

If the trailer for Manhunter gives you Miami Vice vibes, that’s because it was released at the height of director Michael Mann’s success with Vice. The movie is based on the novel Red Dragon — a.k.a. the novel the introduced Hannibal Lecter — and centers around an FBI agent (Peterson) coming out of retirement to track down a serial killer. Fair warning, you may not want to watch this one in the dark alone.

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