The NCIS Shows Ranked, According To Rotten Tomatoes


“NCIS” has a lot of love from its fans. After decades on the air, its dedicated audience has developed strong opinions about what’s good and what’s bad about each series that makes up its constellation of interconnected action-dramas. They’re not afraid to share those highlights and lowlights in locations like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, where one bad episode can send a series’ overall audience score spiraling. In a series-eat-series world, consistency is the key — and sometimes the only thing fans are looking for out of their favorite dramas.

It seems that those who love the “NCIS” franchise definitely know what their favorite show in the sprawling universe is — and which one they like the least. While it’s too early to judge where “NCIS: Origins” and the reunion-laden “NCIS: Tony & Ziva” will fall on the Tomatometer, here’s a ranking of every single series in the “NCIS” world, from worst to best, as judged by users of that auspicious review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

NCIS: Sydney (27%)

“NCIS: Sydney” is the newest kid on the franchise block as of press time. That might be why its Tomatometer rating makes it the series with the least esteem in the “NCIS” franchise. Its single season has earned an audience score of 27%.

Exploring the connection between the Australian Federal Police and a group of new-to-the-base NCIS officers stationed in Sydney, the series pits a crack team of investigators against terrorists and other assorted bad guys who threaten peace in the Indio-Pacific region. Interpersonal conflicts promptly develop, and cases take on a personal tone. The squad is led by Michelle Mackey (Olivia Swann) on the NCIS side of the fence and JD Dempsey (Todd Lasance) on the AFP side of things. While it might be the least popular member of the gang at the moment, it’s also the freshest, so perhaps one day its fortunes might turn around.

NCIS: New Orleans (62%)

The second least-popular offering in the “NCIS” franchise according to Rotten Tomatoes users is “NCIS: New Orleans.” Though the show had a long run, with seven seasons under its belt, it sits at a 62% audience approval score at press time. Just a hair above average, but not quite enough to break into the top three.

The series revolves around Dwayne Cassius Pride (Scott Bakula), known as King, a native of the Big Easy who seeks to make up for his messy, tumultuous past by leading his squad into and out of danger. The crimes King finds himself solving have a certain bayou flavor to them — there are jazz clubs to protect, and swamps to prod until they belch up bodies. Mardi Gras provides a backdrop for chaos at least once. The small cast is notable for the significant turnover over its run; only Pride, Rob Kerkovich’s Sebastian Lund, and Loretta Wade (CCH Pounder) appear in every single season of the program. That instability adds a little extra spice to the gumbo — or perhaps it destabilizes the dynamic.

NCIS: Los Angeles (63%)

The glitzy, gritty “NCIS: Los Angeles” snagged the third slot on the list by just a single percentage point, coming in at 63% at Rotten Tomatoes. Maintaining a still-strong fanbase a year after being canceled, “NCIS: LA” is noted for its quirky cast of characters, making it feel more like “Criminal Minds” than an “NCIS” series. Whether it’s by-the-books former Marine Sam Hanna (LL Cool J), orphaned G. Callen (Chris O’Donnell), unflappable Hetty Lange (Linda Hunt), the unpredictable Marty Deeks (Eric Christian Olsen) or tough-as-nails Kensi Blye (Daniela Ruah), strong personalities and interpersonal relationships are what anchor the series more than in any other version of the “NCIS” formula.


That surprising amount of quirk still manages to anchor itself strongly in very military-centric plotlines. Hetty’s backstory in the Special Projects world has made her a target for kidnapping and other forms of strife, and Sam’s family often finds themselves in the crossfire. Matters of identity frequently center the series, whether it’s G’s search for who he really is or Kensi and Marty’s stumbling but satisfying romance. Those things made “NCIS: LA” so different from the rest of the shows in the franchise and contributed to its popularity.

NCIS: Hawai’i (78%)

In second place is the recently canceled “NCIS: Hawai’i,” whose three seasons have pulled in a 78% audience approval score. That’s an excellent rating for such a short-lived show and a strong indication that CBS might regret sending the series to the cleaners in favor of more of Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ (Mark Harmon) adventures.

This tropical-set drama sports one of the most diverse casts in “NCIS” history. It’s also the first to feature a female lead in Vanessa Lachey’s Jane Tennant. Jane copes with single motherhood while trying to heal scars left behind by a dysfunctional childhood. On top of all of that, it sports the “NCIS” world’s first major same-sex romance, as Yasmine Al-Bustami’s Lucy Tara and Tori Anderson’s Kate Whistler spend the series falling in love.

Toward the end of Season 2, one of the longest crossovers in “NCIS” history begins, as Sam Hanna is imported from Los Angeles to help the team. He spends the entirety of Season 3 forming a team and is feted with a farewell party during the season finale. Audiences will never learn if Sam makes it back home, but it’s clear that they’re interested in the topic.

NCIS (83%)

Despite several major cast changes, some unpopular storylines, and a whole lot of miles under its belt, the granddaddy of them all still stands supreme. “NCIS” comes in at the top of the list, with an 83% approval score on Rotten Tomatoes.

This is a storied series with 21 seasons behind it, so it’s impossible to say what’s made it so popular over the years. The unflappable cool of Gibbs? The quirky gothic perkiness of Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette)? The bow-tied and dry-eyed Ducky Mallard (David McCallum)? The series usually puts all its dramatic gravitas behind the cases, letting the gore and mystery speak for themselves. And yet over the years, “NCIS” has risen head and shoulders above its origin point on “JAG” to become a force all its own.

All of that hard work and elbow grease are what makes “NCIS” so popular and ultimately makes it the most beloved member of the franchise it has spawned — at least on Rotten Tomatoes.