20 Best Action TV Series of All Time, Ranked

May 26, 2024 - Movies

Television is the escape we all need. Whether it be reality TV, great dramas, animated shows for children and adults, or the news of the world, or action, tv delivers a communal message back and forth between creator and consumer, and that is that humans will always hold the practice of being entertained in high regard, and great storytelling is forever a part of life that captivates us, especially through the medium at hand.

But enough of trying to sound like the scriptwriter for a presenter at the Oscars. We’re here to talk about the genre of television shows that captivates us with their adrenaline-fueled thrill rides known as ‘episodes’. Action is a genre we mainly see in movies; it works in a ninety-minute to two-hour block of time, but if you can stretch it out to forty-five to one-hour episodes and make ten or more of them, there’s a chance you can get some bonefied classics.

Related: The Best TV Shows of 2024 So Far, Ranked

TV is known for its drama, and these shows do have that, but they also pack a mean punch, carry heavy weapons, and dodge big explosions. These are the best of the best in the history of action-packed TV shows.

20 Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-1999)

Co-created by genre film icon Sam Raimi, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys is a blend of camp and mythical legends that captivated audiences in the 1990s. Kevin Sorbo plays the iconic title character, who is half man, half god, roaming the earth with his mortal companion, Iolaus (Michael Hurst). Of the many giant creatures and mythical beings Hercules must battle, his arch nemesis is his half brother Ares and his evil stepmother Hera.

Why Was Hercules Canceled?

The show’s sixth season only aired eight episodes before going off the air, as the network decided to cancel it while it was in production. Many people criticize the show for its camp, or because Kevin Sorbo is a polarizing figure these days.

However, nobody can discredit the comfort and popularity that the show gave audiences in the mid-1990s. Kevin Sorbo, for a time, did embody the appearance of a character that is always changing in aesthetic. For many years after its cancelation, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys hung around in syndication, airing in the middle of the day or late at night to fill time slots.

19 Fallout (2024 – Present)




Release Date
April 10, 2024

Fallout blew audiences away just last month on Prime Video. The video game adaptation follows three different intertwining stories of life in the wasteland of the world after nuclear war leveled the human race. Fallout comes from Westworld showrunner Jonathan Nolan and lived up to the hype, having fans breathe a sigh of relief that their favorite video game adaptation was a success.

Too Soon to Label Fallout One of the Greatest?

Maybe it is too soon, maybe it isn’t, but the list of video game adaptations being this well-received is very short. For an open-world game to be adapted this well with amazing story arcs in just eight episodes, one would argue Fallout was one of the best to do it.

The set design and little quirks of the show were so in tune with the world of the video game, while also standing on its own two feet as a piece of compelling drama and action that you can’t take your eyes off of. In ten years or so, maybe Fallout will even be a little higher on the list.

18 Banshee (2013 – 2016)



Release Date
January 11, 2013

Antony Starr , Ivana Miličević , Ulrich Thomsen , Frankie Faison , Matthew Rauch , Lili Simmons , Matt Servitto , Ryann Shane

Many call Banshee the best action television show you have never heard of. Premiering on Cinemax, the show follows an ex-convict named Lucas Hood, who takes on the role of a Pennsylvania town sheriff. He also reconnects with his old flame and former partner in crime, who has reinvented herself as the wife of the town’s prostitution lawyer. Hood’s past is also creeping up on him, as gangsters who he betrayed are hot on his trail.

Anthony Starr’s Role Before Playing Homelander

If you need another reason to be wowed by Anthony Starr’s acting, go watch Banshee. Fans may now know Starr on Amazon Prime Video’s hit show The Boys as he plays the sociopathic superhero, Homelander.

Banshee is a show that may have been downplayed a bit during its run because it was on Cinemax, a channel many have forgotten about over the years. However, it’s one you need to go back and watch. It’s a redemptive tale of honor and justice, and there are a lot of great fight sequences to make it earn its ranking among the best in terms of action shows.

17 Chuck (2007 – 2012)



Release Date
September 24, 2007


Chuck is the show that made a lot of us admire the charm and charisma that Zachary Levi brings to the table. On the show, Levi plays a computer geek by the name of Chuck Bartowski. Chuck opens an email one day with government information encoded in it that puts him in danger. Now, with the help of CIA Agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), he becomes an unlikely government spy.

Loveable Loser

Chuck was not a show that did too many new things to separate it from the pack. However, sometimes you don’t need something fresh. Many people want comfort food in their television shows; Chuck did that for millions of viewers a week when it aired on NBC. The loveable loser quality of the show’s title role never gets dull.

Yes, we are here talking about action shows, but Chuck has a lot of heart and sentimentality to it that never makes it cringeworthy. Levi and Strahovski’s chemistry is off the charts as it invests audiences in the pair’s relationship for five seasons.

16 The Fall Guy (1981 – 1986)

Before The Fall Guy ever got a big screen adaptation with Ryan Gosling and Emily Blunt, there was the action-packed television series. The show follows a Hollywood stuntman by the name of Colt Seavers (Lee Majors), who moonlights as a bounty hunter in and around Los Angeles. His skills of being able to handle vehicles in high-speed chases and being able to survive jumping off buildings aid him as he wrangles criminals.

Hollywood Hereos

Hollywood has always liked shows and movies about their industry. The Fall Guy does that while mixing in fun thrills for episodic television. Like the recent film adaptation, it’s cleverly written, and Lee Majors was an icon of this era of TV tough guys. However, this era of TV lovers may not get what’s so great about it. Shows like The Fall Guy warrant some long attention spans to get invested. The payoff is in the show’s car chases and other stunts.

15 Xena: Warrior Princess (1995 – 2001)

Xena: Warrior Princess hit the ziegeist at the right time. Lucy Lawless stars in the title role as a, you guessed it, warrior princess with a dark past. She’s set on redeeming herself as she wonders through the ancient world, battling creatures, warlords, and mythical gods.

Feminist Icon

Who would have thought a fantasy-action television show about an ancient female warrior would hit like it did in 1995? That’s not to say Xena does not deserve its flowers; it does. Lucy Lawless dominated the title role. The show even knocked its predecessor, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, out of the ratings wars of syndicated television. The show met its end in 2000, when it was canceled, and would air its finale in 2001. It still to this day holds a massive cult following.

14 Daredevil (2015 – 2018)



Release Date
April 10, 2015


Daredevil had a three-season run on Netflix from early 2015 to 2018. The show follows blind lawyer Matt Murdock by day, who then dawns a suit to become a vigilante by night, known to the people of Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil. The vigilante squared up against many different villains, including Elektra, Kingpin, and many organized crime figures in New York City.

Daredevil Packed a Mean Punch

The only Marvel show to make this list, Daredevil, had some of the roughest fight scenes ever put to screen throughout its three seasons on Netflix. No wonder there was some chatter about how they were going to make this version of Matt Murdock work in the MCU.

Many remember a few of the single-take fight sequences, the arrival of The Punisher on the show, and the brutality of Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin. The show also led into a few spin-offs, and a reboot is coming exclusively to Disney+ soon.

13 S.W.A.T. (1975 – 1976)

S.W.A.T. was actually a spinoff series from the show The Rookies back in 1975. The series follows the high-stakes missions of the Special Weapons and Tactics team of the fictional police department, the W.C.P.D. If the job got too dangerous for the police, S.W.A.T. was always called in, led by Lt. Hondo (Steve Forrest) and Sergeant Kay (Rod Perry).

Gone Too Soon and Ahead of It’s Time

S.W.A.T. only lasted two seasons and yet still left a mark. When you hear someone say “S.W.A.T.” even if it has nothing to do with the show, the theme song to it can easily run through your mind. It’s an earworm of a tune.

The action was also a little more brutal than maybe ABC network executives expected, which was a factor that led to its cancellation. Still, the show’s legend went on, with many crediting it for moving the subgenre of police procedurals forward. 2003 saw the release of the movie SWAT, which has tonal differences from the show but is still a lot of fun. Right now, S.W.A.T. also has a reboot on CBS that has lasted seven seasons.

12 Alias (2001 – 2006)



Release Date
September 30, 2001

Jennifer Garner plays Sydney Bristow on the show Alias. She’s a young woman who was recruited as a freshman in college by the SD-6 branch of the C.I.A. Years later, she lets it slip to her husband about her double life, leading him to be killed by SD-6. Sydney learns the truth about the organization she has worked for and then begins her vengeance, as she becomes a double agent fighting terrorists and rival agents from all over the world.

Jennifer Garner Became a Star Due to Alias

Jennifer Garner’s career launched into the stratosphere, with Alias becoming a hit in the early 2000s. This was an era of shows on ABC like Lost, 8 Simple Rules, and Desperate Housewives hitting big for the network.

Alias was one of their bread and butter shows that had high-stakes drama and incredible action. Sydney Bristow was tough as nails, and what helped that was that Garner did a lot of her own stunts on the show.

Related: Why Jennifer Gardner Is the Best Thing About 2003’s Daredevil

11 Smallville (2001 – 2017)



Release Date
October 16, 2001


The Superman origin story gets a long, stretched-out story that lasts 10 seasons on The CW (when the series started, it was called The WB).

Smallville gives us a glimpse into the life of a young Kal-El, the last son of Krypton, who crash-lands on earth and is adopted by the Kents to become Clark Kent. Many complicated matters begin to surface throughout the seasons of Smallville as Clark tries to suppress his powers, and the presence of kryptonite is found within the town, creating mutations of people and creatures all around the area.

Smallville Still Holds Up

With the surge of superhero adaptations that have made their way to television over the last decade, it’s Smallville that kind of started it all and thrived while doing it. Superman’s origin story is always crammed into the film adaptations, giving us the same beats of the pod crash landing from the sky, Jonathan Kent’s death, and Clark deciding to go to Metropolis.

In the original Superman film, all of that takes up about ten minutes of screen time. Smallville stretches out a lot of great character arcs and plot points in Superman’s origin, some of which die-hard fans know are coming, but it makes you invested in what these characters will soon become. There is no better look at how Clark Kent became Superman.

10 MacGyver (1985 – 1992)

MacGyver proves that sometimes it takes brains, not just brawn, to get yourself out of a sticky situation. Lasting seven seasons and assisting in enhancing the USA Network, the show follows Angus MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) as a top agent for the Pheonix Foundation. He’s no ordinary agent; he never carries a gun, as he uses clever and oftentimes scientific methods on assignments to thwart the plans of those that he is up against.

MacGyver Became a Household Name and a Catch Phrase

MacGyver was such a hit that anytime you were able to “wing it” and make something work either around the house or at your job, there was always someone to compare you to MacGyver, hence the phrase ‘MacGyverisms’.

That’s because rather than fire a rocket launcher at an enemy, MacGyver only really needed everyday things like a few paper clips and some painter’s tape to beat you. He carried duct tape and a Swiss Army knife on him and thought his way out of a tough spot. He was a new kind of hero, and an even more relatable one.

9 Mission: Impossible (1966 – 1973)

Mission: Impossible (1966)

Release Date
September 17, 1966

For seven seasons on CBS, the show that would become yet another Tom Crusie calling card decades later on the big screen aired every week. Mission: Impossible followed a group of top-notch spies who worked under the label IMF (Impossible Missions Force). The IMF took on covert missions that, if the team failed, the government would deny the existence of the mission, thus adding to the heightened sense of whether they could pull off the mission week in and week out.

“Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It…”

Mission Impossible had the perfect formula for what makes an intriguing action television series. High-octane action for its time, heist-like missions, cool gadgets, disguises, and that unforgettable theme song.

Long before Tom Cruise ran away from exploding buildings and held onto moving airplanes high in the sky, the Mission: Impossible series laid the groundwork for the modern spy action thriller. The show hit at a time when spies were in the zeitgeist, with James Bond films on the rise. America needed a crack team of spies, and they got it with a great cast that included Steven Hill, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Peter Lupus, and Greg Morris.

8 Dragon Ball Z (1996 – 2003)

Dragon Ball Z

Dragon Ball Z (1989)

Release Date
September 13, 1996

Christopher Sabat , Scott McNeil , Sean Schemmel , Brian Drummond , Sonny Strait

Releasing in Japan in 1989 and then making its way over to America in 1996, Dragon Ball Z became a cultural phenomenon that still holds up to this day. Dragon Ball Z follows the storyline of Goku, who, with his team of Z warriors, protects Earth from evil forces. One of them is the evil Frieza, a space warlord who is out for universal dominance.

Goku is One of the Greatest Heroes of All Time

A lot of anime comes and goes, but Dragon Ball Z has stood the test of time as it aired nearly thirty years ago on American television sets, having kids rush home from school in the late 1990s and early 2000s to catch the series on Cartoon Network’s Toonami.

Goku has become a hero that many feel can match strength with the likes of Superman. The color palette, the supporting characters, and the long, drawn-out fight sequences between Goku and his enemies are all there to get invested in. Many action-packed animated series have made an impact on culture, but not like Dragon Ball Z.

7 Prison Break (2005 – 2017)

Prison Break was a show that did wonders for Fox in the mid-2000s. Airing in 2005, the addictive prison action drama stars Wentworth Miller as Michael Scofield. His brother, Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell), is on Death Row for a crime he is innocent of. In order to save his brother, Scofield gets himself caught in a bank robbery and goes to the same prison as his brother. Once in, the two hatch a plan to escape, and once they do make it out, their problems only get worse.

Prison Break Was Great Until Season Five

Season five hurts Prison Break from being higher on this list. It undid a lot of how the fourth and what was believed to be the final season ended. Season five was also a revival series that many just didn’t think should have happened.

As for the first four seasons of the show, Prison Break felt like it could have just been a two-hour movie, but no, the writers were able to stretch out a plot of life after escaping prison so well that fans never left the show behind. The show averaged 9.2 million viewers a week in its first run and exceeded that in its second season of 9.4. Michael Scofield became a character viewers loved for his sharp intelligence and his love for his family.

6 Hawaii Five-O (1968 – 1980)

Jack Lord plays Detective Steve McGarrett on the original run of Hawaii Five-O. McGarrett is part of a special division of the state police that is tasked with bringing down organized crime figures across the islands of Hawaii. The show only added to the enormous run of great action-packed police procedurals that CBS produced from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s.

“Book ’em Danno”

Although the revived updated version of the show starring Scott Caan had a great decade-long run on CBS, it’s the original and its theme song that we all hail as a classic. The show also has an antagonist who measures up to the greatest Bond villains with Wo Fat. McGarrett and Fat have a cold war between them up until the show’s finale.

Hawaii Five-O is a time capsule of island life in the late 1960s, reminding us all the beauty of Hawaii and why it’s never a bad idea to pay it a visit. It’s a show that has never died, as generations continue to revisit it constantly.

5 Sons of Anarchy (2008 – 2014)

Sons of Anarchy is the story of the Teller-Morrow-led biker club that governs the town of Charming, California. The show’s primary focus is on Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), the son of one of the past leaders of the club, who takes the helm of the group.

His loyalty and trust are tested by those around him as the gang protects the town from drug dealers, skinheads, and crooked ATF agents who challenge him and his arms-dealing business that sits behind the front of the family-owned auto shop.

Kurt Sutter Created a Classic

You’ll never see another show explore the word of biker gangs so well. Kurt Sutter created some of the best characters of the last twenty years in Sons of Anarchy with the evolution of the criminal underworld in the Bay Area of California.

Jax Teller is a ruthless killer, yet we sympathize with him due to the love he has for his family and the club he leads. The deaths in Sons of Anarchy are felt deeply, even if the characters deserved to see their demise. Sons of Anarchy delivered high-stakes criminal acts, great character arcs, and weekly shootouts between the gangs of the town of Charming. It was not a show you watched; it was a show you lived.

4 Magnum P.I. (1980 – 1988)

Magnum P.I.

Magnum P.I.

Release Date
December 11, 1980

Tom Selleck , John Hillerman , Roger E. Mosley , Larry Manetti


Let’s go back to Hawaii for a moment. 1980’s Magnum P.I. stars Tom Selleck with one of the best character names ever, Thomas Magnum. He’s an ex-Navy Seal who returns from Afghanistan and uses his skill set as a private investigator around the islands. For eight seasons, Magnum solves case after case with his trademark aviator sunglasses and smart masculine wit on a weekly basis.

Tom Selleck’s Trademark

Tom Selleck can do no wrong in the world of action television series. Now playing the old timer and head of his family in Blue Bloods, Selleck has always made for a great law enforcement character over the years, and it’s all because of Magnum P.I. The trademark island look that Magnum rocks and the red Ferrari ooze the 1980s, in a nutshell. The show won two Prime Time Emmys and fell in line with many other great action-packed television series of this era of TV.

3 The A-Team (1983 – 1987)

Hannibal, Faceman, Murdock, and B.A. are the four ex-special forces soldiers who are on the lam from the military police. The four make up the group known as The A-Team. The show is one of the best action series of the 1980s and of all time. The group is on the lam for the entirety of its five-season run, but that does not stop them from helping out the little guy by sticking it to the bad guys of the world.

It’s All About the ‘Team’

The A-Team never goes off the path of the idea that this is a foursome that all has something to contribute to the group. Although Hannibal is the leader, they all have a purpose: to achieve the same goal in every episode. Everyone loves a hero who stands up for the oppressed.

The A-Team did just that; they became soldiers of fortune and fought back against the injustices of the world. The 1980s were filled with big muscles who killed bad guys just because it looked cool. The A-Team had a reasoning behind the missions they went on. Lastly, yes, it’s about the team, but what an icon Mr. T got to be with the help of a show like this!

2 Miami Vice (1984 – 1989)

By 1984, the era of what we know as the 1980s was in full effect, and leading the charge on television was none other than Miami Vice. Remembered for its highly stylized and colorful aesthetic, Miami Vice followed the detectives Ricardo Tubbs (Phillip Michael Thomas) and James Crockett (Don Johnson) on their many investigations throughout the exotic streets of South Florida.

Maimi Vice Changed Police Shows

Up until Miami Vice, police shows were very dry. There were signs of it evolving with shows like Hawaii Five-O in the late 1970s, but there needed to be a new approach to crime shows rather than having a grumpy old man on a case.

Enter Miami Vice. A show that added color and more action to the cop drama show. It added a sexy look to the genre, with a phenomenal soundtrack, and launched many careers from in front of the camera to behind it, with the likes of Michael Mann having a big hand in directing episodes of the show.

1 24 (2001 – 2010)

Fox’s 24 follows counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) over the course of a day in his job of taking down the bad guys in the world. Bauer is up against the worst of the worst on a global scale in each episode. Double agents, domestic and international terrorists, nuclear war, sleeper cells, and assassination attempts on world leaders are all the opposition in a day’s work.

24 and the Response to the World of Terrorism

When we think of an action TV series and the world we live in today, the original show to do it is 24, tackling issues we face in America in a post-9/11 world. Many other shows do it now, but 24 did it first, and it accomplished it in a strategic way. The clock is always ticking on the show, resolutions of a threat are solved with seconds remaining, and Bauer is always stressed out and angrily whispering on the phone to someone.

If anything, this has to be the best action series of all time. The formula is all there for us to enjoy. It never overstayed its welcome (despite some revivals and spinoffs, of course). It was a tight show that went in and out and left you catching your breath until the following week’s episode.

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