There simply aren't enough shows featuring great action on TV, and unfortunately Cinemax, which has been home to some excellent action-packed dramas over the years, is exiting the original content game later this year after the second season of the martial arts drama Warrior concludes (Season 2 premieres Friday, Oct. 2). But that doesn't mean you can't still get your action fix!
If you're looking for shows that feature high-octane action and explosions, series that engage in hand-to-hand combat so impressive that you'll forget it isn't real and actually requires a ton of stunt choreography, or perhaps just shows that feature larger-than-life battles, this list of the best action TV shows is for you.
Co-created by Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler, Banshee is one of the best action shows you'll find. The show, which ran for four seasons and came to be known for its pulpy action and knock-down, drag-out brawls as much as its careful study of identity and power, features Antony Starr as an ex-con freshly out of prison who takes on the identity of Lucas Hood, the new sheriff of Banshee, Pennsylvania, after the real man dies in a bar fight the night before he's to be sworn in. As Hood walks the line between criminal and lawman, the violent show digs into small-town power dynamics, which are made more difficult by organized crime, corruption, and complicated relationships with the Pennsylvania Dutch and Native American communities. If you only have time to watch one new action show, make it this one, which was quietly one of the best shows of the 2010s.
Although its run will be short, Warrior is an excellent show for Cinemax to go out on because it is unlike anything else on TV. Also created by Jonathan Tropper, the series is based on the writings of Bruce Lee and is executive-produced by his daughter, Shannon, and director Justin Lin. The show follows a martial arts prodigy, Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji), who arrives in San Francisco in the 1800s with the intention of finding his sister (Dianne Doan) and bringing her home to China. Instead, he ends up working as a hatchet man for one of the city's tongs and discovers that his sister is pulling the strings of another. As Ah Sahm's loyalty is tested and he's pulled in multiple directions, the series makes great use of the martial arts, all the while exploring systemic racism through the rival tongs, the city's scheming politicians, the police in charge of policing Chinatown, and the Irish labor movement. And to top it all off, the series is full of daring women who often mercilessly wield power over the men around them.
Watch it on: Amazon Prime
Amazon's prequel series about Tom Clancy's crafty operative may start things off when Jack (John Krasinski) is just a buttoned-up desk jockey, but it doesn't take long for him to get out in the field to flex his new muscles, hunt down suspected terrorists, and shed that Jim Halpert image. The action in Jack Ryan is along the lines of the Jason Bourne movies, with Jack getting into shootouts and chases with baddies through beautiful cobblestoned European streets and the deserts of the Middle East (thanks to Amazon's deep pockets, it's all on-location) in Season 1, and special ops doing work in the jungles of Venezuela in Season 2. It's not all action all the time — a labyrinthine plot focuses a lot on cat-and-mouse espionage and intel gathering — but the action scenes are all gorgeously shot, with directors from Daredevil, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead on board to capture the ruckus. –Tim Surette
A co-production between the U.S. and the U.K. after Season 1, Strike Back is probably the most traditional or straightforward action series on this list with the exception of Jack Ryan; featuring a lot of explosions and shootouts, with the occasional boat chase or two, the series follows Section 20, a group of elite soldiers tasked with taking down terrorists and criminal organizations across the globe. And like Jack Ryan, it also films on location all over the world. But even as characters come and go (which happens often — the show does not downplay the seriousness of the situations in which its characters regularly find themselves), Strike Back never lets up on the high-caliber, cinema-worthy action sequences that have come to define it.
Watch it on: Netflix
This balletic martial arts action series aired on AMC from 2015 to 2019, and it never quite caught on the way that it should have. But now that the complete series is on Netflix, hopefully more can find it and appreciate its dazzling fight choreography, vibrant color scheme, and clever post-apocalyptic world-building. Set hundreds of years in the future after America has collapsed and what remains is ruled over by feudal barons, it tells the story of Sunny (Daniel Wu), a warrior in the employ of the Badlands' most powerful baron who leaves the life he knows behind when he meets a boy from another place who may hold secrets that will help Sunny unlock mysteries of his own mysterious past. Together, they go on a perilous journey to find the truth. Into the Badlands has magic, mystery, and Walking Dead-levels of blood, with stylized martial arts sequences that never fail to thrill. –Liam Mathews
Watch it on: Netflix
Stylized violence defines both Daredevil and The Punisher, which trade in the global scale of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe in favor of a more intimate approach to fighting crime at the root, and with a much darker and violent nature. The former stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer by day who takes to the streets as a vigilante-slash-superhero at night. Meanwhile, known for his rage and lethal take-no-prisoners mentality, Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), aka the Punisher, is initially a supporting character in Daredevil's second season, but was spun-off into his own show that digs into the character's past amid questions of morality. In the case of both series, the fights between the good guys and the bad are dirty and messy, more akin to bare-knuckle brawls than the tightly choreographed fist-fights we usually see on TV. It's a twist on the traditional superhero show, and one that you would be wrong to miss.
You might not think of History's Vikings, which first follows the adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) and then his sons, as an action show at first — there is a lot of sitting around and planning and talking about doing stuff — but the huge battle sequences that occur whenever Ragnar or any of the show's other characters attempt to conquer new lands or protect their home from invaders are so epic — and dare we say it, fun? — that there's no way we'd ever leave it off the list of best action shows.
Watch it on: Amazon Prime
One of the great indie-action movies of the 2010s, Joe Wright's Hanna, was adapted for the small screen in 2019. But it's more than just a fanboy's expansion of the film; screenwriter David Farr, who co-wrote the film, decided that he wanted to explore the story even more by breaking it out into a TV series. It's still about a young woman (Esme Creed-Miles) who escapes a secret government operation that trains children to be assassins, but the series goes way deeper into the mythology, particularly in Season 2 when it moves on from where the movie left off. However, it's the gritty, bone-crunching action that's the real draw here, with Creed-Miles an imposing young threat to anyone who stands in her way as she makes her way across Europe to find out the truth of her upbringing. –Tim Surette