The Week Recommends

Top 10 action thriller series to watch right now!


In this edition of The Week Recommends, we have curated a list of highly entertaining action thriller shows that will have you on the edge of your seats. From espionage thrillers like The Americans to historical fiction Spartacus, this list has some of the finest and critically acclaimed TV shows that were also praised for their suspenseful storytelling, intense drama, and heart-pounding action sequences. Some of the shows featured in this list like 24 have, in fact, redefined the action genre for small screens, setting new standards in television entertainment.

10. Mayans M.C.

Mayans M.C. follows the rise and fall of Ezekiel 'EZ' Reyes, who joins as a 'prospect' in the eponymous motorcycle club to eventually become its president. Set in US–Mexico border, the show, created by Kurt Sutter and Elgin James, starring J. D. Pardo as EZ, is a greatly engaging drama with high-octane action sequences, thrills and twists. EZ had a promising future, but he was forced into a life of crime after the brutal murder of his mother. He is also hiding a secret; he joined the motorcycle club with an ulterior motive.

Okay, you may have to do a bit of groundwork before getting into this show—watch Sons of Anarchy, which is ranked higher in this list—to fully immerse yourself into this world of men on motorcycles, their women, and their crimes and misdemeanors. Mayans M.C. is brutal, bloody and unrelenting when it comes to action sequences, making it a perfect choice for action thriller enthusiasts.

9. Hanna

Based on the 2011 film of the same name, Hanna is a coming-of-age action drama with a strong female lead. The series revolves around Hanna Heller, a 15-year-old girl raised in the wilderness of northern Finland by her father, Erik, an ex-CIA operative who trains her to be an assassin. She is an exceptional fighter and a survivalist, but also a teenager who is curious about the world outside. When their location is compromised, the father-daughter duo must flee even as ruthless intelligence agents seek to kill them. What follows is a visually stunning and suspenseful action drama with a great deal of action sequences.

Of course, it is a familiar trope—a highly skilled protagonist doing everything possible to stay a step ahead of those who seek to capture her—but Esme Creed-Miles as Hanna comes up with an impressive performance, playing the lead with a perfect balance of fierce determination and innocence of a teenager who wishes to live a normal life.

8. Reacher


Based on the Jack Reacher book series written by Lee Child, this Amazon Original follows Reacher—played by a towering Alan Ritchson—a former US military police officer-turned-drifter who becomes a vigilante when pushed to a corner. Reacher is a gentle giant unless provoked. He is also a great detective with Sherlock Holmes-like deduction skills. If you were impressed by Tom Cruise's Reacher and is doubting whether or not to binge the Amazon Original, note that Lee Child's Reacher is a six-foot, five-inches tall person, which Ritchson almost is, making it a more faithful adaptation of the books.

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The show begins with Reacher arriving at the fictional town of Margrave in Georgia, and being arrested for murder. He then joins hands with a few honest cops to unravel the mystery involving a complex counterfeiting operation. While the first season is heavy on Schwarzenegger-grade action sequences where Reacher is headbutting people and breaking limbs, the second season, where he teams up with his former military mates to take on a stealth terrorist weapons buyer is more heavy on gunfire. Fast-paced and suspenseful, the Reacher series maintains the gritty, hard-boiled tone of Child's novels and is certainly for lovers of action movies/series.

7. Ray Donovan

Ray Donovan (Liev Schreiber) is a "fixer". He is the one you call when things go horribly wrong, and end up with a dead body in your bedroom and you can't even remember how it got there. Donovan will make things alright for you if you are rich, terribly rich. This South Boston thug does everything, from making bodies disappear, cleaning up scandals and even managing the family troubles for Hollywood's elite. Most of the times, his way of solving the problems involves a baseball bat and his bare fists. The show begins with the release of Donovan's father Michael "Mickey" Donovan from prison and the murder of a Catholic priest. Ray was behind his father's long term in prison and Mickey comes out from prison with his own set of criminal plans.

The series unfolds through the lives of Donovan brothers—one of who was abused by a priest—and their father. This seven-season series is a perfect blend of great action, crime, family drama, and complex characters and nuanced storylines. The series isn't all about crimes and bloodshed, because Ray is also a father and a husband who longs for normalcy but can barely afford it because the Donovan family seem to have a thing for messing things up. The show has also been praised highly for the performances of Schreiber and Jon Voight who plays Mickey.

6. The Punisher


Frank Castle aka The Punisher is a killing machine. He is also a tormented man, lamenting the death of his family and the immensely talented Jon Bernthal plays this gun-toting vigilante with much finesse. Despite being a show that boasts of some brilliant combat sequences, The Punisher is also a character-heavy drama that focuses on Castle's emotional turmoil even as he dishes out vigilante justice. The series also does not shy away from the darker sides of vigilantism and the toll it takes on the "superhero", making the show more grounded and realistic.

The action choreography in The Punisher is finely crafted to showcase Castle's military training and experience as he takes on armies of baddies with tactical gunplay and close-quarter, hand-to-hand combats, bringing much-required authenticity to the scenes. The show uses the action sequences to push Castle's character and narrative arc. Created by Steve Lightfoot, this series is a must-watch for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and those who enjoy action-packed dramas with complex characters and storylines.

5. Spartacus


Inspired by the historical figure Spartacus, a Thracian warrior who leads a rebellion of slaves against the Roman Republic, this show is everything that action series enthusiasts long for—finely executed and stylized action sequences, unapologetically brutal graphic violence with over the top blood splattering, painting your screen red! The series consists of three seasons and a miniseries, Blood and Sand, Vengeance, War of the Damned, and Gods of the Arena for you to sink your teeth into.

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The show begins with Spartacus (played by Andy Whitfield in the first season and Liam McIntyre in the later seasons) being held as a captive and forced into the gladiatorial arena. As the show progresses, he transforms from a reluctant fighter into a leader of a slave rebellion. The show holds back nothing when it comes to the action sequences which are executed in such a manner to show a raw, almost primal intensity. Spartacus isn't just about the fights, it also explores the themes of loyalty, power dynamics and workings of the Roman society. It has also been praised by critics for its historical accuracy and character development. If you have the stomach for gratuitous violence and gore, and love stylized action, do not miss Spartacus.

4. 24


Starring Kiefer Sutherland as US counter-terrorist federal agent Jack Bauer, 24 is a critically acclaimed show that unfolds in real-time as the protagonist deals with various challenges including nuclear threats, biological weapons, and an assassination plot targeting the Presidential nominee. The show is divided into nine seasons, each consisting of 24 episodes, corresponding to the 24 hours of a day, allowing the show to have a fast-paced, action-packed narrative that keeps viewers glued to their seats. Although some of the aspects of the show may be outdated as 24 ran from 2001 to 2014, it has enough suspense and mystery to have you hooked.

The show has plenty of adrenaline-raising action sequences, featuring car chases, gun fights and tense interrogations. 24 isn't just about action, there is also political intrigue, espionage and government conspiracies, told with unparalleled urgency and relentless pacing. From thwarting terrorist plots, and preventing assassination attempts to stopping a biowar, there's not a dull moment when Bauer is on screen. Sutherland comes up with a compelling performance, capturing the protagonist's grit and vulnerability, making him believable. The show has several awards to its credit, including Best Drama Series at the 2004 Golden Globe Awards and Outstanding Drama Series at the 2006 Primetime Emmy Awards.

3. Sons of Anarchy


Created by Kurt Sutter and starring Charlie Hunnam in the lead, Sons of Anarchy follows the lives of the members of an outlaw motorcycle club, SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original). The club is involved in everything criminal, from drug trafficking to gun-running, robbery and extortion. Tensions arise when Jackson "Jax" Teller (Hunnam), the vice president of the motorcycle club, begins questioning the club and himself after finding his father's manuscript which details his original vision for the club. Throughout the series, SAMCRO faces an array of enemies, including rival gangs, mobs, white supremacists and law enforcement, and promises plenty of violence and gunfights.

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However, the show, which blurs the lines between right and wrong, isn't all about men, murders and mayhem, it also explores the themes of love, brotherhood, loyalty, betrayal, and redemption. The show also boasts of some fantastic performances from Katey Sagal as Jax's mother Gemma, Kim Coates as Alexander "Tig" Trager, Ron Perlman as Clarence 'Clay' Morrow and Walton Goggins as Venus Van Dam. If you are up for a complex, character-driven action series with plenty of edge-of-the-seat moments with a classic anti-hero at the helm, do check out Sons of Anarchy.

2. Banshee


Haven't heard of Banshee yet? Well, you should! It is arguably one of the most entertaining action TV shows out there. Writing for the online portal Medium, a reviewer summed up the show thus: "A guy walks into a bar. Cop eats steak. Two gangsters come in. Cop plays hero. Cop dies. Guy kill gangsters. Guy becomes cop." As ridiculous as the plot may sound, Banshee is everything an action cinema/series enthusiast can ever ask for—plenty of violent action, gore and bloodshed. Starring Antony Starr in the lead, the show is suspenseful, and unpredictable, and even spends enough time on character building.

An unnamed ex-con comes to Banshee, Pennsylvania, in search of his former lover and accomplice who is now settled into the role of a suburban wife and mother with a new identity. The murder of the town's new sheriff gives him the opportunity to assume a new identity as Lucas Hood. He struggles to maintain his new identity as a cop even as embraces a life of crime with his former partners. As Hood navigates his new identity, he faces challenges from powerful crime lord Rabbit, who he double-crossed before going to prison for the robbery. Banshee has been described as a modern western with its small-town setting, and is sure to entertain you if you are looking for a high-octane action series that pushes the envelope in the genre.

1. The Americans


Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) are two deep-cover Soviet KGB intelligence officers living in the US in the Cold War era, posing as a happy American family with kids. Their friend and neighbor Stan Beeman is tasked with uncovering Soviet agents hiding in plain sight. The show, created by Joe Weisberg, explores their personal and professional lives, exploring themes of marriage, family, loyalty, and identity even as it delivers fully on the action front.

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The series features moments of high-stakes physical confrontations and covert operations that are praiseworthy for their realism and attention to detail. The Jennings are a pair of highly skilled spies who have undergone years of rigorous training in disarming their enemies and the stunt choreography showcases these impressive skills of the protagonists. There are plenty of hand-to-hand combat sequences, tense stakeouts, and dangerous espionage missions, keeping you wanting for more. Weisberg, a former CIA officer, brings into the show his experiences, emphasizing the human relationships within the spy game. The Americans, which won multiple Primetime Emmy Awards and Golden Globe Awards, is considered among the likes of Breaking Bad, The Sopranos is one show you can't miss if you love action shows that also feature nuanced storytelling and character dynamics.

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