Most Expensive TV Shows of All Time: Many things factor into the expense used to turn words into the long-form storytelling format. TV shows become expensive for studios and streaming giants mostly due to a host of differences from normal talk shows or shows that are shot on a set.
Firstly, the scale and complexity of the production play an important role in how elaborate the set and production design would be. For instance, a show with extensive special effects, intricate sets, and detailed costumes like Game of Thrones (or the more recent – House of Dragon) may require a larger budget than something like How I Met Your Mother.
Secondly, the length of the series also becomes an important factor as a show that has already been renewed for multiple seasons will have and require a larger budget than a limited series.
Thirdly, location and logistics are very important in defining a show’s budget. If a show is set in exotic locations (or multiple locations), the expense of a show will automatically go up. Additionally, the cost of transportation, accommodations, and other logistical expenses can quickly add up to it.
Lastly, one of the biggest budget definers is the marketing and promotion that goes behind finally bringing a finished show to catch eyeballs. The expense of promoting and marketing a show can be significant, especially for high-profile series that require a substantial advertising campaign.
With the reasons clearly defined, let’s dive into the 10 Most Expensive Shows of All Time. If, at any point in the list, you feel that the budget of the show hasn’t been utilized to the best of its abilities, feel free to engage with me in the comment section below.
10. The Crown
“The Crown” is a historical drama series on Netflix that chronicles the reign of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. The show offers a fictionalized account of the Queen’s life and reign, spanning from her early years as Princess Elizabeth to her current status as the longest-reigning monarch in British history.
The series provides a behind-the-scenes look at the political and personal challenges Queen Elizabeth II and her family faced as they navigate the changing landscape of post-World War II Britain and the complexities of the monarchy. It further delves into the relationships between the Queen and various political figures, such as Prime Ministers Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson, and Margaret Thatcher, as well as her interactions with other members of the royal family, including her husband Prince Philip, her sister Princess Margaret, and her children Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward.
Cost Per Episode: It’s hard to pinpoint an exact figure when it comes to the production cost of each episode of “The Crown,” especially when it hasn’t been publicly disclosed. However, given the show’s lavish production values, the cost per episode of “The Crown” is estimated to range from $6 million to $13 million per episode.
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9. Game of Thrones
Everyone on the earth knows of “Game of Thrones.” The epic fantasy television series that originally aired on HBO was based on the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin. On the other hand, the series takes place in the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos and follows the power struggles, political intrigue, and warfare among several noble houses. The central conflict revolves around the claimants to the Iron Throne, the ultimate seat of power in Westeros.
Throughout the series, the characters navigate intricate plots, engage in fierce battles, and face supernatural threats, such as the White Walkers and their army of undead creatures. The show instantly gained fame for its morally complex characters, intricate storytelling, and unexpected plot twists. Delving into the themes of power, honor, family, loyalty, and the consequences of choices made in pursuit of the goal makes it one of the most watchable shows of all time.
Cost Per Episode: The production cost of each episode of “Game of Thrones” varied throughout its run. However, it is widely known that “Game of Thrones” had a substantial budget, making it one of the most expensive television shows ever produced, with the cost per episode increasing as the series progressed and the scope of the story expanded. According to various reports and estimates, the later seasons of “Game of Thrones” had budgets ranging from $8 million to $15 million per episode.
“See,” the Apple TV+ show set in a post-apocalyptic future, depicts a world where a viral outbreak has decimated most of humanity, leaving the survivors blind. The remaining population has adapted to living without sight for several generations, and the concept of vision is largely mythical and forgotten.
The story follows Baba Voss (played by Jason Momoa), a fearless warrior and leader of a tribe, as he navigates the challenges of this visually impaired society. His life takes a turn when his wife, Maghra (played by Hera Hilmar), gives birth to twins who possess the ability to see. The news of sighted children spreads fear and fascination, leading powerful forces to pursue and control them. As Baba Voss tries to protect his family and fights for their survival, he becomes entangled in a larger conflict that questions the world’s long-held beliefs and unveils secrets that could change everything.
The series, which did not earn Apple TV+ as many viewers as it could have, resulting in becoming one of the underseen shows, explores themes of family, identity, power, and the resilience of the human spirit.
Cost Per Episode: Apple TV+, ever since its inception, has invested significantly in original content, including “See,” aiming to produce high-quality shows that rival those of other streaming services. The immersive world-building and production design in See are lavish, so one can understand that the creation of its visually immersive post-apocalyptic world, which includes expensive and advanced visual effects, could cost anywhere near an estimate of more than $15 million dollar per episode.
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7. The Mandalorian
Set in the Star Wars universe, the Disney+ series “The Mandalorian” takes place a few years after the fall of the Galactic Empire, as depicted in “Return of the Jedi.” It follows the adventures of a lone bounty hunter known as “The Mandalorian,” or Mando for short.
The Mandalorian, played by Pedro Pascal, operates in the galaxy’s outer reaches, far from the authority of the New Republic. He is a member of the Mandalorian culture, characterized by their distinct armor and adherence to a code of honor. He is known for his stoicism, exceptional combat skills, and efficient bounty-hunting abilities.
The central storyline unfolds when the Mandalorian is tasked with a unique assignment to capture a mysterious and highly sought-after creature known as “The Child,” but more commonly referred to as “Baby Yoda.”. Instead of fulfilling his mission, the Mandalorian forms a protective bond with the Child and becomes determined to keep it safe from those who would harm it.
Throughout the series, the Mandalorian navigates various dangerous missions, encounters different factions and characters, and delves deeper into the secrets surrounding the Child’s origins and significance. The show combines action, adventure, and drama, with elements of Star Wars mythology woven into its narrative.
Cost Per Episode: “The Mandalorian” is one of the most popular Disney+ shows with a budget that can rival many big-budget films.
The show’s high production values are evident in its visually stunning effects, detailed set designs, and intricate costume work. Since the show utilizes advanced technology, including the groundbreaking virtual production techniques developed by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) known as “The Volume,” the show’s per-episode cost automatically shoots up tenfolds. The Volume is a technology that is used to create immersive virtual environments in real time, allowing the swift transition of the special effects and real-life character work.
While we don’t have specific info about the costs, the budget of each episode of “The Mandalorian” ranges between $10 million to $15 million.
6. The Pacific
The HBO miniseries “The Pacific” was designed as a companion piece to the critically acclaimed “Band of Brothers” and focused on the experiences of United States Marines during World War II in the Pacific theater.
The series follows the intertwined journeys of three U.S. Marine Corps servicemen—Robert Leckie (played by James Badge Dale), Eugene Sledge (played by Joe Mazzello), and John Basilone (played by Jon Seda)—as they fight in major battles against the Japanese Empire.
“The Pacific,” which provided a realistic and often harrowing portrayal of the Pacific theater, depicted the intense and brutal nature of the conflict, exploring the physical and emotional toll the war takes on the soldiers.
The story unfolds across ten episodes, with each episode focusing on different battles and events, such as the Battle of Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima. The series also delves into the soldiers’ personal lives, their relationships with their comrades, and the impact of war on their families back home.
Cost Per Episode: Before we get into the budget details, its worth noting that “The Pacific” was a collaboration between HBO, Playtone, and DreamWorks, and it involved a large team of talented professionals, including executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
One of the main aims of the miniseries was to deliver a high-quality and authentic portrayal of the war, resulting in a substantial investment in the show’s budget. It required extensive sets, period-accurate costumes, intricate battle sequences, and advanced visual effects to recreate the Pacific theater and the major battles that took place. Given the scale and scope of the production, it is estimated that the cost per episode of “The Pacific” ranged from $12 million to $20 million.
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5. House of Dragon
“House of the Dragon,” the prequel series to the HBO hit Game of Thrones, is based on George R.R. Martin’s book “Fire & Blood.” The show is set in the fictional world of Westeros and delves into the history of House Targaryen, one of the noble families of the Seven Kingdoms.
The story of “House of the Dragon” takes place roughly 300 years before the events of “Game of Thrones” and focuses on the rise of the House of Targaryen and the Targaryen civil war, known as the Dance of the Dragons.
Much like its predecessor, this spin-off explores the internal conflicts, political maneuverings, and epic battles within the Targaryen dynasty, highlighting the dragons and their significance in the world of Westeros.
More specifically, the story delves into the lives of key Targaryen family members, including Aegon I Targaryen, the conqueror who united the Seven Kingdoms; Visenya and Rhaenys, his sister-wives and fellow dragon riders; Rhaenyra and Alicent Hightower, his daughter and first-born son’s wife, who become central figures in the Dance of the Dragons; and other characters who shape the fate of House Targaryen.
Cost Per Episode: According to Variety, each episode of “House of the Dragon” reportedly costs nearly $20 million to produce, which is a significant increase from the estimated cost per episode of the original “Game of Thrones” series. The first season of “House of the Dragon,” which featured a total of 10 episodes, put the season’s total production cost at approximately $200 million.
Despite the inflation of budget costs associated with “House of the Dragon,” HBO reportedly produced the series efficiently while maintaining high production values.
Set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the Disney+ miniseries “WandaVision” blends elements of classic sitcoms with the superhero genre, creating a unique and captivating narrative.
The story revolves around the characters Wanda Maximoff, also known as Scarlet Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (played by Paul Bettany). Set after the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” “WandaVision” explores their lives as they navigate through different decades and sitcom-inspired realities.
The series initially presents itself as a sitcom homage, with each episode paying homage to various sitcom eras, starting from the 1950s and progressing through the decades, but as the show progresses, it gradually unravels the mystery behind the idyllic suburban life that Wanda and Vision find themselves in. Throughout the series, Wanda and Vision encounter strange occurrences, unexplained phenomena, and hints that all is not as it seems.
Touted as the first Marvel show to truly put the stakes high by offering a character-driven exploration of grief, loss, and the power of the human connection, “WandaVision” puts Wanda at the center and allows her to confront her past traumas, with all her attempts to shape her own reality.
Cost Per Episode: With a total runtime of approximately six hours spread over nine episodes, the show offers a diverse range of episode lengths, ranging from half-hour comedic formats to 50-minute episodes of engaging storytelling.
During the development of “WandaVision,” the show reportedly had a substantial budget, with estimates reaching up to $25 million per episode. This generous allocation allowed the production team to bring the unique vision of the series to life and deliver high-quality production values across various eras and genres.
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3. Stranger Things
Set in the 1980s, “Stranger Things” was a game-changer for Netflix. Combining science fiction, horror, and supernatural mystery elements to create a captivating story, the series revolves around a group of young friends living in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana.
When one of their friends, Will Byers, mysteriously disappears, the group embarks on a quest to find him. Along the way, they encounter a mysterious girl named Eleven with telekinetic abilities, government conspiracies, and a parallel dimension known as the Upside Down.
As the story unfolds, the characters navigate through various interconnected plotlines. They face otherworldly creatures, delve into secret government experiments, and confront the dark forces that threaten their town and the lives of its residents.
Designed as a homage to 1980s pop culture, with references to iconic films, books, and games from that era, the show creates a nostalgic atmosphere that allows you to channel into its spirit of adventure, friendship, and coming-of-age themes.
Cost Per Episode: According to the Wall Street Journal, the reported budget for each episode of “Stranger Things 4” was $30 million. With a total of nine episodes, that would amount to a staggering $270 million, surpassing the production budget of films like “Top Gun: Maverick.”
The increased budget is evident in the show’s elevated production values, particularly in its shift towards a more explicit horror genre. The visual effects have become more sophisticated, and the overall filmmaking has improved, resulting in seamless transitions between scenes and a more cohesive storytelling experience despite the season’s sprawling narrative. To add to that, most of the episodes in the latest season were almost 1 hour and 30 minutes long (that runtime is equivalent to some contemporary movies).
Even before the Amazon Studio and Russo Brothers’ produced show could start airing, it had quite a reputation. The fact that the spy-thriller is going to be the Studio’s biggest gamble – with an extensive budget and spin-offs in various countries already planned makes it all the more essential to succeed.
Anyhow, the show stars Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Richard Madden as two Citadel (a high-end spy organization) agents who, on a mission together, discover that Manticore (a villainous organization) has been secretly neutralizing the network’s agent throughout the world and their latest case is a nail in the coffin for them. The show follows the two of them when they meet eight years after the big event, with all memories of their time as agents wiped out.
The globe-trotting adventure thrills of Citadel take us on a journey of double-cross, backstabbing, and riveting spy action.
Cost Per Episode: With a reported budget of $300 million for the six-episode first season, the production cost amounts to an impressive $50 million per episode.
The significant investment in “Citadel” can be attributed to various factors. One of them is that the show holds great importance for Jennifer Salke, the Head of Amazon Studios, who consider it a passion project.
Additionally, the decision to renew the series for a second season before the first season’s release contributed to the higher cost. Several circumstances also impacted the budget, including the production halt caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise in pay for actors since series star Priyanka Chopra Jonas advocated for equal pay alongside her male co-star Richard Madden.
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1. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Prime Video’s series, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” transports viewers to the legendary Second Age of Middle-earth’s history, a period thousands of years before the events depicted in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”
Set against a backdrop of grandeur and turmoil, the series delves into a time when powerful forces shaped the destiny of Middle-earth. Exploring the rise and fall of kingdoms, the forging of alliances, and the testing of unlikely heroes, hope hangs by the thinnest of threads as the greatest villain imagined by Tolkien threatens to plunge the world into darkness.
Beginning with a relative state of peace, the series follows a diverse ensemble cast of both familiar and new characters on their journey of maneuvering and confronting the resurgence of evil that has long been feared in Middle-earth.
Basically, the series sprawls through various plot threads, taking us from the treacherous depths of the Misty Mountains to the awe-inspiring forests of Lindon, the elven realm. We also explore the captivating island kingdom of Númenor and venture to the farthest reaches of the map, witnessing the unfolding of destinies that leave indelible legacies.
Cost Per Episode: According to reports, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” has an astounding total production budget of $465 million. This massive figure, however, does not include the additional $250 million that Amazon paid to secure the rights to produce the series from the Tolkien estate.
In total, the cost of bringing the first season of “The Rings of Power” to screens amounts to a staggering $715 million, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. With a season consisting of multiple episodes, this translates to an average budget of $58 million per episode.