TV is a numbers game in more ways than one. Intricate sets, using new visual effects, and paying famous actors make television an expensive enterprise. Some of the most significant numbers in show budgets are on actors’ paychecks: In the 1990s, well-known stars like Kelsey Grammer were getting $1.6 million for each episode of “Frasier,” while Jennifer Aniston and her five “Friends” raked in up to $1 million per episode. In the final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” several of its stars made $500,000 per episode.

Stacker conducted independent research via news reports and entertainment outlets to find 25 of the most expensive TV shows ever produced. Since most series budgets are based on rumors or estimates and numbers are not official, the entries aren’t ranked. But they are organized from lowest to highest budget.

“Band of Brothers” was among the first big-budget shows not on major network television when it began its run on HBO in the late 1990s with an almost unprecedented budget of $12 million per episode. Having Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg attached to the project pushed HBO into funding it. Since then, the network has spent even more on making shows like “The Pacific” and “Game of Thrones.” Other networks and streaming platforms followed suit: Disney+ is set to spend $136 million on “Star Wars: Skeleton Crew,” and Netflix is expected to shell out $15 million per episode for its upcoming live-action adaptation of “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

Read on to discover which shows cross the $10 million-per-episode budget threshold—and which has the largest known budget, with a whopping $58.1 million per episode.

You may also like: 50 ads that made TV history

The cast of ‘Sense8’ in a scene from the series
Anarchos Productions

‘Sense8’

– Budget per episode: $9 million
– On air: 2015-2018
– Network: Netflix

“The Matrix” creators Lana and Lilly Wachowski co-created “Sense8,” a sci-fi thriller about a group of strangers scattered throughout the world who physically connect since they are all kin to one woman. The series had the most massive budget of all Netflix productions, jumping from $4.5 million to $9 million an episode under producer Roberto Malerba’s rule. However, that didn’t last long, as the show never developed a big enough audience to warrant its exorbitant costs and was promptly canceled after two seasons.

Joan Chen and Olivia Cheng in a scene from ‘Marco Polo’
Electus

‘Marco Polo’

– Budget per episode: $9 million
– On air: 2014-2016
– Network: Netflix

Like many period productions, Netflix’s “Marco Polo” broke budgets with its complex sets, showy costumes, and pricey props. The journey of the 13th-century Italian merchant who befriended Mongol ruler Kublai Khan was told throughout a 10-episode series that Netflix hoped would grow its content empire.

The cast of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ in an episode of the series
Chuck Lorre Productions

‘The Big Bang Theory’

– Budget per episode: $9 million
– On air: 2007-2019
– Network: CBS

Like “Friends,” the CBS series “Big Bang Theory” was one of the costliest major network series ever. The high budget was mainly due to original cast members Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, and Kaley Cuoco earning $1 million per episode (up from $60,000 per episode when the show started in 2007) by the end of the show’s 12-year run. CBS was charging more than $326,260 for 30-second advertising slots in 2013 and around $258,500 in its final season. For the series finale, the network asked for $1.2 million to $1.5 million for 30 seconds of ad time.

Kevin McKidd in a scene from ‘Rome’.
Home Box Office (HBO)

‘Rome’

– Budget per episode: $9 million
– On air: 2005-2007
– Network: BBC/HBO

This bust couldn’t be saved even by hundreds of extras, embellished costumes, and extravagant set designs recreating soldiers fighting under the Roman Republic during the days of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. “Rome” ended after only two seasons. 

Even Rachel Wood in a scene from ‘Westward’
Bad Robot

‘Westworld’

– Budget per episode: $8-10 million
– On air: 2016-present
– Network: HBO

From the opening credits, “Westworld” was the underdog debuting after “Game of Thrones.” The 90-minute pilot reportedly cost around $25 million to produce. The futuristic Western, starring Hollywood A-listers Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris, was co-produced by famed filmmaker J.J. Abrams.

Henry Cavill and Freya Allan in a scene from ‘The Witcher’
Netflix

‘The Witcher’

– Budget per episode: $10 million
– On air: 2019-present
– Network: Netflix

Based on a popular video game and book franchise, “The Witcher” follows a trio of superpowered monster hunters who set out to rid their world of evil. Netflix sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into the show’s elaborate sets and special effects to ensure the franchise’s pre-existing audience would be satisfied enough to tune in each week—a gamble that paid off, considering the show was its most popular series in 2019. Additionally, the show’s star, Henry Cavill, earned $400,000 an episode during the first season, increasing to more than $1 million an episode for the second season.

Rosamund Pike in ‘The Wheel of Time’
Sony Pictures Television

‘The Wheel of Time’

– Budget per episode: $10 million
– On air: 2021-present
– Network: Amazon Prime

Scale seems to be the factor that drove the budget for Amazon’s “The Wheel of Time” to such extreme heights. Based on a series of novels by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, the fantasy show is shot on elaborately decorated sound stages and specially built, full-scale sets with hundreds (or sometimes even thousands) of extras. Amazon Studio’s co-head of TV, Vernon Sanders, told IGN that the show’s budget is only growing for seasons two and three so that as the storylines and universe expand, the level of magic and detail will remain consistent.

The cast of ‘Friends’ in an episode of the show.
Warner Bros. Television // Getty Images

‘Friends’

– Budget per episode: $10 million
– On air: 1994-2004
– Network: NBC

The final season of “Friends” rang up a bill of $10 million per episode. Stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, and David Schwimmer were all interested in pursuing other projects, even though they were being paid upwards of $1 million each per episode. The six-member original cast each pulled in 2% of syndication income, which amounted in 2018 to at least $20 million each.

Pablo Schrieber in an episode of ‘Halo’
343 Industries

‘Halo’

– Budget per episode: $10 million
– On air: 2022-present
– Network: Paramount+

Based on the popular video game franchise of the same name, “Halo” is a science fiction show set in the 26th century. It’s safe to assume that nearly all of its $200 million budget went toward its visual effects (VFX, physical sets, or costume design), as none of the actors are big enough to demand high salaries. It’s also unclear whether the large budget was worth it, as the series’ first season garnered mixed reviews from critics and fans.

Justice Smith in a scene from ‘The Get Down’
Bazmark Films

‘The Get Down’

– Budget per episode: $11 million
– On air: 2016-2017
– Network: Netflix

“The Get Down” could not get back up due to its bloated budget of $120 million, stemming from the show’s expensive sets and exorbitant licensing fees for R&B and funk songs used in the series. Set in the 1970s during the birth of hip hop and disco in famed New York City clubs like CBGB and Studio 54, the period drama musical starred Justice Smith and Jimmy Smits.

Cast of ‘Band of Brothers’ in a scene from the series
Dreamworks

‘Band of Brothers’

– Budget per episode: $12.5 million
– On air: 2001
– Network: HBO

The period costumes, European location, and star-studded cast did not come cheap for co-creators Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Critics acclaimed performances by actors Damian Lewis, Michael Fassbender, and David Schwimmer for the D-Day realism of the “Easy” Company 2nd Battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. The 10-hour World War II show cost more than $125 million.

Actors in a scene from ‘The Mandalorian’
LucasFilm

‘The Mandalorian’

– Budget per episode: $12.5-15 million
– On air: 2019-present
– Network: Disney+

The first live-action series in the “Star Wars” franchise, “The Mandalorian” was also Disney+’s first major original series. And while it didn’t receive the same budget as the platform’s Marvel series, Disney certainly invested in the project. A large portion of the show’s first season budget went to a new, award-winning visual effects program called StageCraft. This exciting innovation allows the actors to immerse themselves in the CG environments in real-time through massive wrap-around LED screens.

Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in a scene from ‘The Crown’.
Left Bank Pictures

‘The Crown’

– Budget per episode: $13 million
– On air: 2016-present
– Network: Netflix

It cost approximately $37,000 to recreate the wedding dress of Queen Elizabeth II in the first episode of “The Crown,” and things only got more expensive from there. Along with the extravagant wardrobe of Elizabeth (Claire Foy), the series used up to 7,000 costumes and a life-sized replica of Buckingham Palace. Netflix initially committed to spending $130 million on “The Crown’s” first two seasons.

‘ER’ cast photo
Constant c Productions

‘ER’

– Budget per episode: $13 million
– On air: 1994-2009
– Network: NBC

When the 15-season series first aired in 1994, George Clooney and fellow actors Noah Wyle and Julianna Margulies were not the household names they are today. As that changed, so did the budget—which eventually peaked at $13 million per episode. Add in the one episode directed by Quentin Tarantino, and “ER” goes down as one of the most expensive series of all time.

Cast of ‘The Morning Show’ in posed on set
Echo Films

‘The Morning Show’

– Budget per episode: $15 million
– On air: 2019-present
– Network: AppleTV+

One of the most successful AppleTV+ series to date, “The Morning Show” follows the anchors of a popular morning news program (a la “The Today Show” or “Good Morning America”) as they deal with the fallout of a scandal. The show stars Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, who, according to The Hollywood Reporter, each earned $1.25 million per episode. Toss in big-name recurring stars like Steve Carell and Julianna Margulies and an upcoming guest arc from Jon Hamm, and it’s easy to see how the budget could balloon thanks to actors’ salaries alone.

Jason Momoa în an episode of ‘See’
Chernin Entertainment

‘See’

– Budget per episode: $15 million
– On air: 2019-2022
– Network: AppleTV+

“See” is set 600 years into the future in a post-apocalyptic world where humans are blind. According to the show’s star, Jason Momoa, the stark setting and the sighted cast members’ commitment to making their performances believable caused the budget to balloon. In one interview, he described how they went to great lengths on both accounts—changing the actual landscape of the areas outside Vancouver where they were shooting and undergoing a month of “blindness training” before filming began.

Tom Sturridge and Vanesu Samunyai in an episode of ‘The Sandman’
Netflix

‘The Sandman’

– Budget per episode: $15 million
– On air: 2022-present
– Network: Netflix

Fans spent decades awaiting a “Sandman” series, so Netflix knew that they couldn’t spare any expense. Based on a series of Neil Gaiman comic books, the show’s setting is an array of bizarre dream worlds. The recreation of these worlds (through physical sets and special effects) caused the streaming service to allocate such a big budget for each episode. The cost was so significant that rumor has it Netflix may not renew it for a second season.

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in ‘Game of Thrones’
HBO

‘Game of Thrones’

– Budget per episode: $15 million
– On air: 2011-2019
– Network: HBO

The most watched program in the history of the HBO network raised the bar for costumes, set design, and breakout talent, all of which cost millions per episode. The fantasy drama, featuring dragons and deathly weddings, gained worldwide attention in its eight seasons for its plot, special effects, and astronomical budget.

Milly Alcock in a scene from ‘House of the Dragon’
HBO

‘House of the Dragon’

– Budget per episode: $20 million
– On air: 2022-present
– Network: HBO

The prequel to George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones,” “House of the Dragon” may have been 2022’s most anticipated series. Its huge budget caused quite a stir before it even premiered, with many worrying the show would wind up overhyped. Thankfully, most fans were pleased with the final product, especially once they realized showrunners spent so much of the budget on things that mattered to the plot, like bringing 20 CGI dragons and an elaborate fantasy world to life.

Joseph Mazzello as a marine in a battlefield scene from ‘The Pacific’
DreamWorks

‘The Pacific’

– Budget per episode: $21.7 million
– On air: 2010
– Network: HBO

Steven Spielberg, known for his multimillion-dollar productions, spared no expense to recreate historically accurate battle scenes in “The Pacific.” Additionally, co-executive producer Tony To told the Hollywood Reporter that the scene where Eugene Sledge, played by Joseph Mazzello, lands on the island of Peleliu cost $5 million. The scene required 300 actors to stay on an Australian beach for four days.

Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen in ‘WandaVision’
Marvel Studios

‘WandaVision’

– Budget per episode: $25 million
– On air: 2021
– Network: Disney+

Here’s the deal with MCU shows: to make them must-watches for the legions of MCU fans, Disney+ has to ensure the quality is on-par with all of the theatrically released MCU movies. That means sinking millions of dollars into sets, costumes, special effects, and actors’ salaries (you can’t just swap actors in and out and expect fans to just roll with it, after all). In the case of “WandaVision,” showrunners spent a large portion of the budget on 3,010 special effects shots and the complete redecoration of the set for each episode.

Wyatt Russell as Captain America in a scene from ‘The Falcon and the Winter Snowman’
Marvel Studios

‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’

– Budget per episode: $25 million
– On air: 2021
– Network: Disney+

Similarly to “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” spent a good portion of its budget on special effects and actors’ salaries. The series marked the first time Anthony Mackie would play Captain America, and Sebastian Stan reprised his role as Bucky Barnes.

Jeremy Renner in an episode of ‘Hawkeye’
Disney+

‘Hawkeye’

– Budget per episode: $25 million
– On air: 2021
– Network: Disney+

When Disney+ ordered seasons of its 2021 MCU shows (“WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” and “Hawkeye”), it reportedly bought out the backend on all three. Essentially, they purchased all of the backend rights so that the production company (Marvel Studios) could never sell the series into syndication to another network, like ABC or CBS, ensuring you’d have to subscribe to their platform if you ever wanted to see it. Likewise, creators and principal cast members lose potential syndication earnings. Disney paid more upfront for all three projects to compensate for the loss.

Cast of ‘Stranger Things’ in an episode from the series.
Netflix

‘Stranger Things’

– Budget per episode: $30 million
– On air: 2016-present
– Network: Netflix

Making the first season of the sci-fi horror series “Stranger Things” look like a 1980s Steven Spielberg movie was costly. Because of the series’ limited budget, the show’s creators, the Duffer brothers, had to switch up their original ideas, which included changing from a coastal town setting to a minimalist Midwest location.

Morfydd Clark in ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’
Amazon Studios

‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’

– Budget per episode: $58.1 million
– On air: 2022-present
– Network: Amazon Prime

The most expensive TV series of all time, “The Rings of Power” has a budget of just under $1 billion for its first five seasons. The money is representative of the pure scale of the show—Amazon spent its budget on things like massive physical sets and groundbreaking special effects—and the fact that this is a “passion project” for founder Jeff Bezos. Additionally, Amazon reportedly spent $250 million to obtain the rights to the “Lord of the Rings” appendices from the book series.