The dawn of the streaming era has ushered in a golden age of television, marked by the relentless pursuit of viewer engagement through unprecedented storytelling and breathtaking visuals. From distant galaxies to mythical lands, from historical recreations to dystopian futures, our TV screens have become portals to dimensions that defy the constraints of reality and captivate our imagination. Behind these spectacles lies an unseen arms race of budgets among production houses, with expenditures reaching blockbuster movie levels to craft narratives that captivate, thrill, and entertain.
In 2021, this rising tide of on-screen extravagance reached new heights, with production budgets dwarfing those of previous years and setting new records. We’ve compiled a list of the seven most expensive TV series produced in 2021, detailing their hefty budget. Each of these productions represents an investment in storytelling ambition, visual spectacle, and proof that boundaries in entertainment are continually expanding. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the top on our list.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Amazon): $465 million
This highly anticipated series is based on the legendary J.R.R. Tolkien’s books. Amazon’s ambitious venture was met with mixed reviews; while the visually stunning settings and high production values were praised, some critics and viewers found the adaptation deviated too much from the original texts. However, it had substantial viewership numbers, demonstrating the enduring allure of Middle Earth.
Amazon’s adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” shattered records with a $465 million budget for its first season, averaging around $46.5 million per episode. These high costs stem from the expansive set designs replicating Middle Earth, intricate costumes, high-quality CGI for mythical creatures, and fees for securing the rights of the Tolkien estate. This high investment has resulted in a visually stunning and immersive series that transports viewers into Tolkien’s legendary world, showcasing a new level of production luxury in the realm of television series.
Stranger Things Season 4 (Netflix): $270 million
The fourth season continued to charm viewers with its mix of 80’s nostalgia, teen drama, and supernatural horror. Critics lauded the series’ ability to maintain suspense and interest, even if some felt it was time to start wrapping up the story.
The fourth season of the Netflix sensation “Stranger Things” pushed the boundaries of TV production costs, with a whopping $30 million budget per episode. Across its nine episodes, the season raked up a colossal total of $270 million – a figure that is tenfold that of some other Netflix productions. This significant investment was, in part, channeled towards compensating its top-tier cast. Leading stars such as David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, and Winona Ryder each pocketed a substantial $350,000 per episode. This heavy spending underscores the cultural significance of the series in the U.S. and Netflix’s commitment to creating high-quality, captivating content.
House of the Dragon (HBO): $200 million
House of the Dragon,” the highly-anticipated prequel to “Game of Thrones,” arrived with a budget reaching under $20 million per episode. This marked a significant increase compared to the earlier seasons of its predecessor, “Game of Thrones,” which had budgets of $6 million per episode for the first five seasons. It wasn’t until the sixth season of “Game of Thrones” that the budget increased to $10 million, finally reaching $15 million per episode in its final season. If we assume “House of the Dragon” has a standard ten-episode season, its total budget comes to a formidable $200 million, further illustrating the escalated financial commitment by HBO in its quest to continue the Westeros legacy.
The Witcher Season 2 (Netflix): $176.3 million
The Witcher’s second season was met with high anticipation and generally positive reviews. Critics praised the more focused storytelling and character development than the first season. Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Geralt of Rivia continued to receive accolades.
The Witcher” Season 2, produced by Netflix – a company with a net worth of $226.22 billion at the beginning of 2021 – saw a production budget of $176.3 million, averaging around $12.5 million per episode. A significant portion of this budget went to Henry Cavill, the lead actor, whose per-episode fee was reportedly around $400,000. The remaining funds were utilized for richly detailed set designs, lavish costumes, high-grade CGI for fantastical creatures, and other production elements that brought Andrzej Sapkowski’s magical world to life on the screen.
Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Disney+): $150 million
This Marvel series received generally favorable reviews for examining contemporary societal issues and action-packed sequences. However, some viewers felt that it lacked the creative novelty of its predecessor, “WandaVision.” Nevertheless, it was a hit with Marvel fans and secured a strong viewership.
Disney+’s “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” saw a budget of $150 million for its first season, translating to an average of $25 million per episode for the six-episode series. Lead actor Anthony Mackie received $475,000 per episode. The remainder of the budget went into creating blockbuster-level action sequences, high-grade CGI, and immersive set designs that aligned with the expansive and detail-oriented Marvel universe.
The Mandalorian Season 3 (Disney+): $120 million
The third season of this Star Wars spin-off continued to receive widespread acclaim from critics and viewers. Fans praised its groundbreaking use of technology, engaging storytelling, and capturing the essence of the original Star Wars films. Baby Yoda continued to be a hit amongst viewers.
As per reports from The Washington Post, producing a single episode of “The Mandalorian” sets Disney+ back a hefty $15 million. With two successful seasons already out, totaling 16 episodes, and another eight slated for release, the show’s cost so far has climbed to an astronomical $360 million. This tally doesn’t even account for the Grogu (a.k.a Baby Yoda) animatronic, a key character that tacked on an additional $5 million to the bill. Despite the high production costs, the series’ positive reception and immense popularity among U.S. viewers signify that Disney’s significant investment has been well worth it.
Foundation (Apple TV+): $45 million
Apple TV+ brought the classic Isaac Asimov sci-fi series to life with stunning visuals and an ensemble cast. It received generally positive reviews for its expansive world-building and intricate plot, although some viewers found it challenging to keep up with the sprawling narrative.
Apple TV+’s “Foundation,” based on Isaac Asimov’s seminal sci-fi series, had a budget of $45 million for its first season. With a total of 10 episodes, the cost per episode averaged $4.5 million. This budget was allocated to aspects like expansive, interstellar visuals, high-quality CGI, and a diverse ensemble cast, including renowned actors like Jared Harris and Lee Pace. Their performances and the show’s high production values created an engrossing series that paid tribute to Asimov’s visionary work.
As we pull back the curtain on the gargantuan budgets of these television series, it’s evident that the entertainment landscape is evolving at an exhilarating pace. TV shows are no longer the ‘little brother’ of cinema but have become a tour de force of visual storytelling in their own right. These skyrocketing production budgets reflect this shift, with every dollar contributing to creating more immersive, high-quality viewing experiences.
Firstly, the star power of leading actors, from Millie Bobby Brown in “Stranger Things” to Anthony Mackie in “Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” often commands sizable salaries. These performances elevate the series and draw viewers, making this a worthy investment.
Secondly, as visual spectacles become the norm, cutting-edge technology and special effects have become indispensable. Whether it’s creating the alien landscapes of “Foundation” or the medieval grandeur of “House of the Dragon,” the intricate set designs, detailed costumes, and state-of-the-art CGI are a significant expense.
Lastly, logistical aspects, including multi-location shoots, transportation, insurance, marketing, and post-production, also inflate the final costs. Securing rights to adapt popular works, like “The Lord of the Rings,” further adds to the tab.
Companies invest heavily in product quality to provide viewers with captivating shows that continually push the boundaries of what’s possible on the TV screen. These big-budget 2021 series signal an exciting era of television with an emphasis on delivering outstanding, cinematic-quality content straight to our living rooms. As a result, we can expect more ambitious, visually stunning future series that continue redefining TV as we know it.