HBO is the longest-running subscription television service in the U.S. It has been active since its launch in 1972. Owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, HBO is known for its varied catalog of theatrically-released movies and original TV series, as well as its made-for-TV movies, documentaries, kids programs, and more. Per Variety’s report in August 2022, Warner Bros. Discovery boasts a subscriber count of 92.1 million worldwide (this includes HBO, HBO Max, and Discovery+ combined).
With the rise in popularity, availability, and access of streaming services, the film and TV industry has largely turned towards streamer-friendly productions. This has resulted in a renewed focus on, and therefore a higher allocation of funds towards, exclusive movies and TV shows available only to platform subscribers. Just as Netflix continuously churns out original movies and TV series, HBO is leading the pack in content. Here’s a look at HBO’s most expensive TV shows ever made.
8/8 Vinyl (2016) — $7.5M Per Episode
Created by Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese, Rich Cohen and Terence Winter, Vinyl is a period drama TV series starring Bobby Cannavale as Richie Finestra in the leading role. The show is set in the 1970s New York, filled with sex, drugs, and a new era of rock ‘n roll. Indeed, new music starts to emerge, and as the founder of American Century Records, Richie must adapt to the new change when looking for fresh talent, in order to avoid having his company sold. Vinyl was meant to have more than one season, but HBO ultimately canceled it after one season. We wonder whether the loss was worth it, given how each episode cost $7.5 million to make.
7/8 Rome (2005) — $9M Per Episode
Created by John Milius, William J. MacDonald, and Bruno Heller, Rome is a historical drama TV series. Set 1BC in Ancient Rome, it follows the events as the city changes from Republic to Empire, through the lenses of two soldiers Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. Most of Rome‘s characters are based on actual historical figures. What’s more, much of the 22 episodes, spanning over two seasons, were shot on-location in Rome, Italy. Although the series was planned to be five seasons long, due to high production costs of $9 million per episode, the last three seasons were squeezed into the second.
6/8 Westworld (2016) — $10M Per Episode
Based on the 1973 film of the same name, Westworld is a dystopian science fiction, neo-Western TV series created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. The story is set in a technologically advanced Wild West amusement park populated by android “hosts.” The park caters to high-paying guests who can let their fantasies run wild while visiting, without any consequences further on. Season 3 of Westworld expanded into the real world of the 21st Century, where the lives of humans are controlled by artificial intelligence. So far, the series has four seasons, with each episode costing $10 million to make. There are currently talks of a fifth and final season.
5/8 The Last of Us (2023) — $10M Per Episode
Based on the 2013 video game of the same name, The Last of Us is an upcoming post-apocalyptic TV series and the first video game series that HBO has ever produced. Starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in the lead roles as Joel and Ellie, the plot follows a smuggler tasked with escorting teenager Ellie through the apocalyptic landscape of the United States. Per Looper, The Last of Us has made Canadian history as the largest movie or TV production ever filmed in the country, with each episode costing $10 million.
4/8 Band of Brothers (2001) — $12.5M Per Episode
Created by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and based on Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1992 non-fiction book of the same name, Band of Brothers is a war-drama miniseries. It dramatizes the history of “Easy” Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, all based on an actual interviews with the veterans. Most of the characters are based on real soldiers of “Easy” Company, and it follows their journey from training to the participation in major European affairs, Japan’s capitulation, and the end of World War II. Though it cost $12.5 million to make each episode, it was definitely worth it, as the miniseries won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award.
3/8 Game of Thrones (2011-19) — $15M Per Episode
An adaptation of the book A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones is set on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos. Spanning over 73 episodes and eight seasons, the critically acclaimed series follows a large and diverse cast of characters who, in different ways, are either vying for The Iron Throne, survival, and peace, or trying to defend themselves, their loved ones, and their people against those who wish harm. A high-stakes game of war and politics, Game of Thrones has attracted a massive following throughout the years. Considering its rich production design and CGI elements, it’s no surprise that each episode cost $15 million to make.
2/8 The Pacific (2010) — $20M Per Episode
As a companion piece of sorts to the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers, The Pacific is also a war drama miniseries, this time focusing on the experiences of three Marines who were in different regimes of the 1st Marine Division. It features three battles held in the Pacific, as well as Basilone’s involvement in the Battle of Iwo Jima. In the same manner as Band of Brothers, The Pacific is based on actual memoirs of the soldiers. This series upped its predecessor by $8 million, costing $20 million per episode to make.
1/8 House of the Dragon (2022) — $20M Per Episode
Tying with The Pacific, we have the prequel series to Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon. Created by George R. R. Martin and Ryan Condal for HBO, this fantasy series is set 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones and depicts the beginning of the end of House Targaryen. Thanks to its high viewership and positive responses from the audience and critics, it took only days after the August 2022 premiere to renew the series for a second season. At $20 million an episode, and in its first season no less, House of the Dragon tops the list as HBO’s most expensive TV show ever made.