Action heroes never go out of style – and that includes on TV. While you’re waiting for the fall season to bring us a fresh crop of action stories, there are quite a few heroes who still deserve to be discovered. Below are our favorite five heroes who helped make action TV fantastic, so you can check them out this summer.
1. Jack Davenport as Michael Colefield in Ultraviolet
You know Jack Davenport from NBC’s Smash and as Commodore Norrington in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but way before that he was an action hero in the British vampire serial Ultraviolet. Davenport’s Michael Colefield was a run of the mill cop who got a rude awakening when he discovered that his BFF Jack Beresford (a pre-True Blood Stephen Moyer) came with fangs.
From then on Michael was thrust into a dark, scary world that gave Davenport plenty of chances to show off some action chops. He was always finding himself chasing something or getting into a fight with somebody, down to the very last scene of the short-lived series.
Along the way, the actor (pictured above) did a fantastic job showing us just how traumatizing it was when your best friend is trying to kill you, a secret paramilitary organization is operating in the streets of London, and the girl you’re in love with doesn’t understand anything. He was an action hero before they were cool.
2. Jeff Hephner as John Case in Agent X
Last fall most people missed Agent X, TNT’s attempt at an American James Bond story. It succeeded principally because the show cast a real actor to play the titular action hero. Jeff Hephner (now reprising his role as Jeff Clarke on NBC’s Chicago Med) shone as John Case. Hephner actually took the time to develop the character alongside series creator William Blake Herron, so Agent X wasn’t another story of a good-looking, wisecracking guy beating people up for 42 minutes.
Instead audiences got to watch an exploration of what would make somebody give up his entire life (literally, as John Case was not his real name) for national security. John left a tremendous amount behind to battle evil, only to realize that the good guys weren’t as good as he thought either. The arc of his character was really interesting and more deep than Agent X ever got credit for.
At the same time the series did not skimp on the action. Hephner may have been the most beaten up lead actor in the history of television. John wrecked the Vice President’s residence, got abducted and chained in a basement, and then trashed every place he ever came across. Hephner handled it all with style no matter what was thrown at him – quite literally in this case.
3. Sullivan Stapleton as Damien Scott in Strike Back
Before he was Kurt Weller on Blindspot, Sullivan Stapleton made his name portraying former Special Forces soldier Damien Scott in Cinemax’s Strike Back. Damien was the kind of guy that Weller would have gotten into an argument with. Unlike Weller, Damien did not play well with others unless you counted the fact that he slept with almost every woman who appeared on the show.
But there was also no denying that Damien was a badass action hero. Together with his equally cool partner Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester), he tackled the worst that humanity had to offer, usually in the biggest way possible. These guys fought on moving trains, jumped on departing planes, and wrecked cars on a regular basis. They were also never afraid of a physical brawl even if it was just punching someone in the face repeatedly. To this date there has never been anyone tougher on TV than Stonebridge and Scott.
Stapleton’s performance – and Winchester’s as well – really demonstrate what makes the action hero on TV worth appreciating. Particularly the Damien character could’ve been written off as another one-dimensional rebel with a cause. But underneath all the head-busting and womanizing, Stapleton inserted so many layers to explain what made Damien Scott tick and why he had made the choices that he did. He was an action hero written with the depth of a dramatic lead, and he also happened to get most of the best lines.
4. Philip Winchester as Alex Kane in The Player
After finishing his tour of duty on Strike Back, Winchester moved over to network television as the star of The Player, which was much better than anyone gave it credit for. His character Alex Kane was a former FBI agent turned Las Vegas security expert turned pawn in a global violence game, so his whole life was about action – both literally and metaphorically.
The Player wasted no time making use of Winchester’s action experience; the pilot episode alone features a car chase, a shootout and a scene in which he crashes through the window of a very expensive hotel to stop a would-be assassin. Until John Case came along nobody had more to handle than Alex Kane. Winchester threw himself into it all with gusto, because this is a guy who could probably save the world in his sleep.
In a series that wanted to be a roller-coaster good time, Alex was that larger than life hero who seemed like he had it all but wound up being much more complicated than that. Fans were able to enjoy his action escapades yet we also cared a lot about him when he wasn’t smart-mouthing the next bad guy. The Player was a tremendous amount of fun and Alex was a great character to spend 42 minutes with, and if you haven’t met him then you should.
5. Idris Elba as Vaughan Rice in Ultraviolet
Jack Davenport wasn’t the only person who got to get some action in Ultraviolet. One of Idris Elba’s earlier TV roles was co-starring with Davenport in the horror drama. When Michael Colefield joined the secret ranks of CIB to fight the vampires he met Vaughan Rice, the stoic ex-soldier who had been holding down the fort up until that point. He was a man who never let anything get in his way except for his secret crush on colleague Angie March (Susannah Harker).
Watching Ultraviolet is even more fun now for action fans because it happened just before Elba exploded into being a superstar. It was the last project he was a part of before he rose to prominence as Stringer Bell on The Wire, and way before he won armfuls of awards for his portrayal of hardened London cop John Luther in Luther. All of the potential is right there on the screen and it’s obvious from how he plays Vaughan that he’s literally on the verge of breaking out.
Vaughan was the first major hero that Elba really got to sink his teeth into and we all know what happened next. Particularly in scenes where he got to share time with Davenport it was an embarrassment of talent that hadn’t been discovered yet. For action fans, Ultraviolet is a must-see if only to watch how it all began for two actors who’ve never looked back since.
With two more months before the fall TV season starts and introduces us to the next group of would-be heroes, there is plenty of time to catch up on the ones you missed. Jump on Netflix, Amazon Prime or your streaming service of choice to check out these five action heroes who will find their own place in your TV collection.