Television industries from all around the world haven’t always provided an adequate supply of hostage crisis stories. It’s rare to find a project like Sydney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon or Spike Lee’s Inside Man, where the proceedings mainly play out in a single location, with the camera alternating between the criminals and the negotiators. When it comes to the small screen, one can always bet on a hostage crisis getting resolved too quickly.
Still, fans who like to see the saga unfold over a long period aren’t entirely out of options. There are a few gems, particularly under the crime umbrella, that go deeper into the psychological games between robbers and law enforcement officers while also offering plenty of well-choreographed action sequences. Some of them are so good that they influence viewers to get on their knees and pray for the criminals, hoping they make it out in one piece. Here are 10 tense TV shows about hostage situations.
10 The Kill Point (2007)
The Kill Point has the usual delusional hostage takers that demand a helicopter in one hour, or else… They happen to have robbed a bank in Pittsburgh, but even though they appear dumb, they are tough, so most of them never break down under pressure. After all, they are ex-Marine Corps members, meaning that if they are forced to shoot their way out of their situation, they will. The person tasked with talking to them is Captain Horst Cali (Donnie Wahlberg), who is just as impatient as they are.
Rich Dialogue and Outstanding Performances
When it comes to the action and the plot, The Kill Point unravels like many projects of its kind, but it offers something more when it comes to dialogue and performance. Wahlberg is especially outstanding. His character spews endless mockery and, as if that’s not enough, he feels the need to correct every grammar mistake. In one scene, he even requests for a spray can, so he can put an apostrophe in a sentence on a coffee shop sign. The likes of Frank Grillo and John Leguizamo are part of the cast too, so there is no shortage of tough-guy talent. Stream on Tubi or Freevee
9 Helsinki Syndrome (AKA Helsinki-Syndrooma) (2022)
It’s easy to get tired of paying loans, especially if such loans weren’t yours to begin with. Such is the headache that Elias Karo (Peter Franzé) has to bear in Helsinki Syndrome (Helsinki-Syndrooma). His father once took a loan and put him as the guarantor, now the bank is forcing him to pay up. Fed up, he storms a media house and takes journalists hostage. His demand? They should investigate the bank for unfair lending practices and then print the findings.
A Relatable Criminal
Helsinki Syndrome is undoubtedly a must-see Nordic Noir title because it has a very relatable criminal. Elias doesn’t just wake up and decide he doesn’t want to pay. He is severely cash-strapped because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a path many people around the world walked. He conducts proper research too, hence he doesn’t issue unreasonable demands. The entrepreneur knows that journalists will find dirt once they start digging, and he is happy to wait until that happens. Stream on Topic or Fubo TV
8 Standoff (2006-2007)
- Release Date
- September 5, 2006
Standoff revolves around members of the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit as they deal with various hostage situations. At the center of the events are senior negotiators Matt Flannery (Ron Livingston) and Emily Lehman (Rosemarie DeWitt), who are known for their ability to charm anyone into doing their bidding. It turns out they also charmed each other to bed, and their boss isn’t too happy about it.
Bickering, Bantering, and Belittling
Matt and Emily are very likable characters, because of how they mix work and pleasure shamelessly, and because of the cavalier manner in which they handle criminals. In many instances, it even feels like they are transferring their dating verbatim into hostage situations. “Okay, you sound upset,” Emily once tells a teenager threatening to blow up a coffee shop. “I can’t do this anymore,” she adds. Matt and Emily argue a lot too, but the animosity never lasts. After every solved case, they high-five everyone before sharing a kiss. Stream on Plex
7 Ransom (2017-2019)
Ransom revolves around an experienced hostage negotiator, Eric Beaumont (Luke Roberts), and his team, as they solve kidnap and hostage cases around the world. Events are loosely based on the professional adventures of real-life negotiators Marwan Mery and Laurent Combalbert. It’s also one of the shows that was saved by fans as it had initially been canceled after Season 1, only to be renewed again.
Most Tropes Get Subverted
While watching Ransom, it’s easy to note that the writing team worked hard to subvert tropes. Several twists are inserted into the proceedings to make sure fans never see anything they’ve seen before. There are thus plots like that of a zealot taking church congregants hostage while hilariously attempting to set up a line of communication with Angel Gabriel and that of bank robbers who refuse to take anything. The media is ignored, too, which isn’t surprising considering that the kind of people who come to Eric’s private firm for help are the kind that need discretion. Buy on Apple TV
6 The Day (AKA De Dag) (2018)
The Belgian series, The Day (Day Da), introduces viewers to a new group of bank robbers who seem to have a hidden agenda. The story (which takes place in one day) keeps changing after each pair of episodes, meaning, what happened in episode one or two gets questioned in episodes three and four when the events are shown from different characters’ perspectives.
Endless Red Herrings
The numerous misleading clues are what keep the show going. Just as the negotiators and investigators become comfortable, believing they have figured things out, a new piece of information emerges, changing everything. Besides that, the power of dialogue is highly emphasized. The Belgian police officers are shown to be a lot more tolerant than American officers usually are, meaning there are fewer shootouts and more psychological duels. Still, there isn’t a single boring moment. Stream on Prime Video
5 Below the Surface (2017-2019)
Inspired by one of the most terrifying train movies, The Taking of Pelham 123, Below the Surface sees members of the dreaded Danish PET Terror Task Force trying to rescue 15 Copenhagen Metro train passengers who have been taken hostage by balaclava-wearing terrorists. The criminals make it clear that they don’t have all day. They want €4 million or else everyone will die. Dealing with the situation turns out to be a lot harder because the PET leader is experiencing trauma-related flashbacks from a previous incident.
Politics and Social Media
The men in suits end up being the real villains, as they debate for too long regarding whether the ransom should be paid or not. As this is happening, the hostages are shown to be burning with anxiety. This all creates room for the emergence of one standout character. A journalist just so happened to be on the train, so she starts livestreaming the events and rallying the public through social media. Consequently, things turn chaotic for everyone involved. Stream on Prime Video via PBS Masterpiece
4 Hostages (2013)
- Release Date
- September 23, 2013
Based on the Israeli thriller series of the same name, Hostages introduces viewers to thoracic surgeon Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette), who is thrilled to have gotten the opportunity of a lifetime after being told she is going to operate on a President. Unknown to her, a rogue FBI agent is looking to use this as an opportunity to assassinate the leader of the free world. He takes Ellen’s family hostage and orders her to kill POTUS during the surgery if she wants her family to live.
Stretched but Not Thin
Hostages has the kind of plot that would fit better in a movie, but even though the story gets stretched close to its elastic limit, it never feels too thin. To create room for more episodes, some predictable things, like the President’s surgery getting delayed, happen, but as the dilly-dallying goes on, each of the characters comes up with sensible things to do.
The hostage takers get tired of wearing their masks, so they take them off, leaving the family members worried. After all, anyone who sees the person who is behind the mask always ends up dead. Many more unpredictable things happen along the way, making this one of the most recommendable American remakes of foreign shows. Stream on DIRECTV
3 Money Heist (2017-2021)
- Enrique Arce , Rodrigo De la Serna , Najwa Nimri
Money Heist is all about the genius criminal Sergio Marquina, aka, The Professor (Alvaro Morte), and his band of misfits who plan and pull off mega heists in Spain. They start with the Royal Mint of Spain, where they manage to print €984 million and escape with it, before pulling off another heist at the Bank of Spain. All this doesn’t happen easily because there are various competent figures keen on stopping them.
The Netflix show became a phenomenon as soon as it premiered, and it remained that way throughout its run. Many factors are worth singling out as the drivers of its success, but the meticulousness tops them all. The Professor plans every detail to perfection, leaving both his subordinates and the viewers awed. Like the true genius that he is, he pictures every possible outcome and comes up with the appropriate measures. Besides that, each of the robbers (named after a city) has a great personality, making them easy to root for. Stream on Netflix
2 Captured Hospital (AKA Daibyoin Senkyo) (2023)
A hospital ought to be off limits for criminals, but in Captured Hospital (Dai Byoin Senkyo), a group of criminals wearing demon masks storm Kaiseido Hospital and take everyone hostage. Because there is a shortage of competent officers capable of taking them on, the daredevil Saburo Musashi is brought back from leave. He has an even bigger incentive because his wife happens to be one of the hostages.
Die Hard in Japan
Captured Hospital is a Die Hard rip-off, but a gripping one. Officer Saburo Musashi and Detective John McClane have a lot in common. They are great conversationalists, and they tend to enjoy hurting baddies more than anything else. To them, jail is a waste of time. Criminals ought to be dealt with there and then. Most importantly, they have wives to save. Because of the protagonist’s personality, action fans will find plenty to enjoy here. Stream on Prime Video
1 The Nine (2006-2007)
- Release Date
- October 4, 2006
In The Nine, robbers take hostages inside a bank after their plan goes wrong, resulting in a 52-hour standoff. During this period, the nine people who were unlucky enough to find themselves inside the building begin bonding. After the crisis is over, the victims meet up and agree to be there for each other going forward. However, this results in new complications that none of them ever imagined.
The Nine is a character-driven show, rather than a plot-driven one, meaning the robbery only exists as a B-plot. The focus remains on the hostages, covering what their lives were like before the situation and what it turns out to be after the mayhem ends. Because of this approach, there are plenty of great relationship arcs. In general, it’s a slow-burn show, likely to appeal to viewers who have grown tired of watching endless shootouts and negotiations. Stream on Prime Video