The 8 best TV theme songs from '80s action shows

The 8 best TV theme songs from '80s action shows // Copyright by production studio and/or distributor. Intended for editorial use only.

The 1980s were a decade of unabashed, over-the-top action and violence in movies and TV. Just watch about 5 minutes of First Blood, and you'll see what I mean.

Explosions, car chases, and short-shorts were the order of the day when it came to our favorite action TV shows of the time, but not a single one of those shows would have made it on television if they didn't have killer theme songs. Perhaps more than in any other decade, your theme song REALLY mattered in the '80s.

In fact, sometimes you didn't even need to watch the whole episode, you could just watch the opening credits and then head outside ready to crack some commie skulls.

They just don't make theme songs like they used to, as evidenced by these — the best TV theme songs from '80s action shows, presented in no particular order.

Knight Rider

If you don’t throw on sunglasses and drive through the desert every now and then, I honestly feel sorry for you.

This is one of the coolest, most badass songs in history. The fact it happens to accompany one of the all-time greatest sci-fi shows doesn’t hurt a damn thing either.

Composed by theme-song legend Stu Phillips and show-creator Glen A. Larson, it’s said that the theme pulled heavily from — get this — an opera. Sylvia, Act 3: No. 14 “Marche et Cortège de Bacchus” to be exact. I’ll let you decide for yourself.


There are artists that weren’t born until the ‘90s that have made their entire careers trying to capture the sound of the Airwolf theme song.

Sylvester Levay originally composed an orchestral version of this theme song, but realized that was stupid and it should all be on synths (smart move). The result is a catchy, inspiring theme song that somehow makes you feel like you’re still in the Cold War.

Miami Vice

“Miami Vice Theme” was so popular that it was released as a single in 1985 and hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. NUMBER ONE.

It also got an official music video where composer Jan Hammer acts his ass off.

I honestly rank this one lower on the overall list. There’s really not much of a hook, and I mean, look at Jan. But it was super popular, so it makes the cut.

Magnum P.I.

Unlike other TV theme songs, this one just goes right the hell into it. The guitar riff immediately elevates your heart rate by at least 20 beats per minute, but then there’s a smooth bridge that reminds you everything is going to be just fine — as long as Thomas Magnum is there to bust some criminals.

The show originally used a jazzier tune, but thankfully that was scrapped partway through the first season. "Theme from Magnum P.I." peaked at no. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982.

The A-Team

This is how the hell you set a tone: military-style drumming with a voiceover that very clearly and succinctly explains the show’s premise, followed by an inspirational and anthemic melody. I love it when a plan comes together.

Composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter, who also happened to work on the Magnum P.I. theme, it may not have topped any charts, but Al Roker cites it as his favorite TV theme song of all time.

Simon & Simon

This show may not have been quite as actiony as the others on this list, but when that guitar riff and sax solo drop about 30 seconds in, you can’t tell me you’re not getting out of your chair and doing pushups. 

This is another show that dropped the initial theme song for a better, more enduring one after the first season. But the original, called “Best of Friends” and penned by someone called the Thrasher Brothers, still holds a place in many people’s hearts. I must say, however, this band had no business including “Thrasher” in their name.


This song starts as it should, piquing your curiosity before getting right the hell to work, just like Angus himself. 

Composed by Randy Edelman, who also penned scores for movies like Twins and Drop Dead Fred, I can’t help but tie the “chorus” of this theme song to that of Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers.

While the show never achieved super high ratings, the cultural impact of MacGuyver can’t be understated, in no small part thanks to this memorable theme song.

The Greatest American Hero

I don’t know that anyone would immediately go to this show about a teacher who’s gifted with alien superpowers when talking pure action, but it does actually have a fair amount of action in it. And this short-lived series clearly has one of the most memorable theme songs not just from ‘80s action shows, but from any era of any TV show ever in all of history. It’s that simple.

What did we miss? Let us know and we'll be sure to set off a few charges on a secret base in the desert.