Spy movies have captured the imagination of countless people. The idea of undercover spies living among us is exciting and has been the source of many great stories and movies. With no shortage of spy movies from the past 100 years, we wanted to bring you a list of the best spy movies ever made.
Many of us have contemplated what it would be like to live life as a spy. National secrets, assassinations, double agents, all surrounded in mystery and thrill. Compared to the hard reality of a spy’s life, there is something fantastical about portraying espionage.
From comedies to thrillers, spy movies are precious to film fanatics. Spanning all genres, they can go in any direction. Sometimes based on real events, sometimes just fiction.
The list of great spy movies is extensive. Narrowing them down to a top 10 is nearly impossible with so many amazing contenders. We’ve tried to cover a wide variety of spy films including action, thriller, comedy, and family-friendly films. From the classics to some of the most famous titles in history, here’s our list of 10 of the best spy movies ever.
Without further ado, let’s jump into our list of best spy films!
Angelina Jolie’s Salt is as espionage as it gets. Double agent come, triple agent, Evelyn Salt is a sleeper agent from Russia working for the CIA. We spend the whole film wondering what Evelyn’s true intentions are. We jump back and forth between believing she’s good and bad, filled with lies and secrecy leaving us contemplating her actions. This mix of mystery and action makes Salt one of the best spy movies on Netflix.
Directed by Phillip Noyce, the film was originally supposed to star Tom Cruise, super original right! Instead, Jolie played the main character and we’re so thankful for it. She received much credit for her portrayal of the character, more than the actual film in some cases. Not the highest rated on this list, but with the main character being a Russian sleeper triple agent, it had to be included.
This list could consist of 10 different James Bond movies. To try and fit in a variety of options we’ve included the James Bond franchise as a whole.
Undoubtedly, the James Bond movies are some of the most iconic movies in history, never mind spy movies. Whether you’re a 1960s Sean Connery fan or a more recent Daniel Craig fan, these movies are loved by many.
Living the life of a British secret agent, we follow the adventures of James Bond. Packed with beautiful women, secret gadgets, evil villains, and no shortage of cliffhangers has made these films into the masterpiece they are. Even the title 007 is iconic in itself and has become a part of modern culture.
Bridge Of Spies is a highly regarded and well-known film on this list. Another based on real events, we follow the life of 3 prominent characters. Rudolf Abel, a Russian master of disguise; Gary Powers, an imprisoned American spy; and Frederic Pryor who is mistaken as a spy.
Of course, being directed by Stephen Speilberg meant this movie was likely to be a success. Nominated for many awards and winning many for best supporting actor, Bridge of Spies reached critical acclaim. The story of the 3 main characters is deserving of being told to the world. With their lives being all but forgotten until this film, it tells an important part of the cold war history.
Atomic Blonde has a more modern feel to it also being the latest movie on this list. Directed by David Leitch, the story is based on the 2012 novel ‘The Coldest City’. It should be no surprise another cold war based film is on this list. At the end of the day, the Cold War brought the idea of spies back into modern culture.
With a 78% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Atomic Blonde was generally received well. With its response, it claims the title of being one of the best spy action movies of recent times. Based around the same time as the collapse of the Berlin Wall, we follow MI6 agent Lorraine as she tries to retrieve some information; this information being a list of both friendly and enemy spies all based in Berlin, the center of espionage at the time.
This is not your typical spy film, but a very enjoyable one at that. Melissa McCarthy made this film into a comedy masterpiece, as she always does. Instead of following the story of a sexy, mysterious, professional spy, we follow the life of 40-year-old office-bound Susan Cooper.
Susan is a CIA assistant to Bradley Fine, a spy with who she is madly in love with. After he is shot dead on a mission, Susan takes it on herself to find the killer. We follow the comical adventures of Susan as she defies all odds and becomes a well-rounded spy herself. With a slightly tragic moment in the film, Susan is a very lovable character who we can’t help but feel for.
Spy won the Empire Awards for best comedy in 2016 and is a much-loved film of comedy and spy fans alike.
The Mission Impossible franchise is the second most renowned spy series after James Bond. However, unlike James Bond we wanted to focus on the original Missions Impossible and leave the later, cheesier films out.
Little films in history have produced such iconic scenes as mission impossible did. The music alone is so recognisable and referenced still today. Everyone can recall the scene where Tom Crusie, playing Ethan Hunt is lowered down into the vault. Even this single scene has been recreated in many films and TV shows with the reference being so recognisable.
Based on the American TV series, Mission Impossible, this adaptation is one of the best spy movies of all time. Its impact on film culture means it deservingly takes a spot on this list.
This German silent espionage thriller is still highly regarded today nearly 100 years after its release. Unlike many others on this list, Spione did not have the Cold War to inspire its portrayal of espionage. Instead the plot centres around antagonist Haghi, a criminal mastermind who is a bank worker. We follow the lives of one of his employers, Sonya, and a young spy called 326 whose job is to take down Haghi.
An interesting point when looking at the production of this film is the budget. Fritz Lang’s previous film Metropolis near bankrupted the studio, UFA. Because of this, they demanded Spione be made on a budget with no expensive filming or production. Despite this Spione is still a hugely recognised success today and won the best screenplay at the Faro Island Film Festival. For a silent movie, this film has hugely impacted the film industry and has become an exemplary spy film.
Spy Kids may not be one of the first options to come to mind when thinking about spy films. Nonetheless, it is a very deserving contender containing all the essence of what a spy is. Crazy gadgets, mysterious environments, menacing villains, what else could you ask for? Let’s ignore the revamp with the fourth movie and focus on the first three. With all the plots being very far from each other, all deserve credit for delivering this creative take of spies.
Director Robert Rodriguez describes the films as “Willy Wonka meets James Bond”, and we couldn’t agree more. For a kid’s film, Spy Kids still incorporate everything we love about spy films but abstractly and imaginatively. Instead of the adults coming to save the day, the kids take it in their initiative and beat the antagonists on their own.
Another classic option on this list, but still a groundbreaking film in itself. Claiming the title of the first great picture of the 50s, The Third Man was awarded best film of the 20th century by the British Film Institute. This not only makes it one of the best spy movies but one of the most influential movies ever released.
Set in Vienna, the story follows a writer called Holly Martins played by Joseph Cotten. As Martins comes across his dead childhood friend, he develops conspiracy theories about the murder, the third man. This film is not short of romance too, but we’ll leave that for you to find out for yourself.
We’ve already mentioned the film received best 20th-century film but many others deserve a mention. The Academy Award for best black-and-white cinematography and BAFTA award best British film are some of the most recognisable. Director Carol Reed got every bit of credit they deserve for this timeless classic.
Snowden is not only one of the best spy movies on Amazon Prime, but one of the best spy movies in history due to its plot. Telling the real-life events of computer intelligence consultant Edward Snowden, the film portrays one of the most significant moments in central intelligence history.
Edward Snowden was a computer consultant for the CIA. Throughout his career, he helped develop global surveillance programs keeping track of everyone’s personal information. However, despite his involvement, he disagreed with how the government was using his technology and the information it provided. Edward decided to go public with the information, leaking his secrets on national news. Making him a high priority target of multiple national government officials, he found asylum in Russia where he still lives today.
Any real-life events already set up a film to be an intriguing and engaging story. But the story of Snowden and how he risked his life to make this information public is unique. He signed away his freedom to show us what happens with our information. Because of this, the film Snowden is not only one of the best spy movies in history, but the accounts of Snowden one of the most interesting true stories in history!
Whether you’re a comedy, action, or romance fan, there will be a spy film out there for you. Our obsession with espionage has resulted in release after release of spy movies. Being portrayed so differently each time under different genres means we never get bored.
In this list, there is a mix of real-life events and completely fictional stories. Some of us crave historical accounts and have a look into the real world of espionage. Others just crave the overuse of ridiculous, but cool spy gadgets. There is no shortage of reasons why people love spy films.
Fundamentally, espionage is a world we will never have an insight into. Unless you are a spy reading this, we will never know how they truly live their lives. These films, whether fictional or not, allow us to live our mini fantasies of being undercover agents. It could be the idea of keeping secrets or running life-threatening missions that grab your attention. Whatever your reason, we will always love spy films and their attempt to portray the mysterious world of espionage.
We hope you enjoyed this article and now feel inspired to watch a spy movie! Whilst you’re here, why not check out another on our blog? We recommend our review on the Best Fantasy Movies, Best Gangster Movies, and Best Cyberpunk Movies to get you started!
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