Espionage is an exciting activity that makes for great cinematic visualization. The rise in the popularity of spy movies is thanks in part to the Cold War era when both sides were always paranoid about spies and double agents infiltrating their ranks. From James Bond to Ethan Hunt, the film industry has produced many interesting characters whose main job is to go on undercover missions.
We’ve gathered up our favorite spy films and chose 10 of the best ones according to plot, action and overall appeal. Read on to see if you’re bets made it on our best spy movies list.
Top 10 Best Spy Movies of All Time
Casino Royale (2006)
Casino Royale (2006) is one of the best spy films to have come out of the James Bond franchise.
Starring Daniel Craig as the 21st century Agent 007, Casino Royale not only rebooted the franchise but also set a high bar for the next ones to meet.
Going back in time, the film chronicles James Bond at the beginning of his career. One of his first assignments is to bankrupt a known terrorist financier through a game of high-stakes poker. We know, classic Bond film plot, huh?
What more, we are also introduced to the sultry Vesper Lynd, played exquisitely by Eva Green. The film’s story continues in its sequel, Quantum of Solace.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
The Bourne Identity (2002) has got every element a good spy movie should have. Powerful secret organizations, a protagonist with a great origin story and, of course, highly entertaining fight sequences.
Starring Matt Damon as the titular Jason Bourne, we see him go from wounded amnesiac to a powerhouse of a human being with impressive fighting, linguistic and self-defense skills.
Part neo-noir and part spy thriller, The Bourne Identity manages to endure as a film over time because it delivered an action-packed but still believable story.
Don’t be surprised to see multiple James Bond movies on our list of best spy movies.
Considered by some fans as the best spy film of the Agent 007 franchise, Goldeneye (1997) is also its seventeenth film.
The film tells the story of how James Bond saves the world by stopping Agent 006 a former agent turned enemy who got his hands on a powerful satellite that can destroy the planet. And if this task isn’t hard enough, he is also challenged by a beautiful assassin Xenia Onatopp, played by Famke Janssen. Goldeneye is considered to be the greatest spy movies of all time.
Mission: Impossible (1996)
The film that started the famous action thriller franchise starring Tom Cruise, Brian de Palma’s Mission: Impossible (1996) a fun and thrilling spy film.
Here we first meet Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise, an IMF agent falsely accused and framed for the murder of his fellow agents during a botched mission in Prague. And if that isn’t enough he is also accused of selling government secrets to an international criminal called ‘Max’.
The film has spawned five sequels with another one coming this 2018.
Ghost in the Shell (1995)
The film version of the hugely popular Japanese anime of the same name, Ghost in the Shell (1995), we follow Maj. Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg government agent, trailing The Puppet Master a criminal who hacks the computerized minds of cyborg and human hybrids.
The film turns philosophical as Motoko begins questioning her own identity and pondering about what her life would be like if she had more human traits.
It is so influential that it served as the direct inspiration for the Wachowskis The Matrix and a Hollywood live-action remake starring Scarlett Johansson which we recommend you to skip.
Now let’s go to something a little bit lighter.
Starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, Charade (1963) is a multi-genre film (part-thriller, part-mystery, part-romance). Audrey Hepburn plays a young wife who discovers that her husband has been murdered after returning from a trip to the Alps. Cary Grant plays her new love interest who helps her deal with the three criminals responsible for her husband’s murder.
Most memorable for its fantastic screenplay and the rapport between its two leads, the film is also referred to as ‘the greatest film Hitchcock never made’.
Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Based on a novel of the same name, The Manchurian Candidate (1962) is a suspense thriller film that perfectly captures the era’s communist paranoia.
It stars Laurence Harvey as Raymond Shaw, an army hero who has recently returned to the USA from Korea. However, it is revealed that the veteran was brainwashed and programmed by communists to assassinate a presidential candidate and to eventually aid them in their attempt to overtake the US government.
North by Northwest (1959)
We’re pretty sure you weren’t surprised to see this entry from Alfred Hitchcock on our best spy movies list.
North by Northwest (1959), a highly entertaining mystery film about mistaken identity, is also one of Hitchcock’s best work.
The film tells the story of an advertising executive who is pursued by criminals after being misidentified as a government agent.
Showcasing plenty of Hitchcock’s filmmaking techniques, this spy film of mistaken identity is a great introduction to the director’s prolific filmography.
Munich (2005) is about the revenge plot hatched by the Israeli government to avenge the murder of 11 of their athletes during the 1972 Olympics. Hired to fulfill this task is Avner Kaufman, played by Eric Bana.
The film, which was based on real-life events, was a critical success earning several nominations at the Academy Awards. Munich is one of the best spy movies of all time.
The Fury (1978)
We give the number one spot to Brian de Palma’s part horror part spy thriller film, The Fury (1978).
In the film, a CIA agent father and his son are mysteriously separated. Suspecting a ruse, the father investigates and discovers that his son was taken away to be studied as part of a government project because of his apparent psychic abilities. The Fury is one of the 70’s best spy films ever.
Did you spy (pun intended) your favorite spy films on our best spy movies list? What other excellent films about espionage will you add on this ranking? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below. Also, don’t forget to share this article with your friends!