Since the silent era, spy films have been a staple in cinema, and it could be argued that they are only getting better. Some of the best features of these movies are secret spies, amazing gadgets, intense action, and sinister organisations. The espionage genre encompasses a wide range of stories, from historical dramas to action thrillers to serious biopics.
While certain cinematic secret agents, such as James Bond, are well-known, there are many other outstanding espionage films that deserve to be seen. Nothing is more exciting than watching these spies put themselves in perilous circumstances and wondering if they would survive.
The Lives of Others (2006) – 8.4
The Lives of Others is a film set in the 1980s that follows a member of the German secret police, the Stasi. A minister orders Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) to perform surveillance on a writer and his girlfriend because of fears about their political loyalty. But he soon becomes engrossed in their lives.
By exploring moral concerns and intricate relationships, the film adds nuance and seriousness to the espionage genre. It depicts what life was like during the Cold War by being character-driven and clever. Wiesler’s actions have unintended implications for both him and others. The plot is full of unexpected twists and turns.
North by Northwest (1959) – 8.3
After being suspected of being a spy, ad executive Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is chased by spy Phillip Vandamm (Jason Mason). He encounters a mystery woman named Eve Kendall while he flees for his life (Eve Marie Saint).
North by Northwest, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, features all of the best spy cliches a film can provide, including secret operatives, mistaken identities, and clandestine organisations. This classic thriller is best remembered for its iconic crop duster sequence, but there are also other thrilling action scenes in it. The screenplay is extremely amusing, lending the film a lighter tone.
Casino Royale (2006) – 8
James Bond – also known as Agent 007 – has established himself as one of the most renowned spy figures in cinema with the memorable line “Bond, James Bond.” There have been over two dozen films portraying the British secret agent notorious for his love of booze, ladies, and cars since his debut appearance in Dr. No in 1962.
Casino Royale is the twenty-first film in the official Eon franchise, and it introduces Daniel Craig as a new Bond. It takes place at the start of his career, when he is tasked with assassinating Le Chiffre, a villain (Mads Mikkelsen). He also develops a romantic relationship with Vesper Lynd, another agent (Eva Green). The film was lauded for portraying a more vulnerable Bond and for having significant emotional stakes.
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) – 8
The Jason Bourne franchise, based on Robert Ludlum’s novels, features sophisticated espionage scenarios and incredible stunts. The films star Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, a CIA assassin who has amnesia and is looking for his true identity.
The Bourne Ultimatum is the third instalment in the series, and it brings together storylines from earlier films to provide Bourne with the answers he’s been seeking. By portraying Bourne a likeable and well-rounded figure, the film tries to humanise a serial killer. You find yourself wishing that he discovers the truth and is set free.
The Day of the Jackal (1973) – 7.8
An underground militant gang attempts to assassinate the French President in the summer of 1963. They employ an assassin known as ‘The Jackal’ (Edward Fox) to finish the job if they fail. As he begins to leave bodies behind, investigator Claude Lebel (Michael Lonsdale) is tasked with solving the crimes.
The Day of the Jackal is based on Frederick Forsyth’s novel of the same name. It follows an assassin on his way to his target. The film is tightly planned and full of tension, and it keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. It has a brilliant, multidimensional villain who almost makes you want to cheer for him.
The Conversation (1974) – 7.8
Harry (Gene Hackman) is a surveillance expert hired by a confidential customer to keep an eye on a young couple. Despite the fact that Harry believes he isn’t to blame for the talks he records, he bears the burden of guilt from a previous investigation gone wrong. He quickly becomes engrossed in his new case.
The Conversation is a claustrophobic and personal take on privacy and security. The film demonstrates how sound may be a useful tool for deciphering people’s actions. It also depicts the protagonist’s isolation and growing paranoia, revealing the dark side of espionage.
Mission Impossible – Fallout (2018) – 7.7
“Should you choose to accept it, your task…” The Mission Impossible series is one of the most popular film franchises of all time, with critical and popular acclaim. The films, which star Tom Cruise as Mission Impossible Force Agent Ethan Hunt, include thrilling action scenes, fantastic gadgets, and memorable antagonists.
Fallout is the sixth instalment in the Mission Impossible franchise. This time, Ethan teams up with CIA assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill) to prevent a nuclear assault by a group of terrorists known as the Apostles. The film is an adrenaline thrill from start to finish, with a high-speed motorbike chase, a vicious bathroom battle, and an incredible HALO leap.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) – 7.7
Taron Edgerton’s character, Eggsy Unwin, is a disturbed adolescent who appears to be doomed. But one day, he is approached by secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who informs him that his late father was a spy. Eggsy is enlisted to fight the psychotic Richmond Valentine for the secret agency (Samuel L. Jackson).
Kingsman: The Secret Service is a sleek, irreverent, and violent espionage comedy that was an unexpected box office success. It uses the standard espionage cliches but mocks them with its bizarre tone and rich cast of characters. Because of the film’s success, a sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, was made, featuring the same ensemble.
Argo (2012) – 7.7
Six American diplomats managed to flee the capture of a US embassy in Iran and sought refuge with the Canadian ambassador. To save them, CIA operative Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) fabricates a tale in which the ambassadors pose as members of a film crew researching locations for a new film.
Argo is a tense historical thriller based on a true story in which duplicity plays a crucial role. The plot revolves around characters posing as other people in order to flee a country while being followed by police. It’s a less flashy type of espionage that doesn’t get much screen time.
Bridge of Spies (2015) – 7.6
In court, American lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) defended Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and was met with hostility. Later, he is summoned to arrange the exchange of an Air Force pilot for Abel. As a result, a tense negotiation ensues, with each entity vying for the upper hand.
Bridge of Spies, directed by Steven Spielberg, is based on a true story from the Cold War. The film is reminiscent of traditional espionage dramas, with all of the tense situations involving dialogues rather than shootouts. The strong performances and eye-catching imagery make you care about the characters’ destinies. Everything is expertly built up to a wonderful conclusion.