30 Spy/Espionage films from Hollywood and Beyond

by shanksinha | created - 06 Mar 2012 | updated - 04 Jul 2015 | Public

Spy fiction is as old as the times. These tales of tale of deceit, deception, and tension continue to be staple of filmed entertainment. Spy films broadly fall under two categories of relative realism (such as the adaptations of John Le Carré) or as fantasy thriller (such as James Bond). There are numerous sub-genres mixing elements of film-noir, comedy, romance and murder mystery with varying degrees of success. Starting from the silent era, spy films perhaps reached their peak during and immediately after World War II. Cold war spy thrillers relied more on building up tension as opposed to action to entertain. Post cold war films have grown to reflect social tensions and international challenges relevant today. The genre has been visited by some of the best directors of our times and and it is difficult to come up with any rankings or classification. The list should be treated as nothing more than a collection of personal favorites are not as per any ranking. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

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1. Spies (1928)

Unrated | 90 min | Romance, Thriller

7.7
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

The mastermind behind a ubiquitous spy operation learns of a dangerous romance between a Russian lady in his employ and a dashing agent from the government's secret service.

Director: Fritz Lang | Stars: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gerda Maurus, Willy Fritsch, Lien Deyers

Votes: 2,486

Fritz lang's silent master piece was the genesis of formula that formed staple of numerous later spy films. For example a secret agent known by a number, and a beautiful foreign female agent who comes to love the hero.

2. Secret Agent (1936)

Unrated | 86 min | Mystery, Thriller

6.6
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  

After three British agents are assigned to assassinate a mysterious German spy during World War I, two of them become ambivalent when their duty to the mission conflicts with their consciences.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock | Stars: John Gielgud, Madeleine Carroll, Robert Young, Peter Lorre

Votes: 6,634

Early Hitchcock classic

3. North by Northwest (1959)

Not Rated | 136 min | Action, Adventure, Mystery

8.4
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  

A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock | Stars: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis

Votes: 243,575 | Gross: $13.28M

Features perhaps the single most recognizable image of American cinema, carry grant running from a crop duster biplane.

4. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

PG-13 | 126 min | Drama, Thriller

8.0
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94 Metascore

A former prisoner of war is brainwashed as an unwitting assassin for an international Communist conspiracy.

Director: John Frankenheimer | Stars: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury

Votes: 64,519

5. From Russia with Love (1963)

PG | 115 min | Action, Adventure, Thriller

7.5
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85 Metascore

James Bond willingly falls into an assassination ploy involving a naive Russian beauty in order to retrieve a Soviet encryption device that was stolen by SPECTRE.

Director: Terence Young | Stars: Sean Connery, Robert Shaw, Lotte Lenya, Daniela Bianchi

Votes: 97,566 | Gross: $24.80M

A James Bond film focused more on traditional spy craft.

6. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)

Not Rated | 112 min | Drama, Thriller

7.7
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British agent Alec Leamas refuses to come in from the Cold War during the 1960s, choosing to face another mission, which may prove to be his final one.

Director: Martin Ritt | Stars: Richard Burton, Oskar Werner, Claire Bloom, Sam Wanamaker

Votes: 11,984

Adaptation of novel by John le Carré. Portraying the moral uncertainty of espionage world. Grim and realistic.

7. The Ipcress File (1965)

Approved | 109 min | Thriller

7.3
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In London, a counter espionage agent deals with his own bureaucracy while investigating the kidnapping and brainwashing of British scientists.

Director: Sidney J. Furie | Stars: Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Guy Doleman, Sue Lloyd

Votes: 11,329

Michael Caine is excellent as Harry Palmer a somewhat slippery British operative. Cold war classic.

8. Funeral in Berlin (1966)

Not Rated | 102 min | Thriller

6.9
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A British agent is sent to Berlin to receive a Communist defector, but the true situation turns out to be rather more complicated.

Director: Guy Hamilton | Stars: Michael Caine, Oskar Homolka, Paul Hubschmid, Eva Renzi

Votes: 4,364

A worthy sequel to Ipcress File, more of a comedy in large parts, but with a clever story. Follow on films are utter crap.

9. Topaz (1969)

PG | 143 min | Drama, Thriller

6.3
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A French intelligence agent becomes embroiled in the Cold War politics first with uncovering the events leading up to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and then back to France to break up an international Russian spy ring.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock | Stars: Frederick Stafford, Dany Robin, John Vernon, Karin Dor

Votes: 13,927

Based on a book by Leon Uris. One of better Hitchcock spy films, minus the usual Hollywood starpower.

10. A Dandy in Aspic (1968)

Approved | 107 min | Action, Drama, Thriller

6.2
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During the Cold War, the British and Soviet intelligence services attempt to out-fox one another using the homesick double-agent Krasnevin as pawn in the complex spy-game.

Directors: Anthony Mann, Laurence Harvey | Stars: Laurence Harvey, Tom Courtenay, Mia Farrow, Harry Andrews

Votes: 551

Anthony Mann's unfinished project. Depicts the story from an opposite viewpoint.

11. The Kremlin Letter (1970)

M | 120 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller

6.4
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During the Cold War a Naval Intelligence officer endowed with a powerful photographic memory is transferred to the CIA to participate in a covert operation in Moscow.

Director: John Huston | Stars: Bibi Andersson, Richard Boone, Nigel Green, Dean Jagger

Votes: 1,474

Underrated cold war spy thriller with elements of film noir.

12. The Serpent (1973)

PG | 113 min | Thriller

6.4
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A soviet diplomat hatches a complicated plan to enable him to defect to the West.

Director: Henri Verneuil | Stars: Yul Brynner, Henry Fonda, Dirk Bogarde, Philippe Noiret

Votes: 747

Intriguing European spy flick.

13. The Conversation (1974)

PG | 113 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller

7.9
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86 Metascore

A paranoid, secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple, on whom he is spying, will be murdered.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola | Stars: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Frederic Forrest

Votes: 81,271 | Gross: $4.42M

A disturbing Psychological thriller set in the murky world of espionage.

14. Three Days of the Condor (1975)

R | 117 min | Mystery, Thriller

7.5
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A bookish CIA researcher finds all his co-workers dead, and must outwit those responsible until he figures out who he can really trust.

Director: Sydney Pollack | Stars: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow

Votes: 38,852 | Gross: $41.51M

Sydney Pollacks's instant and enduring classic.

15. Telefon (1977)

PG | 102 min | Action, Crime, Drama

6.6
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A Russian officer is sent to USA to try and stop sleeper agents who will mindlessly attack government entities when they hear certain coded words.

Director: Don Siegel | Stars: Charles Bronson, Lee Remick, Donald Pleasence, Tyne Daly

Votes: 4,291

Charles Bronson's action oriented cold war spy thriller.

16. The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)

R | 131 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

6.8
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The true story of a disillusioned military contractor employee and his drug pusher childhood friend who became walk-in spies for the Soviet Union.

Director: John Schlesinger | Stars: Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, Pat Hingle, Joyce Van Patten

Votes: 8,989 | Gross: $17.10M

An unglamorous look at the banality of espionage world and the ordinary nature of people who enter it. Based on true story of Christopher John Boyce.

17. No Way Out (1987)

R | 114 min | Action, Crime, Drama

7.1
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77 Metascore

A coverup and witchhunt occur after a politician accidentally kills his mistress.

Director: Roger Donaldson | Stars: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, Will Patton

Votes: 29,066 | Gross: $35.51M

A slick and tight film by Roger Donaldson, who made some other interesting espionage films like The Recruit (2003).

18. The Russia House (1990)

R | 123 min | Drama, Romance, Thriller

6.1
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An expatriate British publisher unexpectedly finds himself working for British intelligence to investigate people in Russia.

Director: Fred Schepisi | Stars: Sean Connery, Michelle Pfeiffer, Roy Scheider, James Fox

Votes: 12,424 | Gross: $23.00M

Another John le Carré story. Filmed on location in Soviet Union, beautiful visuals and underrated style.

19. The Patriots (1994)

G | 138 min | Thriller

7.5
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At 18, Ariel Brenner leaves Paris and his family to live in Israel. He secretly joins the Mossad, the Isreali secret service. After years of training, his first mission is in Paris to steal... See full summary »

Director: Eric Rochant | Stars: Yvan Attal, Richard Masur, Allen Garfield, Yossi Banai

Votes: 955

Portrays from a revisionist point of view, the ambiguous ways of spy craft for a Mossad agent, where loyalties and ideologies are never constant.

20. The Tailor of Panama (2001)

R | 109 min | Comedy, Drama, Thriller

6.1
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66 Metascore

A tailor living in Panama reluctantly becomes a spy for a British Agent.

Director: John Boorman | Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis, Leonor Varela

Votes: 25,168 | Gross: $13.73M

Another John le Carré story.

21. Spy Game (2001)

R | 126 min | Action, Crime, Thriller

7.1
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63 Metascore

Retiring CIA agent Nathan Muir recalls his training of Tom Bishop while working against agency politics to free him from his Chinese captors.

Director: Tony Scott | Stars: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane

Votes: 128,268 | Gross: $0.03M

Tony Scott's slick presentation of classic spy world. One of the definitive spy films, has a grandiose feel to it.

22. The Quiet American (2002)

R | 101 min | Drama, Mystery, Romance

7.1
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84 Metascore

An older British reporter vies with a young U.S. doctor for the affections of a beautiful Vietnamese woman.

Director: Phillip Noyce | Stars: Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, Do Thi Hai Yen, Rade Serbedzija

Votes: 24,928 | Gross: $12.99M

Graham Greene's classic and moving story, set in the backdrop of the growing American involvement in Vietnam in the initial years. Michael Caine shines as always, and some really good piece of acting from Brendan Fraser.

23. The Bourne Identity (2002)

PG-13 | 119 min | Action, Mystery, Thriller

7.9
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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
68 Metascore

A man is picked up by a fishing boat, bullet-riddled and suffering from amnesia, before racing to elude assassins and regain his memory.

Director: Doug Liman | Stars: Franka Potente, Matt Damon, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen

Votes: 446,613 | Gross: $121.66M

An adrenalin rush from start to finish. It is actually an action film, the sequels more so. The first one however, still has elements of the traditional skulduggery of the spy game.

24. Ijung gancheob (2003)

123 min | Action, Thriller

6.4
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A North Korean diplomat defects to the South during the Dold War, but the South Koreans have their suspicions as to whether he is an actual defector or a double agent.

Director: Hyeon-jeong Kim | Stars: Suk-kyu Han, So-young Ko, Ho-jin Chun, Jae-ho Song

Votes: 296

A Korean spy thriller, with a plausible plot concerning a North Korean defector. Like most Korean cinema, it is is good.

25. El Lobo (2004)

R | 125 min | Thriller

7.0
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Based on a true story. In the 70's, during the last stages of Franco's dictatorship, Txema, a basque construction worker, is arrested because of his connection to some terrorists who have ... See full summary »

Director: Miguel Courtois | Stars: Eduardo Noriega, José Coronado, Mélanie Doutey, Silvia Abascal

Votes: 3,072

Based on real life story of Mikel Lejarza a Spanish intelligence operative who was a long term infiltrator in ETA. Story of a real life legend.

26. Traitor (2008)

PG-13 | 114 min | Action, Crime, Drama

7.0
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60 Metascore

When straight arrow FBI agent Roy Clayton heads up the investigation into a dangerous international conspiracy, all clues seem to lead back to former U.S. Special Operations officer, Samir Horn.

Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff | Stars: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Archie Panjabi, Saïd Taghmaoui

Votes: 51,227 | Gross: $23.53M

A sensible film with sensible storyline. Spying in the times of war on terror, where enemies are less well defined. Don Cheadle given a powerhouse performance.

27. L'affaire Farewell (2009)

Not Rated | 113 min | Drama, Romance, Thriller

7.0
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74 Metascore

The French intelligence service alerts the U.S. about a Soviet spy operation during the height of the Cold War, which sets off an unfortunate chain of events.

Director: Christian Carion | Stars: Guillaume Canet, Emir Kusturica, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ingeborga Dapkunaite

Votes: 5,791

Excellent French cold war film. Set during the last days of the cold war.

28. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

R | 122 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller

7.1
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85 Metascore

In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet Agent within MI6.

Director: Tomas Alfredson | Stars: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong

Votes: 162,308 | Gross: $24.15M

A retro cold war spy film based on John le Carré famous book. Captures the essence of the times and lives gone forever.

29. Page Eight (2011 TV Movie)

Not Rated | 99 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller

6.9
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Johnny Worricker (Bill Nighy) is a long-serving MI5 officer. His boss and best friend Benedict Baron (Michael Gambon) dies suddenly, leaving behind him an inexplicable file, threatening the... See full summary »

Director: David Hare | Stars: Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz, Tom Hughes, Michael Gambon

Votes: 12,488

A look in to the contemporary espionage scene and its political dynamics. A world devoid of agendas, morality and heroes. Bill Nighy is brilliant.

30. Möbius (2013)

R | 103 min | Drama, Thriller

6.1
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An FSB officer falls in love with his agent, an American woman, who works as a trader in a Russian bank.

Director: Eric Rochant | Stars: Jean Dujardin, Cécile De France, Tim Roth, Émilie Dequenne

Votes: 4,306

Slow burning, some time melodramatic but always interesting spy story, Jean Dujardin shines as always!