30 Spy/Espionage films from Hollywood and Beyondby 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
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.
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
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.
Early Hitchcock classic
3. North by Northwest (1959)
Not Rated | 136 min | Action, Adventure, Mystery
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.
Votes: 243,575 | Gross: $13.28M
Features perhaps the single most recognizable image of American cinema, carry grant running from a crop duster biplane.
5. From Russia with Love (1963)
PG | 115 min | Action, Adventure, Thriller
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.
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
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.
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
In London, a counter espionage agent deals with his own bureaucracy while investigating the kidnapping and brainwashing of British scientists.
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
A British agent is sent to Berlin to receive a Communist defector, but the true situation turns out to be rather more complicated.
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
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.
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
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.
Anthony Mann's unfinished project. Depicts the story from an opposite viewpoint.
11. The Kremlin Letter (1970)
M | 120 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller
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.
Underrated cold war spy thriller with elements of film noir.
12. The Serpent (1973)
PG | 113 min | Thriller
A soviet diplomat hatches a complicated plan to enable him to defect to the West.
Intriguing European spy flick.
13. The Conversation (1974)
PG | 113 min | Drama, Mystery, Thriller
A paranoid, secretive surveillance expert has a crisis of conscience when he suspects that a couple, on whom he is spying, will be murdered.
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
A bookish CIA researcher finds all his co-workers dead, and must outwit those responsible until he figures out who he can really trust.
Votes: 38,852 | Gross: $41.51M
Sydney Pollacks's instant and enduring classic.
15. Telefon (1977)
PG | 102 min | Action, Crime, Drama
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.
Charles Bronson's action oriented cold war spy thriller.
16. The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
R | 131 min | Biography, Crime, Drama
The true story of a disillusioned military contractor employee and his drug pusher childhood friend who became walk-in spies for the Soviet Union.
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
A coverup and witchhunt occur after a politician accidentally kills his mistress.
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
An expatriate British publisher unexpectedly finds himself working for British intelligence to investigate people in Russia.
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
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 »
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
A tailor living in Panama reluctantly becomes a spy for a British Agent.
Votes: 25,168 | Gross: $13.73M
Another John le Carré story.
21. Spy Game (2001)
R | 126 min | Action, Crime, Thriller
Retiring CIA agent Nathan Muir recalls his training of Tom Bishop while working against agency politics to free him from his Chinese captors.
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
An older British reporter vies with a young U.S. doctor for the affections of a beautiful Vietnamese woman.
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
A man is picked up by a fishing boat, bullet-riddled and suffering from amnesia, before racing to elude assassins and regain his memory.
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
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.
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
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 »
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
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.
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
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.
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
In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet Agent within MI6.
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
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 »
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
An FSB officer falls in love with his agent, an American woman, who works as a trader in a Russian bank.
Slow burning, some time melodramatic but always interesting spy story, Jean Dujardin shines as always!