The best spy movies of all time (2023)

What are the best spy movies of all time? Beginning in the silent era, spy films have been around for more than a century, thrilling moviegoers with tales of double-crosses and espionage since the 1890s. Today, these thriller movies continue to spark the imaginations of filmmakers and audiences alike, showing us daring stunts, gadgets, glamour, and throwing us into a world of full-blown paranoia.

However, over the years, we’ve seen spy films, much like the secret agents they follow, take on many disguises – appearing as cerebral thrillers,action movie blockbusters, goofy flicks, and more. So, in a sea of high stakes missions, science fictionmovies, and other wildly different films, you may be left feeling lost, desperately searching for clues to answer the age-old question – what are truly the best spy movies that you can watch right now?

Well, The Digital Fix is here to hand over the intel. After doing some in-depth recon of our own, we’ve gathered intelligence on the best films for all your secret operative needs. From the high budget explosive hits to the suave noir capers, we’ve made a list so airtight that even Tom Cruise couldn’t hack it. So sit back, have a shaken martini at the ready, and prepare for some high-class espionage – here are the best spy movies of all time.

What are the best spy movies?

  • North by Northwest
  • Mission Impossible
  • From Russia with love
  • The Conversation
  • Top Secret!
  • The Bourne Identity
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Lust, Caution
  • Spy Kids
  • The Lives of Others

North by Northwest (1959)

You can’t list the best spy movies without mentioning one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films, North by Northwest. The light caper made history in the genre by being the original anti-spy film, showing an average person doing dangerous deeds and uncovering a dastardly plan. Due to a case of mistaken identity, advertising executive Roger Thornhill becomes entangled in a convoluted plot, and finds himself hunted by a criminal organisation.

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North by Northwest shows Hitchcock doing what he does best, presenting us with a thrilling story, a well-written script, and a good old entertaining time. Besides being a hugely influential title on the spy genre, and considered one of Hitchcock’s best pieces of work, the movie also has one of the most dramatic final standoffs. With a thrilling grapple on top of Mount Rushmore, and Thornhill literally clinging for survival, the film gives you – a memorable shot of suspense every time you sit down to watch it.

(Video) Top 10 Spy Movies of All Time

Mission: Impossible (1996)

As one of the biggest franchises of the century, you know we had to put a Mission Impossible movie on our list, and when it comes to the best of the best, you just can’t beat the original. Directed by Brian De Palma in 1996, Mission: Impossible is where all the crazy Tom Cruise stunts began, and is pretty much pure action and entertainment fuel at its finest.

Acontinuation of the ’60s TV series of the same name, the movie follows spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), who, after being framed for the murder of his elite field team, goes on a mission to uncover a mole and clear his name. The film is incredibly enjoyable, giving you all you’d want out of a high budget spy movie. From thrilling chase scenes to tense break-ins; thisTom Cruise movie has it all.

From Russia with Love (1963)

Despite plenty of incredible James Bond movies released over the years, the Cold War thriller, From Russia with Love, is Bond perfected. After killing Dr No in the 1962 film, James Bond (Sean Connery) is being hunted by an international criminal organisation called SPECTRE. Our favourite agent is sent on a mission/ trap to help Tatiana Romanova (a corporal in the Soviet Army) “flee” to the West in exchange for a Lekor (a cypher machine used by Soviet intelligence).

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The movie is full of thrills and grit, without being gimmicky or too misogynistic (at least no one is called Pussy Galore in this one), making it stand out in the Bond universe as one of the most serious features you can watch. The world of espionage and spies is also built up beautifully here, and the movie has some of the best-choreographed action scenes seen in any Bond film today.

The Conversation (1974)

Written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather), The Conversation shows a spy doing what a spy does best – spying on people. In response to the Watergate scandal, and growing anxiety around privacy back in the ’70s, the thriller movie tells the story of mass surveillance, and was so inventive that it received three Oscar nominations on the year of its release.

Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is a surveillance expert that does questionable missions for people in power. After taking a job to spy on a young couple from someone called the Director, he is sent into a tense mind trip of second-guessing, and guilt fuelled anxiety – as his eavesdropping may have dire consequences. The film focuses on a spy’s slow descent into paranoia and guilt, giving a fresh take on espionage that is intertwined with morals.

(Video) Top 10 Modern Spy Films

Top secret! (1984)

From the brilliant mind behind the hilariouscomedy movie Airplane!, Jim Abrahams does it again, spoofing a cinematic genre into a comedic masterpiece. Top Secret!, delivers gags like no other, and in terms of a spy movie parody, it stands proudly as the most ridiculous feature out of the bunch.

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Set in a combination world of World War II and the Cold War with some Beach Boy aesthetics, the movie centres around the East Germans facing off against an American Rockstar (Val Kilmer), who, after travelling to Germany for a concert, gets caught up with the resistance and dragged into a rescue mission.

Not only is this the film where Kilmer made his acting debut, but it is still one of the best spy comedy movies you can experience. It’s completely ridiculous, full of visual puns, and has a collection of dad jokes that we’ve come to know and love from Abrahams’ work.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

What happens when a spy forgets that he is a spy? Loosely based on Robert Ludlum’s hit novel of the same name, The Bourne Identity follows Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), a man with amnesia and a dangerous past. After being rescued from drowning in the Mediterranean sea, Jason has no memory of who he is, but quickly learns that he holds several special skills…oh and that the CIA is tirelessly hunting him down.

The film is presented as a tense mystery, turning the typical spy movie formula on its head as we follow Jason discovering clues to his identity as the story progresses, and trying to survive while piecing together his sketchy backstory. Its close combat fight sequences, handheld camera work, and general moodiness have made the film go down in history as one of the best openings to a spy franchise you can find.

(Video) The 10 Best Spy Movies Of All Time

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

A Cold War thriller with one of the strongest casts that you’ll ever see, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a movie that focuses on creating a perpetual sense of doom. Based on John le Carre’s novel of the same name, the movie’s main crux revolves around British Intelligence trying to uncover a mole within their ranks. From affairs, interrogations, to some emotionally packed killing, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a cerebral film led by a fantastic story.

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Instead of the typical action-filled sequences you’d get in a blockbuster, the movie revolves around subtle moments, relying on deceit and second-guessing to craft suspense, and boy does it work. As you watch a stressed-out Gary Oldman trying to navigate a web of lies and dodging a few daggers aimed at his back, you can’t help but feel tense, waiting for an explosive outburst to consume your screen at any moment.

Lust, Caution (2007)

Seduction and spies go hand in hand, but no film combines the spy genre with some good old romance quite like director Ang Lee’s feature – Lust, Caution. Set in Hong Kong and Shanghai during World War II, back when it was occupied by the Japanese Army, the film follows a young theatre troupe who plan to assassinate special agent Mr Yee (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai).

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An erotic plan full of espionage and betrayal ensues, with a young woman attempting to lure Mr Yee into a honey trap. The pacing throughout the movie is second to none, making sure there isn’t a dull moment in sight as it moves through its engaging and emotionally charged script. Truly an underrated and intimate film; for any fans of the genre Lust, Caution is a must-watch.

Spy Kids (2001)

A classic kids movie, Spy Kids takes beloved secret agent tropes, makes them fantastical, and basically shows an action-adventure movie that is as bizarrely enjoyable as they come.

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Created by Robert Rodriguez, the movie follows two young siblings on a mission to save their spy parents from a dastardly children’s TV host, who has been kidnapping special agents and turning them into mutated creatures. It’s stupidly hilarious, full of imaginative gadgets, and perfectly shows the fantasy of a life of espionage through the eyes of a child.

Let’s be honest, as a kid, Spy Kids was the coolest film you could watch on family movie night, and even if those walking thumbs are certifiably terrifying, it is still super enjoyable to watch today, even as an adult. A fun movie that embodies all the imagination and wonder that the spy genre could possibly offer, Spy Kids is an irrefutable chaotic masterpiece.

The Lives of Others (2007)

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s debut feature, The Lives of Others, sees spy work being done at a distance, quietly impacting lives, and watching calamity unfold from afar.

Set during 1984 in East Germany, The Lives of Others revolves around Stasi Captain Gerd Wiesler, who is ordered to quietly monitor a playwright whose communist views and acclaim have gathered the government’s attention.

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However, as he gets to know the man through his sneaky work, Wiesler begins to feel for him as well, causing some engaging internal conflict to unfold. The movie stands as a phenomenal period piece, perfectly capturing the sense of constant danger and mistrust from a surveillance state during the Cold War.

Like our previous entry – The Conversation – the movie also shows spy work grounded in reality, seeing a unique take on espionage, and diving into the personal consequences of the job.

And there you have it, the best spy movies of all time. If you are looking for more heart-racing flicks, head over to our guide on watching the Fast and Furious movies in order– but you better hurry because this article will self-destruct in 3…2…1.

(Video) Top 10 Best Spy Films Ever

FAQs

Who is the most famous spy in movies? ›

With the iconic line, “Bond, James Bond,” James Bond – also known as Agent 007 – has established himself as one of the most recognizable spy figures in cinema.

Who is the best spy ever? ›

Aldrich Ames
Espionage activity
CountryUnited States
AllegianceSoviet Union Russia
AgencyCIA
10 more rows

What are CIA movies called? ›

The spy film, also known as the spy thriller, is a genre of film that deals with the subject of fictional espionage, either in a realistic way (such as the adaptations of John le Carré) or as a basis for fantasy (such as many James Bond films).

Is taken a spy movie? ›

A retired CIA agent travels across Europe and relies on his old skills to save his estranged daughter, who has been kidnapped while on a trip to Paris. A retired CIA agent travels across Europe and relies on his old skills to save his estranged daughter, who has been kidnapped while on a trip to Paris.

Who was the best female spy? ›

MATA HARI. Mata Hari embodied all the intrigue of espionage and remains the most famous female spy in history. The dancer turned WWI spy is said to have seduced diplomats and military officers into giving up their secrets.

What is a female spy called? ›

Sexpionage is a historically documented phenomenon and even the CIA has previously added Nigel West's work Historical Dictionary of Sexspionage to its proposed intelligence officer's bookshelf. Female agents using such tactics are known as sparrows, while male ones are known as ravens.

Who is a famous spy? ›

Mata Hari. One of the most famous and elusive spies in history, Dutch-born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, whose stage name was Mata Hari, acted as a spy during World War I.

What are the 5 types of spies? ›

There are five kinds of spy: The local spy, the inside spy, the reverse spy, the dead spy, and the living spy. When the five kinds of spies are all active, no one knows their routes - this is called organizational genius, and is valuable to the leadership.

Who is the best spy actor? ›

The 12 Best Spies in Film
  • Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), Mission: Impossible.
  • Sam (Robert De Niro), Ronin. ...
  • Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger), True Lies. ...
  • Derek Flint (James Coburn), Our Man Flint. ...
  • Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), Notorious. ...
  • Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), Taken. ...
  • Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), The 39 Steps. ...
29 Jul 2012

What is the most realistic CIA movie? ›

Let's take a look at the most realistic spy films of all time.
  • 9/9 The Good Shepherd.
  • 8/9 The Spy Who Came In from the Cold.
  • 7/9 Bridge Of Spies.
  • 6/9 Spy Game.
  • 5/9 Zero Dark Thirty.
  • 4/9 Argo.
  • 3/9 Munich.
  • 2/9 The Lives Of Others.
4 Oct 2022

Who is the best spy agency in the world? ›

1. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), USA. The CIA is primarily focused to provide intelligence for the President and Cabinet of the United States and it also plays a major role in maintaining dominance of USA over the world.

How can I be a spy? ›

How to become a spy
  1. Maintain a clean record. In order to earn a job with a federal agency, all applicants must go through a rigorous screening process. ...
  2. Earn a bachelor's degree. ...
  3. Learn a foreign language. ...
  4. Work on your physical fitness. ...
  5. Apply to a federal agency.
22 Mar 2021

What was the first spy story? ›

The Emergence of the Spy Novel

Novels featuring espionage or spies emerged in the nineteenth century with “The Spy” published in 1821 by James Fenimore Cooper, which was based on the exploits of Harvey Birch, an American secret agent.

Who was the first known spy? ›

Another pivotal figure was Sir Paul Dukes (1889-1967), arguably the first professional spy of the modern age.

Who was the 1st spy? ›

1. Nathan Hale. Often dubbed “America's first spy,” Nathan Hale was a Yale graduate who served in Knowlton's Rangers, a short-lived Continental reconnaissance unit.

Who is known as spy master? ›

A spymaster is the person that leads a spy ring, or a secret service (such as an intelligence agency).

Is it a crime to be a spy? ›

Espionage is the crime of spying or secretly watching a person, company, government, etc. for the purpose of gathering secret information or detecting wrongdoing, and to transfer such information to another organization or state.

What are spy skills called? ›

Tradecraft, within the intelligence community, refers to the techniques, methods and technologies used in modern espionage (spying) and generally, as part of the activity of intelligence assessment.

What skills should a spy have? ›

The key attributes of a good spy include strong critical thinking and communication skills, logical thinking skills, and a love of codebreaking puzzles.

Who was the first female spy? ›

Anna Strong (spy)
Anna Nancy Smith Strong
BornAnna Nancy Smith April 14, 1740
DiedAugust 12, 1812 (aged 72) Setauket, New York
Burial placeEast Setauket, Suffolk County, New York, United States
NationalityAmerican
7 more rows

Is being a spy a real job? ›

The title “Spy” isn't really used anymore. Instead, you're now called a Covert Investigator or, more broadly, a CIA Agent. Whatever the title, it means you investigate and protect US interests abroad. You investigate things like terrorism, fraud, corrupt governments, and a wide variety of other crimes.

Who is the youngest spy? ›

Saraswathi Rajamani

How much do spies get paid? ›

Salary Ranges for Cia Spies

The salaries of Cia Spies in the US range from $21,447 to $577,997 , with a median salary of $103,816 .

What are spies today called? ›

Espionage, spying, or intelligence gathering is the act of obtaining secret or confidential information (intelligence) from non-disclosed sources or divulging of the same without the permission of the holder of the information for a tangible benefit. A person who commits espionage is called an espionage agent or spy.

Can you be a spy in the US? ›

To become a special agent, you'll have to go through a rigorous application process, pass an in-depth background check, and complete the tough FBI training program. Ultimately working as a CIA spy or a special agent for the FBI is working for the United States federal government.

Is Batman a spy? ›

Batman is not really a spy, however, if a situation calls for it, he's highly effective at espionage. Aside from being able to conceal himself at will with an almost preternatural ability, Batman can disguise himself through the different personas he's designed to infiltrate any environment he may need to.

What are spy agents called? ›

In the United States, for instance, an agent is a member of an intelligence or security agency such as the FBI or CIA. Such agencies call a covert human intelligence source an "informant" rather than an "agent."

Which is the No 1 suspense thriller movies? ›

All Time Worldwide Box Office for Thriller/Suspense Movies
RankReleasedMovie
12019Joker
22006The Da Vinci Code
32014The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
42010Inception
67 more rows

What is the best crime thriller? ›

Top 50 Crime, Thriller Movies
  • Poker Face (2022) ...
  • The Usual Suspects (1995) ...
  • Ocean's Eleven (2001) ...
  • American Gigolo (1980) ...
  • Goodnight Mommy (2022) ...
  • Felon (2008) R | 104 min | Crime, Thriller. ...
  • The Equalizer (2014) R | 132 min | Action, Crime, Thriller. ...
  • Wind River (2017) R | 107 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery.

What is the most unrealistic war movie? ›

The 10 Most Unrealistic Modern War Movies
  • American Sniper. American Sniper is filled with goofs that make viewers question its depiction of SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. ...
  • The Hurt Locker (2008) ...
  • Zero Dark Thirty (2012) ...
  • Black Hawk Down (2001) ...
  • 12 Strong (2018) ...
  • John Rambo (2008) ...
  • Lone Survivor (2013) ...
  • The Rock (1996)
1 Dec 2021

What movie has the most realistic violence? ›

Top 10 Movies With Surprisingly Realistic Violence
  • #8: “Nightcrawler” (2014) ...
  • #7: “Goodfellas” (1990) ...
  • #6: “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) ...
  • #5: “Eastern Promises” (2007) ...
  • #4: “12 Years a Slave” (2013) ...
  • #3: “The Revenant” (2015) ...
  • #2: “City of God” (2002) ...
  • #1: “Saving Private Ryan” (1998)
20 Sept 2022

Who is No 1 secret agency in the world? ›

One of the top intelligence agencies in the world is the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It is the foreign intelligence agency of the US. It collects information from overseas, with minimal information collection within the country.

How can I join CIA? ›

How to become a CIA agent
  1. Earn a bachelor's degree. ...
  2. Consider earning a master's degree. ...
  3. Become fluent in one or two foreign languages. ...
  4. Gain relevant experience. ...
  5. Complete the required testing and medical examinations. ...
  6. Finish an internal training program.

Who is top 10 intelligence agency in the world? ›

Top 10 intelligence agencies in the world
  • Mossad (Israel)
  • Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (Russia)
  • Research & Analysis Wing (India)
  • Central Intelligence Agency (United States of America)
  • Ministry of State Security (China)
  • Inter Services Intelligence (Pakistan)

How do spies dress? ›

Some spies prefer the anonymity of a plain ol' ski-mask. Other spies like to disguise themselves a little more comically, and sometimes chose to wear masks imitating infamous characters. Whichever suits your preference, a mask can protect your identity while out on operation. Equip a headlamp or goggles.

Is being a spy hard? ›

A real spy analyst can expect to endure long hours without sleep and few comforts. During these long stretches one must still maintain intense concentration despite fatigue and even the very possible threat of physical danger.

How much do secret spies get paid? ›

How much does a Special Agent make at United States Secret Service in the United States? Average United States Secret Service Special Agent yearly pay in the United States is approximately $134,409, which is 93% above the national average.

Who invented spy? ›

In April, author Jean Marzollo, M.A.T.'65, died. Marzollo was the author of 150 books, including her most famous, the I SPY series, where readers try to find objects within photographs taken by Walter Wick.

Who is the best spy writer? ›

The best spy novelists writing today
  • Charles Cumming. Charles Cumming. Image: Jonathan Ring.
  • Alan Furst. Alan Furst. Image: Gordon M. ...
  • Alex Gerlis. Alex Gerlis. Image: Order of Books.
  • Mick Herron. Mick Herron. Image: Antonio Olmos – The Observer.
  • David Ignatius. David Ignatius. ...
  • Joseph Kanon. Joseph Kanon. ...
  • Paul Vidich. Paul Vidich.

Who was the best Soviet spy? ›

Oleg Gordievsky
Oleg Gordievsky CMG
Espionage activity
AllegianceSoviet Union (British secret agent since 1974) United Kingdom
Service branchKGB SIS/MI6
RankColonel of the KGB
12 more rows

Can Shazam recognize movies? ›

Shazam is an application that can identify music, movies, advertising, and television shows, based on a short sample played and using the microphone on the device.

Can I use Shazam to identify movies? ›

Movies are a little tricker: There isn't really a 'Shazam for movies,' as it were, perhaps because it's less likely that you're going to be watching something that you don't know the title of.

How do I know what movie to watch? ›

5 Fastest Ways to Find a Good Movie or Film Worth Watching
  1. StayIn (Web): Quick Questionnaire for Mood-Based Recommendations.
  2. Suggest Me Movie (Web): The StumbleUpon for Movies.
  3. LazyDay (Web): Search for Anything, or Get Random Picks.
  4. CringeMDB (Web): Find Films Safe to Watch With Parents.
19 Jan 2019

Who is the most famous fictional spy? ›

James Bond - James Bond Franchise (1962–present)

Undoubtedly the most famous fictional spy of all time, James Bond is an MI6 agent. He has also had more screen time than any other spy, having debuted in the early '60s.

Who was the biggest spy in the world? ›

Robert Hanssen
Espionage activity
CountryUSA
AllegianceSoviet Union Russia
AgencyFBI
13 more rows

Who is the most notorious spy? ›

On January 12, 1976, Robert Philip Hanssen swore an oath to enforce the law and protect the nation as a newly minted FBI special agent. Instead, he ultimately became the most damaging spy in Bureau history.

Who is the master spy? ›

The Master Spy was a virtual representation of one of Lydia Frye's genetic memories, relived by a Helix initiate in 2015 through a glitch in the Helix Navigator.

Who was the first female spy in the world? ›

Virginia Hall was born in Baltimore, Maryland on April 6, 1906 to Barbara Virginia Hammel and Edwin Lee Hall. She attended Roland Park Country School and then Radcliffe College of Harvard University and Barnard College of Columbia University, where she studied French, Italian, and German.

Who has the best intelligence in the world? ›

1. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), USA.

Who was the first spy ever? ›

Another pivotal figure was Sir Paul Dukes (1889-1967), arguably the first professional spy of the modern age.

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