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The 30 Best Spy Movies Of All Time

May 5, 202422 Mins Read


  • Spy movies no longer just feature debonair agents; diverse origins & characters bring new twists to the genre.
  • Spy movies range from psychological thrillers to zany comedies, with innovative plots that keep viewers on edge.
  • The tension, gadgets, and top-notch performances in spy movies like Bond, Salt, & Bourne make them stand out.

The best spy movies invite audiences into a world of intrigue, danger, and action. James Bond is undoubtedly the first character to spring to mind when the genre is discussed, and while Ian Fleming’s 007 surely helped to raise its popularity and inspire imitators, the spy movie was around long before Bond. The genre has branched out considerably since then. Spy movies no longer only feature dashing, debonair secret agents. Spies can be from anywhere, but secret agent movies still maintain cat-and-mouse elements that made the genre so beloved.

Spy movies range from psychological thrillers to zany comedies. The stories take place across nations or just between one confused department. They involve real-world figures or fabricated organizations. What is important is a sense of tension in the plot, a legitimate feeling the hero could be on their last mission if even one mistake is made. Gadgets, secret enemies, and HQs filled with sometimes helpful and sometimes bungling team members fill the best spy movies, but the tension and plotting make the best stand out.


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30 Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (2002)

Sam Rockwell Stars As Gong Show Host Chuck Barris

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind might be one of the most unusual secret agent movies because it tells the often disputed tale of Chuck Barris. While most of the world knows Barris as a TV game show host (The Gong Show), he wrote an “unauthorized biography” where Barris claims he worked as a CIA assassin at the same time as he was a television host.

The movie plays as a dark comedy but has everything spy movie fans could want.

In Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Sam Rockwell plays Barris while George Clooney directs and Julia Roberts has a key role as well. The movie plays as a dark comedy but has everything spy movie fans could want. It was also a critical success. Rockwell won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 2003 Berlin International Film Festival, and the movie showed that Clooney was a director on the rise.

29 Spy Game (2001)

Robert Redford & Brad Pitt In An Espionage Thriller

Tony Scott

Release Date
November 18, 2001

Robert Redford , Brad Pitt , Catherine McCormack , Stephen Dillane , Larry Bryggman , Marianne Jean-Baptiste

126 minutes

When CIA agent Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) is arrested for espionage, his mentor Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) gets pulled from the edge of a long-awaited retirement as he sets out to free his old friend. Spy Game delves into the partnership between the two agents, going back to the Vietnam War and stretching into the modern spy world. Director Tony Scott’s high-energy filmmaking mixed with an intelligent script makes for a great “race against the clock” entry in the spy movies genre.

Seeing two generations of Hollywood leading men of this caliber sharing the screen is exciting, and their partnership is used wonderfully, making for a great mentor-student relationship. The movie did well at the box office, but barely made back its large $115 million budget, thanks to competition that included Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Pixar’s Monsters, Inc.

The film received mixed reviews from critics, who mostly praised Pitt and Redford in the lead roles.

28 Salt (2010)

Angelina Jolie Stars As A Russian Sleeper Agent

Release Date
July 23, 2010

Phillip Noyce

Angelina Jolie , Liev Schreiber , Daniel Olbrychski , August Diehl , Chiwetel Ejiofor

100 Minutes

In Salt, the usual formula for spy movies is flipped when the protagonist is revealed to be a Russian sleeper agent. Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is a sleeper cell who is compelled to start a nuclear holocaust but fights to override her programming. Like any of the best secret agent movies, Salt keeps information hidden until it’s revealed in the finale. Director Phillip Noyce is no stranger to the espionage genre, previously directing both of the Jack Ryan movies with Harrison Ford in the lead. Here, he had a chance to create a new female action hero.

The film is grounded by the committed performance of Jolie and its practical stunts. Salt offers a much wilder and more explosive experience than similar spy movies, and there’s still demand for Salt 2 a decade later. The movie was a huge box office success and received positive reviews, while also picking up an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Mixing. With that said, it is puzzling that Jolie never returned to the role once again.

27 Tenet (2021)

A Time-Travel Spy Movie

Release Date
September 3, 2020

150 minutes

Adding a time travel element to spy movies is an interesting approach in Tenet that fits with Christopher Nolan’s style perfectly. John David Washington stars as an unnamed agent who is tasked with stopping an arms dealer from using time travel to ignite world chaos. The rules of the world are more than a little confusing, and it might take viewers more than one watch to understand it all. However, Nolan’s talent for putting on exciting set pieces with a practical filmmaking approach is easy to see.

The movie was nominated for two Oscars, and won one for Best Visual Effects. Unfortunately, the film came out during the pandemic, and while it was a box office success, making $359 million, it still wasn’t as big of an earner thanks to its $205 million budget. There are many people who missed out on seeing the movie because of the fear of theaters at the time, and it has slowly built up a cult following as fans began to discover it little by little on streaming services in the years since its initial release.

26 Spy (2015)

A Spy Comedy Starring Melissa McCarthy

Release Date
June 15, 2015

Paul Feig

Melissa McCarthy , Rose Byrne , Jude Law , Jason Statham , Raad Rawi , Jessica Chaffin , Miranda Hart , Sam Richardson

120 Minutes

makes its world and stakes authentic while filling them with hilarious and absurd characters that deliver the laughs.

Adding comedy into spy movies without becoming an all-out parody is difficult, but it was pulled off wonderfully in 2015’s Spy. Melissa McCarthy stars as Susan Cooper, a desk worker at a spy agency who is forced to go into the field when her friend and fellow agent (Jude Law) is killed. Spy makes its world and stakes authentic while filling them with hilarious and absurd characters that deliver the laughs.

McCarthy is her usual hilarious self but might surprise many viewers during the action sequences in Spy. However, the funniest performance of the movie goes to Jason Statham playing against his tough guy character type as an overly confident but completely bumbling secret agent. The against-type acting of Statham and a very funny performance by McCarthy helped the movie earn over $235 million at the box office while also picking up two Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Motion Picture and Best Actress.


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25 Ronin (1998)

Robert De Niro As A Mercenary

John Frankenheimer

Release Date
September 25, 1998

Robert De Niro , Jean Reno , Natascha McElhone , Stellan Skarsgård , Sean Bean , Jonathan Pryce

121 Minutes

Ronin is one of the most unappreciated spy movies in the genre, but its cult following is undeniable. Robert De Niro plays ex-U.S. intelligence agent Sam, who joins a ragtag band of mercenaries to recover a mysterious case from international bad guys. The movie blends two key elements of secret agent movies: the spectacular action and the paranoia. There are a lot of shady characters and backstabbing at hand, but when it comes to Ronin‘s reputation, it’s best known for one of the greatest movie car chases of all time, rivaling even Bullitt.

What this movie really has going for it is the combination of director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate), screenwriter David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, and Al Pacino while he was still at the top of his game. Together, they created a minor masterpiece that stands up with the best spy movies of any generation, even though it took a few years for it to finally gain widespread appreciation.


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24 Enemy Of The State (1998)

A Tony Scott Spy Conspiracy Thriller

Release Date
November 20, 1998

Tony Scott

Jon Voight , Gene Hackman , Regina King , Lisa Bonet , Will Smith

132 minutes

Enemy of the State is an overlooked film worthy of another chance. Smith plays a family man and lawyer who finds himself targeted by a rogue spy operation that believes he possesses a sensitive videotape. One of many spy movies by Tony Scott, it is a kinetic and fast-paced ride that examines privacy issues in the modern era. It is refreshing to see Smith as a less capable hero and Gene Hackman recreating his character from the spy classic The Conversation as an old-school intelligence officer aiding Smith.

This was a Tony Scott movie in every definition of the word. The movie focuses on the danger of government oversight and corruption at the highest levels of the country. It also speaks on the dangers of surveillance, and how those aspects of society can even be manipulated to accomplish anything a corrupt NSA could want. The movie was a huge success, making $250 million on a $90 million budget while critics gave it mostly positive reviews.

23 Hanna (2011)

The Movie That Inspired The Prime Video Series

Release Date
April 7, 2011

Joe Wright

Saoirse Ronan , Eric Bana , Vicky Krieps , Cate Blanchett , Paris Arrowsmith , John MacMillan

111 minutes

In Hanna, the titular young girl has been trained from birth by her guardian, Erik, to be an assassin. When the pair are separated by a vengeful CIA agent, Hanna uses every skill she’s learned to evade her pursuers and find out the truth about her mysterious birth. The tone and setting are a departure from most spy movies, taking place in Finland and Morocco and having a tone that most closely resembles a dark fairy tale. That also makes sense considering the director Joe Wright, who also directed Pride & Prejudice and Anna Karenina.

Ronan is fantastic in her role as the child assassin, capable of pulling off dead-eyed action and affecting emotional scenes equally. The movie earned wide critical praise, landing on several critics groups’ “best of” lists. It also spawned a Prime Video TV series that ran for three seasons, with Esme Creed-Miles starring as Hanna and Joel Kinnaman taking on the Eric Bana role of Erik, her father figure in the movie version.

22 Burn After Reading (2008)

The Coen Brothers Slapstick Spy Movie

Release Date
September 5, 2008

Ethan Coen , Joel Coen

96 minutes

The Coen Brothers’ comedies are often as memorable as their dramas and one of their best is the absurd spy story Burn After Reading. The all-cast cast is led by John Malkovich as Osbourne Cox, a mid-level CIA analyst whose work documents are stolen by a pair of inept gym employees, Linda Litzke and Chad Feldheimer, setting off a chain event of increasingly paranoid and deadly reactions all based on utter stupidity. The rest of the ensemble includes the likes of George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, and J.K. Simmons in this hilarious take on spy movies.

The characters were all over-the-top and ridiculous, with head-turning performances from Malkovich, Clooney, and especially Brad Pitt.

As a Coen brothers movie, this was as much a satire of spy movies as it was a spy movie itself. The characters were all over-the-top and ridiculous, with head-turning performances from Malkovich, Clooney, and especially Brad Pitt. The movie also has one of the most shocking death scenes ever filmed for a spy movie. It went on to earn two Golden Globe nominations, incuding Best Motion Picture and Best Actress for Frances McDormand while the BAFTA Awards nominated the Coen Brothers’ screenplay as well as Brad Pitt and Tilda Swinton.

21 True Lies (1994)

James Cameron & Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Spy Thriller

Release Date
July 15, 1994

141 minutes

Though Oscar-winning director James Cameron’s best movies aren’t usually humorous, True Lies injects some much-needed laughs into the spy genre without ever sacrificing the thrills of spy movies. This film follows world-class secret agent Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) as he tracks down stolen nuclear weapons while keeping his dangerous job hidden from his wife Helen(Jamie Lee Curtis).

The two leads make for a surprisingly great comedic duo, with Curtis winning a Golden Globe for her performance. Though not as big of a hit as some of Cameron’s other movies, True Lies grossed nearly $400 million, via Box Office Mojo, and spawned a TV remake. In more modern times, True Lies faces criticism of sexism, racial insensitivities, and toxic masculinity. However, at the same time, it remains the only movie in Cameron’s career that just exists to have a good time.

20 Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Based On The Comic Book Of The Same Name

Release Date
February 13, 2015

Matthew Vaughn

2h 10m

In 2014, the formula of traditional spy movies was becoming a bit tired, which is why director Matthew Vaughn took an outrageous approach with Kingsman: The Secret Service. Marking Taron Egerton’s breakout movie role, the film sees him as Eggsy Unwin, a young streetwise kid tossed into an elite secret spy agency’s training program under the supervision of his mentor Harry Hart (Colin Firth).

The movie is a mix of reverence for the old James Bond movies as well as a hard-R-rated action movie with some truly shocking moments, including the famous church shootout.Kingsman was a huge hit that spawned a sequel (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) and prequel (The King’s Man). There was also a movie that arrived in theaters in 2024 that turned out to exist in the same world as Kingsman, although that was saved as a surprise twist at the end of Argyle. Two more movies are planned, one another prequel and one as a sequel to the originals.


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19 Sneakers (1992)

Robert Redford’s Spy Caper Movie

The best spy movies often hang on the quality and chemistry of the cast.90s comedy-thriller Sneakers has an all-star ensemble including Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Ben Kingsley, Dan Akroyd, River Phoenix, David Strathairn, and Mary McDonnell. Sneakers follows a security specialist team hired by the NSA to retrieve an intelligence device from a rogue mathematician. There are inevitable double-crosses, though the film’s plot does an excellent job of hiding them, leading to sincere surprises.

The movie existed just to provide a fun escape using the tried and true spy genre as a backhoe to the story. It picked up mostly favorable reviews from critics, with an 80% Rotten Tomatoes rating, and it was also a box office success. There have been rumors of a Sneakers TV series in recent years, but it has never gotten off the ground. As for this original spy movie, it’s breezy, light, and witty for a secret agent movie, a nice change for its era.

18 Atomic Blonde (2017)

Charlize Theron’s Take On A John Wick-Style Movie

Release Date
July 26, 2017

David Leitch

Charlize Theron , Eddie Marsan , John Goodman , James Faulkner , Toby Jones , James McAvoy , Daniel Bernhardt , Sofia Boutella

115 minutes

In Atomic Blonde, Lorraine Broughton is a high-level MI6 agent who has to safeguard a list of double agents living in Berlin during the Cold War. On the eve of the Berlin Wall’s collapse, the list goes missing and Lorraine must find its location and figure out who to trust on the American and Russian sides. Atomic Blonde is a twisting, turning spy thriller that keeps the misdirection flowing until the very last scene. It’s a modern and stylish take on spy movies but set in a period era, making for a dizzyingly unique watch.

More than a spy movie, Atomic Blonde seems to be a movie like John Wick, but with a female star doing all the killing. This makes more sense when one realizes that director David Leitch was also the man who directed the first John Wick movie. He showed his mastery of this frenetic filmmaking style with later projects like Hobbs & Shaw and Bullet Train as well.


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17 Notorious (1946)

Alfred Hitchcock & Cary Grant’s Spy Masterpiece

Release Date
August 15, 1946

Cary Grant , Ingrid Bergman , Claude Rains , Louis Calhern , Leopoldine Konstantin

101 Minutes

Alfred Hitchcock filmed many suspenseful scenes in his impressive career, so it only makes sense that he would play in the spy genre in some of his movies. The 1946 thriller Notorious remains one of his most popular projects. With Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in the lead, and Claude Rains as a supporting cast member, the movie was in good hands with Hitchcock behind the camera. The movie follows Alicia Huberman (Bergman), the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy. Things get dangerous when U.S. agent T.R. Delvin (Grant) brings her in to infiltrate the Nazi command.

Notorious is a classic throwback to Hollywood spy movies that still entertains viewers decades later. It also marks one of Hitchcock’s best love stories, which helped Notorious get added to the National Film Registry in 2007 by the Library of Congress. When Hitchcock received his Life Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, Bergman presented him with the UNICA key to the wine cellar, a prop from this movie (via YouTube).

16 Argo (2012)

Ben Affleck’s Tale Of The U.S. Hostage Crisis In Tehran

Release Date
March 22, 2012


Winner of the Oscar for Best Picture in 2013, Argo is unique among spy movies as it’s based on a true story about the rescue of U.S. hostages in Tehran in 1979. Ben Affleck plays CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez, who leads a team of agents disguised as Canadian filmmakers into the heart of the viper’s nest. Argo takes the true story and pulls off a tonally tricky film. It is part comical farce with the putting together of a fake sci-fi movie using Hollywood connections, and it is part intense thriller with the danger of being exposed.

Also directed by Affleck, who won a Golden Globe for directing the movie, this film walked a tight line between retelling a dramatic moment from one of American history’s most frightening moments of the post-World War era, while also telling a personal story of people overcoming great odds to come out alive. Also receiving credit for his performance in the movie was Alan Arkin, who earned nominations at the Oscars, BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards.

15 Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery (1997)

Mike Myers Comic Take Of A British Spy Out Of Time

Release Date
May 2, 1997

Jay Roach

Mike Myers , Elizabeth Hurley , Michael York , Mimi Rogers , Robert Wagner , Seth Green , Fabiana Udenio , Mindy Sterling

89 Minutes

The original Austin Powers kicked off a trilogy of spy movies by poking fun at the British secret agent motif with an oddly charming British secret agent, Austin Powers. Mike Myers plays dual roles as the titular spy and his Blofeld parody of a nemesis, Dr. Evil. Clever and full of slapstick, the first Austin Powers movie had fun paying homage to secret-agent movies while pointing out some of its silliest aspects. Mike Myers created two of his most famous characters and the comedy remains beloved through two sequels.

He was clearly an over-the-top version of James Bond, with Dr. Evil as a more ridiculous version of Blofeld.

When it comes to spoofs of the spy genre, few did it better than Austin Powers. He was clearly an over-the-top version of James Bond, with Dr. Evil as a more ridiculous version of Blofeld. However, at the same time, the movie took the things that made James Bond movies great and made sure to use them in unique ways to show that this is basically what would happen if 007 was a little less serious and had a bit more fun with his job of protecting the world from evil tyrants.

14 BlacKkKlansman (2018)

An Undercover Movie Exposing The Ku Klux Klan

Release Date
August 9, 2018

Alec Baldwin , John David Washington , Isiah Whitlock Jr. , Robert John Burke , Brian Tarantina , Arthur J. Nascarella


BlackKklansman is a spy movie based on a true story that seems too outrageous to make up. It stars John David Washington as Ron Stallworth, a Black police officer who, in the 1970s, successfully led an operation to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. There is something immensely satisfying about seeing this movie make fools of the likes of David Duke and his followers, and there is a lot of humor in it.

However, BlackKklansman also takes a powerful look at racism in America and how it has not changed since that time as much as people like to think. The movie was nominated for Best Picture and won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, the first of Spike Lee’s impressive career. The fact that the ridiculous things that happen in this movie come from a book by the real Ron Stallworth, and are based on facts, makes it even more incredible to watch. The movie deserves all the praise it received and set up Washington to be a star of the future.

13 The Conversation (1974)

Gene Hackman’s Award-Nominated Spy Movie

Release Date
April 7, 1974

Gene Hackman , John Cazale , Allen Garfield , Frederic Forrest , Cindy Williams , Michael Higgins

113 minutes

Though Francis Ford Coppola made classics like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, The Conversation could be regarded as his greatest masterpiece. Gene Hackman stars as Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who is hired to spy on a pair of subjects but overhears something potentially more dangerous than he expected. The fact that Harry was inspired by a real-life person named Martin Kaiser makes the entire storyline even more disturbing and scary.

The movie is thinner compared to Coppola’s other movies, but it hooks the viewer from the very beginning. Hackman’s layered performance from the start to the final moment’s impactful reveal elevates it over other spy movies. Though it might not be as revered as some of Coppola’s other iconic films, it was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture. The Library of Congress also added it to the National Film Registry in 1995 for its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.

12 The Imitation Game (2014)

The True Story Of Alan Turing

Release Date
November 28, 2014

Morten Tyldum


Benedict Cumberbatch earned his first Oscar nomination for playing a real-life hero in The Imitation Game. The movie is a biopic of Alan Turing and how he and his colleagues built a decoder device during World War II that helped end the war. The movie is a fascinating entry into the genre as it examines a real individual who made a huge impact with their intelligence work and unlike other spy movies, didn’t need big action sequences. However, the best part of this movie is the focus on Turing himself.

The film takes a look at the injustices Turing himself faced as a gay man after playing this pivotal role. Turing had a lot to do with helping the allies win World War II and deserves praise and recognition for that. However, instead, he was prosecuted in 1952 for being gay and agreed to chemical castration to avoid prison time. He ended up dying by suicide at 41 thanks to the country he helped save in the war persecuting him for who he was. The movie is as much a tragedy as it is a historical spy victory for the UK.

11 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Gary Oldman’s Take On George Smiley

Release Date
September 16, 2011

Tomas Alfredson

127 minutes

Given Gary Oldman’s legendary movie career, it’s shocking he only earned his first Oscar nomination for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011, but it is undoubtedly one of his best roles. John le Carré is one of the most celebrated spy writers, and this is a prime example of his grounded approach. Taking place during the grim paranoia of the Cold War era, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy follows veteran MI6 agent George Smiley, brought out of retirement to conduct a mole hunt. Oldman gives a perfectly reserved performance as Smiley.

This is one of several movies about George Smiley, and Oldman turns in arguably the best performance of the British intelligence officer. The movie not only earned OIldman his first Oscar nomination, but it was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score. In the UK, it won the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema for John Hurt.

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