The international intrigue and slick gadgetry of spy movies have inspired movie-going audiences for decades. They often explore our relationship to technology and diplomacy while at the same time offering tense, adrenaline-fueled action or cerebral mysteries to unwind. Let’s take a look at five of the best spy films ever made.
James Bond is the standard by which all spy movie spies are judged. The movies, based off of the books of Ian Fleming (who was an actual spy during World War II), have endured as the ultimate spy story for over sixty years. While the franchise has produced some of the most loved movies in cinema, the gold standard by which James Bond movies are judged is undoubtedly Goldfinger. Bond, played by Sean Connery, must stop the evil Auric Goldfinger’s plot to raid Fort Knox of its gold supply using his wit, cunning, and a few gadgets from Q-Branch. Many of the scenes and dialog from are iconic, and it remains one of the best remembered Bond films.
In Sneakers, we get a different kind of spy. Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier lead a crack group of skilled hackers and thieves who do freelance security testing for large corporations and banks. When people claiming to be from the government convince them to steal a “black box,” which turns out to be able to break any encryption code in the world, the group is quickly thrown into the middle of a high stakes cat-and-mouse game. Mixing high tension with humor, this movie shows that sometimes a cloak-and-keyboard can be just as exciting as a cloak-and-dagger.
North by Northwest (1959)
Roger Thornhill, played by Cary Grant, is an ad executive who is mistaken for an agent by foreign spies. After he’s framed for murder, and now has the police after him as well, he must enlist the help of Eve Kendall to make it across the country alive so that he can clear his name. North by Northwest is a tense thriller, with some of the top acting talent cinema has ever seen.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
In The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne is fished out of the Atlantic ocean off the coast of France with no memory of who he is, where he’s going, or where he’s been. Instead of spying on foreign governments, Bourne has to spy on himself, as it were, to piece back the story of his life. What he finds takes him on one of the most exciting and tense thrill rides of modern film.
The Tailor of Panama (2001)
When a British intelligence officer (no, not that one) is sent to Panama as punishment, he soon finds himself in need of some assistance. Andrew Osnard enlists the help of a local tailor, Harold Pendel, who has connections both in the Panamanian underworld and top government officials. But what happens when the story they concoct begins to grow beyond their control? Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush are marvelous in their roles, and John Boorman’s direction created a wonderfully exotic thriller. The Tailor of Panama is one spy film that is guaranteed to have you guessing till the very end.
At the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, a terrorist group known as Black September take hostage and then assassinate the Israeli athletes. What follows is the harrowing story of Israel’s attempt at justice against those responsible. Spielberg’s Munich is unlike the other spy films mentioned so far in that it not only portrays the work of Israel’s ad hoc spy group, it shows members of the group questioning the motives of why they are doing this work. It also asks the tough but important question When does justice end and vengeance begin? Here, we’re shown that often that spies may have to give up more than their passport when they sign up for duty.