As a genre, spy films have a distinct flavor. High-stakes situations, exotic settings, and romantic partnerships are all part of a thrilling ride for the audience as daring agents flaunt their stuff. It’s hardly a surprise that the action sequences, the gadgetry, and the mind-boggling twists and turns are all so captivating. The espionage movie can be vibrant, dramatic, and even outright humorous even if it falls inside these parameters. We’ve got a spy story for you, no matter what you’re looking for.
1. Casino Royale
James Bond has defined the spy thriller genre for decades. “Bond” was remade for today’s audiences in this 2006 blockbuster, with Daniel Craig playing 007 in place of Roger Moore, Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan. With the help of Martin Campbell’s direction, Casino Royale transported viewers back to the MI6 operative’s early days, when he was working toward obtaining his license to kill. From the moment he stepped into the role of James Bond in Live and Let Die, Craig’s manner was matched by his steely blue eyes and steely demeanor (Eva Green). Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, and Judi Dench all lend their talents to this action-packed film. Hit play on Quantum of Solace next, if that’s what you’d like to do. But make sure you do so before August 31, when both will be gone.
2. Austin Powers
What would happen if James Bond was unable to relax? When Austin Powers, an English spy with an uncanny ability to dress up and think outside the box, comes along, you’ll know you’ve hit the jackpot. As a matter of fact, he is too. Mike Myers plays as Spy 47, a secret agent who has been thawed out of cryostasis to take on his lifelong adversary, Dr. Evil, in this 1997 action-comedy (also played by Myers). Both heroes and villains have become comical fish out of water in the 30 years since their previous encounter. Elizabeth Hurley, Michael Yorke, Mindy Sterling, and Seth Green round out the cast of Myers’ comedy. As a satire of the genre, director Jay Roach uses espionage staples like hi-tech gadgets and oddball enemies to produce a film that’ll please. Make a DIY marathon of Austin Powers, The Spy Who Shagged Me, and Goldmember to go along with the original.
3. The Sum of All Fears
The Brits have James Bond, and the Americans have Jack Ryan, when it comes to a steely secret agent played by a slew of handsome guys. The character of Jack Ryan, created by New York Times best-selling author Tom Clancy, has been played by actors such as Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Chris Pine, John Krasinski, and now Ben Affleck. In this suspense thriller from 2002, Ryan plays an analyst who, despite his impressive intellect, lacks any formal training in the area. The United States and Russia are on the brink of another nuclear war, but Ryan is prepared to act and engage in political intrigue to save his country from annihilation. Liev Schreiber, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Philip Baker Hall, Ciarán Hinds, and Philip Baker Hall star in Phil Alden Robinson’s teeth-clenching thriller.
Is this one of the most highly anticipated? No. Still, this 2011 action-thriller starring Liam Neeson was a box office hit because it’s starring Liam Neeson. The film, which stars Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan and The Shallows) as a spy, is a fast-paced thriller that’s sure to keep you on your toes. Neeson plays as Dr. Martin Harris, who is on a trip to Berlin with his picture-perfect wife, based on a French novel by Didier Van Cauwelaert (January Jones). He finds himself in a strange new reality when his wife claims she is not his wife and insists he is not Dr. Martin Harris due to a misplaced briefcase and a taxi cab mishap. An unidentified man of action finds lies, conspiracy, and an assassination plot while pursuing the truth. And that’s just the beginning of the list of possibilities. Collet-Serra and Neeson’s thriller is laced with tension, dread, action, and intrigue.
5. Red Joan
A kind old lady (Judi Dench) is pruning bushes in a picturesque English garden when she is imprisoned for treason. During World War II, Joan Smith (Sophie Cookson) was a bright young woman with lofty ambitions who walked into a world of international intrigue, fiery passion, and impending nuclear war. Flashbacks bring us back to that time. An English civil servant who passed classified knowledge about nuclear weapons to Soviet agents is the inspiration for Red Joan, which tells a narrative of a lady who defied all the rules and essentially betrayed her country to save the world. Playwright Trevor Nunn directs his actors through evocative but controlled performances. Aside from that, it’s the stinging spycraft sequences, which include anything from fur coats and baby carriages to the men’s fear of having their sanitary napkins spilled on them, that are the most enjoyable.
6. The Net
Time capsule about the early days of the internet and Americans’ growing concerns about Internet surveillance is this 1995 film. This A-lister portrays a solitary hacker who follows an unexplained glitch down a rabbit hole of conspiracy and identity theft, only to be confronted with a vicious syndicate that wants to erase her from existence entirely. If she’s going to defeat her evil opponents, she’ll have to rely on her technical knowledge, her decreasing circle of friends, and her cunning. Irwin Winkler’s film pulls its heroine from the safety of her computer screen and plunges her into a web of dangers that spans the globe, from the beaches of Cancun to the antiseptic halls of retirement communities to the vast convention centers and the arms of a handsome stranger (Jeremy Northam). Even though the sight of the old-school internet makes you laugh, the suspense in this spy thriller is still there.
7. The Snowden
If you’re looking for something a little more terrifying than speculating that something sinister lurks online, this is it. To see how the CIA used the internet to spy on its own citizens, check watch this 2016 biopic/thriller starring an American CIA subcontractor who spilled highly classified material. Edward Snowden is a hero or a whistleblower, according to some. In the eyes of the public, he is a spy and an enemy. Filmmaker Oliver Stone, best known for his work on Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street, and JFK, has never shied away from politically charged material. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Olyphant, and Nicolas Cage are among the stars who join a star-studded cast in Snowden. They declassify the personal biography of the guy and the myths behind the global headlines in this fascinating offering.
8. The American
Revisionist Western and espionage-thriller elements are combined to create a compelling plot in this 2010 picture To get out of the life, George Clooney stars as a contract murderer. He is promised one more task in Italy by his handler following a horrible accident in Sweden. It wasn’t long until he found himself in the company of a bewitching local, a patient priest, and a mysterious assassin. Each of these new interactions, good or bad, causes him to reflect on his life, which is written in blood. Is it possible for him to just leave? Corbijn’s filmmaking style has been compared to that of Alfred Hitchcock, with a smoky atmosphere, a cutting edge, and even a sense of Hitchcockian glamour. Placido, Thekla Reuten, Bonacelli, and Johan Leysen all star in the film as well.
9. The Penguins of Madagascar
I see something for the whole family! A spin-off of The Penguins of Madagascar, this goofy waddle proved to be a stealthy scene-stealer in the Madagascar films. The four-penguin team of Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private is laid bare by the film’s directors Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith. Afterwards, the spies are sent on a globe-trotting mission, where they face off against an octopus expert in disguise. Even though it’s an action-packed spy adventure, this animated flick is also full of chuckles thanks to its parodies and pratfalls, as well as its numerous fart jokes and puns. John Malkovich, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Peter Stormare, as well as Werner Herzog, are all part of the voice cast.
10. American Ultra
Spies have long used the “sleeper agent,” a mild-mannered operative with the muscle memory and spycraft abilities of a deadly operator. Some people’s true identities remain a secret even to them. A cryptic code word opens a treasure chest of secrets. To get a feel of American Ultra, imagine The Manchurian Candidate as an unhinged stoner comedy. A hapless convenience store clerk, Jesse Eisenberg, is about to propose to his sassy fiancée, played by Eisenberg (Kristen Stewart). When he’s surprised by a surprise attack by heavily armed adversaries, he discovers he’s Jason Bourne…if Jason Bourne had anxiety issues and was also a pothead. The classic premise of a man going rogue to save the girl he loves is given a new lease on life by director Nima Nourizadeh, who injects it with frenetic energy, explosive action, and a sly sense of humor. Walton Goggins, Topher Grace, John Leguizamo, and Connie Britton also star.
11. The Losers
Critics panned this film from 2010, citing its nonstop action sequences, thoughtless entertainment, and utter ridiculousness. All of the above may be exactly what you’re looking for. Idris Elba (Pacific Rim), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead), Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Chris Evans (Captain America) are just a few major names in butt-kicking in this action flick, which has an offensive title. The Losers, based on Andy Diggle and Jock’s Vertigo Comics series, gets an insane adaptation from director Sylvain White. After being betrayed and disowned, an elite black-ops squad must battle for their life in this fast-paced film. Explosive action, a lot of swagger, and a lot of sneering one-liners characterize their possible salvation journey. It’s an excellent choice for Netflix and Veggies.