The 29 Best Spy Movies Of All Time



  • Spy movies have evolved beyond the traditional dashing secret agent, now featuring diverse characters and settings.
  • The best spy movies create tension and intrigue through tight plotting and real stakes for the hero.
  • From psychological thrillers to zany comedies, spy movies offer a range of genres, but the core elements of espionage and danger remain.



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 of and inspire many imitators, the spy movie was around long before Bond appeared on the screen. Likewise, the genre has branched out considerably since then. Spy movies no longer only feature the dashing, debonair secret agent. All types can be spies and they can be from anywhere, but these secret agents movies still retain the cat-and-mouse elements that made the genre so beloved in the first place.

Spy movies can range from psychological thrillers courtesy of Alfred Hitchcock to zany comedies from Hollywood’s funniest. The stories can take place across nations or even just between one confused department. They can involve real-world figures or completely fabricated organizations. What is important is that there is a sense of real tension in the plot, a legitimate feeling that the hero could very well 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 it’s the tension and tight plotting of the films that make the best stand out.

RELATED: The 3 James Bond Movies That Saved The 007 Franchise From Dying

29 Spy Game (2001)

Robert Redford talking to Brad Pitt in Spy Games.

  • Spy Game
    is available to rent or buy on Prime Video and Apple TV

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 these 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.

28 Salt (2010)

Angelina Jolie pointing a gun in Salt

  • Salt is available to stream on Netflix

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. The film is bombastic and absurd, but it’s grounded by the committed performance from Jolie and the decision to do practical stunts vs CGI. Salt is almost cartoon-like in its action, but it offers a much wilder and more explosive experience than similar spy movies.

27 Tenet (2021)

John David Washington looking serious in Tenet

  • Tenet is available to stream on DirecTV

Adding a time travel element to spy movies is an interesting approach 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. It’s a big-budget spy movie that suggests Christopher Nolan doesn’t need the James Bond franchise to make his mark on the spy movie genre.

26 Spy (2015)

Melissa McCarthy in all black, holding and pointing a gun in Spy.

  • Spy
    is available to rent or buy on Prime Video and Apple TV

Adding comedy into spy movies without becoming an all-out parody is difficult but pulled off wonderfully in 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 some people with her action chops. However, the funniest performance of the movie goes to Jason Statham playing against his badass character type as an overly confident but completely bumbling secret agent.

25 Ronin (1998)

Robert DeNiro fires a gun from Ronin

  • Ronin
    is available to stream on Paramount+

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 sequences and the paranoid feeling that no one can be trusted. There are a lot of shady characters and backstabbing at hand, but when it comes to Ronin‘s reputation it’s likely best known for having one of the greatest movie car chases of all time.

RELATED: Every Movie Robert De Niro Transformed Himself For (& How)

24 Enemy Of The State (1998)

Will Smith standing in the street in Enemy of the State.

  • Enemy of the State
    is available to stream on Paramount+

While Will Smith’s Oscar controversy still makes it awkward for some fans to revisit his old movies, 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 is in possession of a sensitive videotape. One of many spy movies from 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.

23 Hanna (2011)

Hanna holding a gun in Hanna.

  • Hanna is available to stream on Netflix

In Hanna, the titular young girl (Saoirse Ronan) has been trained from birth by her guardian Erik (Eric Bana) to be an assassin. When the pair are separated by a vengeful CIA agent (Cate Blanchett), Hanna must use every skill she’s learned to evade her pursuers and find out the truth of 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. Ronan is fantastic in one of her earlier film roles, capable of pulling off dead-eyed action and affecting emotional and even romantic scenes in equal measure.

22 Burn After Reading (2008)

Brad Pitt dancing in Burn After Reading.

  • Burn After Reading
    is available to stream on Max

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 (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt), setting off a chain event of increasingly paranoid and deadly reactions all based in 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.

21 True Lies (1994)

Arnold Schwarzenegger in a fighter jet in True Lies

  • True Lies
    is available to stream on Paramount+

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.

20 Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

The church fight in Kingsman The Secret Service

  • Kingsman: The Secret Service
    is available to stream on Max

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 action movie with some truly shocking moments, including the famous church shootout. Kingsman was a huge hit that spawned a sequel and prequel.

19 Sneakers (1992)

River Phoenix, Dan Aykroyd, Sidney Poitier, Robert Redford, and David Strathairn in Sneakers are stood as their characters looking pensive in an outdoor setting.

  • Sneakers
    is available to rent or buy on Prime Video and Apple TV

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, and more. Sneakers follows a security specialist team hired by the NSA to retrieve an intelligence device from a rogue mathematician. There are inevitable double-crosses and fake-outs, though the film’s plot does an excellent job of hiding them, leading to sincere surprise throughout Sneakers. It’s breezy, light, and witty for a secret agent movie; and it’s clever both in its humor and how it creates tension.

18 Atomic Blonde (2017)

Lorraine at a bar smoking in Atomic Blonde.

  • Atomic Blonde is available to stream on FuboTV

In Atomic Blonde, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is a high-level MI6 agent who has to find and 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 even up 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.

17 Notorious (1946)

Ingrid Bergman looks at Cary Grant in Notorious.

  • Notorious
    is available to stream on Tubi

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. Notorious is one of his most popular projects, as it follows Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy who is recruited by U.S. agent T.R. Delvin (Cary Grant) to infiltrate the Nazi command. Notorious is a classic throwback to Hollywood spy movies that will still excite and entertain viewers all these decades later. It also marks one of Hitchcock’s best love stories which helped Notorious get added to the National Film Registry in 2007.

RELATED: Why Alfred Hitchcock Never Won An Oscar

16 Argo (2012)

Ben Affleck and Bryan Cranston standing in Argo.

  • Argo
    is available to rent or buy on Prime Video and Apple TV

Winner of the Oscar for Best Picture in 2013, Argo is unique among spy movies in the fact that 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 manages to pull 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 lurking around every corner.

15 Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery (1997)

Austin Powers looks on in International Man of Mystery

  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
    is available to rent or buy on Prime Video and Apple TV

The original Austin Powers film kicked off a trilogy of spy movies designed to poke fun at the British secret agent motif by offering up the groovy and 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 also pointing out some of its silliest aspects. Mike Myers created two of his most famous characters and the comedy remains beloved through two sequels.

14 BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Adam Driver and John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman

  • BlackKklansman
    is available to stream on FuboTV

BlackKklansman is another 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.

13 The Conversation (1974)

Gene Hackman with his head on his hands in The Conversation.

  • The Conversation
    is available to stream on Paramount+

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 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 movies, it was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Picture.

RELATED: Francis Ford Coppola’s Favorite Movies

12 The Imitation Game (2014)

Benedict Cumberbatch looking backwards in The Imitation Game

  • The Imitation Game
    is available to stream on Netflix and Freevee

Before Benedict Cumberbatch was Doctor Strange, he earned his first Oscar nomination for playing a real-life hero in The Imitation Game. The movie is a biopic of Alan Turing and the story of how he and his colleagues built a decoder device during World War II that played a huge role in ending 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. It also takes a look at the injustices Turing himself faced as a gay man after playing this pivotal role.

11 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Gary Oldman standing in the office in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is available to stream on Starz

Given Gary Oldman’s legendary movie career, it’s shocking he only earned his first Oscar nomination for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but it is undoubtedly one of his best roles. Author John le Carre is one of the most celebrated writers of the spy genre, and spy movies like this are a prime example of his grounded, mature approach. Taking place during the grim paranoia of the Cold War era, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy follows veteran MI6 agent George Smiley (Oldman) as he is brought out of retirement to conduct a vital mole hunt. Oldman gives a perfectly reserved performance as Smiley, who is a master observer while remaining inconspicuous.

10 Goldfinger (1964)

James Bond in M's office in From Russia with Love

  • Goldfinger
    is available to stream on Paramount+

While Dr. No introduced Sean Connery’s James Bond to the world, Goldfinger is seen as the movie that established the formula that made the Bond spy movies so popular. The film follows Bond on a mission to uncover a plot surrounding the gold deposit of Fort Know. Seeing Bond face off with a colorful villain like Auric Goldfinger makes for some of the most memorable scenes in the Bond secret agent movies. From the gold-painted body of Goldfinger’s victim to Bond strapped to a table with a laser hovering above to the epic theme song by Shirley Bass, Goldfinger laid the groundwork for future Bond movies to take inspiration from.