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100 best spy movies of all time

  • 100 best spy movies of all time

    Since the silent era of film, spy films have been offering up a certain kind of escapism for movie-going audiences. Developing from the literary genre as early as the late 1800s, the first true piece of spy literature was a serial entitled “The Great War in 1897” by William Le Queux. The success of the serial inspired various other authors, such as Rudyard Kipling, to venture into this new written territory. From the success of the written works, spy films began as simple reenactments of real-life events in war, and increasing international tensions in the early 20th century laid the groundwork for the spy genre to become particularly successful, peak with World War I, then reach a lull.

    Of course, spy films eventually saw a revival with the Nazi scourge in the 1940s, and these Nazi espionage films led to the classic Bond films, paving the way for modern blockbuster features like the “Mission: Impossible” and the “Bourne” series that many know and love today (although, the “Mission: Impossible” series was actually borne out of a 1960s television series of the same name). And nowadays, the mystery, action, and thrills of spy movies can cross more genres; from comedies, to fantasy films, to biopics and superhero flicks, the excitement of espionage on the silver screen is not limited to solely the spy genre itself.

    With Thanksgiving weekend comes Bond movie marathons. Starting in the ’00s when cable channels would fill the long weekend with Bond programming, a tradition was born to pair mashed potatoes, turkey, and pumpkin pie with Connery, Dalton, and Craig. And while no cable channels are offering up a marathon this year, guides like this one have compiled where you can find Bonds across various streaming platforms—nearly all are available between Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

    This year, given that the CDC advised Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving to slow the spread of COVID-19, less travel time means more hours on the calendar to revisit the globe-trotting espionage franchise. If you love the spy games but are wary of sinking hours into the lesser Bonds, try branching out into the rest of the escapist genre of spy films.

    Stacker compiled data on all spy movies to come up with a Stacker score—a weighted index split evenly between IMDb and Metacritic scores. To qualify, the film had to have a Metascore and have at least 2,500 votes. Ties were broken by Metascore and further ties were broken by IMDb user rating. Every film on the list has been considered according to the cinematic history and development of spy movies. Starting at number 100, here are the best spy movies of all time.

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  • #100. Body of Lies (2008)

    - Director: Ridley Scott
    - Stacker score: 71
    - Metascore: 57
    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Runtime: 128 min

    In a plot to lure and capture a dangerous terrorist, a CIA agent crafts a fake terrorist organization, as he collaborates with a master strategist, all while keeping his actions hidden from the head of Jordanian intelligence. The action-thriller is based on author David Ignatius’s novel of the same name.

  • #99. Salt (2010)

    - Director: Phillip Noyce
    - Stacker score: 71
    - Metascore: 65
    - IMDb user rating: 6.4
    - Runtime: 100 min

    A veteran CIA officer is accused of being a Russian spy and is forced to go on the run, using her years of training and experience to elude those on her tail. But in her efforts to prove herself innocent, she further implicates herself, causing her to question her own identity. The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw praised the film as being “pacy, smart, subversive and knocked out with such verve and attack that you're not in the least bit bothered by how far-fetched it all is.”

  • #98. Moonraker (1979)

    - Director: Lewis Gilbert
    - Stacker score: 71
    - Metascore: 66
    - IMDb user rating: 6.3
    - Runtime: 126 min

    The 11th “James Bond” installment sends 007 into space, as he investigates the seizing of an American space shuttle. This leads him and his beautiful CIA agent accomplice to the shuttle’s owner, a mysterious man with a villainous plan for the world at large. The studio originally intended to film an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Bond novel “For Your Eyes Only” next, but ended up choosing “Moonraker” due to the success of “Star Wars.”

  • #97. Never Say Never Again (1983)

    - Director: Irvin Kershner
    - Stacker score: 71
    - Metascore: 68
    - IMDb user rating: 6.1
    - Runtime: 134 min

    Though an uncharacteristic mishap during routine training exercise at first brings M to believe 007 is finally past his prime, James Bond is once again forced to tussle with the nefarious criminal organization SPECTRE, when a group of its members steals nuclear missiles from the U.S. military. This was the last film in a seven-film run as Bond for actor Sean Connery.

  • #96. Shadow Dancer (2012)

    - Director: James Marsh
    - Stacker score: 71
    - Metascore: 69
    - IMDb user rating: 6.0
    - Runtime: 101 min

    When an IRA member is arrested after a failed terrorist attack in 1990s Belfast, she must choose between spying on her comrades for the government, or being sent to prison and leaving her young son. Andrea Riseborough was praised in particular for her leading performance, as described by critic Walter Addiego: “The film would not work nearly as well without Riseborough's fine performance. Collette is compelled to adopt an impassive mask, but the depths of sadness and pain she endures are unmistakable.”

  • #95. Octopussy (1983)

    - Director: John Glen
    - Stacker score: 71
    - Metascore: 63
    - IMDb user rating: 6.6
    - Runtime: 131 min

    The 13th film in the “James Bond” saga, this installment sees 007 attempting to solve the murder of agent 009, killed mysteriously while holding a fake Faberge egg in East Germany. The trail leads our secret agent to India and a traveling circus—or is it a cover for something else? Though the plot of the film is original, the title (which also serves as the name of Maud Adams’s character) comes from a short story in a collection from “Bond” author Ian Fleming, entitled “Octopussy and the Living Daylights.”

  • #94. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

    - Director: Guy Ritchie
    - Stacker score: 71
    - Metascore: 56
    - IMDb user rating: 7.3
    - Runtime: 116 min

    Based on the 1964 television show of the same name, this Guy Ritchie film stars Armie Hammer and Henry Cavill as a KGB agent and a CIA agent, respectively, forced to work together in order to stop a secretive criminal organization from using nuclear weapons to purposefully disrupt tensions during the Cold War. A sequel is currently in the works, the prospect of which excited critic James Berardinelli, who wrote in his review “that is one of those rare instances when a sequel wouldn't just be warranted—it would be welcomed.”

  • #93. The Informant! (2009)

    - Director: Steven Soderbergh
    - Stacker score: 72
    - Metascore: 66
    - IMDb user rating: 6.4
    - Runtime: 108 min

    When a star employee at an agricultural corporation suddenly decides to become a whistleblower to the FBI for the company’s price-fixing schemes, his own secrets, schemes, and instabilities derail his tattle-taling “heroism.” The film is based on the true story of business executive Mark Whitacre, whose exploits were detailed in the 2000 book of the same name by Kurt Eichenwald.

  • #92. The Eagle Has Landed (1976)

    - Director: John Sturges
    - Stacker score: 72
    - Metascore: 61
    - IMDb user rating: 6.9
    - Runtime: 123 min

    This World War II film follows a group of Nazis scheming to kidnap Britain’s prime minister, who disguise themselves as Polish paratroopers in England in order to do so. An all-star cast of Michael Caine, Donald Sutherland, Robert Duvall, and Donald Pleasence lead this film adaptation of the suspense novel of the same name by Jack Higgins.

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  • #91. Atomic Blonde (2017)

    - Director: David Leitch
    - Stacker score: 72
    - Metascore: 63
    - IMDb user rating: 6.7
    - Runtime: 115 min

    The MI6’s most elite spy travels to Berlin, mere days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, to investigate the murder of one of her own and retrieve an important dossier, all while taking down a ring of ruthless double agents. Starring Charlize Theron as the seductive and deadly Lorraine Broughton, the actress performed all of her own brutal stunts which required two months of five-hour-a-day training.