Skip to main content

Our favorite spy movies, ranked

What makes a great spy movie? These 10 have the answers

Bond. James Bond. Courtesy of MGM

Espionage has always intrigued audiences when it’s used as a main theme in movies. Spies not only have to garner information without getting caught, but they often have to fight their way out of havoc when the enemies discover their snooping. Spy films are varied and can cover a lot of ground as far as genres are concerned. Tropes such as politics, action, adventure, racism, and even romance can ground spy movies and distill them for a generalized audience. Today, we’re here to rank our favorite spy movies from worst (this is a relative term) to best. These movies have featured mega-stars like Tom Cruise and legendary directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, giving credence to spy films for over half a century.

10. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

10. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Genre Science Fiction, Comedy, Crime
Stars Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York
Directed by Jay Roach

Before Mike Myers was known as the voice of the beloved DreamWorks character, Shrek, he was Austin Powers, the flamboyant secret agent satirizing James Bond. This first film laid the groundwork for all of the hilarity that would ensue in the two sequels, including the humorous rivalry of Austin Powers and his nemesis Dr. Evil (also played by Myers). Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was never going to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, but it’s a heck of a good time that will remind you not to take the spy genre so seriously !

9. Spy (2015)

9. Spy
Genre Action, Comedy, Crime
Stars Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Jude Law
Directed by Paul Feig

This Paul Feig-directed comedy uses several unconventional storytelling methods to carve out a successful spy film. Melissa McCarthy stars as a secret agent who is trying to cover the tracks of her employer and find nuclear devices before it’s too late. Women don’t often star in these types of action/thriller films, but McCarthy’s talent proves that gender shouldn’t matter when creating a spy movie. Jude Law and Jason Statham provide supporting acting roles.

8. Tenet (2020)

8. Tenet
Genre Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki
Directed by Christopher Nolan

This Christopher Nolan film uses time travel and a floating timeline to build tension as an unnamed CIA secret agent protagonist attempts to save the world. Tenet both benefited from and was hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was delayed due to the quarantine periods and government shutdowns, but this also allowed anticipation to build and audiences were happy to make it to the movies again.

7. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

7. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Genre Drama, Thriller, Mystery
Stars Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy
Directed by Tomas Alfredson

If you want a more introspective and historically rich spy film, then Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy will do the trick. Starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley, the film depicts the long journey of the British government towards finding a Soviet spy that’s pretending to be one of their own. The concept of a double agent is always good for discussing themes like morality, loyalty, and authenticity. Oldman was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the movie.

6. Bridge of Spies (2015)

6. Bridge of Spies
Genre Thriller, Drama
Stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan
Directed by Steven Spielberg

One of the better movies in Tom Hanks’ portfolio in recent years, Bridge of Spies focuses on the negotiations between the U.S. and Soviet Union over hostages Rudolf Abel and Francis Gary Powers. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, this tense biopic will show you a little more about the intensity of this time period between the world’s two superpowers. A young Noah Schnapp of Stranger Things fame makes an appearance in this film, too! 

5. The Conversation (1974)

5. The Conversation
Genre Crime, Drama, Mystery
Stars Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola is most known for The Godfather films, but if you want to forgo the mobsters, The Conversation is a great avenue to take. Gene Hackman is a morally compromised surveillance worker who comes across violent information while video taping a completely different matter. The film discusses the complications of ignoring what is right and wrong, and also the ethical matters involved in technological evolution. Other stars include John Cazale and Cindy William.

4. North by Northwest (1959)

4. North by Northwest
Genre Mystery, Thriller
Stars Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Sometimes the classics are still all we need to enjoy movies at their best. Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest uses many of the spy themes that would go on to define the future of the genre, such as government secrecy, the use of macguffins, and personal identity. The film stars Cary Grant as the man being stalked by ambiguous agents who don’t want their secret to be let out into the open. It is considered one of Hitchcock’s best films over 50 years later.

3. Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

3. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Genre Action, Adventure
Stars Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

The character Ethan Hunt is Tom Cruise’s love letter to spy movies and action heroes, and his most daring adventure is definitely Mission Impossible – Fallout. Featuring the most incredible stunt sequences in the franchise to date, this 2018 box office hit also features Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, and Alec Baldwin. Mission Impossible will release a new iteration, the seventh installment in the series, this summer as part of a stacked roster of movies

2. The Imitation Game (2014)

2. The Imitation Game
Genre History, Drama, Thriller, War
Stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
Directed by Morten Tyldum

For those who want a little bit of historical drama mixed in with their spy films, try out The Imitation Game. Staring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the movie gives a spotlight to the man who helped the British defeat Germany during World War II with his high-level intellect and coding skills. Turing’s story ended in tragedy after he was arrested for being gay, leading to him succumbing to suicide caused by severe depression. Not everything is completely accurate in the movie, but it’s still a highly-stylized and well-acted look at an underrated hero of the early 20th century.

1. Goldfinger (1964)

1. Goldfinger
Genre Adventure, Action, Thriller
Stars Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Fröbe
Directed by Guy Hamilton

James Bond is the ultimate movie spy, and Goldfinger is the best film featuring the badass agent. Sean Connery really takes off in this iteration of the character, adding his trademark charisma that gels well with the antagonist of the film, Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe). There have been dozens of 007 flicks since this one, but the classics never die.

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Shawn Laib
Shawn Laib is a freelance writer with publications such as Den of Geek,, Edge Media Network, diaTribe, SUPERJUMP…
Podcasts every outdoors enthusiast will enjoy: The Crux, Dirtbag Diaries, and more
Year-round outdoors podcasts everyone will love
Man walking with hiking poles

For the true outdoors person, nothing stops the relentless quest for adventure. You scour the internet for tips and trails, you watch docuseries about travel and epic feats of endurance, and if you’re not already, you should have a favorite podcast or five continually feeding information into your ears. 

Podcasts are one of the most outdoor-appropriate mediums to keep on hand. They are packed full of game-changing information and inspirational guest interviews, and you can listen to them while enjoying your activity. OK, no one wants to be that guy with the Bluetooth speaker on the trail — or more precisely, no one wants to be near that guy — and there are situations where you might not want to have noise-canceling headphones in, but if you’re out on a solo trail hike, cruising through the woods on your mountain bike, or just hitting the gym to train for your next outing, then get one of these podcasts in your earholes and make the outdoors part of everything you do.

Read more
The Creator movie preview: This post-apocalyptic AI movie seems eerily on point right now
Humans vs AI... Hmm, that sounds familiar
The Creator movie still

With technology evolving rapidly, machines have taken prevalence in everyday human life more than ever before. Artificial intelligence (usually just referred to as AI) is expanding its reach to more sectors of society, from simple activities like copying faces and creating new art to more complex and alarming endeavors, such as replacing the need for humans to write our favorite TV shows and movies. This last part is one of the crutches of the current SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, and Gareth Edwards' (the director of Rogue One) newest science fiction film ironically details some of the dangers of AI (a fact that didn't go unnoticed by The Creator's director, producer, and co-writer).

One of the best new movies of the fall, The Creator is a 20th Century Studios film that certainly understands a thing or two about the current technological landscape. Take a look for yourself!

Read more
The 10 best time travel movies, ranked
Time travel movies are fun, just try not to forget what year it is
Avengers Endgame Best Movies


Many people try to live in the present in order to obtain happiness. Worrying about the past or the future is pointless since we can't travel back or forward in time. That doesn't mean movies haven't tried to grapple with time's continuum, though. Sci-fi films have used time travel to explore themes and storylines in post-apocalyptic wastelands and high-tech dystopian futures. Fantasy plots revolve around using magic to navigate the passage of time. And even comedies use time travel to put forth social experiments and hilarious hypotheticals. Whatever subject time travel movies focus on, they often make us think about the world in a brand new way. These are the 10 best time travel movies, ranked.

Read more