The 25 Best Spy Movies of All Time

9. JFK (1991), dir. Oliver Stone


Oliver Stone leaves no rock unturned here, and this movie opens a file that history itself refuses to close. It advances the unanswered question about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Like Fidel Castro before, JFK turned to the Russians after the Bay of Pigs. Neither story is complete as long as the CIA has hand the final word.

Packed with an all-star cast, it remains underappreciated because of the director’s reputation with the U.S. government.


10. The Devil’s Own (1997), dir. Alan J. Pakula

The Devil's Own (1997)

This movie is a great one because it came about after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Like some of the movies herein, The Devil’s Own addresses the widening gulf of historical anecdotes that warrant inclusion in the spy genre.

The long standing battle over Irish independence from Great Britain had been often overlooked and left the American public ignorant of the struggles and particulars of the IRA. In The Devil’s Own, Brad Pitt stars as Francis McGuire (a member of the IRA on the run and traveling to American to secure weapons).

His cover is that of a common emigrant seeking to make a new start. Harrison Ford—no stranger to spy films, albeit of the Tom Clancy variety—stars as Tom O’Meara, a cop with children. Tom is a good man who has never fired his weapon. Other characters round out the cast with various shades of good/bad intentions. It’s a good film, and because it involves lies and deception with international ramifications, it is listed here.


11. Ronin (1998), dir. John Frankenheimer


In Ronin, a group of mercenaries hire to steal a package wanted by both the Russians and the IRA. A cast of international tough guys consisting of American Robert De Niro—an alleged retired CIA agent—Frenchman Jean Reno, Russian Stellen Stargarde, and British Sean Bean. While seemingly without masters, these characters reflect the common interest nations can yet seldom have. They are hired by a pretty women (Nathasha McElhorn), who represents the IRA,

This movie is one where every second is given to dialogue. The opening shots sequence high explosive car chases on which action movies thrive, but the film does not invest in high impact fights and explosions to propel is plot.


12. Enemy of the State (1998), dir. Tony Scott

Enemy of the State (1998)

Prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, spy movies rarely were constructed both side of both good and bad as being a part of the United States government. After the Cold War, technology took center stage as the world began to surrender so much of its privacy via that same technology.

Partisan politics fuels this movie as the character via for the favored position as the good guy. It has a stellar cast that aids in this game of favoritism. This is an excellent example of where spy movies become politically charged as allegations of fanciful special effects come under attack from the government official who see those allegations as harmful.


13. Spy Games (2001), dir, Tony Scott

Spy Games (2001)

Pretty boys Robert Redford and Brad Pitt play the game of spying that focus on the ugliness of betrayal. Ordinary Americans usually learn the ugliness (more by enemy videos than spy movies) once captured spies are subject to being “left behind.” It’s a condition of the job.

Brad Pitt is a darling protégé of Robert Redford. Redford is about to retire when he learns that Pitt has been captured by the Chinese. The movie, like Farewell (2009), is one more about relationships than action adventure.

The film also, however, opens doors for later spy movies where the politics within the CIA and the pentagon are conducted in public for everyone’s enjoyment. While the subject is ugly, this movie does not glamorize the office spaces of Langley and hidden safe houses like in later movies. It’s a good thing director Tony Scott used a good-looking male cast to carry an otherwise non-James Bond like movie spy film.


14. The Bourne Trilogy (2002, 2004 and 2007), dir. Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass

Jason Bourne

Actor: Matt Damon; Character Name: Jason Bourne; Number of missions: three. The profitable film chronicles the story of the suspected “wrong man”—be he part machine/weapon or military hardware. Bourne exemplifies the kind of spy only cinema can create: the betrayed solider and a trained killing machine.

Another cinematic device that brands Bourne a thrilling commodity is that he suffers from amnesia. He seeks revenge against all those who wronged him, but revenge and amnesia is are lethal ingredients. Thus, Jason Bourne continues to out shine any spy because of the perpetual darkness within him.


15. The Quiet American (2002), dir. Philip Noyce

The Quiet American (2002)

When one becomes in tuned to the literary devices that subsume a character’s hidden agendas, then one may come to recognize the ingenuity of the Graham Greene story. The first on screen production of Greene’s novel debuted in 1958, starring Audie Murphy and Michael Redgrave. However, the more recent adaptation discussed here stars Michael Caine and Brendan Frasier.

The setting is Indo-China: Vietnam. The Americans, who were (in real time) still working under the doctrine of the containment policy, have come to undermine the Communists’ threat. The French are replaced here by a British journalist named Flower (Michael Caine) and an American Doctor, Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser).


16. The Interpreter (2005), dir. Sydney Pollack

The Interpreter (2005)

Under the direction of the late Sidney Pollack is The Interpreter, who stars Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman. Pollack creates an international caper situated dead center in the United Nations.

Africa is brought into the arena similar to The Constant Gardner (2005). Pharmaceuticals and world corporate espionage, however, are not the themes —language is the primary concept of The Interpreter.


17. Munich (2005), dir. Steven Spielberg

Munich (2005)

In Munich, mercenaries aren’t the heroes—revenged-filled Jewish soldiers are. If anyone doubted the blooded letting capabilities of vengeful Jews, this depiction of actual events might change his or her mind.

The film portrays Massoud and Prime Minister Golda Meir assembling a guerrilla unit to hunt and kill those responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletics attending the 1972 Olympic Games held in Munich. This film is noteworthy because the Cold War has ended, and spy film content (post-Cold War) have become more diverse, introducing viewers to the kaleidoscope of real world issues.