There’s something about a great spy film that just draws us in from the first frame to the last. The concept of espionage – gathering secret or confidential information for the benefit of a government or organization – that is inherently dramatic, and following the spies tasked with obtaining that information or keeping it secret has formed the foundation of some of the very best movies ever made.
One of the great things about spy films is that the concept of spying can lend itself to a whole host of other genres to which it can be seamlessly fused. Film noir, psychological drama, action, adventure, comedy, thriller, and mystery films can all easily revolve around espionage, meaning that there’s a spy film for every cinematic preference.
Spy films also easily connect with audiences because there’s usually a clear hero and a clear villain, and there’s ample opportunity to show off exotic locales, splashy new technology, and enough thrills to offer the audience top-quality escapism. Some spy films are incredibly high-concept and keep the audience guessing until the final twist, some are packed with action and don’t require too much thought on the part of the audience, some send us on flashy trips around the world, and some are downright hilarious. (These are the best action movies of all time.)
In addition, from James Bond to Jason Bourne, spy films have introduced us to some of the most iconic characters in film history. (This is every James Bond movie ranked from worst to best.)
To determine the best and worst spy films, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of February 2022, weighting all ratings equally. We considered only movies with at least 25,000 audience votes on either IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes, and ruled out documentaries. Only films that center on a spy or clandestine intelligence officer protagonist or deal with the theme of espionage were included. Data on cast and plot come from IMDb.
Filled with intrigue and great writing, directing, and acting, the best spy films are endlessly rewatchable and have become cinematic classics.
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