Special Report

30 Best Spy Films of All Time

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.

Click here to see the best spy films of all time

Filled with intrigue and great writing, directing, and acting, the best spy films are endlessly rewatchable and have become cinematic classics.

30. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
> IMDb user rating: 7/10 (86,322 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 75% (58,874 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 79% (165 reviews)
> Starring: Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts

George Clooney’s directorial debut, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” is based on the 1984 “unauthorized autobiography” of game show host Chuck Barris (“The Gong Show,” most famously), in which he claims to have also been an assassin for the CIA. Sam Rockwell stars as Barris in this perfect fusion of dark humor, psychological drama, spy thriller, and absurdist fantasy. The CIA, for what it’s worth, has denied that Barris ever worked with them.

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29. Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
> IMDb user rating: 7/10 (114,503 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 73% (226,468 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 82% (204 reviews)
> Starring: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

Tom Hanks stars as the title character in this film, based on a true story, as a U.S. Congressman who, alongside CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), helps to organize and support the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979 to 1989. Written by Arron Sorkin and directed by Mike Nichols, it was nominated for five Golden Globes and earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod for Hoffman.

28. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
> IMDb user rating: 7.1/10 (102,721 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 76% (61,127 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 80% (55 reviews)
> Starring: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel

The tenth James Bond film and the third to star Roger Moore, “The Spy Who Loved Me” took its title but none of the plot from Ian Fleming’s 1962 Bond novel of the same name. In the film, Bond teams up with a Soviet agent played by Barbara Bach to stop a megalomaniac named Karl Stromberg from destroying the world and starting a new civilization under the sea. This was Moore’s personal favorite Bond film, and famously features a car that transforms into a submarine.

27. Top Secret! (1984)
> IMDb user rating: 7.2/10 (63,617 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 80% (41,648 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 75% (48 reviews)
> Starring: Val Kilmer, Lucy Gutteridge, Peter Cushing, Jeremy Kemp

From the same writing/directing team that brought us the comedy classic “Airplane!,” “Top Secret!” is a Cold War spy spoof for the ages. It stars Val Kilmer in his film debut, playing an American rock-and-roll star (à  la Elvis) who gets mixed up with the East Germans. It’s an exceedingly silly romp that also sends up surf musicals and World War II films, and it’s sadly underappreciated. But if you’re a fan of “Airplane!” or silly spoofs in general, you definitely will want to seek this one out.

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26. Thunderball (1965)
> IMDb user rating: 7/10 (111,293 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 73% (63,340 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 86% (51 reviews)
> Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi

An adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel of the same name, the third James Bond film follows Bond (Sean Connery) as he tries to find two atomic bombs stolen by a secret organization called SPECTRE, which is holding the world ransom for £100 million in diamonds. His search leads him to the Bahamas, and culminates in an underwater battle that was incredibly difficult to film. It performed exceedingly well at the box office, with the now-iconic underwater action sequences receiving lots of praise.

25. Lust, Caution (2007)
> IMDb user rating: 7.5/10 (39,691 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 84% (51,356 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 72% (148 reviews)
> Starring: Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Tang Wei, Joan Chen, Leehom Wang

An erotic spy film set in both 1938 Hong Kong and 1942 Shanghai, “Lust, Caution” is about Chinese university students who plot to assassinate a high-ranking government special agent by luring him into a honey trap. It won director Ang Lee the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival, and was widely praised for its tenseness and sensuality.

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24. GoldenEye (1995)
> IMDb user rating: 7.2/10 (245,610 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 83% (285,758 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 78% (79 reviews)
> Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen

Pierce Brosnan excelled in his James Bond debut, revitalizing the series with a fast-paced, action-packed film in which he must stop a rogue former MI-6 agent, played by Sean Bean, from unleashing a global financial meltdown via a satellite weapon. The first Bond film to not use any elements of any Ian Fleming novels, the first to use CGI, and the first to cast a female as M (a spot-on Judy Dench), “GoldenEye” was a critically-praised smash hit, grossing far more than the Bond films starring Brosnan’s predecessor, Timothy Dalton, and spawning an iconic Nintendo 64 video game.

23. No Way Out (1987)
> IMDb user rating: 7.1/10 (37,905 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 72% (20,795 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 91% (46 reviews)
> Starring: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, Will Patton

Based on the 1946 novel “The Big Clock” by Kenneth Fearing, “No Way Out” is a stylish neo-noir suspense film in which Navy lieutenant Kevin Costner has a fling with Susan Atwell (Sean Young), who’s also involved with the Secretary of Defense, played by Gene Hackman. When Atwell turns up dead, Costner is placed in charge of the investigation, and intrigue abounds. The film made a star out of Costner, and the suspense builds to a shocking twist ending.

22. Spies in Disguise (2019)
> IMDb user rating: 6.8/10 (42,428 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 92% (8,319 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 77% (124 reviews)
> Starring: Will Smith, Tom Holland, Rashida Jones, Reba McEntire

An underappreciated computer-animated spy comedy from 20th Century Fox, “Spies in Disguise” boasts a star-studded cast. The plot involves a secret agent (played by Smith) who is accidentally turned into a pigeon by a young scientist (Holland); the duo then have to work together to not only turn Smith’s character back into a human, but also stop a terrorist from destroying the world with a fleet of weaponized drones. It underperformed at the box office, but received generally good reviews for its family-friendliness.

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21. Munich (2005)
> IMDb user rating: 7.5/10 (219,261 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 83% (330,282 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 78% (211 reviews)
> Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Marie-Josée Croze, Ciarán Hinds

Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” follows the Israeli government’s secret revenge mission against the Palestine Liberation Organization in the wake of their murder of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team during the 1972 Munich Olympics. The film made more than 20 top-10 lists of the year’s best films, and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

20. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (616,503 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 84% (125,800 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 75% (262 reviews)
> Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Caine

An action-packed spy comedy that sparked a franchise, “Kingsman: The Secret Service” follows Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) as he’s recruited by Harry Hart, aka Galahad (Colin Firth) into a secret British spy organization just in time to attempt to stop a villain (Samuel L. Jackson) from killing most of humanity. It’s fun, darkly funny, and wholly original, with some scenes of truly over-the-top violence thrown in for good measure. Based on a comic book series of the same name, it was director Matthew Vaughn’s most successful film to date.

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19. Spy (2015)
> IMDb user rating: 7/10 (237,184 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 78% (83,010 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 95% (259 reviews)
> Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Jason Statham

A perfect starring vehicle for Melissa McCarthy, “Spy” stars the actress as a desk-bound CIA agent who’s recruited to track down a stolen nuclear weapon. Directed by Paul Fieg and bolstered by great performances from Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Peter Serafinowicz, Miranda Hart, and a surprisingly funny Jason Statham, “Spy” is a laugh-out-loud funny spy thriller, and it won McCarthy the Golden Globe Award for Favorite Comedic Movie Actress.

18. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10 (469,968 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 76% (473,611 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 93% (251 reviews)
> Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton

The fourth of Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible” films, “Ghost Protocol” is a fast-paced thriller with lots of twists, turns, and, of course, scenes involving Cruise running. In the film, after a mission goes wrong and the Kremlin is bombed, Cruise and his team are left without backup while trying to stop an extremist with nuclear launch codes. Dim the lights and grab the popcorn, because this one will have you on the edge of your seat.

17. Official Secrets (2019)
> IMDb user rating: 7.3/10 (40,803 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 89% (361 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 82% (166 reviews)
> Starring: Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans

“Official Secrets” is based on the story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a whistleblower who exposed an illegal American and British spying operation to dig up dirt on UN diplomats in order to coerce them into supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The film received high praise for Knightley’s compelling performance as well as its historical accuracy.

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16. Three Days of the Condor (1975)
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10 (52,010 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 83% (11,762 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 87% (47 reviews)
> Starring: Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Max von Sydow

In the classic ’70s film “Three Days of the Condor,” a CIA analyst (Robert Redford) discovers that his co-workers have been murdered; he attempts to track down their killers, with plenty of twists and turns long the way. It’s tense and well-directed by Sydney Pollack, and Faye Dunaway turns in a great supporting performance.

15. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10 (61,519 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 84% (34,043 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 87% (39 reviews)
> Starring: James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda de Banzie, Bernard Miles

An Alfred Hitchcock-directed suspense thriller classic, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” stars James Stewart and Doris Day as a married couple who (along with their son) get mixed up in an assassination plot while vacationing in French Morocco. It’s edge-of-your-seat suspenseful and Hitchcock is in fine form; Stewart and Day also turn in great performances as a man in over his head and a mother trying to protect her child, respectively. Also, for what it’s worth, this is the film in which Day’s “Que Sera, Sera” debuted.

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14. Dr. No (1962)
> IMDb user rating: 7.2/10 (156,015 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 82% (111,697 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 95% (59 reviews)
> Starring: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Bernard Lee, Joseph Wiseman

The James Bond film that started them all, “Dr. No,” based on Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name, introduced the world to Sean Connery’s iconic Agent 007. In the film, Bond travels to Jamaica to investigate a fellow agent’s disappearance, and while there he uncovers a plot by the villainous Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) to disrupt a Cape Canaveral rocket launch with a radio-based weapon. It’s a clever, sexy, action-packed adventure, and essential viewing for Bond fans. Posters of Andress emerging from the sea in front of Connery in a white bikini ended up on dorm-room walls all over America.

13. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (446,431 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90% (708,891 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 82% (197 reviews)
> Starring: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Joan Allen, Brian Cox

The second installment in the Jason Bourne film series based on Robert Ludlum’s novels, “The Bourne Supremacy” follows the amnesia-stricken former CIA assassin Bourne (Matt Damon) as he gets wrapped up in CIA conspiracies while continuing to attempt to learn more of his past. Joan Allen, Brian Cox, and Franka Potente lead the supporting cast in this action-packed thriller.

12. The Hunt for Red October (1990)
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10 (188,284 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 88% (172,798 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 88% (73 reviews)
> Starring: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill

An adaptation of Tom Clancy’s iconic novel and the first film to feature the character of CIA analyst Jack Ryan (here portrayed by Alec Baldwin, supplanted by Harrison Ford in later films), “The Hunt for Red October” largely takes place on a Soviet submarine during the Cold War. The sub’s commander (played by Sean Connery) wants to secretly defect to America, and Ryan must prove that to the U.S. Navy before they initiate a violent confrontation with the Soviets.

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11. From Russia with Love (1963)
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10 (125,534 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 84% (93,624 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 95% (60 reviews)
> Starring: Sean Connery, Robert Shaw, Lotte Lenya, Daniela Bianchi

The second James Bond film (and Sean Connery’s second appearance in the role), “From Russia with Love” follows Bond to Turkey, where he’s assisting in the defection of a Soviet consulate clerk (Daniela Bianchi); all the while, the shady organization called SPECTRE is trying to kill bond and avenge the death of Dr. No. Another huge Bond success, it’s a sharp, fast-paced Cold War thriller with a smartly-written script and plenty of exciting action sequences.

10. Bridge of Spies (2015)
> IMDb user rating: 7.6/10 (298,941 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 87% (65,587 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 90% (312 reviews)
> Starring: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, Amy Ryan

At the height of the Cold War, a lawyer (Tom Hanks) is tasked with negotiating the release of U.S. Navy pilot Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down and captured over the Soviet Union, in exchange for a convicted Soviet KGB spy (Mark Rylance). That’s the premise of this critically-acclaimed gem from Steven Spielberg, with a screenplay co-written by the Coen Brothers. It’s a gripping, action-packed character study that also happens to be based on a true story.

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9. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
> IMDb user rating: 7.4/10 (354,552 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 87% (93,374 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 94% (325 reviews)
> Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg

Tom Cruise returned for his fifth “Mission: Impossible” film, “Rogue Nation,” this time running from the CIA as he tries to prove the existence of The Syndicate, a global freelance terrorist organization composed of intelligence officers from around the world. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, it’s everything you expect from a “Mission: Impossible” film, loaded with eye-popping stunts and special effects, jaw-dropping action sequences, plenty of international intrigue, and a predictably over-the-top performance from Cruise.

8. Skyfall (2012)
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (648,708 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 86% (374,338 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 92% (381 reviews)
> Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Judi Dench

Daniel Craig’s third Bond film, “Skyfall” finds Bond investigating an attack on MI6 (the UK’s foreign intelligence service) and uncovering a plot by a former agent (played by Javier Bardem) to kill M (the former head of MI6), played by Judy Dench. Directed by Sam Mendes, “Skyfall” was the second-highest grossing film of the year, was well-reviewed, featured a spectacular performance from Craig, and boasted a hit theme song by Adele.

7. The Bourne Identity (2002)
> IMDb user rating: 7.9/10 (523,907 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 93% (965,745 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 83% (192 reviews)
> Starring: Franka Potente, Matt Damon, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen

A man is found in the Mediterranean Sea with two gunshot wounds in his back, and when he wakes up he has no memory but lots of combat skills, as well as access to a Swiss safe deposit box filled with money, passports, IDs, and a gun. Thus begins “The Bourne Identity,” the first installment in the Bourne series starring Matt Damon in the title role. In the film, Bourne finds himself mixed up with a CIA conspiracy while attempting to figure out who he is, and it’s a fun, mile-a-minute action thriller.

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6. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (307,992 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 88% (16,468 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (437 reviews)
> Starring: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg

In the sixth (and best) film in the Tom Cruise-starring “Mission: Impossible” series, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team must track down missing plutonium while on the run from a terrorist group called The Apostles after a mission goes wrong. It’s a fast-paced, well-told action adventure with some ridiculous stunts from Cruise, including skydiving from 25,000 feet and jumping from the roof of one building to another.

5. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
> IMDb user rating: 8/10 (616,488 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 91% (1,922,847 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 92% (269 reviews)
> Starring: Matt Damon, Edgar Ramírez, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles

This action-packed thriller is the third installment in the Bourne series, and the best of the bunch. In the film, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) continues the search for details on his past (it’s a recurring theme) as he becomes the target of an assassin program, and it’s a thrill ride from start to finish. The film received universal acclaim and picked up three Academy Awards.

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4. Casino Royale (2006)
> IMDb user rating: 8/10 (601,654 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 89% (703,961 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 94% (259 reviews)
> Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright

Daniel Craig made his James Bond debut with 2006’s “Casino Royale” and left anyone who doubted his ability to embody 007 in the dust. The full series reboot re-introduced Bond as more inexperienced and vulnerable than his predecessors, and follows him as he attempts to bankrupt a terrorist financier (Mads Mikkelson) in a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro while falling in love with the treasury employee who’s providing him the money (Eva Green). It dispensed with some of the more stale tropes of earlier Bond films, and critics (and fans) loved it.

3. Goldfinger (1964)
> IMDb user rating: 7.7/10 (176,275 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 89% (100,000 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 99% (68 reviews)
> Starring: Sean Connery, Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton

If you’re going to watch one Bond movie, make it “Goldfinger.” The third film (and first blockbuster) in the series and the one where the character of James Bond truly came into his own, “Goldfinger” follows Bond as he investigates gold smuggling by magnate Auric Goldfinger and eventually uncovers his plan to contaminate the gold stored in Fort Knox with toxic radiation. It introduced now-classic characters including Oddjob and Bond’s personal pilot Рussy Galore, as well as the iconic shot of Bond girl Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) completely covered in gold paint.

2. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
> IMDb user rating: 7.9/10 (73,496 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 90% (31,403 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 97% (60 reviews)
> Starring: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury

An all-time Cold War classic produced and directed by John Frankenheimer and based on the 1959 novel of the same name, “The Manchurian Candidate” stars Frank Sinatra as a Korean War veteran who is brainwashed by members of an international communist conspiracy to assassinate a U.S. presidential nominee and lead to the overthrow of the American government. Released at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was a critical and box office success and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

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1. Notorious (1946)
> IMDb user rating: 8/10 (97,303 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes audience score: 91% (35,835 votes)
> Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer score: 96% (48 reviews)
> Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Louis Calhern

The greatest spy film of all time (and one of the greatest films of all time, period), “Notorious” is an Alfred Hitchcock classic starring the power trio of Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains. In the film, a U.S. government agent (Grant) enlists the daughter of a German war criminal (Bergman) in an effort to infiltrate a Nazi organization that moved to Brazil after World War II. The two fall in love, so it gets complicated when she’s instructed to seduce the organization’s leader (Rains). The screenplay, direction, cinematography, and overarching themes of trust, love, and duty were all widely praised by critics, and many consider it Hitchcock’s best film.

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