Special Report

Best Spy Shows of All Time

The second season of Apple’s spy series “Slow Horses” premiered in 2022 to generally positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. Starring Gary Oldman, it chronicles life at Slough House, a punitive purgatory for troublesome MI5 agents. Despite their administrative duties, these “slow horses” nevertheless manage to uncover sinister plots and take decisive action. And so a tradition of thrilling espionage on television proudly continues….

To determine the best spy shows of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on audience reception from IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon. Spy and espionage shows were ranked based on average IMDb user rating as of December 2022. Only shows with at least 4,000 user votes were considered. Data on series run and cast information also came from IMDb. (If you prefer the long form, these are the 30 best spy films of all time.)

While “Slow Horses” is earning high ratings and serious acclaim, it hasn’t yet cracked our list of the 25 best spy shows in TV history. Providing stiff competition are a number of enduring classics, some of which went on to inspire movie adaptations and full-blown franchises. The most obvious example is “Mission: Impossible,” which debuted on CBS in 1966 and later inspired a blockbuster film series of the same name. (Five of the six films in the series released so far – at least two more are coming – figure among Tom Cruise’s biggest and best movies.)

Click here to see the best spy shows of all time

Of course, not every spy series takes itself as seriously as “Mission: Impossible.” Shows such as “Burn Notice” dispense frequent comic relief while the TV classic “Get Smart” often resorts to pure parody. It all helps create a wide-reaching milieu of characters, stories, and tones, as fans of the espionage subgenre hop from one timeless series to the next.

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