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 Top 10 Best Spy Movies of All Time

These are our top 10 favorite Spy Films. The spy film is strongly tied to a notably cold and neurotic part of real history: the Cold War. A time where double spies, crime, and disloyalty felt like the norm.  So, we went at it. And there's only one rule we gave the room: One per franchise or director to avoid a ton of Bonds or Hitchcock's. This resulted in a lot of things being thrown and broken, but we all walked out alive with the following. 

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

 with no honorable mentions. That's right the film stands on its own in the spy genre and we found it to be one of the most grounded in actual espionage. Based on John le CarrĂ©'s classic novel, the movie focuses on onMI6 leader George Smiley as he hunts for a mole within the agency. It beautifully captures a time before modern technology when our most intimate secrets could still be kept. Many former and existing spies relate to the inner struggle between being patriotic and capable without ego and that nagging mistrust that defending democracy can be a thankless task and, in the point, you will almost surely be the last quarry in the story. The film is delivered within uncompromising grayness, which lends it a perpetual melancholy that perfectly suits the themes of the original book. Plus, Gary Oldman, TobyJones, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and Mark Strong all deliver memorable, complex performances.

9. Ronin (1998)

as we've stepped deeper into the present day, films have pushed the spy genre to balance honoring the roots of a classic espionage thriller while layering in more intense action to satisfy the requirements of a modern action Blockbuster. We can give a lot of credit for this move to 1998's Ronin, when Robert de Niro, Jean Reno, and Sean Bean led us not only through a gripping plot full of twists and turns but some of the best cars chase ever to be captured on film. They redefined and influenced peers before becoming a clear inspiration for the reshaping of Bond in Daniel Craig'srun as well as the re-tolling of Batman by Christopher Nolan. Really, the first three Bourne flicks have all collectively earned a spot on this list, but since rules are rules and we had to cast, we went with The Bourne Ultimatum. Why? Well, Doug Liman's TheBourne Identity paved the way for the franchise, but it was arguably subsequent director PaulGreengrass who really consolidated the new action aesthetic of docu-influenced hand-held camerawork that lent a nervy, realist immediacy to even the most tortuous of plot turns. Most importantly for this list though, Ultimatum is chock full of the actual spying shit that makes its plot twist-filled and compelling, with Tony Gilroy's taut, intelligent scripts bringing Robert Ludlum's books to life. 

8. Spy Game (2001)

we talked about Robert Redford and the price of a life of secrecy and deceit. Usually, at the top of people's lists is 2001's Spy Game. The movie may be billed as a two-hander with Brad Pitt, but it's really Redford's show. It's an entirely respectable spy thriller and is helped by Tony Scott's trademark explosive action sequences and unrelenting editing style, It's a strong pick for those who go there, but to us, the stronger pick for a Redford spy is 1975's Three Days of The Condor. The 70s saw the release of quite a few conspiracy thrillers in large part due to the Watergate scandal. Films like The ParallaxView and The Conversation were popularly poking at with people's heightened sense of paranoia. In the middle of all that, Sidney Pollack came in with one of the most entertaining espionage actioners of its time. Redford plays bookish CIApencil pusher Joe Turner, codename: Condor, who comes back from lunch one day to find the entire team murdered. The guy only avoids being killed at the start because it's his turn to fetch lunch. The film is both a love letter to the high-paced attitude of New York City and a thrillingly intense and beautiful maze of counter-intelligence. Three Days of The Condor still remains one of the better examples of the price paid by an average man when he forced to become a spy. That felt superserious, so lets' take a moment to talk about the fun side of things. There's Burn After Reading which we know isn't what you might strictly call a spy movie but it does have elements of the genre and even directly involves the CIA as a part of the plot, the Cohen Bros' movie is a combination of witty dialogue and almost slapstick dark comedy that's worth a watch.

7. spy comedy Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

At number seven is 2002's spy comedy Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. The film, like the book it's based on, claims to be biographical. Okay, supposedly, Chuck Barris, the creator of The DatingGame and The Gong Show would characterize his lucky winners on trips to passionate spots and shoot for the CIA while he was on the trip. Barris, himself, claims to have killed 33 people while working as a spy. While we'll never really know if Barris is full of shit, simply re-writing a life he feels needs a reboot, or whether he is being as purely honest. Strikes an impressive balance between far-fetched absurdist dark comedy and the psychological drama of Chuck Barris' extensive paranoia.

6. Casino Royale (2006)

At number six, fine. It's time to pick a Bond. Look we established about this for longer than we should ever have. First, someone made a long, passionate case for Casino Royale. In short, the film is entertaining, emotional, and endlessly rewatchable that blows its competition right out of the water. The film features phenomenal action scenes, a classy story that gives bond a heart and soul back, and a pitch-perfect pace and tone, and a surprising debut in the role by Daniel Craig who made his version of007 a proper human being without losing any of the playfulness. On top of all of that, the film maintains a careful restraint on franchise tropes such as one-liners and gadgets that had started to go overboard, past the camp, and into ridiculously Die Another Day. And it's easily one of the top three Bond songs ever sang, if not number one. Adele's is instantly iconic. She was born to do that. They told me I couldn't improve, but we're talking about it. There was an almost one-hour conversation over the one who put George Lazenby as the representative of the Bond Franchise which devolved into a fight about Goldfinger. Bond's battles with SMERSHand the super Soviet Red Grant are full of poisoned spikes and rifles cobbled together from briefcases that set a tone for the Bond films to come. While there are definitely some points that don't hold up to modern scrutiny, it's a fun, ridiculous romp through fantasy before we all got so serious about it all. Let's be honest here. Despite some people having a weird obsession with criticizing TomCruise's height, which like, get over it dude, Mission: Impossible might be the only film franchise in existence that, with the exception of the flick-that-must-not-be-named John Woo Dove-filled motorcycle super-sequel, has gotten better with every film. The first Mission: Impossible gets a lot of credit for setting a fun, action-packed, and yet still emotionally grounded tone. But on top of all that pushed Hunt's character even deeper and delivered a much more fleshed out person than the original three installments, made of flesh and blood and sense of humor. 

5. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

  Demonstrating extraordinary acts of human suffering, clever tricks of the trade, along with abounding gadgetry and subterfuge, the film fantastically performs the beats of the spy genre film. At the top of that, director Christopher McQuarriepiggybacks chase orders, building a huge set item for the ages, the best of which takesplace when an opera show and could have easily been snagged from a Hitchcock film, it's just that gleaming in both the editing and pacing. Almost any of the films other than Mission Impossible : 2 could've ended up on this list, because man, these guys are really willing to do what it takes to make sure you always be happy for the rest of your life.


4. The 39 Steps (1935)

 You can see the influence of the spy trade-in so much of his work, from Saboteur to The Lady Vanishes, ForeignCorrespondent, and even Topaz. But there's really only three classic official spy films in his cannon and they all seem to be building upon each other, like stacking masterpiece on masterpiece to reach the best possible version of a thing. Probably the first truly great Hitchcock picture, 1935's The 39 Steps is a gripping, enormously entertaining chase thriller adapted from the seminal 1915 spy novel by John Buchan. More playful than some of the director's other films of the period, it establishes Hitchcock's favorite themes and biggest personal fears, the tale of an innocent man on the run. Finally, though, in 1959 comes our pick. North by Northwest is an extension of themes and characters first explored in The39 Steps and Notorious, which serves to make the film a much richer narrative. By this time, Hitchcock was working at the height of his powers, and he took everything he'd learned so far and put it into this. Seriously, it's flawless filmmaking, the economy of storytelling in the final few shots alone are staggering.

3. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

For number three, we wanted to talk about them based on a true story bunch. We talked a lot about Zero Dark Thirty, which brought the reality of torture, military base bombings andAl-Qaeda to a viewing public that had only previously read about them in limited published accounts. While more manhunt than spy movie necessarily. We fondly remembered Steven Spielberg's 2006 masterpiece, Munich. Based on the true story of the Munich massacre, which took place in1972 and saw 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team brutally murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. Based on the true story of the Munich massacre, which took place in1972 and saw 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team brutally murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. It's this slowness, however, that sets it apart. In the end, we picked 2012's Argo. Based almost entirely on actual happenings, Ben Affleck further hones his strong directorial skills in a tale that follows a top-secret rescue mission conducted by the CIA in 1972. 

2. The Lives of Others (2006)

 At number two is Germany's 2006 film The Lives of Others. Five years before Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the film gave us a glimpse behind the Iron Curtain and over the Berlin Wall into the 1980s Soviet. It offers a truly grim glimpse into what it was like to be a spy during the Cold War, particularly if you didn't necessarily believe in the cause you had devoted your life to. The film does away with Hollywood pretenses at a happy ending or silver linings, nothing cheerful happens here, nor is any character entirely likable. It's a film about espionage after all, and dives deep into the gray moral ground people are forced to inhabit to survive. The sense of paranoia that hovers over every frame allows us to feel as though we, too, are being subjected to the same oppression as the characters. 

1. The Ipcress Files (1962)

 For number one, I'm just gonna list movies that you should watch. We'll pick one, but they're all number one. first off there's Harry Palmer. Starting with 1965's The Ipcress Files and known as the anti-007. The follow-up films, Funeral at Berlin and The Billion DollarBrain can be a bit janky, but the original is standout, with style to spare. There's the classic of 60s cinema that doesn't get anywhere enough credit on lists like these, MartinRitt's masterful adaptation of John le CarrĂ©'s greatest novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. At its heart, this is a movie about the ethics of the spy profession, asking whether it's okay to deceive and mislead the greater good. There's 1976's Marathon Man,1981's Eye of the Needle, 1973's The Day of the Jackal, the original ManchurianCandidate, Our Man in Havana. God, the internet, why are you making us choose? Is the world this dark and bleak and full of betrayal that we can't just enjoy all the movies in no particular order? Why? Our pick, in the end, this 1949's The Third Man. Originally written as a novella and then a screenplay by Graham Greene, who occasionally worked as aspy for the British Government, the resulting film is a fucking masterpiece. Packed with more tension, more atmosphere, and more lingering paranoia than you could possibly ever ask for, The ThirdMan is set in Vienna when the city had been divided up between four allied countries.  The film is a beautiful mixture of noir and spy movies, capturing a sense of constant unease throughout which is scaled up by the eerie black and white photography. 

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