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2015: The Year of the Spy: 10 Best Spy Movies

2015 Is The Year Of The Spy

Spy movies are a big part of the current trend in Hollywood right now. Not only in Hollywood, but television also. It seems like almost every week a new spy related film is being released. The spy film genre, which is often considered a subgenre of thriller and/or action, deals with the subject of fictional espionage, either in a realistic way (such as the adaptations of John le Carré) or as a basis for fantasy (such as James Bond).

List of spy themed shows currently on television:

  • AMC’s Revolutionary War drama, Turn: Washington’s Spies
  • FX’s period drama about KGB spies, The Americans, now in its third season
  • FX’s animated spy spoof, Archer, currently in its sixth season
  • CBS’s spy-fi Person of Interest, now in its fourth season
  • Showtime’s contemporary CIA drama Homeland, due to deliver its fifth season this fall
  • ABC’s Marvel Cinematic Universe two-punch Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

2015 has already seen the release of spy movies such as Kingsman: The Secret Service (Feb. 13), the Sean Penn action vehicle flop The Gunman (March 20), the Melissa McCarthy comedy vehicle Spy (June 5), the fifth Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible vehicle, and Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. opens tomorrow (read my review here).

That’s not all, 2015 will see the release of more spy movies: the action thriller based off a video game series Hitman: Agent 47, the Steven Spielberg historical thriller Bridge of Spies (Oct. 16) starring Tom Hanks, the 24th James Bond entry Spectre, from Skyfall director Sam Mendes and with Christoph Waltz as the villain (Nov. 6), and the Oliver Stone directed Snowden (Dec. 25) starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden.

So why all the spy movies? The folks over at iO9 observed that it has a lot to do with recent headlines:

Spies and spy-themed scandals are everywhere, from revelations about the NSA spying on American citizens; the recently-revealed New York City Russian spy ring (a story awash in positively retro, movie-ready details … like bag-swapping in public places); and countless stories involving surveillance (law enforcement can now watch you through your walls, thanks to cutting-edge radar devices), drones, omnipresent security cameras, and the like.

It’s obvious that in the current world we live in, our personal privacy is a constant topic of conversation and worry.

Also, spy movies have been very popular for a long time now, spawning many franchises: the James Bond films, the Jack Ryan series, the Mission: Impossible series, the Spy Kids movies, the Bourne series, and the Taken series to name a few. Even before those franchises, celebrated British directors like Carol Reed and Alfred Hitchcock made spy movies a major part of British cinema.

Let’s countdown our 10 Best Spy Movies Ever:

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10. No Way Out (1987) d. Roger Donaldson

Features a spectacular twist ending and classic 80’s movie moments.

9. Three Days of the Condor (1975) d. Sydney Pollack

The ending of this film is very haunting, the idea that no matter what you’re doomed to fail. Spy films and conspiracy thrillers were very popular in the 70’s, especially after the Watergate Scandal.

8. Enemy of the State (1998) d. Tony Scott

Go ahead, laugh at the idea of a mainstream Tony Scott film being included on this list, but if you go back and look at Enemy of the State, you’ll find it’s aged extraordinarily well. The villains of the film are the NSA, and it’s one of the first pieces of entertainment that deals with their intrusions. Of course, back in 1998, the situations were thought of as overexaggerated. However, in 2015, that’s not the case at all.

7. Munich (2005) d. Steven Spielberg

One of the most thoughtful spy movies ever made that deals with the sensitive subject of Israel vs. Palestine. Spielberg also links the never ending violence and repercussions of shadow warfare with the current post-9/11 world in the powerful final scene.

6. Notorious (1946) d. Alfred Hitchcock

Another film on this list that also features a spectacular finale, director Alfred Hitchcock made spy films sexy and cool long before James Bond.

5. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) d. Paul Greengrass

The Bourne franchise reinvented spy movies for the aughts. The two sequels directed by Paul Greengrass especially have influenced action films.

4. From Russia With Love (1963) d. Terence Young

Still the definitive James Bond film.

3. North by Northwest (1959) d. Alfred Hitchcock

The most polished of Hitchcock’s wrong man films that feature some of the most memorable set pieces in film history.

2. The Manchurian Candidate (1962) d. John Frankenheimer

A prime example of how to make a realistic but entertaining spy movie ripped from the headlines. Shout out to the 2004 Jonathan Demme remake as well, one of the finest remakes ever.

1. The Third Man (1949) d. Carol Reed

As Esquire magazine notes:

From the famous “cuckoo clock speech” scene on the Wiener Riesenrad big wheel to Orson Welles’ supposedly dead black marketer Harry Lime emerging from a shadowy doorway, to the final chase through the city’s cavernous sewers, The Third Man is a film that has often been imitated, but never bettered.

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