From old-school “007” to the explosive digital movies of 2007, action and adventure movies have kept us on the edge of our seats, contemplating the critical missions of international spies and fates of nations by slipping inside the shoes of our favorite characters. Here are 20 must-see spy movies from the past 50 years of top-secret assignments portrayed on the silver screen. (Movie synopses provided by Netflix)
North by Northwest (1959)
What if everyone around you was suddenly convinced you were a spy? This classic from master director Alfred Hitchcock stars Cary Grant as an advertising executive who looks a little too much like someone else and is forced to go on the lam (helped along by Eva Marie Saint). Hitchcock’s sure-handed comic drama pits Grant against a crop duster and lands him in a fight for his life on Mount Rushmore. That’s a cliffhanger if ever there was one!
The third installment in the 007 series finds uberspy James Bond (Sean Connery) trying to thwart baddie Auric Goldfinger (Gert FrÃ¶be) and his elaborate gambit to corner the gold market by contaminating Fort Knox. Naturally, the oh-so-cool Mr. Bond jets to scores of exotic locales and canoodles with a bevy of beauties along the way — including Pussy Galore, the archvillain’s sexy henchwoman. Goldfinger racked up an Oscar for Best Sound Effects.
Ipcress File (1965)
It’s the height of the Cold War, and ex-thief Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) — now reluctantly working as a secret agent — has been called in to investigate a series of strange kidnappings among leading scientists. Widely recognized as one of the best spy thrillers of all time, The Ipcress File marks Caine’s first appearance as Palmer, the role that made him a star.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
After American and Soviet spaceships disappear, the two countries trade blame for the incidents. As the nations edge toward war, James Bond (Sean Connery) finds himself in the middle of another international mystery. After staging his own death, Agent 007, with Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) and the beautiful Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), discovers that the leader (Donald Pleasence) of the SPECTRE crime organization orchestrated the events.
In Like Flint (1967)
Suave stud Derek Flint returns in the sequel to Our Man Flint — and this time, he’s up against more than he bargained for! A group of powerful female tycoons have concocted a method of brainwashing women through beauty salon hair dryers; with the women in the world enslaved, these distaff dominatrixes hijack the first U.S. space platform and replace the president with their own surgically reproduced clone.
Three Days of the Condor (1975)
His name is Joe Turner — code name, Condor. In the next 24 hours, everyone he trusts will try to kill him. Robert Redford stars as the CIA researcher who returns from lunch to find all his co-workers murdered. Double-crossed and forced to go underground, he kidnaps a young woman (Faye Dunaway) and holds her hostage as he unravels the mystery. Conspiracy films don’t come any better.
Spies Like Us (1985)
In director John Landis’ slapstick-filled comedy, Emmett (Chevy Chase) and Austin (Dan Aykroyd), two CIA spies who have never left their boring offices in Washington, D.C., must save the world from nuclear disaster. Trouble begins when the duo enters the Soviet Union via Afghanistan while trying to avoid detection by the Russian army and rival spies. Landis cast several of his director friends (including Terry Gilliam and Joel Coen) in cameos.
La Femme Nikita (1990)
Internationally acclaimed director Luc Besson delivers the action-packed story of Nikita (Anne Parillaud), a ruthless street junkie whose killer instincts could make her the perfect weapon. Recruited against her will into a secret government organization, Nikita is broken and transformed into a sexy, sophisticated “lethal weapon.” Later remade in the United States as Point of No Return, starring Bridget Fonda.
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
Superspook Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) gets political when an unconstitutional “war on drugs” — fought with U.S. soldiers — goes awry. Ryan uncovers the secret plan just as the troops are abandoned, and he realizes he’s being set up to take the fall. Can Ryan save the soldiers, save himself and save the day?
Director John Frankenheimer helmed this action thriller at full throttle. A briefcase with undisclosed contents — sought by Irish terrorists and the Russian mob — makes its way into criminals’ hands. An Irish liaison (Natascha McElhone) assembles a squad of mercenaries, or ronin, charged with the thorny task of recovering the case. But the team, led by an ex-CIA agent (Robert De Niro), mistrusts one another. Can they accomplish their mission?
The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)
Iowa video-store clerk Wallace Ritchie (Bill Murray) opts to celebrate his birthday with younger brother James (Peter Gallagher). But James, an aggressive businessman, has an important dinner meeting planned. He gets rid of Wallace by giving him a ticket to the Theatre of Life, an audience-participation show where an unfortunate case of mistaken identity leads Wallace into — among other things — a web of espionage.
Austin Powers II: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
When diabolical genius Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) travels back in time to steal superspy Austin Powers’ “mojo,” Austin (Myers again) must return to the swingin’ ’60s himself. There, with the help of American agent Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham), he faces off against Dr. Evil’ls army of minions and — naturally! — saves the world. Verne Troyer co-stars as Dr. Evil’s clone, Mini-Me.
Spy Game (2001)
Robert Redford and Brad Pitt reunite in this espionage thriller from director Tony Scott. On the verge of retiring from the CIA, veteran spy Nathan Muir (Redford) learns that his one-time protege and close friend, Tom Bishop (Pitt), is a political prisoner sentenced to die in Beijing. Although their friendship has been marred by bad blood and resentment, Muir agrees to take on the most dangerous mission of his career and rescue Bishop.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
A man (Matt Damon) washes up on an island in the Mediterranean Sea, suffering from gunshot wounds and amnesia. He soon realizes he’s being hunted down by assassins and that he’s very good at killing them before they get him – but the question of his identity perplexes him as he fights to stay alive. Franka Potente co-stars in this action thriller based on Robert Ludlum’s novel.
The Recruit (2003)
Of all the CIA operatives-in-training, James Clayton (Colin Farrell) is the one agency veteran Walter Burke (Al Pacino) most wants to recruit. James is far from grateful, but he’s the sharpest of his class. Before he officially becomes an officer, however, he must prove he’s worthy at the Farm, the CIA’s secret training grounds, where he learns to watch his back and trust no one but himself.
The Manchurian Candidate (2004)
In this remake of the 1962 political thriller, Capt. Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington) and Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) are taken captive during the first Persian Gulf War and brainwashed so that they’re programmed to rebel once they return home. Ten years later, as Shaw’s mother (Meryl Streep) is busy helping her son in his bid for the presidency, Marco recalls the brainwashing. Can he get to Shaw before it’s too late?
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)
Marriage has gotten stale for John and Jane Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), a husband and wife who don’t yet know that they share the same undercover line of work: They’re both guns for hire. Hiding their occupations has never been a hardship for either of them – until they discover that their next assignment involves them targeting each other! Can they go through with their respective missions, or will love prevail?
George Clooney (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Golden Globe for his role) plays CIA operative Bob Barnes in this political thriller by Stephen Gaghan. America is at the beck and call of the Middle East when it comes to the oil industry, and all its players — Washington, sheiks, oil companies, field workers — intersect with each other. The star-studded cast includes Matt Damon, Amanda Peet, Chris Cooper and Christopher Plummer.
The Matador (2006)
The life of Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), a salesman forever on the road, veers into dangerous and surreal territory when he wanders into a Mexican bar and meets a mysterious stranger, Julian (Pierce Brosnan), who’s very likely a hit man. Their meeting sets off a chain of events that will change their lives forever, as Wright is suddenly thrust into a far-from-mundane existence that he takes to surprisingly well, once he gets acclimated to it.
The Good Shepherd (2006)
Matt Damon and Robert De Niro (who also directs) star in this partially fact-based drama that examines the early history of the CIA as seen through the eyes of a dedicated agent. An upstanding, sharp-minded Yale student, Edward Wilson (Damon) is recruited to work for the fledgling CIA during World War II. Though loyal to his country, Wilson begins to feel the job eroding his ideals, filling him with distrust and destroying his personal life.
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