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Best Spy Films Of All Time

Updated on March 2, 2014

"Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

-The Tennyson poem read by M at Bond's funeral.


Skyfall is the James Bond franchise's 50th year crown jewel and hands-down, the best Bond ever. Agent 007 is darker, more human, and shows his flaws in this film. He isn't the cocky, suave superhero he has often portrayed as, but rather a rusty, washed-up, and betrayed agent.

During a high speed opening chase, M chooses to protect her country's secrets over the life of 007. After a shot to the chest and a hundred foot fall into a river, James resurrects as a bohemian ex-pat, far away from his duties to her Majesty. However, when MI6 comes under terrorist attack, James reports back to M for duty.

In an act of revenge, the villain Silva, reveals his plan to hack his way into government agencies and stock markets around the globe. What makes this film particularly compelling is the bond shared between James and Silva. Silva had once loyally served under M, but retained deep scars from her betrayal. Both men had been left to die by M, but chose different paths. Despite their rocky past, James repeatedly shows his loyalty to M and his willingness to protect her at all costs.

Everything in Skyfall resides in the tension between the old and new, tradition and modernity. M is retiring, Bond is aging, Britain is changing, and espionage is evolving. The film begs the question, what place does Bond now have in this world? Even though Q gives Bond all of the coolest modern gadgets, the ultimate showdown happens at James' Skyfall estate, leaving him with only a shotgun and random items found around his childhood farmhouse.

While the film deals with the transition to a postmodern Bond, it gives the discerning fan countless nods to the last fifty years of Bond history. He may still like his martini's shaken, not stirred, but Bond is a different man, than he was in Dr. No. He's more mature, more human, and a man eternally bound by duty to his country.

Skyfall Trailer

The Bourne Identity

The Bourne Identity brought post-cold war espionage to a whole new generation, adapting to the complexities of a post-September 11th world.

Found floating in the Mediterranean, with a bank account number in his hip and two bullet wounds to the back, Jason Bourne has no idea who he is. He possesses uncommon skills and knows languages he can't remember ever learning. After a trip to a bank in Switzerland, he quickly learns that he is a marked man.

The Bourne Identity set a new standard for spy films. The story drives the action. It isn't about huge explosions, beautiful women, and fast car scenes. The film tells a very human story of a man trying to figure out his past and create a normal life for himself, while being tirelessly pursued across Europe. Although Jason Bourne may have been trained to be a cold hard killer, the new Jason Bourne regrets his actions as a government assassin.

Prior to his amnesic swim in the Mediterranean, his mission was to take out an African diplomat, secretly, without any evidence of American involvement. Jason finds him sleeping on his yacht, but fails to pull the trigger because the diplomat had several children curled up on his lap. What makes Jason different from other super spies, is he has a moral compass.

The Bourne Identity Trailer

Three Days Of The Condor

Three Days of the Condor is the ultimate government conspiracy film. Robert Redford stars as a CIA analyst who returns back from lunch, to find that his entire office has been assassinated. On the run, he soon soon discovers that he is entangled in a giant government conspiracy. His only way out is to expose the government's dark secrets to the New York Times.

Three Days of the Condor sets the pace for cat and mouse thrillers. The film captures the distrust of a generation that endured Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, and countless government black marks. To the present viewer, freshly enlightened to the Wiki-leaks, Benghazi, Obamacare dishonesty, and NSA spying, maybe Three Days of the Condor, is more pertinent than ever.

Three Days of the Condor Trailer

What is your favorite spy film?

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    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      Bond never seems to go out of style. I enjoyed your list.

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 3 years ago from California


      I'm glad that you liked the Hub. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      I love reading movie reviews. I'm more a science fiction fan and I've only seen The Bourne Identity you write about, which I loved, especially Matt Damon. Nice hub

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 3 years ago from California


      That's interesting that a "die hard Bond fanatic" would vote for Bourne. I think that shows the strength of the filmmakers trying something a little different. Thanks for your opinion.

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 3 years ago from California


      Thanks for being my first commenter. The Bourne films created a whole new edge to the spy genre. They have had a huge influence their successors. I've watched them dozens of time and yet, they still speak to me. I hope you have a fruitful writing day!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love the Bourne Trilogy, but then I love Matt Damon, so there you go. :)

    • Hackslap profile image

      Harry 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      I'm a die hard Bond fanatic ..but for that very same reason I voted the Bourne Identity due to its original and equally rivetting plot . Matt Damon's a truly versatile actor