8 thrilling spy movies to watch online
James Bond hasn’t always been a rugged rogue with heart-shaped cufflinks as Daniel Craig would have you believe. Ian Fleming’s MI6 operative made it cool to wear tuxedos, attend soirees under false pretences and fire missiles from an Aston Martin.
Here are eight espionage action thrillers that are closer to the truth.
The Bourne Identity set in motion a cold, calculated and modern spy series headlined by Matt Damon… easily the best and most consistent spy film franchise if you ignore The Bourne Legacy spin-off. The pinnacle of the Bourne spy films must surely be the Oscar-winning The Bourne Ultimatum by Captain Phillips writer-director Paul Greengrass.
Setting the new standard, Greengrass built upon the Bourne framework with smarter storytelling and more intense action sequences. The blistering espionage thriller emulated the idea of using any camera device in the vicinity of the action to create a Big Brother sense of reality. Combining brains and brawn, it’s an exciting, quick-paced, taut and suspenseful spy-on-the-run actioner that maintains a sense of urgency.
IMDB rating: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 92%
Charlize Theron can do drama and action, delivering a hard-edged performance against a backdrop of nostalgic 80s style in Cold War-era Berlin. Playing ruthless undercover MI6 operative Lorraine Broughton, she’s tasked with a dangerous investigation and recovery of a list of double agents.
Atomic Blonde has a gritty and otherworldly graphic novel feel, propelled by its visuals, mood and panache. Helmed by stuntman turned director, David Leitch, who was integrally involved in John Wick, Atomic Blonde has a similar intensity and flair to the Wick movies. Theron is uber-cool, commanding a kick-ass physical performance with an equal balance of attitude and dexterity.
IMDB rating: 6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 78%
Clear and Present Danger, 1994 (Netflix)
Tom Clancy’s world of espionage would be quieter without CIA analyst Jack Ryan. Harrison Ford reprises his role from Patriot Games, getting caught up in an illegal war between the US government and a Colombian drug cartel. Having conquered the archeological world as Indiana Jones, he trades his fedora and whip for a CIA badge and gun as Jack Ryan.
Philip Noyce also directed Salt, The Saint and Patriot Games, but this intense and layered spy action drama thriller edges out the competition. Some of its action scenes have been mimicked but never bettered, even bringing some “you can’t handle the truth” attitude.
IMDB rating: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 79%
Body of Lies, 2008 (Netflix)
Leonardo DiCaprio was slippery in Catch Me If You Can, making it totally plausible that he could be an undercover CIA operative. Dying his hair, wearing brown contacts and playing opposite Russell Crowe, Mark Strong and Oscar Isaac makes his spy game even more hard-hitting as he tracks down suspected terrorist Al-Saleem.
Body of Lies is set in the Middle East at a time when modern intelligence agencies were desperately trying to locate Osama Bin Laden. The conventional plot line and spy elements may make you think James Bond meets Carmen Sandiago, but the stellar performances ratchet Ridley Scott’s explosive and tense spy thriller up a notch.
IMDB rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 55%
Valkyrie, 2008 (Netflix)
Tom Cruise has a knack for leading impossible undercover missions. In the explosive and suspenseful war thriller, Valkyrie, he plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, leading a coup to overthrow Hitler. Cruise is always determined to entertain, and here he is supported by the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Eddie Izzard and Tom Wilkinson.
Based on the true story of Operation Valkyrie, this well-paced and gritty chronicle gathers momentum as more high-ranking Nazi officials join the plot. Directed by X-Men’s Bryan Singer, you can see how the Valkyrie conspiracy spy thriller was inspired by the gung-ho spirit of pulpy World War II comic books.
IMDB rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 62%
Smoke & Mirrors, 2016 (Netflix)
This espionage drama thriller is essentially a Spanish version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Drenched in style, gorgeously photographed and filled with middle-aged men who carry cheque books instead of guns, it’s a thinking man’s spy movie. Eduard Fernández stars as Francisco Paesa, a disgraced secret service agent who finds his life in disarray after he finally returns home. Playing into a Count of Monte Cristo theme, he conjures up an intricate plan to disappear completely.
Purposefully slow-moving, Alberto Rodríguez’s Smoke & Mirrors has a smouldering intensity and an energetic edit that keeps it billowing over. Globe trotting, spinning elaborate yarns and practising the art of deception, this is a classy espionage affair.
IMDB rating: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 83%
The Angel, 2018 (Netflix)
The Angel is directed by Ariel Vromen, whose other films The Iceman and Criminal set the bar for this thoughtful spy drama thriller. It’s based on the New York Times bestseller The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, telling the incredible true story of Mossad’s invaluable asset Ashraf Marwan.
Set in 1972 ahead of the Yom Kippur War, The Angel grapples with Marwan’s precarious roles as an arms dealer and spy, leading a double life as diplomat to Anwar Sadat and son-in-law to Egyptian President Nasser. It’s a slow-burning, retro and stylish spy drama thriller, bolstered by an earnest Marwan Kenzari and ever-versatile Toby Kebbell.
IMDB rating: 6.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 75%
Who better to bring Anna to life than the prolific filmmaker, Luc Besson? He’s famous for directing The Professional and La Femme Nikita; writing The Transporter and Taken; and for his relationship with former spouse, Milla Jovovich. Somehow, he’s brought all of his best elements to spy action thriller, Anna, starring Sasha Luss, Cillian Murphy, Luke Evans and Helen Mirren.
Luss is angelic, able to conjure up Milla Jovovich at moments, offering some insight into Besson’s muse. The embodiment of youth and beauty, her physically demanding performance demonstrates the former model’s action-ready agility too. It may not be a true original, but this John Wick meets Red Sparrow actioner is guns-blazing entertaining.
IMDB rating: 6.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 33%