The concept of the Spy story was first explored in 1821, with James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Spy, which followed the adventures of American secret agent, Harvey Birch. But it wasn't until the mid 20th century that spy stories started to become popular, notably with Ian Fleming's series of novels and short stories following the now-iconic gentleman spy, James Bond, who was initially portrayed by a young Sean Connery. He impressed audiences with his quick wit, tailored suits, and British accent in 1962, with the first Bond film, Dr. No.
Despite the general popularity and allure of Mr. Bond, the MI6 agent does not, in fact, rule IMDb's ranking of the top ten greatest Spy movies of all time. Here are IMDb's picks for the top 10.
10 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Score 7.1
Taking place during the grim paranoia of the Cold War era, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy follows veteran MI6 agent George Smiley, played by Gary Oldman (yes, he was both Sirius Black from Harry Potter and Commissioner Gordon from the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy), as he is brought out of a forced retirement to conduct a vital mole hunt.
All he knows is that a Soviet Agent has implanted himself in the ranks of MI6 and is intent on releasing crippling intelligence information to the Russians.
9 Spy Game: Score 7.1
When CIA agent Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) is arrested in China, aptly for espionage, his mentor Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) gets pulled from the edge of a long-awaited and lusted-after retirement as he sets out to free his old friend.
The stakes are high, as Bishop's life hangs in the balance - a life that the U.S. government is prepared to sacrifice if necessary. But for Muir, Bishop's rescue is of highest priority - he feeds a variety of information (and misinformation) to the CIA to allow him time enough to save his friend. And in the midst of all this, he must also uncover the true nature of the operation that went so far awry for Bishop.
8 True Lies: Score 7.2
From awarding-winning director James Cameron, True Lies adds a layer of comedy to a genre that can easily become overwhelmingly dark.
This film follows world-class secret agent Harry Tasker's (Arnold Schwarzenegger) latest mission: track down the nuclear warheads possessed by Islamic jihadist Aziz. But things quickly get complex when Tasker, whose family believes him to be an ordinary (and boring) salesman, discovers that his wife might be having an affair with a used-car salesman who claims to be a world-class spy.
The irony here is pretty blatant but still allows for high-paced action, as well as those comedic moments that meld so well with Schwarzenegger's iconic accent.
7 Munich: Score 7.5
Another masterpiece from acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, Munich is based on the Munich Massacre that tragically occurred at the 1972 Summer Olympics and tells the story of Israel's top-secret retaliation.
After twelve Israelis are killed at the '72 Summer Olympics (11 athletes and their coach), Israel approves a Mossad operation to track down and kill all those involved. Avner Kaufman is assigned to carry out this covert series of assassinations and is helped along by a team that consists of a forger, a bomb-maker, an ex-soldier, and a driver (played by none other than Daniel Craig).
This is a complex, well-done story that forces both Avner (and the audience) to question their morales, and perhaps the very concept of justice.
6 Three Days of the Condor: Score 7.5
Released at a time when James Bond was all the craze, Three Days of the Condor provides a welcome change in pace, focusing on the CIA rather than MI6. It follows an average CIA codebreaker, Joe Turner (Robert Redford), as he stumbles upon a massacre in his workplace. The tension builds as he discovers that his superiors at the CIA, in addition to being responsible for the workplace-murders, are now after him.
This 1975 film is a fast-paced story of survival that is integrated with a hunt for the truth, which is retrospectively fitting, as one of Redford's most famous movies, All The Presidents Men, was released just one year later.
5 Skyfall: Score 7.7
The second Bond film on the list unsurprisingly stars Daniel Craig, arguably one of the better Bonds. After his latest mission goes horrifically wrong, MI6 is openly attacked - with the entire organization compromised, M (Judi Dench) goes into hiding, seeking the help of the only person she can trust - James Bond.
Following a murky trail that provides never-before-seen insight into his troubled past, Bond must stop Silva, the man behind the attacks, and save M. With the high-stakes that have become signature to the Daniel Craig Bond films, Skyfall is a nail-biting thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat for all two-and-a-half hours of this 2012 blockbuster.
4 The Bourne Identity: Score 7.9
The first of a five-film series, The Bourne Identity tells the story of Jason Bourne - played by Matt Damon - who, after being pulled from the ocean, riddled with bullets and seemingly moments from death, experiences total amnesia.
Though his memory is blank, his muscle-memory has not been harmed - Bourne discovers not only that he is fluent in multiple languages, but that he is also an incredible fighter - he intrinsically understands how to deal with hand-to-hand combat, and can easily navigate his way around a gun.
This 2002 hit follows Bourne as he seeks to understand who, exactly, he is.
3 Casino Royale: Score 8
The first of soon-t0-be five Bond Films starring Daniel Craig, Casino Royale showcased a far darker side to the Bond franchise. While still confident to the point of arrogance with a dangerous affinity for alcohol, Craig's Bond is more of a soldier than any Bond that has thus far graced the big screen.
After being granted "00" status (and with it, a license to kill), 007 is sent to Madagascar, where he discovers a connection to the elusive Le Chiffre - a terrorist financier. MI6 sends Bond to the Casino Royale to play Le Chiffre in what seems like a simple poker game that quickly escalates. Full of fantastic action sequences, a newer version of the classic Aston Martin, and unbelievably high stakes, this may be one of the greatest Bond films ever.
2 The Bourne Ultimatum: Score 8
The third film in the franchise, The Bourne Ultimatum follows a Jason Bourne that is still seeking to understand his past. With the illegal "Blackbriar" project risking exposure, the officials behind it work to clean up shop, sending several hitmen (all with Bourne's particular set of skills) to cut the dangerously loose thread that is Jason Bourne.
His journey to uncover his past is as intense as ever, providing damning information about Bourne's beginnings, intermingled with high-paced action sequences, that make for one of the greatest secret-agent movies of all time.
1 North By Northwest: Score 8.3
North By Northwest is a favorite of IMDb's, scoring a rating of 8.3 - the highest-rated movie on this list.
An oldy-but-a-goody, this film takes the traditional concept of a Spy movie and flips it upside-down. Rather than following a besuited secret agent as he saves the world, North By Northwest follows Roger O. Thornhill - an executive at an NYC ad agency - as he is mistaken for a government agent and subsequently hunted by the brutal spy Phillip Vandamm. The resulting story showcases some of the greatest spy-movie action scenes of all time.