Saving the world, sipping martinis, snapping necks — it’s all in a day’s work for MI6 00 agent, James Bond. Since 1962 (or 1953 if you’re counting the novels), 007 has been saving the world on screen with equal parts chaos and charisma, swapping actors every few films, but maintaining a consistently British je ne sais quoi (which just so happens to include a considerable amount of violence).
But no matter how classic this character may be in the world of movie espionage, he’s not alone. Whether in the realm of franchises, comedies, or standalone films, the world of cinematic spies is hardly limited. From all walks of life, these secret agents are men (and women) of mystery, taking down bad guys one international mystery at a time.
So, assuming you’re prepared to enter a world of sex, lies, and combat (and assuming you’re prepared to side against James Bond himself), then ready your Aston Martin and buckle in. This article — should you choose to accept it — explores 18 Movie Spies Who Are Better Than Bond.
18. Nick Fury – The MCU
Nick Fury is the ultimate “man behind the scenes.” When he works, he works in secret. When he shows up, it’s from out of nowhere. And when he has a mission to complete, he breaks the rules if he has to. He’s a rogue soldier when he has to be, but no less a vigilant hero content with working from behind the scenes.
Movie audiences not entirely familiar with Marvel Comics will know Fury as the lone man who helped jumpstart the Avengers, but his skills run so much deeper. He was a U.S. Army Officer and a member of the CIA, but only until his natural skills in the world of international espionage got the attention of something much bigger: the peacekeeping organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D.
He may not blend in as well as Bond (what with the leather trench coat and eye patch), but his successes speak for themselves. Nick Fury is the Great and Powerful Oz of espionage.
17. Lorraine Broughton – Atomic Blonde
Based off of the graphic novel The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde is the German-based, ’80s pop-infused, female-led counterpart to 007. Centered around an admittedly overcomplicated plot, the film pits Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) against a slew of seedy double agents in Berlin. However, before she’s ever really given much time to settle in, some masterfully choreographed fight scenes ensue, advancing Broughton through the story as if she were leveling up in a video game. With every “boss,” she excels, adds more pieces to the puzzle, and proves over and over again that Charlize Theron is the breath of fresh air that cinematic ass-kicking has needed for quite some time.
16. Tony Mendez – Argo
Not all spies shoot first and ask questions later. In fact, some spies don’t even shoot at all. Some are more skilled with infiltration and planning. They’re assigned to stay so low under the radar that so much as even wielding a gun would defeat their very purpose. And even though they don’t share the same razzle-dazzle as someone like James Bond gets to bask in, they’re still fulfilling the same central goal: saving lives.
In Argo, real-life hero Tony Mendez (as played by Ben Affleck) is an exfiltration specialist with the CIA assigned to help US Embassy staff members, who managed to avoid being taken hostage by terrorists, escape from Tehran. However, instead of having someone like Q to aid him with fancy gadgets from behind the scenes, he has a Hollywood film producer help him stage a fake movie. Which does a lot more than it seems…
15. Evelyn Salt – Salt
The thing about James Bond that you can pretty much always count on is the fact that he has a whole team of support at his disposal. In a pinch? Phone a friend. It’s the sort of convenient support system that only the British Secret Service could supply.
But what happens when those resources don’t exist? And on top of that, what happens when those resources are working against you? In short, you get something like Salt.
In this spy/chase movie, Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) is wrongfully accused of being a Russian spy. Afraid of how this accusation might affect her, she flees, which then prompts a pursuit, which…just about sums up the plot of the movie. The role was originally going to Tom Cruise, but after some behind-the-scenes changes, Jolie took the title role, offering up a pleasant change of perspective.
14. Joe Turner – Three Days of the Condor
Not unlike Tony Mendez, Joe Turner isn’t much of an active employee for the CIA. He exists behind the scenes, not in firefights. He sits at a desk, not behind the wheel of an Aston Martin. So when he’s finally thrust into a murderous plot that takes the lives of his colleagues, he’s not exactly “the man for the job” when it comes to righting wrongs, fighting back, and saving the day.
He’s an indoor kid, so to speak.
That said, when push comes to shove (and it definitely comes to shove), Turner ends up becoming the dark horse, outsmarting his enemy while also uncovering a nefarious plot within the very department he worked for. And when you can pull off what he pulls off, sans the tools and training that James Bond is equipped with, he proves himself to be all the more impressive.
13. George Smiley – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
If you’re prepared for a head-spinner, then look no further than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the British spy thriller given the enviable task of pitting some of Great Britain’s greatest actors against each other in a single film.
In this flick, the spy in question, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), is retired. That is, until his skills are needed by the very employers who forced him into retirement in the first place.
The sort of action you’d find in a Bond movie is replaced here with a more personal kind of tension. It’s a dialogue-heavy, thick-plotted thriller that leans more of its focus on character interactions than character action, thereby distancing itself from an action movie like 007, but proving that spy movies can exist in all different ways, shapes, and forms.
12. Johnny English
If there had to be a single complaint regarding the character James Bond, it’s how impossibly efficient he is. Give him a task, and he’ll get it done. Give him a suit, and he’ll keep it wrinkle-free. The man seems faultless. So, seeing him slip-up every now and then wouldn’t hurt. In fact, it might add some necessary human elements to keep him a bit more grounded than he is usually depicted.
It’s for these very complaints that one Johnny English stands to rival 007. He’s essentially the same character, but he differs in that he’s an idiot. Literally every mission and task that he’s given falls into the realm of slapstick comedy, simply because he is incapable of using the part of his brain necessary to espionage.
11. Nikita – La Femme Nikita
When you’re young, you often feel like you have nothing to lose. Kids tend to feel infinite, which doesn’t always lead to them making the best decisions, and as a result, often results in negative consequences.
This was exactly the case for a young Nikita (Anne Parillaud), who, through a series of terrible choices, ends up owing a life debt, which ultimately leads to her taking on a second life as an assassin. Naturally, that line of work doesn’t end up going well, and she is ultimately thrust into a dark spiral of violence. As tends to be the case with decisions that are out of someone’s hands.
10. Ulrich Mühe – The Lives of Others
The purpose of a spy is to be discreet and to access information that might otherwise be difficult to come by. Sometimes there’s gunfire and action, and sometimes there isn’t. In The Lives of Others, there isn’t. Instead, there is a slow burn of one spy, Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), trying to determine whether or not a relatively famous playwright is a Communist or not. However, the ever-professional Wiesler is conflicted when he discovers that the work with which he’s been assigned may not be quite as kosher as it originally seemed.
Wiesler might seem like the antagonist of the film at first, but it’s made perfectly clear that his lack of certainty becomes a driving force for his moral agenda – one that’s being put to the test. In terms of morality and his flawless skills in the world of espionage, Wiesler is a cut above the rest. Unfortunately, that could very well lead to his undoing.
9. Austin Powers
Espionage is a funny thing. Or at least it can be. In Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (as well as its two sequels), the world of spies is stripped of its serious undertones in exchange for an unashamedly satirical spin. Mike Myers plays the titular British agent, and not unlike (or exactly like) 007, he’s equipped with cool gadgets, nice cars, and beautiful sidekicks who always turn out to be far more layered than they originally let on.
Go right ahead and make your confident claim that Austin Powers doesn’t even come close to comparing to James Bond. But also keep in mind that, seeing as Powers is a spoof of the Ian Fleming classic, they’re pretty much one and the same. The only real factor that plays into what separates them is the addition or removal of comedy. That’s pretty much it.
8. Ilsa Faust – Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation
In the Mission: Impossible series, women are rarely treated like damsels in distress. In most cases, they’re on par with the film’s main protagonist, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), and whether they’re working with or against him, they usually know how to handle themselves in tricky situations. But there is one female costar in the series who stands out amongst the rest: Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).
She’s a tricky character to crack throughout the film, but even when her loyalty is questionable, she’s still certifiably badass. James Bond may look good as a dashing spy, but Faust looks way better. She’s a swift and violent (when necessary) secret agent who ended up stealing the show in Rogue Nation (and will likely do the same in the untitled follow-up).
7. Napoleon Solo – The Man from U.N.C.L.E
When you’ve got a handsome, debonair spy, drawing a connection to James Bond isn’t difficult. Especially when — from a physical sense, at least — one could easily be confused with the other. As is definitely the case with Napoleon Solo from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Solo and Bond share enough traits to nearly warrant a designation as twins (assuming they weren’t born on opposite ends of the pond), but don’t let that take away from Solo’s personal appeal. In a fight, a betting man might have some trouble with how he’d aim his stakes, and when it comes to wooing a woman, it’s unclear which of the two would win her heart, and yet, Solo may have the edge. Bond has the popularity and ticket sales, but Solo has a sense of ingenuity that elevates him beyond Bond’s franchised stature.
6. Jason Bourne – The Bourne Identity
The basic idea with spies is that people aren’t supposed to know who they are, but in The Bourne Identity, not even Jason Bourne himself knows who he is. It’s a chase movie where the main character is trying to figure out his own identity, while some ragtag villains are trying to kill him. You know, classic rogue spy business.
However, despite having some memory issues, his mental drawbacks hardly get in the way of his ability to kick ass and take names. Which he does. Quite frequently. If Bourne and Bond were to fight in hand-to-hand combat, it’d certainly make for a fair fight, but Bond coming out as the victor doesn’t seem entirely likely. The man has proven himself more often than not, but against someone like Bourne (who can pretty much make a weapon out of anything), the odds are really not in Bond’s favor.
5. Eggsy – Kingsman
Underdogs are possibly the easiest characters to root for in a story, which makes sense, seeing how much more relatable they tend to be compared to natural born heroes. So, even though there are spies aplenty in Kingsman: The Secret Service, Gary “Eggsy” Unwin is the good-hearted rebel that everybody levels with. But is that what makes him a better spy than Bond? Not necessarily.
But it helps.
Eggsy is the sort of spy who isn’t removed from his feelings. Where Bond (and in fact, most of the other Kingsman agents) have been trained to separate their emotions from the task at hand, Eggsy fails. He takes things personally. He lets his anger take over. He exists as an outlier among all the other stiff and proper agents that he’s paired up with. But at the end of the day, these traits are exactly what elevate him beyond the classic British spy. He isn’t cut from the same cloth as his colleagues, and he’s all the more efficient for it.
4. Harry Tasker – True Lies
Spies lie. That’s what they do by trade. Were they to exploit the truth, they risk the lives of their loved ones, as well as anyone around them. And with Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in True Lies, it’s no different. By day, he’s putting his life on the line as a US spy, and by night, he’s a husband and father who’s usually late for supper.
From the perspective of his wife and daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis and Eliza Dushku, respectively), Harry is kind of a loser, so the idea that he and Bond could even come close to being compared is comical. From the audience’s perspective, however, it’s safe to say that Harry wouldn’t have a problem. He races through a mall on horseback, is borderline-impervious to poison, snaps necks as thought they were pencils, and can take out an entire terrorist base singlehandedly.
3. Harry Hart – Kingsman
Where Eggsy definitely stands out among the Kingsman as a sort of black horse/black sheep/underdog combo package, his mentor, Harry Hart (Colin Firth), is incomparable. Though fairly stoic and especially well-mannered ( they “maketh man” after all), don’t be deceived. Where there is an almost stuffy precision on the surface, some relentless aggression exists underneath.
In a way, Harry Hart and James Bond really aren’t so different. They’re British sophisticates who dress to the nines, enjoy only the finest spirits, and want nothing more than to serve their country. And yet, Harry may have the edge. For proof, simply look to the church shootout scene that ultimately got him killed (but also didn’t?). He more than proves his way with a gun — and also his ability to eviscerate pretty much anyone who gets in his way.
2. Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) – The MCU
In a film series flooded with strong and powerful male characters (what a change of pace!), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a pleasant and necessary inclusion of the opposite sex. But gender politics aside, this covert assassin isn’t concerned with petty pissing contests. She’s too busy counteracting her lack of superpowers with skills that took actual effort to attain.
Where Hulk can smash and Thor can summon lighting, Natasha Romanoff can infiltrate, explore, and assassinate without ever leaving even the slightest trace of her presence behind.
She’s also helped saved the world more than once, and is on course to do the same with the entire universe in The Avengers: Infinity War. Which one can assume she’ll end up doing successfully; if not in the first part, then the second.
1. Ethan Hunt
Feel free to call him the American James Bond, but Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is hardly a product of playing copycat. He’s a character reborn out of tragedy in the first Mission: Impossible, who proceeds to carry on with his career as a US operative, despite the jarring setbacks that continue, time and time again, to threaten his life.
There have been some bumps and bruises along the way — not just physically, but in terms of one particularly lackluster sequel (rhymes with Rission: Pimpossible Yoo) — but this character, and the series as a whole, is a true success.
Ethan Hunt isn’t fancy, he prefers working with a team, and any sign of quippy zingers is nonexistent, but when he has a job to do, he gets it done. No matter how “impossible” the whole ordeal might end up being.
If you disagree with this list, sound off in the comments! Otherwise, this article will self-destruct in ten seconds.
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