Honorable Mentions: In Like Flint (1967), Spy Hard (1996), Telefon (1977), If Looks Could Kill (1991)
5. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
When it comes to sending up the late 1960's spy movie genre (and, well, the spy movie genre in general), nothing has come close to the Austin Powers franchise. The first flick in the Powers Trilogy, International Man of Mystery comments on how ridiculous the genre is, from the moronic villain Dr. Evil to the obnoxious hero Austin to how nothing makes sense (drilling a hole to the middle of the Earth, exploding volcanoes, refusing to watch the hero die). The movie still resonates seventeen years later. I never thought that would happen. I never thought there would even be an Austin Powers franchise.
4. From Paris with Love
John Travolta is a force of nature in this spy action flick where Travolta's character, Charlie Wax, has to prevent a terrorist attack in Paris. Jonathan Rhys Meyers does a good job, too, as Wax's sort of handler/young sidekick James Reese, but the movie is all about Travolta's Wax. He isn't necessarily interested in espionage and trying to find information, Wax is in town to stop something, so he does whatever he can to get the job done. It's fun watching someone not play by the rules. Isn't that what spies get to do from time to time?
3. True Lies
The great thing about this James Cameron action flick is that it manages to be both a send up of the spy movie genre and an out and out kick ass spy movie. The opening segments of the movie and the last quarter or so of the movie are all about Ahnold Schwarzenegger's Harry Tasker kicking ass and saving his family and the world from evil terrorists, and the middle of the movie (or at least a good chunk of it) is all about Harry keeping tabs on his wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis). Helen, who has no idea that her boring husband is a spy, is messing around with a douchebag who claims to be a spy (brilliantly played by Bill Paxton), and when Harry starts to get jealous the movie becomes a full on comedy. It's too bad we'll never get another Tasker adventure. I bet it would be fun spending time with Harry, Helen, and Tom Arnold again.
2. From Russia with Love
From Russia with Love is the last "serious" Bond flick until Timothy Dalton's intense The Living Daylights in 1986. Sean Connery is Bond again, and he's hot on the trail of a stolen Russian encryption device, trying to keep it out of the hands of the evil SPECTRE organization. Sure, SPECTRE is kind of cartoony (the group's main representative in the movie is an ugly Russian woman with a poisoned retractable blade in her shoe), but there isn't anything all that weird outside of that. Spies in the 1960's would definitely go looking for a stolen/missing encryption machine. And when you think of the brawl in the train compartment between Connery's Bond and Robert Shaw's Grant, it doesn't get much more "real" than that. Still a great flick fifty plus years later.
1. Licence to Kill
Timothy Dalton's second and final Bond flick is an intense thrill ride chock full of cool action scenes, memorable characters (Robert Davi plays one of the greatest Bond villains of all time, a psychotic drug dealer named Sanchez), and a sense of great purpose. Bond, and spies in general tend to have to save the world from a bad guy or bad guys. In Licence to Kill, however, it's all about revenge and Bond using his spy kills and connections to track down Sanchez and destroy him. Sanchez fed Bond's best friend Felix Leiter to a shark, maiming the poor bastard, and killed Leiter's wife, so you just know Sanchez had to go down. Don't piss of a super spy. He'll come get you.
Shawn S. Lealos
Before I start, I just want to note that I only listed one movie from the Bond and one from the Bourne franchises to allow me to look at other movies as well, making my list a bit more varied. Now, I love a lot of Bond movies (Dr. No, Live and Let Die, Casino Royale, etc.), but like I said, I wanted more variety on my list.
5. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
I've always liked the Mission: Impossible movies, but after J.J. Abrams took it to another level with the third movie in the franchise Brad Bird just knocked it out of the park with Ghost Protocol. The movie added Jeremy Renner and a more exciting team for Tom Cruise to match up with and provided some of the best action of the entire series. This was a great movie and proof that there is more life left in the franchise.
4. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
As great as George Clooney is as an actor, he is just as great as a director. I think the Clooney movie I enjoyed over most of the others was Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, a film where game show host Chuck Barris claimed he was also an assassin for the COA. While his stories have been disputed, Clooney used that fact to make the movie a bit more surreal, where the viewers were never really sure if it really happened the way he claimed. Sam Rockwell was just fantastic in his performance and carried the movie to great fun heights.
3. The Bourne Identity
Yeah, people loved the second and third movie a lot, but I really liked the first movie for two reasons. First of all, the simplicity of the movie made it a fun thrill ride, while the second and third held so many plot twists that it was just a labyrinth of a story. That is good, but the other reason is because I still don't like Paul Greengrass' shaky cam. The guy is a brilliant director, but the first movie about a man with amnesia running for his life was just a great story. The second and third movie are also great (the third better than the second) but the fourth movie was complete garbage.
I loved Sean Connery and Roger Moore and felt Timothy Dalton might have been the best if his movies were released a decade later. Pierce Brosnan fit the role like a glove as well. However, I absolutely love the movies that Daniel Craig stars in. I don't think he is the best Bond, but his movies just make the others seem superficial and shallow. Casino Royale was just a fantastic re-birth for the franchise and Skyfall is the best action spy movie ever made.
1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
While Skyfall is the best action spy movie ever made, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the best spy movie ever made. There are a lot of great spy movies that are full of fantastic action, from the Bond movies to the Bourne movies to the Mission: Impossible movies. However, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a spy movie of a different nature. The spies are older, but unlike the Red series these spies aren't out with giant guns and bombs and killing people. There are people who die here, but this is how spies actually are, making back alley deals, brokering in meeting rooms, and changing the world without anyone ever knowing it. Check out this amazing cast: Gary Oldman, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy – all directed by Tomas Alfredson in his first movie after Let the Right One In. When the movie came out in 2011, I named it my favorite movie of the year it came out and really believe that Oldman should have won an Oscar for his performance. It is a masterpiece.