Spies The Best '30s Spy Movies  

Ranker Film
132 votes 94 voters 1.5k views 25 items

List Rules Vote up your favorite espionage films that were released in the 1930s

The best ‘30s spy movies are some of the best espionage movies of all time. For those less familiar with this slice of film history, you might be surprised to learn that many of the conventions of the modern spy movie were established during the 1930s.


There is no discussion of ‘30s spy movies or suspenseful movies in general without talking about Alfred Hitchcock. The legendary British director left an indelible imprint on cinema history, and more specifically, on all forthcoming espionage movies.
The Lady Vanishes, one of Hitchcock’s final British-made films, is an interesting mix of suspense and comedy, and it takes place entirely in one of the director’s favorite settings: a train. Other notable Hitchcock pictures that made this list are The 39 Steps and Sabotage.  

Aside from Hitchcock, other British filmmakers like Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger dominated the spy genre in the 1930s and ‘40s, producing spellbinding espionage movies like The Spy in Black in 1939. Here, you’ll also find films like the American Pre-Code drama Mata Hari, starring Greta Garbo in the titular role as an exotic dancer executed for espionage during World War I.   

Vote up the best '30s spy movies below, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comment section.  

1
19 2
The Lady Vanishes is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
The Lady Vanishes Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas The Lady Vanishes is a 1938 British comic thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas and Dame May Whitty. Written by Sidney Gilliat ...more

2
11 1
The 39 Steps is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
The 39 Steps Alfred Hitchcock, Madeleine Carroll, Robert Donat The 39 Steps is a 1935 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. Loosely based on the 1915 adventure novel The Thirty-Nine Steps by John ...more

3
10 2
Secret Agent is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Secret Agent John Gielgud, Peter Lorre, Robert Young Secret Agent is a British film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, loosely based on two stories in Ashenden: Or the British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham. The film starred Madeleine Carroll, Peter ...more

4
9 3
Sabotage is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Sabotage Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, John Loder Sabotage, also released as The Woman Alone, is a 1936 British thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock about an agent who hides a time bomb in a delivery package to blow up London. It is ...more

5
6 1
The Spy in Black is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
The Spy in Black Conrad Veidt, Valerie Hobson, Sebastian Shaw The Spy in Black is a 1939 British film, and the first collaboration between the British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They were brought together by Alexander Korda to make ...more

6
4 0
Dark Journey is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Dark Journey Vivien Leigh, Conrad Veidt A beautiful, lonely American girl arrives in London ostensibly to join a band. But the band have disappeared leaving her stranded and alone in a strange city, with no-one to turn to.

7
4 0
Confessions of a Nazi Spy is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Confessions of a Nazi Spy Edward G. Robinson, George Sanders, Paul Lukas Confessions of a Nazi Spy is a 1939 American spy thriller film and the first blatantly anti-Nazi film produced by a major Hollywood studio prior to World War II. The film stars Edward G. ...more

8
4 1
Mata Hari is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Mata Hari Greta Garbo, Lionel Barrymore, Ramon Novarro Mata Hari is a 1931 American Pre-Code film loosely based on the life of Mata Hari, an exotic dancer/courtesan executed for espionage during World War I. The film stars Greta Garbo in the title ...more

9
3 0
British Agent is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
British Agent Cesar Romero, Leslie Howard, J. Carrol Naish British Agent is a 1934 espionage film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Leslie Howard and Kay Francis. It is based on Memoirs of a British Agent, the 1932 autobiography of R. H. Bruce ...more

10
5 3
Charlie Chan at the Olympics is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Charlie Chan at the Olympics Warner Oland, Katherine DeMille Charlie Chan at the Olympics is a 1937 film directed by H. Bruce Humberstone.

11
4 3
Dishonored is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Dishonored Marlene Dietrich, Victor McLaglen, Warner Oland In June 2002, a dispute involving a question of honor between the Mai and Mastois clans in rural Pakistan was judged by a local tribal council. When Mukhtar Mai pleaded on her family's behalf, ...more

12
2 1
Ever in My Heart is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Ever in My Heart Barbara Stanwyck, Otto Kruger, Laura Hope Crews Ever in My Heart is a 1933 American drama film directed by Archie Mayo and starring Barbara Stanwyck, Otto Kruger, and Ralph Bellamy.

13
2 1
I Was a Spy is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
I Was a Spy Madeleine Carroll, Herbert Marshall, Edmund Gwenn I Was a Spy is a 1933 war and drama film written by John Hay Beith and W.P. Lipscomb and directed by Victor Saville.

14
1 0
Operator 13 is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Operator 13 Gary Cooper, Marion Davies, Jean Parker Operator 13 is a 1934 American romance film directed by Richard Boleslawski and starring Marion Davies, Gary Cooper, and Jean Parker. Based on stories written by Robert W. Chambers, the film is ...more

15
3 3
Seas Beneath is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Seas Beneath Loretta Young, George O'Brien Seas Beneath is a 1931 American action film directed by John Ford.

16
3 3
Suzy is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Suzy Cary Grant, Jean Harlow, Franchot Tone Suzy is a 1936 drama film starring Jean Harlow, Franchot Tone, and Cary Grant. The film was partially written by Dorothy Parker and directed by George Fitzmaurice, based on a novel by Herman ...more

17
2 2
After Tonight is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
After Tonight Constance Bennett, Gilbert Roland After Tonight is a 1933 World War I spy film starring Constance Bennett and Gilbert Roland, and directed by George Archainbaud. The studio considered firing Bennett after the film lost $100,000 ...more

18
1 1
Son of a Sailor is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Son of a Sailor Thelma Todd, Joe E. Brown, Frank McHugh Son of a Sailor is a 1933 film directed by Lloyd Bacon.

19
1 1
Marie Galante is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Marie Galante Spencer Tracy, Ketti Gallian, Sig Ruman Marie Galante is a 1934 American film directed by Henry King, starring Spencer Tracy, and adapted from a French musical entitled Marie Galante.

20
1 1
Espionage Agent is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Espionage Agent Joel McCrea, Brenda Marshall, George Bancroft Espionage Agent is a pre–World War II spy melodrama produced by Hal B. Wallis in 1939. Directed by Lloyd Bacon, Espionage Agent, like many Warner Bros. movies, clearly identifies the Germans as ...more

21
0 1
Rendezvous is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Rendezvous Cesar Romero, Rosalind Russell, William Powell Rendezvous is a 1935 spy film set in World War I, directed by William K. Howard, starring William Powell and Rosalind Russell and featuring Binnie Barnes, Lionel Atwill, Cesar Romero and Samuel ...more

22
0 1
The Firefly is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
The Firefly Jeanette MacDonald, Robert Z. Leonard, Allan Jones The Firefly is a 1937 musical film starring Jeanette MacDonald and Allan Jones. The film is an adaptation of the operetta of the same name by composer Rudolf Friml and librettist Otto A. Harbach ...more

23
0 2
The Emperor's Candlesticks is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
The Emperor's Candlesticks Luise Rainer, William Powell The Emperor's Candlesticks is a 1937 film starring William Powell and Luise Rainer, based on the novel of the same name by Baroness Orczy. It was directed by George Fitzmaurice. The film is a ...more

24
0 2
Secret Agent X-9 is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
Secret Agent X-9 Lon Chaney, Jr., Monte Blue Secret Agent X-9 is a Universal film serial based on the comic strip Secret Agent X-9 by Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond.

25
0 2
The Gay Diplomat is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best '30s Spy Movies
The Gay Diplomat Ilka Chase, Onslow Stevens, Genevieve Tobin The Gay Diplomat is a United States film which was produced in 1931. The film was released in 22 August 1931.