Espionage is, by its very nature, a secretive act, so it's unsurprising that most films depicting it miss the mark on a number of levels. Even though most spy movies and espionage action-thrillers are nothing like the real thing, there are a few. These films make the effort to recreate the actual practice of uncovering secrets, subverting plots, and damaging foreign powers.
Granted, unless you work in the field, there's no way to know for sure - and if you do work in the field, you'll probably never confirm what you've seen. However, with the passage of time, some details have emerged about the events depicted in various spy movies - and some films do somewhat mirror the real-life practices of espionage.
These films are the ones that come the closest... so far as we know! Look through the list and find your favorite spy or espionage film you believe to be the most accurate. Don't forget to vote it up to see which one rises to the top!
Actor and director Ben Affleck's gripping tale depicts the rescue of several Americans from Iran following the outbreak of the Iranian Revolution.
What It Gets Right: The general storyline follows the real-life tale of how Tony Mendez, a former CIA agent who was with the agency for 20 years, worked with the Canadians to enter Iran posing as a Canadian filmmaker working on a science-fiction movie called Argo. This actually happened, and it worked. The operation resulted in the rescue of six Americans who were hiding in the Canadian Embassy during the height of the Iran hostage crisis.
Where It Falls Short: The film was widely criticized for taking dramatic license with the events depicted in the film, though the filmmakers stated they did this deliberately to make the film more entertaining. President Jimmy Carter, who oversaw the operation - known as the "Canadian Caper" while he was in office - praised Argo as a film, but did not hesitate to point out its flaws. In particular, he said, it gave short shrift to the Canadians who pulled it off.
As Carter told CNN's Piers Morgan:
90% of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA. And with that exception, the movie is very good. But Ben Affleck's character in the film was... only in Tehran a day and a half. And the main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.
Actors: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, Taylor Schilling, + more
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is based on a novel written by former spy John le Carré and stars Gary Oldman. The story follows an attempt by British intelligence to root out a mole in their organization.
What It Gets Right: According to Jonna Mendez and Peter Earnest, who both worked at the CIA, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the most accurate spy movie ever made. As Earnest explains, "I was involved in counter-intelligence, and Tinker Tailor is very much a duel of wits. The bottom line of which is: You identify a traitor - someone who has betrayed your group. That happens in reality, and I have been very close to that. So the consequence of it, and the effect it has on people, are very real to me. So I particularly enjoy that kind of spy film."
Where It Falls Short: Due to the nature of the film, and how it tackles the hunt for the mole through an intense process of elimination, there's not much about it that isn't accurate. Though the film is based on a novel written by an actual spy, it's likely that several details were altered to keep secret what needs to remain secret.
Actors: Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, + more
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
In this Steven Spielberg action/drama, Eric Bana stars as the leader of a team of Mossad agents who set out to avenge the slaying of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972.
What It Gets Right: The historical events of the film, including Golda Meir's order to the Mossad to track down and eliminate the people responsible for the tragedy, happened in much the same way as it is depicted. Additionally, many of the tactics employed are also accurate.
Where It Falls Short: The veracity of the story has been called into question. While there were likely some liberties taken with the source material to make it into a more convincing film, if the source itself lacks credibility, the film does, too. Still, Spielberg vetted Juval Aviv, and believed his story to be credible.
However, what is factually inaccurate is the composition of the teams, as they lack any women. Women play a large role in both the Israeli Defense Force and the Mossad.
Actors: Daniel Craig, Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Ciarán Hinds, Ayelet Zurer, + more
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Operation Finale stars Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley, and depicts one of the most famous covert missions in history. The film details the hunt for, and capture of, Adolf Eichmann.
What It Gets Right: Nearly all of the historical events surrounding the capture of Eichmann are factually correct, as are the costumes, settings, and pretty much everything else done in this film.
Where It Falls Short: Some of the events depicted in the film stray a bit from the actual events. This includes the depiction of Israeli operative Rafi Eitan wanting to go after Eichmann immediately. In reality, the Mossad was more interested in vetting potential settlers coming to Israel, and while hunting members of the Third Reich was important, it was a lower priority for Eitan and the rest of the intelligence service.
Another alteration of the facts involves the character Dr. Hanna Elian. In reality, Dr. Yonah Elian was a man. This change was made to incorporate a fictional romance between Oscar Isaac's character, Peter Malkin, and Dr. Elian, who is played by Mélanie Laurent. There were some other minor elements added or altered for dramatic purposes, but the film mostly adheres to the real events.
Actors: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Lior Raz, Mélanie Laurent, Nick Kroll, + more
Directed by: Chris Weitz