17 Underrated Spy Movies That Deserve Another Shot

List Rules
Vote up the spy movies that flew under the radar.

Spy movies may be one of the most underrated genres of film. The broadest members of the film-going audience know James Bond, but there's a myriad of political thrillers that take a skewed look at the world of spycraft that have nothing to do with Aston Martins or martinis - regardless of whether they're shaken or stirred.

A lot of the espionage films included here offer a different take on the secret agent-based political thriller while throwing out an impressive cast. Some of them are just as wild as a James Bond movie with its futuristic tech and gunfights, while others are extremely accurate looks into the Cold War and the war on terror.

There are a ton of rewatchable spy movies collected here, whether you're into films about government moles or tough-as-nails secret agents who kick butt in the name of queen and country. Some of the best CIA movies are incredibly underrated, and even though they don't pack the big budgets and bombast of movies like GoldenEye or the Mission: Impossible franchise, they're well worth checking out if you need a hit of some of that good, old-fashioned secret agent cinema.

  • 1
    60 VOTES

    How often do we get a political thriller that's actually about friendship? This Tony Scott gem combines the nail-biting tension of cat-and-mouse spy films with a grounded take on what happens to spies once they've been made. Brad Pitt plays Tom Bishop, a CIA operative stuck in a Chinese prison cell with only 24 hours to be rescued before he's put to death. The US doesn't want to rescue him out of fear that the move will expose the fact that he's actually a spy. Redford plays Nathan Muir, Bishop's former partner who's retiring on the very day that Bishop needs to be rescued.

    What action that's in this movie is told through flashbacks, but it's more about the way Bishop and Muir grow their friendship rather than blowing up stuff. Still, stuff explodes. The real fireworks occur in Washington as Muir attempts to free his friend without anyone being the wiser in this race against time to save the life of one good man. Redford is on his A-game in this chilly spy thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat.

    Released in the fall of 2001, Spy Game didn't perform exceedingly well at the box office due to audiences being exhausted with the real-life political thriller playing out across the world, but it's an engaging film that's worth making it into your spy rotation.

    • Actors: Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Stephen Dillane, Larry Bryggman
    • Released: 2001
    • Directed by: Tony Scott

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  • 2
    64 VOTES

    A murder, a love triangle, and Cold War espionage - what more could you want out of a late-'80s neo-noir? Kevin Costner stars as a lieutenant in the US Navy who's caught in the middle of a very tense situation after the US secretary of defense accidentally kills his mistress and attempts to make it seem like she was actually a sleeper agent for the KGB.

    Costner's character works to decipher the truth about the secretary of defense's claim while hiding a secret of his own. No Way Out is a slow burn of a spy thriller that plays into the looming paranoia of the late '80s - when anyone could have been a Russian sleeper agent. The film is a great companion to The Americans, the cult series from AMC that takes a similar look at the world of spies.

    • Actors: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young, Will Patton, Howard Duff
    • Released: 1987
    • Directed by: Roger Donaldson

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  • When The Ipcress File was released in 1965, it was specifically produced to offer a more realistic spy film than the James Bond films that were being released at the time. By '65, Eon Productions had released the first four Bond films, all of which had grown increasingly outlandish. The Ipcress File is focused on showing the realities of being a secret agent during the Cold War.

    Harry Palmer is a former criminal who now works for the Ministry of Defense; he's an insubordinate agent who consistently draws the ire of his higher-ups. He's basically the opposite of James Bond. A take on the concept of The Manchurian Candidate, the audience follows Palmer as he follows the trail of deceased CIA agents and a missing file that teaches the reader how to brainwash military agents. This movie is incredibly tense, and fans of Michael Caine will love to see how charismatic he can be while playing a dumbfounded English secret agent.

    • Actors: Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Guy Doleman, Sue Lloyd, Gordon Jackson
    • Released: 1965
    • Directed by: Sidney J. Furie

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  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the best. The. Best. The film takes place in the deepest levels of the British spy machine of the 1970s, and it stars a murderer's row of talent. Everyone from Gary Oldman to Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch rips through this talky Cold War thriller while character actors like John Hurt and Toby Jones pop off in just a few scenes. 

    When a mole is discovered at the top of "The Circus," the deep-cover British intelligence agency, the agents at the top of the hierarchy try to sift out the traitor while holding their cards close to their chests. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a fascinating story about finding truth in a house of lies, and it's made all the better by an astounding cast.

    The '80s and '90s were full of Cold War espionage films, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy shows just how much life there is in this well-worn territory. If you missed this movie the first time around, you've got to check it out.

    • Actors: Gary Oldman, Kathy Burke, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Dencik, Colin Firth
    • Released: 2011
    • Directed by: Tomas Alfredson

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  • 5
    50 VOTES

    True Lies is an oddly underrated film for two of the most beloved action filmmakers of the '80s and '90s. A Cameron/Schwarzenegger joint that deserves to be up there with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the film follows Harry Tasker, a man who leads a double life as a spy for a US counterterrorism unit while pretending to be a boring ol' computer salesman. The more Harry tries to find a balance between his two lives, the more they grow entangled. As far as spy films go, it's unique in its investigation of what a spy does when he's not at work.

    Released at the height of Schwarzenegger's star power, True Lies is relentlessly cool. The fight scenes are amazing, the tech is rad, and the dialogue is just as over the top as you're imagining, but the real heart of this film is the relationship between Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis. The push and pull between these two actors is amazing to watch, and it lifts the film above your average bit of spycraft.

    Fans of the Bourne series and the later Mission: Impossible movies will get a kick out of this very '90s action-oriented spy movie.

    • Actors: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere
    • Released: 1994
    • Directed by: James Cameron

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  • Robert De Niro's second directorial effort takes a look at the early days of the CIA, and the way that the ivy league system acts as a funnel into the upper echelons of the American government. The tension in The Good Shepherd comes from the exploration of loyalty to someone's country rather than from a spy stopping a nuclear weapon or something even more outrageous - and whoo-boy is this movie stressful.

    As Edward Wilson is brought into the early days of the CIA straight out of Yale University, he's forced to reckon with whether or not his father betrayed his country, and if he has it in him to expose men like his father who have families and real lives - but who also happen to be under deep cover. 

    The cast of The Good Shepherd is absolutely stacked. Matt Damon stars at Ed Wilson, Angelina Jolie is his long-suffering wife, and Robert De Niro pops up - as does Alec Baldwin and every character actor who was available at the time. The Good Shepherd implores the audience to ask themselves who they can trust, and if it's safe to truly put faith in the government. 

    • Actors: Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, Tammy Blanchard, Billy Crudup
    • Released: 2006
    • Directed by: Robert De Niro

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