11 Best Spy Thrillers Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

, 2005

From Steven Spielberg, Munich is the sharp and thrilling depiction of Mossad agents on a mission to avenge the Munich Massacre, the killing of 11 Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Despite being based on real events, it’s a work of fiction. This allows the film to stand on clear yet nuanced grounds, focusing on the moral dilemmas that may rise for the secret agents and the perpetrators, now targets. The ensemble cast including Daniel Craig and Eric Bana allow Spielberg to deliver the film you can tell he wanted to make. A personal and striking effort.

Genre: Action, Drama, History, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Abdelhafid Metalsi, Alexander Beyer, Ami Weinberg, Amos Lavi, Amrou Al-Kadhi, Andreas Lust, Arturo Arribas, Ayelet Zurer, Baya Belal, Ben Youcef, Bijan Daneshmand, Brian Goodman, Carim Messalti, Charley Gilleran, Ciarán Hinds, Daniel Bess, Daniel Craig, David A. Hamade, Dianne Zaremba, Djemel Barek, Eric Bana, Faruk Pruti, Félicité Du Jeu, Geoffrey Rush, Gila Almagor, Guri Weinberg, Guy Amir, Hagit Dasberg, Hanns Zischler, Hiam Abbass, Hicham Nazzal, Hichem Yacoubi, Hisham Suliman, Igal Naor, Jalil Naciri, Jim McKay, Jonathan Avigdori, Jonathan Uziel, Joram Voelklein, Karim Saidi, Karim Saleh, Kevin Collins, Laurence Février, Lili Bordán, Liron Levo, Lisa Werlinder, Lyes Salem, Lynn Cohen, Mahmoud Zemmouri, María Casal, Marie-Josée Croze, Marie-Josée Croze, Martin Ontrop, Mathieu Amalric, Mathieu Kassovitz, Mehdi Nebbou, Meret Becker, Merik Tadros, Michael Lonsdale, Michael Schenk, Mihalis Giannatos, Moa Khouas, Moritz Bleibtreu, Moshe Ivgy, Mostefa Djadjam, Mouna Soualem, Mousa Kraish, Nasser Memarzia, Ohad Knoller, Omar Metwally, Omar Mostafa, Ori Pfeffer, Ossie Beck, Patrick Kennedy, Rad Lazar, Raffi Tavor, Renana Raz, Richard Brake, Rim Turki, Robert John Burke, Sabi Dorr, Saïda Bekkouche, Sam Feuer, Sami Samir, Sarah Mennell, Sasha Spielberg, Sharon Alexander, Shmuel Edelman, Souad Amidou, Stéphane Freiss, Steven Spielberg, Tom Wlaschiha, Ula Tabari, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Valeria Bruni‑Tedeschi, Wojciech Machnicki, Yehuda Levi, Yvan Attal

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rating: R

Based on the book by John Le Carre, this slow-burning thriller tells the story of a half-Chechen, half-Russian immigrant suspected of terrorism, who is suddenly spotted in a big German city trying to get his hands on money that was left to him. Gunter (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the head of an international counter-terrorism unit created after 9/11 to spot threats like these early on. Whether this man is a terrorist or not, what he is doing in Germany, how he fits in the grand scheme of things, and whether Gunter will succeed in his efforts - all of these are questions you will be begging to find answers for. Witty, supremely acted, and with a very provocative story line, A Most Wanted Man is perfect if you're in the mood for a sharp thriller.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Bernhard Schütz, Corinna Kropiunig, Daniel Brühl, Derya Alabora, Franz Hartwig, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Herbert Gronemeyer, Homayoun Ershadi, Imke Büchel, Kostja Ullmann, Martin Wuttke, Max Volkert Martens, Mehdi Dehbi, Neil Malik Abdullah, Nina Hoss, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Rainer Bock, Robin Wright, Tamer Yiğit, Ursina Lardi, Uwe Dag Berlin, Vedat Erincin, Vicky Krieps, Willem Dafoe

Director: Anton Corbijn

Rating: R

Ralph Fiennes plays a mild-mannered British diplomat in Kenya who is stunned by the news of his wife Tessa’s (Rachel Weisz) sudden death while in the company of another man. He sets off to investigate the suspicious death––and secret life–-of his late wife, within a tangle of personal betrayals, political threats, and corporate conspiracies. This film presents an exquisite contrast between Justin’s (Fiennes) gentle, contemplative demeanor and the progressively gripping details he uncovers; between rapturous romanticism and darkly corrupting interests. It’s a touching, smart, and suspenseful feast of a movie.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Anneke Kim Sarnau, Archie Panjabi, Bill Nighy, Danny Huston, Donald Apiyo, Donald Sumpter, Gerard McSorley, Hubert Koundé, Jeffrey Caine, John Keogh, Juliet Aubrey, Nick Reding, Pete Postlethwaite, Peter King Nzioki, Rachel Weisz, Ralph Fiennes, Richard McCabe, Rupert Simonian, Sidede Onyulo, Teresa Harder, Thomas Chemnitz

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Rating: R

Robert Redford and Brad Pitt make quite the ensemble in this edgy game of espionage. With performances as strong as their jawlines, this action-packed rescue mission will keep you in suspense! Be sure to keep up with all the witty banter and interesting plot twists shifting between flashbacks and present-day scenarios. Keep in mind that this isn't your average spy movie, with a more realistic approach and a character-driven storyline, most of the flash happens cinematically.

Genre: Action, Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Adrian Pang, Amidou, Andrew Grainger, Balázs Tardy, Benedict Wong, Bill Buell, Brad Pitt, Catherine McCormack, Charlotte Rampling, Colin Stinton, Dale Dye, David Hemmings, David K.S. Tse, David Tse, Demetri Goritsas, Eddie Yeoh, Freddie Joe Farnsworth, Garrick Hagon, Hon Ping Tang, Ian Porter, Imre Csuja, In-sook Chappell, James Aubrey, Joerg Stadler, Ken Leung, Kimberly Tufo, Larry Bryggman, Logan Wong, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Matthew Marsh, Michael Paul Chan, Mohamed Quatib, Nabil Massad, Omid Djalili, Pat McGrath, Peter Linka, Robert Redford, Rufus Wright, Shane Rimmer, Stephen Dillane, Stuart Milligan, Ted Maynard, Todd Boyce, Tom Hodgkins, Tony Xu, Vincent Wang, Zsolt Zágoni

Director: Tony Scott

Rating: R

Before he was Jim Morrison, Iceman, or Batman, Val Kilmer made his big screen debut as Nick Rivers, the doltish American rock 'n' roll idol who is unwittingly embroiled in an East German underground resistance plot in Top Secret!. Skewering everything from WWII romances and Cold War spy thrillers to ‘60s popstar musicals, this delightfully silly spoof from the team behind Airplane! is jampacked with sight gags, double entendres, and multi-layered setpieces delivered at such a manic pace that you’ll need several rewatches to exhaust all of its comedy. Its lowbrow style means that some jokes are undoubtedly dated, but there’s a lot of timeless wit on display here, including zinging one-liners, tongue-in-cheek lampooning of cinematic clichés, and slapstick gags in the vein of masters of the form like Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton. Top Secret! is blessedly under no illusions as to what we want from a movie like this, so the fact that there’s no comprehensible plot in sight only adds to the enjoyment here.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Andrew Hawkins, Billy J. Mitchell, Billy Mitchell, Charlotte Zucker, Chas Bryer, Christopher Villiers, Dimitri Andreas, Eddie Powell, Eddie Tagoe, Gertan Klauber, Harry Ditson, Ian McNeice, Janos Kurucz, Jeremy Kemp, Jim Carter, John J. Carney, John Sharp, Lee Sheward, Lucy Gutteridge, Mac McDonald, Marcus Powell, Michael Gough, Nicola Wright, Omar Sharif, Orla Pederson, Peter Cushing, Richard Bonehill, Richard Mayes, Steve Ubels, Susan Breslau, Sydney Arnold, Tristram Jellinek, Val Kilmer, Warren Clarke

Director: David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams

Rating: PG

You may not know the name of Errol Morris, but you must have seen either Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or The Night Manager, as films and TV have offered ripe adaptations of 20th century espionage novels under the disguise of simple entertainment. What you may not know is that the author of the books they are based on has been a spy himself, for most of his life. David John Moore Cornwell, better known as John le Carré (his pen name), is the subject of the latest work of detective-turned-filmmaker Errol Morris whose penchant for exploring the limits between fact and fiction has propelled the documentary form numerous times over the last decades. The film is a quasi-biographical doc with some exceptional reenactments that color Le Carré's own tales to try and outmanoeuvre the viewer's ceaseless desire to fix what one sees into either category: fact or fiction. With an ex-spy and a documentarian, you never know. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Charlotte Hamblin, Garry Cooper, John le Carré, Mike Noble, Simon Harrison

Director: Errol Morris

Rating: PG-13

A slow-burning spy thriller set within the British intelligence service during the height of the Cold War, this complex drama is highlighted by Gary Oldman’s acutely understated performance. As a high level agent brought out of retirement to ferret out a mole within the MI5, he exudes intensity and intellect with unerring precision. The story itself is exceptionally complicated and yet highly engaging. I felt that casting and corresponding screen time made it clear whom the mole would turn out to be…but you may disagree.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Amanda Fairbank-Hynes, Arthur Nightingale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christian McKay, Ciarán Hinds, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Firth, David Dencik, Denis Khoroshko, Gary Oldman, Harvey Walsh, Ilona Kassai, Imre Csuja, Jamie Thomas King, Jean-Claude Jay, John Hurt, John le Carré, Kathy Burke, Katrina Vasilieva, Konstantin Khabenskiy, Laura Carmichael, Linda Marlowe, Mark Strong, Matyelok Gibbs, Michael Sarne, Peter Kalloy Molnar, Peter McNeil O'Connor, Peter O'Connor, Philip Hill-Pearson, Philip Martin Brown, Roger Lloyd Pack, Rupert Procter, Sarah-Jane Robinson, Simon McBurney, Stephen Graham, Stuart Graham, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Tom Stuart, Zoltán Mucsi

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Rating: R

If you’re looking for exotic locations, glamorous spies, and dramatic shoot-outs, Khufiya is not the espionage film you’re looking for. Like the original novel it’s based on, the film adaptation is a complex, intricate spy story where countries try to interfere with each other’s affairs, and agents handle the dry and dirty work to achieve this. With the true-story-based details of the source material, writer-director Vishal Bhardwaj keeps the story’s historical accuracy, but also adds a personal revenge subplot through the addition of a female main protagonist. The result of the changes complicates the film’s introduction, but if you have the patience, Khufiya still has what makes a spy drama compelling– the double-agent turns, the doubts and mistrust, and a satisfying resolution to the operation.

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexx O'Nell, Ali Fazal, Ashish Vidhyarthi, Atul Kulkarni, Azmeri Haque Badhon, Disney James, Lalit Parimoo, Navnindra Behl, Priyanka Setia, Purnendu Bhattacharya, Rahul Vohra, Shashi Bhushan, Shataf Figar, Tabu, Wamiqa Gabbi

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

Rating: R

The late German actor Ulrich Mühe plays Gerd Wiesler, a merciless Stasi officer who has doubts about the loyalty of a famous playwright (Sebastian Koch) and his wife Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck) to the communist party. To say he spies on the artist couple is an understatement: in true Stasi fashion, he watches them day and night, listens in on their conservations, reads their mail, and watches them have sex. However, it turns out this was a tad too close, because Wiesler becomes increasingly absorbed in them and is forced to question his obedience as a Stasi officer. In his feature film debut, German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck delivers a quietly chilling melodrama on a topic that still affects the lives of many East Germans and was deserving of more attention. It is also a telling piece on the inhumane nature of totalitarianism and the humanity of individuals that are forced to live with it. A special film that will stay with you for a long time.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Anabelle D. Munro, Bastian Trost, Charly Hubner, Fabian von Klitzing, Gabi Fleming, Gitta Schweighöfer, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Harald Polzin, Herbert Knaup, Hildegard Schroedter, Hinnerk Schönemann, Hubertus Hartmann, Inga Birkenfeld, Jens Wassermann, Kai Ivo Baulitz, Klaus Münster, Ludwig Blochberger, Marie Gruber, Martin Brambach, Martina Gedeck, Matthias Brenner, Michael Gerber, Paul Faßnacht, Paul Maximilian Schüller, Sebastian Koch, Sheri Hagen, Susanna Kraus, Thomas Arnold, Thomas Thieme, Ulrich Mühe, Ulrich Tukur, Volker Michalowski, Volkmar Kleinert, Werner Daehn

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

Rating: R

Between the film’s non-existent marketing and Hollywood's ongoing writers' strike, I knew not to expect much from Heart of Stone, Netflix’s latest direct-to-streaming outing. And sure enough, the spy thriller proved to be a mediocre watch. The plot is facile and generic, another one of those attempts at justifying AI and government data breaches. The acting is subpar, which is expected from the ever-stoic Gal Gadot. About the only good thing you can say about it is that it has entertaining action sequences. Gadot is precise and terrifying, a stunt wonder made for the genre. Now if only the acting matched the action, then maybe the film wouldn’t feel as plain and wooden. 

Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alia Bhatt, Archie Madekwe, BD Wong, Enzo Cilenti, Gal Gadot, Giulia Innocenti, Glenn Close, Jamie Dornan, Jing Lusi, Joe Reisig, Jon Kortajarena, Jónas Alfreð Birkisson, Luca Fiamenghi, Mark Ivanir, Matthias Schweighöfer, Neran Persaud, Paul Ready, Roy Sampson, Sophie Okonedo, Thomas Arnold

Director: Tom Harper

Rating: PG-13

The Spy Kids movies have always been knowingly corny, which hasn't changed for this latest installment—it's just that it also has an odd lack of color and personality to its generic action movie shenanigans. This is especially disappointing given the film's focus on video games, which it only seems to understand in their most surface level terms. And because there's a lack of definition in the movie's rules and logic, the plot progresses without any weight or sense of mounting excitement. These are just people going through the motions toward some unclear message about the value of honesty and kindness, which never really factor into the actual adventure and keep the status quo firmly unchanged.

Genre: Action, Action & Adventure, Adventure, Comedy, Family, Science Fiction

Actor: Billy Magnussen, Connor Esterson, D.J. Cotrona, Everly Carganilla, Gina Rodriguez, Jersey Johnston, Joe Schilling, Neal Kodinsky, Solar Dena Bennett, Zachary Levi

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Rating: PG