It’s time to go undercover.
James Bond. Jason Bourne. Jack Ryan. Ethan Hunt. Austin Powers. They have three major things in common. They’re white men, they’re spies, and you won’t find any of their movies on Netflix. It’s kind of odd that a genre as popular as spy movies would be so poorly represented on Netflix, but here we are. (Unless, of course, the good stuff is actually undercover and just doing a really great job hiding in the rest of the library.) We doffed our fake glasses and Groucho mustache and dug around for the best spy movies Netflix has to offer. Unfortunately, the selection isn’t very deep, but it does have a few titles worth checking out.
The best spy movies on Netflix
1) Spy Hard
If you’re tired of spy movies that take themselves too seriously, playing their absurd plot twists with a straight face and spewing spy jargon to confuse you, Spy Hard is the antidote. The late, great Leslie Nielsen is Steele, Dick Steele aka Agent WD-40, and he’s on a mission to commit international acts of silliness and parody.
2) The Spy Who Went Into the Cold
This documentary focuses on the career of Kim Philby, an MI6 agent who worked as a spy for the Soviet Union during and after World War II. History buffs may get the most enjoyment out of this one, but everybody could stand to learn a little more about the past.
3) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
This adaptation of John le Carré’s novel is an absorbing espionage film. Gary Oldman gives one of his best, and most subdued, performances as George Smiley. It’s directed by Tomas Alfredson (of Let the Right One In fame) who is no stranger to thoughtful, slow-boil genre films. Tinker Tailor solidified Alfredson as a compelling new voice in world cinema and delivered a film worthy of le Carré’s legacy.
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4) Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist take/wish fulfillment World War ll yarn makes a strong claim to be his best film. Brad Pitt and his Basterds provide plenty of entertainment and violence on their quest to collect Nazi scalps, and Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa is an instant classic villain, but it’s Mélanie Laurent’s work as a woman playing a long game of revenge, including some light espionage work, that provides the movie with the strongest emotional punch in Tarantino’s catalog.
5) Burn After Reading
Spy movies condition audiences to expect these highly trained characters to be clever at every time and have an answer for everything. While watching hypercompetent people at work can be quite satisfying, sometimes it’s more fun to see the opposite end of the spectrum. Enter the Coen Brothers’ Burn After Reading, where the characters are all goofballs who have no clue what they’re doing but they do it anyway. It’s Espionage by dummies with plenty of the Coen’s dark humor: What could go wrong?
6) The Debt
Like Inglourious Basterds, The Debt focuses on a team of crack Nazi hunters, but it takes place long after the final shots of World War II were fired. Director John Madden’s thriller opens in 1997 at a ceremony celebrating the release of a book recounting how, in 1965, a trio of Israeli intelligence agents tracked down and killed a notorious Nazi war criminal, the so-called “Surgeon of Birkenau.” After one of those now-aged Mossad agents meets a tragic end, flashbacks begin to peel back the layers of the story and reveal the truth about what happened all those years ago—a truth that isn’t quite as neat and tidy as the official account claims. The story unfolds in both the past and the present, showing how young Rachel Singer’s (Jessica Chastain) capture of her target went wrong, and following older Rachel’s (Helen Mirren) attempts to set things right and finish her mission after many long years of spinning a lie. (The Debt is a remake of the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov.) —David Wharton
Vin Diesel’s career was already in gear by the time he starred in XXX—The Fast and the Furious was released the year before in 2001—and he’s in his element in this film, which cemented Diesel’s place among Hollywood’s biggest action stars. As stuntman and extreme sports enthusiast Xander Cage, he’s recruited by the NSA to stop a group of Russian terrorists operating in Europe and wipe his criminal record clean. With guns, cars, and a no-nonsense supervisor in Samuel L. Jackson, it’s a wild ride from the start. —Michelle Jaworski
Still not sure what to watch tonight? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, and comedy specials when you really need to laugh.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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