It isn’t difficult to see why James Bond stands as Hollywood’s third most successful franchise: exotic locations, gadgets, fistfights, explosions… Weighed sorely on its escapism value alone, the Bond franchise towers above the competition. It’s what has made this series so appealing to the masses – and for so long.
But not all spy films are quite so concerned with opulence and grandeur. The spy film is deeply tied to a notably bleak and paranoid part of real history: the Cold War. Here was a time where double agents, murder, and betrayal ran rampant, and filmmakers have been keen to explore the era – and its effects on the globe – for decades ever since.
In the best spy films – be they bleak or stylish – the same question always seems to crop up: what exactly, is a spy? Perhaps the most interesting interpretation can be glimpsed in novel The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, in which the lead protagonist derides those working the profession as “a bunch of seedy, squalid bastards like me …civil servants playing cowboys and Indians to brighten up their rotten little lives.”
That’s one take on it, but cinema has offered up countless interpretations of “the spy,” leaving audiences to ponder the ethics for themselves. Here are the 20 best in the genre – and for the sake of variety, it’s one film per franchise, to avoid a totally Bond-centric list…
20. Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
The spy film is ripe for parody, which is what made Matthew Vaughn’s relentlessly entertaining spoof, Kingsman: The Secret Service, feel so apt. At a time when the genre had started to take itself way too seriously, it felt necessary.
Kingsman mostly sets out to ridicule all things 007, but what makes it truly great is the depth of its characters. Main hero Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, is stuck on a council estate and living a life of petty crime when he’s plucked out of obscurity by Colin Firth’s immaculate secret agent Harry Hart. Their dynamic is one of father and son, and the pair share genuine chemistry.
This is a fish out of water tale in the best possible sense, with the most entertaining scenes coming in the first half as Eggsy learns the ways of the Kingsman and trains to become an agent, before ultimately coming face to face with Sam Jackson’s hammy villain.
This film, much like Kick-Ass, was followed by a disappointing sequel, but it’s not enough to spoil the original’s charm. It hits all the right notes until the very last scene, where a joke about anal sex feels like something taken from 2003. Given how much fun the film is, however, and how awesome the set-pieces, characters, and meta jokes are, it’s an easy mistake to forgive.
19. The Ipcress File (1965)
This often forgotten spy film, starring Michael Caine as agent Harry Palmer, is one of the genre’s best.
Unlike with the Bond movies, which at the time were indulgent and glamorous in all the ways that this film isn’t, The Ipcress File shot for a more authentic take on the spy genre, rendering it as a more downbeat and melancholy affair.
Based on the novel of the same name, the plot concerns Caine’s sardonic agent as he attempts to prevent a mind-control scheme after a number of top British scientists suddenly quit their jobs unexpectedly. In a way, Palmer stands as the anti-Bond, in that his job involves copious amounts of paperwork; his work is never made to look like a particularly fun or exciting way of paying the rent.
The film was followed by a number of sequels of varying quality, though the direct sequel to this, Funeral in Berlin, is a genuinely worthwhile spy thriller.
(Excerpt) Read More at: WhatCulture.com