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The Best Spy Films You Might Not Have Seen

We send your agent into the shadows as we break down the top spy films you need to watch (or re-watch).

Story by Matt Cummings

It's quite possible you've made a weekend of watching James Bond movies or the Jason Bourne quadrilogy in preparation for the newest entry or as a holiday ritual. But does that mean you've seen the best that the spy genre has to offer? Probably not. That's why we're here, to educate and amaze with our list of Best Spy Films You Might Not Have Seen. To be fair, we're foregoing Bond, Austin Powers, and Bourne from this and mentioning those which might have disappeared into the fog after their latest shadowy op.

Plot:A desk-bound CIA analyst volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent diabolical global disaster. (IMDB)
Why You Should See It: Although it released this year, we'll bet that many of you skipped it, thinking the oft-maligned Melissa McCarthy was playing just another fat, stupid lead. Not so: Director Paul Peig gives her some style to match the substance, but also surrounding her with a great supporting cast. Rose Byrne and a hilarious Jason Statham give McCarthy all she can handle, and the results are one of Fieg's best films.

The Hunt For Red October
Plot:In 1984, the USSR's best submarine captain in their newest sub violates orders and heads for the USA. Is he trying to defect, or to start a war? (IMDB)
Why You Should See It: The film that made Actor Alec Baldwin a household name, Red October also ushered in the modern spy action/drama. Although Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and more recently Chris Pine joined in, nothing still matches the original. Just don't be too critical of Connery's Russian accent that soon turns Scottish.

Spy Game
Plot:Retiring CIA agent Nathan Muir recalls his training of Tom Bishop while working against agency politics to free him from his Chinese captors.(IMDB)
Why You Should See It: A great film of cat and mouse by two of Hollywood's finest, this is an engrossing story of sacrifice and the way the ugly world of spycraft tends to eat its own. It's routinely forgotten among even the finest movie snobs, so don't feel bad if you sneak a copy into your Blu-ray player.

Plot:A freelancing former US intelligence agent tries to track down a mysterious package that is wanted by both the Irish and the Russians (IMDB)
Why You Should See It: One of Robert DeNiro's best (and perhaps least appreciated), Ronin is a throwback to the 60's spy films minus the cheesy music and shoddy direction. Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, and Sean Bean play a surly group of mercenaries that eventually find themselves on the back end of a deal gone wrong. It also features one of the best car stunts you'll ever see. This one is sure to be in the cheap Blu-ray bin at your local electronics store. Trust me, you'll thank yourself for maing the investment.

Zero Dark Thirty
Plot:A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L.s Team 6 in May 2011. (IMDB)
Why You Should See It:Talk about a film that got shafted at the 2012 Oscars: ZDT showed us the world of spycraft as a gritty, grimy affair run by people with questionable methods, alongside those whose single-minded efforts nabbed one of the greatest villains of all time. Granted, there were plenty of great films that year, but it's possible that ZDT is the most enduring, a tense thriller that shows the cost our men and women in the shadows pay to keep our country safe.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Plot: In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6. (IMDB)
Why You Should See It: Another forgotten gem - this time from 2011 - the remake shines in every way. Its rich characters benefit from a stellar cast, including Gary Oldman, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and John Hurt. When you have a team like that chewing up scenery, it's hard to remember that Benedict Cumberbatch played a minor but important character in this Tomas Alfredson masterpiece. But don't expect high flying stunts: Tinker is a slow burn that demonstrates what real spycraft must be like.

The Entire Mission: Impossible Series
Plot: Ethan Hunt rescues the world from destruction using his IMF team, putting his life and those under him in exotic adventures that span the globe.
Why You Should See It: You didn't think we would step away without mentioning one of the best spy series, did you? Strangely enough, ask most moviegoers and they'll you they've never seen all of them (especially M:I and M:I - III). That's a shame, but we remind you here in the hopes that newly-unopened box in your cabinet gets opened soon. What you'll find is a smart, rich series that proves Actor Tom Cruise's legitimacy as a top-flight talent, and one of the craziest stunt performers in the business.

While this isn't the most exhaustive list (we could have added The Professional and Kingsman to the mix), these represent a great place to start. Just be careful you're not being tailed as you dive head-first into this black op! What are your favorite spy films? Comment below and join the conversation!

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


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