5 Under-Appreciated Spy Films

by Greg Seebregts 23 days ago in list

Films...Spy Films - okay, bad joke...

5 Under-Appreciated Spy Films

I was wondering what I'd do for the next Underappreciated Films entry and it occurred to me—why not do a spy films list?

Only rules are that the films have to have something to do with espionage and, in the case of a series, only one entry to a series.

Let's get started:

5: Argo (2012)

Ben Affleck directs and stars in 2012's Argo and it's an absolute thrill to watch!

When the US Embassy in Tehran is stormed by a group of extremists only six diplomats escape capture. They are hidden in the home of the Canadian Ambassador. The CIA starts formulating a plan to get the group back to the States. What follows is Affleck's character of Tony Mendez putting the group through their paces; giving them new identities and a cover story—as filmmakers—to aid in getting them home.

A tense trip home...(Eye for Film)

It's not your typical spy thriller, that much is pretty obvious from the get-go. Instead of the usual action, gadgets, girls and one-liners, Argo focuses more on the 'how' factor of what it means to be a spy. There are a lot of scenes with people just sitting around discussing things. This gives us a greater focus on character and story than what you usually would get. Usually it's all big explosions from start to finish; fun to watch but not really all that engaging. One of my favorite things about this film is the element of realism that it includes.

I'll use my favorite scene as an example: Tony is putting the diplomats through their paces. Asking questions and testing their knowledge of their characters/cover stories. At one point he starts shooting the same question over and over at one of the men and then, when the diplomat gets frazzled, says:

"Shoot him, he's a spy."

This scene highlights an element that you don't typically see in spy films. Namely; the amount of pressure one would be under and how easy it is to slip up. As I said, this isn't your typical spy flick but it's a good one that had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.

4: Knight and Day

A fun movie to kill time with (NPR)

Tom Cruise plays a spy trying to get a potentially limitless energy source and its creator and protect them both from corrupt CIA agents and arms dealers. Cameron Diaz plays a girl who kinda gets caught in the middle of everything.

Knight and Day was released in 2010 and was met with mixed reviews with praise and criticism in equal measure. It was a commercial failure, grossing $261.9 million at the worldwide box office on a budget of $117 million.

Cruise and Diaz have fantastic onscreen chemistry and their performances were a highlight of the film. The humor was hit or miss; some of it was good but most of the time it fell flat. That said, this is a fun one to watch and it's not as bad as some critics would have you believe.

3: Mile 22 (2018)

That looks like an "oops, wrong guy" face (ScreenCrush)

An elite team of CIA operatives is given the task of getting a high-value target onto a plane headed for the USA while avoiding the people who want the aforementioned target dead.

This film is slow and is essentially one long, drawn out chase scene. I liked it because much like Argo, this film gives us a look at something real. No gadgets, no scantily clad women, no cheesy one-liners; just the reality of what spies would actually be doing.

Mile 22 was met with a largely negative reception upon its release in August of 2018 with criticism being leveled at the pacing and the editing—particularly of the fight scenes. With all that said, I personally really enjoyed this one; it's probably not for everyone but I thought it was a fun and interesting watch.

2: Licence to Kill (1989)

A personal favorite of mine...(classiq.me)

You can't talk about spy films without talking about James Bond. The character has been thrilling audiences for close to 60 years now and is still going strong; with the 25th official entry in the series set to release next year.

If I had to take a guess, most of you would've put On Her Majesty's Secret Service on this list and don't get me wrong, On Her Majesty's Secret Service has a few things going for it. The ending of that film is heartbreaking and Lazenby's acting really sells the tragedy of the moment. Apart from the ending, however, the rest of the film is just... I don't know... I can't take Lazenby seriously in the role of Bond. Still, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is remembered a little more fondly than Licence to Kill.

Released in 1989, Licence to Kill follows James Bond (Timothy Dalton) as he works to destroy a drug lord who attacked his friend Felix Leiter and murdered his (Leiter's) wife.

The film was met with favorable reviews—grossing $156 million at the box office on a budget of $32 million. Licence to Kill is much darker than its predecessors which didn't sit well with some audiences. The violence was frequent and very realistic—which didn't sit well with ratings boards.

Dalton's portrayal of Bond was far more serious than that of Roger Moore as he wanted to be as true to the original character as possible. Sadly, Licence to Kill was the last appearance of Timothy Dalton as 007. He was originally supposed to do three films but that film was cancelled due to a legal dispute between the three studios: MGM, United Artists and Eon Productions. By the time the dispute had been resolved, some four years later, Dalton had lost interest—which led to Goldeneye and Pierce Brosnan's turn for four movies as 007.

1: Spy Game (2001)

Brad Pitt in Spy Game (IMDB)

Spy Game was released in 2001 to a generally positive reception. It's also a film that nobody really talks about when discussing spy films.

Brad Pitt plays Tom Bishop, a rogue CIA agent who is captured in China while trying to rescue an old girlfriend, Elizabeth (played by Catherine McCormack). The film follows the attempts by his friend and mentor Nathan Muir (Robert Redford) to get him and Elizabeth out before they're executed.

I saw this film when I was a kid and it was the most intense thriller I'd ever seen at the time. The film is well-made and it's an interesting watch but it's also a bit slow. That said, if you can get through the slower points this is definitely worth a watch!

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Greg Seebregts
Greg Seebregts
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Greg Seebregts

I'm a South African writer, blogger and English tutor; I've published 1 novel and am working on publishing a 2nd. I also write reviews on whatever interests me. I have a YouTube Channel as well where I review books, and manga and so on.

See all posts by Greg Seebregts