There are few genres more fun and escapist than the spy movie universe. They’re a perfect summertime pastime (pass the popcorn and the EXTRA COLD soda, please), and also perfect as an appetizer before our August 9th take-over of the new International Spy Museum for Mission Impossible: Party Protocol (a party that will feature some real spies, albeit now retired).
So, get your streaming platforms ready and at one-a-day, you can get all of these under your belt before your party mission kicks off.
Mission Impossible Series – 23 years ago Ethan Hunt started going on impossible missions, and is showing no signs of stopping. While the recurring cast of character is top shelf (Simon Pegg! Wing Rhames!), and the special effects keep turning more and more insane, the series is mainly commendable for two reasons: proving that despite all the (potential) crazy, Tom Cruise is still and forever, unassailably a movie star, and the theme song which is the most perfect thing to listen to while getting dressed up for spy themed parties. Available to stream on: across platforms for rentals, and Hulu consistently has one or a few available for free with subscription.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – A platonic ideal of a spy movie – smart, stylish, not smug at all, and filled with perfect little clues to follow throughout, making it especially rewarding upon multiple viewings. This adaptation of Le Carre’s classic zips from Hungary to Turkey to England and beyond, never losing its pace or attitude. Oldman and Hardy are perfect in it as well. Available to stream on: Netflix
Atomic Blonde – from our review of it: Throughout Atomic Blonde, John Wick co-director David Leitch and writer Kurt Johnstad firmly keep their tongue in cheek. Charlize Theron’s eponymous Lorraine Broughton escapes into a screening of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker when she’s worried about who is tailing her, and Kurt Loder discusses the use of sampling on MTV, while a sampled song plays on the soundtrack. Plus, a plotline so ridiculous that not even the characters can tell what the hell is going on. Available to stream on: available for rent everywhere
Spy – from our review of it: In Spy, former teacher Susan Cooper (McCarthy) works at a desk for the CIA talking in the earpiece of one of the United States’ undercover agents Bradley Fine (Jude Law), giving directions and being the agent’s eyes and ears. Everything changes when a mission goes wrong, and she volunteers to go undercover to complete a surveillance mission. After all, she is a trained agent: she may not be in the field, but she did receive training and spent years watching through the eyes of a spy. Who better than the woman who is virtually anonymous to the enemy? If you didn’t believe in Melissa McCarthy’s potential as an action star, it’s time to start believing. Available to stream on: available for rent everywhere
Hopscotch – Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson employ their considerable chops in this charmer about a retired-to-a-desk-job intelligence officer who decides to write a tall-all memoir and takes on all the agencies in the world in it. If it sounds familiar, it is because this gem is the tonal and emotional forefather of Burn After Reading. Bonus: Sam Waterstone and Ned Beatty lend notable support. Available to stream on: Criterion channel and for rent elsewhere
Bourne Identity – 17 years a go a baby faced man by a fishing boat, bullet-riddled and suffering from amnesia, before racing to elude assassins and attempting to regain his memory. The rest is franchise history. While all of them are very fun, the original directed by spy genre fan Doug Liman (also behind Fair Game and Mr. and Mrs. Smith), is worth a pre-party revisit. Available to stream on: available for rent everywhere
Our Man In Havana – the most fun spy movie you probably have not seen yet (aside from Hopscotch) this Carol Reed adaptation of a Graham Greene novel stars the always amazing Alec Guiness as Jim Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman, who participates as an Agent in the British Secret Service. Available to stream on: Criterion channel and for rent elsewhere
OSS Movies: back when our movie editor Alan Zilberman was just starting at BYT, he wrote this heartening recommendation of the OSS series, and even now, years later, we couldn’t say it better. Jean Dujardin should be remembered for this, not The Artist. Available to stream on: Kanopy and Fandor and for rent elsewhere
The Spy Who Dumped Me: to be fair, this is NOT a good movie, by a long stretch, but watching Kate McKinnon do her thing is as good of a way to get in the mood for a spy party, so we’re adding it to the list.
And that’s our 9 picks. What are some of your favorites? Comment for a chance to win a pair of tickets to our August 9th Spy Museum party.