Suspense...intrigue...efficiency? These 10 titans of the international espionage genre remind us that, a certain 007 aside, there's plenty of pleasing cinematic spies to champion.
James Bond. Okay, we're done. That's right, unless we get the 007lb gorilla out of the room right up front, you wonderful readers will be arguing ad nauseum about his placement and where/when he will fall on this list. Naturally, he takes number one. No question...and therefore, no suspense. Indeed, the truth remains that, within the entire espionage subgenre, there is no greater onscreen spy than Mr. Licensed to Kill himself. Whether he takes the persona of Sean Connery (still the upper most of the topper most) or Daniel Craig, Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan (the less said about Timothy Dalton, the better), Bond is the best, there is no questioning the conceit. In fact, there is probably no other character in any medium whose had the longevity, the impact, and the lasting appeal of the ultimate '60s jet setting secret agent.
So where does that leave the rest of the cinematic spies? Clearly, lower down the talent totem pole and jealous of the affection someone like Bond mandates. Scholars have shuffled through the character's complicated oeuvre, measuring out his effectiveness and abilities in decades long debates and almost every movie to come down the pipeline since has modeled at least some aspect of their narrative approach or aesthetic from those crackerjack counterculture entertainments. Take the new to DVD/Blu-ray release of The Double. In an effective if minor thriller, Richard Gere plays a retired CIA agent brought back in to help the FBI track the identity of a Russian hitman named 'Cassius.' Of course, in the land of backstabbing and mixed allegiances, it could be anyone...and it all follows the formula that Bond and his creative buddies set down years before.
Without Sir James, the remaining list is an intriguing combination of pure commercial fodder and some frequently fascinating foreign entries. We are also opening up the category to include people without a clear political affiliation, individuals who may be plying their particular trade in the service of a private, not a public cause. Even better, without Bond, we can look at all the reinterpretations of same and settle on who, in a box office battle royale, would take the title if James never existed. So remember, 007 is the unquestioned king of the spy world. The rest of the entries on this list represent the 10 Best Movie Spies outside his inclusion. Let's begin with one of the youngest members of this counterintelligence collective: