What are the best action/spy movies?

I’ve seen a lot of action movies, but not many of them were particularly good. So I’m on the hunt for the best of the best. Preferably pure action or spy movies, although some sci-fi/horror/drama is ok.
In case you care, this is being done as research for a Spycraft D20 game I’m running soon.


I think this post belongs on Cafe Society, and I’m sure a mod would happily move it for you. You’ll get more responses there, for sure.

But no list of action movies is complete without The Killer and Hard Boiled by John Woo. The last really good spy movie I saw was The Bourne Identity–much better than any recent James Bond films!

I’ve always been partial to the Brosnan bond movies. But NOT Roger Moore…the man was even worse than George Lazenby.

Our Man Flint and In Like Flint are both good sendups of the genre.

Moving this to Cafe Society.

Off the top of my head, these are all on my classics list.

No Way Out
Crimson Tide
Hunt for Red October

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
The Osterman Weekend
Three Days of the Condor
Eye of the Needle
The Parallax View

Vintage stuff
The Ipcress File
The Spy Who Came In From the COld
North by Northwest
The 39 Steps
Foreign Correspondent

Bourne Identity

Mission Impossible (what? what?)

Boys from Brazil
Marathon Man

Spy Movies:
The Tailor of Panama, in which Pierce Brosnan plays the anti-Bond.
The Spy who Came in from the Cold.

Action Movies:
**ffoulkes ** (sometimes released under the title Assault Force), in which Roger Moore plays the anti-Bond.
The Wild Geese.

I thought Spy Game with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt was pretty good. I agree with the Bourne Identity too. I love the Connery Bond movies, but they’ve gotten pretty ridiculous recently. Yeah, I know, but the Roger Moore Bonds were supposed to be ridiculous.

Die Hard is without question the best action flick ever made.

Hell yeah, Top Five at the very least.

A different kind of spy movie that I adore is Hopscotch.

Made in 1980/1ish. A well seasoned CIA feild agent with 30 years experience is given a desk assignment as punishment for letting a KGB spy go. Literally. (You will understand his motives.)

Instead of being benched, the spy destroys his paper files(this is before computer stuff.) and decides to go walk about trying to figure out what to do with his life.

He decides to write his tell all memoirs of the dirty secrets of the CIA. And he sends off one chapter at a time to the KGB, CIA, Interpol and Scotland Yard…leading a merry chase hopscotching about the globe one step ahead of the CIA.
In the end, you are happy for him and how he takes care of his wonderfully egotistical boss.

Walter Matthau plays the Agent. Sam Waterstone , a very young San Waterstone ( or whatever his name is from Law & Order) has a lovely little part. The Boss Who Gets His Comeuppence is the ever evil Ned Beatty.


More fun than cloak and dagger.

Let’s not forget De Niro’s Ronin. It has quite a few spies-turned-mercenaries in it. And Jean Reno.

I remember thinking very highly of The Fourth Protocol, starring Michael Caine as a British secret agent and Pierce Brosnan as a Russian spy. It’s from 1987 or so.

Boondock Saints.

North by Northwest. No discussion. Recents movies of the kind that I enjoyed were “The Bourne Identity” and “Ronin”

The Tailor of Panama started out good but fell apart, IMO. I’d recommend the film based on the novel le Carre was paying homage to Our Man In Havana starring Alec Guinness.

How can we have gotten this far without a mention of the classic of classics, The Third Man?

For recent HK action in the vein of The Killer and Hard Boiled (a personal favortie of mine) find Tsui Hark’s Time and Tide. The gun battle/ rappeling chase in the apartment building must be seen.

Other spy/action movies I’d recommend:

The President’s Analyst - a spoof, but a clever one
Seven Days In May - cold war era Frankenheimer conspiracy/coup film.
Winterkills - like a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream
The Assassination Bureau - starring Oliver Reed and Diana Rigg. Very broadly “based” on an unfinished Jack London work, but a good mix of action comedy.
The Day of the Jackal - the 1973 version, not that Bruce Willis mess.
Clear and Present Danger - probably the film closest to the Boy Scout patriotic spirit and techno jargon fetish of the Tom Clancy novels.

A couple of others I should mention:
The Recruit - Basically another Pacino 10 minute rant at Colin Farrell.

Falcon & The Snowman - Some old 80s movie with Sean Penn I think

Hunt for Red October - I would have liked to have seen Montana

True Lies - really just a fun Ahnold movie

Austin Powers - well, someone had to say it

Crazy – wasn’t expecting to see you here, Nareau! Welcome, and we should get together and watch some of these.

Nareau’s brother

My own thoughts:

First, I had no idea that The Spy who came in from the Cold was made into a movie; given how great the book is, I’m torn between eagerness and reluctance to see the movie. It has some high expectations to live up to.

Hitchcock’s spy movies are never as good as I’m hoping they’ll be. Notorious and Topaz were big fat disappointments for me. North by Northwest, however, is a gem. Is that the one with the drunk driving scene?

For silly over-the-top action, I’m partial to Once Upon a Time in Mexico: the carnage is so ridiculous that you can’t take it seriously, and the gadgets o’ death are great for giggling.

I’m thinking that movies as inspiration for games will be good for:

  • Gadgets
  • Locations, both large (The New Zealand rainforests) and small (a Moroccan street-market). The more exotic, the better. The more things to destroy in a frenetic fight, the better.
  • Evil villain plots and mannerisms.


The Manchurian Candidate (1962) is one of the best spy thrillers around. (No, not the remake. Please boycott everyone involved!) I heard somewhere around the time it was re-released that Frank Sinatra was so impressed by the book that he bought the rights, but the studio thought it was “too controversial”, so he called his buddy John Kennedy to explain the plot. Then the studio boss got a call from the President of the US saying “Make the movie!” Not long after it’s original release, Kennedy was shot, and the movie sat in the vault for years before coming out again.

There’s a scene in there that will put you right off hydrangeas.