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10 Best Movie Spies and Secret Agents

M-Net Movies takes a look at some of the best spies and secret agents in the spy genre.

18 May 11:01

Whether dressed to the nines or dressed in a mask,  spies and secret agents add a dash of cool, collected calm and an element of intrigue to the plethora of movies in the ever-popular spy genre.

With Idris Elba (who also happens to be a popular James Bond candidate amongst fans) playing a CIA agent in your Sunday night movie this weekend,  we thought we’d peek into the corridors of the FBI, CIA, MI6, and so forth for a look at ten of our favourites.

  1. Agents J and K

From chasing crooked cops to punching invasive aliens, Will Smith was the personification of cool in the ’90s; and his brand of cool is just what the secret alien-monitoring agency Men in Black needed. Paired with grumpy veteran alien handler Agent K, played by Tommy Lee Jones, the young agent J was the elder’s perfect foil in Men in Black and its two sequels.

Learn 10 things about Will Smith here.

  1. The main character in almost any John le Carré novel adapted for the big screen

Having worked for the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), it’s hardly surprising that John le Carré started writing spy thrillers. Given the popularity of book to movie spies like Bond, Bourne, and Palmer (you’ll meet them below), it’s also not surprising that many of le Carré’s spies made it to the screen. From 1965’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold to 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,  le Carré’s novels and characters have inspired many worthy films and performances throughout the decades.

  1. Bridget von Hammersmark

Inglorios Basterds’ German Allied spy Bridget von Hammersmark is cool as a cucumber and smooth as silk – whether she’s duping a band of drunken German soldiers during a card game or trying to convince the wicked Colonel Hans Landa that her American compatriots are actually Italian. She succeeds at both, until British Army Lieutenant Hicox reveals that he’s not as German as he pretends, while the American trio’s incompetent grasp of Italian and “any other language other than English” fails to pull the wool over Landa’s eyes.

  1. Ethan Hunt

Despite the title, no mission is impossible for Ethan Hunt and his band of merry men, which grows from film to film and now includes Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner. Every Mission: Impossible instalment ups the ante on the action as Tom Cruise’s stunts (all self-performed) get bigger, bolder and more daring. From scaling the Burj Khalifa to dangling from a moving plane, Ethan Hunt is the man you want behind your mission.

Find out why we love Tom Cruise here.

  1. Evelyn Salt

Angelina Jolie has played a secret agent more than once and kicked butt more than once. In Salt – taking over the role of a spurned CIA agent originally tagged for Tom Cruise – she does both, proving again how adept she is at pulling off both the cool calm and physical prowess required for this kind of role.

Read more about the action star here.  

  1. Harry Palmer

Michael Caine was busy making a name for himself in ‘60s cinema with his role in Zulu. He further cemented his status when he was cast as Harry Palmer, the spying protagonist from Len Deighton’s novels. Something of an antithesis to James Bond, Caine would play the character in five films, including The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin.

Find out which director Caine regularly collaborates with here.

  1. James Bond

He likes it shaken, not stirred. Yes, it’s 007: the secret agent superstar of 12 novels, 24 official movies, two unofficial movies, and the inspiration for countless spoofs. Created by Ian Fleming in 1953, the dashing MI6 agent made his feature film debut in 1962’s Dr. No, played by Scottish actor Sean Connery. Since then the renowned spy (an oxymoron, if ever we saw one) has been portrayed on the big screen by Roger Moore, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. James Bond will assuredly be back to continue fuelling the spy genre’s popularity, but as for who will play him? That remains a mystery.

Learn 15 things about the mega movie franchise here.

  1. Jason Bourne

Novels are clearly a popular source for finding a fully-rounded, kick-ass spy. Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne first appeared in the 1980 novel The Bourne Identity. The character was first captured on screen eight years later by Richard Chamberlain; but it wasn’t until Matt Damon took on the character in the 2002 remake of The Bourne Identity that Bourne cemented his place in cinema and sparked a  film franchise.

Find out 20 facts about the first three Matt Damon-starring Bourne movies here.

  1. Nikita

Not everyone enters the spy game willingly, and Nikita is one of them. Originally a teen junkie, a shady government organisation in La Femme Nikita plans the title character’s “release” from prison only to equip her with a set of deadly skills in order to recruit her as their go-to, imminently-available assassin.

Nikita also made our list of top movie assassins. Check them out here.

  1. Susan Cooper

Melissa McCarthy plays the titular character in Spy, a genre-bending comedy that hauls its main character from the office to the field with hysterical results. McCarthy sparkles in the lead role, and is given zesty support in the form of Bridesmaids’ co-star Rose Byrne and Jason Statham in top comedic form.

Find out why we think Melissa McCarthy is awesome here and check out our top ten Jason Statham movies here.

Get a dark dose of intrigue and action with your Sunday night movie selection on 21 May:

On M-Net at 20:30, Idris Elba plays a CIA agent in Bastille Day. Keep a lookout for Richard Madden, whom you’ll recognise as Game of Thrones’ Robb Stark and Cinderella’s Prince Charming.

On M-Net Movies Premiere, Nicolas Cage plays an undercover cop in The Trust.

On M-Net at 22:35, watch the second instalment in the Danish Department Q trilogy, The Absent One. Keep a lookout for Pilou Asbæk, who recently entered the twisted world of Westeros as Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones.

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