Netflix has 19 of the Bond films (20 if you include Never Say Never Again), only missing the three Daniel Craig Bond movies and Thunderball. I have ranked all of the bond movies here, but let’s be honest, even if you have never written it down we have all ranked all of the Bond films, so there really isn’t much point including them here (and including some of the Bond movies would have knocked a couple of fun movies off the list). This list, then, is to be used when you are in the mood for a Spy flick but don’t want to watch Bond, James Bond, in action.
10. Sword of Gideon (1986)
Made as something between a mini series and a TV movie (it showed over two nights and runs 173 min.) this was the first on screen telling of the Mossad team hand picked to enact revenge on the men who perpetrated the horror of the 1972 Munich Olympics. Now, you are probably saying to yourself “hey, didn’t Speilberg do that movie?” Yup. Munich in 2005. But do you want to know something, this one is better… well, maybe better isn’t the right word, but it is more entertaining. In spite of the subject matter, or perhaps because the subject matter seems to be making a larger point about racism and terrorism without further comment, this movie becomes a righteous revenge thriller and never feels the need to apologize for the actions of it’s protagonists.
9. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006)
Jean Dujardin (the star of The Artist and Oscar nominee), stars as Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath , alias OSS 117, a french “Bond” who foils Nazis, bed’s beautiful women, and in the end brings peace to the Middle East. No small feat. Tonally this is closer to the David Niven/Peter Sellers Casino Royal than the Austin Powers movies in that it is overtly tongue in cheek but it feels more like an homage to 007 and In Like Flint than a movie that is making fun of those films. It is a French movie and as is often the case, particularly with comedies, not everything translates well, but a lot of it does and this is definitely worth checking out (as is it’s sequel OSS 117: Lost in Rio, also available on Netflix).
8. Red Scorpion (1988)
A seemingly cold hearted KGB agent is sent to Africa to assassinate an anti-communist leader but miraculously has a change of heart when he sees what his countrymen and their Cuban allies (I’m
surprised they didn’t just throw the Chinese in too so they could cover all of the communist countries) are doing to the locals (hint: nothing nice). I don’t want to spoil anything else because you’ll never be able to guess where a Dolph Lungren action movie from 1988 is going, but I will tell you this, there is a scorpion involved. Sure this movie feels like it was written for Arnold and the settled for Dolph, but it feels oddly better for it. A pure 1980’s action movie, and I mean that as a good thing.
7. Haywire (2011)
Steven Soderberg’s attempt to turn Gina Carano into an action star didn’t work in any practical sense, but as a movie it’s actually quite entertaining. As one would expect given her MMA background, the fight scenes are terrific and probably the most believable man vs. woman fights ever. Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender all get to have the crap kicked out of them by the former MMA champion. While the story itself is pretty by-the-numbers spy movie (agency sets spy up, spy goes on a mission to find out who set them up and why), it is a Soderberg movie (if you don’t know what that means, I can’t really describe it, go watch Out Of Sight and it should make some sense to you).
6. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)
With the expansion of movie streaming, premium cable channels, iTunes, Hulu and DVD’s and Bluerays this doesn’t happen much anymore, but when I was younger often you would see a movie you liked, even one that most people liked, but once it is out of the theaters it was forgotten. It doesn’t show up on STARZ or On Demand, and you know in the back of your head you will likely never see it again. Remo Williams was one of those movies. It a lot of fun, silly fun to be sure but fun nonetheless and is much better than it has any right to be. The problem was it was never quite a cult hit and it had no chance of being a mainstream smash. So it was forgotten, until now. The story of a cop presumed dead who is secretly trained by a martial arts master to become a lethal assassin is full of bullet dodging and running on top of the Statue of Liberty and even running on water and it is really fun from beginning to end.
5. In Like Flint (1967)
In Like Flint wasn’t the United States’ answer to 007 so much as it was, and is, a funnier version of a spy movie. It hits most of the same points and plot beats as your average Bond flick (or any of a number of other spy movies and TV shows that were coming out in the 60’s at the height of the Cold War, we just know Bond because it was the only one to survive past that era), it just hits those beats a little bit more tongue in cheek. Flint is golfing with the President when he realizes the President isn’t the President, he is an actor da, da, daa. Turns out some women have banded together to try to take over the world and Flint must come out of retirement to try to foil their fiendish plan. Coburn is great as Flint and the film itself is terrific fun. In Like Flint is actually a sequel to One Man Flint, but In Like Flint is better. They did a Flint TV movie in the 70’s, but Coburn wasn’t in it so who cares?
4. Ronin (1998)
DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natasha McElhone (who should have been and should be a bigger star), Stellan Skarsgard (never not great), Sean Bean, Jonathan Price, hell, this movie even has Katarina Witt. Great cast, some terrific car chases (see the video below) and good, old fashioned practical effects. While the plot may not be revolutionary the pacing keeps you entertained from beginning to end. Another bonus, it is an immensely re-watchable film (partly because the ‘who did it’ was never that hard to figure out).
3. XXX (2002)
Point of order, do I think XXX is the third best non-007 Spy movie ever? No, I could probably think of at least a handful I would put above it, from the action heavy The Long Kiss Goodnight, to the more cerebral The Man Who Came In From The Cold or North By Northwest. But none of th
ose are available on Netflix Instant. Having said all of that let me make something else clear, I really enjoy XXX. Vin Diesel as an extreme sports athlete turned spy is one of the funniest conceits in the history of cinema. Diesel, Samuel L. Jackson and the rest of this cast no exactly what movie they are making and never for a moment pretend they are doing or aspiring to anything else. What that gives you is a movie that has everything you want from it, crazy action sequences, funny quips and non-stop throw away dialogue.
2. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)
Netflix has Mission Impossible II and Mission Impossible III available as well, but I decided that I would only rank one of them, my favorite one, Ghost Protocol. Why is Ghost Protocol my favorite? Because it makes the team work and not just Ethan Hunt work. That was always what made the TV series such a hit, unlike every other spy movie or show that followed the 007 structure (one man against the world), Mission Impossible was all about the team tricking and out thinking everyone they faced. Ghost Protocol was the first movie to do that. Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton work together, pull plans off together and save the day together. In that way Mission Impossible was always more like a bank heist stories than spy stories and this was the first movie to have that feel as well. And, for those of you who are curious, MI:2 would be just ahead of Haywire and MI:3 would land right around Ronin.
note: this comes 100% from Doug Benson and his Doug Loves Movies Podcast, but the great thing about Ghost Protocol is that you can add it to any movie title and it works. Inception: Ghost Protocol. The Lone Ranger: Ghost Protocol, Bad News Bears 2: Spring Training: Ghost Protocol. It ALWAYS works.
1. The Hunt For Red October (1990)
There are a lot of movie ‘what ifs’ out there. What if Redford had taken the role of Michael Corleone? What if Tom Selleck had been Indiana Jones? What if Alec Baldwin had continued to be Jack Ryan? The stories about why he didn’t do the next one are muddled in contract negotiations and the availability of Harrison Ford, but I think there are two things most people can agree on, Alec Baldwin was a better Jack Ryan than Harrison Ford was and Alec Baldwin’s career took 15 years to get back on track. If you don’t believe me on the first of those points just watch The Hunt For Red October. He’s great, the movie is great and the ‘franchise’ such as it is never felt the same after this one. Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan is on Netflix too in Clear and Present Danger (not a bad movie, but nowhere near as good as this one) and Ben Afflek’s surprisingly good, though still nowhere near this one, Sum of All Fears is also on Netflix Streaming. So if you doubt me, watch both of those and see if I am wrong (I’m not). Intrigue, sbmarines, political maneuvering, this is the movie that let’s you know why Tom Clancy the writer became such a phenomenon. Oh, and by the way, Sum of All Fears probably makes this list in the 7 to 9 area and Clear and Present Danger would be around #11, just outside the top 10 (they are both good movies and definitely worth watching).