There are few things better than a well done spy movie. Last week’s episode of the AiPT! Podcast only scratched the surface of how popular the genre is. This week. members of the AiPT! staff also weigh in on some of their favorite spy movies.
May as well get this out of the way early. Who is your favorite Bond?
Justin: Pierce Brosnan. I grew up when GoldenEye came out, what can I say?
Dave: I’m going to be “that guy” and say George Lazenby. He only played Bond once, but he was perfect. From the comics to the novels he exemplified the character so well.
Michael: I’m going to go with Daniel Craig on the strength of Casino Royale and Skyfall. I certainly love Connery, and Goldeneye was the first Bond I remember seeing in the theater and is one of my favorites. But Casino Royale is perhaps the best of all 007 movies and is the only one in the series where Bond grows and changes. I also think they made bold, exciting choices with Craig, allowing his physicality to define his Bond as more of a bull in a china shop. That early parkour chase scene alone says this is a different Bond for a new era.Lisa: Roger Moore all the way baby!
David H: Octopussy was the first James Bond film that I saw, so I have always dug Roger Moore.
What is your favorite spy movie?
Justin: GoldenEye. Again, it was a defining part of my childhood. From the one liners to the characters to the set pieces, it was amazing. And then the Nintendo 64 video game took it to a whole other level for me.
Dave: I love the Mission Impossible movies so I’m going to say Mission Impossible: Fallout. Yes it just came out, but I loved every minute of it. The first film is a close second. And for most fun while taking itself not seriously I’m going with True Lies.
Michael: North By Northwest feels like it almost invented the genre. Sure, it’s not even Hitchcock’s first spy picture. But watching it, it’s no wonder Cary Grant was Ian Fleming’s first choice for the role of 007. You’d be hard pressed to find a greater Bond girl than Eva Marie Saint or a better Bond villain than James Mason. It was James Bond before there was an on screen James Bond, establishing the tone and genre tropes that would be copied ever since. Though Bond, Bourne, and Hunt all actually are trained, capable spies — unlike Roger Thornhill’s ordinary man caught up in a sinister plot due to accidental mistaken identity — all owe a bit of their wit and charm to Thornhill.Lisa: I am a big fan of Kingsman: The Secret Service (the second movie fell flat.) Colin Firth plays a debonaire badass with finesse. “Manners maketh the man” after all. For a bit more humor, Spies Like Us starring Dan Akroyd and Chevy Chase. It has that bumbling humor that Chevy is famous for. I also really enjoyed True Lies.
David H: I get a lot of static for my favorite spy film. My favorite is A View to a Kill. It has Roger Moore, Grace Jones and one of my favorite actors, Christopher Walken! And you can’t go wrong with Duran Duran’s opening theme. It’s the ringtone for my phone!
What are the most important elements of a good spy flick?
Justin: There needs to be a charismatic, bold, and badass spy as the lead. Real suspense, a few twists, some incredible chases/stunts, and some sort of romantic complication weaved in there all are necessary.
Dave: Stakes are as only good as the threat to our characters. If you don’t believe they are in danger, or those they are trying to save are in danger, none of the suspense or thrills work.Michael: The most important element of a good spy flick is the same as with any flick: relationships. It’s not enough to just watch a hero save the world in a hail of bullets and explosions; we need to have a personal connection to the character. And that’s best achieved through their relationships with others. The biggest reason The Bourne Identity is one of my favorites in the genre is Bourne’s relationship with Franke Potente’s Marie. I absolutely hated the way the franchise fridged her at the start of The Bourne Supremacy because I just can’t care about a Jason Bourne who has no one to care about and nothing to lose. Nothing to lose is not interesting. To David’s point, having something — or someone — to lose means there are real personal stakes beyond the abstract stakes of saving the world.
Lisa: There needs be a significant plot twist and be mindful of type casting. I hate it when I start watching a movie and I instantly know who the secret bad guy is because of who they cast. I love cool tech and insane gadgets, for example face recreation masks in Mission Impossible, Bond’s endless gadgets in his car and the Kingsman fountain pen.
David H: I think the most important element is the villain. He has to have a solid motive for taking over the world, bombing a bunch of penguins in Alaska, or whatever he has up his sleeve. He has to be believable as being dangerous. And you have to hate him. If you have a chump villain, you’re gonna have a chump film.
I mentioned Bond earlier because I feel like you have to if you’re going to talk about spy movies. Is he your favorite spy and if not, who is?Justin: Ethan Hunt has always been my favorite. I’ve loved every single Mission Impossible film and his character is perfect in my eyes. Like they say in the latest installment, he cares just as much about the one person as he does the millions and that’s his greatest asset. That matched with his charisma and Tom Cruise doing absolutely insane stunts in each film makes Hunt my #1.
Dave: I’m going with Ethan Hunt too. He’s like a superhero of spies and is completely selfless while Bond can be a prick. Jason Bourne isn’t bad, but he’s too much of a victim to really fall in love with.
Michael: I love Bond and Hunt. And I loved Bourne until the last movie completely ruined his character with its bullshit daddy issues. But, for my favorite spy, I’m going back to a childhood favorite, Anthony Edwards’ Jonathan Moore in the criminally forgotten Gotcha!. This is an 80s film I’m baffled hasn’t been remade yet since it’s such a fun premise. It’s sort of an analog to the TV show Chuck, where a hapless college student who plays assassin with paintball guns on campus falls for a beautiful spy while in Paris and finds himself at the center of a real spy adventure. It’s a super fun Cold War Era movie with now hilariously dated geopolitics that I can endlessly quote to this day.
Lisa: My list goes: James Bond, Galahad and Jason Bourne. Bond is a classic, he tells people off and breaks their necks without breaking a sweat. Harry Hart/Galahad as stated earlier is a debonair badass. Bourne is full of heart, that man takes a beating and keeps on going. In the earlier movies he would suddenly turn the tables or perform a move that made you think “what the hell just happened?!”
David H: if you listen to the AiPT! Podcast (and if you don’t, you should!) then you have already heard me say that my favorite is James Bond. But I appreciate amusing spy movies as well. Gotcha!, If Looks Could Kill, and Top Secret are all entertaining spy films that I suggest checking out.