Let’s get right to my all-time list of the 23 best and most memorable spies in movies and TV shows.
1. Ingrid Bergman in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” — “Notoroius” has a fucking bananas plot. Imagine if you hated Nazis, because everybody hates Nazis, but you had to marry one — and fuck him (a lot), and spy on him (which could get you killed) — but you’re doing this for a good cause, to help win World War II.
That is the insane plot of “Notorious.” It’s a compelling plot.
But the main reason “Notorious “ is such a good fucking movie is because the woman who has to fuck this Nazi to save the world is the most beautiful woman in the entire fucking world: Ingrid fucking Bergman.
Honestly, this is one crazy ass, classic fucking film by none other than Alfred Hitchcock, who had the word “cock” in his name for a reason. He was kind of a dick.
By the way, Ingrid Bergman’s character doesn’t just sign up to fuck and marry this Nazi for the fun of it. She’s kind of sweet-talked into it by her boyfriend, as portrayed by the world’s most beautiful man, Cary Grant.
Now Cary Grant is also a spy in this movie. He’s a “good guy.”
Think about that. He’s a good guy who seduces the world’s most beautiful woman, and then talks her into fucking … a Nazi.
And the only real reason she signs up for this program is because her own father is a Nazi sympathizer and she loves her father but she fucking hates his stupid ass politics, so she fucks this other Nazi to try to kill all the Nazis to get back at her stupid fucking father’s rancid fucking politics.
Hmmm? Sounds like a story for our times, doesn’t it?
The very idea that Ingrid Bergman is fucking an asshole to get back at her dad, kind of, reminds me of a classic Onion headline that goes:
“Who's A Girl Gotta Fuck To Get Some Closure On Her Relationship With Her Father?”
Ingrid Bergman is so goddamned good in this movie, she makes me fall in love with her, and I cry for her.
Yes, I am a sap.
The directing and acting in this movie are incredible.
The aura of “Notorious” feels like the people in it are living under Sylvia Plath’s bell jar, just one trigger away from self-destruction.
And by the end, I want to be Cary Grant scooping up Ingrid Bergman into my arms and telling her everything’s going to be OK, even though I know it never will be.
2. H. Jon Benjamin as Archer in “Archer” — Someone needs to go through all the “Archer” episodes and edit out all the bigoted language, because that shit is not aging well.
But when Archer isn’t being a bigot, H. Jon Benjamin’s voiceovers as Archer make me laugh like no other spy movie or TV show.
It’s unfortunate that I find myself actively rolling my eyes at some of the 20th century shitty things Archer occasionally says about people who aren’t white men. Sometimes, I even turn the fucking show off from that shit, because I want to slap his stupid fucking mouth.
But H. Jon Benjamin is so goddamned good at delivering dialogue in this workplace comedy, I just never quit him entirely.
My favorite episode is quite obviously the best episode, the one where Archer gets breast cancer and finds out criminals have been substituting his cancer meds with Zema and Skittles so he kills them after he goes on a “Rampaaaaaaaaage!” I’ve seen that shit like 20 times.
3. Geena Davis as the forgetful spy in “Long Kiss Goodnight” — My favorite overall movie genre isn’t spy movies, but my favorite movie genre MIGHT be Forgetful Spy movies in which spies get amnesia and don’t know why they’re such badasses, which is a subgenre that basically includes this movie and the first “Bourne Identity.”
Goddamn I love these two movies.
In “Long Kiss Goodnight,” Geena Davis doesn’t remember she used to be a spy. The movie starts with her being a soccer mom in the suburbs, and some bad guys find her and they start trying to kill her, and she’s all: I’m gonna kill kill kill you first while standing behind this refrigerator door! She doesn’t know why she’s so good at killing … at first. But she’s gonna find out, and it’s gonna be murdery.
Geena Davis’s real-life husband at the time directed this unbelievably good movie with her and Samuel L. Jackson, who is as sublime as fuck.
I’ve watched this pure fucking masterpiece one zillion times. It’s fucking flawless.
My favorite scenes: Maybe tops is the waterwheel scene where she comes out of the water screaming bloody fucking murder.
And I super love the scene near the end where she says, “Oh, no, baby. No, you're not gonna die. They are.”
4. Kiefer Sutherland in season five of “24” — I saw this season when it aired a zillion years ago in the 1840s, so I don’t recall a lot about it.
But I remember Kiefer Sutherland being an absolute badass spy who needs to put his phone on fucking vibrate while he’s climbing ladders and interrogating assholes and shit.
This season aired during the terrorism years of the George W. Bush administration, so there are very clear nods to how fucking shitty that W turd was, but there’s also a Richard Nixon-looking motherfucker who is just the worst.
Keifer is superb in this, and I tried watching other seasons but none of them quite worked for me like this season five did. I don’t know why.
5. Val Kilmer in “Top Secret!” — This is a big broad comedy with lots of slapstick jokes, made by the guys who made “Airplane!” and the “Naked Gun” movies and TV show.
My favorite scene is where Val is behind bars, and his lawyer or something is complaining he can’t make his wife orgasm, so Val gives him a box that he opens and pulls out a big arm-with-fist thing called the “Anal Intruder,” and Val just goes on talking about the storyline while the lawyer guy starts assembling the anal intruder.
I have an anal intruder in my house. It’s not an arm and fist. It’s just a big giant dildo, and I love it. It is art.
Val Kilmer (once upon a time) was a fine actor who was hilarious and charming as an accidentally funny spy in this very, very dumb-funny movie called “Top Secret!”
(I haven’t seen it in years. Dunno if it holds up. But I hope it does.)
6. Matt Damon in “Bourne Identity” — I love me some Matt Damon, but never more so than in this movie and in “Dogma.”
“Bourne Identity” is basically the best James Bond movie.
I’ve never loved James Bond movies. I don’t know what it is. Maybe I don’t like the convoluted scripts? Maybe it’s the boring poker games I don’t like? I dunno. Toxic masculinity for the loss, that’s for sure.
But this “Bourne” motherfucker. Oh my god. So good.
Favorite scene: This is gonna sound weird, but there is a small scene near the start where cops rustle Matt Damon in a city park, and he very quickly dispatches them with a few quick hits. This scene is staged sooo well that you see the punches and it makes sense that he has put the cops down so quickly. The reason I love this unassuming scene so much is because most action movies (including sequels to this movie) spin the cameras around so quickly that you can’t really tell what’s going on, and that blur is a cheap bullshit way to film action. This scene is blurless. It’s just. Wham wham. Whoa, look how good this guy fights!
Anyhowww, Matt Damon is impeccable as Jason, and Franka Potente is so goddamned charming as the damsel in distress that I gave up on the Bourne series when the writers killed her off in a sequel.
I have a DOUGABLE RULE: Killing off major characters in sequels is a primary red flag that the creators have reached creative bankruptcy. (Ergo, the killing of Han Solo was the dumbest thing anyone has ever done in any art form.)
The biggest exception to this rule is the “Aliens” franchise, which got better the more it killed secondary characters, because each movie is a different genre, so “Alien” movies also killed all of the genres it traded in. Pretty smart.
7. Anne Parillaud — OMG have you never seen “La Femme Nikita?”
Hollllyyy shitballs, is it good.
Anne Parillaud is incredible as Nikita.
The movie starts with her being a real turd mcmuffin thieving scumbag murdering drugged out tit hair.
But then the government enlists her to do some dirty deeds for state and country, and the movie becomes this tug-of-war where you want her to succeed in her redemption story, but you also remember she’s a fucking murderer, and meanwhile, now that she’s off the drugs that were clouding her conscience, she’s falling in love and has a newfound respect for life, but she has to keep assasinating people for the state, so …
It’s fucking complicated.
Anne Parillaud is just extraordinary, like, fuck, for real, just spectacular, capturing all the stages of grief and celebration that Nikita goes through, from ambivalence to fear and excitement and ambition and sorrow and persistence and sacrifice and surrender …
JFX (Haysoose Fucking Xmas) she’s good.
8. Mélanie Laurent — I’m actually not the biggest fan of “Inglourious Basterds,” but I do love quite a few scenes and performances in it — not the least of which being the fucking Hitler death scene.
Mélanie Laurent makes me cry with her sympathetic portrayal of a spy who sort of works for herself as a spy with a mission to kill some goddamned scumbag Nazi awful garbage wastes of space on this planet.
9. Sam Rockwell in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” — Sam Rockwell plays Chuck Berris, who was a real game show host who invented reality competition shows as well as “The Gong Show” (amazing in itself), but in this movie based on his autobiography, Chuck Berris secretly is a spy who goes around the world killing dozens of people the government deems to be bad guys.
Sam Rockwell makes every movie better. (And if you haven’t seen him and Michelle Williams in “Fosse/Verdon,” well my friend you haven’t seen the best TV miniseries since “Roots.”)
Julia Roberts pops up in one of her best performances.
Favorite scene: That one. That last one with Sam Rockwell and Julia Roberts. Gooooodaaaammmn. It’s mindblowingly good. Exquisite. Shocking. Surprising. Heartbreaking. Eye-opening about life, and love, and living on this insane planet of spies.
10. Bruce Lee — I know you’re like, wait, Bruce Lee played a spy?
Oh yes, MFer. He plays a spy in “Enter the Dragon” where he kicks and punches a buttload of asshole on his way to showing all of us Earthlings what martial arts are, and as a result of this movie and a few other Bruce Lee movies, we now have to contend with the fucking MMA and UFC and all that shit.
But once upon a time, that shit was cool, because of one person playing a badass spy.
Bruce. Fucking. Lee.
“Enter The Dragon” was filmed for less than one million dollars and it earned (get this) one billion fucking dollars (adjusted for inflation).
Unfortunately, this isn’t the Bruce Lee movie where he fights Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That’s in the unfinished movie “Game of Death,” which you can see despite Lee dying before it wrapped.
11 & 12. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys in “The Americans” — Imagine being a Russian spy during the Cold War and you’re pretending to be a married couple living in America, and sometimes you do soccer parent shit with your kid, and sometimes you literally fuck people with your genitals for information, and sometimes you murder Americans in an effort to help mother Russia.
That is what this outlandishly crazy ass show is about.
It is totally and completely a fucked idea for a life as a human being, because it feels real in terms of how actual spy craft works (although, obviously, I have no idea if this show seems real to actual spies).
These two actors are just perfect in these roles. Sometimes they’re even hard to watch, because you’re all, “Goddamn these murderous spies.”
But what are ya gon do. The world, as you may have heard, is a vampire.
13. Cary Grant in “Notorious” — Ingrid Bergman is so fucking good in this movie that she’s in first place on this list of best spies of all time, and Cary Grant (who was the greatest male face and voice and aura and swagger and eyes and choices in film history) is way down here at number 13 on this list.
Granted, Cary is more or less a supporting actor in this film, and she is the real lead, but still.
Cary Grant is typically incredible in this movie, and he is also fuckable as fuck.
14. Jeffrey Donovan in “Burn Notice” — This is my all-time favorite spy show. It’s so good. It’s so real. It’s so fun. It’s so maddening. It’s so sexy.
Jeffrey Donovan plays a spy who got fired and accused of crimes he didn’t commit. So he sets up shop in Miami where he grew up, and he works as a spy for hire who helps sad sacks get their kidnapped kids back, and goody two-shoes shit like that.
This show has a good heart. And if I’m not mistaken, it had a real spy (or ex-spy) creating it, or consulting it, or something.
I don’t actually want to get into that, because spies scare the fuck out of me. I love their movies and shows. I don’t want to know which people I meet are spies. Dear spies, please keep your secrets to yourself … or create a show as good as “Burn Notice.”
BTW, I don’t have the other really good actors from this show on this list as great spy actors, because those actors (especially Gabrielle Anwar and the legend of Bruce Campbell) aren’t spies, they’re … helpful, and former workers with the IRA and FBI or something. But the main character is the spy-spy.
Coby Bell is pretty good as a spy in this, but his role just wasn’t quite as written well enough for this list. Not his fault. But it does show us that most of the names on this list are white people, but that’s because most spy movies and shows in history to this point have been white focused. I look forward to future spy movies and shows that aren’t white fucking centric.
15. Angelina Jolie in “Salt” — I know, I know. This is a silly little spy movie. It definitely zips past character development script-wise.
But that’s kind of the point. Angelina Jolie took this script (with its glaring lack of character scenes) and built her character out of action sequences and quick little glances. That’s how good of an actor she is.
For instance, when she walks past her husband in that scene on the boat, she’s so fucking good at emoting a whole movie’s worth of character development in a series of face close-ups and subtle looks and hand grenade explosions.
The unsung real hero of this film (like the entire film industry) is the film editor, whoever sat down and edited the scenes, not to mention the director and other crew members who make scenes feel not just quick but also deeper than dialogue.
Film editors are the biggest unsung heroes in the movie world, just like sound engineers are the biggest unsung heroes of the music world.
16. Saoirse Ronan in “Hanna” — Obviously this movie and this actor in this role were going to be on this fucking list, because goddamn she is superrrb and the movie is heartbreaking and fast and good, and holy shit is Cate Blanchett also super good as a spy in this movie (but she’s too much of a bit role player to be on this list sadly), but that scene where Cate is telling herself to get up and run, holy shit).
Saoirse Ronan is probably going to be the Meryl Streep of her generation since she’s already made a bunch of movies where she is unbelievably goddamn incredible, and this is one of my favorites of her’s at this point.
She plays a little girl who was made to kill, and kill she does, like a fucking superhero without magic.
In itself, I view killing and simulated killing as a very bad prospect for humanity at large, and I wish movies and shows would get over killing. I could sure go for a lot more literary art forms like “Being Erica” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and life shows like those ones.
But for now, we live in a world where y’all want to see death death death in movies and shows, so show business keeps feeding this murderous shit to you, and you go to sleep thinking of murderers, and how are the Earth and humanity supposed to improve if you keep up your murdery-watching impulses, not to mention the wallpaper of violence of sports teams and games?
17. Diane Kruger — She plays Bridget von Hammersmark in Inglourious Basterds, and she has this awfully sad scene with a shoe, and I fucking hate what happens to her character, but fuck Diane Kruger is so good in this fucking movie.
She’s actually only in this movie for a handful of scenes, but she steals the movie from pretty much everyone in every scene she’s in, just by being super fucking natural.
That’s all I feel like writing about this movie after the earlier thing I wrote about it.
18. Aisha Tyler in “Archer” — The only reason Aisha Tyler isn’t high up on this list is because the writers underwrote her character for most of the series run. The first season, the role was juicy and fun, but over time, they wrote her to be more of a sort of complaining unhappy character, which was too bad, because goddamn she is so good in this role when the script for her is good.
19 and 20. Don Adams + Barbara Feldon in “Get Smart” — There’s not much point in telling you a lot about this old show, because you’re not going to go find it and watch it, and TBH I don’t know if it holds up.
But once upon a time, there was no funnier spyjinks than Don Adams and Barbara Feldon mocking spy films.
When they wanted to have a private conversation, this plastic bubble thing would fall over them, and it was called The Cone Of Silence, and it was hilarious, because we the audience could still hear them, since the Cones didn’t fully encapsulate them.
And Don Adams had a shoe phone. This was the era wayyy before cell phones. But he had a fucking mobile phone in his fucking shoe. And he would hold his fucking mobile phone shoe up to his stupid fucking face and talk in it.
Goddamn that shit made me laugh.
21. Roger Moore as 007 — Yeah, I prefer Roger Moore. I’m dumb. Who cares. But look, James Bond movies are self-satire. Just utterly vapid stupid unreal boring bullshit.
So if I have to watch a 007, it’ll be Roger Moore, because he knew 007 was a dumb series, his films were funny, he adlibbed a lot of “have a great fall” type jokes.
And the single best thing in any James Bond movie is the beginning of “The Spy Who Loved Me” where Roger Moore leaves a just-fucked woman in a ski lodge, she turns out to be a bad guy spy who alerts more bad guys, who chase 007 on the ski slopes, he miraculously doesn’t get shot by machine guns (super dumb), he does a back flip on snow skiis or something, then he rides off of a mountain top and you’re thinking, “How’s he not going to fall to his death” and then this big dumb ass xenophobic British flag unfurls into a parachute, which then dissolves into the opening credits of the movie where you see silhouettes of hot models being naked and sexy, while the best 007 song, “Nobody Does It Better” plays.
Nothing in any other 007 movie comes close to being as good and cheesy as this hilarious horse shittery.
22. Sean Connery as 007 — Yeah he’s pretty good as Bond. Still, though. Bond is boring. Connery just happened to be super fuckable, so here we are.
23. Kevin Costner in “No Way Out” — The ending is a big wow moment, which I won’t spoil. But look. This was a good film in its day. I’m not sure if it holds up now. But once upon a time, Kevin Costner was a fine damn actor, and this is his second-best role, behind the baseball one in “Bull Durham,” which was super good.
Post Script: I’ve left off some really good spy movies and shows from this list. It’s not because I don’t love those movies or shows. It’s because the main spy actors in them just aren’t as memorable to me as these actors above.
The most notable example is the original “Manchurian Candidate.”
That movie is sublime. It’s so fucking good. Frank Sinatra is terrific in it, but he’s not a spy. Other actors are fantastic, too.
But I don’t even remember the main spy actor in it, Laurence Harvey. Which is not to say he’s bad at all. I remember not disliking any of the acting. He must be good in it.
But I made this list off the top of my head, because I smoked some weed and went down the rabbit hole of spy stuff, with a fair amount of googling.
And I wanted to make this list based on which actors are the most memorable as spies TO ME, and since I don’t remember Laurence Harvey’s performance, it is (by definition) not memorable to me.
If it’s memorable to you, please say so in the comment section, or make your own list in the comment section. I’m not here to tell you you’re wrong. We all have our own memories and opinions. These are mine. It’s like my Nana used to say. Everyone is entitled to their own stupid opinion. Am I dumb? Sure I am. Aren’t we all?
Thanks for checking this out. I’m gonna go eat some nachos now and get high on weed and maybe watch some porn, thanks, I love you unconditionally just like I love myself unconditionally, and I hope you’re having the best day of your life.