7 best spy movies on Netflix to stream right now

Colin Firth as Ewen Montagu and Matthew Macfadyen as Charles Cholmondeley in Operation Mincemeat
(Image credit: Netflix)

Most of us have never met a secret agent in real life — at least, as far as we know) — but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a fascination with the world of espionage. How else do you explain the 50 years of success for the James Bond films, a franchise that survived replacing its lead actor half a dozen times, or the “Mission: Impossible” phenomenon? 

The best of these spy movies feature clever, ruthless, unflappable heroes (or anti-heroes, as the case may be) putting their lives on the line to unravel international plots that threaten world peace. But even your bog-standard spy movie has an underlying level of tension and compelling action that makes it irresistible to audiences. Even though the Cold War is over now, that doesn’t mean we need to let go of the classic espionage film, its greatest cultural relic. Here are seven spy movies on Netflix to check out.

'The Coldest Game'

Released in 2019, “The Coldest Game” is a throwback to Cold War-era paranoia. At the height of tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States in 1962 — just days before the Cuban Missile Crisis, in fact — Joshua Mansky (Bill Pullman) is recruited to play in a chess tournament in Russia after his predecessor was found dead of a suspected Soviet poisoning. But Mansky’s a loose cannon, his brilliant mind only able to function both in society and in front of a chessboard while dulled by alcohol — lots and lots of alcohol. Is this the guy you want to put on the diplomatic front lines? Perhaps not. But he’s the only one they’ve got. 

While on the ground in the Soviet Union, Mansky is caught up not only in the high pressure placed on him to beat his Russian adversary but also trapped between warring secret agents, unsure who to trust. Tense and full of third-act twists, “The Coldest Game” features an on-point performance from Bill Pullman, even if the rest of the narrative can tend to get convoluted.

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'The Angel'

What’s better than a secret agent? A double agent, playing both sides against the other in the interest of peace. That’s what we get in “The Angel,” the incredible true story (well, kind of) of Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian diplomat married to the daughter of President Gamal Abdul Nasser. Between the Six Days War and the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt, he engages in a delicate dance, feeding Israel a steady diet of information — sometimes true, sometimes false — to guide them into a position where he believes they will be most willing to accept peace talks. It’s not as much of an action film as many other spy movies, but it’s certainly not lacking in tension or high drama.

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'Wasp Network'

Set in Cuba in the 1990s, “Wasp Network” features a powerhouse cast that includes Penelope Cruz, Gael Garcia Bernal, Ana de Armas, and Edgar Ramirez. When Rene Gonzalez (Ramirez) travels to the United States and seemingly defects from Cuba, his family back home is faced with no end of trouble from his actions. But he — and other Cubans in a similar situation, who have been stationed in Miami to infiltrate anti-Castro groups — may not be exactly as they seem. 

A tale of agents, double agents, and maybe even triple agents, “Wasp Network” is about playing the long game, and facing the consequences of your alleged actions even if it means presenting to the world a version of yourself that isn’t quite true. Unlike many other spy movies, which largely focus on the results of any given mission, “Wasp Network” concerns itself with the high cost these spies pay in the line of duty.

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'The Catcher Was a Spy'

Most people are lucky if they do one really cool thing in their life. Like, if you play in the NFL, you shouldn’t also expect to climb Mount Everest or join the French Foreign Legion. But that wasn’t the case for Moe Berg, a Jewish New Yorker who was a Major League Baseball catcher for 16 years before becoming an international spy for the Office of Strategic Services (later rebranded as the Central Intelligence Agency) during World War II. 

Known for almost always being the smartest guy in the room, Berg reportedly spoke several different languages and had a level of fame that made him a perfect operative, since he could be sent abroad on goodwill tours as a sports celebrity. “The Catcher Was a Spy” may not quite live up to his incredible life story, but it’s well-acted by a talented cast that includes Paul Rudd, Guy Pearce, and Paul Giamatti, to name just a few.

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'Operation Mincemeat'

You know the expression, “That’s so crazy, it just might work”? It doesn’t originate with the Operation Mincemeat mission of World War II, but it might as well have. This spy drama revolves around a hare-brained scheme launched by the British intelligence community to pull a fast one on German spies by floating them false information. 

The plan? To make a corpse wash up on Spanish shores with fake details about an Allied invasion of occupied France, which would — if it worked, which is a big if — send the Germans off in the wrong direction than their actual targeted landing site. The logic behind this was that the Germans would buy the rouse simply because only an idiot would come up with such a ridiculous idea to fake it, so it had to be real. Starring Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, and Kelly Macdonald, “Operation Mincemeat” grounds a stranger-than-fiction spy plot with the stories of the real-life people who actually pulled it off.

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'Top Secret!'

A spy spoof that brings to mind some of the quirkiest World War II and Cold War satires, “Top Secret!” served as a launching pad for the career of Val Kilmer, who made his film debut here. It follows the misadventures of an American singer (Kilmer), who ends up getting embroiled in an international resistance movement while on tour in East Germany. Although it was neglected by Paramount and considered a box-office disappointment at the time it was released in 1984, some critics — including Roger Ebert — championed its sense of humor, and it has since grown into a well-regarded comedy. And if nothing else, it helped establish Val Kilmer as one of the most charismatic rising stars of his generation.

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'Munich — The Edge of War'

Set against a backdrop of Germany on the brink of invading Czechoslovakia, “Munich — The Edge of War” is a dramatic depiction of a desperate but ultimately futile bid for peace. George McKay stars as Hugh, a British civil servant who is sent to Munich to help calm tensions between Germany and England, preventing Hitler from executing an aggressive maneuver that will force the U.K. to either declare war or risk looking weak and feckless on an international stage. Meanwhile, his old Oxford classmate Paul (Jannis Niewöhner) is working as a translator for the German delegation — although Paul has hidden motives of his own, which may have a massive impact on Europe’s last chance to avoid war.

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Audrey Fox is a features editor and film/television critic at Looper, with bylines at RogerEbert.com, The Nerdist, /Film, and IGN, amongst others. She has been blessed by our tomato overlords with their coveted seal of approval. Audrey received her BA in film from Clark University and her MA in International Relations from Harvard University. When she’s not watching movies, she loves historical non-fiction, theater, traveling, and playing the violin (poorly).