There are so many riveting spy movies all over theatres and streaming services, whether it’s as sensational as No Time To Die or as grounded as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. There is no drought when it comes to content for fans of espionage movies and spy thrillers.
But there are no spy movies more thrilling, exciting, or surprisingly meaningful than ones that are based on true stories. Between hunting down terrorist groups, stopping the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the U.S. Army trying to summon the paranormal, some of these movies might be unbelievable, but they actually happened.
Bridge Of Spies (2015)
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Steven Spielberg has always been one of the best filmmakers to direct incredible spy movies, and Bridge of Spies is one of his late-career masterpieces. The movie tells the story of Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance,) a Soviet Union spy who was held captive during the Cold War.
The movie is less about the role of an actual spy and more about how an attorney arranged the exchange of the spy for an American pilot, who was being held captive by the Soviet Union. It all happened on the Glienecke bridge between Potsdam and Berlin. The movie was also Rylance’s breakthrough, and he won an Academy Award for his role as Abel.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
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Zero Dark Thirty is all about the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, the former leader of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda. It’s based around Maya Harris, a protagonist who is hard to love, but that’s hardly surprising given her stressful occupation.
It’s also a testament to how great Kathryn Bigalow really is at directing realistic thrillers, as there was no attempt to make Harris lovable or appealing, and it’s as real to life as possible. Though it is hard to watch certain scenes, and the representation of torture as a form of interrogation gained some controversy, it’s a fascinating look at one of Barack Obama’s biggest achievements in office.
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Munich is another epic spy movie from Spielberg, and it’s one of many historical and surprisingly emotional biopics from the director too. The movie is based on the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, and it follows Mossad agent Avner Kaufman, who leads a mission to exact revenge on the group and assassinate 11 of its members.
The basic premise sounds like any other spy movie, but what makes the 2005 film so interesting is that Kaufman struggles with his mission midway through. Not only is it a fascinating character study of a real-life spy, but it’s also such a suspenseful two hours and 40 minutes too.
The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009)
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When people hear “spy movies,” they automatically think of compelling and suspenseful thrillers, especially when they’re based on real-life events, but that isn’t always the case. The Men Who Stare At Goats is a satirical comedy that documents the secret operation where the U.S. Army used New Age concepts and attempted to summon the paranormal.
The movie’s title is based on the way the military apparently attempted to kill goats by staring at them. It’s one of the most underrated comedies of the 2000s, and it’s a wonder how it isn’t more well-known, as it has an ensemble cast of A-list actors, including George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, and Ewan McGregor.
The Courier (2020)
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Benedict Cumberbatch is one of the most prolific actors working today, and it’s starting to seem as if he can’t say no, as he seemingly stars in several movies every year. One of his most recent movies outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is The Courier, which is based Greville Wynne, a real-life businessman who was drafted into the Cold War by American secret services.
Wynne played a major part in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis, as he worked with a Russian spy to collect crucial intelligence. The movie plays with the true story in fascinating ways, as it’s much more of an old-fashioned, entertaining spy movie than it is an intense thriller.
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It’s almost hard to believe that Argo is based on a true story, as the premise is just so outrageous. In 1979, 66 Americans were taken hostage by militants in the U.S. embassy in Iran. A professional extractor was hired to rescue the hostages, and he had the most outside-the-box thinking possible.
The movie depicts how the extractor (Ben Affleck) acts as a Hollywood producer pretending to scout for locations in Iran for a sci-fi movie, and the help with him act as his film crew. It’s one of Ben Affleck’s best movies for more reasons than one, as not only does he star in the film, but he directed it too, and it even won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
All The President’s Men (1976)
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All The President’s Men is all about the Watergate scandal, which was the Nixon administration’s attempt to cover up their involvement in the break-in of the Watergate office building. The building belonged to the Democratic National Committee headquarters.
The result of the real-life scandal led to Richard Nixon’s resignation, and the movie follows the two journalists who exposed everything by using some unusual tactics. The film is more of a political thriller than anything, but even though the main characters are journalists, there are still more espionage moments in it than most spy movies.
The Good Shepherd (2006)
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When it comes to spy movies based on real events, The Good Shepherd is an interesting example. The 2006 movie claims to tell the untold story of the origins of counter-intelligence in the CIA, but it’s a fictional movie loosely based on James Jesus Angleton.
Angleton left behind a legacy, as there have also been so many other movies clearly influenced by his time as the chief of the Central Intelligence Agency. The most famous story of Angelton is about when he became convinced a mole was working in the CIA, which led him on a destructive witch-hunt, and that has been the premise of so many crime movies.
Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (2002)
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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is an adaptation of Chuck Barris’ autobiography. Barris was a game show creator and host who created popular 80s game shows such as The Newlywed Game, but according to him, he also had an alter ego. In his autobiography, Barris claims that he was also an assassin for the CIA, and the 2002 movie faithfully adapts the non-fiction book.
However, at the same time, the movie also makes fun of some of the things that the game show host claims. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is one of Charlie Kaufman’s best movies, and it’s unique in his filmography, as it’s the only one that isn’t so self-deprecating and emotionally exhausting.
Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
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Though there are so many roles that Tom Hanks missed out on, it seems as if he makes up for them by starring in so many spy movies. Along with Bridge of Spies, Charlie Wilson’s War is another Hanks-led spy film based on real events, but it isn’t as intense or suspenseful.
The 2007 movie is as much of a comedy as it is a drama, as it follows East Texas congressman Charlie Wilson (Hanks) who sends weapons to Afghanistan and backs soldiers in their fight against the Soviets in the 1980s. If Who Is America was in the 1980s, Charlie Wilson is one of those politicians who Sacha Baron Cohen would totally try to prank.
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