Spy thrillers are having a big moment right now – these 12 should be on your radar

From Paul Mescal’s newly announced film A Spy By Nature to ITV’s Litvinenko, these are the shows and films you need to add to your spy thriller watchlist. 

When you think of a spy thriller, chances are that visions of a suit-clad James Bond spring to mind, right?

Oozing old school glamour, never far from a dangerous encounter and always switched on to deal with any problem that arises. Double identities, special weapons and espionage – it’s all part of the intrigue with spy-themed television and film.

While we do love a bit of 007, there’s a new wave of spy thrillers that are rewriting the narrative. Think female-focused, modern remakes of beloved classics – equally engaging, but with a touch more allure.

Scroll on for our pick of the very best secret agent-themed films and TV that should be added to your watchlist immediately. 

A Spy By Nature

Paul Mescal will be leading new spy thriller A Spy By Nature.

We may have all become acquainted with Paul Mescal off the back of the success of Normal People, but the Irish actor sure has been making waves in Hollywood as of late. Not only have we recently been enjoying Aftersun and God’s Creatures, but he’s also in two other upcoming film projects that will see him star alongside Claire Foy and Maid’s Margaret Qualley.

Another big screen hit to add to the list will be A Spy By Nature, a brand new spy thriller from Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald (The Mauritanian). Described as a smart, modern espionage thriller, A Spy By Nature explores a young spy’s growing talent for lying and subterfuge, and the consequences this has on his professional and private lives. The film is adapted by Bafta winner and Academy Award nominee John Hodge (Trainspotting) from the first novel in Charles Cumming’s bestselling Alec Milius spy series.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Mescal will play Alec Milius, “a disillusioned twenty-something whose gift for deception catches the eye of MI6”. It continues: “Caught up in the thrusts of a geopolitical war on commodities involving the British and the Americans, at home he struggles to preserve his relationship with his girlfriend and build a future together. As his web of lies grows, Alec is forced to confront his own nature – whether he can be a good man as well as a good spy.”

Speaking about the new film, Macdonald said: “I’ve wanted to make A Spy By Nature for many years – and when I met Paul Mescal, with his beguiling mixture of intelligence, skill and youth, I knew I’d found the perfect star. This is a very modern spy story – sexy, dangerous, morally ambivalent – and only an actor of Paul’s talent could pull it off.” We can’t wait.

The release date for A Spy By Nature is TBC.

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Slow Horses

Upon its release earlier this year in April, Slow Horses quickly became a surefire Apple TV+ hit. So you just know we’re counting down the days till season two lands on our screens this December. Talk about great timing for winter streaming, right?

Slow Horses follows a team of British intelligence agents who serve in a dumping ground department of MI5 – Slough House. Gary Oldman stars as Jackson Lamb, the brilliant but irascible leader of the spies who end up in Slough House due to their career-ending mistakes. 

The series throws you straight into the action from episode one, it always keeps you guessing and consistently delivers wit and shocking twists in equal supply. But the stellar cast of familiar faces is also a major reason to tune in. Joining Oldman is a decorated ensemble cast including Academy Award nominee Kristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour), Academy Award nominee Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes), Bafta Scotland award winner Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) and Olivia Cooke, who many will recognise from her recent leading role as Alicent Hightower in House Of The Dragon.

Slow Horses season one is available to stream on Apple TV+ with season two premiering on 2 December.

The 355 

This all-female spy thriller was a welcome addition to our cinema listings when it was released at the beginning of the year. Not least because it puts women front and centre but also because it makes the often old-fashioned theme of being a secret agent something bold, fierce and weirdly relatable.

As well as keeping us on the edge of our seats, the film boasts a star-studded cast including Jessica Chastain (who also wrote and produced the film), Lupita Nyong’o, Fan Bingbing, Diane Kruger and Penelope Cruz.

The 355 is available to stream on Apple TV now.

The Ipcress File  

The anticipated remake of the 1965 Michael Caine classic went down a treat with viewers when it first aired back in March.

It’s glamorous, funny and, most of all, keeps us guessing. The recent nostalgic series stars Peaky Blinders’ Joe Cole as Harry Palmer, a cheeky British sergeant who gets caught red-handed selling contraband items. Instead of serving jail time, the British intelligence services take note of his quick thinking and want him to work for them.

Suddenly the prospect of eight years in a military prison vanish, but with it, Harry must navigate this new-found (and, frankly, wild) life of being a spy.

The Ipcress File is available to watch on ITV Hub. 

Argylle 

This upcoming Apple TV+ film is set to “reinvent the spy genre”, according to Argylle director Matthew Vaughn (the Kingsman franchise).

The new movie has already created its fair share of buzz on social media, not least because of the fact that Dua Lipa is making her acting debut in the film.

Roles are yet to be disclosed but Lipa isn’t the only familiar face to grace this cast. Henry Cavill will star as the titular super-spy and joining him will be Sam Rockwell (Jojo Rabbit), Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Catherine O’Hara (Schitt’s Creek), wrestler-turned-actor John Cena, Ariana DeBose (West Side Story) and Samuel L Jackson.

From the looks of the teaser trailer, we’re getting serious Bond vibes as well as the spy-themed glamour we know and love from a classic movie. We can’t wait.

Release date: Argylle is “coming soon” to Apple TV+ with an exact release date TBC. 

All The Old Knives 

Cat and mouse chases are one of the main draws of any good spy thriller. It’s the anticipation, the excitement and never knowing quite what may be lurking round the corner for our main character.

In this Prime Video movie, we get just that and a whole lot more. All The Old Knives is adapted from Olen Steinhauer’s bestselling 2015 novel and follows veteran CIA operative Henry Pelham (Chris Pine) as he’s tasked with uncovering which CIA agent from his former station in Vienna leaked information that cost more than 100 people their lives in a tragic plane hijacking.

His mission takes him from Austria to England to California and eventually leads him to his former colleague and ex-lover (plot twist) Celia Harrison (Thandiwe Newton). Is she innocent? Is she guilty? Is she the reason for his downfall? You’ll just have to watch to wait and see.

All The Old Knives is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

Londongrad 

Benedict Cumberbatch will play Henry Sugar in The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar.

Spy thrillers that traverse the true crime world are always going to entice us, let’s face it. This upcoming HBO series not only stars Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role but it also tells the story of the 2006 poisoning and murder of former-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko.

The new drama is based on the book The Terminal Spy: A True Story Of Espionage, Betrayal And Murder and will expose the “definitive story of this assassination and of the profound international implications”.

As of yet, Cumberbatch is the only name attached to the series but our excitement remains undiminished.

Release date: TBC 

Litvinenko  

David Tennant will take on the role of poisoned former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

With the news of ITVX launching soon, we were excited to learn that David Tennant’s upcoming drama will also be exclusively coming to the platform this autumn.

The premise is the same as the previously mentioned Cumberbatch HBO series, but this ITV drama comes from the creators of Netflix’s Lupin, so we just know it’s going to be good.

Tennant will star as Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian Federal Security Services and KGB officer whose death (from polonium poisoning in November 2006) triggered one of the most complex and dangerous investigations in the history of the Metropolitan Police. Rather than focus solely on the case, this series will explore the stories of the determined Scotland Yard Officers who worked for ten years to prove who was responsible.

Release date: Autumn 2022 (exact date TBC) 

Pieces Of Her 

What would you do if you found out your mother – whom you’ve known for the entirety of your life – is actually a spy?

It’s a plot twist that’s somewhat hard to get your head around but in this series, Andy (Bella Heathcote) has to think fast as her enigmatic mother (Toni Collette) forces her to go on the run. It’s fast-paced, presents some deeper mother-daughter issues, but most of all, it’s a thrilling watch.

Pieces Of Her is available to stream on Netflix. 

The Courier 

This 2020 thriller brings us 60s style, Cold War plotlines and a very true story. We follow British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) who, at the request of MI6, ends up playing a pivotal role in trying to defuse the Cuban missile crisis.

Also starring in the film is Jessie Buckley (The Lost Daughter, Men) who stars as Wynne’s wife, Sheila. Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) also features as CIA official Emily Donovan, who helps hatch the plan to use a businessman as a cover.

It’s historical, tense and kept us on the edge of our seats until its last moments – what more could you want from a juicy spy-themed thriller?

The Courier is available to watch on Netflix. 

The Coldest Game 

You may recently recognise him as Detective Harry Ambrose from Netflix hit series The Sinner, but in this drama, Bill Pullman stars as Joshua Mansky, a troubled mathematics genius.

In the film, the Cuban missile crisis threatens world peace in 1962. Mansky has to prepare to play in a United States-Soviet Union chess match, but in the process, finds himself sucked into a deadly game of espionage.

The Coldest Game is available to stream on Netflix. 

In From The Cold 

Netflix must love a mother-to-spy character arc because this series follows a seemingly normal American single mother as she’s outed as being an ex-Russian spy.

Margarita Levieva (Revenge) stars as Jenny Franklin, the mother at the centre of the eight-part series. She’s juggling a relatively mundane family life until she’s cornered by the CIA to help with an ensuing terror-related emergency.

She’s forced to return to her past as Anya, a bio-engineered Russian agent who must use her unique shape-shifting skills in her newfound battle against an insidious enemy.

In From The Cold is available to stream on Netflix. 

Lead Image: Apple TV+

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