Top Espionage Movies, Part 1

The Bourne Identity (2002) / Director: Doug Liman / Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen

This tale of a phenomenally skilled assassin (Damon) with no memory of who he really is redefined not just espionage films but the entire action and adventure genres. The fights, flights, and romance are incredibly credible. A perfect movie.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004) / Director: Paul Greengrass / Stars: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Joan Allen, Brian Cox

Perhaps even more incredible than the near perfection of the first movie in the Bourne series is the fact that this sequel kept up the very high standard. Critically acclaimed sequels are a rarity in Hollywood — and a perfect trilogy almost unknown — where studios and producers rush to cash in on hit films without any sense of story or necessity to continue (except the desire to keep the cash rolling in for themselves). Also impressive, this film gets a new director and introduces new major players, without missing a beat. In this second outing, a botched CIA operation is blamed on Bourne (Damon), who is happily anonymous and in hiding; to survive, and exact revenge, he must dust off those remarkable killing skills.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) / Director: Paul Greengrass / Stars: Matt Damon, David Straitharn, Albert Finney, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles

The third installment of a perfect trilogy, this film is arguably the best Bourne of all (although I’m still partial to the first). Here, the secret agent who’s a secret to himself (Bourne/Damon) seeks to find out his origins as a trained killer, while trying to evade capture by top-level CIA officials with something to cover up.

Casino Royale (2006) / Director: Martin Campbell / Stars: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright

After four decades of putting down bad guys and bedding down bad gals, James Bond was looking a little tired: the series had put empty glamour, silly villains, and implausible toys above hard-core, believable action a la Jason Bourne. This film rejuvenated the franchise with Daniel Craig, the first blond Bond, and dressed him in dirt and blood as often as tuxedos as he struggles to defeat a weapons dealer in high-stakes poker at Casino Royale. But James is up against more than he suspects.

North by Northwest (1959) / Director: Alfred Hitchcock / Stars: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis

Foreign spies believe a New York advertising executive (Grant) is a U.S. agent and chase him across the country as he tries to escape their murderous grasp. One of movies most memorable chase scenes as a crop duster tries to mow down our hero in a field.