As one gets older, a little more worldly, and a little more sophisticated, they realize that spies aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The paradigm shifts away from James Bond, the quintessential spy, to bureaucratic schlubs that sit behind desks and have probably never worn a trench coat in their lives. It’s disheartening. As such, we find out that most spy films don’t feature fake passports, dead drops, and, in the case of the Bourne series, fights with rolled-up magazines.

Rather, the more realistic portrayals involve patient power struggles, leveraging the media, public perception, diplomacy, and (sigh) peaceful resolutions. Not a single one of them looks or acts like Austin Powers.

Here are seven movies that support my decision at 11 years old to not become a spy. Spying’s dumb.

Spy Game

Brad Pitt gets captured after trying to rescue a detainee from a Chinese prison. He will be killed in 24 hours unless the US comes forward and claims him. Sounds pretty exciting, right? Nope. The United States relies on his mentor, played by Robert Redford, to help them get some info on the captured agent. However, they actually are hoping he digs up dirt on Pitt so that they can let him die with a clear conscience. The film is peppered with flashbacks to Berlin and Lebanon when the two agents worked together.

It all works out, and very few people die. Such crap.


This spy film is based on a true story, so you just know it’s going to be boring. Robert Hannsen (played very well by Chris Cooper) was a CIA agent who was eventually convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, then Russia. But lest you think he’s some suave international man of mystery, think again. He’s a devout Catholic, a member of Opus Dei in fact, who convinces his clerk, Eric O’Neill (played by Ryan Phillippe) to resume churchgoing.

Phillippe finds that his original assignment, investigating allegations of Hannssen’s sexual deviancy, is a front for suspicions of treason. After surveiling him ad nauseum, the CIA catches Hanssen in the act of treason and arrests him. O’Neill becomes disillusioned and resigns to work in the private sector, possibly for Haliburton or something.

The Good Shepherd

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you want to make an interesting, engaging spy film that will impress your 12 year-old self, keep Robert Redford and George Clooney the hell away from it. As mentioned above, Redford spends all of Spy Game just TALKING TO PEOPLE! He directs The Good Shepherd, which is worse than Spy Game, because, although both films are crazy-boring, Spy Game is only boring for like two hours, The Good Shepherd for almost three. The tale of The Good Shepherd spans decades, following Edward (Matt Damon) as he rises through the ranks from Yale to the CIA, eventually watching his own son grow to follow in his footsteps. The only interesting part is…nothing. This whole film makes espionage look as boring as every other profession. The fact that it’s largely a period piece makes it all the more unbearable. I’m twitching just thinking about it.


So begins the reign of Clooney as the man that stole the thunder from spies everywhere. He relegates spies to the realm of claims adjusters and office managers, drones that exercise no autonomy and certainly don’t shoot pistols with two hands like in John Woo movies.

Syriana revolves around political and financial exploits in the Middle East, largely focusing on Clooney’s character, a CIA agent tasked with the assassination of a Prince. The entire film serves to reconcile, corporate, national, and financial interests. When the film isn’t following the bureaucracy of the CIA, it’s following around Matt Damon, an energy analyst for a large petroleum company. Seriously. It’s that boring.

The Good German

The movie begins with Tobey Maguire’s corpse being fished out of a river and only gets worse from there. Though there’s no “spy” here to speak of, it’s a spy movie in that it involves George Clooney (CLOONEY!) trying to infiltrate both American and German political and military circles to solve the mystery behind the murders. The only interesting part of the film is a Jewish pawn shop owner who had his legs amputated during the holocaust. Everything else blows.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

With a name like this, you know that not a lot of people are going to be running away from explosions in slow motion. This film, follows the hunt for a Soviet double agent in the British Secret Service. The film takes place in the 1970’s and offers more of your conventional cloak and dagger-type liaisons than most of the other films on this list, but most of the characters are British, and when was the last time you saw a good British action movie? That’s right. It doesn’t exist. I don’t want to give away too many plot points, as it hasn’t found an audience here yet, but it’s no Goldeneye, that’s for damn sure!

The Tailor of Panama

Pierce Brosnan’s Andy Osnard finds himself in Panama after being exiled by MI6, but finds a way to garner information about the Panamanian government and the canal so the British so that they will rehire him. Osnard runs into a tailor whose wife works as an assistant to the canal director. Osnard begins to lean on the tailor only to discover that the tailor has a few secrets of his own.

I became so bored typing that sentence that I began to cry. It’s horrible. Everything about espionage is horrible.

Want a career more exciting than espionage? Go team up with H&R Block.

Keep calm and read on....

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