There are so many spy movies out there they’ve created a genre all their own, but the concept of the spy film is not just limited to action. More often than not spy movies also branch out into the comedy genre making for some wild antics and hilarious circumstances. In fact, despite my normal disposition towards comedies I’d go so far as to say that spy comedy movies are among my favorite in the genre which is why I decided to put the focus on them with their own list. Since a new spy comedy “The Spy Who Dumped Me” is coming out this weekend I thought it would be the perfect time to take a look at the best films that blended action, humor and intrigue. These are my picks for the Top 10 Spy Comedy Movies.
For this list I looked at any film that focuses on spy adventures while also embracing a comedic edge. These movies can be parodies, satires or completely original products as long as they are considered to be comedies first and foremost. That said action spy flicks with levity or comedic undertones like “Kingsman: The Secret Service” were not considered for this list because I felt they were more action than comedy. I looked at films that embraced the humor over everything else to shed some light on the ridiculousness of the spy genre in general or simply utilize a proven formula to bring about the laughs.
Also, as with most lists I only picked one film per franchise so while a certain British spy played by Mike Myers may be on this list I’m only featuring one of his films to allow for a more diverse selection.
Obviously, these are the movies I feel are worth recognizing from this subgenre of humor. So I want to know, what is your favorite spy comedy movie? Let me know in the comments below and look for my review of “The Spy Who Dumped Me” coming soon.
10. “This Means War”
A 2012 romantic comedy with a spy-themed twist, “This Means War” stars the powerhouse trio of Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy. Hardy and Pine play best friends Franklin Foster and Tuck Hansen, CIA agents assigned to desk duty after a botched undercover mission. Circumstances lead both of them to be attracted to a woman named Lauren, played by Witherspoon, and you can see where this goes. Despite initially agreeing to let Lauren make her decision without interfering with each other the two spies go overboard and use their skills to try and keep tabs on how the other’s dates are going in an attempt to gain an edge. What results is a comedic series of spy-themed shenanigans as the two agents fight over the same woman. Of course, everything gets out of control especially when Lauren becomes the bait for the partners’ previous target to get his revenge. “This Means War” might not have been very well received by critics, but even for a cynic like me it has its charm. The three lead performers do their part and the “spy vs. spy” scenario gets a pretty creative new coat of paint as the two fight for affection rather than simply superiority. It’s not the best movie on this list, but it has its moments making it a great place to start.
9. “Top Secret”
Directed by Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker, the same trio that created the disaster movie parody “Airplane!”, “Top Secret” follows the same formula as a spoof of numerous film styles including the spy films of the Cold War era. The film was also the feature film debut of Val Kilmer who stars as Nick Rivers, an American rock star who becomes wound up in a resistance plot in Germany. Action and suspense ensue as Rivers must use his abilities as a musician to get out of trouble, win the girl and save the world. While not a box office success the film did receive respect from critics specifically because of its quirky plot which in itself acts as a satire of the confusing narratives of typical spy pieces. The irony of this film is that it, possibly intentionally, lacks much of a coherent story or true characters outside of Nick Rivers which somehow works to the film’s advantage as it seeks to throw shade at just how difficult it is to follow along with legitimately good spy adventures. “Top Secret” may be an acquired taste that’s not for everyone, but that’s kind of the MO of Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker anyway. The point of this film IS that you can’t quite get it as the ultimate sendup for a genre built off of confusing plotlines, often hollow side characters and ridiculous escape methods that would never actually work in the real world.
8. “Undercover Brother”
A relatively obscure 2002 action comedy, “Undercover Brother” is not just a funny spy film but a spoof of blaxploitation movies from the 1970s. It mainly utilizes the James Bond formula to pay homage to spy films of the past (get used to that it will be a trend on this list) with the focus put on Eddie Griffin as Anton Jackson the titular Undercover Brother. Jackson is a member of the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D., an organization bent of stopping a Caucasian villain known as “The Man” from undermining the African-American community and watering down their cultural influence. As you can tell from that description alone this film utilizes popular cultural terminology and, in the process, pokes fun as racial tensions in the United States by adapting those issues to a spy-themed story. Praised by critics and a modest box office success, “Undercover Brother” may be underappreciated today but it’s social commentary and pitch-perfect and hilarious take on spy genre cliches make it one of the more original and smartly written movies to make this list.
7. “Spy Hard”
While “Top Secret” was one of the original spy movie spoofs, “Spy Hard” is arguably the more popular one even if it’s not the most respected. A 1996 spy comedy on the back end of Leslie Nielson’s parody-themed career “Spy Hard” is, simply put, a sendup of the James Bond film franchise and action movies in general. Nielson plays the main character of Dick Steele, whose name is a play on the rough and tough names of common spy characters and whose codename, WD-40, is a not so subtle pun as well. Steele teams with another agent codenamed 3.14 (haha, get it, it’s Pi!) to stop an evil genius from controlling the world. It’s plot and puns and references are so on the nose it’s honestly near impossible not to appreciate. While it didn’t make a slash at the box office and has a massively negative 8% score on Rotten Tomatoes, the point of “Spy Hard” was never to be a good movie. Rather it was always meant to be a ridiculous take on an overused and cliched formula and it succeeds in every way. Sometimes a parody film works simply because it’s so over the top and unapologetically lazy, throwing everything and anything at the wall to see what sticks. “Spy Hard” is one of those movies and in my opinion is one of Nielson’s last great spoof films before his career went down hill.
6. “Burn After Reading”
A quirky farce film from 2008, “Burn After Ready” is a black comedy that takes the spy concept and turns it on its head through a series of mishaps involving confidential information contained within a memoir of a former CIA agent. The agent quits his job as a CIA analyst and begins to put together his memoir only for it to fall into the hands of his soon-to-be-ex wife and, through a complex series of events, becomes the subjects of interest for spies, blackmailers and others. The all star cast that includes George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton and more help bring this spectacular comedy film to life by playing off of the concept of the spy movie from a totally different angle. Instead of focusing on a spy trying to get delicate information it uses misconceptions and intrigue to poke fun at the intensity of the spy genre and the paranoia and espionage experienced by the characters typically associated with such stories. “Burn After Reading” earned great reviews, and rightfully so, as well as nominations at the Golden Globes in 2009. Some even called it one of the best comedy movies of 2008 and ten years later it has aged like a fine wine and has become even more relevant through the transformation of the spy thriller and America in general.
5. “Johnny English”
Yet another James Bond parody from 2003, the “Johnny English” property has actually become a full-blown franchise with a third movie set to premier this October. However, the first remains the best film so far introducing audiences to the bumbling British spy. Played by Rowan Atkinson and reminiscent of his Mr. Bean persona, the first film follows the inept agent who is left to complete a mission when he is is the only spy remaining for the job. Goofy gags and hilarious screwups make English more trouble than he’s worth as he tries to prevent the theft of the Crown Jewels. Definitely among the better James Bond spoofs, “Johnny English” is just enough slapstick and action to stand on its own as a hilarious and fun viewing experience. While not a critical darling “Johnny English” won over fans by taking the James Bond parody to hilarious lengths and shedding light on some truly ridiculous realities of the spy genre’s over-the-top storytelling and the impossible feats the agents are usually tasked with accomplishing. While it’s no work of art, “Johnny English” offers its own special flavor of spy-themed humor and Rowan Atkinson is honestly the best part of it all as the convincingly naïve titular character.
4. “Get Smart”
From one bumbling spy to another. This 2008 cinematic adaptation of the popular Mel Brooks-led television show broke the bank becoming a certified hit even with middle of the road reviews. Released at the height of Steve Carrell’s comedy genre popularity the film puts the actor in the role of Maxwell Smart, a well-meaning and capable agent often overlooked due to his physical limitations and his value as an analyst. When the entirety of his agency becomes compromised Smart teams with a legendary female operative called Agent 99 to complete an important mission. While some were disappointed with the modernization of the property, “Get Smart” offers some great throwbacks to the original series and shows why the formula still works for today’s viewers. Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway anchor this project as great action set pieces and absolutely hilarious moments of levity play out creating a movie that’s both amusing and entertaining in all the right way. Unlike many on this list, “Get Smart” is not really a satire of spy movies but actually embraces the clichés and tropes of the genre without taking itself too seriously. For me it’s an amusing and engaging film with a great cast that set the bar high for every other spy comedy of the last decade.
3. “Spies Like Us”
“Spies Like Us” is an iconic 1985 comedy film starring Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd as a pair of novice intelligence agents sent on a mission to the Soviet Union. While the movie was intended to be an homage to the famed “Road to…” films starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby it has since evolved into a nostalgic spy peice somewhat respected in hindsight although critics still see it as more dumpster fire than Hollywood gold. Despite negative critical ratings the film became a box office success and has sense become a pop culture must see even earning its own themed episode on “Family Guy”. This is among the oldest movies on this list and, along with “Top Secret”, helped prove that spy themed comedies could be a marketable concept in an era when many fans saw spy movies as self-serious action epics. While the plot and script are admittedly pretty thin in retrospect that doesn’t prevent “Spies Like Us” from bringing at least a few laughs if for no other reason than the revelation that every spy movie is pretty much the same exact story with a new approach. In my opinion it’s a film worth seeing that, given an open mind, acts as a bit of commentary on how odd it is that boring, repetitive spy films someone continue to make money.
The newest entry on this list, “Spy” is a 2015 action comedy and one of several productions partnering director Paul Feig with modern comedy great Melissa McCarthy. The film presents McCarthy in a familiar scenario for many characters in spy comedies as she plays a behind-the-scenes CIA employee who is forced into the field as an actual spy to stop a villainess after the identities of more experienced agents are compromised. Inexperienced and insecure, McCarthy’s character Susan finds herself caught up in several misadventures and out of her element as she tries to get the job done. But it’s not just McCarthy who shines in this film. “Spy” also gives us memorable and hilarious performances from Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Jason Statham and others who all play amusing versions of spy movie character cliches. Much like “Get Smart”, “Spy” mixes legitimate genre action while also providing humorous sendups to typical spy tropes taking itself just seriously enough to be entertaining but not so seriously where the humor is diluted. “Spy” actually perfects this marriage of action and hilarity for modern audiences and rode that success, and the undeniable charm of its leads, to the bank as well as becoming a massive critical hit. In an odd way “Spy” helped revitalize the spy genre after it had gone stale and did so by reminding us how fun and ridiculous these movies are in all the right ways.
1. “Austin Powers”
Definitely the most iconic movie on this list, 1997’s “Austin Powers” is the definitive James Bond parody in a sea of similar products both before and after its release. Starring Mike Myers as the titular character and his arch enemy Dr. Evil, “Austin Powers” sees the agent awakened from cryosleep in 1997 to stop his rival from taking over the world. Powers has to adjust to modern times despite his personality being stuck in the 60s and his libido being a little too active than socially acceptable. The film spawned two sequels and was a critical and commercial hit bringing to life many now-iconic characters while paying homage and generally making fun of concepts, characters, plot lines and gimmicks from nearly every James Bond movie up to that point. Powers himself has become one of the most iconic spy agents in all of cinema despite the fact that his character design and personality are meant to mock the most famous spy of all and the actors that portrayed him. It takes a lot to leave a legacy like that and through smart writing, memorable dialogue and incredibly fun humor “Austin Powers” not only left its mark but became an undeniable pop culture staple that puts every other movie on this list to shame.