There’s something innately exciting about the spy thriller genre. Films in this genre immerse the viewer in a world of mystery, deceit, and exhilaration, as characters attempt to figure out exactly what’s going on and how the spy will manage to overcome the villain.
Few spy film franchises are as exciting and thrilling as those featuring Jason Bourne, played by the great Matt Damon. Though there’s much that is unique about these films, there are actually quite a few television shows that hit some of the same notes and are thus ideal choices for those who enjoyed the Bourne films.
There are many reasons to love Homeland – the spy thriller series that ran for eight seasons on Showtime, but a lot of it comes down to the great performances delivered by Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, both of whom are electric in their portrayals.
Once this series grabs hold of a viewer, it never lets go, and it’s one of those shows that seems made to binge. It’s also accrued quite a few high-profile fans, including none other than former President Barack Obama.
9 The Americans
It’s easy to see why the Cold War would make such an infinitely compelling and easy setting for spy dramas since both the United States and the Soviet Union made copious use of it in their decades-long standoff with one another.
The Americans has all of the traits that audiences have come to associate with the golden age of television, up to and including great performances and a searing exploration of the ways in which politics shape one’s loyalties.
8 Killing Eve
What’s not to love about Killing Eve, the spy thriller that stars the likes of Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer, and Fiona Shaw? It has the electrifying chemistry between Oh and Comer, as well as the scenes of stylized murder that leave one simply in awe of the ease with which Villanelle dispatches the people that she is assigned to assassinate.
At the same time, there’s quite a bit of mystery that, even after three seasons, hasn’t been resolved or illuminated.
Part of what makes this particular series so charming is that it manages to bring together the genres of the spy thriller and the comedy. Of course, it definitely helps that the lead in the show, Zachary Levi, has charisma and charm to spare.
Unlike Jason Bourne, though, who has an adversarial relationship with the CIA, for the most part, Chuck goes along with their efforts to make use of his prodigious talents. The only problem is that the series didn’t last longer. Even so, there’s more than enough here for fans of Bourne to enjoy.
6 The Blacklist
The last couple of decades has been something of a golden age for spy thrillers of various sorts, including The Blacklist, which stars James Spader as a former Navy officer who now has ties to various criminals.
James Spader seems to take a great deal of delight in the role, and there’s a lot of chemistry between him and Megan Boone. It’s a bit over-the-top sometimes, but there’s still a lot to enjoy about this show, and fans can rejoice that there will be at least one more season.
The United States isn’t the only country to create some great spy dramas, for several have also come out of the United Kingdom. One of the best would have to be MI-5, which focuses on several officers involved with British intelligence.
In addition to its very sharp and intelligent writing – which most people would expect from a show produced in the UK – it is also a visually stunning show, with a number of notable guest actors adding to its already substantial appeal.
4 Burn Notice
In the world of television, there’s nothing more unpredictable than a spy who has been cut loose by the organization that he used to work for. That’s the premise of this series, which ran for several years and attained a fair amount of success.
The story is entertaining enough on its own, but it actually folds together several different stories, inviting the viewer to piece together the characters’ pasts and their present. What’s more, it also manages to add just a little bit of humor to its spy thriller narrative.
Jennifer Garner seems to be one of those actresses who manages to succeed, no matter what role that she appears in. In Alias, she plays a double-agent who has to try to balance the requirements of this job with her loyalties to her family and friends.
It’s a marvelously well-written show, and once it grabs hold of the audience it doesn’t let go. And it must have been doing something right because it managed to accrue critical success and stayed on the air for several seasons.
2 Turn: Washington’s Spies
Not all spy thrillers are set in the present. In fact, some are set in the past, and one of the best of these is Turn: Washington’s Spies. As the title suggests, the series is about a group of spies who end up playing a pivotal role in the unfolding of the Revolutionary War.
Though it takes some liberties with history – some more egregious than others – there’s no doubt that it’s rather refreshing to see this new take on one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the United States.
In the annals of the spy thriller film, 24 definitely looms large. In fact, Jack Bauer has become something of an icon in the genre, in large part because he proves that he is willing to do whatever he thinks is necessary to prevent terror attacks on the United States.
In addition, the series is famous for its concept that every episode covers 24 hours. It’s a rather fascinating little conceit, and it gives the series a certain narrative propulsion that keeps the viewer consistently on the edge of their seats.
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