If you loved the book, you’ll rave about the film. SPYSCAPE has selected 10 top espionage authors and the spy movies that lifted their prose into pounding thrillers.
The 39 Steps
The legendary Alfred Hitchcock was a brilliant filmmaker, with Cary Grant’s North by Northwest one of the greatest spy films ever made. The 39 Steps (1935) is another of Hitchcock’s must-stream blockbusters based on the series of John Buchan books featuring Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) who becomes embroiled in an international spy ring. He meets agent Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim) but she is soon dead. Benedict Cumberbatch is starring in the Netflix remake.
A Most Wanted Man
No less than 10 movies have been based on John le Carré’s spy books and A Most Wanted Man starring Philip Seymour Hoffman ranks near the top, brushing shoulders with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and The Little Drummer Girl (the TV series with Florence Pugh and the brilliant movie adaptation starring Diane Keaton). If you have time, indulge in all 10 films but if you’re strapped for time don’t miss Hoffman’s brilliant performance as German spymaster Günther Bachmann - and keep an eye out for (as was his wont) le Carré’s cameo in the bar scene!
There are 15 Robert Ludlum Bourne books and five films, so you’ve got your work cut out for you! We love Matt Damon but Jeremy Renner kept us on the edge of our seats too. (And speaking of movies based on Ludlum’s novels, you might want to also check out The Osterman Weekend which involves old friends and a Soviet spy network.)
The Ipcress File
Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File was a groundbreaker, and Harry Palmer (Michael Caine), the film's twisting plot, and Palmer’s omelettes are all cracking. If you’re a Deighton fan, you may want to also stream Funeral in Berlin (1966), Billion-Dollar Brain (1967), and Spy Story (1976).
The Day of the Jackal
The Day of The Jackal (1973), based on Frederick Forsyth’s book, involves a plot by a professional assassin (codenamed Jackal) to kill French President Charles de Gaulle. (The 1997 Bruce Willis and Richard Gere reboot is an equally worthwhile choice.) If you like Forsyth, you’ll likely want to stream The Fourth Protocol (1987), Death Has A Bad Reputation (1990), Rooz-e-Sheytan (1994), and Love Never Dies (2012).
The Hunt for Red October
Sean Connery, the submarine commander in The Hunt For Red October, may have gone rogue. It’s an intriguing premise and a thrilling film based on Tom Clancy’s novel. If you like his work, check out Harrison Ford’s under-appreciated turns as Jack Ryan in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, among others.
Daniel Craig’s first Bond role in Casino Royale broke box office records and introduced us to a steely Bond with fewer gadgets and quips - a 007 truer in spirit to Ian Fleming's Bond. At least 15 of Fleming’s books have been made into films. You won’t want to miss No Time to Die, of course, but don’t ignore Goldfinger - you’re bound to love the DB5 ejector seat.
The Lady Vanishes
Another Hitchcock gem, this British thriller was known for its dry humor and is based on Ethel Lina White’s book The Wheel Spins. There’s an intelligence angle to The Lady Vanishes but we don’t want to spoil the plot so you’ll need to stream it and judge for yourself - you’ll be glad you did.
Three Days of the Condor
Robert Redford is simply superb as a quiet CIA codebreaker on the run in Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor, a 1975 thriller based on James Grady’s novel Six Days of the Condor. Redford’s character needs to survive long enough to figure out why his own agency wants him dead - and there’s no guarantee he will. One of Redford’s best roles.
Our Man in Havana
Our Man in Havana (1957) is a clever adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic novel about a British spy in Cuba. Alec Guinness is at his understated best - cold, satirical, and perfect.