Critic's Picks: The 10 Best Spy Comedies

7:15 AM 8/3/2018

by Stephen Dalton

As 'The Spy Who Dumped Me' hits theaters, a THR film critic ranks his favorite examples of the subgenre, including a Mike Myers classic, an inspired Melissa McCarthy vehicle and a giddy French spoof.

  1. 10
    10

    Casino Royale

    1967

    Photofest

    Decades before Daniel Craig first donned the Bond tuxedo, the first ever 007 parody emerged just five years into the long-running screen franchise. Assembled by six directors and a dozen writers, Casino Royale is a sprawling, dated, hit-and-miss folly. But it is still noteworthy for its dreamy Burt Bacharach score and star-studded ensemble cast including Peter Sellers, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Orson Welles and Woody Allen.

  2. 9
    10

    Top Secret!

    1984

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    Val Kilmer made his screen debut as an Elvis-style rocker caught up in Cold War intrigue behind the Iron Curtain in this rowdy multi-genre spoof from the writer-director team responsible for the hugely successful Airplane! comedies. Top Secret! flopped at the box office but it remains a gleefully absurd cult classic packed with deliriously funny touches, from Kilmer’s high-energy performance to droll cameos by Omar Sharif and Peter Cushing.

  3. 8
    10

    Kingsman: The Secret Service

    2014

    Jaap Buitendijk

    Building on their Kick-Ass success, director Matthew Vaughn adapted another Martin Millar comic book for this blockbuster comedy thriller. Taron Edgerton stars as a raw young troublemaker recruited to an elite secret agent organization by Colin Firth’s deceptively deadly English gentleman spy. Some very broad humor is underscored by spectacular action scenes and a heavyweight cast, including Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Caine.

  4. 7
    10

    Johnny English

    2003

    Based on a character created by rubber-faced comic Rowan Atkinson for a credit card commercial, this screwball Bond parody was co-scripted by two regular 007 screenwriters, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Atkinson stars as an incompetent secret agent tasked with stealing back the Crown Jewels from John Malkovich’s hammy French villain. The slapstick-heavy humor is not subtle, but Johnny English became a franchise-launching smash hit, with a third installment due next month.

  5. 6
    10

    OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies

    2006

    Photofest

    Five years before bagging five Oscars with The Artist, writer-director Michel Hazanavicius first paired up co-stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo on this suave, handsome retro-parody of a long-running French spy novel series that predated Ian Fleming’s 007 books. Dujardin displays excellent deadpan clowning skills as a sharp-dressed, womanizing secret agent working undercover to avert the looming Suez crisis in 1950s Egypt.

  6. 5
    10

    The President's Analyst

    1967

    Photofest

    James Coburn created his own Bond-spoofing super-spy in the Derek Flint movies, but his star turn in Theodore Flicker’s conspiratorial Cold War satire The President’s Analyst is a superior slice of Swinging Sixties surrealism. Coburn plays a White House psychiatrist targeted for his secrets by sinister agents from across the globe, including a Beatles-style pop group. Even groovier than the Austin Powers films, this psychedelic cult curio is worth tracking down.

  7. 4
    10

    Spy

    2015

    Photofest

    Melissa McCarthy and her serial writer-director collaborator Paul Feig joyously subvert 50 years of macho espionage tropes in this rowdy all-star action comedy. McCarthy plays a clumsy, deskbound CIA officer struggling to pass muster as a slick super-spy on a hazardous undercover mission to Europe. The high-caliber supporting cast includes Rose Byrne, Jude Law and Jason Statham in a sportingly overblown parody of his action-hero persona.

  8. 3
    10

    True Lies

    1994

    Photofest

    Arnold Schwarzenegger reunited with Terminator director James Cameron to play a top-secret super-spy with a deceptively boring home life in this superior comic espionage thriller. Cameron's loose remake of the 1991 French release La Totale is a winning mix of spectacular action and domestic farce. The only jarring note is a dark subplot in which Arnie’s undercover hero kidnaps his wife, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, to test her fidelity.

  9. 2
    10

    Spy Kids

    2001

    A terrific comic-book adventure comedy with appeal to both children and parents, Spy Kids stars Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara as intrepid pre-teens who are forced to take action when their ex-spy parents, played by Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino, are kidnapped by an evil children’s TV host. Writer-director Robert Rodriguez launched a hugely successful franchise with this CG-heavy, visually dazzling, family-friendly hit.

  10. 1
    10

    Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

    1997

    Photofest

    A toothy Mike Myers plays the eponymous hero in the first and best of the hugely successful retro-spy parody trilogy, which became so ingrained in pop culture that even George W. Bush referenced them in his speeches. Myers writes and stars as a Bond-spoofing playboy secret agent deep frozen in the Swinging Sixties, then revived in the politically correct Nineties. An inspired comic premise, despite some very broad jokes.