(Photo by FX)

The 50 Best Spy TV Shows Ever

Deciding which series are worthy of inclusion on a list of the best spy shows and streaming series ever is a matter of mystery itself.

With its propensity for disguises, double-crosses, and surveillance, FX’s Cold War–era drama The Americans, is certainly about spies. But the series — which has a 96% series-level Tomatometer score, every season of which is Certified Fresh (including one 100% CF season), and is regarded by critics as one of the greatest shows in this Golden Age of Television — is also about marriage, parenting, and history’s winning side’s ability to whitewash facts. Should it receive a lower ranking on our ultimate spy show list than a classic like CBS’s Mission: Impossible? Also of note: They both have catchy theme songs.

Where should a complicated sci-fi caper like Starz’s Counterpart stand? The series, which returns for season 2 on December 9, finished off its first season with one of those rare, perfect 100% Certified Fresh Tomatometer scores. It stars J.K. Simmons as both a mild-mannered bureaucratic pencil pusher and his aggro alt-universe counterpart, who hunt dangerous reality-hopping spies.

The espionage stories of John le Carré have also had televised adaptations. Le Carré’s The Night Manager (featuring one of Britain’s top Toms) and, most recently, The Little Drummer Girl both aired on AMC, are Certified Fresh at 90% on the Tomatometer, and rank high on our spy series list.

Spycraft can also be quite funny, as in Mel Brooks and Buck Henry’s beloved Get Smart, which ran on NBC and CBS in the late ’60s, and the long-running animated FX comedy Archer, which has a 93% Tomatometer score.

We considered more than Tomatometer scores to finalize our spy show ranking, however; we also looked at variables like how many seasons each series has, how each of those seasons scored, how many reviews determined those scores, and whether those seasons were Certified Fresh, We looked at other reputable media lists of top spy series to help gauge where to place some classic series without enough reviews to register a Tomatometer score, and then applied a dose of editorial discretion to break some ties and rank some titles based on their cultural resonance.

Check out Rotten Tomatoes’ list of best spy shows ever before it self destructs in three … two … just kidding. Like the FBI’s most wanted list, we’ll keep updating this dossier as more information becomes available.

X Company (2015)

#50
Synopsis: Set in the dangerous era of World War II, "X Company" follows the stories and adventures of five highly skilled... [More]

#49
Synopsis: Transitioning from his job as a CIA analyst in the U.S., cerebral officer Daniel Miller's new mission puts him under... [More]

Spies of Warsaw (2013)
71%

#48
Synopsis: As the drums of World War II begin to beat throughout Europe, aristocratic war hero Col. Jean-Francois Mercier gets caught... [More]

Sleeper Cell (2005)
77%

#47
Synopsis: Darwyn Al-Sayeed -- a 30-year-old undercover FBI agent who is also a practicing Muslim -- finds his way (under an... [More]

Quantico (2015)
70%

#46
Synopsis: This thrilling drama from executive producers Michael Seitzman and Mark Gordon explores the lives of young government agents as they... [More]

The Equalizer (1985)

#45
Synopsis: Robert McCall is a retired secret agent. Having become disillusioned by all the rigamarole that comes with secret agenting, McCall... [More]

MacGyver (1985)

#44
Synopsis: MacGyver is a top agent for the Phoenix Foundation, a progressive agency devoted to righting the wrongs of the world.... [More]
Directed By: Lee David Zlotoff

The Saint (1962)

#43
Synopsis: Simon Templar is the Saint. He robs from the criminally rich and gives to the poor and deserving -- while... [More]
Starring: Roger Moore

#42
Synopsis: After scoring a hit with a series set in the 1960s, AMC travels much further back in time for "TURN:... [More]

Hunted (2012)
76%

#41
Synopsis: Award-winning writer and producer Frank Spotnitz ("The X-Files") is behind this eight-part suspense thriller with an international espionage story line.... [More]

#40
Synopsis: A former thief has the ability to become invisible.... [More]

#39
Synopsis: The show that ushered in the phrase "jiggle TV" features three beautiful police academy-trained private detectives whose cases always seem... [More]
Directed By: Ivan Goff

Human Target (2010)
75%

#38
Synopsis: Christopher Chance is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill security guard. He's the man hired when all else fails and normal means... [More]

#37
Synopsis: When homeless, young Nikita is framed for the killing of a policeman, she is given a choice -- join Section... [More]
Directed By: Jay Firestone

#36
Synopsis: Convicted cat burglar Alexander Mundy gets an offer he can't refuse from the United States government: If he puts his... [More]

#35
Adjusted Score: -1%
Critics Consensus: Sharply intelligent, visually striking, and bracingly bleak, The Prisoner remains a political metaphor for the ages.

#34
Synopsis: Charming gunslinger James West and Artemus Gordon, an inventor and master of disguise, are the country's first Secret Service agents,... [More]

Spy (2011)
100%

#33
Synopsis: A single father quits his dead-end job and is accidentally recruited as a trainee spy for MI-5.... [More]
Directed By: John Henderson, Ben Taylor

Thunderbirds (1965)
100%

#32
Synopsis: The trials and tribulations of International Rescue.... [More]

#31
Synopsis: Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell, reprising her role from the "Captain America" films) is an unstoppable secret agent for the Strategic... [More]

#30
Synopsis: Author Tom Clancy introduced the character of Jack Ryan in a series of books before Ryan headed to the big... [More]

Patriot (2015)
91%

#29
Synopsis: This Amazon-original political drama stars Michael Dorman, who plays the role of an intelligence officer named John Tavner. To stop... [More]

Archer (2010)
90%

#28
Synopsis: The suave, confident and devastatingly handsome Sterling Archer may be the world's greatest spy, but he still has issues with... [More]

London Spy (2015)
86%

#27
Synopsis: This crime drama, created by New York Times best-selling author Tom Rob Smith, follows the emotional journey of a young... [More]
Directed By: Jakob Verbruggen

Person of Interest (2011)
92%

#26
Synopsis: Former CIA agent Reese (Jim Caviezel) -- now presumed dead -- and billionaire software genius Finch (Michael Emerson) join forces... [More]

#25
Synopsis: Like "The Avengers," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." borrows from James Bond stories. The good guys, suave U.S. operative Napoleon Solo... [More]
Directed By: Norman Felton

Nikita (2010)
85%

#24
Synopsis: Maggie Q stars as Nikita, a young woman who was rescued from death row by a secret government agency known... [More]

Burn Notice (2007)
88%

#23
Synopsis: Michael Westen is steamed -- or, more precisely, burned. His career as a spy ends when he gets a "burn... [More]

Covert Affairs (2010)
93%

#22
Synopsis: CIA trainee Annie Walker is suddenly plucked from the inner sanctum of the agency and promoted to field operative, and... [More]

Synopsis: George Smiley is recalled from retirement to hunt for a suspected mole in British intelligence.... [More]
Directed By: John Irvin

Smiley's People (1982)
90%

#20
Synopsis: George Smiley is called out of retirement to conclude his career-long battle with the enigmatic and ruthless Russian spymaster Karla.... [More]
Directed By: Simon Langton

#19
Synopsis: Police commissioner Gereon Rath is transferred from Cologne to Berlin, the epicenter of political and social change in the Golden... [More]

The Blacklist (2013)
91%

#18
Synopsis: For decades, ex-government agent Raymond "Red" Reddington has been one of the globe's most wanted fugitives. But then he agreed... [More]

Adjusted Score: -1%
Critics Consensus: The Little Drummer Girl marches to a steady beat of assured plotting, extraordinary art direction, and a uniformly terrific cast that makes the show's smolderingly slow burn pace bearable.

Adjusted Score: -1%
Critics Consensus: The Night Manager's smart writing and riveting story are elevated all the more by Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston's captivating performances.
Directed By: Susanne Bier

Adjusted Score: -1%
Critics Consensus: Well-acted and powerfully written, The Looming Tower delivers gripping counter-terrorism drama rendered even more soberingly effective through its roots in real-life events.

Synopsis: The worldwide law-enforcement organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division) employs an elite team of agents... [More]

The Game (2014)
95%

#13
Synopsis: Tensions are high in 1972 London when the Soviets devise Operation Glass, a plot to bring down Britain, while the... [More]

Deutschland 83 (2015)
91%

#12
Synopsis: In a divided Germany in 1983, naive 24-year-old East German soldier Martin Rauch is pulled from his benign post as... [More]
Directed By: Joerg Winger, Nico Hofmann

Killing Eve (2018)
89%

#11
Synopsis: Eve's life as a spy is not adding up to what she had hoped it would be when she started.... [More]

#10
Synopsis: A group of extraordinary spies, each experts in their own fields, belong to the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) -- first... [More]
Directed By: Bruce Geller

Counterpart (2017)
100%

#9
Synopsis: What might be different if a person could co-exist in an alternate world? Howard Silk, a low-level agent whose career... [More]

Get Smart (1965)

#8
Synopsis: Maxwell Smart, a.k.a. Agent 86, works for CONTROL, a Washington, D.C.-based counterintelligence agency. Totally inept as a secret agent, Smart... [More]
Directed By: Leonard B. Stern

()
%

#7

The Avengers (1961)

#6
Synopsis: Shown in Great Britain for more than five years (debuting in 1961) before it caught on in America, "The Avengers"... [More]

Alias (2001)
86%

#5
Synopsis: A young woman learns she has a familial history of undercover work and agrees to become an international spy for... [More]

24 (2001)
87%

#4
Synopsis: Counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer fights the bad guys of the world, a day at a time. With each week's episode... [More]

Chuck (2007)
90%

#3
Synopsis: Computer geek Chuck Bartowski opens an e-mail that has been encoded, subliminally, with vital government secrets, triggering a massive download... [More]
Directed By: Josh Schwartz, McG

Homeland (2011)
85%

#2
Synopsis: When Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody returns home following eight years in captivity, CIA agent Carrie Mathison thinks he has turned... [More]

The Americans (2013)
96%

#1
Synopsis: Co-starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys,"The Americans" is a period drama about the complex marriage of two KGB spies posing... [More]

Tag Cloud

VOD South by Southwest Film Festival wonder woman mcc ITV singing competition venice Binge Guide Mindy Kaling fresh hispanic heritage month comic books summer preview 2020 Teen Britbox comics facebook Amazon Prime Video psycho vampires new york suspense dexter south america japanese El Rey See It Skip It Spring TV miniseries A&E video spider-verse adventure scene in color WarnerMedia slasher fast and furious universal monsters know your critic romantic comedy Disney+ Disney Plus dragons Emmys Comic Book Superheroes canceled TV shows pirates of the caribbean summer TV preview richard e. Grant TNT First Reviews talk show worst 1990s Watching Series adenture crime drama Disney Channel doctor who cops Superheroe movie OneApp Black Mirror hispanic latino Classic Film Adult Swim Apple Starz Legendary RT History reviews indie GoT Oscar debate kids Horror zombie Pop Amazon Studios sequels satire stop motion streaming posters Mary Tyler Moore rt labs Elton John Polls and Games Mary Poppins Returns action-comedy Netflix Animation green book Nickelodeon halloween tv Discovery Channel The Arrangement TCA 2017 cancelled Disney streaming service Tubi gangster anime cars blockbusters aliens Kids & Family razzies crossover DGA strong female leads cats Syfy summer TV YouTube Tarantino hist dogs zero dark thirty renewed TV shows Countdown streamig Logo transformers 99% king kong Winners Podcast New York Comic Con superman E3 Cosplay Rocky emmy awards President TCA chucky Television Academy TCA Awards golden globe awards critics Quiz psychological thriller leaderboard blaxploitation TIFF Christmas 72 Emmy Awards live action Photos The Purge Rom-Com Interview spain rt archives 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Nominations DC Comics TV Land comiccon festivals technology boxoffice prank FOX science fiction TV movies canceled Pixar ID Pop TV MSNBC Tags: Comedy king arthur TLC concert Shudder stand-up comedy HBO Lucasfilm stoner Schedule American Society of Cinematographers politics children's TV documentaries Biopics Fall TV 2017 Paramount Plus TV historical drama AMC Plus Sci-Fi SXSW 20th Century Fox blockbuster Rock Winter TV YA FXX National Geographic dramedy 90s italian IFC Films Lionsgate Funimation Marathons FX vs. travel Showtime Awards Rocketman serial killer Stephen King Video Games Sundance Now VH1 Turner OWN Martial Arts slashers critic resources ViacomCBS Hallmark Christmas movies Star Wars Tomatazos free movies award winner godzilla A24 Arrowverse genre 21st Century Fox Best Picture space YouTube Premium breaking bad dark The Walking Dead SundanceTV mission: impossible Best and Worst Brie Larson nbcuniversal japan WGN hidden camera Exclusive Video Year in Review Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt robots Broadway teaser worst movies harry potter CMT cartoon Universal BET Awards Extras romance television DC streaming service diversity Amazon Prime high school E! Pirates Film Lifetime Musicals james bond YouTube Red Emmy Nominations 2015 medical drama rt labs critics edition Netflix Christmas movies Ovation Film Festival basketball CBS BET scorecard classics Reality Competition broadcast twilight Comics on TV GIFs golden globes X-Men Tumblr rotten streaming movies San Diego Comic-Con Country anthology jamie lee curtis superhero mockumentary cancelled TV shows 2016 franchise Grammys Holiday GLAAD animated Freeform CW Seed TBS elevated horror independent biography olympics Turner Classic Movies game of thrones screenings Academy Awards BBC America Drama Hollywood Foreign Press Association what to watch asian-american die hard The Walt Disney Company festival new zealand Bravo christmas movies Black History Month BAFTA sports Focus Features ABC theme song 93rd Oscars Comic-Con@Home 2021 criterion TCA Winter 2020 Box Office cooking Set visit Calendar DC Universe TV One book adaptation PBS Mystery FX on Hulu Trailer Ellie Kemper dreamworks 2019 Sneak Peek Mudbound Heroines Food Network feel good ABC Signature Chernobyl Oscars Musical trailers biopic best Marvel Hulu ratings mutant The CW Election crime thriller movies 45 casting Esquire joker Columbia Pictures Travel Channel VICE political drama indiana jones comedies Sundance TV black war women police drama ESPN heist movie 94th Oscars Nat Geo news series Disney Fox Searchlight witnail Best Director Prime Video Fox News TruTV Television Critics Association Paramount Awards Tour 24 frames video on demand Toys Trivia halloween marvel comics crime MCU cinemax 2021 History justice league based on movie films tv talk HFPA Sony Pictures lord of the rings TV renewals Ghostbusters Marvel Television natural history game show werewolf ghosts sitcom Creative Arts Emmys screen actors guild Anna Paquin MGM Warner Bros. adaptation PlayStation Crackle batman Comedy Central 2018 thriller cancelled television foreign Apple TV+ international Character Guide USA australia Certified Fresh Spectrum Originals comic book movies dc Music legend spanish aapi rom-coms Pride Month spinoff Spike hollywood Shondaland 73rd Emmy Awards Opinion Pacific Islander spanish language archives versus Instagram Live SDCC Reality football Walt Disney Pictures BBC interviews telelvision Thanksgiving quibi The Academy 4/20 Premiere Dates APB Dark Horse Comics cults CBS All Access unscripted PaleyFest Wes Anderson 71st Emmy Awards 007 79th Golden Globes Awards Tokyo Olympics disaster nfl obituary Summer binge comic black comedy target Baby Yoda NBA scary french Valentine's Day rotten movies we love documentary Neflix Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Star Trek ABC Family First Look toy story Pet Sematary Western LGBTQ Comedy Paramount Pictures name the review CNN Crunchyroll Image Comics scary movies saw Sundance book zombies spider-man Alien Acorn TV The Witch sequel Family Trophy Talk SXSW 2022 social media new star wars movies trophy kaiju Vudu LGBT IMDb TV Universal Pictures Peacock Captain marvel Infographic live event IFC USA Network obi wan Fantasy Holidays period drama art house HBO Max NBC jurassic park TCM true crime Women's History Month dceu remakes young adult child's play directors Endgame composers laika mob monster movies RT21 royal family Paramount Network sopranos NYCC Cannes cancelled TV series finale Marvel Studios Best Actor Avengers popular kong supernatural HBO Go boxing Action docudrama reboot Hallmark discovery BBC One deadpool marvel cinematic universe Fargo Best Actress sag awards Epix nature DirecTV MTV spy thriller Mary poppins Red Carpet Song of Ice and Fire Lifetime Christmas movies Amazon Super Bowl Apple TV Plus AMC toronto parents docuseries Disney Plus Masterpiece revenge comic book movie Hear Us Out Cartoon Network a nightmare on elm street Writers Guild of America all-time