The 25 Best Spy Shows of All Time

The 25 Best Spy Shows of All Time

In a world where covert missions and thrilling espionage tales reign supreme, the best spy shows have carved a niche in the hearts of viewers. These pulse-pounding series boast adrenaline-fueled action, mind-bending plot twists, and intriguing undercover operations that keep audiences hooked.

With a captivating lineup filled with double-crossing agents and state-of-the-art gadgets, fans are treated to a binge-worthy experience like never before.

To determine the best spy shows of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on audience reception from IMDb, an online movie and TV database owned by Amazon. Spy and espionage shows were ranked based on average IMDb user rating as of December 2022. Only shows with at least 4,000 user votes were considered. Data on series run and cast information also came from IMDb. (If you prefer the long form, these are the 30 best spy films of all time.)

Some shows that have earned high ratings and serious acclaim have not yet cracked the list of the 25 best spy shows in TV history. Providing stiff competition are a number of enduring classics, some of which went on to inspire movie adaptations and full-blown franchises. The most obvious example is “Mission: Impossible,” which debuted on CBS in 1966 and later inspired a blockbuster film series of the same name.

Of course, not every spy series takes itself as seriously as “Mission: Impossible.” Shows such as “Burn Notice” dispense frequent comic relief while the TV classic “Get Smart” often resorts to pure parody. It all helps create a wide-reaching milieu of characters, stories, and tones, as fans of the espionage subgenre hop from one timeless series to the next.

Source: Courtesy of CBS

25. Mission: Impossible
> IMDb user rating: 7.9/10
> IMDb user votes: 10,062
> Series run: 1966-1973
> Cast: Peter Graves, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus

Long before the blockbuster film franchise came this popular TV show about the agents of the Impossible Missions Force (IMF). It ran for seven seasons and yielded a short-lived revival in 1988, which saw the return of star Peter Graves. The show’s iconic theme music and the burning-fuse title sequence continued into movie adaptations.

Source: Courtesy of Showtime Networks

24. Sleeper Cell
> IMDb user rating: 8.0/10
> IMDb user votes: 6,393
> Series run: 2005-2006
> Cast: Michael Ealy, Oded Fehr, Henri Lubatti, Melissa Sagemiller

This Showtime series tasks a Muslim FBI agent (Michael Ealy) with infiltrating a terrorist sleeper cell. It rolled out before the streaming era in an unusual fashion, with each new episode premiering on a nightly basis. Season 2 was so dramatically overlooked that it doesn’t have a single critic or audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of Hulu

23. The Looming Tower
> IMDb user rating: 8.0/10
> IMDb user votes: 15,657
> Series run: 2018
> Cast: Jeff Daniels, Tahar Rahim, Wrenn Schmidt, Bill Camp

This Hulu mini-series was co-created by author Lawrence Wright based on his 2006 book of the same name. It takes place in the late 1990s and follows the I-49 Squad, a counter-terrorism center tracking the rise of Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. One doesn’t need a spoiler warning to know how this saga tragically concludes.

Source: Courtesy of Starz

22. Counterpart
> IMDb user rating: 8.0/10
> IMDb user votes: 27,934
> Series run: 2017-2019
> Cast: J.K. Simmons, Olivia Williams, Harry Lloyd, Nazanin Boniadi

This acclaimed series combines elements of geo-political espionage with a storyline ripped straight out of science fiction. J.K. Simmons plays quiet United Nations office worker Howard Silk, who discovers a parallel Earth and one very deadly doppelgänger. It ran for two seasons.

Source: Courtesy of USA Network

21. Burn Notice
> IMDb user rating: 8.0/10
> IMDb user votes: 75,260
> Series run: 2007-2013
> Cast: Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar, Bruce Campbell, Sharon Gless

This briskly-paced series with a touch of humor centers on a “burned” spy (Jeffrey Donovan), who tries to figure out why he was abandoned by his former agency. A smash hit for the USA Network, it was the No. 2 scripted show on cable at the height of its popularity. The seventh and final season was followed by a prequel movie.

Source: Courtesy of IMG

20. The Night Manager
> IMDb user rating: 8.0/10
> IMDb user votes: 91,081
> Series run: 2016
> Cast: Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Debicki, Olivia Colman

This British mini-series adapts a novel of the same name by espionage writer (and former spy) John le Carré. Set in Cairo, it follows a hotel night manager (Tom Hiddleston) into the dangerous world of an illegal arms dealer (Hugh Laurie). It won two Primetime Emmys.

Source: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

19. Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
> IMDb user rating: 8.0/10
> IMDb user votes: 127,223
> Series run: 2018-Present
> Cast: John Krasinski, Wendell Pierce, Michael Kelly, John Hoogenakker

“The Office” alum John Krasinski continues to reinvent himself with the role of Jack Ryan in this political action series. Expanding upon the world created by author Tom Clancy, each season puts Ryan in the midst of various high-stakes adventures. Actors Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck, and Harrison Ford previously portrayed the same character in feature films.

Source: Courtesy of National Broadcasting Company

18. The Blacklist
> IMDb user rating: 8.0/10
> IMDb user votes: 250,768
> Series run: 2013-Present
> Cast: James Spader, Megan Boone, Diego Klattenhoff, Ryan Eggold

This hit NBC series opens with the voluntary surrender of wanted fugitive Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader). Working alongside FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone), he helps take down some of the world’s most dangerous criminals. Powerful acting and gripping plot twists have kept this show running for nine seasons with a 10th on the way.

Source: Courtesy of Kino Lorber

17. Deutschland 83
> IMDb user rating: 8.1/10
> IMDb user votes: 14,131
> Series run: 2015
> Cast: Jonas Nay, Maria Schrader, Ulrich Noethen, Sylvester Groth

“Stylish, engaging, and engrossing” is how Collider critic Allison Keene described this German spy series. Against the backdrop of the Cold War, an East German patrol guard (Jonas Nay) goes undercover on the opposite side of the Berlin Wall. Each episode features an infectious soundtrack of classic 1980s pop songs.

Source: Courtesy of American Movie Classics

16. TURN: Washington’s Spies
> IMDb user rating: 8.1/10
> IMDb user votes: 22,108
> Series run: 2014-2017
> Cast: Jamie Bell, Heather Lind, Samuel Roukin, Daniel Henshall

This period drama takes place during the Revolutionary War and culls inspiration from the real-life Culper Ring, an espionage network sometimes directed by George Washington himself. In the heart of British-occupied Long Island, a group of former childhood friends become unlikely spies. It ran on AMC for four seasons of 10 episodes each.

Source: Courtesy of AMC+

15. Killing Eve
> IMDb user rating: 8.1/10
> IMDb user votes: 119,766
> Series run: 2018-2022
> Cast: Jodie Comer, Sandra Oh, Fiona Shaw, Kim Bodnia

This British thriller series earned steady viewer growth and major awards over the course of its first two seasons. Witness the deadly game of cat and mouse between MI5 operative Eve (Sandra Oh) and wicked assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). The saga concluded with an underwhelming fourth season.

Source: Courtesy of CBS

14. Get Smart
> IMDb user rating: 8.2/10
> IMDb user votes: 12,771
> Series run: 1965-1970
> Cast: Don Adams, Barbara Feldon, Edward Platt, Robert Karvelas

Mel Brooks co-created this hilarious send-up of the secret agent subgenre made popular by the James Bond franchise and similar fare. It follows inept spy Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) and his cohorts at CONTROL as they take on the crime syndicate KAOS. An initial five-season run was followed by film adaptations and a short-lived series revival.

Source: Courtesy of Amazon Instant Video

13. Patriot
> IMDb user rating: 8.2/10
> IMDb user votes: 15,442
> Series run: 2015-2018
> Cast: Michael Dorman, Kurtwood Smith, Michael Chernus, Kathleen Munroe

This dark spy comedy chronicles the exploits of intelligence officer John Tavner (Michael Dorman). On assignment in Iran, Tavner resorts to dangerous and morally dubious methods while trying to prevent nuclear war. It aired on Amazon Prime Video for two seasons.

Source: Courtesy of National Broadcasting Company

12. Chuck
> IMDb user rating: 8.2/10
> IMDb user votes: 139,333
> Series run: 2007-2012
> Cast: Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski, Joshua Gomez, Vik Sahay

After embedding vital spy secrets into his brain, a computer geek (Zachary Levi) becomes an unlikely secret agent in this NBC action dramedy series. While beloved by fans, the show struggled in the ratings over the course of five seasons. It remains a television cult classic.

Source: Courtesy of American Broadcasting Company

11. The Avengers
> IMDb user rating: 8.3/10
> IMDb user votes: 8,041
> Series run: 1961-1969
> Cast: Patrick Macnee, Diana Rigg, Honor Blackman, Linda Thorson

Not to be confused with the MCU franchise, this cult British spy series debuted in 1961 and ran for six seasons. Follow suave agent John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and his partner as they take down maniacal supervillains and their sci-fi-like schemes. Groundbreaking for both its plotlines and its fashion sense, the show inspired spin-offs as well as a disastrous 1998 film adaptation.

Source: Courtesy of BBC Worldwide

10. MI-5
> IMDb user rating: 8.3/10
> IMDb user votes: 16,786
> Series run: 2002-2011
> Cast: Peter Firth, Hugh Simon, Nicola Walker, Rupert Penry-Jones

Primarily known as “Spooks,” this British spy thriller centers around UK-based counterterrorist unit MI-5. Each season features gripping storylines and a rotating door of high-profile guest stars. It was followed by a 2015 feature film called “MI-5 (Spooks: The Greater Good).”

Source: Courtesy of Showtime Networks

9. Homeland
> IMDb user rating: 8.3/10
> IMDb user votes: 342,829
> Series run: 2011-2020
> Cast: Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, Damian Lewis, Rupert Friend

This Showtime drama captured the zeitgeist with its first two seasons, during which CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) investigates a domestic terrorist plot. Subsequent seasons took Mathison deep into the Middle East and back as she continued to grapple with the war on terror. It won eight Primetime Emmy Awards by the time it concluded.

Source: Courtesy of Kino Lorber

8. Babylon Berlin
> IMDb user rating: 8.4/10
> IMDb user votes: 25,408
> Series run: 2017-Present
> Cast: Volker Bruch, Liv Lisa Fries, Lars Eidinger

This German crime thriller takes place in post-WWI Berlin and presents a city in turmoil. Exhilarating visuals and a noirish tone bring each episode to life, as a police investigation cracks open a dizzying web of corruption. “Social context aside, the show is elevated even further by truly superb acting, and a narrative flow that assumes that viewers are intelligent enough to follow a story without having to explain every single twist,” wrote TV critic Anne Cohen for Refinery29.

Source: Courtesy of FX Network

7. The Americans
> IMDb user rating: 8.4/10
> IMDb user votes: 100,636
> Series run: 2013-2018
> Cast: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Keidrich Sellati, Holly Taylor

On deep-cover assignment in the U.S., Russian agents (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) take on the guise of a normal suburban American family in this acclaimed spy drama. Their story unfolds during the 1980s Cold War and interweaves high-stakes action with compelling domestic drama. Creator Joseph Weisberg drew upon his real-life experiences in the CIA when crafting the initial concept.

Source: Courtesy of Fox Network

6. 24
> IMDb user rating: 8.4/10
> IMDb user votes: 187,498
> Series run: 2001-2010
> Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Carlos Bernard, Dennis Haysbert

Modern TV doesn’t get more propulsive than this blockbuster series, in which counter-terrorism Agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) has just 24 hours to prevent an attack. Each episode spans a single hour – complete with ticking clock – and touches down on multiple subplots. It won 20 Primetime Emmy Awards and yielded a short-lived spin-off called “24: Legacy.”

Source: Courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment

5. Smiley’s People
> IMDb user rating: 8.5/10
> IMDb user votes: 4,309
> Series run: 1982
> Cast: Alec Guinness, Eileen Atkins, Bill Paterson, Vladek Sheybal

This six-part British drama adapts a novel by John le Carré and centers on spymaster George Smiley (Alec Guinness). When a Soviet defector is murdered, Smiley comes out of retirement and squares off against his former nemesis. It’s a follow-up to the 1979 mini-series “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” also based on a le Carré novel.

Source: Courtesy of Great Performances

4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
> IMDb user rating: 8.5/10
> IMDb user votes: 8,801
> Series run: 1979
> Cast: Alec Guinness, Michael Jayston, Anthony Bate, George Sewell

Actor Alec Guinness first tackled the role of George Smiley in this seven-part serial from the BBC. Brought out of semi-retirement, the British spymaster is tasked with uncovering a mole from within his own former organization. The John le Carré novel upon which it’s based also inspired a 2011 feature film, with Gary Oldman playing Smiley.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Television

3. Person of Interest
> IMDb user rating: 8.5/10
> IMDb user votes: 177,495
> Series run: 2011-2016
> Cast: Jim Caviezel, Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Chapman, Michael Emerson

Hollywood veteran Jonathan Nolan created this gripping procedural with sci-fi elements and dystopian themes. Working together, an ex-CIA agent (Jim Caviezel) and a wealthy tech genius (Michael Emerson) use advanced software to stop crimes before they occur. Four of its five seasons hold a 100% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of FX Network

2. Archer
> IMDb user rating: 8.6/10
> IMDb user votes: 156,013
> Series run: 2009-Present
> Cast: H. Jon Benjamin, Judy Greer, Amber Nash, Chris Parnell

This animated spy comedy skewers genre tropes by way of its dysfunctional characters and sitcom-like conventions. At the heart of the show is Sterling Archer himself (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), an entitled but talented secret agent. It recently concluded a 13th season.

Source: Courtesy of Kino Lorber

1. The Bureau
> IMDb user rating: 8.7/10
> IMDb user votes: 12,003
> Series run: 2015-Present
> Cast: Mathieu Kassovitz, Florence Loiret Caille, Jonathan Zaccaï, Sara Giraudeau

Inspired by real people and events, this French spy drama finds intelligence officer Guillaume Debailly returning to Paris after an undercover mission in Syria. It also examines the personal and professional lives of his fellow agents at the Directorate-General for External Security. On IMDb’s list of the 250 Top Rated TV Shows, it currently sits at #184.

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