Spies Are Cool

Spies—at least, fictional spies—are unquestionably cool.

Bond, James Bond

Even spies who aren’t quite at the pinnacle of awesomeness, where our friend James here hangs out, are still pretty cool and interesting.

Over the development of SpyParty I’ve gathered some visual references for various spies, detectives, and similar mysterious characters. It’s neat to see the diverse range of archetypes you can have in this genre…from goofy to creepy, old to young, beautiful to homely, men and women, different races, countries of origin…

Here’s a sampling of the images…

Am I forgetting any memorable spies or iconic like-minded individuals that fall into different categories than the ones covered below? How about international characters that didn’t make it big in the United States? I’m particularly interested in that kind of 1960’s era spy thriller, lots of style, but kind of absurd when you take a step back and think about it. Also, I want spies that have a very different vibe than the stock Bondesque guy from central casting!

Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery

Manchurian Candidate

Ms. Emma Peel

Spy vs. Spy, BFF

Maxwell Smart and Agent 99

Number Six, The Prisoner

I Spy, or, You know what they say about the size of your gun.


The Man From U.N.C.L.E., or, That's not a gun...THAT'S a gun.

Miss Marple, et al.

The Avengers, no, not the one with Captain America

It was Colonel Mustard in The Study with The Knife

Update: Adding some more based on the comments…

Alec Guiness as Le Carré's George Smiley

Alec Guiness in Our Man in Havana

Alec Guiness as James Wormold in Our Man in Havana

Victor Laszlo and some other people.

The Above Suspicion spy couple, also, No wire hangers!

James Coburn as Flint

James Coburn as Flint


  1. Morty says:

    A few from across the pond (both played by Alec Guinness in the film adaptations):
    James Wormold from Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana.
    George Smiley from the John le Carré novels.

  2. You’re missing the spies of MI-5, known as Spooks on the BBC. Excellent spy show, worth a watch if you haven’t caught it; first several seasons are available for streaming via Netflix.

  3. checker says:

    > James Wormold from Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana.
    > George Smiley from the John le Carré novels.

    Awesome, thanks, added both of these! I found one still from Our Man in Havana where there was a chess game being played with shot bottles, which is oozing cool. :)

    > You’re missing the spies of MI-5, known as Spooks on the BBC.

    Great, yeah, you’re the second person to highly recommend that show, it’s definitely on my list. I think the look of the people in there is a little too modern for my aesthetic right now. I haven’t decided on the era in which the game takes place, I think it’s going to be that Sean Connery era bond, late 1960s-ish. I’ll probably keep it a bit ambiguous, though.

  4. A few more historical, less Bond-ish suggestions.

    Some consider the first modern spy novel to be Ashenden by W. Somerset Maugham. It’s an interesting contrast to most other spy fiction, given that it’s set in WWI and based loosely on the author’s experience of spying for British Intelligence. It was adapted by the BBC in ’91 and while I haven’t seen the adaptation, I’ve heard it’s pretty good.

    I see George Smiley listed, but le Carré’s other famous spy is probably worth mentioning. Alec Leamas most famously from The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is great, and probably one of the best spy novels ever. The 1965 adaptation with Richard Burton as Alec is fantastic.

    Helen MacInnes’ Above Suspicion (not to be confused with the Christopher Reeve movie) is interesting as it features a newly couple that are coerced into spying, instead of professional, agency-trained spies. There’s a 1940s MGM adaptation that I remember being relatively loyal.

  5. checker says:

    Awesome, thanks! I googled The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and found this link on a fashion designer’s site:


    Also, I added the Above Suspicion couple, and realized Viktor Lazslo from Casablanca is another I should add.

  6. Darius K. says:

    I won’t lie, the following two I didn’t know about until I read this awesome AV Club article.

    There’s Harry Palmer of The IPCRESS File. Check out this amazing trailer.

    Derek Flint from Our Man Flint: http://matthewasprey.files.wordpress.com/2008/07/mcginnis-flint.jpg

  7. checker says:

    Whoa, that IPCRESS File trailer is insane. I saw some Our Man Flint stuff before (lots of awesome 60s illustrations as marketing materials), but it was never clear if he was just a Bondesque character or not. I’m going to have to watch so many spy movies and read so many spy books to correctly research this game, I’m actually going to become clinically paranoid.

  8. Holly Martin and Harry Lime in The Third Man.

    Actually, for that matter, Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man, et al. I mean, they’re _vaguely spy-like_. The plot _involves_ spies at some level.

    Ooh, how bout some spy Hitchcock! The Lady Vanishes, The Thirty-Nine Steps, and North-by-Northwest all fill my spy-dreams.

  9. Cor says:

    Flint – Your missing Flint – From “In Like Flint” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061810/

  10. Bob says:

    I think you’ll find that that is Noel Coward not Alec Guiness in the Our Man in Havana photo.

  11. checker says:

    > Noel Coward

    Yikes, I’ll switch it with the shot-glass-chess photo, thanks! I looked at the picture for a long time, but it was on a site about Alex Guiness, and hey, old white guys, they all look the same! :)

    > Flint

    I haven’t seen the Flint movies, so I’m not sure how non-Bond the Flint character is, but I’ll add a picture because a lot of people have mentioned him.

  12. P Mendes says:

    Not sure if this is what you’re looking for, but for some different, non-cool “spy” personas, i’d recommend Chris Barry from “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” (Sam Rockwell) and Edward Wilson from “The Good Shepherd” (Matt Damon)

  13. Guiness in the LeCarre adaptation was first to come to mind for me too. Also The Spy Who Came in From The Cold

    Richard Chamberlain in the TV adaptation of Bourne Identity (which was way better than the movie of recent years)

    La Femme Nikita. Fuck did I love this movie. Not the US remake. Nikita is to Point of No Return as Foie Gras is to I can’t beleive it’s not Butter. Anyhow, You could do tough street-punk-girl-turned-spy character.

    Spooks/MI-5 was suggested above, but I’d add two things about it: (1) there’s a couple good character types in it that are different than the stereotype spies. The bookish librarian type who’s a bit mousy but shows stronger resolve than you’d first expect, retired schoolteacher who runs a safehouse, etc. (2) The other reason you should watch it is that it’s very different from the typical american show, in that they’ve killed off almost every one of the cast over the first few seasons. As a result, the show has a very suspensful feel that you never know who’s going to get it. Rather than thinking “how will the main character get out of this jam?”, well, he might not! He may be dead by the end of the episode. Anyhow, not knowing who will/won’t turn out to make in the end struck me as being a bit like your game.

    Chevy Chase and Dan Akroyd: Spies like Us. And while not exactly a spy, Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther movies.

    You could do a parody of the Command and Conquer Spy who is a parody of the Sean Connery Bond.

    Schwarzen-governor in True lies?

  14. checker says:

    Great ideas, thanks Kim! Along the same lines, Fletch is kind of a good character now that I think of it…

  15. Ooo! Darius caught Ipcress File. Michael Caine character. Never mind that, just model someone after michael caine.

    IIRC, Flint was the americanized uber-machismo bond, no? Connery meets Heffner?

    OMG. No one mentioned Mata Hari yet. Just check the Wikipedia photo

    which led me to links on:
    Johnny Fedora (who deserves in based on name alone)

  16. OK, one more that came up over lunch conversation, and I’m posting it because I know you need a Foie Gras connection:

    Julia Child.

    Who it turns out worked for Office of Strategic Services, Secret Intelligence Division, through and post WWII, before travelling to france, and finding out she liked the food there and thought cooking it might be good for kicks.

    Be careful, there’s a bug in the bouillabase. Use the cypher in the sifter. etc.

  17. checker says:

    Roald Dahl was apparently a spy for the British in America during WWII as well. So hilarious!

  18. Kenny says:

    On a related hilarious note – Roald Dahl wrote the first draft of the screenplay for You Only Live Twice. TRUE STORY!

  19. checker says:

    Alright, that’s awesome. Roald Dahl clearly needs to be an unlockable character in SpyParty. I wonder if his estate would mind. :)

  20. lenny says:

    For swinging ’60s spies, you can’t forget Modesty Blaise, Fathom, Hugh Drummond, Simon Templar / The Saint, Diabolik (not really a spy, but close enough), and Cleopatra Jones. Even though Felix Leighter was sort of Bond’s sidekick, he was pretty cool in his own right. You’ve already got The Prisoner, but don’t forget John Drake / Dangerman. Oooh, and also, the whole crew from The Protectors (best theme song evar! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jj4UFqKG5YI).

    More recent spies worthy of this company in my book are Sidney Bristow and the whole Burn Notice crew.

  21. lenny says:

    Ooh, and I forgot The Persuaders.

  22. Steven Rokiski says:

    What about The Sandbaggers? A sort of less comedic version of Yes, Prime Minister but with lots of spies and intelligence analysts and such.

    Iconic to me because I watched it on PBS with my dad when I was a little kid. When I think of spies, the opening title of The Sandbaggers still comes to mind http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSCmoSHlTwg

    I second the mention of Burn Notice up there. Lots of fun social engineering in that one- would Kevin Mitnick then be a real world example?

  23. checker says:

    The Sandbaggers looks cool. It also led me to The 2nd Best Secret Agent in the World.

    There’s also this new show on FX show Archer that looks relevant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9JdGJh_V6s Apparently one of the episodes is about a party at a consulate with an assassin!


  24. Dan Lawrence says:

    You might enjoy Man in a Suitcase, a british tv series fromt he 60’s about a CIA agent forced to work for british intelligence:


    Amazon link:

    The Saint, by the same guys is also worth a look. Probably the role that made Roger Moore the obvious choice for Bond:


    Also, Danger Man is great. The spy tv show that Patrick McGoohan was in before The Prisoner:


  25. Will says:

    Sydney Bristow on ‘Alias’ was pretty cool

    Cate Archer from the ‘No One Lives Forever’ games was cool

    Cary Grant was also a spy for the US, I think.

    Chuck Bartowski is a little less cool.

    The 39 Steps was a good book+movie, but its protagonist wasn’t that super cool, either.

    At least in the movies, Jason Bourne is more of an Assassin than a spy, though they portray him as having ~some good tradecraft. In the 1st book +1/2, he was pretty smart. Bob made him a total screwup after that, though.

  26. Jehan says:

    Jason Bourne is awesome, esp. in the Ludlum novels. Matt Damon played him pretty well too.

  27. Moneyless says:

    > There’s also this new show on FX show Archer that looks relevant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9JdGJh_V6s Apparently one of > the episodes is about a party at a consulate with an assassin!


    Although much more recent, Sterling Archer from FX’s Archer would be a good one.


    Even though it’s a cartoon (although adult oriented, but hilarious) I think watching Archer might give you some inspiration as well, as it’s set in the same era you’re thinking (late 1960s, since they’re kinda parodying James Bond), and the show portrays many different archetypes of the spy world pretty well. :)

  28. MaxMoss says:


    Also, In honor of Robert Culp, who passed away yesterday and was a true TV pioneer in so many ways, to include breaking the racism barsier in the US.

    Well done!

  29. TomTom says:

    While not the traditional spies, I’m thinking of the cast of Ocean’s Eleven (12,13). In particular Bernie Mac and George Clooney come to mind, but the whole cast was great. The whole time it’s those little things like putting a coin on a winning machine, or a quick switch when no one is looking that are what the game is about.

  30. Marcus says:

    you might also want to check out “The 10th Victim”. It’s a 60s Italian film about an international bloodsport pitching “Hunters” against “Victims” with the aim being to survive 10 such matchups. The twist being that while the Hunters know all there is to know about the Victims, the Victims do not know who their hunter is, and face 30 years in prison if they mistakenly kill someone who was not their hunter. Very cool Italian 60s spy aesthetic as well.

  31. Michael says:

    This guy should totally do your music!

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