(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)

Synopsis: Spy drama about five American, British and Canadian recruits to a World War II espionage school.... [More]

Synopsis: A case officer at a Berlin CIA station tries to unearth the source of a leak in this drama.... [More]

Spies Of Warsaw (2013)

Synopsis: A French military attaché is drawn into a world of betrayal in the diplomatic salons of Warsaw in the years... [More]

Sleeper Cell (2005)

Synopsis: A federal agent goes undercover to infiltrate a group of Islamic terrorists in Los Angeles.... [More]

Quantico (2015)

Synopsis: A drama about FBI trainees at the FBI Academy in Quantico, one of whom is a sleeper agent who will... [More]

The Equalizer (1985)

Synopsis: A cult favorite about an enigmatic former government agent who turns vigilante, offering his services as a one-man security force... [More]

MacGyver (1985)

Synopsis: The popular adventures of a resourceful former Special Forces operative, who undertakes impossible missions at the behest of a crimefighting... [More]

The Saint (1962)

Synopsis: A pre-James Bond Roger Moore plays the urbane, Robin Hood-like Simon Templar, who may skirt the law, but always for... [More]

Synopsis: A drama based on the true lives of America's earliest spies, the Revolutionary War-era Culper Ring.... [More]

Hunted (2012)

Synopsis: A spy series about a private-security agent who returns to work a year after an attempt on her life, a... [More]

Synopsis: British sci-fi series about a scientist who develops a potion that renders him invisible. Unfortunately, he doesn't have an antidote... [More]

Synopsis: Aaron Spelling's jiggly classic about gorgeous gumshoes working for an unseen boss garnered as much derision as it did male... [More]

Human Target (2010)

Synopsis: Using the popular DC Comics title as a springboard for riveting and intelligent action and adventure, Human Target provides a... [More]

Synopsis: Young, beautiful and condemned to death for a vicious crime she didn't commit, Nikita is given a second chance to... [More]

Synopsis: Debonair burglar Alexander Mundy is released from jail when he agrees to work for a U.S. agency in this genial... [More]

Adjusted Score: 100.556%
Critics Consensus: Sharply intelligent, visually striking, and bracingly bleak, The Prisoner remains a political metaphor for the ages.
Synopsis: An imaginative, mesmerizing---and enigmatic---British cult series about a character known only as Number 6 (series creator Patrick McGoohan) who, after... [More]

Synopsis: Popular tongue-in-cheek adventure about Old West Bond-like intelligence agent James T. West clashing with an array of (usually psychotic) villains.... [More]

Spy (2011)

Synopsis: A man unexpectedly stumbles into a career with MI5 after quitting his mundane job at a computer store.... [More]
Directed By: Ben Taylor

Thunderbirds (0)

Synopsis: An eccentric millionaire and his five sons make up an international rescue team who use a Thunderbird spacecraft to come... [More]
Directed By: David Lane, Brian Burgess

Synopsis: An action-adventure series following Peggy Carter as she does undercover work for Howard Stark while also holding down a routine... [More]

Synopsis: A dramatic thriller based on novelist Tom Clancy's CIA operative as he begins his career in the spy game.... [More]
Directed By: Patricia Riggen

Patriot (2015)

Synopsis: An intelligence officer takes an undercover assignment in Iran, but PTSD spells, incompetency in the federal government and the challenges... [More]

Archer (2009)

Synopsis: An animated comedy spanning time and place to follow the misadventures of suave spy Sterling Archer and his misguided cohorts... [More]
Directed By: Bryan Fordney

London Spy (2015)

Synopsis: A gay man is drawn into the dangerous world of espionage when his boyfriend, who works for the Secret Intelligence... [More]

Person Of Interest (2011)

Synopsis: A presumed-dead ex-CIA agent and a billionaire software genius try to stop crimes before they happen.... [More]

Synopsis: Teams overcome obstacles as they try to get from point A to point B.... [More]

Nikita (2010)

Synopsis: A spy emerges from hiding to seek revenge on a clandestine government agency that betrayed her after rescuing her as... [More]

Burn Notice (2007)

Synopsis: A spy attempts to uncover why he was kicked out of the business while helping Miami locals who can't rely... [More]

Covert Affairs (2010)

Synopsis: An inexperienced CIA trainee with top-notch linguistic skills becomes a field operative under mysterious circumstances in this action-drama series.... [More]

Synopsis: A flawless adaptation of John le Carre's spy novel about the search for a Soviet mole who has burrowed into... [More]

Smiley's People (1982)

Synopsis: British master spy George Smiley returns for a final encounter with his deadly Soviet counterpart, Karla, in an Emmy-nominated adaptation... [More]

Synopsis: Inspector Gereon Rath, shell-shocked from his service in World War I, uncovers a dangerous web of intrigue when he investigates... [More]

The Blacklist (2013)

Synopsis: For decades, ex-government agent Raymond "Red" Reddington has been one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives. Brokering shadowy deals for... [More]

Adjusted Score: 99.39%
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.
Synopsis: The drama series is based on the novel of the same name written by John le Carré and follows the... [More]

Adjusted Score: 94.559%
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.
Synopsis: Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), a former British soldier turned night manager in a luxury hotel in Cairo, ends up in... [More]

Adjusted Score: 91.827%
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: This drama series exposes the increasing danger of Al-Qaeda in the late 1990s, focusing on how the clash between the... [More]

Synopsis: An action-adventure series based on the Marvel Comics secret-intelligence organization headed by Agent Phil Coulson.... [More]

The Game (2014)

Synopsis: British spies in 1972 London attempt to stop a secret Soviet plot to destroy Britain.... [More]
Directed By: Niall MacCormick

Deutschland 83 (2015)

Synopsis: German-language spy drama set in the 1980s has a twentysomething East German native go undercover in West Germany, where he... [More]
Directed By: Edward Berger

Killing Eve (2018)

Synopsis: Starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, Killing Eve centers on two women: Eve (Oh) is a bored, whip-smart, pay-grade MI5... [More]
Directed By: Harry Bradbeer, Jon East

Synopsis: Elite special agents undertook top-secret assignments in crackerjack episodes, which kicked off with the team leader receiving instructions via a... [More]

Counterpart (2017)

Synopsis: An espionage series about a mysterious world hidden beneath the surface of our everyday existence.... [More]

Get Smart (1965)

Synopsis: 'Would you believe,' as Maxwell Smart would say, this spy spoof was for a time all the rage (and an... [More]

MI-5 (2003)

Synopsis: A sleek, fast-paced BBC hit focusing on domestic-security intelligence agents, dealing with threats that range from arms merchants to germ... [More]

Synopsis: Cloak-and-dagger thrillers are subtly skewered in this cult adventure series centering on unflappable bowler-hatted British counterspy John Steed, whose upper... [More]

Alias (2001)

Synopsis: A sexy, high-octane thrill ride filled with espionage, intrigue and cliffhangers. It chronicles the adventures of operative Sydney Bristow as... [More]

24 (0)

Synopsis: An exciting and edgy real-time action series about U.S. counterterrorist agent Jack Bauer trying to save his country from foreign... [More]

Chuck (2007)

Synopsis: From executive producer, Josh Schwartz ("The O.C.") and executive producer-director McG ("Charlie's Angels," "We Are Marshall") comes a one-hour, action-comedy... [More]

Homeland (2011)

Synopsis: A troubled CIA operative worries that a rescued marine, a longtime POW, may be an enemy agent with a connection... [More]

The Americans (2013)

Synopsis: Two KGB spies pose as an American married couple living in 1980s Washington, D.C.... [More]

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