(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, Ben Roberts

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]
Starring:

#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

MI-5 ()

#7
Synopsis: ... [More]
Starring:

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]

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