Spies are like the better dressed version of superheroes. They stop supervillains from destroying the world, and they do incredible superhuman feats, with the help of insane gadgets and vehicles. With a new Bourne movie in theaters on Friday, it's a great time to celebrate the "spy-fi" genre, that combines spies and science fiction.
Here are our picks for the 10 best spy-fi movies of all time.
The first installment in the classic spoof trilogy, starring Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin.
The Science Fiction Twist: Technically, Frank is a cop, but at the start of the movie he's already infiltrating a summit of world leaders including Gorbachev and Khomeini. And the main plot revolves around technology that can turn anyone into a brainwashed killer, controlled via a wristwatch.
Why it rules: Nielsen is at his zaniest, and this is the perfect blend of the Airplane sensibility and spy gags.
John Travolta is a special agent infiltrating a terrorist group by impersonating its leader, Nic Cage.
The Science Fiction Twist: A bizarre "face transplant" operation that manages to transform Travolta into Cage, and vice versa, without any visible scars or anything.
Why it rules: Sure, it's a goofy film — but this is one of the better John Woo Hollywood films, and both Cage and Travolta bring a decent amount of conviction to their roles as an agent impersonating a terrorist and vice versa.
Vin Diesel is a rebellious punk, who's recruited to infiltrate an anarchist group by the NSA.
The Science Fiction Twist: The anarchists want to launch an underwater drone missile that will travel around the world, dispensing a secret super-lethal chemical weapon that's made out of ordinary harmless chemicals.
Why it rules: This is a ridiculously fun romp, and Vin Diesel is at his slyest and most entertaining.
The first, and best, in Michael Myers' trilogy about 1960s superspy Austin Powers, who turns up in the 1990s.
The Science Fiction Twist: Dr. Evil is cryogenically frozen inside a Big Boy rocket, and returns with a plan to launch a nuclear missile into the Earth's core and cause volcanic eruptions. His main opponent, Austin Powers, volunteers to be frozen as well, and reawoken in 1997.
Why it rules: Unlike the somewhat forced wackiness of the later Austin films, this comedy feels genuinely fresh and self-mocking, with the Blofeldian Dr. Evil being particularly excellent.
Brad Bird directed the fourth outing in the Ethan Hunt saga, with huge IMAX action and crazier toys.
The Science Fiction Twist: Like all of these films, it's the gadgets. This time, there are "gecko" climbing gloves, document-copying contact lenses, and holographic car windshields.
Why it rules: It's probably the most fun of all the Mission films. Simon Pegg was added in the third movie, but he gets to be totally ridiculous here, and Jeremy Renner is a nice addition. Plus, the IMAX filming really does result in amazing visuals.
With the third Roger Moore film, James Bond teams up with a sexy Russian spy who's vowed to kill him.
The Science Fiction Twist: The movie's villain, Stromberg, has built a huge undersea base plus a massive supertanker, and is stealing nuclear submarines so he can blow up the world.
Why it rules: With the James Bond films, there's kind of a sad trade-off — the more science fictional they get, the worse they generally are. At one end of the spectrum, there's Moonraker. At the other, there's Casino Royale and Goldfinger. But Spy Who Loved Me manages to strike a balance between pure crazy fun and actually holding together as a movie.
Robert Redford is an old hacker who's hired by the NSA to get back a "black box" that could bring down everything.
The Science Fiction Twist: The "black box" is basically a super-computer that can break any encryption and get into any system, instantly.
Why it rules: Of all the 1990s "hacker spy" movies, this is probably the most fun, thanks to twinkling performances by Robert Redford, Ben Kingsley, Sidney Poitier and River Phoenix. Plus watch for Stephen Tobolowsky as an uptight young nerd who's set up on a hot date.
The second Bourne movie sees Jason Bourne investigating his past and learning more about Project Treadstone.
The Science Fiction Twist: We just rewatched the first three Bourne movies, and in a nutshell, Bourne seems to have been given some kind of experimental conditioning to make him the perfect assassin, using drugs and mind control techniques.
Why it rules: It's the most kinetic and entertaining of the three Bourne films to date, with Bourne butting heads with Karl Urban throughout the film.
The classic "mind control" movie sees a war hero brainwashed by the Communists to become the perfect assassin.
The Science Fiction Twist: The brainwashing techniques in the movie are pretty insane. When Raymond Shaw sees a Queen of Diamonds playing card, he has to obey whatever instructions he hears, with no memory of doing it afterwards.
Why it rules: This classic "Red Scare" movie features an intense, great performance by Angela Lansbury as a scheming mother who's really a Communist agent. It's a classic paranoid thriller.
One of Sean Connery's final Bond movies is also one of the craziest.
The Science Fiction Twist: Bond goes to Japan and discovers that Blofeld has built a super spaceship that is kidnapping U.S. and Russian spaceships. His super-spaceship is launched from a volcano base.
Why it rules: Like Spy Who Loved Me, this is a rare Bond film that manages to pull off crazy science fiction notions without descending into total campiness. (Unlike Connery's next film, Diamonds are Forever.) This is the film where a lot of the archetypes of James Bond-type movies come from, and here they're pretty much brand new.