The Cold War between Communists and Capitalists looms in the background for all six seasons of FX’s The Americans. In the series, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play a pair of Russian KGB spies posing as an American couple living outside Washington, D.C. during the 1980s – where they engage in espionage, counterintelligence, and the maintenance of multiple alternate identities.

No one is who they claim to be in The Americans, making it one of the most jittery and tense thrillers in recent television history. The Cold War is also the subject of numerous spy films that carry many of the same tones and themes as The Americans. From the German Stasi to the Soviet Union, the threat of infiltration and nuclear war are amplified in these compelling features.

10 No Way Out (1987)

There’s a bizarre love triangle at the center of No Way Out, which co-stars Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman as two government officials who find out they are romantically involved with the same woman. Sean Young plays the woman, who is murdered under mysterious circumstances.

As the murder is investigated, the KGB becomes implicated in the crime. Coster plays Lt. Commander Tom Farrell and Hackman plays Secretary of Defense David Brice in this tense thriller that harkens back to noir movies from the 1940s.

9 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

There’s a Soviet spy embedded in 1970s British intelligence in this adaptation of John Le Carre’s epic novel. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy stars the likes of Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, and Toby Jones – the former of whom plays a veteran MI6 agent forced out of retirement to find out who is giving British secrets to the KGB.

Instead of relying on jumpy action sequences, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a stripped-down character study of the lonely and miserable people sucked up in the Cold War. Cynical and atmospheric, it delves deep into the heart of paranoid bureaucracy.


8 The Deadly Affair (1967)

Sidney Lumet is responsible for this noirish espionage flick based on John Le Carre’s first novel Call for the DeadThe Deadly Affair stars James Mason as an MI5 agent who is tasked with solving the apparent, but unlikely, suicide of a known Communist named Fennan.

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Mason’s character Charles Dobbs uncovers a secret Communist network buried within the British government as he investigates the death. Simone Signoret co-stars as the mysterious widow of Fennan, a Nazi extermination camp survivor named Elsa.

7 Hell And High Water (1954)

Cold War paranoia reaches a breaking point within the confines of a World War II-era Japanese submarine in Samuel Fuller’s Hell and High Water. The film follows a US Navy commander who is recruited by a team of scientists to investigate a surplus of atomic weapons being created by the Chinese Communist Party off the coast of Japan.

A female scientist, Professor Denise Gerard, joins the crew onboard the submarine – where she deals with an onslaught of sexual harassment from her fellow crewmembers. While an adventure story on its surface, Hell and High Water is a wound-up exploration of arms races and the potential for World War III.

6 Gorky Park (1983)

In Gorky Park, William Hurt plays a Russian investigator in charge of a triple homicide centered around the titular Moscow amusement park. Hurt’s character Arkady Renko is thwarted by the KGB at every step, and it soon becomes clear to him the Soviet spy agency doesn’t want the case solved.

Renko finds himself in the middle of an international conspiracy as the story continues, one with horrific implications. First-class actors Lee Marvin and Brian Dennehy co-star alongside Hurt in this well-acted thriller.

5 The Lives Of Others (2006)

The East German Stasi is the focus of the German-language masterpiece The Lives of Others. Arguably one of the best films of the 2000s, it tells the story of a lonely Stasi, or secret police, officer responsible for spying on a beloved, but political derisive, playwright and his lover.

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As he becomes more and more enmeshed in the life of the writer, the officer begins to question the system. Equal parts voyeuristic and authoritarian, The Lives of Others is an intimate look into how totalitarian ideologies strip citizens of their rights and privacies.

4 The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1965)

Another classic 1960s British espionage film, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold stars Richard Burton as an MI6 agent who pretends to quit his job in order to be lured into East German intelligence circles. Burton shines as the faux defector with an alcohol problem named Alec Leamas, who promises to sell his secrets to Europeans.

Leamas struggles to maintain the ruse as he rises higher and higher within the East German Intelligence Service. Bitter, realistic, and edgy, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is a fantastic adaptation of the John Le Carre novel of the same name.

3 Farewell (2009)

In the French film Farewell, the exploits of real-life KGB agent Vladimir Vetrov are dramatized. Vetrov is brought to life via the character Sergei Grigoriev, a KGB analyst who decides to leak valuable information to the French about becoming disillusioned with his organization’s mission.

Enter Moscow-based French engineer Pierre Froment, who becomes the intermediary between Grigoriev and his native government. As both the KGB and the CIA learn about what’s happening between Grigoriev and Froment, the two men band together to fight for their lives and end the Cold War.

2 Bridge Of Spies (2015)

The Cold War gets the Steven Spielberg effect in Bridge of Spies, a “based on true events” drama starring Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Alan Alda, and Austin Stowell. Hanks plays lawyer James B. Donovan, a man recruited by the CIA in 1957 to negotiate the release of a United States Air Force pilot whose plane was shot down over Soviet territory.

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Donovan flies to Berlin, where the bargaining begins. While this harrowing story is given the Hollywood treatment in the film, Bridge of Spies is still full of focused character studies, taut sequences, and enough fascinating dialogue to stand alongside any of the spy thrillers that precede it.

1 The Falcon And The Snowman (1985)

Also inspired by true events, Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton play two young Americans who decide to become spies for the Soviet Union in The Falcon and the Snowman. Hutton plays defense contractor Christopher Boyce, while Penn plays his childhood friend Andrew Daulton Lee – an addict and cocaine smuggler.

It doesn’t take long for the two men to release they are in way over their heads. Directed by John Schlesinger, The Falcon and the Snowman is the perfect Reagan-era Cold War film.

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