Best: James Bond
Arguably the best of the Bonds (ducks from rock-throwing onslaught), not least because Roger Moore here has to face the metal-mouthed menace that is Jaws. Almost twice his size, we’re sure this is the foe that’s gonna get Bond at last. But 007 turns out to be a little thicker in the neck than Jaws’ last adversary, and a fleet-footed expert in unattainability.
Also, this is the Bond that has the Lotus Esprit sub, and Stromberg’s awesome water-base Atlantis.
Worst: Johnny English
An obvious send-up of the aforementioned double-o agent, and a wilfully stupid buffoon who makes a meal out of just about every situation he's plonked down into. We can’t get past the fact that Mr. Bean is being shoved down our throats as a Bond-style spy, with Rowan Atkinson doing most of his acting with those slug-like eyebrows. Pure tack.
Best: Jack Ryan
Not many men could stand in the Oval House and stare down the president himself. But then, Jack Ryan isn’t just any man. Appointed the Deputy Director of Intelligence (not the same Intelligence found in Team America , rest assured), Ryan fights against illegal drug trading in Columbia, only to find he might be fighting on the wrong side…
Worst: Maxwell Smart
“Missed it by that much!” winces Agent 86 aka Maxwell Smart, having slammed into a wall in a daredevil bid for freedom by rope-swing. Yup, more spoof antics gone awry, as Steve Carell brings the ‘60s TV serial gurning into the new millennium.
Smart is the name, public humiliation is the game. Possibly the least stealthy spy ever, Smart couldn’t make more of a mess of his operations if he had a fish for a gun and rollerskates for shoes.
Best: Harry Tasker
Considering the Austrian Oak’s considerable girth and height, you’d be right to assume he’d stick out like a big Austrian thumb during undercover missions. No worries – Harry’s adept at the art of assimilation, suaving up when necessary, kicking butt if needed.
He also gets the one-liners (“There is no us, you psychopathic bitch!”), mans a Herrier jet, and does away with a naughty terrorist with the rather un-subtle AIM-9 Sidewinder missile.
Worst: John Steed & Emma Peel
Not even former Bond Sean Connery can give this shallow, vapid update of the original '60s series a touch of class.
To be fair, he doesn’t help as a bloke who seizes control of the weather (um, okay), while Uma Thurman (a year after other car wreck Batman & Robin ) looks fetching in a curve-hugging leather catsuit, but ruins it when she opens her mouth and a plummy British accent spews out. We won’t even start on Ralph Fiennes…
Best: Jason Bourne
The man who can make a weapon out of anything exudes cool bravado. First pitching up with no memory, then discovering he has the reflexes of a cat and the deadly mind of an expertly trained assassin, Bourne looks like the boy next door but is actually the guy who killed the box next door in order to set up surveillance of your house.
Turns out Bourne’s a member of Medusa, recruited during Vietnam to root out and kill members of the Viet Cong. Proving just how cool he is, he has a clutch of awesome pseudonyms, including Jean-Pierre, Delta One, Cain, Mr. Cruet and Gilberto de Piento.
Worst: Spencer Aimes
Are we really expected to believe that Ashton Kutcher has the smarts to be a spy? “Let’s just say I work for the blah blah blah, and they gave me a licence to blah,” says his cerebrally-challenged character, pretty much proving our point for us. And that’s before Katherine Heigl gets in the way and royally messes up his grand spy designs.
Best: Joe The Condor Turner
“I’m not a field agent, I just read books!” Sydney Pollack directs Robert Redford (looking for all he’s worth like Brad Pitt, or should that be the other way around?) as the titular Condor. Not that that’s his real name, of course. A CIA employee who scours books for unusual activity, he’s set on a path to conspiracy and intrigue as he’s the only one left alive in his office.
Basically, Condor’s the Bourne of his day, using similar wiles and wit to survive deadly situations (just witness that boiling pan moment). “Do you believe the condor is really an endangered species?” Boo-yah!
Worst: Austin Powers
Like Bond, Austin spends more time chasing tail than doing the job he’s paid for. Unlike Bond, Austin only ever really gets the job done by accident, and persists in being an annoying British stereotype replete with bad teeth, dodgy accent and “oh no he di’nt” chest hair.
Obvious Roger Moore nods imbue Austin with a bit of charm, but in the end he’s just another materialistic goof.
Best: Roger Thornhill
Recruited against his will into the USA’s top spy organisation, and then framed for murder, Thornhill is a man on the run, completely clueless as to why he’s running and what exactly from. A reluctant, self-made spy, then.
Though his idea of undercover generally involves shoving on a pair of shades (that’ll fool ‘em Cary!), his gentlemanly charms are generally what gets him through. He’s also not bad with the words… “I've got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don't intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed.”
Worst: Kelly &Alex
Yet another big, dumb update of a ‘60s TV series (yeah, ‘cos the others were so good), I Spy finds Owen Wilson’s Special Agent Scott paired with Eddie Murphy’s annoying-as-a-human-vuvuzela middleweight boxer. “I’m gonna be 009 and a half,” puns Murphy. We all groan and wish we could turn our brains off.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the plot revolves around an invisible plane (fitting considering X-Men ’s Famke Janssen is involved), as well as awkward and dated ‘comedy’ spins on typical spy scenarios (ceiling suspension etc).
This is more like it – a girl with a gun. Criminal Nikita (the stunning Anne Parillaud) is recruited into French intelligence to work as a seriously fatal femme fatale. This broad wields weapons while wearing nothing but her knickers – yup, it’s all back to basics here.
In fact, Nikita was so popular she inspired an American remake starring Bridget Fonda ( The Assassin ) as well as two TV series – ‘90s show La Femme Nkita , and brand-new-this-year Nikita , with Maggie Q in the titular role.
Worst: Bob Ho
Hurrah! A modern day comedy spy that isn’t an upgrade of a ‘60s television show. But oh – those same tired ceiling-drop gags are still being sent up, this time by Jackie Chan, who really deserves a lot better. Going the well-treaded path of action stars selling out for family friendly fare, Chan’s retired spy must win over his girlfriend’s royally annoying kids before she agrees to marry him.
They’re so annoying in fact that they’re entirely responsible for the slipshod plotting - when one of the nippers downloads a confidential formula on Ho’s computer, a Russian terrorist to make his move on Ho. Tired, dull and criminally devoid of chuckles.
Best: Peter Joshua
“Has it occurred to you that I’m having a tough time keeping my hands off you?” Oh Cary Grant, you old dawg. Slippery as a nipple, Peter Joshua has a list of aliases to challenge Bourne’s, and is adept at subterfuge. In reality, he works as an agent of the US Treasury. Which sort of plays second fiddle to his epic romance with Audrey Hepburn.
Worst: Boysie Oakes
Code-named simply ‘L’ (hmm, we wonder why), Boysie is recruited into the Secret Service after a completely misinterpreted act of bravery during World War II. Not up to the task, Boysie is so rubbish at his new job that he hires a freelance assassin to carry out the dirtier work for him. Worst. Spy. Ever.
Best: US Operative Scott
“There is nothing I will not do,” attests Operative Scott. Late-night karaoke sessions and boozy pool parties, then? Nah, he’s more into tracking down scum and making them pay for their crimes and misdemeanours.
He’s a former Marine, see, charged with finding the people responsible for kidnapping the President’s daughter. Can he do it? We’d place our bets on an optimistic/realistic “yuhuh!”
Worst: James Bond
By now, James Bond’s looking a bit dog-tired. His 20th film, and perhaps the deepest low point in the series since A View To Kill . The gags are tired, there’s an invisible car (sigh), and Madonna makes a cameo.
We’re also left feeling even more ‘double-o who?’ when Halle Berry sweeps in and is ten times cooler than Brosnan – and looks much better in a bikini. Oh James, how the mighty fall. But wait, is that Daniel Craig on the horizon?
Best: Harry Caul
“The best bar none,” say his colleagues. We can’t help but agree with them (even if they’re not referring to his spying abilities). Adept at bugging anybody, anywhere, any time, Caul is trained in the art of listening.
But he has a crisis of faith when he begins to suspect that a couple he has been bugging are on the black list, marked for death. Cue a tale of paranoia and in one of Francis Ford Coppola’s finest works. Best spy bar done? He’s got our vote.