Skip to main content

50 Most Tense Undercover Movie Moments

Three Days Of The Condor (1975)

The Moment: Robert Redford’s CIA man returns to his office to find all his colleagues dead. Panicking, he contacts his handlers, who instruct him to join them for a meet.

Look Away When: As Redford travels to the meeting, there’s an eerie sensation that something is very wrong. And so it proves when he gets there.

True Romance (1993)

The Moment: Clarence puts Elliott at gunpoint to ensure he’s not wired. Elliott, who is wired, very nearly has a heart attack, as does the audience.

Look Away When: As soon as the lift doors close, things are about to get very heated indeed.

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

The Moment: Archie Hicox goes undercover as a German soldier, liaising with his meet in a quiet tavern, before being roped into a nerve-wracking card game with a posse of bona fide Nazis.

Look Away When: Hicox orders a round of drinks. The game’s up old boy…

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The Moment: The Mexican standoff scene, in which the finger of accusation is pointed squarely at Mr. Orange, with Mr. White still staking his life on his colleague’s honesty.

Look Away When: Mr. White professes, “I know this man!” Not only unbearably tense, but also rather heartbreaking.

The Departed (2007)

The Moment: Costigan races to a meet with Queenan, who has been tailed by Sullivan. Out of nowhere, Queenan plummets from a nearby rooftop, and Costigan is suddenly confronted by Costello’s goons. Time to think up an excuse…

Look Away When: Costigan thinks on his feet, pretending as though he had also been sent there by Costello. Phew!

Jackie Brown (1997)

The Moment: The money exchange in a department store changing room, played out from the perspective of all the respective participants.

Look Away When: Every time Jackie begins to make her escape from the shopping mall, we start to tense up…

Deep Cover (1992)

The Moment: Russell Stephens is confronted with a dilemma: either blow his cover, risking his life and the mission, or commit a murder in order to preserve the ruse. Tricky one…

Look Away When: Stephens confronts a rival drug dealer in a restaurant bathroom, and goes for his gun…

The 39 Steps (1935)

The Moment: Annabella Smith reveals to Richard Hannay that she is a spy, being pursued by a ruthless group of assassins after her discovery of a plot to steal British intelligence secrets.

Look Away When: Smith comes stumbling into Hannay’s bedroom, fatally stabbed, and dies in his arms. Time you were on the run, old chap!

White Heat (1949)

The Moment: Undercover cop Vic Pardo comes face to face with a driver he put away years previously, slap bang in the middle of a heist. It’s a bit awkward for all concerned…

Look Away When: Recognition dawns within the eyes of both men…

Donnie Brasco (1997)

The Moment: The owner of a Japanese restaurant demands Donnie and his boys remove their shoes in his establishment. Trouble is, that’s where Donnie keeps his tape recorder concealed…

Look Away When: Donnie grapples with the options available to him, eventually opting to give the restaurateur a thorough pasting.

George Wales
George is GR's resident movie news person, based out of London. He understands that all men must die, but he'd rather not think about it.