Cold War viewing recommendations


  • Fail Safe (1964) - Starring Henry Fonda as the US president, dealing with an accidental attack on the Soviet Union. Almost the entire movie is shot on just four sets. There is no score. Many of the shots are closeups. Read my Never Was review here.
  • Bridge of Spies (2015) - Starring Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan, a lawyer who negotiates the release of Francis Gary Powers, the USAF pilot whose U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, in exchange for a captured KGB spy.


  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) - Starring Gary Oldman as John le Carré's legendary spymaster, Smiley. I think it's fair to say this is one of the best spy movies ever made, based on one of the best spy novels ever written. Oldman is perfect as Smiley. The costumes and sets are expertly done.
  • The Game (2014) - If you liked Tinker Tailor, you'll like The Game. It's set in the same time period and stars Brian Cox, of Succession fame, as the head of MI5.


  • The Fourth Protocol (1987) - Starring Pierce Brosnan and Michael Caine, the movie largely follows the plot of the Frederick Forsyth novel on which it is based: the Soviets plot to detonate a nuclear weapon on an American military base in Britain to kick the country out of the Cold War. Read my Never Was review of the book and movie here.
  • The Hunt for the Red October (1990) - The first and best of the Jack Ryan movies, starring Alec Baldwin as the CIA analyst and Sean Connery as a rogue Soviet submarine commander.
  • The Americans (2013-18) - This is six seasons of top quality. Starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Russian spies who live married and under deep cover in the United States. The series tracks the historical events of the Reagan era, but it is as much about the two spies' marriage as it is about the Cold War.
  • Deutschland 83 (2015) - Germany's answer to The Americans, centered on a young East German border guard who is unwillingly thrust into the middle of the 1983 Able Archer crisis. Read my Never Was review here. (There is a second series, Deutschland 86, but I haven't been able to find a version with English subtitles yet.)

Not recommended

  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) - Starring the excellent Richard Burton, it was reviewed well at the time, but I found it slow and melodramatic. The Le Carré novel on which it is based is far superior.
  • Topaz (1969) - You'd think this would be good. It has a credible spy story, based on the real-life Martel affair; believable characters, exotic locations, and it's directed by Alfred Hitchcock! Yet it somehow falls flat.
  • The Russia House (1990) - Another strange disappointment. Based on an excellent Le Carré novel and starring Sean Connery as a publisher who is recruited by MI6 to smuggle secret information out of Russia, and Michelle Pfeiffer as his contact, with whom he inevitably falls in love, it's all rather predictable.


  • I love Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Such a good film!

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