The King’s Man: The Best Historical Spy Movies
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The King’s Man hits cinemas this month, continuing the story of the Kingsman with a prequel – and instead of focusing on Eggsy, the underdog of the first film, it will look at how the spy organization fared in World War 1.
While the details of the plot will have to wait until it hits the big screen, fans of the series know that they can count on director Matthew Vaughn’s incredible approach, which means brilliant action, bold shots, and a lot of comedy to balance it out. This, and the original Kingsman, makes a change from the classic spy movie style, but it’s the time period that really makes this stand out. While there are many critically acclaimed spy flicks set in the modern day (or the era they were released in), giving things a period flair creates something truly special—as these other phenomenal historical spy and action movies do too.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Guy Ritchie brings his inimitable style to this Cold-War-set spy flick starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. In many ways, this is a spy take on the odd couple story, as a CIA agent and KGB agent must work together to save the day. While some of the plot itself was criticized, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has many of the same fantastic elements that Kingsman is known for: incredible set pieces and action scenes, phenomenally charismatic stars, and just the right balance of tense drama and moments of levity.
X-Men: First Class
While this isn’t quite a spy movie, in the strictest sense of the word, it has a lot to offer fans of the Kingsman series. This first installment of the soft reboot X-Men timeline is also directed by Matthew Vaughn, which goes a long way to explain so many of the similarities! This look at the formation of the X-Men, the ragtag team of original mutants, and the battle to save the world (all set in the 1960s) has similar incredible action moments. This all enhanced, of course, by their mutant superpowers and moments of hilarity, but it also has the same heart.
Starring Charlize Theron, Atomic Blonde has a little fun with the classic formula for a Cold War spy novel by making the crack secret agent a gorgeous woman (more like a Bond girl than a classic blonde). It’s a change that very much pays off, as Theron does an incredible job of tackling the spy drama, while the action sequences do not disappoint. It may not be quite as light in tone as many of the Kingsman movies, but it has all the fights, chases, and intrigue that appeal to fans.
Sherlock Holmes/Enola Holmes
Sherlock, once again, is not quite a spy, but a detective. However, when discussing historical action flicks that center on mysteries and world-saving exploits, the 2009 Sherlock Holmes and the (unconnected) 2020 Enola Holmes are “Holmes” runs! The 2009 offering has a much more comic-book appropriate approach at times and brightly colored, fast paced action sequences, while Robert Downey Jr. brings charisma and humor to the role. Enola Holmes, meanwhile, focuses on the oft-ignored sister to Sherlock and has a unique style that will appeal to those Kingsman fans who appreciated the freshness of the film.
Any look at historical spy movies wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Austin Powers! The only pure comedy on the list, this series was a smash hit for the surprisingly charismatic buck-toothed Austin (Mike Myers), and the intentionally heavy-handed jokes that hide a softer look at a man out of time. While it’s not technically set in the '60s, it’s hard to separate it from this time period, and although some jokes have certainly aged poorly, there’s still enough here to enjoy as a comedy classic.
What historical spy movies have we missed? Tweet us @quirkbooks and let us know!