13 Best Spy Thrillers About WW2 You Need To Watch

Highlights

  • Movies set in WW2 cover a wide range of genres, from action to romance to spy thrillers, offering diverse perspectives on the war.
  • Espionage plays a crucial role in many WW2 films, shedding light on lesser-known stories and strategies in the conflict.
  • Historical accuracy mixed with dramatic flair makes WW2 spy thrillers like “Operation Mincemeat” and “Valkyrie” compelling and engaging.

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Movies about World War II fall into several categories, and the genre is still going strong decades after the war ended in September 1945. These films include action, adventure, period drama, romance, and often more than one at the same time.

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There are literally hundreds of movies that are set in WW2, and their settings and stories are equally diverse and take place on the front line, in bunkers and foxholes, even in castles and fortresses. Spy thrillers are but one of many niches of WW2 films, and they’re also some of the best because they can take more fictional licenses than other categories. Films like these take the focus off the conventional battlefield and tell the obscure and unknown stories of war through espionage.

Updated May 29, 2024, by Kristy Ambrose: It’s not always the famous or high-profile events that define the overall strategy of a war. Espionage on many fronts, weak links in the chain of command, and even the old ghosts of medieval politics were important factors in what happened during World War II. Everyone should see these new and old spy thrillers about this crucial time in history just to get an idea of where a lot of the most important fighting took place; in secret, and mostly unknown.

13 Operation Mincemeat

Based On A Real Spy Operation Of The Same Name

Operation Mincemeat 2021

  • Directed By:
    John Madden
  • Distributed By:
    Warner Bros. Pictures and Netflix
  • Starring:
    Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald
  • Release Date:
    November 5th, 2021

Some decisive battles were always in the public eye and have been the subject of intense scrutiny for decades, while others were kept secret and have only been uncovered recently. Operation Mincemeat is one of the latter, and what makes it even more interesting is that it involves some real historical figures. One of them is none other than Ian Fleming, the creator of the character James Bond.

The real Operation Mincemeat was an attempt to feed the German forces false information about the Allied invasion points in Europe. The movie recreates the true story with some dramatic flair, but for the most part, the adaptation is accurate.

12 Valkyrie

A Real Plan To Assassinate Hitler

Valkryrie screenshot Tom Cruise et al IMDb cropped

  • Directed By:
    Bryan Singer
  • Distributed By:
    20th Century Fox, MGM Distribution Co.
  • Starring:
    Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy
  • Release Date:
    December 25th, 2008

Tom Cruise plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, a real historical figure who was stationed in the Nazi stronghold of Tunisia in northern Africa during the war. Several notable figures also share the screen with the Colonel, including Himmler and Goebbels, and the former was part of the plot and issued some of the key orders.

Operation Valkyrie wasn’t the name of the plot to assassinate Hitler, but the idea that the assassins could use the Reserve Army to take control of Germany should anything happen to him. The bomb that Stauffenberg placed in Hitler’s office went off, but the target survived the attempt. Stauffenberg made it through a few checkpoints under the premise that Hitler was dead, but he was caught and sentenced to death by firing squad.

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11 Shining Through

A Civilian Who Became A Spy

Shining Through (1992)

  • Directed By:
    David Seltzer
  • Distributed By:
    20th Century Fox
  • Starring:
    Michael Douglas, Melanie Griffith, Liam Neeson
  • Release Date:
    January 31st, 1992

It was a few years before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Linda Voss applies for a job with a law firm but ends up working as a translator for the form’s top lawyer instead, a dour fellow named Ed Leland. After a while, she notices some strange behavior on the part of her boss, and Ed reveals that he’s a spy.

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Linda doesn’t have much of a background in espionage when she begs Ed to recruit her to help with the war effort. All she has are her language skills and a determination to seek out her lost cousins in Berlin. Aside from the family drama, her mission is to seek out information on “flying bombs,” or what a modern viewer would call a missile.

10 A Soldier Of Orange

A Story of Resistance Occupied Europe

A Soldier Of Orange (1977)

  • Directed By:
    Paul Verhoeven
  • Distributed By:
    Tuschinski Film Distribution
  • Starring:
    Rutger Hauer, Jeroen Krabbé, Derek de Lint
  • Release Date:
    1977

Movies about the resistance forces in Europe focus on guerrilla warfare and espionage, the main tools left for an army after their country has come under occupation. A Soldier Of Orange is about the Nazi occupation of Holland, the official color of that country being orange, and it’s a story about the battlefield along with life as a spy.

Overall, the story is a sad one, recalling other war movies like All Quiet On The Western Front, which followed a group of former school chums into the fog of war. Instead of trenches, however, our heroes have to survive fascist student organizations, absentee monarchs, and friendly traitors, and not all of them make it.

9 Where Eagles Dare

  • Directed By:
    Brian G. Hutton
  • Distributed By:
    Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
  • Starring:
    Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood, Mary Ure
  • Release Date:
    December 4th, 1968

Where Eagles Dare isn’t just a great movie about spies in WW2, it also broke a lot of technical ground. The project was filmed in difficult mountainous terrain on location in Austria and Bavaria and used anamorphic projection lenses, or Panavision, during the filming process. This is comparable to an early version of IMAX, so the setting alone blew a lot of minds.

The plot is thick with intrigue and tells the story of a daring paratrooper operation intended to rescue a person of interest held in a Nazi interrogation center, which happens to be a castle on top of a snowy mountain peak. Aside from the peril of the location itself, there are also double and even triple spies in this operation, making it even more dangerous.

8 U-571

The Battle Of The Atlantic

U-571 screenshot Netflix

  • Directed By:
    Jonathan Mostow
  • Distributed By:
    Dino De Laurentiis Company, Canal+ Image
  • Starring:
    Bill Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Jon Bon Jovi
  • Release Date:
    April 21st, 2000

World War 2 was a period when submarine technology was at a whole new level compared to previous conflicts, and the Battle of the Atlantic included several different vessels on both sides. The movie is named for a German U-boat that was crippled during an attack on a British merchant marine ship.

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When their distress call is intercepted by the Allies, a team of American spies disguises their own sub as a German supply ship and uses this trick to board and take control of the German U-boat. The goal of the mission is to steal an Enigma machine coding device and fix a damaged U-boat and pretend to be Nazis while doing it.

7 Flame & Citron

In The Original Dutch, “Flammen & Citronen”

Flame & Citron (2008)

  • Directed By:
    Ole Christian Madsen
  • Distributed By:
    Nimbus Film, Wüste Film, Babelsberg Studio
  • Starring:
    Thure Lindhardt, Mads Mikkelsen, Stine Stengade
  • Release Date:
    March 28th, 2008

Known as Flammen & Citronen in its native Danish, this movie is based on real events that took place within the Danish resistance during the years of Nazi occupation. Director Ole Christian Madsen worked on the story for years, partly because he had been obsessed with the story of the resistance since he was a child, and also because he thought the story had been either maligned or overlooked in previous versions.

The main characters are Bent, also known as Flammen, and Jørgen, code name Citronen, both part of the same resistance group fighting the Nazis. The movie isn’t just an espionage thriller, but also a film noir. It’s intended to be a realistic depiction of human relationships as well as wartime when the lines between good and evil aren’t so easily drawn.

6 The Exception

A Tale Of Royal Intrigue

The Exception 2016

  • Directed By:
    David Leveaux
  • Distributed By:
    A24, DirecTV, Signature Entertainment
  • Starring:
    Jai Courtney, Janet McTeer, Christopher Plummer
  • Release Date:
    September 12th, 2016

For those who also enjoyed Soldier of Orange and might be interested in more obscure European history involving the scattered royal families, there’s The Exception. Hardly anyone remembers the Holy Roman Empire or Kaiser Wilhelm the Second, whom the Nazis deposed when they took over the country, and this movie is a fictionalized account of an attempt on his life.

Most of the movie takes place at Huis Doorn, the Emporer’s residence near Utrecht, Netherlands, where he stayed for a few years until 1941. The main characters in the story are actually Mieke de Jong, a spy pretending to be a maid who has a secret mission to assassinate Wilhelm, and Captain Stefan Brandt, the Nazi officer who falls in love with her.

5 The Imitation Game

How One Man Broke The Enigma Machine

The Imitation Game (2014)

  • Directed By:
    Morten Tyldum
  • Distributed By:
    The Weinstein Company
  • Starring:
    Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
  • Release Date:
    November 28th, 2014

The scientific fields of cybernetics, electronics, and artificial intelligence owe a lot to Alan Turing, and we haven’t even started on his contributions when it came to beating the Nazis in WW2. Turing’s brilliant mind was instrumental in the cracking of many Nazi codes, giving the Allies a crucial edge when it came to espionage and intelligence.

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The Imitation Game is based on the 1983 biographical novel by Andrew Hodges and includes the early triumphs of Turing during the war, along with his tragic downfall and passing that followed later. Law enforcement of the time viewed Turing’s contributions to humanity as less important than Britain’s “indecency laws,” which are just coded language for any homosexual activity, and their persecution eventually put an end to his work.

4 Casablanca

The Original Romantic Spy Thriller

Casablanca Movie (1942)

  • Directed By:
    Michael Curtiz
  • Distributed By:
    Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Starring:
    Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid
  • Release Date:
    January 23rd, 1943

What’s interesting about this movie is it starts under the pretense that this isn’t Europe, just a French colony, and there’s no war here. That tends to be the misconception even today, that WW2 was confined to Europe. Even if other places weren’t getting bombed, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a thriving underground resistance.

It’s a historical fact that “neutral” Casablanca was used as a travel hub for refugees trying to get out of Europe, and this movie was a contemporary reflection of a real issue at the time. What makes this story special is the human drama involved, with the main character Rick Blaine insisting he never “sticks his neck out” for anyone, including anyone fighting the war back in Europe. However, when former girlfriend Ilsa walks in looking for travel papers for her and her husband, his neutrality is tested.

3 Charlotte Gray

Recruiting For The Special Operations Executive

Charlotte Gray (2001)

  • Directed By:
    Gillian Armstrong
  • Distributed By:
    FilmFour Distributors, Universal Pictures, Senator Film
  • Starring:
    Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon
  • Release Date:
    2001

Adapted from a novel by the same name, which was written by Sebastian Faulks in 1999, Charlotte Gray is a story of a British spy working behind enemy lines in France. The lead character has her own personal motivations when the Secret Service recruits her, but one of the themes of almost every war movie is that all decisions are personal.

The film is beautiful, showing the best of 1940s French clothing and design, but it’s not an action film. Like a classic spy film, it has more of a slow burn when it comes to the plot, and the ending is more realistic as opposed to satisfying.

2 The Guns of Navarone

Hidden In The Aegean Islands

The Guns of Navarone promo poster

  • Directed By:
    J. Lee Thompson
  • Distributed By:
    Columbia Pictures
  • Starring:
    Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn
  • Release Date:
    1961

This star-studded 1960s-era blockbuster takes place in the eastern Mediterranean, a setting that doesn’t get a lot of attention, mostly because the Nazis had occupied Greece from about 1940. In 1943, the Nazis decided that a show of strength on the Greek island of Kheros, where 2000 British soldiers were stationed, would convince Turkey to join the Axis powers.

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The guns named in the title are fictional but represent the target of the spies and soldiers in the plot. They’re on Navarone Mountain and are big enough to prevent the British forces from rescuing or defending their troops using outside forces. All that stands between the British soldiers and a Nazi attack is a motley crew of American, Greek, and British spies disguised as fishermen, with a mission to destroy the guns of Navarone.

1 Lust, Caution

An Erotic Spy Thriller

Lust, Caution (2007)

  • Directed By:
    Ang Lee
  • Distributed By:
    Focus Features, China Film Group Corporation, Edko Films, Buena Vista International
  • Starring:
    Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Anupam Kher, Joan Chen
  • Release Date:
    September 28th, 2007

World War II had a slightly different dynamic on the other side of the planet, where Japan had been waging various wars on the mainland with the intent of expanding its empire since the early 1930s. Lust, Caution begins in 1938, during the second Sino-Japanese War, when the protagonist Wong Chia Chi is first recruited into a life of espionage in Hong Kong.

The rest of the film is set in Shanghai in 1942 when Chia-Chi reunites with her fellow students who were also recruited as spies. Now they work for the Kuomintang, an undercover organization working against the Japanese occupation forces. This isn’t just an espionage film, but also an erotic thriller, so be advised that it’s NSFW.

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Fuente: successacademy.edu.vn
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