Spy Movies That Influenced Kingsman: The Secret Service
Kingsman: The Secret Service pulled from a lot of spy movies (and television) to find its tone. We try to list them all!
A few years ago, Fifty Shades of Grey opened on Valentine’s Day weekend and shattered all sorts of records… but it was the movie that did almost as well that holiday which has had the longer franchise staying power as the years passed: Kingsman: The Secret Service. With enough charm and gonzo showmanship by director Matthew Vaughn (and comic creator Mark Millar) to be taken seriously, but still featuring the necessary chaos to qualify as a Monty Python gag, Kingsman: The Secret Service was an outrageous dose of bonkers entertainment. Indeed, it found the missing ingredient that James Bond producers have recently lost.
But as the ever dapper Harry Hart (Colin Firth) admits to Taaron Egerton in Kingsman, alongside his worthy foe Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), everyone loves those old “spy movies,” especially the theatrical ones with a great gentleman superhero and a megalomaniacal baddie. Without those classics of the big screen (and sometimes even the small one), a movie like Kingsman: The Secret Service could not exist.
We decided to find and unpack as many references to the spy genre classics, Bond or otherwise, that influenced Kingsman’s well-aimed approach.
His Name is Harry (Palmer)
Before jumping into the many 007 influences of Kingsman, it seems best to look at the other places from which the film drew, and none are more apparent than the Harry Palmer films, which started with The Ipcress File (1965). Based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Len Deighton, everything that Kingsman borrowed was on the screen almost immediately in the visage of Harry Palmer, right down to the actor Michael Caine! Yes, Caine, who plays the Kingsman equivalent of 007’s “M,” was the actor that most famously embodied Harry Palmer in three films in the 1960s, based directly on Deighton novels, as well as two more non-Deighton adapted film stories in the 1990s. Most of Palmer’s influence on Kingsman is self-evident: Harry Palmer’s first name is the same as Harry Hart’s, and they both are visibly distinguished by their need for thick dark-rimmed glasses.
read more: Kingsman: The Secret Service Review
However, for the most part, the Harry Palmer yarns were meant to be an antidote to the more fantastical James Bond pictures, both of which were produced in the 1960s by Harry Saltzman (Cubby Broccoli was not involved in the Harry Palmer series). And despite sharing Ken Adam as production designer, Peter Hunt as editor, and John Barry as composer (all of whom worked on the earliest Sean Connery adventures), The Ipcress File and its direct sequels Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967) at least postured as “serious” Cold War affairs. Still, the swagger of bifocaled British gentry has lived on in more homages than just Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman’s recent work…
Manners Maketh the Man, The Avengers or Otherwise
The biggest influence of Harry Hart’s indisputably English disposition—as well as the ultimate affectation adopted by his protégé Eggsy (Taron Egerton)—is that of John Steed. As the central character of the cult classic British television series, The Avengers, Patrick Macnee played Steed with the etiquette of a 19th century English lord, but the twinkled bemusement of an aristocrat forced to slum it with the plebs any time a villain was onscreen.
read more: Looking Back at The Avengers
The series ran from 1961 to 1969, and during that time Steed had many companions aiding him on his adventures, though none of them were as magnificent as Mrs. Peel (Diana Rigg). Nevertheless, Steed remained a consistently British old sport ready to show the Beatles generation a thing or two about manners. That does sound familiar…
Never Forget Your Umbrella, Mrs. Peel
Also from The Avengers is John Steed’s signature umbrella. Although Steed did not begin carrying the elegant accessory or his metal-rimmed bowler hat until the third season when Honor Blackman (the future Pussy Galore) joined the series, the umbrella became indispensable for every episode afterward. And like Harry Hart’s preferred walking stick, Steed’s came tricked out, usually with a sword hidden inside the carved handle. However, in certain episodes, it also featured technological gimmicks where necessary, albeit nothing as impressive as a bulletproof parasol or a hidden shotgun, but all gadgets evolve over time.
Other Avengers Odds and Ends
While perhaps not as iconic as John Steed’s umbrella or understated cadence, Harry Hart and company likely inherited a few other charms from The Avengers. Most notably, Harry Hart’s London flat looks suspiciously similar to the one John Steed inhabited once The Avengers switched to color in its fifth season, complete with fine paneled walls and an austere living room. Also, the Kingsmen’s penchant for 1960s vehicles may simply be a nod to the era of spy films and television that influenced the 2015 movie, yet we suspect that it might have something to do with John Steed’s preference for classic automobiles of the early 20th century, which by 1965 was not much further removed for him than that year is now for us 50 years later.
read more – Kingsman: The Great Game – Everything We Know
Lastly, the broad conceit of the villainous Valentine’s plan reminds me quite a bit of the season five episode “Return of the Cybernauts.” Admittedly, this could be purely coincidence, but during that hour guest star Peter Cushing diabolically continues his late brother’s (Michael Gough) work by building “Cybernauts.” These metallic cretins are essentially a variation on Doctor Who’s Cybermen, except with Cushing reprising his Dr. Frankenstein performance from the Hammer catalogue.
The Cybernauts are meant to usher in an age of automated world control over our leaders, which starts by Cushing kidnapping prominent scientists and pressuring them into cooperation. He then is able to use the technology to inhabit the mind of Mrs. Emma Peel, forcing her against her will to karate chop Steed and capture him for fellow brainwashing. Of course, Steed escapes and Emma is likewise freed, but it’s not that kind of movie (or show).
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Somewhat ironically since former Vaughn collaborator Guy Ritchie is directed his own 1960s spy action-comedy based on this series, Kingsman’s titular organization seems like a likely play on U.N.C.L.E.
In the original 1960s American TV series, U.N.C.L.E. didn’t serve a single government or secret service. Rather, U.N.C.L.E. stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, an independent organization located near the U.N. in Manhattan, but representing the U.S., Great Britain, the Netherlands, Greece, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, and even Russia. While The Avengers also featured a fictional spy agency, it was never named but was inferred to be part of the British Secret Service. U.N.C.L.E., like the Kingsmen, is an independent and international intelligence group.
Henchmen with a Bite
As one of the best Bond influences on Kingsman, Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle steals the show as Valentine’s right hand woman whose very capable legs are made of razor-sharp blades. She’s a throwback to the greatest evil subordinates, which most notably include Harold Sakata as Oddjob in Goldfinger (1964) and Richard Kiel’s crushing performance as Jaws, which first appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
read more: The Top 10 James Bond Deaths
Like Gazelle, both Oddjob and Jaws were noted for their signature preference of murder (steel-rimmed bowler hat and neck-destroying metal teeth, respectively), as well as adding a bit of playfulness to otherwise overwhelming megalomania. I’d also like to suggest the less memorable Tee Hee Johnson (Julius Harris) from Live and Let Die (1973) as an influence. While not even the best villain of that particular Roger Moore adventure, this henchman did feature a metal claw for his right arm, which seems of probable lineage with Gazelle.
She Had Her Kicks in From Russia with Love Too
One of the all-time great Bond gadgets was also one of the first when Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) revealed her poisonous shoe-knife in From Russia with Love (1963). During a deceptively peaceful denouement, Rosa shows up at the last minute to corner Sean Connery’s unarmed 007. While Bond, or at least his lover (Daniela Bianchi), is able to prevent Rosa from sticking her landing on screen (she does send Bond to the hospital with a nick in the original Ian Fleming novel), the image of a deadly shoe-blade has lived on in many films and shows forevermore, including Kingsman.
read more: From Russia with Love – The High Point of the Bond Franchise
The Original Mobile Phone in Get Smart
In the same scene where Harry Hart introduces Eggsy to the shoe-blade, he also mentions that the Kingsmen once kept phones in their footwear. We would call that more than a wink to Mel Brooks’ original funny spy, Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) of Get Smart.
The Dart Watch, Mr. Bond
Having secret gizmos in the watch dates back to Dr. No (1962) where in his first movie adventure, James Bond uses his watch as a Geiger counter. Most recently, Pierce Brosnan’s 007 used his wrist jewelry to fire life-saving lasers in GoldenEye (1995) and Die Another Day (2002). Yet, the film that featured a dart-ejecting mechanism, much like Harry’s in Kingsman, is Moonraker (1979).
read more – Matthew Vaughn: Mastering (and Subverting) One Genre at a Time
Q-Branch might never have said anything about it featuring an amnesia drug, but it clearly made enemies quite compliable, such as when Roger Moore administered it to the villainous Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), enticing him to make a small step for man…outside of his space station’s airlock.
A Flamethrower Lighter in License to Kill
Despite coming from a movie that Kingsman likely would have chided for being too serious, Timothy Dalton’s lukewarmly received License to Kill (1989), the flamethrower in the lighter that Harry uses to grisly effect was also utilized by 007 in a more PG-13 manner during this film.
read more: License to Kill – The Darkest James Bond Movie
Poison in the Pen
While not an exact replica of how the poison is activated via remote control, a pen most definitely left a nasty ink stain in Moonraker. It may have only been discussed and never implemented, but Dr. Holly Goodhead’s (Lois Chiles) pen is found by 007 with a discreet needle intended for poisoning. Also, while there is no exploding lighter (that I am aware of) in the Bond films, perhaps Kingsman’s stealthy grenade is in reference to the exploding pen Brosnan signed out of Cuba with in GoldenEye.
read more: The James Bond Movies You Never Saw
An Aircraft in a Suitcase in You Only Live Twice
As the highlight gadget of Connery’s fifth Bond movie, You Only Live Twice (1967), Little Nellie was Q’s nifty yellow helicopter or autogyro, which he transported to Japan via several spare parts. When assembled, Bond had a small aircraft that came fully stocked with a huge arsenal. In Kingsman, Roxy (Sophie Cookson) uses a similar DIY yellow aircraft, albeit of far higher ambition than Little Nellie. Lifted by weather balloons, Roxy’s yellow flyer comes complete with a couple of space age missiles and radar.
read more: Ranking the 24 James Bond Villains from Best to Worst
Skydiving Without a Parachute via Moonraker
One of the best sequences of Kingsman is when Merlin (Mark Strong) suggests that the new recruits learn what to do when five of them go skydiving, and only four of them have working parachutes. Moonraker opens with a similar stunt, albeit with far less collaboration, when Roger Moore’s Bond, Jaws, and a nameless henchman all fall out of an airplane with only two parachutes between the three of them. Guess which one lands empty handed?
read more – Moonraker: The James Bond Movie You Shouldn’t Take Seriously
The Villain’s Lair
By and large, the icy lair that Valentine hides in during the climax of Kingsman seems more generally inspired by the many dastardly HQs dreamed up by Ken Adam during the Connery and Moore years. Indeed, Kingsman production designer Paul Kirby did a superb job of evoking that retro style. But two films seem more influential than the rest.
read more: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – One of the Best Bond Movies
First is You Only Live Twice, which featured the evil Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) holing up in a secret volcano lair off the island of Japan. The rock formation walls, and even some of the main floor consisting of a red color are all seen in Kingsman. Yet, I’d also say there is a dash of the superior Bond entry On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), the one and only George Lazenby Bond movie, thrown in. That Blofeld lair (designed by Syd Cain) was similarly secluded on a snowy mountain with a modern, glassy sheen when indoors.
A Tete-a-Tete (Goldfinger Did It Best)
One of the best scenes in Kingsman occurs when, finally realizing that Valentine is his adversary, Harry exclaims they must arrange a “tête-à-tête.” This formal hero-villain sit-down where they either secretly or explicitly know they are the other’s mortal enemy is a 007 staple. Pretty much every movie from Dr. No straight through to Skyfall features it in some form. However, my favorite variation of it appears in Goldfinger, not least of all because it is one of the only few (along with From Russia with Love and Casino Royale) where the lack of killing makes any sort of sense.
read more: The Legacy of Goldfinger
In Goldfinger, the perfectly vile Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) invites Sean Connery’s 007 to drink his wine and seduce his women for a pointed purpose: fooling the CIA and MI6 into not snooping further into his affairs. By treating James Bond as a guest instead of a prisoner or corpse, Goldfinger has the bumbling Americans think James is on top of things and there will be no further interference from 008 or worse. However, Goldfinger could not predict how on top of things Mr. Bond would become when it came to convincing Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) into switching many sides.
Closing Scene Seduction
Another 007 classic that’s of less nostalgic value for the more socially conscience is his ability to bed almost any woman by the time the credits roll. Sometimes, it comes off as cheeky and sweet (The Spy Who Loved Me) and other times tragic (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Casino Royale). But mostly, it seems very silly (Moonraker), if one wishes to be charitable. Kingsman has a similar ending but played up to R-rated snickering.
read more: The Spy Who Loved Me – The Best of the Epic James Bond Movies
While in keeping with Bond, I do think it is one of Kingsman’s few missteps—the other being its Python-esque authority-jeer aimed at the U.S. government, which might be fine if not for its noticeable lack of onscreen mocking at British institutions’ expense.
A Stern Rebuke for Ian Fleming’s Choice of Martini
James Bond famously names his preferred vodka martini after the doomed love of his life, Vesper Lynd, both in Fleming’s 1953 novel Casino Royale and its 2006 big screen adaptation. In the book, Fleming clearly is advising readers of how best to make a proper martini: “One. In a deep champagne goblet…Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
read more: The James Bond Movies’ Special Relationship with America
Granted, this is more elaborate than all the martinis ordered in the non-Daniel Craig Bond movies, which are simply “vodka martinis, shaken not stirred” and presumably served with vermouth instead of the Lillet liqueur. But it would seem Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman have a problem with both recipes.
Harry Hart first promises to tell Eggsy how to make a proper martini in Kingsman, and we later see Eggsy use that knowledge correctly when he orders a martini at Valentine’s secret lair. Upon being asked how he wants his martini prepared, Eggsy replies, “With gin of course [and] stirred for 10 seconds while glancing at an unopened bottle of vermouth.”
We imagine that 007 and Eggsy could come to blows over this distinction.
So there are 17 spy genre influences on Kingsman: The Secret Service. Did we miss any? Let us know in the comment section below!
*An earlier version of this article inaccurately described actor Robert Vaughn as a relative of Matthew Vaughn. Thank you to all the commenters who corrected us on this point.
David Crow is the Film Section Editor at Den of Geek. He’s also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. Read more of his work here. You can follow him on Twitter @DCrowsNest.