Best Spy TV Series to Stream: Jack Ryan, 24, Slow Horses & More

If you have an itch for spooks, moles, conspiracies and killer twists, here's our spy thriller streaming guide for Netflix, Prime Video, Apple TV+, BritBox, ITVX, BBC iPlayer, Hulu and more.

John Krasinski in Jack Ryan
Photo: Prime Video

Are you craving some spy action? If you’ve exhausted the Bond franchise, completed the Mission: Impossible collection, and revisited the Bourne movies more times than is medically advisable, perhaps it’s time to look to television.

A lot of different shows come under the heading of a “spy thriller”. You’ll find action, family drama, comedy, politics and even the odd alien invasion all represented in this list. But there are a few things that they all have in common. They all feature twists and turns and characters keeping deep, dark secrets. They all have a tendency towards ruthlessness – don’t get too attached to any one person! The possibility that any character in the show might be killed off at any moment, up to and including the protagonist, is one of the things that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. And they are all compelling, unmissable TV.

The selection below will occupy your evenings for a week or two, keeping you clicking “Watch next episode” before your brain has even woken up to tell you it’s midnight and you really ought to be in bed.

A Spy Among Friends (ITVX, 2022)

Watch if you enjoy: true stories, complex character relationships

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Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce in A Spy Among Friends

This excellent slow-burn ITVX drama adapted by Homeland‘s Alex Cary from a book by Ben Macintyre, hangs on a central triangle of characters: real-life British intelligence agents Nicholas Elliott, infamous traitor Kim Philby, and fictional MI5 debriefer Lily Thomas. It dips back and forth in history between the 1930s and 1960s, after Philby’s defection to the then-Soviet Union, to tell the story of how he charmed and deceived his friends and colleagues, and examines what that betrayal meant not just to England, but also to Elliott, his former best friend.

These six episodes build a layered, complex portrait of the kind of men Elliott and Philby were, and of the class that made them. Damian Lewis is the keystone holding it all together with a magnificent performance as Elliott, with able support from Guy Pearce as Philby, and Anna Maxwell Martin as Thomas. Jumping around international destinations and timelines, A Spy Among Friends isn’t made for casual viewing, so put your phone away while you fall under its spell.

A Spy Among Friends is available to stream on ITVX.

Spooks (MI5 in the US, BBC, 2002 – 2011)

Watch if you enjoy: UK politics, gripping action

Spooks cast BBC promo image

Spooks ran for nearly a decade and was an early career highlight for several well-known British actors including Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, David Oyelowo, and Richard Armitage. It became notorious for shocking twists, for unexpectedly killing off main characters, and for a 2015 film sequel starring Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington and subtitled The Greater Good (a title it is quite impossible for any fan of 2007’s Hot Fuzz to take seriously).

Spooks made waves in its second episode with a gruesome death scene that shocked its genteel British audience and prompted hundreds of complaints. That was back in 2002; it does not seem quite so shocking now (in fact, Supernatural used the same cause of death in a 2010 episode) but the show is still an unpredictable, fun ride.

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Spooks is available to stream on Prime Video in the UK and on BritBox in the US

Treason (Netflix, 2022)

Treason Netflix Charlie Cox

Watch if you enjoy: Shocking twists.

Netflix’s five-part limited series Treason starring Charlie Cox was released on December 26th 2022. It arrived with a good pedigree – creator Matt Charman was Oscar-nominated for co-writing the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s 2015 film Bridge of Spies. At just five episodes of about 45 minutes each, it’s a quick series to consume and digest over a couple of evenings and has plenty of twists and turns to keep viewers on their toes.

The series has a great cast including Oona Chaplin, Olga Kurylenko, Ciarán Hinds and Alex Kingston. It also, like a couple of our later entries, comes with a hefty dose of family drama, and you’ll find yourself rooting for Chaplin’s beleaguered but highly capable Army veteran as well as Cox’s stressed-out spy as they try to keep their family together.

Treason is available to stream on Netflix

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (BBC, 1979)

Watch if you enjoy: Hunting for a mole.

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Alec Guinness BBC

It’s hard to underestimate the influence the novels of John le Carré have had on spy fiction, both in print and on screen. David Cromwell first started writing spy novels under a pseudonym while he was still working for MI6, before he was outed by the infamous double agent Kim Philby in 1964. Only Ian Fleming has had a bigger impact, and arguably le Carré is even more influential on the more “realistic” end of spy fiction.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was perhaps le Carré’s most personal novel, revolving around the hunt for a double agent in his fictionalised version of MI6. You might have seen the excellent 2011 film starring Gary Oldman, but for a slightly longer, slower paced adaptation conveniently portioned into seven episodes, this acclaimed earlier series starring Alec Guinness, in which the Cold War is a contemporary story rather than a period drama, is well worth a look. There was also a sequel series called Smiley’s People which came out in 1982.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is available to stream on BritBox in the UK

Slow Horses (Apple TV+, 2022 – Present)

Slow Horses Gary Oldman, Olivia Cooke etc

Watch if you enjoy: British humour.

Having been critically acclaimed for his performance as George Smiley, Gary Oldman plays a very different sort of British spy in this series adapted from the Slough House series of novels by Mick Herron. A more modern spy than Smiley, far less neat and from a very different background, what they have in common is putting the intelligence into the intelligence services, and caring deeply about their colleagues.

Slough House is the name of the building where Oldman’s Jackson Lamb heads up a department of MI5 agents who have screwed up but not been fired. They are supposed to be left with dull administrative work, though of course don’t restrict themselves to that. The name Slough House tells you all you need to know about the status of their department, as Slough is best known as the location of the British The Office, and for the first line of a famous John Betjeman poem, “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough”. It also tells you a lot about the show, which features plenty of the sort of dry, self-deprecating humour that Brits do so well.

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Seasons one and two, both six episodes each, were released in 2022. Season three has completed filming and work has already started on season four, so there is plenty more Slow Horses to come. If you’re in the mood for something current and ongoing, this is the one to try.

Slow Horses is available to stream on Apple TV+

The Night Manager (BBC, 2016)

Watch if you enjoy: An all-star cast.

Tom Hiddleston The Night Manager

John Le Carré continued writing spy stories long after the Cold War ended, and this mini-series based on his 1993 novel was moved into the then-present day (2016) by screenwriter David Farr. The series is slick and beautifully filmed, and comes in at only six episodes (if you want more, the BBC also produced a mini-series based on le Carrè’s The Little Drummer Girl starring Florence Pugh in 2018, but that one goes back to a Cold War setting).

What really stands out here, though, is the quality of the cast. All the series we’ve listed have great casts doing fantastic work, and some of them feature some very well-known names. But in terms of sheer star power combined with outstanding acting ability and heaps of charisma, it’s hard to beat Tom Hiddleston starring alongside Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Debicki, Tom Hollander and David Harewood. One of the greatest strengths of the MCU’s Loki is just how much fun it is just to watch Hiddleston for six hours – The Night Manager possesses that exact same advantage, with added shaky-cam effects for an extra intimate feel.

The Night Manager is available to stream on Prime Video

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Killing Eve (BBC, 2018 – 2022)

Watch if you enjoy: Complex female characters.

Killing Eve season 3

Although women have always been a part of spy dramas, their roles in earlier stories tended towards a few stereotypes, repeated over and over again – femmes fatales, disposable love interests, slightly less disposable love interests, secretaries. If complex female spies are something that appeals to you, then you need to check out Killing Eve, which concluded a four-year run on various BBC channels.

What really makes Killing Eve stand out from the rest of this list, though, is the humour. All of these shows feature some level of humour, without which they would all be unbearably miserable and possibly quite dull in between the action scenes. But Killing Eve crosses over into black comedy territory with its consistent, witty approach. The showrunner and head writer for the first season, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is best known for the hit sitcom Fleabag, which she wrote and starred in, and her comedy pedigree is clear to see in this earlier work. Spy dramas can get pretty intense if watched back to back – break it up with a show that isn’t afraid to lift the mood with some well-placed humour.

Killing Eve is available to stream on BBC iPlayer in the UK and on Hulu in the US

Alias (ABC, 2001 – 2006)

Watch if you enjoy: Twists and turns.

Sydney Bristow in Alias

Moving across the pond, one of the best-known female-led spy shows of the early 21st century was Alias, starring Jennifer Garner and created by JJ Abrams of Lost, Fringe, Star Trek and Star Wars fame.

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If you’ve seen much of Lost or Fringe, you will probably already have guessed that Alias includes more twists, turns, shocks and surprises than a game of Twister played on an electrified mat. We won’t say much more here because when the success of a show rests on its ability to surprise you, you really want to know as little as possible going in. Suffice it to say that just like Fringe, there’s a turning-point partway through season two, after which the show metamorphoses into a slightly different thing each season.

Alias is available to stream on Disney+

Homeland (Showtime, 2011 – 2020)

Watch if you enjoy: ‘Are they a traitor?’ tension

Homeland Season 8 Episode 5 Review Chalk Two Down

If you want another long-running, constantly changing, female-led American spy drama, it has to be Homeland, starring Claire Danes, which aired for eight seasons on Showtime starting in 2011, and was originally based on Israeli series Prisoners of War (the title of Homeland‘s series finale).

With more Emmy nominations and wins than could be stored on a concealed thumb drive smuggled across an international border, Homeland follows CIA operative Carrie Mathieson (Danes). Over eight seasons, we track Mathieson’s work in counter-terrorism across various settings including Iraq, Beirut, Afghanistan and the White House. Danes is joined by an excellent supporting cast including Damien Lewis, Mandy Patinkin and F. Murray Abraham, in a drama that explores the moral grey areas and human cost of international intelligence work without losing the tension and action.

Homeland is available to stream on Netflix in the UK and on Hulu in the US

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (MGM, 1964 – 1968)

Watch if you enjoy Western and Russian spies working together.

The Man from UNCLE opening credits screengrab 1960s

You might have seen the 2015 Guy Ritchie film version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, and Alicia Vikander. The film is better than its poor box office would imply, though sadly it is unlikely to get a sequel considering the combination of poor performance and the fact that it stars Armie Hammer.

So, if you’re craving some more U.N.C.L.E. or if you enjoy the spectacle of watching an American spy and a Russian spy working together, in the middle of the Cold War, no less, check out the original 1960s series from MGM. It is a classic 60s spy show, with all the lightness, sense of adventure, and slight silliness that implies. And if that gives you a taste for 60s spy dramas, then you are in for a treat as it was a flourishing genre that produced some all-time classic TV – if you have never seen The Prisoner, The Avengers, or the original Mission: Impossible, then you need to rectify that straight away.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is available to buy from Apple TV or Prime Video

The Americans (FX, 2013 – 2018)

Watch if you enjoy: Ruthless Russian spies.

The Americans Elizabeth Jennings

The genius of The Americans is that it is an American show made for Western audiences that convinces its audience to root for a couple of KGB agents and their allies. Starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, whose chemistry was so good they got married in real life in 2021, the series follows a pair of Russian spies who have lived as a married couple in the US for more than 20 years and have raised two children there, all the while secretly going out at night to plant bugs, manipulate people through sex, and carry out murders and assassinations.

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One of the things that makes The Americans such a satisfying show to watch is that the show and its characters are ruthless and sometimes brutal without being needlessly gory, gritty, or miserable. There is sex and violence, plenty of it, and our “heroes” will shoot a young man in the head just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time without a second thought. But the camera does not linger on the violence, and the protagonists see it as unpleasant but essential; the focus of the story is on their relationship and their family dynamics.

The Americans is available to stream on Disney+ in the UK and on Hulu in the US

24 (Fox, 2001 – 2010 and 2014)

Watch if you enjoy: Family drama.

24 Fox logo

The high concept of the first season of 24 was a stroke of genius. You watch US counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer live through the “worst day of [his] life” in real time. Each of the 24 episodes runs to about 45 minutes and covers a single hour in Bauer’s day, from midnight to midnight (the missing 15 minutes in each hour are where the original broadcast had commercial breaks – we have to assume that these were the times Bauer and friends went to the toilet, brushed their hair, ate meals and so on, since most of that was not shown!). As the series went on, we saw another 10 of Bauer’s “worst” days, and to be fair to him, they all looked pretty unpleasant to live through.

24 is available to stream on Disney+ in the UK and on Hulu in the US

Jack Ryan (Prime Video, 2018 – Present)

Watch if you enjoy: Updated Cold War tropes and themes.

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John Krasinski as Jack Ryan

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is another literary spy whose origin was in the Cold War. Although the character continued to appear in novels set after the end of the Cold War, his best known stories, and those that have been made into the best known movies, were set during that period; The Hunt for Red October dealt directly with Cold War, while Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger focused on other hot-button issues of the 1980s. Amazon Prime’s on-going series, however, brings the character right in to the modern day, updating Clancy’s likeable hero for more contemporary stories.

The real genius of the series, though, is its casting. Jack Ryan is an analyst for the CIA who is constantly finding himself in dramatic, action-driven situations, being given helpful advice like the fact the engine room of a nuclear submarine might not react well to bullets. The first film featuring the character, The Hunt for Red October, cast Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan who leaned more into the nerdy-analytical side of the character despite Ryan’s military background. The other two films went the other way and cast action star Harrison Ford, to emphasise the more action-oriented aspects of the character (yes, we know Indiana Jones is an archaeologist, but we hate to break it to you, we don’t know any real archaeologists like that). John Krasinski is a genius bit of casting for this role – he has the physique and the confidence to be a convincing action star, but there’s just enough Jim-from-The-Office left in him to get across the nerdier side of the character as well.

Jack Ryan is available to stream on Prime Video

Secret Invasion (Disney+, 2023)

Watch if you enjoy: Sci-fi and Marvel

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in Secret Invasion

Do you enjoy your spy thrillers with a side dish of alien invasion? Then you need to check out the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a spy thriller that finally gives Nick Fury the lead role an actor of Samuel L Jackson’s calibre deserves. There are superpowers on display here, but there is a lot more backroom politicking, backstabbing, and spying activity going on than in, say, Ms Marvel.

It has to be said that if you’re not familiar with the MCU, this might be a bit confusing and the emotional beats may not land the way they should. But if you think it sounds like fun and this seems like it might be a good entry into the ever-growing world of aliens, gods and superheroes for you, we’d recommend checking out Captain Marvel, Googling “the Blip”, and then giving this one a go.

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Secret Invasion is available to stream on Disney+