Russian spies in the movies

A highly selective guide to movies involving Russian(ish) spies

In Salt, Angelina Jolie plays a CIA officer accused of being a Russian spy. The movie couldn’t have asked for a better tie-in than last month’s arrest of a band of actual Russian spies, who’d been in the US long enough essentially to think of themselves as Americans. In honoUr of this confluence of Cold War nostalgia, we’ve compiled a list of movies about Russian infiltrators.


From Russia With Love (1963)

Dossier SPECTRE’s No. 3 recruits a Russian siren (Daniela Bianchi) to lure James Bond with the promise of a smuggled Soviet decoder machine.

Threat level Low. Although Bianchi’s Tania romances Bond in their first scene, she’s no Mata Hari. The real threat is less Russia than Blofeld and his minions, whose antics in this film alone provide the basis for more than half of Austin Powers.

How Russian is she? As Russian as a woman played by an Italian beauty queen and dubbed by a British Shakespearean actress (Barbara Jefford) possibly could be.


Telefon (1977)

Dossier A hard-line Stalinist (Donald Pleasence) activates a band of brainwashed Russian sleeper-saboteurs in America to stall Soviet talks with the US. KGB agent Charles Bronson is sent to America to stop him.

Threat level As in The Manchurian Candidate, the threat is mainly from within, and in fighting to preserve détente, Bronson’s agent is, ironically, working to help us.

How Russian are they? The screenplay makes clear that these Russians are steeped in Communist ideology (‘If that is so, God help us.’ ‘God??’), but politically flexible director Don Siegel’s decision to have them played by unaccented Americans and Brits results in a universal feel.


Red Heat (1988)

Dossier Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t play a spy in Walter Hill’s hilarious bit of kitsch, but he does go undercover in a loud blue suit. As a Russian police officer named Ivan Danko, Arnold flies to Chicago to chase down the drug lord who killed his partner.

Threat level
Isolated. Danko’s high-speed bus driving destroys the plaza across from the Wrigley Building, which has recovered well enough to be destroyed again in Transformers 3.

How Russian is he? ‘In Socialist countries, insurance not necessary,’ Danko explains to cop buddy Jim Belushi as he puts the pedal to the metal.

Burn After Reading (2008)

Dossier Nitwit gym employees Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand find a lost disc containing fired CIA agent John Malkovich’s ‘mem-wazz’ and attempt to sell it to Russia.

Threat level You’d think low, but somehow the misunderstandings end up with Malkovich wielding a hatchet.

How Russian are they? The real enemy here is American stupidity.

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