February 24, 2024

Going undercover means shedding one identity and assuming another. When it works, it’s great; when it doesn’t, you pay.

Going undercover is probably one of the riskiest career paths a person can take. Given that joining an intelligence agency is deemed a major risk in itself, going undercover by infiltrating notorious syndicates and organizations raises the level of danger by a few notches. Furthermore, undercover agents have to fight multiple battles on many fronts, from frustrated partners to overly demanding bosses; there is no respite from any side. Despite rigorous training and high-tech gadgets, going undercover entails living life on the edge, living a lie that can be busted at any moment. One wrong move, and you might not only mess up the mission, but your life as well. Here’s a look at some of the best movies about undercover agents, ranked.


7/7 Donnie Brasco (1997)

A still from Donnie Brasco
TriStar Pictures

Donnie Brasco is loosely based on the true story of Pistone, an FBI agent, who infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in New York. In the film, Donnie Brasco (Johnny Depp), pretends to be a jewel thief and befriends an aging hitman, Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino), of the Bonanno crime family. While at it’s core the film is about an FBI agent who’s putting his life on the line to convict a crime boss and his associates, the film also throws light on the friendship of two men who represent two different sides of the law.

6/7 21 Jump Street (2012)

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in 21 jump street
Columbia Pictures

In 21 Jump Street, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play 2 cops who pretend to be high schoolers in order to expose a synthetic drug racket. The film is a hilarious buddy cop comedy that works well due to the contrast in the undercover officer’s apparent stupidity matched against the intelligence of the high schoolers. Based on the hit TV show with the same name, the film works well as a no-brainer parody, edging on the side of caricature.

5/7 Rush Hour 2 (2001)

A still from Rush Hour 2
New Line Cinema 

A sequel to Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2 picks up right from where its predecessor left off. The film follows Lee (Jackie Chan) and Carter’s (Chris Tucker) holiday getting disrupted when they’re informed about the killing of U.S custom agents after a bombing of the American embassy. In a mix of high octane drama with high octane stupidity, Rush Hour 2, does not make the mistake of taking itself too seriously. As Lee and Carter get entangled in the cris-crossing web of deceit, many secrets from the past come to the surface.

Related: Jackie Chan’s Best English Movies, Ranked

4/7 City On Fire (1987)

Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is often times viewed as a tributary to Ringo Lam’s City On Fire. Both the films run on the same narrative parallels of a job gone wrong, which eventually culminates into a guessing game about the mole in the group. Tarantino has gone on record and admitted having been influenced by Lam’s film and taken the ending of City On Fire, rebranding it in his own, unique stylistic way.

3/7 BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Focus Features

Directed by the legendary Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman tells the story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) as he embarks on a mission to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan off his town. A black comedy thriller, the film juxtaposes strong themes of race discrimination while also highlighting the blatantly flawed ideologies that propagate hate. Set against the backdrop of the ’70s, BlacKkKlansman is a deep dive into the corruption of ideologies and opinions. The film premiered in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival where it won the Grand Prix.

Related: Best Spike Lee Films, Ranked

2/7 The Departed (2006)

Jack Nicholson & Matt Damon in The Departed
Plan B Entertainment

A remake of the 2002 Hong Kong film Internal Affairs, The Departed is an epic crime thriller film directed by one of the filmmaking greats of the century, Martin Scorsese. The film acts as a mixture between a remake, while it’s also loosely based on the real life Boston Winter Hill Gang. The story follows the lives of Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) whose planted as a spy by Mob boss Frank Costello in the Massachusetts State Police, and undercover officer Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose trying to infiltrate Costello’s crew. The Departed is more than just a tale of two men with different objectives, pretending to live different lives. It’s about two men trying to live public lives that are the radical opposites of their inner realities. Their attempts threaten to destroy them, either by implosion or fatal betrayal.

Related: Best Martin Scorsese Films, Ranked

1/7 Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Reservoir Dogs
Miramax Films

Quentin Tarantino’s first feature-length debut sees him tell the story of six criminals who are ambushed by the police in the middle of a diamond heist. When the injured criminals get to a safe house, questions are raised and motives are questioned. As the film goes on, the gang of thieves realizes there’s a mole in their midst. Regarded as one of Tarantino’s best works, Reservoir Dogs over time has gained the status of a cult classic. The characterization of the six thieves along with the unpredictable writing makes the film an edge-of-the-seat experience.


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