It’s more than likely that you didn’t know that January 22 is, in many ways, the birthday of the Central Intelligence Agency. Officially, it’s actually the day in 1946 that the Central Intelligence Group was formed, which would later become the CIA as we know it today, but let’s not stand on ceremony when it comes to America’s premiere international spy organization — especially when there are fictional CIA agents to applaud instead. Celebrate the birth of our favorite intelligence agents by streaming these Netflix favorites.
The TV series that brought both J.J. Abrams and Jennifer Garner to the masses has the strangest relationship to the CIA, which seems fitting, considering the CIA in the show has the strangest relationship to the real-life organization. Bluffs, double-bluffs and endlessly glamorous undercover adventures abound in what just might be the greatest recruitment video for the Central Intelligence Agency ever shot — as long as you can overlook the vast personal cost it brings.
PATRIOT GAMES (1992)
Harrison Ford is Jack Ryan in this sequel to The Hunt for Red October that lets the newly-retired analyst go all Jack Bauer more than a decade before 24: Live Another Day would be a thing. This time around, Ryan is on vacation with his family in London, England when terrorists attack — thankfully, Ryan’s there to save the day and demonstrate the stunning combat training that even an every day CIA analyst receives!
Technically, Chuck Bartowski didn’t exactly work for the CIA in the NBC show about a nerd who accidentally became the world’s greatest secret agent (Spoiler for those who haven’t seen the show: hand-wavy technology was, of course, required to make that happen), but given that both Sarah and Bryce were CIA agents, it’s not entirely unfair of the agency to claim this as one of their own.
BURN NOTICE (2007-2013) You’ll notice that Michael Westen isn’t a CIA agent per se in this enjoyably snarky spy show — he’s technically a contractor who’s been forced out for reasons that he has to discover during the course of the series — but thanks to his many, many run-ins with former colleagues, rivals and enemies across the course of the show’s seven seasons, you’ll see as many CIA agents as you could want short of just turning on Covert Affairs.
CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (2002)
From fictional tales of real-life CIA agents to a real-life(-ish) tale about a fictional CIA agent. Was Chuck Barris really a CIA agent? He certainly claimed as much, and this amazing movie — which features a star-making performance by Sam Rockwell as Barris — treats those claims with as much respect as it does anything else. Come for the CIA, stay for the literally everything else.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)
Chris Pine is Jack Ryan in this second reboot of the series, with Nu Captain Kirk teaming up with Kevin Costner to prevent… something bad happening with economics and Kenneth Branagh having the time of his life as a Russian bad guy. Even though each of the earlier movies in the series played up Ryan’s analyst role, this is the one where being a hardcore nerd saves the world.
TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011)
Sure, there aren’t any CIA agents to be found in this 2011 movie version of John LeCarre’s classic spy novel, but consider this the exception that proves a rule — after all, once you’ve sat through the five Jack Ryan movies on Netflix, you owe it to yourself to watch something that takes the spy game just a little more seriously.
JFK: THE SMOKING GUN (2013)
In case the sight of so many upstanding fictional CIA agents offends your conspiratorial eyes, there’s always this documentary that follows a veteran police detective as he investigates the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Can one man do what many professional investigators couldn’t do — and if so, is it because the CIA didn’t want them to do it? The truth… may not be entirely contained within the 86 minutes here, but it makes for a diverting viewing experience.
TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY (2011)
Skip the first three years of this Doctor Who spinoff (although the third year, which went by the subtitle Children of Men, is pretty great) — it isn’t until the fourth and final season that things get real thanks to the introduction of Rex Matheson, a CIA officer who joins the otherwise Welsh/alien team when everyone stops dying for a while. That’s right: the only reason people are still dying in the day is because the CIA stepped in to make sure that happened. You’re welcome, world.
AMERICAN DAD! (2005-2012)
Ever stop to wonder what it’s like being related to a CIA agent? This doubtlessly-realistic animated series from Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane goes a long way to demystifying that situation by introducing Stan Smith, an everyday CIA man and his equally everyday family… which involves an alien and a talking goldfish. Okay, so maybe it’s not entirely realistic in its portrayal.