Last November saw the release of the twenty-fourth James Bond film, Spectre, with Daniel Craig returning as the super-spy beloved of MI6. Over the decades, the franchise has seen the various 007 agents indulging in all sorts of ludicrous feats, from Roger Moore’s ski jump to Pierce Brosnan referring to Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist with a straight face.
Impressive though all those on-screen espionage stunts are, however, it’s nothing compared to the real thing. Ian Fleming’s original novels drew more on actual spy work - they had some of the more bombastic set pieces that the films would expand upon (and then some), but otherwise they mostly reflected how the likes of MI6, the KGB, and the CIA went about their war time business. Thanks to the likes of Bond, Bourne, and all points in between, spies seem more like works of fiction, stock action characters, than agents who exist in reality, ones who are particularly important in times of war.
Even if, in filmmaking and thematic terms, the 007 movies have increasingly flirted with realism, they still feel a fair bit removed from real life. That’s because the true stories are actually often far more unbelievable. Espionage is a dangerous enough game without throwing supervillains and volcano bases into the mix. There are agents who have risked life and limb (literally) and, for their efforts, have helped save the world innumerable times.
These are ten real-life spies more badass than James Bond.