Spies Like Us

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Spies Like Us
Theatrical release poster illustrated by John Alvin
Directed byJohn Landis
Screenplay by
Story by
Produced by
CinematographyRobert Paynter
Edited byMalcolm Campbell
Music by
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • December 6, 1985 (1985-12-06)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$22 million
Box office$77.3 million

Spies Like Us is a 1985 American comedy film directed by John Landis and starring Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Forrest, and Donna Dixon. The film presents the comic adventures of two novice intelligence agents sent to the Soviet Union. Originally written by Aykroyd and Dave Thomas to star Aykroyd and John Belushi at Universal, the script went into turnaround and was later picked up by Warner Bros. with Aykroyd and Chase starring.

The film is an homage to the famous Road to … film series which starred Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Hope himself makes a cameo in one scene. Other cameos in the film include directors Terry Gilliam, Sam Raimi, Costa-Gavras, Martin Brest, Frank Oz, and Joel Coen, musician B.B. King, and visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. The film received negative reviews from critics, but it became a box office success and receive a cult following.


Austin Millbarge is a code breaker dwelling in the dark basement at the Pentagon who aspires to escape his under-respected job to become a secret agent. Emmett Fitz-Hume, a wisecracking, pencil-pushing son of an envoy, takes the foreign service exam under peer pressure. Millbarge and Fitz-Hume meet during the test, on which Fitz-Hume openly attempts to cheat after an attempt to bribe his immediate supervisor in exchange for the answers backfires. Millbarge, however, was not prepared to take the test, having had only one day to study after his supervisor deliberately withheld a notice for two weeks leaving him vulnerable to fail and having to remain in the bowels of the Pentagon.

Needing two expendable agents to act as decoys to draw attention away from a more capable team, the DIA decides to enlist Fitz-Hume and Millbarge, promote them to be Foreign Service operatives, rush them through minimal training, and then send them on an undefined mission inside Soviet Central Asia. Meanwhile, two professional agents are well on their way to reaching the real objective: the seizure of a mobile SS-50 ICBM launcher in Soviet territory. A member of the main team is killed, while Millbarge and Fitz-Hume manage to escape multiple enemy attacks and eventually encounter Karen Boyer, the surviving operative from the main team.

In the Pamir Mountains of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic, the trio overpowers the mobile missile guard unit using hastily constructed extraterrestrial outfits and tranquilizer guns. Following orders in real-time from the intelligence agency (operating from a military bunker located deep under an abandoned drive-in theater), they begin to operate the launcher. At the end of their instructions, the vehicle launches the ICBM into space, targeting an unspecified area in the United States. Thinking they have started a nuclear war, the American agents and their Soviet counterparts pair up to have sex before the world ends.

Meanwhile, at the operations bunker, the military generals initiate the conversion of the drive-in theater to expose what is hidden beneath the screens and projection booth: a huge black-op SDI-esque laser and collector/emitter screen. The purpose of sending the agents to launch a Soviet ICBM is exposed as a means to test this anti-ballistic missile system, but the laser fails to intercept the nuclear missile. Despite this, the military commanders at the site choose not to inform the US government that the missile launch was not initiated by the Soviet authorities, revealing a twisted contingency plan of letting the impending thermonuclear war commence to "preserve the American way of life".

Back in the Soviet Union, horrified at the thought of having launched a nuclear missile at their own country, the American spies and the Soviet soldiers use Millbarge's technical knowledge to transmit instructions to the traveling missile, sending it off into space where it detonates harmlessly. Immediately after, the underground bunker is stormed by U.S. Army Rangers, and the intelligence and military officials involved in the covert operation are arrested. Millbarge, Fitz-Hume, and Boyer go on to become nuclear disarmament negotiators, playing a nuclear version of Risk-meets-Trivial Pursuit against their Soviet friends.


Title song[edit]

The title song, "Spies Like Us", was written and performed by Paul McCartney. It peaked at #7 on the singles chart in the United States in early 1986. To date, the song is McCartney's last solo recording to reach the top 10.[1] It also reached #13 in the UK.[2] John Landis directed a music video for the song where Aykroyd and Chase can be seen performing the song with McCartney (although they didn't actually play on the record).


The film's score was composed by Elmer Bernstein and performed by the Graunke Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer. The soundtrack album was released by Varèse Sarabande; it does not contain the Paul McCartney song. The film also featured "Soul Finger," by the Bar-Kays, also absent from the soundtrack. Fitz-Hume watches Ronald Reagan singing "I'll Be Loving You" from the musical She's Working Her Way Through College early in the film.

  1. The Ace Tomato Company (5:06)
  2. Off To Spy (1:52)
  3. Russians In The Desert (2:21)
  4. Pass In The Tent (2:58)
  5. Escape (3:25)
  6. To The Bus (3:14)
  7. The Road To Russia (3:39)
  8. Rally 'Round (2:39)
  9. W.A.M.P. (2:48)
  10. Martian Act (3:08)
  11. Arrest (2:21)
  12. Recall (2:38)
  13. Winners (1:16)


The film was a box office success. It grossed $8,614,039 on the U.S. opening weekend and it grossed $60,088,980 in the United States and Canada[3] versus a budget of $22 million.[4][5] The film grossed $17.2 million overseas[6] for a worldwide gross of $77.3 million.

Critical reception[edit]

The Washington Post critic Paul Attanasio called Spies Like Us "a comedy with exactly one laugh, and those among you given to Easter egg hunts may feel free to try and find it."[7] The Chicago Reader critic Dave Kehr criticized the film's character development, saying that "Landis never bothers to account for the friendship that springs up spontaneously between these two antipathetic types, but then he never bothers to account for anything in this loose progression of recycled Abbott and Costello riffs."[8] The New York Times critic Janet Maslin wrote, "The stars are always affable, and they're worth watching even when they do very little, but it's painful to sit by as the screenplay runs out of steam."[9]

Variety magazine opined in a staff review, "Spies is not very amusing. Though Chase and Aykroyd provide moments, the overall script thinly takes on eccentric espionage and nuclear madness, with nothing new to add."[10] TV Guide published a staff review which stated, "Landis' direction is indulgent, to say the least, with big landscapes, big crashes, big hardware, and big gags filling the screen. What he forgets is character development, that all-important factor that must exist for comedy to work well."[11] David Parkinson, writing for the Radio Times, felt that "Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase simply fail to gel, and there's little fun to be had once the boisterous training school gags are exhausted."[12]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 32%, based on 25 reviews, with an average rating of 4.38/10. The site's consensus states: "Despite the comedic prowess of its director and two leads, Spies Like Us appears to disavow all knowledge of how to make the viewer laugh."[13] Metacritic gives the film a score of 22 out of 100, based on 9 critics, which indicates "Generally unfavorable reviews".[14] Writing for Common Sense Media, Andrea Beach called the film a "dated '80s comedy [with] strong language, few laughs."[15] Collider staff writer Jeff Giles, reviewing the film's Blu-ray Disc release, stated, "on the whole, it’s more amusing than funny; it’s only 102 minutes, but it feels too long by half. For all the talent involved, there’s an awful lot of flab. It’s the kind of movie you can walk away from for 10 minutes without missing anything important."[16]


The animated comedy series Family Guy paid tribute to the film with its 2009 episode "Spies Reminiscent of Us", which guest starred Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase as fictionalized versions of themselves who, according to the series, were made real spies by Ronald Reagan after he saw the film Spies Like Us. The episode recreates numerous scenes from the film.[17][18]

The live-action spy comedy series Chuck was heavily influenced by Spies, including references to "GLG-20" and the introduction of character Emmett Millbarge (Tony Hale), combined from the names of the Spies protagonists.


  1. ^ "Paul McCartney > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles". AllMusic. RhythmOne. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  2. ^ "Paul McCartney". Official Charts. The Official UK Charts Company. Retrieved January 26, 2017.
  3. ^ Spies Like Us at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ David T. Friendly (1986-01-02). "Purple, 'africa' Pace Box Office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  5. ^ Jack Matthews (1985-12-25). "A Strong Start for 'Color Purple' in Christmas Box Office Race". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
  6. ^ McCarthy, Todd (December 8, 1986). "Record O'Seas Take For Warners". Daily Variety. p. 1.
  7. ^ Attanasio, Paul (9 December 1985). "Movies". Retrieved 23 April 2018 – via www.washingtonpost.com.
  8. ^ Kehr, Dave. "Spies Like Us". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  9. ^ Maslin, Janet. "SCREEN: 'SPIES LIKE US'". Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  10. ^ "Spies Like Us". 1 January 1985. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  11. ^ "Spies Like Us". TVGuide.com. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  12. ^ "Spies Like Us – review - cast and crew, movie star rating and where to watch film on TV and online". Radio Times. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  13. ^ "Spies Like Us". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  14. ^ "Spies Like Us". Metacritic. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  15. ^ "Spies Like Us - Movie Review". Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  16. ^ Jeff Giles. "FUNNY FARM and SPIES LIKE US Blu-ray Reviews". collider.com. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  17. ^ "Family Guy Preview: "Spies Reminiscent of Us"". IGN. October 9, 2009. Retrieved May 17, 2013.
  18. ^ VanDerWerff, Emily (2009-10-12). ""The Great Wife Hope"/"The One About Friends"/"Spies Reminiscent of Us"/"Home Adrone"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2009-11-19.

External links[edit]