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 and Joel Coen, musician B.B. King, and visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen.
Austin Millbarge is a basement-dwelling codebreaker 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 forced to take the test, having had only one day to prepare after his supervisor gives him a two week old notice leaving him vulnerable to fail and stay behind in the Pentagon trenches at his expense.
Needing expendable agents to act as decoys to draw attention away from a more capable team, the DIA decides to enlist the two, promote them to be Foreign Service Operatives, put them through minimal training, and then send them on an undefined mission into Soviet Central Asia. Meanwhile, professional agents are well on their way to reaching the real objective: the seizure of a mobile SS-50 ICBM launcher. The main team takes a loss, while Millbarge and Fitz-Hume escape enemy attacks and eventually encounter Karen Boyer, the only surviving operative from the main team.
In the Pamir Mountains of the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic, the trio overpowers a 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 begun a nuclear war, the American agents and their Soviet counterparts pair up to have sex before the world ends.
Meanwhile, the military commander at the operations bunker initiates 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 thereby exposed as a means to test this anti-ballistic missile system. The laser fails to intercept the nuclear missile, which is heading for Detroit and will almost certainly trigger a global thermonuclear war.
Back in the Soviet Union, horrified at the thought of having launched a nuclear missile at their own country, the American spies and the Russian soldiers use Millbarge’s technical knowledge to force a malfunction in the launcher vehicle and transmit junk 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 the Soviets.
- Chevy Chase as Emmett Fitz-Hume
- Dan Aykroyd as Austin Millbarge
- Donna Dixon as Karen Boyer
- Bruce Davison as Ruby
- William Prince as Keyes
- Steve Forrest as General Sline
- Tom Hatten as General Miegs
- Bernie Casey as Colonel Rhumbus
- Charles McKeown as Jerry Hadley
- Vanessa Angel as Russian Rocket Crewperson
- James Daughton as Rob Hodges
- Jim Staahl as Bud Schnelker
- Frank Oz as Test Monitor
- Terry Gilliam as Dr. Imhaus
- Ray Harryhausen as Dr. Marston
- Derek Meddings as Dr. Stinson
- Joel Coen as drive-in guard #1
- Sam Raimi as drive-in guard #2
- Martin Brest as drive-in guard #3
- Costa-Gavras as Soviet highway patrol #1
- Bob Hope as himself/golfer
- B.B. King as Ace tomato agent
- Michael Apted as Ace tomato agent
- Larry Cohen as Ace tomato agent
- Heidi Sorenson as Alice, Fitz-Hume’s supervisor
- Edwin Newman as himself
The title song, “Spies Like Us”, was written and performed by Paul McCartney. It reached #7 on the singles chart in the United States in early 1986. It also reached #13 in the UK. 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 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 versus a budget of $22,000,000. The film grossed $17.2 million overseas for a worldwide gross of $77.3 million.
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.
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.