The year of 2012 marked fifty years since the very first James Bond film, Dr No, was released in cinemas, and in the time since then there have been twenty-three films in the iconic spy franchise. Personally I am a big fan of Mr Bond; after all I’m English and male; those facts alone sort of makes 007 my automatic idol – a man who drives the most exotic cars, charms the most beautiful women, drinks like a fish and doesn’t care about the consequences of skiing on your lunch: what’s not to like?
Despite this however, before a couple of weeks ago I hadn’t actually watched the large majority of the films. Many of the more recent Bond flicks were repeated on ITV almost every Saturday during the 1990s, so I watched the likes of Tomorrow Never Dies about forty times as a child – the other films escaped my attention though. Upon clearing out some cupboards back home, I found my dad’s complete collection of the films he received as a Christmas present about a year ago, and decided to right a few wrongs by watching the films. And as I watched, I couldn’t help but contemplate the most difficult question of them all – what is the best Bond film? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s by breaking out the list format: worst to best. Many others have tried the same impossible challenge, and I’m now throwing my two cents into the arena.
For the sake of keeping things simple, I have excluded the unofficial films from the rankings (Casino Royale (1967) & Never Say Never Again (1983)). Of course, this list is purely my own opinion; feel free to weigh in with your own comments below
23 – Die Another Day (2003)
Let me reel off a checklist of things that are wrong with this film. Castles made out of ice. Invisible cars. “Giant Space Death Lasers”. James Bond paragliding on an tsunami caused by an avalanche. Madonna trying to act. Yep, Die Another Day is f***ing awful; a bloated, self-indulgent parody that disgraces the good name of the British super spy. For this project I was required to re-watch the films to familiarise myself with them, and I can’t believe how badly this film has aged in just over a decade – the CGI looks bollocks, and the cinematography in general with its sweeping slow motion shots looks really out of place. Even the inclusion of Halle Berry and Rosamund Pike as eye candy can’t help to distract you from the fact that this is a simply atrocious film on nearly every level.
22 – Moonraker (1979)
James Bond in Space – depending on your opinion of that concept, Moonraker is either absolutely terrible or the greatest thing ever made. I vote for the former option.
This film wasn’t even meant to exist (the closing credits of the previous film clearly state the next film was to be For Your Eyes Only, but MGM wanted some of the green generated by the mountainous success of Star Wars), and the result is a campy, lazy mess. Hugo Drax is one of the more underrated villains from the franchise, but that is offset by the director making Jaws a comic relief character, giving him a love interest and having him talk. Any attempts to ground the film in reality literally fly out of the airlock when the final laser gun battle occurs upon Drax’s spaceship.
At the time, audiences took the bait and made Moonraker the highest grossing Bond film until Goldeneye was released sixteen years later; modern views are far less favorable.
21 – Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Sean Connery was paid $1.25 million to return as Bond for this film, a deal he really should have avoided. Connery looks disinterested through the entirety of this film, which feels too overtly ‘American’ for a film about a British secret agent and continues to ruin the mystique of Blofeld by having a third actor (Charles Gray) portray him and using the excuse of plastic surgery to explain why he now has hair. In fairness, the car chase around Las Vegas is seriously underrated and features one hilarious continuity gaff where Bond enters a narrow alleyway on two wheels and exits…on the other two wheels. Otherwise this is one for even Connery fans to avoid.
20 – A View To A Kill (1985)
God only knows what happened, but in the two years following Octopussy Roger Moore became a fossil! At the age of 57, Moore was visibly too old to be Bond in A View To A Kill, and yet still ended up seducing four different women, including the absolute dullest female protagonist in the series in the form of Tanya Roberts. The plot, which has something to do with saving Silicon Valley from Nazi-experiment super genius Max Zorin (played by a sadly restrained Christopher Walken) is a product of its time rather than an actually decent Bond story. What saves this film from going even further to the bottom of the pile is the ridiculously catchy theme song by Duran Duran.
19 – For Your Eyes Only (1981)
The most serious of Roger Moore’s films, For Your Eyes Only is also quite incredibly dull. Apart from a car chase in a Citroen 2CV which is much better than it has any right to be and a strange opening sequence where Bond drops Blofeld down an industrial chimney, the film is marked by tired set-pieces, very few memorable characters and a worrying side plot where a teenage ice skater attempts to add herself as one of 007’s conquests. And Margaret Thatcher turns up at the end having a conversation with a parrot. I’ll put it this way; I was more interested in noticing Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister from Game Of Thrones) as a random goon rather than the plot.
18 – The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
This film represents a missed opportunity – Bond vs. the world’s greatest assassin is an excellent concept on paper, but in execution the promise was lost.
Christopher Lee steals the show as Scaramanga and Britt Erkland’s turn as Goodnight makes her one of the less annoying Bond girls, but elsewhere this film is a mess. The fantastic 360 barrel roll in a car (the first film stunt to be worked out using computers) is ruined by putting a swanny-whistle sound effect over it, the final duel is anti-climatic, the theme song performed by Lulu is possibly the worst out of all of them (bar Die Another Day), and the hateful Sheriff Pepper makes an unwelcome return from Live And Let Die – more on him later.
17 – The World Is Not Enough (1999)
This is a film of two halves. The first part, including a great opening segment as Bond chases an assassin down the river Thames is quite enjoyable. The World Is Not Enough then takes a downturn when Christmas Jones (played by Denise Richards) is introduced as a nuclear physician (how audiences were meant to take her seriously is a question best left unanswered), and the film then gets trapped in a vicious cycle of innuendos and convoluted plots. Sadly, this was Desmond Llwelyn’s last appearance as lovable gadget master Q, and seeing him disappear into the floor quoting ‘always have an escape plan’ now seems bitterly ironic.
16 – Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
There is technically nothing wrong with Tomorrow Never Dies; there are some good chase sequences, it has a solid cast (including Jonathan Pryce chewing through the scenery as a Rupert Murdoch-esque media mogul looking to start World War 3) and a decent theme song. Why so low on the list? I think this film is the unfortunate victim of personal fatigue; I’ve seen it so many times on TV that it no longer impresses me. Also, whereas I once found the idea of a BMW being controlled by a mobile phone amusing, I’m no longer nine years old and now ponder if Bond’s saloon is perhaps the most overpowered car in film history.
15 – Octopussy (1983)
You might be paying homage to Roger Moore raising an eyebrow or two at seeing the childishly named Octopussy as high on this list as it is – how can a film in which Bond swings through the jungles of India on vines while the Tarzan shout plays in the background be any good at all?
Well, the action sequences in India as Bond escapes on a Tuk Tuk are a good laugh, and towards the end there are some very well choreographed stunts on trains (filmed at Nene Valley Railway in Peterborough; I’ve been there a few times) and planes as well to enjoy. The plot involving jewellery smuggling and a rogue Russian general attempting to detonate an atomic bomb in Germany is enjoyable nonsense as well. In the end however, what could have been a half-decent film is let down by the sheer weight of puns and the fact that Bond dresses up like a clown with full face paint.
14 – Quantum Of Solace (2008)
Universally, absolutely everyone despised this film when it came out, myself included. Five years on, watching it for the first time since I saw it in the cinema, I have to say it’s really not as terrible as I first thought – the theme song isn’t as bad as I remember, and the plot makes a tad more sense. That’s not to say it still has its problems though.
Chief among the complaints is the fact that Quantum Of Solace tries to hard to be a Bourne film – Bond jumps around rooftops looking for a scrap with everyone and everything, and unfortunately the shaky camera work from the Bourne films is also utilized which makes watching action sequences a bit of a headache at times. Characters including Jeffrey Wright’s Felix are woefully underused, and there is no clear cut villain – is it Quantum, Mr White, Mr Greene of the corrupt Bolivian general?
At Quantum’s conclusion, you kind of get the feeling it was made purely to tie up loose ends from Casino Royale – and ultimately it withers in its predecessors shadow.
13 – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
My honest opinion is that George Lazenby is not a bad Bond – he packs a good punch in action sequences, and considering he hadn’t done professional acting before this film he handles the emotionally charged scenes at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service very well. However, Lazenby was stepping into some very big shoes, and he couldn’t immediately generate the swagger and charisma that Connery had moulded over four films. As a result, his track record as Bond is hurt by the fact that he only appeared in this one film.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service feels more like an extended drama made for TV rather than a big screen Bond adventure; there’s too much focus on the skiing segments, Telly Savalas isn’t a very intimidating Blofeld, and at a running time of 138 minutes it drags in places. Thankfully, Diana Rigg saves the film from complete mediocrity as Tracey, the only woman that Bond has ever loved enough to marry, and the timeless music of Louis Armstrong has helped this film to grow old with grace.
12 – Thunderball (1965)
If you rate all the Bond films by the first five minutes alone, Thunderball would be up in the higher tiers if not just for 007 using a jetpack to escape from the baddies. Otherwise, Thunderball is the unfortunate result of trying to create a bigger spectacle than Goldfinger with revolutionary filming techniques (which arguably, it did – adjusted to toady’s inflation rates, it earned way over a billion dollars at the box office), but sadly falling short.
For long periods the film drags along, seemingly more content to focus on the attractive locations underwater rather than on Bond himself. Admittedly, the final fight between Largo’s henchmen and the CIA underwater is spectacular with harpoons flying here, there and everywhere, but by that point I was pretty bored and aching to watch something else.
Thunderball does win points however for containing my favourite Bond one liner – after impaling a man to a tree by firing a harpoon at him, Bond casually quips “I think he got the point”.
11 – The Living Daylights (1987)
If The Living Daylights was a sandwich, it would be cheese on plain white bread – a snack you know and love and which satisfies your hunger for a bit, but plays it a bit safe compared to say…a BLT. After the years of cringeworthy Roger Moore films, classically trained actor Timothy Dalton became the new 007 and starred in a film which was solid if unspectacular.
With the Cold War winding down, the plot which sees a Russian defector attempt to subvert British intelligence doesn’t really work, and it becomes quite confusing trying to work out who the main villain is. Still, the stunts are well done (with Dalton doing much more personally than previous Bonds), the film marked a welcome return of Aston Martin with Dalton taking a V8 Vantage for a trip in the snow, and the plane sequence clearly inspired the excellent Stowaways level from Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception.
10 – The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
If you have never seen it, watch Alan Patridge describe the opening of The Spy Who Loved Me. It makes the film so much funnier, and now whenever I see Bond in trouble I can’t help but hear his voice in my head telling me “He’s going to die! James Bond IS GOING TO DIE!!!”.
The opening sequence with the ski jump off a mountain is still breathtaking in its own right, but after that I always felt The Spy Who Loved Me was a film slowly declining in quality. The opening scenes in Egypt as Bond fights with the best henchmen in the series, Jaws, and gets outfoxed by Barbara Bach’s Agent XXX are good fun, but as soon as the Lotus Espirit re-appears from its stint as a submarine it descends into what I call ‘Disco Bond’ – campy action that plagued the Bond films of the late 1970s. The fact that it ends with a sailor’s shanty of the opening theme ‘Nobody Does It Better’ tells you everything you need to know about expecting anything serious from this one. Still, those who watched this originally in the 70s no doubt still hold this one in high regard.
9 – Licence To Kill (1989)
The most violent of all the Bond films, and one of the worst performers at the box-office.
I actually quite like it.
As someone who isn’t a massive fan of Moore’s Bond, I think the series couldn’t really ask for a better kick in the teeth than Dalton’s grimdark performance in this film as he chases down drug lord Sanchez (Robert Davi). There’s more swearing and more blood (including a scene where a man’s head explodes that usually gets cut from TV re-runs), and a result it feels more…believable. If you ignore the whole Miami Vice vibe that surrounds Licence To Kill, its probably the closest Bond film to Dr No in terms of capturing the Bond of the books. And that’s not to say it doesn’t completely abandon the Bond formula – a drug lab erupts into a fireball, Bond fights with random goons (including a young Benecio Del Toro) and Q dresses up as an old peasant for a disguise. The most underrated Bond film in my opinion.
8 – From Russia With Love (1963)
Considered by many to be the best of the series, From Russia With Love only makes eighth place on my list – there’s certainly enough to vindicate people’s high opinions of this film produced at the height to the Cold War though. Connery’s scrap on the Orient Express with Robert Shaw’s KGB agent is legendary, Rosa Klebb with her poisoned toe-spike is delightfully evil and the magnificent voice of Matt Munro provides the theme song. For me personally however, the film never really kicks into gear; as a spy film it is undoubtedly the best of all the Bond films, eschewing comic-book elements for a much more down to earth story of defection and revenge. But as a Bond film, it is just sometimes plain dull.
7 – You Only Live Twice (1967)
I really didn’t expect much from this one, and was pleasantly surprised. Connery seems a bit angry for some reason as he fights his way across Japan investigating the disappearance of American and Russian spacecraft, but the result is an entertaining action flick.
The stereotypical treatment of the Japanese hasn’t aged well (of course there’s god damn ninjas), but ‘Tiger’ Tanaka provides Bond with one of his more reliable native sidekicks. The sequence where ‘Little Nellie’ takes on four helicopters is childhood fantasy at its very best, and the final confrontation inside a volcano base is still quite impressive for its large scale. You Only Live Twice also features one of my personal favourite theme songs performed by Nancy Sinatra, and introduced audiences face to face with Bond’s arch-nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld for the first time (played with suitable menace by Donald Pleasance, and inspiring Dr Evil of the Austin Powers films for good measure).
6 – Skyfall (2012)
Skyfall is by far and away the most commercially successful of the Bond films (currently standing as the eighth highest-grossing film of all time), and I find it to be an entertaining celebration of 50 years of Bond.
The majority of the action actually takes place in Britain for once, as Bond squares off against former MI6 agent Raoul Silva who has it in for M. Javier Bardem’s creepy performance as Silva makes him one the best villains in a very long time (his introductory scene with Bond steals the show), the action takes in the locales of China, Turkey & Northern Scotland, and Skyfall is filled with plenty of nice throwbacks to the good old days, including the successful re-introduction of Q, Moneypenny and the Aston Martin DB5. Perhaps only its lack of invention for something new rather than celebrating the past is the only reason why it doesn’t rank higher on this list, but I suspect in ten years time I will look back on it more favourably. If nothing else, Bond popping his cuffs will still be a fine example of swag.
5 – Dr No (1962)
The genesis of James Bond has stood the test of time quite well indeed. What surprised me more than anything was how very different it feels to all the other films – sure, the gunbarrel opening is there, as is the ever awesome main theme and the established characters like Moneypenny and M, but Dr No has more in common with a hard-boiled detective movie than the Bond films that would develop over the next half century.
The plot sees 007 travel to Jamaica to investigate the death of an operative, and he is soon entangled in a plot that sees him facing off against the title character, a genius Chinese scientist with metal hands replacing those he lost in a chemical experiment. Though it sounds ridiculous enough to be a standard Bond plot, Dr No himself is relatively downplayed, and Bond in particular is very interesting to observe – familiar (getting into scraps with henchmen and womanising) and yet also very cold (killing a man, and then putting another bullet in him for good measure). Sean Connery puts on a good if not quite fully composed performance in his first appearance as Bond, and Ursula Andress appearing from the sea in her bikini is a scene that still makes her the ultimate Bond girl for many fans.
4 – Live And Let Die (1972)
Roger Moore’s first outing as 007 is also his best. Featuring a great theme song from Paul McCartney and Wings, James is sent to New Orleans to investigate the death of two other agents, and ends up attempting to stop Dr Kananga (played by Yaphet Kotto, to this day the only African-American baddie to feature as the main villain) and his plans to assume control of the drug trade in America. Along the way, he casually walks across the heads of reptiles, seduces the amazingly attractive Solitaire (played by Jane Seymour) and dispatches thugs from a paraglider while smoking the biggest cigar in the world. With its jazzy background and scenes of voodoo, Live And Let Die offers a very refreshing change from the previous six films.
Two things let down Live And Let Die; first is the ‘blaxpoltation’ vibe of the film (inspired by the success of other great films of the time including Shaft) which has become lost in a time warp and makes the film slightly more uncomfortable to watch as each year passes by, and the presence of one Sheriff Pepper – a fat, redneck, racist Southern police officer intended for comic relief but who proves only to be a complete annoyance and ruins an otherwise exciting boat chase through the swamps of Louisiana.
3 – Casino Royale (2006)
With Die Another Day proving to be a turkey of a film, Pierce Brosnan left the role of 007 and it seemed like the franchise was nearly dead. In 2006, Casino Royale proved to be the perfect reinvigoration the franchise needed.
With Daniel Craig stepping into the role of Bond, it was decided to essentially reboot the series (this time period being popular for the reboot in Hollywood following Batman Begins) and the results were superb. Craig’s appointment as Bond was unpopular with a lot of fans, but his performance in Casino Royale silenced a lot of doubters; having just acquired his license to kill, Craig’s Bond is rough around the edges and susceptible to mistakes – including falling madly in love with his associate Vesper Lynd (played by the lovely Eva Green) as he attempts to win a high-stakes poker game to stop the arms dealer Le Chiffre.
Casino Royale is filled with excellent action sequences, a surprisingly riveting game of poker, has a fantastic theme song provided by Chris Cornell and also features the most inventive use of the opening gunbarrel sequence in the entire franchise. My main complaint is that the ending scenes drag on a little too long and necessitated the filming of Quantum Of Solace to explain, but aside from that it’s a taut, beautifully shot film that ranks up there with the best of them.
2 – Goldfinger (1964)
To be fair, coming into this list you just knew that Goldfinger was going to be around the top didn’t you? That’s because almost fifty years since its release, it is still the one Bond film every other one aspires to be. Guy Hamilton and his team managed to get so much right after just three films, and Connery’s performance as 007 trying to prevent Auric Goldfinger from stealing all the gold in Fort Knox is for many people the quintessential Bond experience
So what separates Goldfinger from the rest of the pack? Well, it is the home of the most iconic scenes in the entire franchise (Jane Masterston’s gold painted body lying on the bed, Oddjob taking the head of a statue with his lethal bowler hat and of course Bond coming to close to comfort with a laser beam…), and features the most ludicrously named female protagonist (Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman). Shirley Bassey’s belting rendition of the theme song is perhaps the most well loved of the franchise, and finally Goldfinger features the most famous car in the known universe, the Aston Martin DB5 complete with ejector seat as standard.
When Goldfinger premiered, the crowds had to be held back as Bond-mania hit its peak. Since then, no one particular film has been able to effectively match the fascination with audiences that Goldfinger did, further cementing its legacy as the most famous 007 adventure. But for me, good as it is, there is one film that I enjoy more…
1 – Goldeneye (1995)
Sometimes, first impressions are just too hard to get rid of. Goldeneye was the first Bond film I saw, and it has remained my favourite ever since. As soon as you saw the massive bungee jump off of the dam about a minute into the film you knew it was going to be special, and Pierce Brosnan’s first appearance as 007 is effortlessly suave. Sean Bean also provides one of the better villains in the series, every bit Bond’s equal as the rogue 006 Alec Trevelyan, and enjoys a suitably overblown death when a satellite receiver falls on him (having already survived a drop that would kill a normal man).
Add two glamorous female leads (including Famke Janssen as the thigh-crushing Xenia Onatopp), Judi Dench ripping into the ‘sexist, misogynistic dinosaur’ as the new M, a fantastic tank chase through the streets of Moscow and an exploding pen, and it just gets better. There’s a fair few one liners harking back to the Moore years (“She always did enjoy a good squeeze”) and the Kraftwerk-inspired soundtrack isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – but these are minor concerns when one addresses the whole package.