Back when Some Films and Stuff had regular posts – many years ago now – I’d started working through the Bond franchise with a series of in-depth reviews and retrospectives. These days, a lot of my views on the franchise have completely changed – some softened, some stronger – and I look back on those reviews as bland, boring, and not a good indictment of my current thoughts on the franchise. One day, I’ll work back through those posts and update them with in-depth thoughts, but for now, partly because Bond 25 is on horizon, partly to resurrect this blog somewhat – here’s my ranking of every movie in the franchise from worst to best.
The beauty of Bond is that everyone’s views are different – if you don’t agree with my list, feel to let me in the comments. My views will probably have changed by the next time I update this blog. I pretty much love most of these movies, despite ranking them.
Note on 24-21: There are things I like in all these movies, but numbers 24-21 here are generally the ones that are a bit naff and which I don’t rewatch very often. These can move around depending on mood.
24. Spectre (2015)
Bear with me, as I’m sure for some this will be controversial. If you check out my original review on here, you’ll know that when I saw this in the cinema I enjoyed it. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars! But in the harsh light of day, years later and after a few more rewatches, it’s clear this one has some big problems. I’ve gone from enjoying it, to finding it a bit average, to really disliking it over time. It’s my least favourite in the series, which sounds mad when so much of it is clearly, on a filmmaking level anyway, so superior to something like Die Another Day. There’s still some things I like about it. The pre-titles – with the confident long tracking shot – are good. The shadowy SPECTRE meeting in Rome is a nice serious-take throwback, and Hinx is a good henchman. The fight between him and Bond on the train is the best bit of the film. And it’s nice to bring Mr White back and give him some closure.
So why do I hate it? The first two thirds or so are ok, though a bit flat and boring on a rewatch with some weak action sequences. Then we get to Tangier. Everything from Bond and Madeline arriving at the base is awful. Christoph Waltz isn’t very good and his Blofeld is the worst villain in the series. And the choices made here! Bond and Blofeld are brothers?! The same plot beat literally happens in Austin Powers! How did no-one clock what a terrible idea this was? This comes from a misguided idea to give Bond some personal stakes in the story, but just completely shrinks the world and makes no sense. Worse, Bond and Blofeld never act like brothers! If you’re going to do something so stupid, at least commit to it! The film makes things worse by trying to clumsily knot all the previous movies together, which if you take as canon, actively makes the 3 previous films worse – Skyfall especially, as we lose Sylva’s agency! SPECTRE is a vague non-entity here, some plan about surveillance (which everyone assumes the government does anyway?) with absolutely no stakes. Why does it matter if the system goes live when surveillance by its nature only works over time? Just shut it down next week! We end with a senseless torture sequence and Bond basically walking out. Everything is so tired.
The London ending is the worst in the entire series. Just endless, boring, nonsense. You could write a better ending in a second. End things at the base in a big battle. Have Bond go to South Africa. I hate the confrontation on the bridge. Why doesn’t Bond just kill Blofeld? Bond isn’t Batman so who cares?
Madeline Swann – she’s ok. Léa Seydoux is good, but the character is a non entity who never takes off, and the film bafflingly tries to suggest that Bond has fallen in love with her, but doesn’t bother to set any of this up. This makes the ending in which Bond runs away with her especially forced and jarring. The film also takes a page from Mission: Impossible and turns into Bond and the Super Friends with Moneypenny and Q. Sure with such key actors in these roles the filmmakers need to find something for them to do but it’s not a direction I’m on board with. The C stuff is just endless padding too in a movie which is about an hour too long as it is (why is this the longest Bond movie ever when nothing happens!) and a waste of Andrew Scott. It’s so easy to fix too! Make C the main villain. Show he works for SPECTRE from the start! Maybe give him some motivation?
Spectre is the worst because the decisions made here, if you let them, ruin the rest of the Craig movies. It’s clear, if you check through the Sony email hack, that this film had a troubled production and the writing was a huge problem. I’m hoping all of this is just forgotten for Bond 25 and we can move on.
23. Die Another Day (2002)
So let’s get the good out of the way first. The North Korea opening is actually quite good, and promises a more serious take this time around. M leaves Bond to rot as a prisoner, Brosnan’s in a beard and briefly we seem to be going in an entirely different, darker direction. Rosamund Pike gives a good performance, even if her character makes no sense. Things take a dive when we get to Cuba however, with the introduction of Halle Berry’s horrible Jinx, contender for worst girl in the series, who has pretty much all the worst one liners (yo’ mamma!) and delivers each like she’s chewing a brick. Things get considerably worse in Iceland, where the film completely falls apart with some truly horrendous CGI. Bond’s infamous windsurfing sequence, in a franchise known for its practical stunts, is a series low point – possibly the lowest point – and these days looks like something out of PS2 game. The plane climax is the worst plane climax in a series with some amazing plane climaxes – its the only one which doesn’t feel even slightly real.
Toby Stevens as Gustav Graves is one of the weaker villains in the series. The performance is suitably hammy, and its nice to have a villain younger than Bond. But in a series often accused of a lack of diversity, the fact that the main Korean villain is literally turned into a Caucasian man – in order to have a bigger role – is pretty damning. Especially when Will Yun Lee is really good in the opening as well! Just use him! If you squint hard enough, it’s possible to enjoy Die Another Day as a big stupid action movie. It feels very 2002, maybe the most 2002 movie ever, and I don’t know, maybe for a younger generation this will become a guilty pleasure, like Moonraker is for me? When I set out to make this list, Die Another Day was dead last, but my anger over the film has softened over time – knowing what comes next its harder to stay mad at it and its pretty harmless. The difference between this and say Spectre, another contender for series worse, is that at least Die Another Day only ruins Die Another Day. It doesn’t take three other movies down with it.
22. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Scaramanga is one of the best villains in the entire series because he holds up a mirror to Bond. The two reflect each other – both cool, collected, living lavish lifestyles – but Scaramanga is Bond taken to his extremes, a Bond who enjoys killing. The relationship between the two is fascinating and Christopher Lee is wonderful in the role. His elephant story is the movie’s highlight. It’s a shame then, that both actor and character are completely wasted in such a naff movie. There’s the core of a great plot here – Bond targeted by a super assassin – but it’s bogged down in tons of unnecessary padding. The Solex Agitator doesn’t bring much here – it’s not that the device, so tied to the 70s oil crisis, is dated – Bond movies are great little time capsules for politics, culture and technology – it’s that Scaramanga clearly doesn’t need it, or the money, and it feels tacked on to give Bond an excuse to chase him about.
This film is a tired, boring mess, with weird tonal shifts that are quite nasty – Moore batters a woman (Connery could have pulled it off but Moore struggles) and at one point, dashes Goodnight, an agent who likes him, into a cupboard to sleep with another woman in front of her – afterwards telling an understandably furious Goodnight she’ll have her turn too! Urgh! Goodnight is one of the worst Bond girls (it’s a wonder the character can dress herself in the morning, let alone become an MI6 agent) and the film is plagued by baffling decisions – like the incredible car-spin stunt accompanied by baffling, cringe-worthy slide-whistle. And to make things worse, Sheriff Pepper returns! At least in Live and Let Die he made sense. Did many redneck Louisiana sheriffs go shopping for cars in 70s Thailand?
21. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
So OHMSS sets up the greatest showdown in all of cinema – Bond after Blofeld – and what does Diamonds do with it? Ignores it completely. Watching the two back to back is extremely jarring. In fact, Diamonds throws out everything OHMSS did so well and scrambles desperately to set the clock back to ‘safe fun,’ as though the series is trying to desperately overcompensate for showing serious emotion last time round. Diamonds is one of the worst movies in the series. It feels cheap, both in terms of production values (Connery’s salary probably cannibalised a lot of the budget) but also in a sour, tawdry way – Amsterdam and Vegas are a bit too tacky. The plot doesn’t make any sense, the action is bad (that Moon buggy chase!) and the oil rig climax is only beaten by Spectre for worst climax. Connery is the best Bond overall – but Diamonds Are Forever Connery is the worst Bond performance of the lot – he just doesn’t care, and the performance feels very ‘you get one take and that’s it.’
In some ways though, the film didn’t have a choice to do what it did. Lazenby left, and a new Bond avenging a wife he never had – against a new Blofeld to boot – might have been jarring. And after Quantum of Solace and Spectre, I do admire Diamonds‘ need to be its own thing, even if that own thing is a bit flat. Does anything else work? Tiffany Case is adorable though she does get progressively stupider as the film progresses (generally, the American Bond girls are the worst of the lot) and I do like Charles Grey’s campy Blofeld, who brings a lot of life to the movie. Mr Wint and Mr Kidd stand out too and the score and theme song are strong. The film has a certain flabby, patchy charm that just about hangs together, in a so-bad-it’s-good-way, but overall this is a wasted opportunity.
Note on 20 – 11: All of these I like and tend to watch fairly often.
20. A View to a Kill (1985)
Funny thing about the Bond movies – even the bad ones will have some redeeming element which makes them watchable. Nowhere is this more clear than A View to a Kill – one of the very worst Bond movies, with easily the best song, and one of the best pair of villains in Christopher Walkin’s Max Zorin and Grace Jones’s May Day. Both have a real screen presence and bring a lot of energy to what is a turgid, tired movie.
Moore is so old he no can no longer convincingly run, let alone fight, and his relationship with Stacey Sutton (who could be his granddaughter) is a bit icky. Stacey is also, hands down, the worst Bond girl of the lot, a shrill, weak and irritating drip of a character. The action scenes, aside from a dizzying final on the Golden Gate Bridge, are bland and forgettable, and the plot is just…there, meandering about aimlessly. The first…hour? of the movie follows some random horse race scandal, and Bond and Stacey visit San Francisco City Hall on 3 separate locations! And at one point, Bond makes a Quiche. A sour note for Moore to go out on, but one which proved it was time for him to move on. Can work as a ‘so bad its good’ Bond if you’re in the right mood for it, or drunk with friends, but generally this one’s pretty boring.
19. Quantum of Solace (2008)
This one has grown on me over time. What works? The film’s editing is frenzied and brutal and though it takes a few rewatches to click, lends a real sense of physicality and heft to the action sequences. There’s a sense of frantic chaos in the pre-credits car chase and Sienna rooftop and the action feels dangerous. The cinematography is beautiful throughout, it might be Craig’s best performance as Bond, and there are moments, like the Tosca opera, where you really see what Marc Forster was going for – Bond as art.
A lot of the film only works in theory though. The solution to following up Vesper with Camille, herself on her own mission and barely a Bond girl (Bond never sleeps with her) was exactly the right approach. But Camille doesn’t make an impact; it’s hard to care about her. The parents murder motivation is tired and has been done better in earlier movies like For Your Eyes Only. Greene again, slimy wet realistic villain, well acted by Mathieu Amalric and works in theory but in practice he’s one of the duller villains in the whole series. A colourful henchman would have brought him up, but Quantum of Solace seems embarrassed by being a Bond a movie and so we don’t get any of the usual tropes. The beauty of Bond is its flexibility – if there’s room for Moonraker there’s room for this -but Quantum of Solace takes the wrong message from Casino Royale, which stripped back the character but remained a Bond movie to its core, and runs with the grit at the expense of any sense of joy.
Bigger problems come from the writing. The first draft was turned in hours before the writers’ strike, and legally on a loophole only Marc Forster and Craig could punch up the script. This explains why the film is so short and plays up action over story, and why the film feels so unfinished at the end, particularly in regards to Quantum itself. The two most important sequences – Greene telling Bond about Quantum and Bond’s confrontation with Yusef – happen off screen! It’s clear there was just nothing written to work with. The film also leans way too heavily on CR (it’s the first proper Bond sequel) which isn’t a good direction for the series; these movies should standalone.
18. Moonraker (1979)Ok, so this is usually considered one of the worst in the franchise. I disagree. It’s fun. I think I love Moonraker. Possibly not for the right reasons. It’s certainly the best Bond to watch drunk with friends. Bond goes to SPACE. The plot is the same as TSWLM but with space, not sea, and somehow even more insane than that movie. Remarkable in its scale and ludicrous audacity. Almost nothing here makes any sense whatsoever. A pigeon does a double take, and not only that, the double take is achieved by clumsily flipping the footage back and forth! How did Drax get all those beautiful models on board with his world-extinction plan? Why does Bond’s gondola turn into a speedboat in Venice? Did Q kit them all out just in case? The Bond girl is called Dr Holly Goodhead, rivalling Pussy Galore for silliest name of the series, and inexplicably runs into Bond randomly across two continents. Bond fights an anaconda! Jaws comes back and falls in love! Because why not!
Ok so this is the series pushed to its excesses, I can’t really argue that Moonraker is a good movie, it isn’t. It’s an absolute mess. But it is good fun to watch. We look back on the campy 70s Moore movies and cringe, but without them, would the series have survived until today? My guilty pleasure Bond. Go with it and don’t take it seriously.
17. You Only Live Twice (1967)
Goldfinger was bigger and sillier, and made more money. Thunderball was bigger than that, and sillier still, and made even more money. So surely an even bigger, even sillier Bond, will make the most money? And so starts a pattern which the Bond movies will come to time and time again – each movie is a reaction to the one before it, becoming bigger, crazier, dafter, until eventually things become so outlandish the series pulls back and resets. This is the first time we get there. The first epic Bond film, and most definitive after Goldfinger. It’s the most ripe for parody – Little Nellie, Volcano bases, a climax with colour-coded armies, piranha tanks, Blofeld in the nehru jacket, SPECTRE with a crazy nuke-the-world world domination plot (with the end goal to what…rule over an irradiated wasteland before dying of radiation poisoning?) – basically, this is Austin Powers. Has a oneiric quality due to Nancy Sintra’s/John Barry’s dreamy theme, the scenic Japanese setting and surreal Roald Dahl script.
The problem is it’s not actually very good – YOLT deserves all the credit for being so iconic, but its remembered as a better movie than it actually is. Classic moments are hampered by a boring plot and endless stupidity. Connery doesn’t want to be here by this point, and despite being so iconic and memorable Donald Pleasance’s Blofeld is a silly and implausible villain (even within this universe) who relies on previous movies for menace, with nothing here to justify his genius. The film literally forgets to give the Bond girl a name. The moment in which Helga Brandt, herself a rip off of Fiona Vulpe, captures Bond, only to release him, only to then try and murder him in a plane crash, is the first time the series feels a bit derivative, first time it starts treating the audience like an idiot. And the whole turning Japanese sequence, fantastic Ken Adams set aside, is a weird waste of time. It’s a baggy, excessive movie and its no wonder things were pulled back for the next one. That said, as a child I loved this one. So it’ll always have that.
16. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
So Goldeneye followed the formula but was so high-energy that it didn’t matter. Tomorrow Never Dies does the same but lacks the same energy, making this perhaps the most generic of all the Bond movies. It isn’t bad as such, and doesn’t do anything wrong – but nothing about it stands out apart from an excellent pre-titles sequence, wonderful David Arnold score and the relationship between Bond and former flame Paris Carver, an interesting concept we could have done to see more of. Paris’s death/Dr Kaufman scene is the best in the movie. Elsewhere, the action is decent – the motorbike chase stands out – but full on. This is more of an action movie than any other film in the franchise. And the plot is bonkers but at least the newspaper angle feels modern, and remains both scarily relevant – the press controlling the world – and comically out of touch – Carver misses the rise of the internet in 1997, he’ll be bankrupt by the 2010s even if Bond doesn’t intervene.
Price’s OTT Carver makes for a fun villain though, and Wai Lin is a kickass Bond girl but leaves me feeling a little cold – the writers lean on Michelle Yeoh’s stunts at the expense of creating a character, she could have done with a little more backstory to feel real. The stealth ship climax is one of the flattest in the series – again it isn’t terrible, but its a boring box-ticking action sequence and hard to get invested in. Tomorrow Never Dies is a solid Bond movie – not offensive but not exciting either. Sits with Octopussy as perhaps the least challenging Bond. Sometimes that’s all you need.
15. Dr No (1962)
Has a foot in the 50s – a bit of a throwback to those old boys’ own adventure stories, with a mysterious island and a mad scientist, a bit more Jonny Quest than Bond at times but still one of the most stylish movies in the entire series. Jamaica looks incredible now so it’s hard to imagine how impressive it would have been to audiences in post-war Britain; that glamour makes the movie stand out from other contemporary Cold War thrillers and probably went a long way to cementing the franchise’s success. Remarkably small-scale compared to what follows (Bond’s mission feels more private eye than spy) but sets a surprising amount of the rules in place early on – the lair, explosive climax, and lizard-like Joseph Wiseman setting the villain template as Dr No, complete with prerequisite deformity.
A lot of the most iconic moments in all of cinema here. Ursula Andress in the bikini (Honey Ryder is an acceptable if bland first girl) and Connery’s classic introduction in the casino, the coolest and most important moment of the franchise, which sets up the whole mythos of 007 in one scene and where Connery defines himself as the Bond for the next 50 years. These days we’d get an origin story, so it’s nice Bond emerges fully formed. Downsides? The pacing drags and the film can be a little…boring? And being the first, it’s quite difficult to place, as every other Bond does what Dr No does better. Still, very important – though one I generally only rewatch when marathoning. Hence putting it in the middle.
14. Thunderball (1965)
On the surface this one has it all – Bahamas, SPECTRE, atomic bombs, sexy women, sharks, jet-packs – but its hampered by the decision to set seemingly half of it underwater. And the underwater stuff is so slow. And boring. It makes sense for the time – the underwater photography still looks crisp now, and would have looked incredible in 1965. Cubby Broccoli’s policy was ‘put the money on the screen,’ which means a lot of the older Bond films will sacrifice narrative and pacing to show off the money they put into the production. This gives the older films a slow, semi-dream-like quality as they drift between key set-pieces (which I actually love) – but it can make them fairly clunky movies, with the underwater sequences here being perhaps the best example of this. Things are exasperated by the clumsy plot. Bond stumbles onto SPECTRE’s plan by complete accident (lucky you went to that health spa James!) and then for a relatively simple hold-the-world-to-ransom scheme the execution is needlessly complicated, and worse again, we see the entire scheme unfold but Bond doesn’t – meaning we’re ahead of him for most of the movie. And we spend way too long at the health spa – in Dr No, Bond is in the Bahamas in 15 minutes as opposed to 45 here! A good edit – remove the health spa, trim the underwater sequences – would put Thunderball as one of the greats.
But as it stands its still pretty good. The Bahamas setting is peak 60s Bond. Domino, the first girlfriend’s villain archetype, is interesting because she may be the only girl who never falls for Bond – she uses him, and he uses her, and the relationship triangle between Bond, Domino and Largo – all playing the others against each other – is fascinating. Credit to Domino for being the only Bond girl to date to kill a main villain. Largo himself is a good, if identikit villain (eye-patch, shark tank) but Fiona Vulpe (Luciana Paluzzi) is an electrifying femme-fatale, one of the best baddies of the lot. Her last scene (‘Mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead’) is Bond gold.
13. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
One of the most bizarre openings of the series, in which Bond battles a copyright free Blofeld piloting a helicopter, which ends with not-Blofeld bartering for his life by promising Bond ‘a delicatessen, in stainless steel!’ What. But what follows is actually a really-serious, smaller scale Bond which harkens back to early Connery – a kind of palette-cleanser after the excesses of Moonraker. There are some beautiful locations, and great action sequences, including some of the best stunt work of the series (that bobsled track) ending on a low-key but nail-biting climax scaling Greek cliffs. Moore gives a darker, more world-weary performance, and this feels like the Bond he should have ended on.
Melina is a strong, motivated girl though I’m always baffled by Bond denying her the revenge kill; there’s this well-worn idea that getting revenge and killing the villain will cost Melina her humanity, but we’ve literally seen her murder people earlier in the movie! Props for keeping the villain hidden for most of the film even though this does make Kristatos a bit forgettable. And that’s part of the problem with FYEO overall – it’s a good movie, a good Moore-entry with great intentions – but is it just the slightest bit dull? It never quite takes off to become one of the greats. And for a fairly serious Bond, it has very silly bookends – the aforementioned not-Blofeld is odd, but the parrot/Thatcher close is especially bizarre. Q’s insane Identigraph machine however might be my favourite thing in the entire series.
12. The World is Not Enough (1999)
Brosnan’s second best movie, and perhaps his most frustrating. The problem with TWINE is that it teeters on the edge of being one of the best but remains slavishly tied to the formula. There’s a lot of good, even great, ideas here, but the film can never quite commit to any of them. The idea of Bond falling in love with the villain is a fascinating one, and Elektra King is a captivating and convincing black widow – depressingly, the first and only female main villain in the entire franchise! But the film doesn’t sell quite sell Bond being in love, Elektra’s betrayal comes basically overnight, and is softened by the introduction of another love interest right beforehand. Imagine if Elektra had been the only girl, and the main villain? Adding Christmas Jones takes out the teeth out of the twist and the potential drama.
The psychology of Renard/Elektra and the three way relationship with Bond (four if we include M) is one of the most interesting situations in the series, but it’s never given time to grow because the film can’t go twenty minutes without an action sequence. And almost all of these are perfunctory, with an air of going through the motions. It feels like the film had the intention to do something exciting but was limited by having to be a Brosnan Bond, and the whole thing falters because of it. Doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Chopping a couple of the action sequences (the ski sequence and the caviar factory) to build out the characters instead would go a lot way to improving things. There are a lot of strong moments however. The ‘I never miss’ with Elektra is a serious highlight and as dark as Bond gets. It’s great to have M involved in the plot in such a major way, tormented by a villain she created – there are a lot of similarities with Skyfall here. Denise Richards is silly and can’t act but that adds to the fun. There are worse Bond girls.
11. Octopussy (1983)
Generally looked-down upon but there’s a lot to love here and fan approval seems to be turning. A wonderful (if idealised) India setting gives the film a unique and distinctive flavour. Some genuinely thrilling sequences – the entire train through Germany which ends on the surprisingly tense nuke defusing scene (I have no issue with the clown, though its funny to think of Bond calmly and perfectly applying his make up seconds before a nuclear bomb explodes) and both opening and climatic plane sequences, all of which showcase some of most impressive stunt work in the franchise. There’s a lot of variety here, and it’s hard to get bored.
Octopussy herself is a surprisingly strong heroine, and Maud Adams has great chemistry with Moore’s Bond. Going slightly older with Maud Adams helps softens Moore’s increasingly accelerated ageing, a lesson which will be thrown out of the window in the next movie. Villains are pretty good too – Gobinda is a good silent henchman, Kamal Khan is silky and sleazy and General Orlov is fun with Steven Berkoff playing to the back row. Ok, so the plot is nonsensical and lurches from Faberge eggs to nuclear bombs seemingly at random, and there are some cringe moments (Bond’s Tarzan yell!) which detractor’s hold up as representing everything that’s wrong with Moore’s Bond. Octopussy actually does a great job of showing the good and the bad of Moore’s era, so where you stand on it will depend on how you feel about Moore’s Bond in general. Overall, this is a good-natured, lazy-Sunday kind of Bond movie – it does nothing new, but if you’re after a generic Bond to switch-off to, this might be the best choice.
Note 10-4: I pretty much love all these movies, and they can move around depending on when I’ve watched them last.
10. The Living Daylights (1987)
TLD is considered underrated within Bond fandom – most casual movie-goers won’t have seen it – but the movie – and Dalton’s era in general – have been slowly reassessed over time. Partly this is because Dalton just makes more sense now – Dalton is a hot-tempered, bitter Bond who cuts through the film like a shark; this was the first in the series to suggest that Bond – realistically as he would be in his career – was a troubled man. Coming right off Moore, this take was hard for audiences’ to grasp, but after Brosnan (‘did all the vodka martinis silence the screams of all the men you killed?’) and murderous Craig, it all makes much more sense. And Dalton is great in the role.
The movie itself? A more serious affair and complex Cold War story after decades of clownish Moore, this was a real attempt to take the series back to its roots, and there’s a lot to love in The Living Daylights. Great action scenes, including a plane-climax which is peak-Bond and thrilling opening in Gibraltar. I love Necros – the idea of an assassin who can mimic accents and infiltrate via different roles is wonderful, a sort of proto Villanelle, his exploding milk bottles are very memorable and the movie leaves you wanting more of him – a mark of a good henchman. There’s a good, genuine Bond girl in Karla, and its all rounded off with some lovely European locations. Downsides? The plot is complicated but doesn’t make a huge amount of sense when you really pay attention – we spend a large portion of the film on a defection which doesn’t actually go anywhere, and the villains’ scheme to get Bond to assassinate Pushkin only serves to get Bond involved. Just have Necros do it! Marks for trying though. The politics and propaganda of the third act are a bit iffy now, and Whittaker is a naff villain – one of the worst in the series. But overall, this is a very good Bond movie, and feels like a huge breath of fresh air after Moore.
9. Live and Let Die (1973)
Downsides out the way first. The boat chase is dreadful, it goes on for hours, features series low-point Sheriff Pepper but no soundtrack to keep us awake, and the movie never quite recovers after it. And not to go too far into this in a James Bond post, but it’s worth addressing the racism which is point of contention for most reviewers. The film toes the line – both progressive and shamelessly trapped in its era. For example – we get our first black Bond girl in Rosie Carver, but she’s not the main Bond girl – the film will make a concession but doesn’t want to go too far. I disregard the complaint that the villains are all black, because they’re as competent as any other set of villains, but the issue of them ‘owning’ white Solitaire is iffy. If Solitaire had been black it would have solved a lot of these issues. These things need to be discussed in context of where the series is now, and the modern Bonds have been noticeably more diverse than what came before.
Anyway, positives. A young, fun, and assured Roger Moore breathes new life into the series. After Lazenby tried to follow Connery, Moore does his own comedy thing, and his films are generally the most fun and most entertaining of the lot. Moore works best in fish out of water situations and so is well served by 70s Harlem and New Orleans here. Live and Let Die could be his most entertaining movie. It’s certainly high energy and there’s a lot to love. Three fantastic villains – Katanga, Tee-Hee and Baron Samedi – and a fantastic girl in Jane Seymour’s Solitaire. The supernatural elements give the film a spooky atmosphere which makes it stand out from the pack. Possibly the best song of the series? And in terms of nostalgia, this is the Bond I watched the most as a child.
8. Licence to Kill (1989)
So TLD was darker and a bit more serious but still had some of the Moore hangups – LTK goes full-throttle for a fairly brutal, considerably more violent Bond movie which opens with Felix Leiter being fed alive to sharks on his wedding day. We’re a long way from Roger Moore here. Licence has always been a polarising film – audiences at the time hated it, it didn’t make the usual Bond money, and the series went into its longest ever hiatus after it (until now anyway).
To this day, fans seem split. I think its great. These days, a Bond film shorn of its essential Bond elements with an unhinged 007 makes much more sense than it did in the 80s, and the darker tone helps set this apart from the rest. Robert Davi’s Sanchez is an underrated villain in the series – I disregard the complaint that he’s too small scale as he essentially runs his own country – the man is realistic, charming but terrifying, rewarding loyalty above all else. The way Bond infiltrates his organisation – always a step ahead, playing Sanchez’s paranoia against him – is unique for the series. Nice to see a young, unhinged Benicio del Toro as Dario too. Pam Bouvier breaks the mould as the only good American Bond girl, and goes some way to paving the way for the stronger 90s Brosnan Bond girls. Dalton gives his best performance, one driven by rage, and for one of the darkest movies it’s the best for Desmend Llewelyn’s Q. And the Spielbergian tanker chase ending is one of the best climaxes in the whole series – top 5 at least. Licence works as kind of an inverted Moonraker, with both movies showing what the series has the potential to be at either end of the silly or serious scale. Downsides? The ninjas however a bit silly. They wouldn’t make a dent in any other Bond, but here they stick out. And there’s something about this film which can look like a cheap TV movie – its either the lighting, or the blowing the entire budget on the tanker chase. Favourite gun-barrel of the series though!
7. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Production on TMWTGG was difficult as the relationship between Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli broke down. This strain came through in the final movie and was reflected in its box office gross – the worst yet. Saltzman subsequently left the franchise, and Broccoli, taking control, decided to go big to get Bond back on track. And so we have The Spy Who Loved Me, the second Bond epic. Essentially, a remake of You Only Live Twice with the sea instead of space, this is a huge, bold and confident movie. You know everything you need to know in the opening section – the pre-titles begin with a submarine being eaten and end with Bond skiing/parachuting off a cliff in what is the most important, and most impressive, stunt in the entire series, before we fall into Carly Simon’s beautiful ‘Nobody Does It Better,’ another contender for best song in the series and the mantra of Moore’s Bond.
The campy Bonds tend to be looked down upon in this Daniel Craig era. But they are as much a part of the franchise as the serious ones, perhaps more so, and when done well, they sell themselves. TSWLM is good – really good, probably the best ‘Bondy-Bond’ film this side of Goldfinger. This is the Christmas day Bond movie, the Bank Holiday Bond – its Moore’s best film and his best performance in the role. The film as a whole just wants everyone to have a good time. Great locations (Egypt is a standout) action, a lot of humour. Stromberg is a bit weak – Blofeld-lite – but makes it up with a bonkers scheme and great lair. Agent Triple X is a strong Bond girl, and of course Jaws is brilliant. A terrifying monster in Egypt and responsible for the biggest ever Bond jump scare on the train, he becomes sillier as the movie progresses but his legacy stands as the best Bond henchman.
6. Skyfall (2012)
Now that the dust has settled – and there was a lot of dust – Skyfall is not only the highest grossing Bond movie (putting Thunderball and inflation aside) but one of the highest grossing movies of all time. This film was huge, and as such, was somewhat difficult to place. This is basically Bond porn and Skyfall has it all. We get glamorous globe trotting with wonderful set pieces in Istanbul, Macau and Shanghai, Bond in a tux in a casino, an Adele song that rivals the best of Bassey, a send-off for Judi Dench’s M, a new Q and Moneypenny (that ending!) a komodo dragon pit (someone gets eaten by an animal for the first time since Licence to Kill!) a campy crazy villain complete with lair and monologue. We spend a lot of time in the UK too – London and Scotland (the best its ever looked) and its nice that the franchise came home for its 50th year anniversary. Skyfall feels like Sam Mendes’ love letter to the series.
Judi Dench gives her best performance as M (and that’s saying something) and gets an actual ending. It’s nice that the movie is built around her past mistakes, and Bond learning to see her view of the bigger picture for the good of the country. And the best villain in ages in Javier Bardem’s scenery gobbling Raoul Silva. His rat monologue is possibly the best written sequence in the franchise, and I like new ground covered with him being sexually attracted to Bond – pity this isn’t developed further! Finally, Roger Deakins deserves a shout out for the cinematography too – this is the best looking Bond movie.
Some people begrudge that Skyfall throws out the ‘new Bond’ angle we’d started in Casino and Quantum. I’m fine with it. Bond films should stand alone and Skyfall is more interested in summarising the franchise’s 50 year history than following that particular arc. And so we get an older, past his prime Bond, thematic discussions on Britain and the Empire, Bond’s relevance in the modern world. There’s a real confidence to everything here (note the film doesn’t even bother to explain about Bond survives the opening – he’s James Bond, of course he does) and this the first Bond to really be about something thematically. The plot is a bit of a mess towards the end. Internet plot hole culture rightfully picks holes in Silva’s magic plan, and I begrudge that the agent’s list is completely forgotten, but when you get Bond running overlaid with Judi Dench reading Tennyson, it’s clear that Sam Mendes is trying to go for something bigger and I find it hard to be that bothered by the plot itself. This is the first Bond film really to be art. Unsure where this will lead the franchise in future (do the movies need to be so prestige?) but for now it works.
5. Goldeneye (1995)
Licence to Kill was panned and lead to a six year hiatus for Bond, during which time the Soviet Union – Bond’s raison d’être – collapsed. Going into the 90s Bond no longer felt relevant, and had Goldeneye not worked its unlikely we’d still have Bond movies today. Not only was Goldeneye a success however, it succeeded in completely revitalising the series, and alongside the N64 game, went someway to cementing Bond for the next generation – consequently this is the favourite movie of most fans born after the 80s, myself included.
Brosnan is criticised now but he’s the perfect Bond everyman, a mix of Connery’s cool, Dalton’s edge and Moore’s charm – he’s great in all four of his films, but Goldeneye is his only truly great Bond film. Goldeneye revitalises the franchise for the 90s (computers!) and there’s a noticeable jump in style from Licence to Kill and this; you can divide the series pretty easily into classic and modern Bond at this point. We get four fantastic villains – lead by Sean Bean’s Trevelyan as the anti-Bond, refreshingly a physical match for 007, and supported by franchise stealing Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp, who is electric. Natalya is a top 5 Bond girl, smart and driven, underrated in the Bondom. Goldeneye solves the relevancy issue by hitting it head on – so we get a new female M (enter Judi Dench in a role that defines the direction of the rest of the series) calling Bond ‘a sexist, misogynist dinosaur,’ and there’s a very 90s, almost meta-threatrical quality to the movie in which everyone is in on the joke. This is the downside to Goldeneye – it does Bond very very well, but it doesn’t do anything exactly new, and has an air of following the manual. The film gets away with following formula by doing it so well, and with such high energy, but it favouritism aside, it doesn’t objectively quite make the top for this reason. That said – it’s probably the Bond I’ve seen the most.
4. Goldfinger (1964)
The definitive Bond movie. Ask someone who’s never seen a Bond movie to describe one and you’ll mainly get this. A bit of a change of gears from FRWL – serious spying is thrown out the window and replaced with sexy, tongue in cheek fun, with the formula being defined here – Shirley Bassey title song, outrageous villain scheme, on brand henchman who kills people in a very specific way, girl with silly name, and ‘No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!’ The whole thing is held together which such high-energy and brassy 60s confidence it basically solidified the 50 year run for the franchise.
Loads to love here. We’ve got the best villain in the series in Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger, who gets all of the best lines and has the benefit of interacting with Bond more than any other main villain, the best car in Aston Martin DB5, the best scene in the laser sequence (and one which Bond has to use his wits, and not gadgets to get out of) and contenders for the henchman and girl in Oddjob and Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore, who despite the name is our first proper grown up Bond girl. It’s easily the most parodied movie in the franchise which goes someway to show what an impact this had on popular culture, and without it, the franchise almost certainly wouldn’t have lasted for another 50 plus years. Probably the best Bond movie, but not quite the best movie, if that makes sense?
Note on Top 3 – Probably the hardest to rank of the lot. All of these could be the best in the series – and all have something slightly different to offer!
3. Casino Royale (2006)
After Die Another Day it was clear the series needed to go in a new direction. Reboots within Bond are nothing new, as OHMSS, TSWLM, FYEO and Goldeneye were all all resets in some way, but nothing as ambitious as Casino Royale had been attempted before. Taking inspiration from Batman Begins, this was a serious take designed to strip Bond back to its core elements – Fleming story, an actual spy story with real world stakes, and a lack of gadgets.
Casino Royale is bold in a way most other Bonds aren’t – the brutal black and white opening, late gun-barrel into the credits song (a series highlight), the decision to set most of the movie around a poker game interspersed with a variety of wonderful action sequences (the staircase fight) character beats (Vesper in the shower) and tense moments (the poisoning) is inspired. The film looks beautiful, bringing the sex appeal and glamour back to the franchise with some lovely locations, and the action sequences may be the best in the series – the parkour chase being a real hight light. Martin Campbell proves once again he’s the king of resurrecting Bond.
And Craig? The best Bond since Connery. Tough, implacable with the classic Bond sardonic wit. Pitching slightly older (Henry Cavill was the second choice) is a wise choice which alleviates the origin story angle and makes sense for a man who would have already spent years in the Navy (or SAS now?). It’s fitting in a series built on female sex appeal we finally spin things around – Daniel Craig doing a Honey Ryder and coming out of the sea, in the 2000s, Bond is the sex symbol. On that note, the Bond movies are like a time capsule for how society perceives women across the respective decades (beautiful in the 60s, more scientists and doctors in the 70s, agents in the 80s and independent action stars in the 90s) but it took till 2006 for the first actual proper female character to hit the series. Beautiful, sexy, smart, tortured, complex, broken, distant and difficult to read (in a film built on tells) it’s hard to understate how strong Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd is. It makes complete sense that Bond would fall for her and their relationship is the only real one in the series. She casts a long shadow over Craig’s tenure – he’s never really had a Bond girl since. And finally great sharky villain in the form of Le Chiffre. Not quite a classic but realistic and memorable, and very well played by Mads Mikklesen. Another contender for series best, its fantastic that something this good can come out of the franchise 21 movies in!
2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
What was generally forgotten by the public has been reclaimed in recent years and OHMSS is now critically considered not only one of the best Bond movies but one of the best movies ever made. It’s a brilliant piece of British cinema, and it’s no wonder directors such as Steven Soderbergh and Christopher Nolan have highlighted this as their favourite Bond. There’s something about this one that really stands out – the cinematography is unreal, with beautiful sweeping shots of the snowy Alps overlaid John Barry’s thumbing Alpine theme, his best score in the entire series. This may be the first modern action movie, and it was certainly ahead of its time – the ski stunt work is incredible and the last hour is basically as good as Bond gets.
A game but wooden George Lazenby spends far too much time in his one performance as Bond playing foppish Hilary Bray (too convincingly, the weakest section of the movie) but adds a previously unseen vulnerability to the character, which makes the film more effective overall. Would have been interesting to see what he did long term having had time to warm up – contrary to popular belief, Lazenby wasn’t fired but quit over a contract issue. Panicked by the lack of Connery, the movie overcompensates and so everyone here comes in at 110% – on top of the great direction, setting, score, action and climax we the best on-screen Blofeld in Terry Savalas and the best love-interest (until Vesper) in Diana Rigg’s damaged Tracy, the first proper Bond woman. The only Bond to make you cry, with an ending so dark and powerful the series wouldn’t dare do anything similar for another 37 years. And even then, Casino Royale on a high with ‘Bond, James Bond.’ None of that here, just a shattered windscreen and our hero, crying over his lost love. There’s a strange finality to OHMSS too – it feels like the last Bond, like things wouldn’t be the same after this and has a kind of sad nostalgia – and as such fittingly ties up the 60s era.
1. From Russia, with Love (1963)
Stands out primarily because it’s of its integrity – the most outlandish thing here is the Mission: Impossible-esque mask in the pre-credits sequence. Generally, this is as grounded as the series gets, with the best plot of the lot – a taunt, convoluted Cold War thriller with sex tapes, intrigue and SPECTRE playing 4D chess. It’s the Bond movie for adults. Great setting too – what Dr No did for Jamaica, this movie does for Istanbul – all stone and shadow, followed up by the fantastic Orient Express sequence, a series highlight and Bond at its most tense, climaxing in the best and most brutal fight sequence between Bond and Red Grant. The villains roster here is the gold standard – Blofeld as a shadowy figure in the wings with aggressive bulldog Rosa Klebb supporting and Robert Shaw’s wonderful turn as Daniel-Craig-gone-mad, Red Grant. Tatiana Romanova is beautiful and unlike Honey Ryder, has an actual character.
If there are faults, the climax on the boats is a little flat, though its saved by the subsequent Venice sequence (knife shoe!) and modern audiences may be put off by the slow pace – for one of the shortest films in the series, it feels like the longest – but these are nitpicks in what stands as the probably, the best movie of the franchise. FRWL however is a bit of a paradox – its the best because it resists the silly, campy excesses of the other films and so stands out by contrast – but you could argue that had Goldfinger followed suit with serious spy thrillers, the franchise would never have lasted for 50 years.
The beauty of this series is that everyone’s list is different.