You know the name. You know the music. You know the girls. You know the fancy cars, the nifty gadgets, the exotic locales, the exhilarating action set-pieces, the opening gun barrel shots, and you know the egomaniacal villains hell-bent on world domination. But just how well do you know each of the films? For over 50 years the James Bond franchise has sustained itself on an assured formula, mixing the aforementioned ingredients to coalesce into an action-adventure spy film featuring Ian Fleming’s iconic secret agent. Results have varied wildly, ranging from gritty spy-thrillers to deliriously campy joyrides. It’s a wide spectrum of quality, and everyone has their favorites, but I’m the sort of man who loves them all. Whether it’s the visceral, heart-pumping action sequences of Daniel Craig, or just jolly ol’ Roger Moore running around in a clown costume, the Bond series is one I hold near and dear to my heart.
This Friday sees the release of Spectre, the 24th film in the canonical 007 franchise (I’m not counting 1967 farce Casino Royale or 1983 Thunderball-remake Never Say Never Again). To celebrate, I’ve set out to face an impossible challenge: ranking the Bond films. This was no easy task, and there are sure to be some grievances caused and eyebrows raised. But, from a purely subjective and personal point of view, I have ordered the Bond films from worst to best. Grab your Walther PPK, down your shaken-not stirred martini, hop in the ejectable passenger seat of my Aston Martin DB5 and let us begin, shall we?
23. TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)
Already you may think I’m off to a bad start. Tomorrow Never Dies is not a terrible film, and most Bond fans don’t regard this as one of the worst, but I find it easily the least imaginative and most perfunctory Bond in the bunch. And that’s a problem. Pierce Brosnan’s second feature (after his excellent debut in Goldeneye) pits the secret agent against a Rupert Murdoch-type media mogul (played by an over-the-top Jonathan Pryce), a madman eager to kick-off World War Three so he can obtain “exclusive broadcasting rights in China for the next 100 years.” I know, I can’t believe I typed that either, but there it is. Tomorrow is perfectly content going through the motions, aiming to please but never truly finding an identity, resulting in a myriad of lifeless action scenes, poorly developed characters, and some of the lousiest one-liners ever (Bond, after seeing Pryce’s face plastered on the side of a building: “If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’s developed an edifice complex.”). There are some more ridiculous Bond films out there - and believe me, we’ll get to those - but this one is so utterly banal that I place it dead last.
22. QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)
Quantum of Solace is synonymous with “crushing disappointment.” Arriving hot off the heels of franchise reboot Casino Royale, Quantum is an incredibly rushed and wholly unsatisfying feature. Much like Tomorrow Never Dies, action takes precedent over story, except here every single action scene is shot with a shaky-cam and edited together with a blender. Coherency and spatial relationships are eliminated, introducing a Jason Bourne aesthetic to the series that it most certainly didn’t need. The Bond girls are dull and unmemorable. But what’s most insulting is the supervillain’s ultimate scheme: monopolizing the water supply of a small Bolivian town for his own profit. Daniel Craig carries the role well, and there is one exciting sequence inside of an Opera house, but there’s no getting past that this is a tremendously poor effort. I lay the blame entirely on director Marc Forster’s shoulders, a man who went on the record to say he was never interested in helming a Bond film. The producers should have listened.
21. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)
The World is Not Enough’s placement on this list is almost interchangeable with Tomorrow Never Dies, but I give it a little more kudos due to stronger, more plausible baddies (Sophie Marceau as Bond Girl-turned-villainess and Robert Carlyle as a man who cannot feel pain) and a great opening title track by Garbage. For the most part World is a solid Brosnan film, until it eventually hits rock bottom by introducing Denise Richards as Nuclear Physicist Dr. Christmas Jones. There are no two ways about it; Richards is awful. She’s not really acting so much as reciting lines she appears to have learned phonetically, and the name of her character makes way for the series’ most groan-worthy one-liner: “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.” Ugh. This is also the final film to feature Desmond Llewelyn as Q, the supplier of Bond’s gadgets. Of 23 films, he appeared in 17 of them. His exit here is a touching one.
20. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)
Roger Moore’s second feature, and his weakest one overall. The character of Bond here is an absolute dick, a cold and calloused man with no regard for women or children. Moore is often viewed as the more light-hearted of the Bond actors, but here he’s more Connery than he is Moore, and it’s incredibly uncomfortable to watch. The real highlight here is Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga, a villain who brandishes the titular pistol and boasts a third nipple. Both suave and menacing, Lee is terrific to watch, but the film squanders his talents. Golden Gun also features what is probably the single greatest car stunt in the history of the series (Bond jumps a corkscrew-shaped bridge with no middle section), but the whole thing is entirely undermined by a ridiculous slide-whistle sound effect. Why was that inserted? Another thorn in the film’s side is the return of Sheriff JW Pepper, a racist cartoon first introduced in Live and Let Die. Pepper’s antics weren’t funny the first time around, and he’s more insufferable here. A definite series lowlight.
19. DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)
We’ve finally made it to this one. You’re probably wondering how in the world could I rank two other Brosnan films lower than this one. Well, hear me out: we all know Die Another Day is terrible: the invisible car, the Madonna title track, the Halle Berry, the giant space laser, the ice palace, the surfing (twice!), and the plot that involves a Korean soldier transforming into a British playboy. I get it. But, unlike the previous two Brosnan films listed, Die Another Day freakin’ goes for it. Seriously, there’s something positively fun about watching it all go up in smoke. In fact, aside from Goldeneye, it’s the Brosnan film I’ve seen the most. That’s saying something.
18. A VIEW TO A KILL (1985)
Duran Duran’s theme song is so goddamn amazing that it almost makes the rest of A View to a Kill forgivable. With a creaky, 57-year-old Roger Moore (in his final outing as 007), a shrill Bond girl, and a kooky Christopher Walken as the villain, View is a sluggish picture, though it’s not the total loss as its reputation claims (Moore himself regards it as the worst). Between the gritty and campy sides of James Bond, I see View as a film trying to have it both ways and never quite obtaining either. The resulting mess is too entertaining to dismiss entirely. Plus, Walken easily steals the show with his manic performance. At the very least, that Duran Duran track gets the juices flowing.
17. THUNDERBALL (1965)
This Connery film re-defined the blockbuster as we know it. So then why is it so low on my list? The truth is, I find Thunderball to be a little boring. A bulk of the problem lies in its protracted underwater sequences. Slow-moving and unexciting, every time the action moves underwater (which is about 25% of its running time) the story grinds to a halt. It was no easy task to follow Goldfinger, and in trying to replicate that picture’s greatness (right down to a near replica of the theme song, this time replacing Shirley Bassey with Tom Jones), it often falls short. This was Sean Connery’s fourth feature, and by far his most disappointing.
16. LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)
Roger Moore’s first film is an utterly bizarre blaxploitation film. No really, I’m not joking. The baddies are all black, the film deals with voodoo and the occult, and the main villain is dispatched with what has got to be the lamest kill in the history of the series (see clip). There are also a lot of uncomfortable racist overtones in the film. At one point I used to think this was the worst Bond film, but repeat viewing have proven to be kind to it, and now I think it’s one of Moore’s better efforts. That is, until Sheriff JW Pepper appears. A toxic character with a propensity for chewing tobacco and over-enunciating every single line of dialogue, Pepper is screen death, and should have been eliminated from the film before they even began shooting.
15. MOONRAKER (1979)
Good lord, this film is bonkers. In 1977 the Bond series hit an all time high with The Spy Who Loved Me. 1977 was also the year Star Wars was unleashed upon the world, so naturally, the next film had to take place in outer space. I used to hate this film but its wackiness has grown on me, and Moore is game to travel wherever the filmmakers take him. There are also a few inspired bits that don’t get discussed as often as they should. Consider the opening of the film, a free-fall fight scene between Bond and a set of baddies wrestling over a parachute in mid-air as they plummet towards the earth. Aside from a few rear-projection shots, it all looks so amazingly well done. This scene was accomplished utilizing skydiving stuntmen with safety parachutes built into their suites, and apparently took 88 takes to get all the footage needed. I’ll let the final results speak for themselves.
14. OCTOPUSSY (1983)
Octopussy often gets a bad rap, which is fair to a film called Octopussy. But look beyond the silly title and it’s actually a fairly engaging Bond film. Moore’s penultimate adventure takes him to India, chasing the trail of Faberge Eggs and murderous circus folk. Yes, this is the film where Moore dresses up as a clown, but I actually think it works in the film’s favor, if only to add a layer of suspense that is not commonly present in a Bond film (here, 007 is trying to defuse a nuclear bomb in a circus, but no one will take him seriously because he’s dressed like a clown). Only Roger Moore could have pulled that off. This should have been Moore’s final film, and then they could have skipped A View to a Kill to go to The Living Daylights with Timothy Dalton. Actually, that wouldn’t have worked at all because then we would be missing out on Duran Duran’s theme song. Did you listen to it above? If not, have no fear, I’ve provided it again here.
13. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967)
You Only Live Twice AKA Bond Goes to Japan. At five films in Bond had become such a global phenomenon that Sean Connery grew sick of the role. His indifference can be seen in his performance here, but I still think this there’s a rollicking good time to be had here. Aside from some questionable detours (Connery, a 6’2” Scotsman is made up to look like a Japanese man at one point) You Only Live Twice delivers on the spectacle, including several exciting set pieces that involve explosive helicopter chases, volcanic evil lairs, and shootouts between armies of ninjas.
12. DR. NO (1962)
The one that started it all. Don’t be discouraged by this entry’s placement on my list: Dr. No is a great film. It’s a strong start to the series and successfully sets up many of the tropes we all know in love. Whether it’s the diabolical villain with the physical deformity or Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean in her bikini, everything traces back to this film. My reasoning for placing it at #12 is because while I do think it is solid work all around, I find the next set of films to be more enjoyable, and all improve upon the formula established here. However, I will concede that I don’t think Connery, or any other Bond for that matter, has ever been better than when he introduces himself for the first time (see clip). It’s a greeting that has become deeply ingrained in pop culture references, but has yet to be topped in terms of delivery, quality, or effortless cool.
11. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)
You know, I’ve never quite understood the vitriol behind Diamonds Are Forever. Yes, it’s an undoubtedly campy feature, but for my money I think it’s the funniest James Bond film ever made. Part of the film’s charm comes from a pair of unusual (and homosexual) hitmen named Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint. This odd couple tail Bond everywhere he goes, employing innovative means to attempt to assassinate people (including placing a poisonous scorpion down a shirt, burning someone alive in coffin, or just burying them in a Las Vegas pipeline). In a film that includes clones, giant space lasers operated by diamonds and cassette tapes, and even a pair of homicidal gymnasts named Bambi and Thumper, it’s these two weirdos that stand out. Even a phoned-in performance by Sean Connery doesn’t put a damper on the proceedings. In fact, I think it helps exacerbate the inherent humor in the script.
10. SKYFALL (2012)
The most recent entry on this list. I absolutely loved Skyfall the first time I saw it. I was convinced a James Bond film could do no better. Repeat viewing have lessened its initial impact (namely by exposing the egregious implausibility of the villain’s plot), but I still think this is a great inclusion to the franchise. Craig is ever so reliable in the role, and Judi Dench finally has her moment in the spotlight as Bond’s superior M, making her the official Bond girl in the film. I’m still flabbergasted as to how Javier Bardem accomplishes everything he does, but the actor injects such flamboyant charisma and menace into the role that the machinations of his endgame are largely permissible. His opening monologue is one for the ages. And there’s no doubting the gorgeous cinematography by Roger Deakins. Never has a Bond film looked this good.
9. GOLDENEYE (1995)
Pierce Brosnan’s first and best Bond film. My fondness for Goldeneye may stem back to my love of the N64 video game, but on its own Goldeneye is still an excellent film, modernizing the series to match real-world politics (the Cold War was no longer a viable backdrop for conflict) and the aesthetics of more recent action films (the opening dam bungee jump and tank chase through Russia are knockouts). The beauty of this film is how well all of the elements fall into place: Brosnan finds a happy medium between Connery and Moore, clearly enjoying himself but not afraid to get his hands dirty; Sean Bean plays a particularly effective villain as a former 00 agent, pitting Bond against his equal (a particularly inspired bit of screenwriting); and an uncharacteristically strong Bond girl with Izabella Scorupco’s Natalya Simonova. Smart, capable, and beautiful, Natalya is an unsung Bond girl who shines brightly here. It’s a shame the actress hasn’t obtained more substantial work after this film.
8. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981)
Roger Moore’s most overlooked film is also one of his best. After the zany antics of Moonraker, the producers obviously realized they had gone too far and needed to re-tool the series and bring things down to earth (literally). This is Moore’s darkest turn as Bond, except here he’s not as unpleasant to watch as in The Man With the Golden Gun. Aiding a young woman seeking revenge for the murder of her parents, Moore is particularly strong here, and all the naysayers about his “goofy” performances would do best to watch this film to see another side to the man. The plot is simple but the action is the name of the game, featuring an excellent extended ski-chase and a thrilling rock-climbing finale. However, my favorite bit is when Bond coldly kicks a henchman’s car off the side of a cliff, with the goon still in it. Never has Moore been more brilliant.
7. LICENCE TO KILL (1989)
Full disclosure: Timothy Dalton is my favorite Bond. Hands down, the single finest actor to have every portrayed British Secret Service’s best agent. He’s stoic, he’s assured, he’s gritty, and he’s real. It’s a shame his tenure in the role only lasted two films, but with the time given I think he nailed 007 perfectly (many cite Dalton as the “closest” interpretation to Fleming’s novels, so much so that Dalton referenced them on the set). License to Kill is the second of the two Dalton films, but in many ways it’s just as good, if not better, than his first (which we’ll get to). For instance, License boasts one of the strongest villains in the series. Robert Davi’s Sanchez is a smooth operator, fiercely loyal to his people, until he needs to have your heart removed. He’s a good match for Dalton, and the film is one of the lesser extravagant features in the canon. Here, Bond is simply out on a revenge mission, going rogue from MI6 to aid a fallen CIA comrade. It’s a more intimate approach to the Bond formula, but all the more effective for it. License also climaxes with some of the most impressive stunt work in the series, featuring a convoy of tanker trucks going to head-to-head on the side of a mountain. It’s terrific stuff.
6. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)
For Your Eyes Only is great, but The Spy Who Loved Me is even better. Many will say this is Roger Moore’s best outing as Bond, and they’d be right. There are several highlights here: lovable henchman Jaws makes his first appearance, Barbara Bach’s Agent XXX is another top Bond girl, and Bond drives a Lotus Espirit that turns into a submarine. But the best occurs during opening scene of the film: Bond, having just bedded another beauty in a cabin on a mountain, skis down from pursuing agents before leaping off a cliff, deploying his Union Jack parachute as the music swells with the traditional James Bond theme and segues into the opening bars of “Nobody Does it Better” by Carly Simon. Wow. To be a fly on the wall of a cinema when audiences were treated to this in 1977. You can view the entire glorious sequence in the clip above.
5. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)
The second James Bond film ever made, and probably the most satisfying in terms of a spy-thriller. Helping to shape the mythos of the character previously manifested in Dr. No, From Russia With Love is a Bond film firing on all cylinders. The pacing is very deliberate at times but the end product is a remarkable effort. There’s a lot to love here: Connery is at the top of his game, the villains provide a credible (and at the time, contemporary) threat to the rest of the world, and the action sequences, being shot in 1963, are extremely impressive (and not just for a Bond film). The piece de resistance is a train car fight scene between Connery and Russian henchman Red Grant (played by a young Robert Shaw, better known as Quint in Jaws) that remains the most intense, brutal, and realistic fight scene the series has committed to celluloid. Nothing to this day has matched it:
4. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987)
Ah, Dalton. You can do no harm in my book. I could wax on about him all day, but this is a ranking of the Bond films, not the Bond actors, so that will have to wait for another retrospective. The Living Daylights was Dalton’s debut as 007, and an impressive one at that. Almost everything works well here: Dalton is in top form, the KGB Sniper plotline features genuine espionage and intrigue, and the groovy title track by a-Ha is a real earworm. If I were to offer any criticisms - and believe me, I’m almost reluctant to - it’s that the overall scheme of the villains does not congeal as well as the film hopes. Still, it’s a small gripe in a wonderful film. I only wish Dalton had done more. One more thing about Dalton: he’s unfairly maligned because of the darker tone he brought to the series, yet 20 years later Daniel Craig was praised for doing the exact same thing. And I think that’s unfair; Dalton’s Bond is a brilliant creation, a cold and brooding existential soldier, weary of the job and bitter at the world. Within the first 10 minutes of The Living Daylights he nearly resigns from MI6. It’s Bond as we’re not used to and one we could use a lot more of. That being said…
3. CASINO ROYALE (2006)
After seemingly being killed off with Die Another Day, the Bond series roared back to life with Casino Royale, a stunning reboot of the highest order. Fitting Daniel Craig into Bond’s tux for the first time, Casino is a masterful, exuberant feature that course corrects many errors instigated during the Brosnan era. The result is a Bond film that appeals to both fans and newcomers alike. There’s a lot to love here: the parkour chase is brilliant and exciting, Vesper Lynd is a perfectly-realized match for Bond, and the centerpiece of this film is a high stakes poker game. That’s right, some of the most gripping and suspenseful sequences takes place in one room, at one table. Sure, there’s intermittent action to break-up the scenes of Texas Hold ‘Em, but I still don’t think any other Bond film has had the guts to hinge the fate of its plot on a card game. A risky gamble, but one that paid off nicely. And next to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this is the most emotionally resonant Bond film in the canon.
2. GOLDFINGER (1964)
An absolute classic. When most people think of James Bond, they think of Goldfinger. It. Has. Everything. There’s Auric Goldfinger, the iconic villain with the truly diabolical plot to knock over For Knox’s gold supply; Oddjob, the hat-throwing henchman; Pussy Galore, the toughest of all the Bond girls; the tricked-out Aston Martin DB5, the greatest vehicle Bond has ever driven; and the glorious Shirley Bassey title track, the catchiest of all the theme tunes. With all of these elements in place the rest of the film is absolutely remarkable, and you could not go wrong by saying this is the greatest James Bond film of all time…
1. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969)
…but for me, Goldfinger is not the greatest James Bond film of all time. That would be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The most exciting, realistic, and emotionally satisfying Bond film ever made, Secret Service is also the closest any film has ever come to depicting Bond as a human being. In his only role as 007, George Lazenby had the unenviable task of following in Connery’s mammoth footsteps, but I don’t think this film would have worked with any other actor. Paired up with Diana Rigg (as the ill-fated Mrs. James Bond Tracy Di Vicenzo), Lazenby brings his own nuances to the role and delivers a fine performance on his own. The action sequences here are also extraordinary, with the ski scenes particularly impressive in terms of scope and execution. And composer John Barry is working overtime to deliver score here is the best in the series. With gorgeous locales and stunning sets and costumes (next to Skyfall, this is the most stylish Bond film ever) and an emotional wallop of an ending, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service remains unsurpassed by any other film in the series.