Every now and then the host gets a bee in his bonnet and asks me to write something. He recently found out I am a big fan of James Bond movies and asked me to write a list of them – worst to best. I resist this idea because it is mostly asking to start a fight. People have very definite ideas about these things. Bond fans are a rabid bunch. The Bond cult in the UK is amazing (I once heard the Bond theme played by the Queen’s band at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace!) THIS IS FOR FUN! I will not defend this list, my commentary is meant to entertain, not reason. Bond movies are all about fun, that’s it, good fun. Just have fun.
BTW – If I sound like a misogynist in my comments, what can I say, that is part of Bond movies. Again, this is fun and some of these movies were made at a very different time, you have to take them at face value.
Honorable Mentions: What everybody thinks of as Bond movies are movies produced by Cubby Broccoli and the production companies set up after his death. But it took a while for this bunch to round up the rights to everything from the Ian Fleming estate, so there are some James Bond movies that do not fit the mold. (There was a TV presentation in the 1950’s – but TV – so not considered here.) The first was “Casino Royale” in 1967 featuring David Niven as 007 and a cast of great comic actors – it was a spoof. It suffered from not being all that funny. The second was “Never Say Never Again.” This 1983 film had the distinct advantage of returning Sean Connery to the role of Bond. Based on the same source material as “Thunderball,” it is actually a pretty good film. Unfortunately, by the mid-80’s the Broccoli and company mold was so established in the pubic mind that the movie strikes one as simply another action flick from the 80’s. It is missing what everyone has come to think of as the “Bond Distinctives” – theme music, over-the-top gadgets….
And now, to the core of the Bond films, from worst to best
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – this movie is pretty universally considered abysmal. George Lazenby as James Bond may go down as the worst bit of casting in cinematic history. This movie has one, and one only, saving grace – Diana Rigg as the only woman ever to capture Bond’s heart sufficiently to get him to marry her. Younger people know her as an old crone on “Game of Thrones” and will never understand the incredible beauty that she was in the 1960’s. You have to watch this movie at least once; however, awful as it is. The rest of the series makes constant reference to it and if you are going to be a fan, you have to know what they are talking about.
Quantum of Solace – I know a lot of younger people like this movie, and I actually think Daniel Craig is great in the lead role. However, this is the first “non-canonical” (not based on the work of Ian Fleming) Bond movie made and they just missed the mark.
Spectre – This is a very enjoyable film, great performances and some old school film making tech harkens back the Bond films of old. But, being non-canonical it reduces everything Bond has done through his entire career to sibling rivalry – it’s not about Queen and country, it’s about a jerk of a brother. That is unforgivable.
The Man With The Golden Gun – A lot of people really love this movie, and we are now at the point in the list where we transition from bad movies to acceptable movies, even for multiple viewings, but we have to rank them somehow. Christopher Lee as a Bond baddie – brilliant. Herve Villachaize basically being Tattoo – entertaining. However, Scaramonga’s distinguishing characteristic – no, just no.
A View To A Kill – With a plot stolen from the first Christopher Reeve Superman film, Grace Jones being, well, Grace Jones and Tanya Roberts putting in a very weak performance, this movie is just in the bottom tier for me. Saving graces – Christopher Walken as the chief baddie. This role came close to capturing the megalomaniacal madness he has always been meant to play. Patrick McNee! If there is a Brit spy that could beat Bond it would be John Steed. (If you do not know what I am referring to I feel sorry for you. Look it up!)
Moonraker – Going against the grain here again putting this movie in the bottom half. In case you cannot tell, not a huge Roger Moore fan. All of his Bond films were just a bit too on the silly side. This movie returned space travel to the days of the serials, I mean the final space battle was just stupid. Michael Lonsdale was completely unconvincing as a bad guy. Pluses – Jaws was available and the third best female character name in the series.
Goldeneye – The first Brosnan film. I almost hate to place this one in the bottom half, but they tried a bit too hard to move Bond in new directions with this film, and Brosnan tried too hard to be Connery. The producers also relished being able to film in Russia a little too much. (Although Bond driving a tank through St. Petersberg (Leningrad) was, for those that remember the Cold War, incredibly memorable.) Essentially Alan Cumming imitating Walter Koenig playing Chechov in Star Trek, shouting “I am inwincable” at a pay off point in the film just deflates this well-crafted balloon.
Live and Let Die – This film’s hokey depictions of New Orleans life and culture are a bit irritating. But the idiot sheriff trying to fill Jaws shoes as the comic relief is downright annoying. Up side? – Jane Seymour. This is pretty much a run-of-the-mill Moore/Bond flick.
Tomorrow Never Dies – Media maniac trying to start WWIII – Really?! Jonathon Price as Elliot Carver – Nope, not buying it. Michelle Yeoh was; however, incredible as a Chinese agent/Bond girl. No Bond movie is plausible, but this one kind of failed to suspend my disbelief. The remote control car chase is the most memorable part of the film.
Octopussy – This film sold a whole lot of tickets simply because of its title. We are getting towards the top of the Moore films in my listing. This was Maud Adams second appearance as a Bond Girl and she earned the right to do it twice. Louis Jordan is appropriately icy when Bond takes a fortune off him at backgammon while calling him out as the villain. The bit with the clown costumes is a tad too much though and prevents this one from breaking into the top half.
The Spy Who Loved Me – Still in the lower half of the list, but the second to top of the Moore movies. Introducing Jaws makes the film almost worthwhile all on its own. Barbara Bach is just a little too cushy in the role of Bond’s Russian counterpart to make me think she is there for any reason other than eye candy.
For Your Eyes Only – Best of the Moore films by a long shot. For some reason they suspended the usual Moore silliness with this one and gave us a film much closer to the Connery mold. The rock climbing scene is tremendous, and the ski chase is tons of fun.
Die Another Day – And so we enter the top half of the list with a Brosnan film. Halle Berry reprising the Ursula Andress bikini reveal from Dr. No is classic, classic stuff. This film introduced Rosamund Pike to American audiences quite well. And sword fighting! What a great sword fight! The only serious downside to the movie is Madonna.
The Living Daylights – And Timothy Dalton makes his first appearance and note both of his films appear in the top half of the list. In my opinion the most under-rated of the actors ever to play the role. He brought Connery’s intensity to the role and once again made Bond a serious, if over-the-top, spy. This film suffered from a very weak female lead in Maryam D’Abo.
Dr. No – The very first Bond film. It’s all there, but it is just not yet polished to that fine form that we have all come to expect. These early movies are also a bit slowly paced, particularly by modern standards. But Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean remains an iconic shot in filmdom even today.
License To Kill – The other Timothy Dalton movie and one of the several times Bond goes rogue on a personal vendetta. This movie is Bond being the killer that he really is, his obvious style notwithstanding.
Skyfall – When it all comes together for Daniel Craig, his Bond is really, really good. Someone described this movie as an elaborate plot to kill Judi Dench as “M,” but it is really an exploration of where Bond came from and what he is really made of. The return of the iconic Aston-Martin DB5 alone makes this movie worth multiple viewings. Javier Bardem is not my idea of a great Bond bad guy, but he is not an awful one either. Bardem’s homoerotic pass at Bond was uncalled for.
Thunderball – And so we enter the heart of the Connery-Bond canon as we near the top of the list. This movie has everything a Bond movie should have and suffers only from being strangely ponderous. It is the next movie chronologically after the one that has become THE Bond film and I think the producers tried to top that which cannot be topped so they overloaded this film a bit. But this is a fine, fine Bond film.
You Only Live Twice – Coming right after Thunderball, this film is trimmed back down neatly into the perfect Bond mold. The exploration of Japanese culture is fascinating and come on, a bad guy base disguised as a volcano is just great stuff!
The World Is Not Enough – Top Brosnan! This movie is quite controversial because of the casting of Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist – generally thought of as the biggest miscast in film history. I just think it is funny. The movie pokes great fun at female stereotypes, between that bit of casting and Sophie Marceau playing the strong, industrialist woman that is all the while under the thrall of a terrorist. The climax of the film occurs in the Bosphorus and Istanbul is the perfect place for a spy movie.
Diamond Are Forever – Connery rescues the franchise after the Lazenby disaster. I am quite nostalgic about this one as it my first Bond film, being just a boy when earlier ones came out. I caught the earlier ones at a festival of Bond films at the local second run theater after I “discovered” the Bond goodness in this one. This was well before the days of VCRs. This movie has the most elaborate set up for a punch line I have ever seen when Connery meets Jill St. John for the first time and her hair color changes twice in very short order – still makes me laugh. Jimmy Dean as a Howard Hughes knock off is brilliant and “Bambi and Thumper” are a hoot. Second best female character name in the series.
Casino Royale – The finest of the Daniel Craig films, which is quite fine indeed. Craig’s Bond is very raw in this movie. He falls genuinely in love. They wreck an Aston Martin DBS V12 (I’ve seen the wreckage in a museum in London – they actually wrecked a real car!) which brought tears to my eyes. They manage to make a high stakes poker game into very high drama.
From Russia With Love – Back to Istanbul, this time during the Cold War – very mysterious, very exotic. This movie turned a old cistern into one of the bigger tourist attractions in the city. Being the second film, the mold is not quite perfected, but it is very fine. This movie also has raw male sex appeal. I think every man in the world, though they will no longer admit it publicly, wishes a beautiful blond would throw herself at them like the Russian “agent” does at Bond in this film. The entirely gratuitous fight between two gypsy woman is a riot because of its sheer gratuitousness.
Goldfinger – Bond perfected. The villain has outrageous yet strangely plausible goals. Funny yet terrifying henchman. Bond girl with a hilarious name. The best villain line in cinema history. (“No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”) Car stuffed to the gills with gadgets. Amazing theme song that holds up still today. What’s not to like here? This movie, third in the series set the mold firmly in place. Anything that came after that strayed too far from this mold has been an also-ran.