Before Spectre hit cinemas I vowed to watch all of the preceding James Bond films as is par the course for a serious film buff. Unfortunately, two weeks was not long enough – I think I managed to squeeze in five. So, since Spectre back in November I have been slowly working my way through the rest. As recommended by a friend I watched them in a unique order, starting with the oldest (Dr No) and then flipping back to the newest (Skyfall), before watching one from each end before hitting For Your Eyes Only in the middle. This method leaves you with a lot of Moore consecutively, but this wasn’t so bad. Worse was ricocheting between bad Brosnan and bad Connery.
Now, I wasn’t a die hard Bond fan before this all started and I can’t call myself one now either, but my expectations for this series were certainly eclipsed. I had heard nothing but bad things about the Moore entries, and I expected to struggle with the dated effects, blatant sexism and racism. But, I found most of them to be a lot of fun.
I would like to thank the very generous Garth Franklin at Dark Horizons for lending me the blu-rays and for his inquisitions about each film whenever we hang out.
Now, I haven’t drawn any particularly enlightening conclusions about the franchise – this was purely for entertainment – and my reverse rankings of all 24 Bond films (excluding Never Say Never Again, due to my inability to access it) are personal and, I expect, widely disagreeable. You can check them out after the jump. There will be some minor spoilers to follow, so proceed with that in mind.
24. Die Another Day (2002)
Pearce Brosnan’s final outing as Bond is a disaster from the get-go. The overblown action sequences are disorienting, the cringe-worthy and witless one-liners are dialled up to 15, while the villain, British zillionaire Gustaz Graves (Toby Stephens), has a smug mug even for Bond standards.
23. Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Oh, the horror. Aged very badly and it looks even worse when you realise it was made after the excellent On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I knew this was bad – it was the only Connery I had seen prior to this project – but sitting through it again was torturous.
22. The World is Not Enough (1999)
Enjoyed it as a Denise-Richards-obsessed teen, but what struck me about this on recent re-watch was how bloody boring it is. Peaks with the spectacular opening boat chase, and goes steadily downhill.
21. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Feels like a bad Bond parody. Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga is a worthy opponent (“Come, come Mr. Bond…”), but Ekland is a dull sidekick, the Hong Kong sequences are pacifying padding and they brought back Clifton James’ Sheriff Pepper, the worst feature of the otherwise very good Live and Let Die, for misguided comic relief.
20. Moonraker (1979)
A very weird one. Bond goes into space, so it is completely absurd, and yet early on a woman is mauled to death by dogs. Despite pigeon double-takes and Clint Eastwood impersonations it isn’t the barrel of laughs I expected. Oh, and Dr Goodhead? Come on now.
19. You Only Live Twice (1967)
I was intrigued by this because the script was written by Roald Dahl, and its promise of a procession of iconic Bond elements ripe for parody (a scarred Blofeld and volcano lairs etc.), but the blatant racism and over-abundance of smutty lines (“In Japan, men always come first”) had worn me down before the film’s admittedly cool finale.
18. A View to a Kill (1985)
Widely regarded as the worst Bond ever made, but this mostly San Francisco-set outing is underrated and actually rather entertaining with its absurd lack of stakes. Moore was way too old for the role at this point, and it is predictably too long, but a lot of the jokes hit their mark and Walken gloriously chews up the scenery as a horse-doping madman committed to destroying Silicon Valley.
17. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
If there is one Bond that fades from memory as you watch it, it is this one. Bond saves the world from a media mogul committed to starting a new World War, so that his empire can be on the frontline for the broadcast. The extended shootout and chase through the streets of China, with Brosnan and Yeoh handcuffed together, is the highlight.
16. Thunderball (1965)
The franchise was given more money here (and it shows, that amazing scuba fight finale must have been a nightmare), so there are more gadgets, more beautiful women, but sadly more plot. It is very very long.
15. Quantum of Solace (2008)
This is not a Bond film. Really. It is a full-on hardcore, violent, action film made up of back-to-back chase sequences that doesn’t have nowhere near enough plot to justify its existence. As a result it is the shortest Bond film, following almost-immediately in the wake of the events in Casino Royale. Despite some choppy photography and erratic editing it does have a lot of energy, and many sequences I like very much.
14. From Russia With Love (1963)
We’re getting into the decent ones now, and though Cam Williams and I don’t sync up with our selections we do agree that there are 14 Bond films that stand out. This wouldn’t be many people’s #14 – it is one of the best-received and from my understanding the closest representation of the Bond described in Fleming’s novels. There were just too many horses for me. Look out for running horses. They are in every shot possible. Finale is brilliant, and this is one of Connery’s best performances.
13. The Living Daylights (1987)
Timothy Dalton’s first outing. It was here that I realised that Dalton was Daniel Craig, before Craig. Most die-hard Bond fans favour this over License to Kill, but I found both to be quite strong. May have the most intricate Bond plot of all, and ends with Dalton wrestling a goon on a net dangling from a plane flying at 35,000ft.
12. Live and Let Die (1973)
Features my favourite Bond song and is one of the few Bond films to re-use the theme as part of the score. Apart from that boat chase sequence, which runs on forever, this is a blast. It is one of the funnier in the series, and one I could see myself re-watching often. I especially enjoyed the Harlem settings and the 70s Blaxploitation angle, and Mr Big/Dr Kananga and his distinctive team of henchmen are amongst the definitive Bond opponents.
11. Skyfall (2012)
Okay, bear with me here. I know this is widely loved and would make most fans’ Top 5, and while it is unquestionably the best-looking Bond film ever made (Roger Deakins!), and Javier Bardem’s Silva is one of the most charismatic of Bond villains, it buckles under re-watch and plausibility scrutiny. Yes, I know that no Bond film can be considered plausible, but this is…uh…impossible. Not that keen on the finale either. Or that shower scene.
10. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
The final Bond film I watched. Claims that it is Moore’s most serious and sobering Bond outing are accurate, but it nevertheless remains a whole lot of fun, and secured Moore as my personal favourite 007. Carole Bouquet’s revenge mission packs an emotional punch, the underwater sequences are superbly photographed and Bond’s navigation of the shifting allegiances between Greek businessman Aris Kristatos, and his drug smuggling rival, is deftly scripted. But, what was it with that sexed-up blonde figure skater?
9. Goldeneye (1995)
A better game than it is a film, but Brosnan’s debut was one of my favourite films of the 90s before I kinda watched it out. Nevertheless, it remains a breathtaking concoction of smart scripting, wicked gadgets and insane stunts. A killer cast including Sean Bean as a rogue 00 agent and Judi Dench as M, and many classic scenes. Whatever happened to Isabella Scorupco?
8. Spectre (2015)
Yes, that’s right. There has been very odd chatter with this one (so many claims of ‘worst Bond ever’), but I thought it was a fantastic 007 film. Loved what Hoyte Van Hoytema brought to the look, loved the use of silence, loved the amazing opening sequence, and I loved that the central car chase was a realistic pursuit, simply consisting of two skilled drivers, driving very fast cars through narrow streets. The return of goofy classic Bond elements (the villain-lair, the mute henchmen) was surprisingly welcome. The return to London is a let-down but just about everything preceding it (okay, not the Bellucci bit) is very strong. A perfect wrap-up for Craig. I hope he is done now.
7. Octopussy (1983)
Considered by many to be one of the worst, but I found it to be amongst Moore’s strongest outings as 007. Yes, that title is ridiculous and ‘All Time High’ may be the worst Bond theme song, but Octopussy is a rare Bond film that doesn’t waste a minute of its runtime. It is Bond on overdrive – suturing electrifying action sequences (the train!) with sexy rendezvous on women-only islands and adventurous shortcuts through the jungle. It doesn’t let up and I enjoyed every minute of it. Yes, the clowns and all.
6. License to Kill (1989)
The darkest, most serious Bond film (until Quantum of Solace that is) was welcomed in the wake of some of those awful late-Connery ones. More of an undercover drug-sting/action film than typical Bond, but it can be credited as one of the definitive 80’s actioners. It has it all, and, the final tanker driving feats aside, it doesn’t pull any punches. Plus, it features young Benicio Del Toro as a sadistic henchman.
5. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
George Lazenby’s lone outing as Bond isn’t memorable for his often-wooden portrayal, but it contains one of the strongest narratives this side of Goldfinger – including a soulful love story, a thoroughly fascinating undercover infiltration, thrilling chase sequences, and some of the stronger technical work in the franchise. The score is ace. Did you know it also provided inspiration for the snow sequence in Christopher Nolan’s Inception?
4. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Certainly the best-made of the Moore outings, and one of the most spectacular films in the entire series. I mean, check out the way this opening sequence ends. Carly Simon’s Bond theme is one of the very best too. Then there’s Jaws, the henchman with metal chompers, Carl Jurgens’ megalomaniac wishing to launch World War III and start a new civilisation under the sea, and Barbara Bach’s very capable Soviet KBG agent/sidekick Triple X. One of the few films in the series to generate awe, so at the end of the day it is just a ripper of a film.
3. Dr. No (1962)
The first and most complete Bond film. Puts nay a foot wrong in its efficient, low-key screenplay, building an intriguing mystery that ends with Bond infiltrating (along with iconic Bond Girl Ursula Andress) a secret island lair that’s so wonderfully inventive. Also holds up really well from a visual perspective. Seriously, better than the Brosnan ones decades later.
2. Goldfinger (1964)
Iconic. Obviously. Has the flashy car, the substantial villain/henchman and the one-liners that would define Bond forever. It also has unusual pacing. There isn’t a lot of action here – Bond and Goldfinger play golf for ages – but its not that interested in shoot-’em-up stuff. This is a ‘spy’ movie. ‘The’ spy movie of the ’60s.
1. Casino Royale (2005)
One of 2005’s best films. Period. In the wake of the wink-wink suave of Brosnan the franchise needed a re-set and with bringing in Craig, perhaps the most capable of actor to yet step into the Bond role, and bringing back Martin Campbell, director of the last great preceding Bond film, Goldeneye, the stage was set for change. The muscular intensity, and the composed balance of Bond’s duty-at-all-costs with the desire for emotional attachment, was delivered in this beautifully crafted film. From the opening gravity-defying chase sequence to the tense poker showdown with Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chifre, this is thoroughly rewarding. I can even forgive the film’s protracted finale and Jeffrey Wright’s poker commentary.