For the love of entertainment
Not all Bond movies are created equal. Some are better than others. There are iconic successes and legendary messes. Still, the Bond franchise has become the most enduring film series of all time. Audiences just can’t get enough of this British spy with debonair wit and a raging sex addiction, and they’ll follow him through all his ups and downs. So let’s rank them.
There are going to be spoilers, because of course there are going to be spoilers.
Never Say Never Again is lucky it isn’t an official Bond movie. Conceived from a lawsuit regarding copyright claims, Kevin McClory successfully argued that he owned half the story rights to Ian Fleming’s Thunderball (which was a screenplay the two cowrote before it was a novel). McClory eventually got permission to create his own Bond movie as long as it was an adaptation of Thunderball. He even managed to lure the original 007, Sean Connery, back for one last go-round. But it was all a waste because everything about Never Say Never Again is massively shitty. It’s Thunderball without suspense and with lame characters. If it counted, it would be very close to the bottom of the list.
Moonraker is legendary for being awful. That’s what happens when you slap together a movie to cash in on a popular trend. Even so, it was difficult to pick which movie from the bottom two got the distinction of being the worst Bond movie ever.
The plan was actually to film For Your Eyes Only after The Spy Who Loved Me. Then Star Wars happened. Producers wanted that space money, so Moonraker got fast-tracked to shoot 007 into space for laser-gun fights and zero-gravity sex (For Your Eyes Only moved to 1981). Moonraker might have been saved if it had committed to its inherent camp. Instead it has a curious need to be taken seriously. There are boring stretches and the plot is far too nonsensical (if you’re curious, think Hitler in space). All-out camp might have improved things, but then camp didn’t do anything to save Die Another Day, so maybe a bad Bond movie is just a bad Bond movie. Moonraker also features one of the worst Bond Girls ever in Holly Goodhead (a poor man’s Pussy Galore). It ruined Jaws, one of the most beloved henchman in 007 history. The theme song is dull, and even Roger Moore seemed embarrassed. And while Hugo Drax isn’t the worst Bond villain on record, he is imminently forgettable.
You might be wondering how it was so difficult to put Moonraker on bottom given the terrible things I just said about it. Well, let’s look at the other big contender for the title to see how I arrived at this decision…
Bad as Moonraker is, Die Another Day is more emblematic of the franchise’s worst excesses. Everything about this movie is embarrassing. There’s the lazy script, which begins with 007 surfing into North Korea (really) and concludes by nearly destroying the Korean border with a solar-powered death ray while the bad guy wears a suit that shoots lightning. Over the top doesn’t cover it. Not to mention it has two of the worst Bond Girls, one of the worst henchmen, and the all-time worst Bond villain. Plus its ear-piercing theme song. That’s a heavy load. And there are the never-ending puns. Somehow, the actors deliver them with such ferocity you’d think they were doing Shakespeare. You could give them props for commitment except you’re really just embarrassed for them. They dialed the camp factor up to 11 and missed the mark, which makes it painful to watch. Halle Berry, on the first stop in her post-Oscar career shame tour, can’t even walk normally she pops her hips so hard. The “plot” is convoluted filler only existing to set up the next overly elaborate action sequence. Everything about this movie is an assault. It leaves you wondering how anyone created this mess, let alone had the audacity to release it to the public. Thankfully, blow-back was bad enough producers had to put the series on hold for retooling. It returned four years later with a total overhaul in Casino Royale. So maybe we owe Die Another Day thanks for getting us the Bond series in its current form, but pardon me if I don’t offer mine.
We’ve made a good case that Die Another Day is more worthy of the bottom spot than Moonraker. But here’s the thing: if you forced me to watch one of these again, I’d probably choose Die Another Day. It’s so offensively dumb and embarrassing that it becomes decent fodder for a good hatewatch. Moonraker, a movie that sent 007 into space so he could have zero-gravity sex after defeating space-Hitler, somehow managed to be boring. And that is the biggest crime of all.
Diamonds Are Forever being the third-worst Bond movie says a lot. Because this movie is a shit show. That’s particularly disappointing for two reasons. First, it was Sean Connery’s last official performance as James Bond. Second, this movie came after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was a spectacular Bond film that ended with one of the series’ most iconic moments: 007 got married only for his wife to die tragically at the hands of Blofeld and Irma Bunt. Anyone expecting there to be emotional payoff for that storyline was disappointed. It’s only referred to it in the opening scene, when it’s meant to appear that Bond kills Blofeld for revenge. The rest of the movie does everything it can to pretend it doesn’t have to worry about continuity, as if continuity is some mortal enemy. Bond films would continue to reject continuity until Quantum of Solace directly picked up plot points from Casino Royale.
It’s hard to critique this movie because it’s impossible to understand what’s happening. The scheme is so convoluted that I’ve watched it twice and still can’t figure out what’s going on. It doesn’t help that Diamonds is also seriously boring so paying attention is a challenge. Suffice to say that Blofeld didn’t actually die in the opening and he’s up to no good. The Bond franchise had invested a great deal of time and energy into Blofeld with varying levels of success, and in Diamonds it’s hard not to wonder that maybe they should stop trying to make fetch happen. As played by Charles Gray, Blofeld is dull as dishwater. At least the theme song was divine. That’s something.
What happens when you leach all the fun out of a Bond movie? Quantum of Solace: a Bond movie that takes itself so seriously it disappears up its own ass. Quantum almost single-handedly ruined Casino Royale‘s spectacular, gritty reboot of the series. Quantum wanted to hammer in 007’s feelings of betrayal from Vesper Lynd, but it was just relentlessly dour. It also made some curiously bad choices. It decided to honor Bond Girls of the 60s by bringing in Strawberry Fields, and instead nearly set Bond Girls back by fifty years. Her only real purpose is to be an elaborately staged dead body. Quantum is all for big set pieces regardless of whether or not they make sense, like when 007 infiltrates a Quantum meeting in the audience of an opera on a floating barge. Because surely no one in the audience would notice fellow audience members talking into earpieces during the performance. It’s not like you’re supposed to be silent during an opera. It also decided to eschew the typical Bond villain, which could have been fine had it been executed well. Dominic Greene is meant to embody corporate greed rather than a physical threat. He’s the kind of guy who would bankrupt a nation’s water supply just to guarantee he can make a profit. Thing is, he’s useless in a fight and there’s nothing menacing about him. Without that evil ‘it’ quality or even a henchman to back him up, there’s nothing to him. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the plot holes. In the end, Quantum is an unwatchable mess because of its convoluted plot, its confounding creative choices, and its overly bleak outlook.
It may seem surprising that The World is Not Enough isn’t lower, but a great deal of World‘s notoriety is due to having the most infamous Bond Girl in the franchise’s history. So let’s get that out of the way: everything you’ve heard about Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas Jones is true. She’s one of the worst Bond Girls ever. She’s laughably bad. You almost wonder if the casting director was fucking with people. We’re supposed to believe she’s a nuclear scientist? The sad thing about The World is Not Enough is that there was a germ of a good idea. When Pierce Brosnan first took over as 007 producers seemed interested in toying with the notion of Bond. GoldenEye was a meta-Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies gave us a Bond Girl who could be 007’s equal, and The World is Not Enough seemed to want to give us a Bond Girl who could be his nemesis with Elektra King. The problem is they chickened out. Instead of letting Elektra be the bad guy, she hides her villainy behind Renard, who isn’t even interesting. She doesn’t get a big showdown with 007–she gets killed off so Bond can face off with boring Renard and bang Christmas Jones. Had producers committed to the idea, The World is Not Enough could have been subversive. Instead, they whitewashed the script in Bond cliches to play it safe. They threw away the good idea to make a crappy movie instead with a Lara Croft wannabe instead.
When Roger Moore finally retired at age 57, producers hoped Timothy Dalton would give the series some grit. Moore always had a lighter touch with the role, frequently dipping into camp, and maybe it was time to get away from that. Dalton was a dramatic actor. You can be polite about it, but there’s no denying Dalton fell flat on his face. He just doesn’t seem comfortable with the script. There are too many jokes and he clearly has no idea what to do with them. I’d guess that producers had a formula that worked and didn’t actually want to change anything. But don’t feel too bad for Dalton because he failed as a comedian; he also had a misguided view of Bond as a romantic hero instead of a womanizing spy. He tried to be the star of a romantic comedy (except he can’t do the comedy part). Frankly, I don’t know who he thought he was playing but it definitely wasn’t Bond.
The idea of a grittier Bond was ahead of its time, but the less said about this movie the better. The Bond Girl is awful–one of the all-time worst (which makes Dalton’s goo-goo eyes all the more vexing). There are two villains, both inconsequential. And the premise is a reworking of For Your Eyes Only minus any of its good qualities. At least there’s a henchman who loves banana hammocks.
Man is this movie dated and culturally tone deaf. Russians get a raw deal throughout the series, but it pales in comparison to what the Japanese get here. Especially Japanese women. Aki literally sneaks into 007’s massage to give him a happy ending (nothing racist about that, right?), then no one even pretends to care when she’s killed off. Kissy Suzuki fares better but all she’s asked to do is look good in a bikini and run for help (which she does like a champ). Let’s not even discuss Bond’s ludicrous Japanese makeup. Still, there’s fun to be had. Donald Pleasance’s camptastic portrayal of Blofeld is legendary, even if he does overdose on theatricality (he inspired Austin Powers‘ Dr. Evil). There’s also a female henchman who tries to kill 007 with a plane after knocking him out with a lipstick bomb, then gets fed to Blofeld’s piranha after failing to eliminate Bond. The action scenes are mostly dated, but the finale is a pip. All in all, it’s entertaining but uneven and racist. It’s hard to enjoy the movie much from a modern perspective. Besides, a lot of why it achieved pop culture immortality comes down to the way this movie is so ridiculously easy to parody–which isn’t exactly a mark in its favor.
Pierce Brosnan’s career as 007 started promisingly, but cracks started showing in his second go-round. Tomorrow Never Dies is half of a good movie, but the Brosnan shame spiral had officially begun. To be fair, Tomorrow started shooting without a finished script. Considering that, it’s probably amazing it isn’t more of a shit show. Anthony Hopkins had been hired to play the villain but bailed when he saw the script situation and Jonathan Pryce was brought in. The plot attempts to make smart points about the dangers of a 24-hour news cycle and the impact of media in a digital age, but it can’t get out of its own way to say anything coherent. Without a decent script everything but the action goes off the rails. The movie’s saving grace is that the action scenes are great. And for good reason: they got Michelle Yeoh, action star extraordinaire, to be the Bond Girl. To this day she is the only Bond Girl who could truly be called 007’s equal. It’s just a shame the movie couldn’t have been a better vehicle for her bad-assery. And that they paired her with the lame Paris Carver. Basically, everything but Michelle Yeoh is a shit show. She’s the only mark in this movie’s favor.
The sad thing about The Man With the Golden Gun is that it didn’t have to be this way. The premise was solid: a golden bullet engraved with ‘007’ arrives at MI6, signifying that Bond has been targeted by Scaramanga, the world’s deadliest assassin. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Bond goes on the offensive to find Scaramanga first. It’s a good old-fashioned showdown. What could make that better? How about Christopher Lee as Scaramanga? It’s James Bond facing off against one of his best villains.
But it had to go and get complicated. They had to make Scaramanga scheme and back-stab his way into becoming the head of an Asian crime syndicate, even though such a move makes no sense for a lone wolf assassin. They had to have bizarre side trips into martial arts movie territory by having 007 face down some ninjas (those scenes could have–and should have–ended up on the cutting room floor). They had to bring back that infernal Sheriff Pepper, even though doing so made absolutely no sense. Worst of all, they had to throw in a doomsday machine in a misguided belief that being the world’s deadliest assassin wasn’t villainous enough for a Bond movie. Apparently nothing less than world domination has to be on the table. None of it makes sense, and it cheapened what should have been a great Bond film. The Man With the Golden Gun could have been 007’s answer to Wrath of Khan, but they couldn’t let it be. They went with a kitchen sink philosophy and it left us with a crappy movie that had some good things going for it instead. It’s sad.
Timothy Dalton’s second and final turn as 007 was better than the first, but he still had misguided aspirations to transform Bond into the hero of a romance novel. Licence to Kill is almost a good movie. The plot is solid: Bond goes after a ruthless drug cartel leader for revenge after Felix Leiter’s bride is murdered on his wedding night and Leiter is left brutally maimed. Bond isn’t on a mission so much as he’s out for revenge. It’s invigorating and it plays well. After two decades of hardcore silliness a gritty action movie was just what the doctor ordered. Except they had to muck it up. First there’s a bizarre subplot with Wayne Newton playing a cult leader (his cult is a front for the cartel). It’s totally left field and it grinds the action to a halt. Second, the efforts to make Dalton’s Bond a romantic figure achieve truly ludicrous levels. The terrible Bond Girls, Pam Bouvier and Lupe Lamora, actually get into a love triangle in which they’re competing for 007’s heart. This movie expects us to care whether or not a Bond Girl ends up with James Bond, as if we don’t know that once the credits roll we’ll never see her again. Kinda kills the gritty action vibe. Huge mistake. The Bond series is not Romancing the Stone, and it never should be.
In 1983 legal trouble that plagued the series for years allowed a man to create his own competing Bond movie as long as it was an adaptation of Thunderball, and he got the original 007, Sean Connery, to star. It was a battle of the Bonds: the original 007 vs. the current 007. Given that, you’d think producers would have brought their A-game. They didn’t. Octopussy is a curiously joyless affair that strains your attention span despite the presence of a murderous Indian assassin and Octopussy’s cultlike lady followers (who hang out mostly naked in a pool when they aren’t dressed in a random assortment of saris, circus gear, and rejects from The Greatest American Hero. I mean pick a uniform, Octopussy). There are two villains and both are lame, plus their scheme has serious plot holes and inscrutable motives. Octopussy is decent enough to slide into the middle of the pack, but it’s perhaps the most forgettable Bond movie on record, and that says a lot.
If you’re wondering, Octopussy won the battle of the Bonds in terms of box office and quality, but only because Never Say Never Again turned out to be so awful that the competition became pointless. Lamest battle ever.
After producers settled a lawsuit that barred Ernst Stavros Blofeld from the series after 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, Spectre doubled down on Skyfall‘s return to a more classic Bond. The problem is that in bringing back Blofeld they relied heavily on familiar tropes. Bond Girl Madeleine Swann seems meant to call back to Tracy di Vicenzo and Vesper Lynd, the two greatest loves of Bond’s life. Although she’s a solid enough Bond Girl, she’s ultimately a palimpsest for things that came before. And for all the talk producers gave about writing meaningful roles for women, Monica Bellucci’s Lucia Sciarra is barely in the movie–she’s just another notch on 007’s headboard. Then there’s the unfortunate decision to retcon all the villains from the Daniel Craig movies into being pawns of Blofeld. It just doesn’t make sense. And that’s the big problem: producers needed to find ways to make Blofeld scary since they were investing so much in his return. The actual portrayal of Blofeld is infuriatingly low key. He’s boring. They had Christoph Waltz, an actor who has won an Oscar for portraying a batshit crazy villain, and they chained him from unleashing. Spectre is fine, but it’s too ambitious and doesn’t stick the landing. Instead of confidently reinventing classic Bond and making it work for modern audiences–the way Skyfall did–it ends up relying on the familiar, which just makes it seem watered-down.
Say what you will, but I like A View to a Kill. I’m fully aware that it’s terrible, but there’s something appealing about watching this train go off the rails. This is a Bond movie that manages to be camp spectacle. You could call your friends, make popcorn, pour drinks, and laugh your asses off while watching this and shouting “can you believe this shit?!” The only truly false note is Tanya Roberts, everyone’s fifth favorite Charlie’s Angel, as Bond Girl Stacey Sutton. She’s just annoying. She’s literally one of the worst-ever Bond Girls. But May Day, oh my god, May Day. Whoever decided to hire Grace Jones to play an assassin in disco drag was a genius. The original plan was to pair her with David Bowie as the bad guy because A View to a Kill was making a blatant grab for MTV’s audience (Duran Duran even sang the theme). Maybe they felt they needed to counteract the older-skewing energy from Roger Moore, who was 57 years old when they made this movie. He decided to retire 007’s tuxedo for good when he realized he was older than Tanya Roberts’ mother. Anyway, the movie is a nonstop assault of ridiculousness but somehow manages to work because it’s hilarious. It’s terrible but it’s saved from being a disaster of Moonraker proportions, or as deadly dull as Octopussy, by being over-the-top campy. That may not be the ideal for the Bond canon, but in some regards that was the best you could hope for in the Roger Moore era. At least toward the end.
Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007 proved to be his best. It was a shame spiral from here on out. None of his other Bond films could match the cleverness of GoldenEye. It’s a good thing he started strong because 007 needed a win in 1995. The Cold War had ended, making Bond look like a relic–an outdated and unnecessary misogynist fighting an enemy that didn’t exist anymore. Society genuinely questioned whether or not James Bond was needed anymore. GoldenEye directly responded by being a meta-Bond movie: it called back to all the familiar cliches but toyed with your expectations. It’s the Scream of the Bond franchise; it winks at you even as it gives you everything you expect in a Bond movie. The best examples of this were instant classics: Judi Dench as the first female M (she was so good in the role she’d carry over to the Daniel Craig movies) and Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp. The Bond series had toyed around with Bond Girls who were sexually dangerous many times before, but with Onatopp they gave us a Bond Girl who was quite literally dangerous sexually. Unfortunately, the film’s leading characters are disappointingly dull in comparison. The main Bond Girl, Natalya Simonova, tries to wink at her role, but in the end she doesn’t do anything to challenge or deepen your expectation of a Bond Girl. The villain is intended to be a twisted version of 007 (talk about meta), but they don’t do anything with that idea. He’s bland and undefined, a missed opportunity. It wouldn’t be until Skyfall that we finally got to see what a twisted version of 007 could be like. Still, GoldenEye was a smart movie with a lot of fun moments and good action scenes. It’s not GoldenEye‘s fault that the subsequent Brosnan movies failed to build on its promise of a postmodern Bond.
From Russia With Love set the template for every Bond film but its successor, Goldfinger, gets all the credit. That’s because Goldfinger has some wildly popular assets in its favor. It’s packed with iconic moments and characters from the pre-title sequence all the way to Goldfinger getting sucked out of an airplane window. Goldfinger dazzles you. And yet, it hasn’t aged well. The whole business where Goldfinger meets with mafia bosses who are an astonishing array of stereotypes could have been left on the cutting room floor–especially since the plotline goes nowhere. The scene where 007 seduces Pussy Galore during a barn fight is incredibly rapey, and her character’s sudden veer into good guy territory after encountering 007’s penis doesn’t make sense. There’s also cheesy background music. Goldfinger is incredibly dated but it dazzles you so much you want to like it more than you do. Among the strong points: a sterling villain in Auric Goldfinger, the most iconic henchman in the entire series, a zero-bullshit Bond Girl, Jill Masterson’s famous death by gold paint, the moment when 007 is strapped to a table with a laser slowly inching toward his groin, and the best-ever Bond theme song.
The Roger Moore’s portrayal of 007 is far too light-hearted to suit the novels, but he has good moments. I don’t personally like The Spy Who Loved Me but there’s no denying that it left a huge mark on pop culture. Jaws, Anya Amasova (AKA Agent Triple X) and her quest to kill 007 for vengeance, Carly Simon’s divine theme song, the Lotus car that doubles as a submarine. TSWLM is stuffed with pop culture touchstones. It’s an epic adventure. In the signature style of the Roger Moore Bond films it’s also a fizzy entertainment that can’t resist the temptation to be silly. The worst Moore movies are entirely frivolous, but TSWLM maintains focus enough to dodge that bullet. Still, when you get down to it the Lotus gimmick is ludicrous, I don’t think anyone really believed Amasova would actually try to kill 007 for revenge once they saved the world (the movie is, after all, The Spy Who Loved Me, not The Spy Who Killed Me), and Jaws’ ability to defy death tested your willingness to ‘just go with it.’ So you see, I have problems with this movie. But even I have to respect that when Jaws ends up in Stromberg’s shark tank he eats the shark. There is no word for how badass that is.
From Russia With Love has big fans (President Kennedy was a fan of the book and this was the last film he screened in the White House before his assassination). Here are marks in its favor: bigger action sequences than Dr. No; the series’ first henchman in Red Grant; a solid espionage plot that isn’t overly convoluted (Bond matches wits with Spectre to gain control of a decoding device); and the establishment of the Bond series’ formal narrative structure (gun barrel, opening sequence, main title, followed by the film proper). Now let’s talk about the problems. The Bond Girl is dull–there’s meant to be a question as to whether or not she’s defecting to MI6 or acting as a pawn of Spectre, but she’s so Snow White sincere that you never doubt her. Villain Rosa Klebb is a glorified middleman: she gets her orders from Blofeld and gets her goon Red Grant to act them out, then she gets defeated when 007 pins her to a wall with a chair. So while From Russia With Love has highs, it also has flaws.
I realize this movie wouldn’t factor in a lot of Bond top tens, but I like it. There are fun twists and turns toying with the idea of Greek melodrama, plus strong characters and action sequences. 007 starts out working with Aristotle Kristatos to take down Greek crime syndicates–specifically one headed up by Milos Columbo. But it turns out Kristatos has been playing MI6 for fools, tricking them into eliminating his underworld competition. Meanwhile, Melina Havelock has witnessed the execution of her parents and she’s out for revenge, which naturally means she’ll end up working with 007 to get close to Kristatos. She’s the earliest badass Bond Girl on record (sorry Anya Amasova), and that counts for a lot. There’s even gorgeous scenery and action galore: Kristatos’ towering lair in a monastery atop a rock formation for one, the thrilling action sequence in which 007 and Melina are cut on the arm, then dragged behind a boat through shark-infested waters for another. So yes. I like For Your Eyes Only, and I am not ashamed.
Dr. No is the sixth of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels (Casino Royale was the first) but it turned out to be the perfect cinematic introduction to James Bond, superspy. We meet 007 at a card table, of course, where he flirts with a beautiful gambler and seduces her (of course). From there he goes to Jamaica to investigate the murder of a fellow agent, leading him to the mysterious Crab Key–where he and a local beauty named Honey Ryder face off with the sinister Dr. No. Although the specific template Bond movies follow wouldn’t be laid out until its sequel, Dr. No established the ground rules that made the franchise so successful: exotic locations, beautiful women, daring action scenes, and a coldly menacing villain with megalomaniacal tendencies. All centered around a suave, devastatingly handsome, and brutally efficient secret agent.
Like Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore’s first turn as 007 was his best. Moore never topped Live and Let Die. This is also the movie where 007 discovers black people. I suppose it’s intended to be a riff on blaxploitation films, but it’s mostly dated stereotypes and accidental racism. You can throw misogyny in there as well since 007’s pursuit of Solitaire is more than a little rapey. Solitaire’s very character description is audaciously sexist: she’s a psychic whose skill depends on her keeping her virginity, so he fools her into thinking she was destined to make love to him using a trick tarot deck. Once she beds Bond she’s just an object in need of rescue, but Jane Seymour is so good in the role that you can’t help but like her. Nothing about Live and Let Die should work but somehow it manages to be great. Even an overly-long boat chase featuring the execrable Sheriff Pepper can’t stall the movie’s charms. It helps that Kananga is a rock-solid bad guy, as does the incredible theme song from Paul McCartney and Wings. If you can’t get passed the racism and misogyny, I don’t blame you. But taken for what it is, Live and Let Die is a fun ride.
Goldfinger‘s gets a lot of credit for making the Bond series as popular and enduring as it is, but for my money Thunderball was the high point of the early years. It’s sleek, sexy, and full of thrilling action sequences and high-stakes spy games. 007 is trying to track down two stolen nuclear warheads, which leads him to The Bahamas to match wits with Emilio Largo, who is Spectre’s #2 agent and holding the warheads for ransom. Thunderball is a perfect mixture of danger and fizzy entertainment. The stakes are high and so is the fun. We also have one of the best Bond Girls in unhinged vixen Fiona Volpe–a bad girl with missile launchers in her motorcycle. For my money, Volpe’s final showdown with Bond (on a crowded dance floor surrounded by her gun-toting goons) is one of the most genuinely suspenseful moments in a series packed with them. Plus there’s Domino Derval, who beds 007 underwater in SCUBA gear, and an excellent assistant in Paula. The action sequences are top notch, every character is indelible, and it’s timeless enough to not feel all that dated to modern audiences. It’s the first Bond movie that truly fired on all cylinders–and there aren’t many you can say that about.
After the disastrous Die Another Day, producers put the Bond on hiatus to retool the franchise. They realized the series had become a cartoon and needed to become relevant again. And with reboots trending, why not go back to the very beginning? Casino Royale was the first Bond book by Ian Fleming and remarkably no part of it had been used in a movie before. So they brought in Daniel Craig as a darker, broodier Bond more true to the books (and the spirit of Sean Connery) and made the action more in the style of the successful Bourne movies. They also put Craig in a super-skimpy blue bathing suit that now ranks up there with the series’ all-time best swimwear. It worked like gangbusters. By remaining true to the plot of the source novel (in which Bond must bankrupt a criminal money man at the card table) they were able to rediscover everything that had made Bond great in the beginning. Casino Royale is tautly suspenseful, stylishly filmed, and well acted. It’s what every Bond movie should be.
George Lazenby only had one go-round as Bond, but it was a doozy. Anyone who criticizes him as a lame Bond should take a second look–he may have been a pill off-screen but he was actually a worthy successor to Sean Connery (and certainly more true to the character than Roger Moore’s light-hearted take). What really sells On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, though, is the way it combines a tragic love story with a balls-out action plot featuring the most menacing version of Blofeld ever put on film (thank you, Telly Savalas). The story is in the driver’s seat here–the plot isn’t just a thin device to take you from action sequence to action sequence. But the main attraction is Diana Rigg’s Tracy di Vicenzo, the daughter of an Italian gangster who steals 007’s heart only to break it when she is tragically killed as they leave their wedding. She’s a good-hearted lady with baggage related to her parents. Just like James (well, minus the good-hearted part). Bond briefly throwing his career away for Vesper felt impulsive, sudden. Him doing it for Tracy seemed natural. Ursula Andress may have set the gold standard for Bond Girls, but Tracy will always be the one who haunts 007 the most.
A lot of critics put Goldfinger in this spot, but as you saw above I think it’s dated and problematic. The best Bond movies are timeless, and although it hasn’t been long since Skyfall premiered I think it’s safe to say audiences will be loving it for many years to come. From the opening scene, in which 007 is accidentally shot off a bridge by a fellow agent named Eve, to the final delicious twist that Eve’s last name is Moneypenny, Skyfall keeps you on the edge of your seat. Many Bond movies claim to make 007’s mission personal but this time it really is. M, the most consistent woman in Bond’s life, has been targeted by a ruthless former agent (the best villain the series has ever had). “Think on your sins” is what he tells her, and Skyfall takes those questions of revenge and redemption to a thrilling conclusion that will thoroughly change things for 007. Even Bond’s personal life–never before explored by a Bond movie–makes an appearance as we learn about his past. Goldfinger may embody classic Bond to critics but what resonates with Skyfall is the bold way it calls back to the past while pushing forward into the future–like making Moneypenny a trained field agent, not a mere secretary. It helps that Javier Bardem’s Silva is totally unhinged and terrifying. Watch Skyfall and tell me I’m wrong to put it in the number one slot. I dare you.
For more rankings, plus film reviews and more, check out my James Bond page.