James Bond’s fourth big screen adventure, ‘Thunderball’, drew on the success of ‘Goldfinger’ and became the highest grossing film in North America for 1966. Adjusted for inflation, ‘Thunderball’ made approximately $1 billion in today’s terms. This makes it easily the most financially successful entry in the series.
With that said, ‘Thunderball’ is where Sean Connery’s Bond began to show signs of wear. He still plays the part with the necessary wit, physicality and swagger, but it’s starting to show that Connery was losing interest in the part.
The film is also notable for its theme song, sung by Welsh crooner Tom Jones. Legend has it that Jones belted out the final note in the tune so forcefully, that he passed out upon its completion.
Another notable aspect of ‘Thunderball’ is the extensive use of underwater action scenes. Revolutionary for its time, these battles under the sea helped secure another Academy Award for the series, this time in the category of Best Visual Effects.
‘Thunderball’ was also basis for a long-running legal dispute between Ian Fleming and several of his former collaborators. Two screenwriters, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham, sued Ian Fleming after the release of the publication of the ‘Thunderball’ novel in 1961. McClory and Whittingham claimed that they assisted Fleming on a early film treatment of ‘Thunderball’, hoping to bring 007 to the big screen. Those plans were scrapped, Fleming released ‘Thunderball’ solely under his name and ‘Dr. No’ became the first Bond film to hit theaters.
The lawsuit was settled out of court, with Whittingham dropping his claim as co-defendant and McClory getting the rights to certain parts of the story. This allowed McClory to remake ‘Thunderball’ in 1983, with Connery as 007, in the non-canon ‘Never Say Never Again’.
‘Thunderball’ marked the end of Connery’s prime as 007. It features all the necessary Bondian aspects and is an entertaining movie. But the signs of Connery’s fatigue in the role began to take shape. His performance in the next film in the series, ‘You Only Live Twice’, makes it clear that the role of 007 was getting to be too much.
Despite its minor faults, ‘Thunderball’ still manages to entertain and is a worthy addition to the franchise.