I suppose it’s only fair that British moviegoers get first crack at viewing the newest James Bond film, ‘Spectre’, which was released on October 26 in the U.K.
Bond fans from the U.S., like me, have to wait almost another two weeks to see everyone’s favorite double-naught spy on the big screen. Early reviews indicate ‘Spectre’ is not being as well received as it’s immediate predecessor, ‘Skyfall’. But that’s not killing any of the excitement for me.
So what is an avid, American 007 fan to do while waiting for the movie to release, other than dutifully avoiding spoilers on the Internet?
How about we rank all the other (official) James Bond films? Cool! So without any further ado, let’s dig into the 23 films in the longest-running franchise in movie history.
23. Die Another Day (2002)
Is it the rampant product placement? The terrible, overused CGI? The cringe-worthy dialogue? In a word, YES. ‘Die Another Day’ sent Pierce Brosnan out of the Bond role with a thud. ‘DAD’ had great promise in the early going, with some tense moments taking place in North Korea. But it cooled way off once our hero became a guest at an Icelandic hotel made of…uh…ice. Throw in an invisible Aston Martin and one of Halle Berry’s worst performances of her career, and PRESTO! You have the worst movie in the Bond franchise.
22. Octopussy (1983)
Roger Moore began to really show his age in this one (he was 56 years old in the year it was released). A plot revolving around Faberge eggs and European disarmament was ‘meh’. There was also James Bond’s Tarzan yell and having the suave, debonair Agent 007 dress up like a gorilla and a circus clown. Sheesh.
21. A View to a Kill (1985)
Another movie with aging Roger Moore, bless his heart. He was 58 years old in this film – he claims that he was older than one of his female co-star’s mothers at the time of filming! The best parts of ‘AVTAK’ are the awesome theme song by Duran Duran, and the fun performance of Christopher Walken as the evil Max Zorin. Other than that, this movie had unbelievable action (Moore’s stunt double was probably in the movie as much as Moore was) and creepy love scenes with women half Bond’s age.
20. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
The main villain is again a high point in this 007 adventure, as Christopher Lee plays the title character with as much gusto and sophistication as Moore did as James Bond. It pangs me to rank this film so low, as the climactic duel between Lee’s Scaramanga and Moore’s 007 is tense and exciting. But everything else is so forgettable. Not to mention the theme song is the worst of the whole Bond lot.
19. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Sean Connery’s last (official) go as James Bond was also his worst. He began to really show his age, and it didn’t help that this may be the campiest Bond movie in the franchise. I pretty much just shake my head whenever henchmen Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint are on screen. A cool car chase in a Ford Mustang spices things up, but it’s counteracted by 007 “humorously” driving a moon buggy through the Nevada desert.
18. Moonraker (1979)
BOND…IN…SPACE! The producers tried to capitalize on the ‘Star Wars’-induced sci-fi craze by moving ‘Moonraker’ up in order, as ‘For Your Eyes Only’ was originally slated to be released in 1979. Instead, we got laser beam shootouts and some cheesy special effects. Throw in a hovercraft gondola and a forced love subplot featuring henchman extraordinaire, Jaws, and you get a movie that doesn’t hold up well in 2015.
17. You Only Live Twice (1967)
Despite the fact that some of the series’ most memorable imagery comes from this movie, ‘You Only Live Twice’ had plenty of groan-worthy scenes that knock it down into the franchise’s bottom half. First off, James Bond’s “transformation” to a Japanese man is…not cool. It’s downright wrong, on many levels. We also get the Dr. Evil version of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in ‘YOLT”, which is now hard to look at and not immediately think of Mike Meyers’ parody of the character in the ‘Austin Powers’ films.
16. Live and Let Die (1973)
Bond meets blaxploitation. That pretty much sums it up. The theme by Paul McCartney and Wings, as well as Jane Seymour’s portrayal of Solitaire, are high points in Roger Moore’s 007 debut. The rest of the movie is stuck in the 1970s forever. And that’s pretty much OK with me.
15. The World Is Not Enough (1999)
This was the last Bond film of the 20th century, and it had Denise Richards as Doctor Christmas Jones: Nuclear Physicist. Yuck. A dull plot, mixed in with some cool action set pieces, make this a very middle-of-the-road Bond film. Even giving Dame Judi Dench’s spymaster M a bigger role couldn’t pull this one out of mediocrity.
14. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The media is the enemy in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, Pierce Brosnan’s sophomore effort as 007. When a TV mogul becomes hellbent on starting World War III, James Bond must save the day. And he does, all in totally forgettable fashion. Other than a fun car chase involving a remote-controlled BMW sedan, nothing else is particularly memorable about ‘TND’. It’s a perfect analogy for Brosnan’s time in the tuxedo: fun moments, but nothing to write home about.
13. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
This film is Roger Moore’s closest to Ian Fleming’s literary James Bond. A good bit of actual espionage goes on in ‘FYEO’, a drastic change from ‘Moonraker’ before it. Bond goes on a mission to retrieve a lost missile command system, ATAC, and meets up with Greek businessmen, the Soviets and figure skaters in the process. It also features a memorable pre-titles sequence, in which Bond dispatches a Blofeld-like character – the makers of the Bond films no longer held the rights to use the Blofeld character or the evil organization known as SPECTRE. Thankfully, this changes in the future…stay tuned.
12. Quantum of Solace (2008)
A film with so much promise, and even more letdown. The franchise’s first direct sequel, ‘Quantum of Solace’ starts where ‘Casino Royale’ left off. Daniel Craig and company try to keep this movie afloat, but poor pacing and quick-cut editing with “shaky cam” do nothing but give viewers a headache. Thankfully, it’s the Bond series’ shortest film, clocking in at 106 minutes. Most of this film’s faults can be blamed on a Hollywood writer’s strike, as the script for it was finished just two hours before the strike began.
11. The Living Daylights (1987)
Timothy Dalton first donned Bond’s tux in this one, making it the first time Roger Moore hadn’t played 007 since 1971. There are plenty of good moments in this one, such as the excellent pre-titles sequence and a snow-filled Aston Martin chase. But it misses the mark in a few areas, and the plot is a bit bloated. Still, Dalton brought 007 back to reality after the laughable Bond films of the early ’80s.
10. License to Kill (1989)
Dalton’s second, and final, Bond film, ‘LTK’ is a much darker, violent and deeper 007 movie than audiences had ever seen. Bond goes rouge on a personal vendetta and takes on drug kingpin Franz Sanchez. The movie was not well received by audiences upon release (it is still the lowest-grossing entry in the series). ‘LTK’ seems as if it was ahead of its time, and fans weren’t quite ready for a more intense James Bond. That said, it did gain contemporary critical praise and still holds up well today. It’s one of the most underrated of the bunch.
9. Thunderball (1965)
If you like your Bond underwater, this is the film for you. Some very cool, very innovative underwater camera work made ‘Thunderball’ an Academy Award-winning movie. Adjusted for inflation, ‘TB’ is still the highest grossing movie in the Bond franchise. It was released at the peak of “Bondmania”, and had moments of greatness. It also had moments where the film was bursting at the seams, with some dull action and an overlong climax. Sean Connery also started to show signs of wear in this, his fourth go-round as 007.
8. Dr. No (1962)
The one that started it all. ‘Dr. No’ is more of a detective mystery than what we know as a “Bond movie” today. That said, ‘Dr. No’ set much of the formula for Bond films to come. James Bond’s introduction to the world is part of cinematic history. It also gave us the first stereotypical Bond villain, a disfigured megalomaniac set on disrupting our everyday way of life. ‘Dr. No’ also introduced the Bond theme song, the gun barrel opening and a stylized credits sequence.
7. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
This is Roger Moore’s best entry in the series, and it’s a big, bold blockbuster that gives audiences exactly what is expected in a Bond film. 007 teams up with a beautiful Russian spy, Agent Triple X, working together to defeat evil villain Karl Stromberg before he can destroy the world. We also get our first glimpse of henchman Jaws in ‘TSWLM’, a character that has become synonymous with the Bond franchise. The end of the pre-credits sequence has 007 jump off a cliff, only to deploy a Union Jack-adorned parachute. It’s one of the best stunts, and overall moments, in the series’ history.
6. GoldenEye (1995)
Pierce Brosnan finally got his turn to hold the Walther PPK in ‘GoldenEye’, after being held out of the role in the ’80s because of his obligations to the NBC TV series, ‘Remington Steele’. It was worth the wait. And boy, did Bond fans have to wait. Following the release of ‘License to Kill’ in 1989, the Bond series was at a crossroads. The Cold War had ended, and behind-the-scenes legal battles kept 007 grounded. When Bond saw the light of day again six years later, fans were treated to a modernization of the series. The new M, played by the amazing Dame Judi Dench, essentially dressed down the character of James Bond in her first meeting with him. The Bond we all knew was a relic of the past. But “GoldenEye’ proved that we still had room for 007 in our world.
‘GoldenEye’ made Bond relevant again, and the popular Nintendo 64 game of the same name ushered in a new, younger audience to the 007 universe.
5. Goldfinger (1964)
Having ‘Goldfinger’ this low might be unimaginable to some, but I feel it may be – gulp – the most overrated movie in the series. Granted, being No. 5 on the list is nothing to scoff at. That said, ‘GF’ is usually picked by critics as the best of the whole franchise. It does have the Aston Martin DB5’s first appearance, and it does have Oddjob, and it does have Pussy Galore. But it also has James Bond doing…pretty much nothing. He’s in custody of the title baddie for the entire second half of the movie, and he relies on the work of others to save the day. It’s chock full of iconic visuals, but void of really any drama or tension. It’s enjoyable enough, though, to make it this high in the list. And Sean Connery is in his prime as 007 in this, his third Bond movie.
4. Skyfall (2012)
The most recent addition to the Bond canon is also one of it’s finest. The first 007 adventure to earn over $1 billion at the box office, ‘Skyfall’ sees our hero at his most vulnerable. He’s wounded, thought for dead, and unceremoniously dumped by MI6. But when England needs him, he’s back and ready for action. ‘Skyfall’ also injects some genuine emotion and some twists and turns that changed the series forever. And a great performance by Javier Bardem as the creepy Silva also helps propel ‘Skyfall’ to the Top 5. Even if the movie loses a bit of its shine after multiple viewings, it’s still one of the best entries in the series.
3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
‘OHMSS’ seems to be a trendy pick by many as one of the more underrated movies in the Bond franchise. And that’s because it is. Full of drama, tension and action, ‘OHMSS’ is everything one wants in a 007 caper. The biggest issue? George Lazenby is 007. A one-time wonder, Lazenby was a model-turned-actor. And it definitely shows in this, his film debut. While it may not be his fault that he was unprepared to take on a role that was immortalized by Sean Connery, one can only imagine the potential of such a good film with the original 007 leading the way. However, we do get great performances by Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas, as well as the most emotionally crushing ending of any of the Bond films. Despite the actor playing 007, ‘OHMSS’ is a high point in the franchise. It checks all the boxes and even goes beyond what audiences expect from a 007 film.
If any Bond film were a candidate for a re-make featuring a competent actor *cough* Daniel Craig *cough*, this would be it.
2. Casino Royale (2006)
Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel finally got proper film treatment in 2006’s ‘Casino Royale’.
It only took 54 years (the 1960’s comedy of the same name staring David Niven does not count).
It also was Daniel Craig’s first time as Agent 007, and the film also began a brand new timeline. We see 007 collect the two kills he needed to earn his 00 status. We are able to see Bond as a blunt instrument, not quite ready to take on the world of espionage. We also see Bond in love, and go along with him on a roller coaster of emotion. Director Martin Campbell had saved the series once before, as he directed ‘GoldenEye’ and brought Bond to the post-Cold War era. In ‘CR’, Campbell and crew inserted 007 into a post-9/11 era, where terrorist financiers are the enemy, and soldiers support no flag or government. Gone were the days of cheeky one liners and fantastic gadgets. This Bond is rugged, cold and determined. Audiences ate it up, and Craig was even nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Actor. The world had changed, and so did Bond. For the better.
1. From Russia With Love (1963)
The pinnacle of 1960’s spy thrillers, ‘FRWL’ is my undisputed top Bond film of all time. Sean Connery IS James Bond in this movie. It features great action, suspense, even some emotion – something that began to fade as the series went on. Set during the hottest moments of the Cold War, ‘FRWL’ is a tale of a defecting Russian embassy worker, who, unbeknownst to her, is helping SPECTRE attempt to get revenge on 007 for killing Dr. No. One of the best Bond henchmen of all time, Donald “Red” Grant., is the man tasked with taking down the great James Bond. Played skillfully by Robert Shaw, Grant gives Bond the fight of his life in an intense scene that takes place in a cabin aboard the Orient Express. We are also treated to the first appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q, a role he would play in all but one future Bond film until his death in 1999. Other franchise firsts from ‘FRWL’ include a pre-titles sequence, gadgets (one very killer briefcase) and a theme song with lyrics.
To show its lasting appeal, ‘FRWL’ was even updated into a 2005 video game, in which Sean Connery provided new voice work and again played Bond for the first time in over 20 years (his last appearance before that was in the non-canon remake of ‘Thunderball’, entitled ‘Never Say Never Again’).
‘FRWL’ is all that is great about James Bond: thrilling action sequences, a plot full of twists and turns, memorable characters, a smart sense of humor, plenty of eye candy and Agent 007 living the playboy lifestyle.
So there you have it! The definitive ranking of James Bond movies. I’m sure everyone agrees with it and has no issues at all with my rankings, right?
Where will ‘Spectre’ rank on the list? We shall all find out together when it hits theaters in the U.S. on November 6 (early showings are also available on November 5. And, if you know me at all, you already know I have tickets for a showing on that night!).
Ready to get back to work, 007?