So to celebrate the I-can't-wait-for-it-to-get-here impending release of Spectre, I decided to rank order all of the official EON Productions Bond films (no room for Never Say Never Again dreadfulness in this list).
- Casino Royale (2006)
Without a doubt Number 1. The opening 15 minutes is the best 15 minutes in any of the films; a fantastic new Bond with muscular, edgy, robust Craig - who cares if he is blonde, it's the character that counts; a credible villain - in fact, a few credible villains; a lack of dependency on the Bondian tropes (i.e. there are no puns, no Q, few gadgets, an excellent and credible female co-lead that goes against outdated ‘Bond Girl’ stereotypes, "I don't give a damn" as a response to being asked how he wants his martini prepared; and no John Barry leitmotif - until the final shot…). Yet despite the lack of signature Bond ingredients, this is a truly marvellous Bond film. A genuine and masterful reinvention and reinvigoration of the most important and long-lived franchise in film history - which was sorely needed after the reprehensible Die Another Day.
- Goldfinger (1964)
Connery at his best. Looking suave, smooth and strong in a role that epitomises who and what Bond is. You can tell he also enjoys being up against one of the best baddies and henchmen in the canon: the eponymous Goldfinger and his mute sidekick Oddjob. This film has many classy and memorable moments: the tantalising laser sequence (surely one of the most oft quoted and thought of, of all of Bond’s brushes with death); the use of Oddjob’s head-chopping hat; Goldfinger’s cheating at gin rummy; Goldfinger’s cheating at golf; Goldfinger’s cheating of the villainous investors who back him AND the one who refuses to back him (he gets squished in a car, the others are all gassed to death); Pussy Galore (need I say more?). When I revisit the Connery era, this is always my go-to film.
- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Now time for Moore at his best. We have to acknowledge that Moore played a very different Bond to Connery - essentially, a much less Bondian Bond in an effort to move away from the series’ dependency on Connery - and in most of Moore’s films it just doesn’t work. But it does here (as it does in Live and Let Die). Shot in some breathtaking locations - the pyramid scenes are amongst the most memorable, with some great sequences - the opening parachute skiing sequence is still iconic nearly 40 years on, possibly the best Bond girl with the beautiful Barbara Bach in the compelling role of Agent Triple X - certainly not a push over Bond girl, but one who has metal and depth and brains and sex-appeal. Oh and Jaws. The one with Jaws.
- Skyfall (2012)
Okay so if we can just forget the annoyingly silly implausibility of the underground train being exactly where Silva wanted it to be at the exact time that he and Bond happened to be in the abandoned station after they had had a chase that was far from exact where NO ONE IN THE WORLD would have been able to predict when exactly it would have happened (Mendes should have known better than to allow this, and yes, it REALLY bugs me in case you can't tell)… So IF we can ignore this, then we are left with a superb film. Another excellent opening sequence, a wonderful meaty role for Moneypenny finally (no longer just a flirtatious play-thing for Bond), a great soundtrack, a bold move in the change of M, outstanding cinematography from Deakins (how this man has not won an Oscar in his 12 nominations is beyond me, this is one of the Academy’s biggest indiscretions) and one of the best and most emotive sequences in the films with the cross-cut parallel editing of Bond chasing through the streets of London towards the committee hearing whilst Dench shares Tennyson’s Ulysses and Silva closes in on his prey. Breathtaking. Interesting that Bond actor’s third films are so good, with Connery’s third in Goldfinger being his best, Moore’s third in The Spy Who Loved Me being his best, and Skyfall as Craig’s third being a close second to Casino Royale. Makes you wonder what Dalton’s third might have been.
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Yes okay Lazenby is not the world’s best actor, but he is certainly far from the world’s worst (that’s you Mark Wahlberg) and was unfairly pilloried for simply not being Sean Connery - hardly his fault. But he is debonair and he does have the physicality and strength to play Bond (the latter being something that Moore sorely lacked). This IS a good film. And it’s a bold film. To end it as they did with Bond’s new wife, Tracy, being shot down in cold blood would have been a huge shock to audiences - just as it is now. I challenge you not to be deeply moved by that scene, as Bond holds her lifeless body close, kisses it tenderly and whispers to her, ‘We’ve got all the time in the world’ you cannot help but contemplate the fragility of life and stifle a tear or two. Unless you are inhuman. There is something unique and special about this moment in Bond history. And to the haters, Lazenby is wonderful here and draws real pathos with his performance in these dying (sorry) moments as the credits begin to role.
- Live and Let Die (1973)
Okay so the finale with the inflating and exploding Kananga is just very silly indeed, but the rest of this is great. After so many successful adventures it seems fitting that Bond, having vanquished all mortal foes, is now up against something mystic, terrifying and unknown in the shapeless form of voodoo. Yes Mr Big/Kananga, Tee Hee and Baron Samedi all represent flesh and blood, but the mysticism of what is behind them serves up intrigue and creates much needed injection of doubt: has Bond finally met his match? Is he able to defeat a world less tangible, a world beyond our own? And it works. There are moments when you wonder if he will escape. On top of all this, Jane Seymour is alluring; the locations of New York, New Orleans and Jamaica are all well used - rich and captivating; the boat chase sequence is breathtaking - they shot these scene first; the jumping on the back of crocodile escape sequence (actually shot with live, and increasingly agitated crocs as they did more takes, with the man who owns the croc farm in real life standing in for Moore - an interesting fact made much more interesting when you hear that this man’s father was actually killed and eaten by those same crocs); and let’s not forget the amusement provided by Sheriff JW Pepper, "You picked the WRONG parish to haul ass through BOY! NOBODY cuts and runs on Sheriff J.W. PEPPER! And it's him who's speakin' by the by.” And that song. Oooh it’s a good song. Thanks Paul.
- From Russia With Love (1963)
A stylish film that is very much part of the 60s in using the political and social unease created by the Cold War as its backdrop. With two wonderful villains for Bond to take down in the form of Robert Shaw as Donald ‘Red’ Grant (is this really the same man as the grizzled boat captain Quint in Jaws?!) and Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb (no-one forgets the deadly shoe she wears - wonderfully parodied in Austin Powers). This is a slower paced Bond film, but is beautifully shot and has Connery clearly at ease in the role.
- Goldeneye (1995)
I like the first three Brosnan films (the fourth I try to banish from my mind and pretend it never existed), but I do like his first three. I think they are all respectable and entertaining, and I very much like Brosnan as Bond - he is smooth, strong, physical, suave, and he can deliver a pun most ably. I can see why women find him attractive and I think he has the presence for the role. Yet the fact that I can only manage to get his best film as high in the list as number 8 speaks very highly of all those above it. The opening sequence shot at Contra Dam in Switzerland is a superb opening to reinvigorate the franchise, followed by the outrageously death-defying skydive into a crashing plane; Famke Janssen is great at Xenia Onatopp; Sean Bean is a worthy antagonist; and Alan Cumming is one of the most entertaining villainous sidekicks in a number of years with his charismatic portrayal of nerdy computer geek Boris.
- Dr No (1962)
Where it all began. Much is good about this film, if only the ending hadn’t been quite so silly with a small struggle between Bond and Dr No (that looks more two schoolboys having a wrestle in the playground than it does world-über-spy versus dastardly-villain-intent-on-destroying-earth) with Dr No’s metal hands being the cause of his demise. But let’s focus on the good: Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder; Fleming’s Jamaica as the setting (fitting for the first film); Bond’s smooth killing of Dent in his own apartment; the affability of Quarrel; the fire-breathing dragon on the beach; and ‘Underneath the Mango Tree’ to name a few. Did I mentioned Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder? An easy film to enjoy - and one that we owe a great debt to.
- Licence to Kill (1989)
Bond goes rogue! And I think I would too if I was a secret agent who’s best mate has just been semi eaten by a shark and his wife had been killed at the hands of a drug lord. Yeah, I like to think I would too. Dalton works as Bond. He is an atypical Bond when one judges him against how Bond was created and marketed in the film world, and perhaps that is why he was not very popular. But it is not his fault that the material he had to work with was only so-so. Dalton is arguably the actor who portrays Bond most like Fleming had envisioned, in that he is darker, broodier, meaner, and I think considerable credit ought to be given to Dalton for this. Even though many fans love Moore, he is the least like the literary incarnation of Bond: Fleming most certainly did not create a gangly, ageing, quippy secret agent who was unable to run. I like Licence to Kill. The opening is solid and then the plot point of having Bond’s friends attacked and killed on their wedding day works well as a device to thrust him into a world of vengeance when one remembers the ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It is The Crossing of the Threshold in the Hero’s Journey. Both Robert Davi and a very young Benicio del Toro are convincing drug lords and suitable foils for Bond; Talisa Soto as Lupe Lamora is sultry, sexy and importantly, memorable (where many other Bond Girls are not) and Desmond Llewelyn as Q (everybody loves Q!) is finally given more to do than show off a couple of gadgets in a lab with some deserved screen time.
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Scaramanga is a great baddie and Christopher Lee a charmingly deadly opponent, Nik-Nak is a hilarious (intentionally or not?) henchman; sumptuously shot on location in gorgeous Thailand; and ‘that’ car stunt is still amazing to watch - BUT WHY THE DUMB SIDE-SHOW MEL SLIDE WHISTLE? which just cheapens the whole thing. Ugh. Annoying the set design of Scaramanga’s Funhouse sadly recalls the much better ending of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon from the previous year where he fought Han, complete with Wolverine style bladed hand, in a hall of mirrors. As much as I love Bond (and I really do) I just cannot see Moore besting Bruce Lee in a showdown, and this climax steers a little too closely to the finale of Lee’s film for its own good. It just doesn’t compare.
- Quantum of Solace (2008)
This is not the disaster that many think it is. It is simply that people were so blown away by Casino Royale that they were expecting more of the same, and that was not going to happen. Lightening rarely strikes twice - and this is particularly true of sequels in the film world. Craig is just as good as Bond as he was in his first outing: gritty, brutal, edgy (he’s gone rogue again!) and the return of René Mathis was welcome, as was Felix Leiter - but both were a little underused. There are some wonderful sequences here, with Bond infiltrating Spectre’s meeting at Puccini's opera in Austria being the best, but granted there are weaknesses too: the motive of the villain is very poor, almost a spoof in fact, “I’m going to charge those pesky Bolivians twice their normal water rates… Hee hee hee, I’m so evil!” and sadly Gemma Arterton as Strawberry Fields is just rather cringe-worthy - particularly the trip down the stairs. Which perhaps best epitomises what this entry is, a slip up, but one with worthy intentions.
- The World Is Not Enough (1999)
A guilty pleasure. I doubt this ranks as high on other people’s lists, and most people I imagine have it below Tomorrow Never Dies at least (only just on my list), but I enjoy it ands this is my list. The opening boat chase along the Thames is lots of action-packed fun and I always smile at Brosnan’s tie adjust as the boat dives underwater (it is his equivalent of Craig’s cuff-adjust as he lands onto the ripped open train in the beginning of Skyfall). This film is also rather special in that it marks Q’s departure from the films. Desmond Llewelyn is a Bondian icon and a stalwart of the films. His bantering irritability, juxtaposed with his tender paternal care of Bond are moments of calm before the storms and I think many of us often take them for granted. Thankfully he rides off into the sunset with dignity and pathos.
- Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
This works without being brilliant. There is little to gripe about here in the villain (Jonathan Pryce as Elliot Carver playing Rupert Murdoch?) is fine, Teri Hatcher as Bond’s old flame likewise, and the attempt to have a strong female lead working with Bond - and not for him - (in the form of Michelle Yeoh) for the first time in many films was an attempt to move in the right direction. The plot too, is an attempt. This time a prophetic warning at suggesting that the 21st Century’s wars will be fought in media rooms and newspapers and on the TV, and whilst there is undoubtedly some truth in this, it doesn’t quite work as a Bond archenemy and falls a little flat.
- Thunderball (1965)
We are entering the realm of the (dare I say it?) forgettable Bond films now. Their specific ordering on this list is somewhat arbitrary in that it becomes very hard to rank sub-level mediocrity. Each of the rest of the films have their memorable moments, whether it is a quip, a stunt, a character, a car, a location (the usual Bond tropes) but none have sufficient depth of memorable moments. “I think he got the point” as Bond fires a harpoon into a henchman’s chest and pins him up against a palm tree is a standout point in this film. And that probably says it all.
- You Only Live Twice (1967)
This is the one where Bond becomes Japanese. The shock of Bond dying, having his body riddled with bullets in bed, in the pre-title sequence was a good opener, and then seeing him buried at sea made you wonder exactly where this was going. But James ‘I’ve got more lives than the world’s luckiest cat’ Bond has a plan of course and that plan leads to him exploring Japan having enjoyed an MI6 Extreme Makeover. A reality TV show that might interest me.
- The Living Daylights (1987)
Perhaps this isn’t as bad as its ranking suggests, but the silly whistle key-ring (a stab at 80s yuppies no doubt) that explodes and then ridiculously kills Joe Don Baker’s Brad Whitaker (Don Baker was better in the Brosnan films as an ally than he was here as a villain) really annoys me. Bond should be vanquishing his enemies with more grit, flair or muscle than a whistle responding key-ring.
- Moonraker (1979)
Let’s cash in on the Space Race with a Bond film set in space! Let’s make horrible cheap looking sets and let’s have a totally unforgettable villain as we haven’t got time to flesh out his character as we are too busy building lame sets and too busy building up to the huge surprise that Jaws was actually softhearted and tender and just a big cuddly teddy bear who needed love all along! He just needed to find the right girl! Ahh cute.
Audience: Wait, what? Is the the same Jaws that bit people’s faces off Lector-style in The Spy Who Loved Me? And now we are meant to like him?
Mr Screenwriter: Yes. Exactly! It’s a really clever plot twist!
Audience: If you say so. [Gets up, walks out]
- Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Pretty much only fun for the campy-baddiness of the actually quite terrible Mr Wint and Mr Kidd. Oh darn it Connery - why did you come back? You shouldn’t have (and don’t even get me started on why you came back for Never Say Never Again, that was criminal - hence it not even featuring on this list). Why couldn’t you ride off into the sunset with honour, you know, Japanese-style as Bond-san? At least Shirley Bassey gave us something memorable here with an absolute belter.
- For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Really getting in the dross of the Moore years now. What was this film about again? Oh yeah, some double crossing sophisticated European chap, and some skiing, and a REALLY annoying ice-skater girl who was about one fifth of Moore’s age and was supposedly a love interest, and a silly finale in a mountaintop monastery with Maggie Thatcher and a parrot. Sounds like an Alan Partridge pitch for a new TV show.
- Octopussy (1983)
This is the one where Grandpa Bond goes to India and there are lots of Asian race gags like a man lying on a bed of needles and a snake charmer and everyone driving tiny old beaten up cars, but that’s all okay because it was the early 80s and it wasn’t really racist then. Oh, and the name of the film is Octopussy. Get it? Haha. So clever and witty and droll and not at all sexist. But that’s okay, because it was the early 80s and it wasn’t really sexist then.
- A View to a Kill (1985)
This is the one where Great-Grandpa Bond goes to the races and finds that someone is cheating at horses. Really? How naughty of him! Yes, let’s send in the world’s top secret agent to stop him and make him stand in the naughty corner for being such a bad boy. Even Christopher Walken, the great Christopher Walken, cannot save this film. It is THAT bad. The ending is so rubbish and totally lacks adrenaline, intrigue and interest. Perhaps that is because they shot it using a blimp as the escape vehicle. What? A blimp? Yes a blimp: mankind’s slowest form of transport. Imagine using that as the backdrop for the most thrilling and exciting part of the film? Great decision.
- Die Another Day (2002)
Simply put, this is reprehensibly bad. It is so bad I am not even sure where to start. Actually, that’s rubbish, of course I know where to start: with the abominably stupid parachuting down the mini-tsunami of ice and water caused by a laser beam from space just after the invisible car chase. Just writing that makes me want to vomit and cry and punch something. Ouch. The special effects of that scene are the worst in the entire 50 years of the franchise's history, and quite possibly worse than the flying sequences in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Yes, they are THAT bad. Madonna. I don’t think I need to explain that. The desire to make so many references to all the previous 19 Bond films to make this, the 20th, so clever and referential and droll, but actually in the process make it dire and lacking in its own real identity. Unless cataclysmically bad is the identity they were shooting for. In which case, score!