In my opinion, there are two versions of James Bond out there. There’s the long parodied suave agent who wears expensive tuxes, drives fancy cars, drinks martinis, uses wacky gadgets, and at the end of the day gets to be with a hot chick with a suggestive name. He’s every man’s hero, an indestructible sex magnet who gets to travel the world and fight bad guys. He’s a rock star that every woman wants and that every man wants to be.
Then there’s the misogynistic, alcoholic, self-destructive, self-loathing sociopathic orphan who’d rather drink himself to death instead of waiting for the job to kill him and sleep around because he never knows when it will be the last time to do so. And every time he makes a quip or a pun about a foe he’s just dispatched, it’s to distance himself from the severity and implications of his actions. He’s a deeply flawed, tragic character that no one should ever want to be.
The films have had a checkered path, bouncing back and forth between the two Bonds. From the goofiness of Moore, the seriousness of Craig, and sometimes somewhere in between like Connery, it’s been interesting to watch the evolution. But each Bond, no matter how different, has still essentially played a version of the same character. I don’t think this necessarily means the character is a blank slate for actors to fill in as some people have noted, but rather a rich character with many angles to play.
And with his latest adventure SPECTRE hitting blu-ray today, I thought it prudent to revisit all his past glory and rank all 24 Bond films. So let’s get to it.
24. Moonraker (1979)
Look at that. That is an actual shot from the movie.
The movie actually starts with a pretty great skydiving sequence and then it’s all downhill from there. James Bond goes to space and has a laser battle on a space station with astronauts having their own floating laser fight outside, Jaws falls in love with a girl with pig-tails and glasses, a pigeon does a double take at Bond’s gondola convertible, and you all let this happen. Cashing in on the success of Star Wars, this film is woefully overproduced and unforgivably dumb. The only reason I ever watched this one a second time is so I could make this list. You made me do this.
23. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
Despite a promising premise of a mysterious hitman played by Christopher Lee (who was actually pretty great) who eventually goes head to head with Bond, the film manages to over complicate things and add way too much obnoxious silliness. It could have been a simple thriller but a tacked on eccentric plan, ridiculous sets, racist humor, and the worst Bond girl to date make this one tough to sit through. Because seriously, who saw the never-ending scene with the racist cop in Live and Let Die and said, “ooh, more of that please.” I felt embarrassed just watching it.
That spiral car jump is pretty sweet though.
22. Dr. No (1962)
JUST HEAR ME OUT ON THIS ONE. Just because something is the first doesn’t make it the best, I need to be very clear on that. Connery is good as Bond in his first outing and his scenes that actually involve spy work are pretty good as well, but the rest of the movie struggles to find its footing. There’s some silliness even for a Bond film, a tank disguised as a dragon, a villain who appears for little more than 2 scenes, and an uneven tone. And despite the iconic shot of Honey Rider in her bikini, there’s really little else to her as a character. I’ve watched it several times to try and love it as much as everyone else but it just isn’t happening.
21. Octopussy (1983)
It’s not necessarily a terrible movie, it’s just not terribly memorable. When I went back to watch it, I had actually forgotten what it was about. There are some redeemable moments like a decent train scene and Maud Adams isn’t bad, but otherwise the first two acts are rather unremarkable and the third act is a bit of a mess (not to mention the embarrassing image of Bond dressed as a clown). However the final action scene involving Bond (or rather his stuntman) fighting a henchman while hanging on to the top of a plane is pretty fantastic.
20. A View To A Kill (1985)
Christopher Walken plays a psychopathic, egomaniacal Nazi baby and he DOESN’T play it over the top. What the hell, man? To be completely honest, when looked at as a silly 80’s action movie that makes the best of landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge, I actually think it’s kind of entertaining. But as a Bond film it feels out of place and it suffers from a plot taken from a Superman movie, a terrible Bond girl with which Roger Moore had no chemistry, and a cat jump scare (really?). Plus at 150 years old, Moore was too old for the role and it showed. May Day was cool, though.
Also, did you know Dolph Lundgren was in this movie? No seriously, Dolph Lundgren is in this movie! Look it up.
19. The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Sure it has some over the top action scenes like a boat driving on land and flying snowmobiles that don’t mesh with the attempt at a serious tone. And of course there’s Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist. But there’s still something that’s always been off about this movie that I haven’t been able to put my finger on. I can feel the director trying to make a serious, artful Bond movie here, but it keeps getting in its own way. It’s fairly forgettable and rather tone deaf, but it succeeds with a great Bond song and a great Bond girl in Elektra King. She almost single handedly makes it worth watching. Plus, this film would mark the 17th and final appearance of Desmond Llewellyn as Q, finishing off with what ended up being a satisfying and considerably touching farewell scene that works even better in hindsight.
18. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
After dropping out of the role for one film, Sean Connery returned for his sixth and final appearance as James Bond in the official EON series. It unfortunately gives us too much of the silliness that made Connery leave in the first place (Blofeld dresses up in drag and an elephant plays a slot machine- we can’t pretend that didn’t happen) and it has an overly leisurely style to the film that makes the pacing feel slow and the action unexciting. And for the last film to feature SPECTRE (until Spectre of course) you would expect a little more oomph, especially considering how the previous film ended. I do like Bond girl Tiffany Case though and I liked that a film this old would have two openly gay villains. The same was possibly implied with Rosa Klebb and Raoul Silva, but here it was more obvious and even more commendable in that it didn’t necessarily define their roles. They would have worked just fine otherwise.
Plus it has one of my favorite Connery lines of all time.
17. Die Another Day (2002)
I’m gonna come out and say it: this movie isn’t as bad as people say. Sure it has it’s unforgivably over the top moments in the third act like the invisible car and Bond outrunning a space laser by kite surfing a tsunami (just writing that sentence kills a piece of my soul) but there’s a really good movie underneath all the MTV style and that obnoxious “speeding up of the footage for no reason” thing that I hate. It has some nice material for Brosnan to work with, I really liked the villains (I think Colonel Moon/ Gustav Graves is underrated) I think Berry added some nice personality, and Miranda Frost is one of the best Bond girls. Plus, come on, that sword fight was pretty great. It was the first Bond movie I saw in theaters and the first one I owned on DVD, so it will always have a special place in my heart despite its faults.
Fun Fact: Ian Fleming took the name of James Bond from the author of an ornithology book sitting nearby. During a scene in Cuba, Bond poses as an ornithologist and picks up one of his ornithology books but the name is scratched out.
16. Quantum Of Solace (2008)
When you’re a movie that’s following Casino Royale that had to be quickly written to beat the writer’s strike, you know you’re gonna disappoint people. And it was disappointing. But the film had potential and every once in a while it shines through in a number of strong moments. Craig as Bond is still great and his performance continues to grow, Olga Kurylenko was a good Bond girl (stuck in a mediocre movie), and the plane chase was an action highlight in a slew of otherwise incomprehensible action scenes. The film had trouble balancing Bond getting revenge, going after this Quantum organization, and stopping a madman from hoarding a country’s water supply, making it hard for the audience to know where to focus. There was so much action and so many plot points, with the shortest runtime in the series they could have let the film breathe a little more.
15. You Only Live Twice (1967)
In most spy parodies (especially Austin Powers) this is the film that’s being spoofed. Space stuff, a secret volcano lair, an army of endless bad guys in matching jumpsuits, and a wonderfully evil villain in Donald Pleasance as the iconic Dr. Evil- I mean Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The film definitely isn’t perfect, it veers further from espionage thriller and more towards outrageous action, but it does it seriously without the overwhelming *wink*wink* of the Moore films. The final battle in the volcano lair could have been laughable but instead it’s actually pretty exciting, and the helicopter chase could have gone so wrong but it ended up being one of the very best. I do wish though that they would have kept Bond girl Aki for the entire film instead of offing her after an hour and introducing a brand new character just for the third act, but what are ya gonna do?
I also wish the film would have been a little less racist, but that’s a different discussion.
14. Live And Let Die (1973)
In Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond, I maintain that he was a great pick before the films collapsed from their own campiness. The film itself also takes a huge detour from Cold War espionage and instead delves into street crime and voodoo. You’ve got a good new Bond, some fresh ideas, a good villain, a smokin’ hot Jane Seymour, and an excellent boat chase. Sure the boat chase is constantly interrupted by a racist cop who seems like he fell out of a Burt Reynolds movie, but still. There’s also the scene where Bond tricks a woman into sleeping with him which makes her feel like she’s lost all worth, but… actually there’s no way to finish that sentence, that was pretty awful. But the rest of the movie is good, I swear!
13. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
This one seems to be gaining more and more appreciation as time goes by (even Christopher Nolan says it’s his favorite movie and you can see the influence it’s had). Sure, Lazenby could have used a few more acting lessons to really sell the part, but he’s far from the worst of the movie’s problems. That honor goes to the woefully miscast Telly Savalas as Blofeld. No, just no (it also messes up the continuity by acting like Bond and Blofeld have never met before even though they met at the end of the last film). But the film benefits from going back to more of its espionage roots as well as introducing us to a skiing Bond that would endure for decades. The obvious highlight of the movie however is the exquisite Diana Rigg as Tracy and her relationship with Bond. The film could have done a better job of connecting the romance and the spy work instead of making it feel like two completely different movies, but they’re both so good and the ending is so beautifully tragic that it almost doesn’t matter. It’s one of the best looking Bond films, excellently shot, well-paced, good action, it almost makes up for the embarrassingly stupid bobsled chase at the end of the movie.
12. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Following the insultingly awful Moonraker, this film scales it way back and focuses more on a good story than special effects. Although the film is essentially about retrieving a MacGuffin, it makes up for its simplicity with a more serious tone, a great Bond girl, and minimal use of gadgets. Bond’s spy car is even destroyed early on, forcing him to use a clunker in what ends up being one of the more memorable chase scenes. Even the finale does away with the grand spectacle of armies of good guys and bad guys fighting in a bad guy’s lair and instead replaces that with a stealthy infiltration into a mountaintop monastery. Despite a dumb opening scene and a cringe-worthy final scene, the film is a focused thriller that’s easily the most serious of the Moore films and one of the most underrated of the series.
11. SPECTRE (2015)
While aggressively modern and admirably nostalgic at the same time, this movie sometimes feels a little uneven, but for me what works outweighs what doesn’t work. Bringing back the over the top secret organization known as SPECTRE and hiding it under a relevant story about worldwide intelligence, surveillance networks, the outdated-ness of field agents, etc., makes for a solid Bond flick that feels like a Connery Bond film with Craig’s sensibilities- like Thunderball meets Skyfall. Christophe Waltz is a little undercooked as [redacted] and some scenes perhaps go a little too over the top and the movie goes on too long, but I love how involved the rest of Bond’s entourage was in the film, and there was an interesting and likable Bond girl in Madeleine Swann. Not to mention the reliably great action scenes excluding an underwhelming car chase but including Mexico City which is one of the best Bond openings ever… there’s a helicopter doing a barrel roll! There’s a helicopter doing a barrel roll!
10. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
This movie is really nothing more than formula, but its formula at its best. An egomaniacal mogul with a plan of worldwide destruction and control, a former flame with whom Bond gets in too deep, a kickass Bond girl, a finale inside a villain’s base, and tons and tons of action. The parking garage chase and the motorcycle chase are action at its finest, and not just for Bond films. I understand that it’s probably not as deep or groundbreaking as some films that are lower on the list, but the film never wastes time pretending to be something it’s not. It was one of my favorites as a kid and I still love it. It’s fun, it’s fast-paced, the cast is in top form, and seriously that motorcycle chase is what’s up.
9. Thunderball (1965)
Also known as “The One With All The Swimming,” this one delves further into the inner workings of the SPECTRE organization. We see the reaches of the evil group and the secret meetings held by the still mysterious Blofeld. We see Bond travel to the Bahamas where he proceeds to spend the rest of the movie underwater when he’s not moving in on Domino, one of the better Bond girls. The idea of such extensive underwater sequences could have come across as silly or even tedious, but it helps sustain a level of tension as well as helping it stand out. Of course it has a villain with an eye patch with a pool full of sharks and the threat of nuclear annihilation, but it manages to stay tense and focused without going too over the top. Plus it has the archetypal evil Bond girl Fiona Volpe with whom Bond has some great exchanges.
8. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Definitely the best of the Moore films just edging out For Your Eyes Only, this one has plenty of over the top elements like a henchman with razor sharp teeth and a massive underwater complex, but they remain elements, not the focus. The relationship between James Bond 007 and Anya Amasova XXX helps drive the movie and elevates it above many of the others. It has many of the best elements of Roger Moore while also feeling like a classic Bond film in the vein of You Only Live Twice rather than Moonraker. Moore brings his A game as Bond, there’s an iconic henchman, a great Bond girl, some great action, and the opening scene with the British parachute is one of the all-time bests.
7. The Living Daylights (1987)
Introducing us to my favorite James Bond actor, this movie did away with the goofy Bond of years past and brought it back to tense espionage. Dalton’s Bond was more cold and calculating than we had ever seen before, allegedly playing him closer to the source material Bond. He had his charming moments and his quips, but he was much more concentrated on the job. An early scene when he prepares for an assassination shows a type of focus I had rarely seen in previous Bond films. There are some tongue-in-check moments for sure like a scene where Bond and Kara ride a cello case down a snowy hill, but moments like those are few and far between. The rest of the movie is a solid Cold War globetrotter with great action and a more serious tone. Even the chase with the spy car seems more focused on the exciting action than showing off gadgets, no matter how absurd it gets.
6. Licence To Kill (1989)
I was going back and forth on the two Dalton films but eventually gave the edge to Licence, Dalton’s second and final Bond film, for its uncompromising intensity. After Daylights, this film was written with Dalton’s darker Bond in mind, making it more violent and realistic than previous films. In an attempt to keep the film relevant, we follow Bond as he gets revenge on a powerful drug lord who maimed his friend and killed his friend’s bride. The film- save for a few silly moments like a semi doing a wheelie in what is otherwise a phenomenal chase scene- is probably the darkest in the series and it really lets Dalton shine. It doesn’t follow the standard mold of a Bond film but it still manages to hook you. It’s a shame Dalton’s Bond career was cut short because he could have continued to do some truly spectacular films. Plus this one has a baby-faced Benicio Del Toro as a psychotic henchman. That moment at the end when he menacingly looks up at Miss Bouvier is pure crazy.
5. From Russia With Love (1963)
This is what it’s all about. After the shaky start with Dr. No and before Goldfinger introduced the Bond formula, we had From Russia With Love, a classic Cold War thriller. There’s lots of spying, enemy agents, secret meetings, code phrases, code breaking devices, this is exactly what espionage should be. There are some exciting action scenes of course, but most of them are pushed to the end. The rest of the film is much quieter, cooler, and not focused on outlandish sequences. There’s a good 30 minutes of this movie that takes place entirely on a train where Bond faces off against SPECTRE agent Donald Grant (Robert Shaw) basically the anti-Bond, giving that large portion of the film a claustrophobic feeling. And with Connery knocking it out of the park, this is probably the most perfect spy film in the series.
4. Skyfall (2012)
This movie is so good that it retroactively made me like Casino Royale and Daniel Craig’s performance even more. As great as Casino Royale was, I was still settling in to Craig’s portrayal of Bond, and Quantum of Solace wasn’t doing us any favors either. But in this one, everything just clicked. It managed to have many of the elements of a traditional Bond film (even throwing in some subtle and some other not so subtle references to previous films) while still managing to be unique. This film delves deep into Bond’s past and psyche, M’s past indiscretions, and the scary gray areas of current world affairs that make the seemingly quaint and dated MI6 relevant and necessary that are challenged by Javier Bardem’s terrific Silva. It’s a beautiful film visually and thematically and it sends off Bond MVP Judi Dench with dignity and respect.
3. Goldfinger (1964)
From Russia With Love was a great Cold War spy thriller, but Goldfinger is the one that started the enduring Bond formula. Connery is at the top of his game as Bond, there’s a rich villain with endless resources to pull of his grand scheme, there’s a sultry Bond girl with a sexually suggestive name, there’s a hulking henchman with a deadly accessory, vodka martinis, lots of exotic locations (and Kentucky), and it introduces us to Q’s workshop with what remains one of the very best of Q’s scenes. The film miraculously holds up, from the pacing to the action to Connery’s pitch perfect performance, plus the amount of iconic imagery and dialogue is off the charts. It’s thoroughly entertaining and endlessly rewatchable, if you want to introduce someone to classic Bond, this is the go-to film.
2. GoldenEye (1995)
Although obviously not the number one film, this one is my personal favorite, and not just because it was the first Bond movie I ever watched all the way through. It proved that a Bond film could have necessary depth and could be taken seriously while not giving up on the grand, exciting finale or over the top action scenes because seriously that tank chase is the tits. The film gets away with that blend by being aggressively self-aware. Judi Dench in her first performance as M straight up calls Bond a “misogynistic dinosaur” and a “relic of the Cold War” right to his face because her balls are massive. Plus, with a villain who knows all of Bond’s tricks and weaknesses and a Bond girl who calls him out on his shit, it makes Bond a flawed human being and Pierce Brosnan is beyond perfect at hiding that melancholy darkness under an aura of suave manliness. The film has great cinematography, excellent action scenes and stunts, a cast in top form, and a finale to knock your socks off. This movie is “invincible!”
1. Casino Royale (2006)
It bugs me a little that a lot of people who call this the best Bond film only do so because they’ve only seen a few of the recent ones and can’t make an informed decision. But since this is the best Bond film, I can’t exactly disagree. A soft reboot of sorts, we’re brought back to Fleming’s first 007 novel as Bond is promoted to 00 status. Craig isn’t the Bond we’re used to, he’s way more serious, and he doesn’t throw out quips or use Q’s gadgets. And honestly, I was kind of resistant to that at first- it took me almost 9 years to accept this film’s greatness. Bond is rough around the edges and detached to the point of being an overt sociopath. The unpolished version of Bond and his mistake of letting Vesper Lynd (the best Bond girl) get too close create the building blocks of the self-loathing misogynist we all know and love. The film allows Bond to be more fragile and emotionally receptive. Again, that scene in the shower is one of the most raw and moving scenes this otherwise slick and suave series has ever had. Plus with the best Bond/ M pairing this series has ever seen, it helped Craig take serious control of the character. The few action scenes are great too (that construction site parkour chase looked exhausting), but the film’s best tension relies on a game of poker where he must beat terrorism financier LeChiffre (one of the best Bond villains), showing that a Bond film can still be restrained without skimping on excitement. The tension is great, the modern tone is refreshing, the music is extraordinary, this film revitalized the series and made it really matter again.
James Bond is an enduring and highly underrated film character. He’s much more flexible and dynamic than most superheroes, and he has all the flaws and likability of a TV antihero. Nowadays people talk about how dated and quaint the idea of a secret agent like Bond really is but the films have always been able to combat that notion and keep it fresh and exciting. No character has endured as many facelifts (literally and figuratively) and survived, and no film series has lasted this long. If you want to get into the films, I still say watch them all. You may love them all, you may hate them all, or it may be a mixed bag for you. But no other franchise has as many options without compromising the core of the character.
Don’t believe me? Check out this little gem I found on YouTube.
So order yourself a nice martini (three measures of Gordon’s; one of vodka; half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice, and add a thin slice of lemon peel), curl up next your Aston Martin poster, and binge away with Bond… James Bond.
And be sure to keep checking back for more, right here on Geeknation.
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