50 Years, 25 Movies (After This Weekend) And No Signs Of Slowing Down
It is crazy to think the James Bond is older than me (not by much, but still). With Skyfall marking the 25th Bond film (I count the two that were not produced by the Broccoli’s the original Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) this weekend what better time is there to look back at all of the good, bad, forgettable, ridiculous, comical and awesome moments everyone’s favorite spy has brought to us over the years. Merely listing the Bond films in order of personal preference somehow seems like not enough when talking about these movies. The truth is the bond films can be put into five different tiers; the bad, the forgettable, the ridiculous, the good and finally those handful of Bond films that transcend the others and are truly classics. So here you go, the Bond films by tier and in order from worst to first:
Timothy Dalton might have been a good James Bond but he was never given a good Bond movie to shine in. The Living Daylights was a reactionary movie. It reacted to the noise, the voices of people who weren’t Bond fans to begin with. Bond was to cavalier with women, the cold war was ending, there was no place for James Bond, blah, blah, blah. The producers made Bond a humorless and a-sexula character. It was stupid.
23. License to Kill (1989)
They tried to come back a little bit with this one, but they still failed. Honestly, if you have never seen Timothy Dalton as James Bond count yourself lucky and never bother with either of these movies.
22. Octopussy (1983)
By Moonraker in 1979 Roger Moore was getting too old to play Bond. Four years later with Octopussy it just didn’t come close to working anymore. Actually, if they had ever acknowledged that he was aging it might have worked, they might have even been able to do some interesting things with that. But they never acknowledged the Moore was in his late 50’s when Octopussy came out, they just kept making the movie as though he were in his 30’s or early 40’s. The result was a movie that felt like watching an older guy go into a college bar and try to pick up on the co-eds — kind of creepy.
21. Never Say Never Again (1983)
Released the same year as Octopussy I suppose Sean Connery’s return to the world of Bond should get points for acknowledging that Bond was aging, but there isn’t much more to say about it. This movie was a remake of Thunderball with an older James Bond (literally, the guy who co-wrote the book retained the rights which is why Warner Brother’s could make this movie). So, there’s the trivia about it. Ooh, and Kim Bassinger plays the “Bond girl” and Barbra Carrera plays the bad “Bond girl” (I had a crush on her in high school). Anything else… nope.
20. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
A Moore one with a greek girl who was good with a bow and arrow. Man, I don’t even have trivia for this one. Ooh, wait, now I remember, the theme song was more memorable than the movie.
19. The World Is Not Enough (1999)
When the most memorable thing about your movie is Denise Richards playing a nuclear physicist while being unable to pronounce the word nuclear correctly maybe you missed the mark a little bit.
18. You Only Live Twice (1967)
Sean Connery goes undercover as a Japanese diamond mine worker. Sean Connery pretends to be Japanese! Is there anyone in the world who could pull of Asian less convincingly than Connery, the hairiest Scott who ever lived? Come on.
17. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Jonathan Pryce is a media mogul who wants to start WWIII by using his “stealth” boat to trick China into thinking Great Britain has sunk one of their ships. This makes all of the sense in the world of course because there isn’t a businessman alive that wouldn’t love to see the destabilization of the world economy as a result of war that would no doubt turn quickly nuclear.
16. A View To A Kill (1985)
The last Roger Moore Bond movie is so hysterically over the top that it is nearly impossible to watch and not think it was made as a parody. Grace Jones and Christopher Walken as the bad guys chew up scenery like they are trying to break some kind of record that no one knows about.
15. Die Another Day (2002)
I like Brosnan as Bond but man alive did they decide to go out there with his movies. This one includes DNA implants in Cuba so you can look like someone else, the most nonsensical sword fight in a fencing club ever, Halle Berry saying “Yo Mama” while being tortured, an invisible car, windsurfing off the coast of Iceland and a Madonna cameo. I didn’t even mention the most obvious double agent ever or the ice hotel or the lazar in the sky that is powered by the sun and uses diamonds and is going to be used to take out land mines so North Korea can… I think you get my point.
14. Moonraker (1979)
Bond in space! No, really, the climactic conclusion is in space. There is essentially a space battle. Honestly, I’m not kidding. Also this was Roger Moore’s most popular Bond movie and the fourth most popular one of all time. Trust me, that is insane.
Bond in Vegas. Connery returned after Lazenby’s single stint for what he swore would be his last go around (hence the Never Say Never Again title of his Thunderball re-imagining 12 years later). Putter Smith and Bruce Glover as the comically formal henchman really make this one stand out as does the iconic Bond girl performance of Jill St. John. Not Connery’s best to be sure, but not his worst either.
12. Quantum of Solace (2008)
I almost put this in the forgettable category but that didn’t seem quite right. Having said that it really isn’t exceptionally memorable either. Bond is in a foul mood the entire movie and he is eventually joined by Olga Kurylenko who is beautiful but also more than a little upset. Maybe that is what really held the whole thing back. At their best Bond movies are whimsical in a way, never taking themselves too seriously. Quantum of Solace has no whimsy and all of the incredible stunts, chases and explosions don’t make up for what it is lacking.
11. Live and Let Die (1973)
Roger Moore’s first Bond movie is actually quite fun. Voodoo and Jane Seymour and New Orleans and the goofy American tourists that Bond keeps running into for about four movies in a row, it is all entertaining stuff. As with a number of the films in this tier it isn’t really lacking anything, but it transcends nothing either.
10. From Russia With Love (1963)
Notable for being the second film in the franchise it feels like with this, and with Dr. No to a lesser degree, they were still kind of figuring out what really made Bond work. They hit everything right here but nothing out of the park.
9. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Yes, this movie has been unfairly slammed (as has George Lazenby’s performance as Bond) in the past but now we are having a little overreaction to how good it was. Forbes recently ranked it as the fifth best Bond movie of all time (here) and I’ve seen other places rank it even higher than that. Cool skiing scene aside, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service isn’t that good. It’s good, just not that good.
8. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
As surprising as Thunderball having the most successful theatrical run in the history of the franchise was The Man With The Golden Gun having the second worst. Britt Ekland and Maud Adams as Bond girls (Maud Adams returned to Bond in Octopussy). Christopher Lee as the assassin and title character and Herve Villachaize (you know, Tattoo from Fantasy Island) as Christopher Lee’s man servant. The ending fight alone when Bond sticks Tattoo into a cupboard before doing what Bond does to Brit Ekland is worth watching it in and of itself.
7. Thunderball (1965)
I was shocked to see this was the most popular of all the Bond movies in the theaters. You could have given me 10 guesses and I doubt I would have guessed Thunderball #1 — and I like Thunderball. Its got Largo, the SPECTER bad guy with the eye patch. It’s got Bond swimming through a pool of sharks. Its got a gorgeous setting having been filmed in the Bahamas. Its got everything, just not as much of everything as the movies ahead of it.
6. Goldeneye (1995)
First, make no mistake, Goldeneye saved the Bond franchise. After Dalton’s two disastrous movies almost killed the whole thing Brosnan came on and did everything we want Bond to do. Seduce women? Check. Outrageous chase scenes? I’m pretty sure a tank driving through St. Petersberg counts. A a female character with a ridiculous name? Xenia Onatopp is one of the all time greats (and don’t even get me started on the way she kills people by crushing them between her thighs). Locations, comedy, action sequences galore? Goldeneye has it all. Heck, it even launched one of the most important games in video game history (the birth of the first person shooter as I understand it).
5. Dr. No (1962)
The original. When I first saw Casino Royale (the Daniel Craig movie not the David Niven one) it struck me that for the first time someone had taken Bond back to his roots. Dr. No exists before the catch phrases and crazy gizmos. Dr. No exists in a world where Bond can be ruthless, where Bond is a killer. Sure, Bond still gets the girl and gets to be cool but it isn’t as much about that as a lot of Bond movies became.
4. Casino Royale (1967)
David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress (the original Bond girl), Deborah Kerr (doing an hysterically bad Scottish accent), Bill Holden the list just keeps on going. This is a parody but it also kind of stands on its own. Sellers is predictably hilarious, as is Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond, 007’s not too cool nephew. It can be scattershot at times and the ending feels like something out of a French farce but I still love this movie.
3. Casino Royale (2006)
Bond wasn’t in dire straights necessarily when Daniel Craig took over the iconic role, but I think it is safe to say that with Die Another Day the franchise had been stretched as far into fantasy as it could possibly go. Casino Royale stands up not so much as a great Bond movie, but it is just a great action movie. The parkour chase sequence at the start was so cool to watch and unlike anything we had ever seen in any movie let alone a Bond movie. Casino Royale made Bond feel real again and in so doing he became more relevant.
2. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
There is no getting away from the fact that our age impacts how we react to different Bond movies. I was eleven when The Spy Who Loved Me came out and it is absolutely the film that really hooked me on Bond and for me remains the quintessential Bond movie. Richard Kiel’s Jaws. Barbara Bach’s Agent XXX (yup, really her title). The car turning into a submarine. I define Bond through the prism of this movie. Do I believe it objectively stands up as the second best Bond movie, yes. Do I say that with the knowledge that it is impossible for me to be adjective, you bet.
1. Goldfinger (1964)
“Do you expect me to talk Goldinger?”
“No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”
Oh yeah, the movie with Pussy Galore has to be #1. Naked bodies painted gold. Oddjob tossing his hat and cutting off the heads of statues. The Aston-Martin. Did I mention they actually released a movie in 1964 with a character named Pussy Galore? Goldfinger is the best of Connery, who in turn is the best 007. What else could be #1?
007 is so much a part of our movie watching lives that we all see Bond through the eyes of our youth. If you are in your 30’s Pierce Brosnan is your James Bond. If you are in your 20’s Daniel Craig epitomizes the role. For those of us in our 40’s Roger Moore was the Bond we saw in the theaters even if he always seemed to be wearing Sean Connery’s suit. My parents believed there was only one true Bond and he was from Scotland. The only thing we can all agree on is that Timothy Dalton (perhaps through no fault of his own) is nobody’s Bond.
But hey, what do I know? I’m fat.