This feature originally ran in November 2015 and is being republished in honor of the late Sir Sean Connery.
Despite its relatively rigid formulas, the past 60 years have seen 007 innovate and change with the times — from the swinging ’60s sophistication of Sean Connery to the wacky, winking camp of Roger Moore in the ’70s; from Timothy Dalton’s harder edge in the ‘80s to the slick, techno-infused commercialism of Pierce Brosnan in the ’90s. Even Daniel Craig’s macho navel-gazing has brought us a more sensitive, introspective Bond for a 21st century audience.
To that end, us agents here at Consequence of Sound decided to provide our own collective assessment of the Bond films from worst to best, along with our dissection of what makes each entry unique. So sit back with your vodka martini (you know the drill), loosen your bowtie a bit, and read on. Unlike Goldfinger, we fully expect you to talk and give us your own ranking in the comments below!
24. Die Another Day (2002)
Runtime: 2 hr. 13 min.
For Your Eyes Only: Bond gets captured in North Korea, re-emerges with a beard, squares off with an enigmatic British millionaire, and eventually gets turned into shite CGI so he can fight yet another villainous laser.
Bond, James Bond Is… Pierce Brosnan.
Property of a Lady: Halle Berry, fresh off an Oscar for her devastating work in Monster’s Ball, played Jinx Johnson (cue the light giggling over alliteration). While Berry’s visual allusion to Ursula Andress’ Dr. No bikini and her mysterious, butt-kicking demeanor made for a nice touch, the fact remains that Jinx was a misshapen second fiddle to Bond. Jinx kinda feels like the initial, ironic jinx on Berry’s career since 2001.
SPECTRE of Death: Bond villains have never been strangers to physical deformation and odd quirks. Here, Die Another Day doubled down with gene therapy. For one, Toby Stephens was the evil Richard Branson-like Gustave Graves, formerly (twist!) Colonel Moon from North Korea! He changed his face and appearance and devised a laser and diamond scheme that seems like way too much effort. Speaking of diamonds, Rick Yoon played Zao, a pasty henchman with diamonds embedded in his face. Anyways, these bad guys are exhausting to describe as their motives and transformations are very convoluted. What’s wrong with just robbing Fort Knox, you know?
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: John Cleese was officially the new Q, after playing R in The World Is Not Enough. Honestly, it would have been fun to see master-wit Cleese play Q for a handful of Bonds, but rebooting gave him the, er, boot.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: David Arnold went, like, full trip-hop with his score. Brass and machine drums.
Tsunami Surf Suckage: When Brosnan rides the waves in wobbly early 2000s computer effects fashion, Bond fanatics immediately gave Roger Moore snowboarding to The Beach Boys a pass. The iceberg-sailing surf is up there with fake-rubber Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man and wiggly Neville Longbottom in The Sorcerer’s Stone. Fans should have sent letters expressing their displeasure to the glut of effects houses that thought CGI-surfin’ Bond was a good idea — maybe they did.
Moore Says: Roger Moore says a lot of things about Bond these days, but perhaps the most inarguable comments he’s ever made were his thoughts on Die Another Day that he gave to The Times in 2008: “I thought it just went too far– and that’s from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!”
Quantum of Analysis: Director Lee Tamahori brought a certain inept splashiness to Bond, opting to mix the series’ signature ultra-budget flashes (endless locales, stunts, and effects) with the series’ sense of camp grandeur and silliness. In trying to please all contingents of the fan base, Die Another Day is the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Bond, too big and too damned goofy for its own britches. It prompted the 2006 reboot and became known as the breaking point in a franchise where the hero had been shot into outer space, avoided STD’s and alcoholism for 40 years, and had been re-cast several times. Die Another Day finally made Bond what he’d avoided for so long: D.O.A.
23. A View to a Kill (1985)
Runtime: 2 hr. 11 min.
For Your Eyes Only: Bond retrieves a stolen microchip that is capable of withstanding the magnetic pulse from a nuclear explosion. He soon uncovers a plot by the evil entrepreneur Max Zorin to destroy Silicon Valley, wiping out all his competitors. 007 must spring into action with the aid of a San Francisco City Employee … yep, that’s right!
Bond, James Bond Is… Roger Moore. Bond: “Hello. My name is James St. John Smythe. I’m English.” Stacey: “I never would have guessed.” Yikes.
Property of a Lady: Tanya Roberts plays Stacey Sutton, a San Francisco City Employee who aids 007 in his attempts to take down Max Zorin. Yes, that’s still correct and says a lot about the badass city workers in the Bay Area. And then there is May Day (Grace Jones), personal bodyguard to Zorin who is one of the most complex henchmen in Bond history, like it or not! May Day is the one who actually foil’s Zorin’s plan where Bond kind of ties up loose ends.
SPECTRE of Death: Christopher Walken plays the villainous Max Zorin. Walken truly shines here as the eccentric businessman and yet is sadly wasted on this installment in the Bond franchise. It’s safe to say we’ll probably never see Mr. Walken in another Bond film, but the way business is these days, we could always see him return as Zorin’s twin brother, seeking revenge!
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Robert Brown, Lois Maxwell, and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their roles as M, Moneypenny, and Q, respectively. Solid lineup once more, however, no Felix in this one.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: In the snowcapped ski-action sequence harkening back to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, John Barry’s intense and underrated View score is sadly interrupted with The Beach Boys’ “California Girls” when Bond is forced to use one ski as a makeshift snowboard. This is one of the rare times the use of the electric guitar not only blends well with the Bond score, but seems a perfect fit for the era in which it was produced (unlike the score to GoldenEye, but more on that later). This opening doesn’t flow into the film’s title sequence, but does set the tone for the film’s choppy pacing and odd presentation. Duran Duran’s title track is rad, to say the least. Ah, the 80’s…
Top 25 Golden Gate Bridge Fight Sequences: Say what you will about the film, but the Golden Gate Bridge fight is easily one of the most memorable Bond scuffles in the series. Who could possibly forget the Zorin blimp, the dynamite-wielding, old Nazi, or Zorin’s strange laugh just before his fatal fall?
When is Max Zorin Happiest?
Quantum of Analysis: This clocks in as the second worst Bond Film yet it’s hard to place A View to a Kill right next to Die Another Day. We still get Walken’s iconic performance, not to mention a killer Duran Duran song. Unfortunately, Roger Moore was 57 when this one was shot, though to his credit, even he felt too old for the role. It didn’t help that Bond films were being pushed into a new age of violence that didn’t sit well with Moore. When describing that all Bonds are different, he affectionately said, “I was a lover. Daniel Craig’s a killer.” Goodbye, Sir Roger. Next up, Mr. Dalton.
22. The World is Not Enough (1999)
Runtime: 2 hr. 8 min.
For Your Eyes Only: With the aid of an American nuclear physicist, James Bond faces off with a noted terrorist while trying to protect an oil heiress.
Bond, James Bond Is… Pierce Brosnan.
Property of a Lady: Sophie Marceau was Electra King, a kidnapped oil heiress, but really, everyone remembers Denise Richards as the short-shorts-sporting nuclear physicist Christmas Jones. Uh oh, did someone go to the Sylvester Stallone school of screenwriting and character naming? Christmas Jones, a character named solely for the purpose of a cringe-worthy sex pun from Bond about “Christmas coming only once a year.” Nice work, fellas. Everyone involved in this film can go home now.
SPECTRE of Death: They got freaking Begbie from Trainspotting (Robert Carlyle) to play Renard, a man with a bullet lodged in his brain. Normally, the prognosis is death for something like that, but Renard actually feels no pain.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Desmond Llewelyn bid farewell to his famous gadget-meister Q. It was time. He was 85 upon this film’s release, and Llewelyn passed away a month later on December 19, 1999. Q was given a heartfelt and bittersweet farewell in the film, and it’s arguably the highlight. “Always have an escape plan.”
Shaken and Stirred by Score: David Arnold was getting comfy emulating the brassy Barry sound. Yet he was also coming into his own with his electronic, very ’90s beat-heavy flourishes.
Peter Jackson’s James Bond. Wait. For real? Yes, Peter Jackson was in the running for this Bond entry. Even more curiously, so was Joe Dante, the old Gremlins and Innerspace whiz. But eventually the Broccolis made the totally obvious, very safe, commercially reliable action-director choice and hired Mr. Nell himself, Michael Apted. Who wouldn’t love to be in on that Broccoli meeting? “Well, Apted made all those sensitive, experimental Up films and Gorillas in the Mist, but I’ve gotta feeling about this chap.”
Pretty Long Pre-Credit: With explosions, a boat chase, and multiple locations, The World Is Not Enough has the longest pre-credit sequence of any Bond film. And find anyone to tell you what actually happened in those 14 minutes. Wait, Bond adjusts his collar in cheeky fashion while his boat’s underwater? What the hell was that?
Quantum of Analysis: For a movie riddled with stunts and effects, you’ll be hard-pressed to remember anything that actually happens in The World Is Not Enough. The 1999 Bond is a blitz and ultimately a blur, noteworthy for attempts at giving pathos to the Bond persona and actual psychology to its villains, but in the end, all the effects and characterization aren’t enough for Bond’s world.
21. Quantum of Solace (2008)
Runtime: 1 hr. 46 min.
For Your Eyes Only: After the death of Vesper Lynd, Bond seeks revenge on the organization responsible. In his search, he discovers a diabolical figure whose secret plans will leave a country in the hands of a warlord and its natural resources at his fingertips.
Bond, James Bond Is… Daniel Craig. M: “Bond, I need you back.” Bond: “I never left.”
Property of a Lady: Camille Rivera Montes, played by Olga Kurylenko, is a Bolivian Agent gone rogue in hopes to exact revenge on the man responsible for the murder of her family. I do love when the “Bond Girl” is an actual intelligence operative and doesn’t have to exist via a sexual relationship with Bond. They’re few and far between. Gemma Arterton plays MI6 Agent Strawberry Fields (ha-ha), but more on her later…
SPECTRE of Death: Dominic Greene, played by Mathieu Amalric, is a member of Quantum, the criminal organization that has ties to the people who murdered Vesper in Casino Royale. Mathieu plays the slimy businessman well but doesn’t quite break any new villain ground here, although he gives it his all when channeling Max Zorin’s axe-murdering tendencies.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: The brilliant Judi Dench returns as M. Moneypenny and Q remain to be seen in the Craig movies at this point. We are, however, graced with the second sighting of Bond favorite, Felix Leiter, once again played by the cool Jeffrey Wright.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: Quantum’s opening sequence picks up right where its predecessor left off, something the franchise had never done before. After an exciting car chase, we get the not-so-great opening credits sequence with the title track performed by Jack White and Alicia Keys. It just doesn’t capture the tone of the film. Oddly enough, the great Shirley Bassey (“Goldfinger”, “Diamonds Are Forever”, “Moonraker”) recorded a song with composer David Arnold titled “No Good about Goodbye”, though it was rejected. Using elements of the Quantum of Solace score, Bassey’s song just rings more true. Too bad.
James Bond or Jason Bourne: Competing with heavy-hitting spy thrillers at the time, some of the action in Quantum (not to mention Casino Royale) seems to pull directly from the style of the Bourne films. Too much Parkour? We’ll let you decide.
“Oil-fingah/ He’s the man, the man with the…wait.” One of the best nods and sequences in this film pays homage to another cruel death in the Bond series. Poor Agent Fields. I’ve heard of oil baths, but this is ridiculous!
Quantum of Analysis: This film was in production during the great writers strike of 2011, leaving director Marc Forster and Daniel Craig himself to flesh out a barebones script. It’s all about the story, and unfortunately without writers, this film suffers from a very wonky narrative. Craig admits to not being a writer and that they were “fucked.” Performances are strong, but we’re left with a skeleton of a Bond film that could have been one of the greats.
20. Moonraker (1979)
Runtime: 2 hr. 6 min.
For Your Eyes Only: An industrialist space nut wants to re-populate the Earth with his disco-dressed race of Aryan blondes and starts hijacking space shuttles to make his plan come to stupidly expensive fruition. Someone needs to cut the crap. Send in Bond.
Bond, James Bond Is… Roger Moore. Covered in tin foil. Sporting a Union Jack flag on his arm.
Property of a Lady: Lois Chiles played CIA agent Holly Goodhead (ask me about it when you’re older).
SPECTRE of Death: Michael Lonsdale was Hugo Drax, the Hitler-esque megalomaniac looking to create a perfect Earth with handsome teeny boppers. Seriously, James Bond villains must have to put so much damned effort into their cockamamie schemes. Re-populating the Earth? Strangelove pitched that 15 years earlier and was laughed out of the room, Drax!
Oh, and Jaws was back! With a pig-tailed girlfriend!
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: M. Q. Moneypenny. They’re all here. As they’ve been many times.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: The bold and beautiful Barry, at it again. However, come 1979, Barry had to be like, “Enough with the brass and swank, guys.” For Moonraker, he employed rich, melodic string work. At times the score feels like the love child of Bond and the 2001 soundtrack.
Bond. Space Bond. Initially the Broccolis were ready to produce For Your Eyes Only. Then Star Wars happened.
Crash Landing: In spite of the burdensome visual effects, Moonraker still boasts one of the greatest opening action scenes in a Bond film. Kicked out of a plane without a chute, Bond must dive to nab a bad guy’s chute to save himself. It took 88 dives and innovative camerawork, and in the end, the scene’s a total rush.
Quantum of Analysis: Moonraker can be brushed off as a cynical cash grab on the popularity of Star Wars; that much is true. Yet it’s got a certain amount of camp and pricey panache. Jaws bombs into a circus. A gondola turns into a hovercraft. Bond dons lasers. Moonraker benefits from a sense of self-awareness of the fact that everything is a little silly in this movie. Oh, and pigeon double-take.
19. Octopussy (1983)
Runtime: 2 hrs. 11 min.
For Your Eyes Only: James Bond tracks the trail of a Fabergé egg and a dead double-0 agent to a group of circus performers in India, led by the yonically named Octopussy.
Bond, James Bond Is… Roger Moore. [after meeting a tiger in the forest] “Sit!”
Property of a Lady: Octopussy is played by Maud Adams, the rare Bond actress to come back for a second role (she was in The Man with the Golden Gun), but it’s at least semi-refreshing to see Moore interacting with a woman closer to his own age. Kristina Wayborn plays the thinly-characterized double-agent Magda, who gets the cringe-worthy title drop (“Oh, that’s my little Octopussy”) and is otherwise completely unremarkable.
SPECTRE of Death: The rogue’s gallery in India is particularly mediocre: the late Louis Jourdan tries to spice up proceedings as Afghan prince Kamal Khan, but Steven Berkoff’s General Orloff doesn’t curry much favor with his over-the-top barking. The twins Mischka and Grischka have a neat little gimmick with their knife-throwing skills, but Kabir Bedi’s Gobinda is just Oddjob with a turban.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: The whole crew is back, with Q getting a bit more to do this time, accompanying Bond on his mission to India. One big misstep (and a sign of the franchise’s aging core crew) is the hiring of the young Miss Penelope Smallbone (Michaela Clavell) as a potential replacement for Moneypenny in future installments. Based on the two lines of dialogue we got, I’m glad we dropped her: nobody does it better than Lois Maxwell.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: Barry’s back as usual, but his scoring is a bit limper this time, lazily throwing in some Indian flavors to make it seem like he’s trying. Rita Coolidge’s “All Time High” is yet another entry in Moore’s repertoire of mall-walking Bond anthems, but at least it’s aged marginally better than “For Your Eyes Only”:
Highest Body Count: Based on this awesome supercut from Auralnauts, Octopussy features the single highest instance of mass murder that Bond is directly responsible for, making up nearly half of Moore’s total kills. In the pre-credits sequence, Moore drives his tiny Bede BD-5J jet through an open airplane hangar, the missile chasing him blowing up said hanger and killing approximately 50 people. 007: now officially a mass murderer.
From India, 1-Love: In a weirdly charming bit of stunt casting, tennis pro Vijay Armitraj becomes Bond’s sidekick for the Indian portion of the movie, playing an MI6 agent named – get this – Vijay. He quips gleefully along with Moore, takes out hoodlums with a tennis racket, and even gets a tragic death to fuel Bond’s desire for justice. In a pretty weak Bond entry, at least Vijay stands out.
Quantum of Analysis: Octopussy is Moore-era Bond at its most rote: a wrinkly star purring icky double entendres into the ears of women half his age, disappointing villains, corny jokes (including a Tarzan yell!), and an almost desperate veneer of self-awareness. Octopussy feels like Cubby Broccoli and the rest just kind of shrugging their shoulders at the audience and saying, “What do you want from us?”
18. Spectre (2015)
[**THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS HEAVY SPOILERS**]
Runtime: 2 hr. 30 min.
For Your Eyes Only: Bond is on a personal mission to track down a mysterious organization that may be the key to every mission dating back to Casino Royale. A mysterious ring and a tucked-away past all lead to one thing: SPECTRE.
Bond, James Bond Is… Daniel Craig. “Stay!”
Property of a Lady: Lea Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swan, daughter to one of Bond’s enemies. Seydoux is good as per usual, but her character suffers a second-half lapse of logic thanks to the writers, and she feels out of place in the end. Faring better is Monica Bellucci’s Lucia Sciarra, a widow to an assassin who feels destined to be assassinated herself. She is strong but unafraid to show how frightened she is. Her chemistry with Craig is bonkers, but alas her time on screen is short. In an even smaller role is Stephanie Sigman, who unknowingly assists Bond in the excellent pre-credits sequence. Sigman co-starred in FX’s The Bridge. I miss that show.
SPECTRE of Death: Christoph Waltz is Oberhauser. Who am I kidding? He’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld! He’s been retconned into a boy from Bond’s childhood who grew jealous of his father’s affection towards the man who would become 007. More on him later, but before then let’s discuss Dave Bautista’s silent thug, Mr. Hinx. After making a memorable entrance, his character slowly transforms into Bond’s version of The Terminator. After Bautista’s performance in Guardians of the Galaxy, he is underutilized here. Andrew Scott plays a jerk-ish MI5 higher-up whose agenda turns out to be associated with evil. Not worth getting into. Dissect elsewhere.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Ralph Fiennes settles in for his first full-time gig as M. Joining him are returning associates Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw as Q. They are a great team, the best trio since Moonraker gave us Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, and Desmond Llewelyn. No Felix, but he is mentioned in a promise made to the widow Sciarra. Spin-off with Felix protecting Lucia, please!
Shaken and Stirred by Score: Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” doesn’t hold up as a single, but fits in quite well in the context of the movie’s opening credits. Fire. Octopuses. Bond. Shadowy figures. It’s a solid sequence. Thomas Newman’s score uses its melody and gives the film a bit of old-school class with its use of strings as a dominating instrument.
John Harrison: Remember when everybody and their mother knew that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing Khan in Star Trek into Darkness, but everyone involved kept insisting that he was no-name John Harrison? Like that movie, when Spectre’s villain is revealed to really be someone else (here he changed his name to Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Groan.), it’s supposed to be “the moment” of the movie. Instead we’re left saying “yes, and” without an improviser in sight. It’s one of a few “surprise” moments that turned out to be predictable from the day Spectre was announced.
Day of the Dead: The pre-credit sequence is a technical marvel: a “single-take” thanks to tricks of the filmmaking trade. We walk through a parade into a hotel, up an elevator and into a guest room, out the window, and across a roof to a kill shot. Director Sam Mendes doesn’t rest on his laurels here, and it’s one of the best Bond openings of them all…
Quantum of Analysis: …it’s too bad about the back half. Spectre’s strong, gorgeous front half features intense introductions and a proper “fun” take on Bond we haven’t seen from Craig before. Classic elements from Bonds of yesteryear return before the movie loses itself to prequelitis, ridiculous acts of retcon, and an anti-climactic finale. There are bad Bond movies and good Bond movies, but Spectre may be the most frustrating of them all. So much potential squandered by what turns out to be poor storytelling.
17.The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Runtime: 2 hr. 5 min.
For Your Eyes Only: There is a man with a golden gun and a determination to kill a 00-agent who cannot be killed: James Bond!
Bond, James Bond Is… Roger Moore. “I am now aiming precisely at your groin. So speak, or forever hold your piece.”
Property of a Lady: There is good with the bad. The less said about Britt Ekland’s Agent Mary Goodnight the better, but I will mention that at one point she finds herself locked in the trunk of a car. A much more mysterious performance comes courtesy of Maud Adams as Scaramanga’s lover, Andrea Anders. Adams was so good that producers cast her as the titular role in Octopussy years later.
SPECTRE of Death: Christopher Lee is excellent in the role of Scaramanga, a most formidable foe for our James. He has a fun house designed to engage in shootouts with fellow hit men, so he’s just the right kind of sick for the franchise. He has both a dwarf sidekick in Hervé Villechaize’s Nick Nack and a third nipple. Are there inappropriate jokes about Nick Nack throughout the film? It was filmed in the early ‘70s, where such jokes were basically required.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Q is back! After missing out on the Blaxploitation-egads-adventures of Live and Let Die, Llewelyn’s gadget guru meets with Moore’s Bond for the first time. Don’t worry. He’s as unimpressed with him as he was with the Bonds that came before. No Felix this go-round.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: With guns and ladies in a shimmering-water effect, the credit sequence is disappointingly bland. Lulu’s title track doesn’t help much (we have it at the bottom in our Ranking: James Bond Theme Songs), but what if it was replaced by Alice Cooper’s version? Hmmm. Not much better.
G.D. Sheriff J.W. Pepper: Everyone’s favorite (?) walkin’, talkin’, good ol’ boy caricature is back! After appearing exasperated to the point of human combustion in Moore’s first outing, the vacationing sheriff just so happens to be vacationing in Bangkok when he runs into 007 once again. “Now, if you pointy-heads would get out of them pajamas, you wouldn’t be late for work!” Ladies and gentlemen, your 1970s!
James Bond Was Kung Fu Fighting! While Live and Let Die embraced/ripped off the Blaxploitation films of its era, Golden Gun embraces/rips off the Kung Fu craze happening around the same time. This may help explain the pointless sequence in an actual dojo, not seen since the days of Connery going full Asian in You Only Live Twice. At least Moore’s Bond has the decency to come as he is. Probably a double entendre in there somewhere.
Quantum of Analysis: Not good, HQ. Not good. It’s a MOR-Moore Bond adventure in a set of films that tend to veer off the cliff. The locales, as always, are beautiful, and Lee is a classic Bond villain. Unfortunately for Ian Fleming’s cousin, he’s trapped in an overlong movie with one of Bond’s worst leading ladies and worst scores. Moore’s next movie would not only be better, but one of the best Bond movies of them all.
16. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Runtime: 1 hr. 59 min.
For Your Eyes Only: Bond must stop a maniacal media mogul from starting World War III between England and China – all to sell more physical copies of newspapers and more subscriptions to satellite news networks (wha?).
Bond, James Bond Is… Pierce Brosnan. “They’ll print anything these days.”
Property of a Lady: Despite its weaknesses, Tomorrow features one of the strongest “Bond Girls” of all time: Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin. She kicks ass with the best of them and has the rare distinction of being treated like a colleague instead of yet another item in Bond’s inventory. She and Bond get some thrilling, collaborative action scenes together, including an extended set piece where they’re literally handcuffed to each other.
Oh, and Teri Hatcher’s in it too for, like, a couple minutes.
SPECTRE of Death: Jonathan Pryce’s Elliot Carver is equal parts Steve Jobs (complete with portrait), Rupert Murdoch, and Donald Trump, which makes a great idea for a villain. Unfortunately, despite Pryce’s lively presence and that lyrical delivery, he makes for a pretty limp baddie. Vincent Schiavelli brings a much-needed jolt of humor as his fastidious assassin Dr. Kaufman (“I feel like an idiot. I don’t know vat to say”), and Gotz Otto is imposing, if not remarkable, as this installment’s required Aryan strongman Stamper.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Judi Dench is all spit and vinegar as M, Samantha Bond offers her wry sharpness as Moneypenny, and Desmond Lllewelyn is in fine form in his last full-on role as Q (he shares Q duties with Cleese in The World Is Not Enough). Our good buddy Joe Don Baker is back as Jack Wade, too.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: This was David Arnold’s first Bond score of the five he would do for the series, and I love it. Much like the plot, its focus on electronica is extremely ‘90s (working with the Propellerheads, who did the lobby-scene fight cue from The Matrix), but his strong orchestral backing and penchant for big, big, big in his music fits Bond well. Arnold essentially auditioned for the part by making a CD of Bond theme song covers that’s well worth a listen.
As for the theme song, it’s … okay, I guess? Sheryl Crow gives it that swaying, lounge-y feel that fits Bond’s high-class lifestyle, but it’s not nearly as brassy as the original pick: k.d. lang’s incredible “Surrender”. Stick around for the end credits to listen to that and wonder what could have been.
Backseat Driving: After GoldenEye spent a whole scene telling us about the fancy new BMW only to drive it down a single road, Tomorrow makes up for that with an excellent chase scene involving a parking garage, henchmen with rocket launchers, and Bond remote-driving a BMW 750 from the backseat. (Who brings rocket launchers just to, as far as they know, break into a car?)
Gee Pee Ess: Another strong indicator of just how dated Tomorrow Never Dies has become is its obsession with that newfangled technology known as GPS. The first act’s major MacGuffin is a GPS encoder, personified by a slim, blinking red box with a long series of numbers that’s meant to symbolize … something, I’m sure. Looking back on it now, it’s just adorable how many people introduce GPS in the film as if it’s a new thing. “Through our global positioning satellites … the GPS system,” says Colin Salmon’s Robinson, smugly.
Quantum of Analysis: After Austin Powers was released to much success, the self-reflexive Bond of GoldenEye was out. People wanted the goofy, campy 007 back, and Tomorrow feels like a step in that direction. Brosnan’s having a bit more fun, and Pryce throws himself into his hammy villain with gusto. It’s rather low in this list, but strong set pieces, Arnold’s awesome score, and the presence of a truly kick-ass Bond girl in Wai Lin give it some charm. As you’ve by no doubt read, Brosnan’s certainly done worse.
15. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Runtime: 2 hr.
For Your Eyes Only: Bond faces off with Blofeld. Again. And has to stop a giant laser. Again. But now it’s the ‘70s, baby! Vegas! Amsterdam!
Bond, James Bond Is… The well-publicized return of Sean Connery who was given a then-record $1.25 million to come back. “That’s quite a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing. I approve.”
Property of a Lady: Jill St. John was Tiffany Case, a small-time smuggler unwittingly working for SPECTRE. However, and more to Bond’s pun and one-liner ends, Lana Wood played Plenty O’Toole, a name designed solely for the purpose of setting up Bond for dorky humor. “I’m Plenty!” “But of course you are.”
SPECTRE of death: Charles Gray played a rather lame variation on Blofeld. He wasn’t Donald Pleasance. Or Telly Savalas. Or the uncredited voice work of Eric Pohlman in From Russia with Love or Thunderball. Gray played Blofeld like the dweeby, high-strung old man that thinks he’s really cool with his cat and no-collar suit but everyone secretly makes fun of behind his back. He’s a pompous Blofeld. A preening Blofeld. A stick-up-his-ass Blofeld.
For fun villains here, look no further than Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) — two total hench-nerds. They’re arguably the movie’s funniest and campiest components, like high school A.V. club resentfuls that got into crime with an eye on getting revenge on the world.
Oh yeah, Bambi and Thumper, too. They’re femme fatales that Bond turns into pool toys. It’s, well, the less said, the better.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: M. Q. Moneypenny. They’re all here. Again. Ooh, wait, hold on a second. Diamonds Are Forever has another new Felix Leiter. Norman Burton was Bond’s American ally this time. Who’s Norman Burton? IMDB says he was known for Planet of the Apes, The Towering Inferno, and Bloodsport. Still don’t know who he is? Umm … neither do we, come to think of it. He looks like Bond’s grumpy neighbor.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: Barry returned for his sixth go-round of composing for Bond. This time, Barry put in a touch of swanky jazz, sexy saxophones, and a nightclub atmosphere. You can probably still make out to it.
West. Kanye West. Yeezy’s 2005 hit, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”, now famously sampled Shirley Bassey’s Diamonds Are Forever theme. Bassey apparently really dug this. Diamonds, whatever. Shirley Bassey theme songs from James Bond movies, those are truly forever.
The Aviator Connection: Albert Broccoli was good friends with Howard Hughes in the ‘70s, and because of that friendship, you see a lot of Hughes’ hotels in this movie. Hughes even got local enforcement to go lax on the production, allowing Connery and company to play in the streets with much more ease.
Quantum of Analysis: Guy Hamilton’s Diamonds Are Forever is basically the beginning of the camp era for Bond films. And that was alright. Still is. The film feels like the curious attempt to deconstruct and have a laugh at Bond’s growing familiar in mainstream culture. The subplots about multiple Blofelds, the gauche, excessive Vegas locales, the overall glibness of Connery, it’s all at odds with prior installments. Weary, yet weird, and ultimately kind of wacky.
14. License to Kill (1989)
Runtime: 2 hr. 13 min.
For Your Eyes Only: After Felix Leiter is viciously attacked by a ruthless drug lord, Bond turns in his license to kill, but not his intention … to kill.
Bond, James Bond Is… Timothy Dalton. “Don’t you want to know why?” Chills.
Property of a Lady: Carrie Lowell plays Pam Bouvier, an ex-CIA agent who joins Bond on his quest for revenge. She’s actually given material and plays a pivotal role during the film’s big finale (flies a friggin’ plane!) Talisa Soto is given less to do as Lupe Lamora, girlfriend of the evil Sanchez. She inevitably falls for Bond, but who cares? Lowell and Soto would go on to portray different types of powerful figures in Law & Order and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, respectively. Fun fact: Annihilation beat L.A. Confidential at the box office its opening weekend. America!
SPECTRE of Death: Robert Davi was a bad dude in Goonies, but he takes it to a whole other level as drug kingpin Sanchez in License. He gets arrested knowing he’ll get out. He smokes cigars. He beats his girlfriend. He blows up people’s heads via decompressed pressure chambers. He engages in machete fights. He’s effective, to say the least. His secondhand man, Dario, is played by a very young Benicio del Toro. He’s as cold as we’ve come to expect from the Academy Award-winning actor.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Leiter usually comes into a Bond movie long after the plot has been established, but he’s never been more important than he is in License. What happens to him and his wife is the launching point of the entire movie’s existence. Leiter is played by returning champion David Hedison (Live and Let Die). Also of note: the final performances from Robert Brown as M and Caroline Bliss as Moneypenny. Llewelyn’s Q wouldn’t go anywhere for a long time.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: A snoozefest. Gladys Knight has a great voice, but not even her Pips could save her from this bland retread of Goldfinger. The track that plays during the closing credits is “If You Ask Me To” with vocals by Anita Baker (that song was made famous a few years later by Celine Dion). As for the credit sequence, there are a lot of allusions to photography for some reason. Did I miss something here?
Lethal Weapon 007: Bond movies often reflect the era in which they were produced (Shaft–Live and Let Die, Star Wars–Moonraker). License to Kill is from the era of Lethal Weapon, and it’s as brutal as Bond has ever been. The drug catalyst, the violence, the unwavering thirst for vengeance, and, to top it all off, a score by Michael Kamen. All that’s missing is Murtaugh, who was apparently too old for this shit. I’ll see my way out.
Bigger Is Better: There is a really cool stunt at the end of this movie that pays homage to Diamonds Are Forever. In Connery’s swan song, Bond drives a car tilted to one side to get through an alleyway. Here, he tilts an 18-wheeler to avoid an explosion. Nice driving!
Quantum of Analysis: Dalton was ahead of his time. His take on the character often led to criticism of being too serious and not “fun” enough. However, there’s a reason that his movies hold up better than most of Brosnan or Moore’s. He’s as blunt an instrument as the character ever was in the Fleming novels. License to Kill would be his last performance as 007 (thanks to fun lawsuits over rights), but he goes out with a bang. Or two. Or three. Or four.
13. You Only Live Twice (1967)
Runtime: 1 hr. 57 min.
For Your Eyes Only: When American and Russian spacecrafts go missing, 007 is sent to Japan to investigate. Are the Japanese responsible for pitting these two superpowers against each other? Or is there a more sinister force behind it all?
Bond, James Bond Is… Sean Connery. “Oh, the things I do for England.”
Property of a Lady: Aki, played by Akiko Wakabayashi, is a Japanese spy and one of the most capable Bond companions. She works for Tiger Tanaka, head of the Japanese Secret Service, and rescues Bond at one point in her slick Toyota 2000GT. A relationship begins to blossom, but an attempt to poison Bond misses the target, killing Aki instead. Kissy Suzuki, (Mie Hama) the agent assigned to Bond after Aki’s death, “marries” 007 when he goes undercover (more on that soon) and helps him foil Blofeld’s plot in the end!
SPECTRE of Death: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, portrayed here by Donald Pleasence. Though he appeared in earlier entries, this marks the first time we actually see the iconic villain. Bald head, scar over his eye, and white cat, to boot! Look familiar? He sets the pace for all Blofelds to come.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: M, Q, and Moneypenny are back, played once again by Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, and Lois Maxwell, respectively. No Felix Leiter to be found here.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: Barry continues his streak of powerhouse bond themes with You Only Live Twice. The title song is performed by Nancy Sinatra, clocking in at number 7 in our Ranking: James Bond Theme Songs from Worst to Best. It was also recently featured in the fifth season finale of Mad Men.
You can’t do that today: When viewing classic Bond films, one must adapt to the mindset of the time in which the film was released. Having said that, there are some moments here that just don’t quite work and are incredibly hard to watch. For instance, Bond attempting to go undercover in Japan. Yeesh.
Cats Just Love Blofeld:
Quantum of Analysis: At times lost in the Bond formula of beautiful women, exotic locations, and revolutionary gadgets, You Only Live Twice suffers at the expense of its spectacle. However, giving us the first on-screen interaction between Bond and Blofeld is enough to secure its place in Bond history. This would also be Connery’s first “final” Bond film before returning two movies later for Diamonds Are Forever.
12. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Runtime: 2 hr. 8 min.
For Your Eyes Only: A submarine has sunk to the bottom of the ocean with a device that could change the Cold War forever. Bond must determine whether or not his enemies are his friends … and whether or not his friends are his enemies.
Bond, James Bond Is… Roger Moore. “All right, keep your hair on!” Pat, pat.
Property of a Lady: As is so often the case, we have two roles here of varying quality. Carole Bouquet is the out-for-revenge Melina Havelock, a character that is as capable a “Bond girl” as has ever been written. She’s deadly with an arrow and never loses sight of her goal, even when she takes time out for a roll in the waves with Bond. Unfortunately, Lynn-Holly Johnson plays an annoying, aspiring Olympic figure skater desperate to grow up. Why she’s here is anyone’s guess.
SPECTRE of Death: Walter Gotell returns as General Gogol, but the KGB aren’t the real baddies here. We get strongman Kriegler (John Wyman) who answers the question, “What if Rocky Horror played a henchman in a Bond movie?” The creepiest is Gothard, a silent, calculating assassin who receives the most brutal death via Moore’s Bond, one that Sir Roger believed was too cruel for his take on 007. The man who ties them all together is Greek businessman Kristatos, played by Julian Glover. The actor has played the main villain in a Bond movie, an Indiana Jones movie, and two Doctor Who stories. A genre legend.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: R.I.P. Bernard Lee. The man who was M passed away before he could shoot his scenes, so for the first and only time, M does not feature in a James Bond film (we’re told M is on leave). Llewelyn’s Q and Maxwell’s Moneypenny are back at it, but no Felix.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: Great song sung by Sheena Easton, who is also the only artist to appear in the opening credits of a Bond movie. It’s the third and final time the franchise gets an Oscar nomination for Best Song until Adele won for “Skyfall” 30 years later. The score saw Bond going a different way with the hiring of Bill Conti (Rocky). I’ll just say this was definitely produced during the disco era, albeit its death throes.
That’s Blofeld, but Not Really, but Yeah, It’s Him: Thanks to rights issues (see: Kevin McClory), supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his evil organization, SPECTRE, had not been seen since final days of Connery’s Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. As a “fuck you” to those tying up the use of the character, a bald man with a gray suit and white cat are seen tormenting Bond in the pre-credit sequence before being dispatched down a chimney (the cat lives). The character’s name is never said, but the character is finally dead.
Milos on the Roof: Topol steals every scene he’s in as Milos Colombo, a smuggler who we’re led to believe is the film’s heavy before big reveals start a’happenin’. The actor, most famous for playing the titular Fiddler on the Roof both on Broadway and in its film adaptation, is very smart, capable, and most important of all: funny. Echoes of his character can be found in Robbie Coltrane’s Zukovsky of the Brosnan Bonds.
Quantum of Analysis: Easily the darkest Bond in the Moore series of films, For Your Eyes Only is an example of a movie blowing things up in order to survive. That this came out only two years after the over-the-top space silliness of Moonraker is unbelievable. It’s a bit long in stretches, but easily in the upper half of the Bond movies and one of Moore’s best efforts.
11. Live and Let Die (1973)
Runtime: 2 hr. 1 min.
For Your Eyes Only: A suspicious island nation is under investigation, but every MI6 agent that gets close winds up dead. It’s up to Bond to bust up an international heroin conspiracy and liberate the island of San Monique from its dictator’s voodoo-enforced rule.
Bond, James Bond Is… Roger Moore. “Sheer magnetism, darling.”
Property of a Lady: Jane Seymour is Solitaire, the mystic beauty under willing captivity of dictator Dr. Kananga. She reads the tarot and assures Kananga’s success so long as she remains a virgin and thus retains her powers. In this case, Bond doesn’t just seduce her, but actually tricks her into thinking it’s their destiny to hook up when he stacks her deck with The Lovers. Pretty sleazy, even by Bond standards. Gloria Hendry plays the short-lived Rosie Carver, an inexperienced and easily startled CIA agent. She’s Bond’s first on-screen black liaison and pays the lethal price of betrayal.
SPECTRE of Death: Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) is a complicated dude. He runs an island nation with weaponized scarecrows and controls his own incarnation of Baron Samedi, the Loa of Death (played by the incredible Geoffrey Holder). Meanwhile, Kananga also gallivants around the States in a latex mask as drug lord and restauranteur “Mr. Big.” His plan is to distribute the heroin grown on San Monique through his nationwide restaurant chain for free. Get people hooked, destabilize America’s drug economy, and get even richer. His arsenal of henchmen includes the claw-armed Tee-Hee, the near-mute Whisper, and an actual deity depending on how you read the outcome with Samedi.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: No trip to the US of A is complete without a visit from Felix Leiter! David Hedison plays a particularly active and very likable iteration of Bond’s CIA pal — a role he’d become the first to reprise when he returned years later in License to Kill. Q is MIA, but Bond shares a gadgeteering moment with M when the Director makes an unexpected house call. That same scene also offers one of the most memorable Moneypenny moments on record, wherein the ever-overlooked secretary helps out Bond’s girl-of-the-moment by keeping her secreted from M’s sight. Also along for the ride is Quarrel Jr., son of the Cayman Islander who helped Bond in Dr. No.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: “Live and Let Die” was the first rock song to grace the hallowed halls of Bond’s themes. Paul McCartney and Wings’ ruthless jam, combined with lavish orchestration from Beatles producer George Martin, ushered in a bold new age of Bond. In fact, Martin’s work on the song so impressed the producers that they asked him to fill in for the busy John Barry. Martin’s rock- and funk-infused orchestrations compliment the film’s aesthetic well, but it’s the cues that are to die for. The title sequence unfortunately is 50/50. The opening shot of a wide-eyed woman, head on fire, erupting into a burning skull will make for lasting nightmares, but the rest of the video’s wind-tousled dancing girls are forgettable.
Race Relations: “White face in Harlem, good thinking Bond,” chides black CIA Agent Strutter. Live and Let Die is a strange film for many reasons, but you’ve got to hand it to them. Adapting Fleming’s most racist novel into Blaxploitation-cum-Bond was a bold move. But was it empowering? With the exception of Quarrel Jr. and Strutter, every other black person in this film, from shoe shiner to stage performer, is an active participant in a massive conspiracy of murder and drug smuggling. Kananga is in many ways The Man – he enslaves San Monique by turning their voodoo belief against them and plans on starting his drug enslavement of America in black cultural centers. On the other hand, all black characters are interesting and generally respectful, whereas the film’s biggest stereotype is the racist comic-relief heel Sheriff J.W. Pepper. Discuss.
The Dream-Quest of James Bond: One of the most endearing qualities about Live and Let Die is how unabashedly surreal it is. In one of Kananga’s restaurants, Bond’s booth cycles into a secret room, in another his table lowers into the floor. In his hotel, turning on the cold water opens a trap door, and turning on the hot lets in a snake. CIA agents are swallowed up by coffins with dummy bottoms and whisked away in funeral processions. Flutes turn into two-way radios; scarecrows are wired into a jungle CCTV network. And then of course there’s the lair underneath the graveyard with a secret elevator that would suggest everything about Baron Samedi was a scam – except the part where Bond shoots his head, and it cracks like a clay pot. Samedi’s eyes glance upwards as if to inspect the damage, and then his entire body shatters with further bullets. Let us not forget the haunting end of Kananga who turns into a human balloon and explodes.
Quantum of Analysis: In the Bond lineup, Live and Let Die is a daringly different entry that sees Moore (in his first outing) and company nimbly walking a line between slapstick and sinister. Whereas the series’ most memorable films focus on threats as big as nuclear annihilation, a low-key mission with its own brand of sensationalism is a welcome change. Plus it’s got no shortage of Bond moments: smashing the top off a double-decker bus and making a narrow escape by running across three live crocodiles. Though an awesome boat chase is irreparably mucked up by Sheriff Pepper’s shoehorned B.S., it’s just part and parcel of Live and Let Die’s so-bad-it’s-good insanity.
10. Thunderball (1965)
Runtime: 2 hr. 10 min.
For Your Eyes Only: A SPECTRE operative hijacks nuclear warheads from a NATO plane and wants 100 million pounds or else he’ll cause nuclear chaos. Send in Bond with a harpoon and a scuba suit.
Bond, James Bond Is… Sean Connery — in a jetpack! Iconic Bond, right here! “I hope we didn’t scare the fishes.”
Property of a Lady: There were two “Bond Girls” in this entry. Bond’s assisted by the main villain’s mistress, the regretful Domino, played by French actress Claudine Auger. Julie Christie, Raquel Welch, and Faye Dunaway were all considered at points until the production began to audition models, unknowns, and European actresses. And then there’s the femme fatale, Fiona, a redheaded devil in a blue dress, played by Luciani Paluzzi. The character was originally written as Irish, but adjusted for Paluzzi’s real-life nationality after she was cast.
SPECTRE of Death: Adolfo Celi played Largo, or Number Two, the eye-patched baddy of Thunderball. Celi possessed a strong Sicilian accent, and his voice was dubbed over by Robert Rietty. Largo’s a cool, creepy villain, and his voice dub is actually pretty solid.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Does anyone know why Felix kept getting re-cast in these? For the CIA pally’s third onscreen appearance, Rik Van Nutter played Felix with, dig this, cool shades and a seersucker suit, daddy-o!
Shaken and Stirred by Score: Barry kicked out a big, boisterous score for this one, creating operatic action bliss with his “007” and extended compositions for the film’s final battle scene underwater.
Disputes. Legal Disputes: Thunderball was actually intended as the first James Bond adaptation; however, legal disputes got in the way. Controversial, long-term, really, really convoluted legal disputes. The chronology and accreditation is sticky at best, and accusations of plagiarism get ugly in arts and entertainment. Plus, there’s the knotty nature of the non-Eon, 1983 sort-of-remake, Never Say Never Again. If you want the full ordeal, it’s on Wikipedia, but be warned: legal documents are trickier and less direct than dossiers.
Shark Bait: Connery was concerned from the get-go about sharks as a major plot point. The wicked Largo’s pets required the hirsute actor to swim and fend off a swarm, so to protect Connery, the production built separators to keep Connery from getting the chomp. However, the clear plastic panels weren’t particularly tall, and sharks were easily able to swim over them. Apparently, one got close enough that Connery was mere seconds away from being attacked. According to Terence Young, Connery’s sheer terror of sharks is in the finished film. “Dead” sharks were brought in to float around stuntmen, but one revived and scared the hell out of everyone. The damn sharks in this film came closer to killing Bond than any other villain.
Quantum of Analysis: Thunderball strikes with outrageous ‘60s action gusto. Connery’s in top shape, the stunts (especially the underwater battle) are among the series’ best, and whatever pacing issues the movie gets dinged for are more than forgivable thanks to the movie’s pulpy memorability. It’s Bond on high.
09. The Living Daylights (1987)
Runtime: 2 hrs. 11 min.
For Your Eyes Only: After the defection of a Russian general is stymied by his kidnapping mere hours later, Bond’s mission leads towards a complicated scheme involving the general, a convoluted three-way deal involving opium, weapons, and the Mujahideen.
Bond, James Bond Is… Timothy Dalton. “Why didn’t you learn the violin?”
Property of a Lady: Another rare Bond film with only a single Bond girl. Unfortunately, Maryan d’Abo’s Kara Milovy is one of the most helpless of the bunch. However, it helps that Kara’s sheepishness is by design: she gets Bond’s attention after posing as a counter-sniper, her inexperience causing Bond to just shoot the gun out of her hands. “Stuff my orders! I only kill professionals. That girl didn’t know one end of a rifle from the other.” She’s not great, but she has some acceptable chemistry with Dalton.
SPECTRE of Death: The Living Daylights has the rare distinction of having a pair of major Bond villains – the duplicitous General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé, less hammy than smarmy) and the self-important arms dealer Whitaker (Joe Don Baker, two films before he became Brosnan’s best buddy, Jack Wade). The two aren’t particularly imposing; they kind of feel like two slimy car salesmen trying to pull one over on the major superpowers. Still, their henchman Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) is one of the better Bond heavies in years, with some great gimmicks and a spry, athletic presence.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Robert Brown and Desmond Llewelyn are back as M and Q, but a younger Bond means a younger Moneypenny: Caroline Bliss fills the seat for Dalton’s run, and she offers a mousier take on the character. With her big ol’ glasses and quiet demeanor, she makes a decent match for Dalton. I don’t mind her one bit. Q gets one of the most can’t-say-that-nowadays quips of the series in this installment, as he reveals a boombox rocket launcher: “Something we’re making for the Americans … it’s called a ‘Ghetto Blaster’!”
Shaken and Stirred by Score: The Living Daylights features Barry’s last score for the franchise, and he goes out with a bang. Smartly incorporating electronic and synthesized drum elements long before David Arnold, Barry peps up his action cues with a much needed percussive energy that dates much better than you’d think.
The theme song by a-ha is obviously an attempt to recapture the genie in a bottle from A View to a Kill, but it works well enough. The two songs by The Pretenders featured in the film (“Where Has Everybody Gone?” and “If There Was a Man”) are way better, and it’s a shame we only really get them through Necros’ headphones and in bits of Barry’s score.
He Got the Boot: While Dalton’s known as the darker, more self-serious Bond, the script’s origins as a Moore vehicle still show from time to time. The end of the title sequence sees him literally dropping in for a snog on a total stranger (something very unlike his Bond), and the aforementioned line comes after he disposes of Necros by cutting off his boot to throw him off a plane.
Aston for Trouble: Bond went back to Aston Martins briefly for this installment after his love affair with the Lotus Esprit. The V8 Vantage is a gorgeous car, and Q’s signature gadgets make for a thrilling escape into Austria, complete with missiles, outriggers, and a Batmobile-esque flaming jet engine.
Quantum of Analysis: We’ve got a real soft spot for The Living Daylights and for Dalton in general. It feels like a huge step back from the overt campiness of the Moore era and a return to a more balanced Bond series. Sure, we can have the quips and the gadgets – they’re essential – but we have to believe that Bond is actually capable of being an action hero, instead of a goofy detective who stumbles from set piece to set piece. The film features some of the best action sequences in the series, a thrumming score, and a Bond who (for his short stint) filled the superspy’s dress shoes nicely.
08. Dr. No (1962)
Runtime: 2 hr.
For Your Eyes Only: After the death of fellow agents, 007 heads to Jamaica where he uncovers the evil plot of Dr. No, who comes equipped with metal hands.
Bond, James Bond Is… Sean Connery. “That’s a Smith & Wesson. And you’ve had your six.” BOOM.
Property of a Lady: We’ll get to Honey Ryder in a moment, but the best of the “Bond girls” appears near the beginning. Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson) gambles, smokes, and is the one who seduces Bond. Usually it’s all the other way around, but Trench made such an impression that she shows up in From Russia with Love. As for Honey (Ursula Andress), she collects seashells and has an iconic introduction. She was written as nothing more than eye candy, something that permeates throughout the “classic” era.
SPECTRE of Death: The white Joseph Wiseman is Chinese Dr. No thanks to make-up. To be fair, he’s supposed to be half German/half Chinese, so this is only half offensive. He has the distinction of being the first Bond heavy and delivers each line without a hint of humor, only cold calculation. You believe he can win. One of his lackeys, Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), is a real jerk. He gets his after making the foolish attempt at trying to kill Bond. A true dummy.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Bernard Lee makes his first appearance as M while Lois Maxwell debuts as Moneypenny. Both would stay in the role for around two decades. Q appears, but is played by Peter Burton and goes by his actual name of Boothroyd. Desmond Llewelyn would play the role next and all the way through the rest of the century. Jack Lord is here in ladies sunglasses to introduce Felix Leiter to the world, a role that no doubt helped him land his role in Hawaii Five-O
Shaken and Stirred by Score: Everything is here and for the very first time. There is no official Dr. No song, only that world-renowned theme by Monty Newman (orchestra arranged by Barry). Newman’s music is actually taken from an earlier Broadway show he worked on. In addition to the theme, during the opening credits we’re treated to some of the swing from “Underneath the Mango Tree” and, of course, a calypso rendition of “Three Blind Mice”.
Spider. Help: There have been a lot of great horror movies over the past, oh, I don’t know, 100 years. However, most of those are easier to sit through in their entirety than the short sequence in Dr. No when a tarantula crawls over Bond as he sleeps. Glass and a stuntman made it easier for Sir Sean to deal with, but a nightmare to watch, nonetheless.
Quarreling: Not really, but puns. Quarrel helps Bond out once the latter arrives in the Caribbean, thanks to his knowledge of its islands and dragons. Yes, for all his intelligence, the character believes there is an honest-to-God fire-breathing dragon that only comes out at night. It turns out to be a boat with a flamethrower, but once he learns that, the fisherman is dead. The Quarrel name lives on years later and with a different Bond (Moore), who meets Quarrel Jr. in Live and Let Die. No dragons in that one.
Quantum of Analysis: Filmmakers couldn’t have known how popular Bond would become, let alone the influence the film would have on the rest of the series. Dr. No has all of the 007 staples: home base, beautiful locations, the “Bond Girl,” gadgets, sidekicks, and a larger-than-life villain. It’s one of the most successful and influential film franchises ever, and it all comes back to the original movie.
07. GoldenEye (1995)
Runtime: 2 hr. 10 min.
For Your Eyes Only: When the world’s most dangerous weaponized satellite falls into the hands of a rogue Russian government operative, Bond is dispatched to investigate. He soon learns the terrible truth about who’s pulling the strings. Will Bond be able to retrieve the GoldenEye key and stop World War III? SPOILER: He does.
Bond, James Bond Is… Pierce Brosnan. “No more foreplay.”
Property of a Lady: First we have Natalya Simonova, played by Izabella Scorupco. She’s a computer programmer who is thrust into peril when General Ouromov attacks her facility, leaving only herself and “friend” Boris alive. Who kills Natalya’s friends? Xenia Onatopp, portrayed by Famke Janssen, who simply slays as the henchman and right-hand woman to 006. Whether wielding a machine gun (sorry, Natayla) or her legs, she is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
SPECTRE of Death: 006, a.k.a. Alec Trevelyan, is played by Sean Bean. Having an ex-double-O agent as the villain was a bold choice for the franchise, but fear not. Sean Bean’s Bizarro Bond gives us a taste of what would happen if James was pushed a little too far, though 007’s actions during the ending give us mixed signals. Honorable Mention: Gen. Ouromov (Gottfried John) serves as a solid side villain, as well as a young Alan Cumming, who plays the sniveling and “invincible” Boris Grishenko!
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Well, whaddya know? It’s Judi Dench’s first appearance as M! This was a welcome change for the new stream of Bond films and one that would prove most satisfying. Dench would continue her run through Craig’s quasi-reboot (How does she carry over again?). Samantha Bond has taken over Moneypenny duties (though terribly forgettable) while Q is once more portrayed by Desmond Llewelyn. God bless Llewelyn, and long live the Dench!
Shaken and Stirred by Score: One of the worst Bond scores. Composer Eric Serra tried to do something new here, yet fails by not incorporating any of the iconic Bond themes. In short, would you rather listen to this or this, the latter of which was rescued by John Altman? The former is the film’s worst and most cringe-worthy musical cue, and it happens just after the opening credits during a car chase sequence. Keep Serra away from Bond forever. Bono and The Edge wrote an OK tune for this one, with vocals by Tina Turner.
No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to jump 722 feet off a dam!: This went down as the highest bungee jump in a motion picture. Kudos to the stunt team here!
Sir Moore, if you think Daniel Craig is a killer…: Brosnan still holds the record for most people killed by Bond in a single film. He mows down 47 human beings in GoldenEye.
Quantum of Analysis: GoldenEye was the first Bond film many people of my generation saw in the theaters. Having grown up with Bond on TV, I was excited to finally be a part of the modern-day take on the franchise. Brosnan really commits here, after being unable to take the role for The Living Daylights years earlier (contracts, man). We had such high hopes for his future films, but at the very least the movie gave us N64’s GoldenEye first-person shooter!
06. Skyfall (2012)
Runtime: 2 hr. 23 min.
For Your Eyes Only: The identities of MI6 agents are exposed when Bond’s latest mission goes awry. An attack on MI6 forces a weakened 007 to return, only to discover the vengeful man responsible is also targeting M.
Bond, James Bond Is… Daniel Craig. “Some men are coming to kill us. We’re going to kill them first.”
Property of a Lady: We have two lead “Bond Girls”, both of whom do not sleep with James in this one! Agent Eve (Naomi Harris), who is later revealed to be Moneypenny, consistently refuses Bond’s advances, nicely setting up a fresh and new dynamic between these two characters. The other “Bond Girl” in Skyfall is M! Playing a much more active role this time out, we get to see M in
action, while fleshing out the long professional relationship and admiration both she and 007 have for one another. Bérénice Marlohe also appears as intriguing semi-villain Séverine, who leads Bond to Silva. She even manages to find time to take a shower with old James. For Queen and country, 007?
SPECTRE of Death: If evil ex-MI6 agents are your thing, here comes another one in the form of Javier Bardem! His portrayal of the cool Raoul Silva brings all scary and unsettling feelings to the table. He’s graceful and calculating, though when things get shaken and stirred he can be a very frightening dude, as well as a major threat to M (not to mention her staff). This also marks the first time a Bond villain actually achieves his goal (SPOILER: M gets got).
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: As I mentioned before, Moneypenny and M are played by Naomi Harris and Judi Dench, respectively. In addition to newbie Moneypenny, we are also introduced to a much younger take on Q, courtesy of Ben Wishaw. The brilliance he brings to the role can be seen in his first meeting with Bond. For the first time in the Craig era, we are left without an appearance from Felix Leiter.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: Skyfall’s opening sequence follows Bond and Eve in hot pursuit of a man who has stolen intelligence. Bond catches up with him atop a moving train while Eve has to make a difficult shot. Unfortunately for her, she misses and hits Bond, nearly killing him. Bond’s brush with death bursts into the film’s title track, performed by the soulful Adele (heard of her?). She really nails the old-school Bond elegance that’s been missing from the main titles of the two earlier Craig films. This also marks the first time a James Bond theme has won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Bond and Raja’s Night on the Town! Of course, I could only be talking about the one and only Raja, the Komodo dragon. One of the most deadly creatures on earth, a Komodo dragon’s saliva is so riddled with bacteria and toxins, one bite will send you not only to the hospital, but possibly your death! Hey, 007! “Good luck with that!”
Fortysomething: How old is Daniel Craig? Oh, hold on. He’s just kicking the shit out of someone on top of a moving train. At age 43, and thinking he may be too old to play the role due to its physical demands, Craig still performed many of his own stunts, including the aforementioned rooftop train fight. Pretty cool, right?
Quantum of Analysis: Clocking in at number six on our list, Skyfall is certainly one of the best Bond films. Breaking away from the some of the Bond tropes that led to Austin Powers has done Craig’s entries a lot of good, but here in Skyfall we’re able to see the slow integration of some of those great things that made a classic Bond movie return. The addition of the amazing Roger Deakins as cinematographer (look … at … these … shots) and Sam Mendes as director helped make Skyfall into something resembling a prestige picture. The writers, cast, and crew of this one go above and beyond while maintaining its true 007 flare.
05. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Runtime: 2 hr. 5 min.
For Your Eyes Only: Nuclear submarines are disappearing, and in the interest of international relations, Bond must team up with femme fatale Russian spy Triple X to solve the mystery.
Bond, James Bond Is… Roger Moore. “Keeping the British end up, sir.”
Portrait of a Lady: The spy who loved Bond is Barbara Bach as Major Anya Amasova/Agent Triple X. One of the stronger female leads of the series, Triple X doesn’t ever get to be truly badass, but she holds her own and knows which buttons to push figuratively and literally. “How did you know about that?” marvels 007 as she aptly deploys his supercar’s countermeasures. “I stole the plans to this car two years ago,” she replies.
SPECTRE of Evil: The Spy Who Loves Me is a true rogues’ gallery of classic Bond nemeses. The highlight is the debut of the iconic, metal-toothed henchman Jaws, played by the 7-foot tall Richard Kiel. A perfect visual accompaniment to the squat, allopecia-afflicted Sandor, Jaws stalks the agents relentlessly from Egypt to Sardinia, chomping through iron, walking away from catastrophic car crashes, and actually biting a shark to death. Their boss is the quintessential megalomaniacal scientist, Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens), who lives in a base at sea and wants to cleanse the Earth with nuclear fire.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: All MI6 staff is accounted for and even hits the road with Bond; briefly relocating to a secret office inside an Egyptian tomb. Surrounded by ancient hieroglyphics, the obligatory stroll through Q Branch is especially ridiculous. Bond’s greatest MI6 asset is Q’s amphibious Lotus Esprit – a sleek beast in the upper echelon of Bond cars. It’s decked out with every offensive and defensive measure you can think of, and it turns into a submarine: a pure, iconic Bond moment.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: The Spy Who Loved Me’s score is one of the four Bond scores not composed by John Barry during his tenure with the series. Marvin Hamlisch’s outing with Bond stands alongside Barry’s best, and it’s disco-infused moments are cool rather than corny. There’s also, of course, “Nobody Does It Better”, Hamlisch and soundtrack maestro Carole Bayer Sager’s composition breathed into sultry, exuberant life by Carly Simon. It’s among the greatest songs ever created for film and not even the goofiness of trampolining secret agents and nude gymnastics on gun barrels can detract from it.
Book to Film: Moore’s previous two films (Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun) were positively subdued by comparison to the true blockbuster of The Spy Who Loved Me, which is ironic considering Fleming’s book of the same name was completely the opposite. The novel was an experiment by Fleming, written from the perspective of a woman in her early 20s who recounts her romances up until she ends up caught in the crossfire of two mob arsonists and a just-happened-to-be-in-the-neighborhood James Bond. Bond saves her, celebrates his victory by having sex with her, and then carries on with whatever he was supposed to be doing. Apparently, this was meant to be a cautionary tale to the young people Fleming was shocked to find enjoyed his Bond stories. It was critically panned, and Fleming himself forbade the studio from using any elements from the book; though, the two mobsters did directly inspire Jaws and Sandor.
Stanley Kubrick’s Bond Odyssey: Spy was devised to be a true spectacle, to such a scope that practical space didn’t even exist to create its set pieces. In order to create the interior of a tanker so big it can swallow nuclear submarines, the team paid to build what, at the time, was the largest silent sound stage in the world. The movie has many memorable scenes, but none is more ominous than the American sub entering supertanker Liparus. The film’s lighting supervisor’s eyesight was failing, so Production Designer Ken Adam called in a favor from his old pal Stanley Kubrick to covertly light the entire stage. One Sunday morning, the two snuck into Pinewood Studios, and four hours later the stage was primed for cinematic history.
Quantum of Analysis: The Spy Who Loved Me is among the ultimate incarnations of 007 for a rather surprising reason: appropriation. It’s a self-aware mashup of prior Bond tropes into one perfect 007 experience. We get You Only Live Twice’s space capsule engulfing, Thunderball’s nuke-napping, From Russia with Love’s Cold War romance, and a greatest hits selection of SPECTRE’s world domination eccentricities. It’s remarkable that it works, but Spy’s nonstop action and intrigue combined with its own truly unique spin on everything that made prior films great succeeded in engineering a 007 masterwork.
04. From Russia With Love (1963)
Runtime: 1 hr. 55 min.
For Your Eyes Only: Bond is tasked with picking up a Russian cipher clerk who plans to defect to the West, with the added promise of the Lektor encryption device. Along the way, he becomes embroiled in a revenge plot by the villainous SPECTRE, who’s majorly cheesed at Bond for killing Dr. No.
Bond, James Bond Is… Sean Connery. “We have an old saying in England: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
Property of a Lady: Daniela Bianchi’s Tatiana Romanova is yet another helpless ingénue in the Honey Ryder mold. While her story of falling head over heels for Bond is initially part of SPECTRE’s schemes, the fact that she still clings to him and plans their life together on the train certainly doesn’t help her case. Still, her status as the sole “Bond Girl” (save for a couple of disposable gypsies in the film’s middle act) makes her presence an anomaly in the series. Tatiana: “The mechanism is…oh James. James, will you make love to me all the time in England?” Bond: “Day and night. Go on about the mechanism.”
SPECTRE of Death: From Russia with Love breaks the mold with its villains, as well. Rather than a big bad, Connery is fighting the specter of SPECTRE, with Blofeld being an obscured figure in a single scene. Still, Robert Shaw is chilling as one of Bond’s best baddies, the imposing Red Grant, and Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb formed the template for dozens of stern Eastern European villainesses who came after her.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: This is Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell’s second go-round as M and Moneypenny, but Russia is most notable for the introduction of Q (Desmond Lllewelyn) – then, simply Major Boothroyd – showing off Bond’s fancy, gadget-laden suitcase in M’s office prior to getting his signature lab.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: Like with Q, Russia cemented another mainstay of the Bond series: John Barry’s score. While Barry worked on Dr. No, here he gets sole score credit instead of Bond theme composer Monty Norman. It’s one of Barry’s best, with exciting tracks like “007” forming some of the series’ most frequently recurring motifs. The title theme is one of the series’ few instrumentals, though Matt Munro’s end credits rendition of the title song sparkles with Sinatra-like croonery.
Trained to Kill: The claustrophobic, close-quarters train brawl between Bond and Red Grant still stands out as one of Bond’s best – great choreography, two cunning foes making sparse but effective use of their respective gadgets, and more. Few henchman fights have done it better.
Klebb Footed: Rosa Klebb’s final stand isn’t short on tension, either. Armed with her iconic spring-loaded boot blade, she gives Bond a real run for his money before Tatiana shoots her – a rare moment of agency for one of the earliest “Bond Girls.”
Quantum of Analysis: From Russia with Love often gets overlooked as one of the finest Bond films, since it lacks the high camp and ornate gadgetry of your Goldfingers and Spies Who Love Me. Still, it serves as a crackling spy thriller that delights in the thrill of the chance, the tension of being behind enemy lines, and navigating the complex series of alliances that graced Fleming’s novels. Connery’s on point, and everything from the train brawl to the helicopter chase is peak 007.
03. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Runtime: 2 hr. 22 min.
For Your Eyes Only: Bond squares off with Blofeld in the Swiss Alps and tries to stop a germ warfare plot…and maybe even finds love.
Bond, James Bond Is… George Lazenby. The one and only Australian actor to play Bond, just once. “This never happened to the other fellow.”
Property of a Lady: Emma Peel herself, Diana Rigg, played the doomed Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo, the daughter of a mob boss. Rigg brought beauty, intelligence, determination, and human fragility to the character. Tracy was and still is one of the best developed and most interesting Bond women of the series.
SPECTRE of Death: Blofeld. Who loves ya’, baby? Telly Savalas brought menacing charm, confidence, and poise to the cue-balled killer and head of SPECTRE. He’s not the disfigured figurehead like Donald Pleasance. Savalas’s Blofeld was a real, cunning madman.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Desmond Llewelyn was still Q. Lois Maxwell was still Miss Moneypenny. Bernard Lee was still M. Curiously, this film was the first to show the consistency of Bond’s support system at MI-6, in spite of Bond actors coming and going.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: Yes, John Barry and Monty Norman’s themes for 007 are intact, but Barry’s score for OHMSS is probably the best in the entire franchise. It has the familiar themes, but new themes, too, like the one over the opening credits. Barry pushed Bond’s music into exciting and aggressive new territory, experimenting with Moog music, doubling down on sounds to propel Bond’s exploits. It’s a classic action score, with pomp, pulp, and power.
Nolan Loves It: Christopher Nolan, that master of modern blockbuster has discussed OHMSS a number of times in interviews, citing it as his favorite Bond film. Nolan’s complimented the film’s balance of action, romance, scale, and intrigue, even going so far as making allusions to the movie in Inception (genre-bending and the ice fortress, specifically). Word is, according to an Entertainment Weekly interview from 2014, Nolan’s been approached several times by the Bond producers, and would love to make a Bond, but he hasn’t found a project that works for him.
All The Time In The World: Louis Armstrong’s theme did not play over the credits and is often not recognized as the film’s theme as a result. However, it’s a lovely, bittersweet ditty, and it was actually the last thing Armstrong ever recorded. He passed away two years after the movie in 1971. Perhaps that adds to the song’s sense of melancholy, that and the fact that the song is love theme for a doomed romance, but few Bond themes are this rich with context.
Quantum of Analysis: Perhaps it’s the amount of extremity to the whole thing, but OHMSS is one of the most compelling, intense, and emotional entries in the series. Lazenby was a strong cipher for Bond: tough, tense, young, and handsome. Rigg and Savalas gave the film some of the series’ best performances, and Peter Hunt, the editor for each Bond film that came before, brought creative visual flair, abstractly and kinetically crafting incredible action sequences (ski chases, car chases, beach fights, shoot-outs, all terrific and top flight).
But most surprisingly, OHMSS surprised viewers with a heartbreaking, sucker punch of a finale that finally gave understanding to Bond’s womanizing ways. Perhaps beneath all the guns, the girls, and gadgets is a man trying to desperately distract himself from the pain and failure of heartache. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is an entertainer, with muscle, and sentiment.
While the movie made its money back, it wasn’t a Connery-level hit. Lazenby was let go, and the film quietly disappeared from people’s minds when they talked Bond films. But if anyone ever asks if a Bond film can make you cry, well, look no further. Intensely rewarding, look out for this 1969 action classic.
02. Goldfinger (1964)
Runtime: 1 hr. 50 min.
For Your Eyes Only: James Bond returns in a fight to stop a ruthless businessman from destroying the gold in Fort Knox in order to increase the value of his own. The world won’t blow up, but the economy sure will!
Bond, James Bond Is… Sean Connery. “I must be dreaming.”
Property of a Lady: There are two women who play pivotal roles not just in this movie, but in the whole series. Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) suffers death through skin suffocation after she is painted in gold. Her role is short, but the image of her golden (literally) body is as iconic as the Walter PPK, my dear boy. A much more defined role arrives in Honor Blackman’s kick-ass performance as Pussy Galore (subtlety). She is the toughest of the lot, and the film wisely drops Fleming’s official take on the character. Thanks for Bond, you creep-o!
SPECTRE of Death: More icons, which is only fitting for such an iconic movie. Auric Goldfinger is played to physical, imposing perfection by Gert Fröbe and just as effectively by his voice double, Michael Collins. Goldfinger is out of shape and could never contend with 007 in the ring, but why bother when you have the original silent strongman of the series? Oddjob looks somewhat friendly from afar, but hide your garden statues! His bowler hat is not just to be worn, it’s to be … a weapon. Well, so much for my wit.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Lee, Maxwell, and Llewelyn all return as M, Moneypenny, and Q, but more importantly Felix is back after sitting out Bond’s adventures over in Russia. In what would become a running theme, a new actor has taken over the role after salary/credit disputes found the original Felix (Jack Lord) checking out. In comes Cec Linder, with the most original first name I’ve ever seen. Only two actors have ever played Felix twice. If you’ve read this entire feature, you can name them.
I’m not a monster. The actors are David Hedison and Jeffrey Wright.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: The best song with the best score. Shirley bleepin’ Bassey makes her Bond debut for the title song, and both are still powerhouses to this day. Look no further than her appearance at the 2013 Academy Awards if you need proof. There is no delicacy in her vocal delivery. It’s golden, and whether or not you choose to forgive that pun is on you. That final note slays every time. The larger-than-life music is credited to Bond mainstay and film legend John Barry.
CATEGORY: While censors prevented Bond from being tortured too harshly (Casino Royale would rectify that decades later), it doesn’t get much more squirmy than this. Bond’s cover is blown, and he finds himself strapped to a table with a laser beam slowly make its way up the table and towards his crotch, scorching the table in the process. Bond asks, “Do you expect me to talk?” Goldfinger’s famous response? “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!” Iconic. There’s that word again.
The Car: I’m no car guy. I know how to drive them, but I couldn’t tell you a make or model unless I was able to read it on the vehicle itself. But I know the Aston Martin DB5. Even an ignoramus such as I can appreciate the sleek beauty of its exterior, while the Bond Head in me revels in what’s on the inside. The nighttime car chase puts the DB5 to full use. Watch out for that ejector seat! It’s a doozy!
Quantum of Analysis: Did you catch how often I used the word “iconic”? When the aliens arrive on our tiny planet (and believe me, friends, they will come), if we had to provide one movie to represent the Bond franchise, it would be Goldfinger. With its legendary villains, gadgets, ladies, score, song, and Bond, Goldfinger took the formula concocted in Dr. No and managed to enhance it somehow. The best representative does not mean the best movie in this case, but that’s beside the point. Guy Hamilton’s Bond debut as director is easily his best and was the best Bond film for nearly 50 years. But then a blonde fellow happened along…
01. Casino Royale (2006)
Runtime: 2 hr. 24 min.
For Your Eyes Only: Newly minted 00 Agent, James Bond must gamble to bankrupt a terrorist financier so he’ll turn informant for MI6, but in this spy game, there’s no telling who’s bluffing.
Bond, James Bond Is… Daniel Craig. “I’m sorry. That last hand… nearly killed me.”
Property of a Lady: Vesper Lynd played by Eva Green is in the upper echelon of Bond women. She’s everything the vast majority of Bond girls aren’t: a character powerful enough to both tame and compliment Mr. Bond. Cunning, capable, and vulnerable without ever being a victim, she and Bond challenge one another and make it out the other side with a genuine relationship that’s earned, not assumed. He won’t be making that mistake again.
SPECTRE of Evil: Mads Mikkelsen is Le Chiffre, a math genius behind terrorist financing and profiteering. How bad is he? Well, he had an inside line to 9/11 and made bank off selling airline stocks before the attacks. Mikkelsen personifies Le Chiffre as a ferocious evil lurking in the global economy, but not the biggest, baddest fish. He’s cold and calculated while staying just cagey enough to be believable. For all this realism, he even has iconic Bond villain gimmicks: a damaged eye causes him to shed bloody tears, and he occasionally huffs on a platinum inhaler.
Her Majesty’s Secret Service…and Felix Leiter: Though Moneypenny and Q are nowhere to be seen, Judi Dench returns as M — positively owning the role as she had throughout the Brosnan years. Her interaction with Craig’s Bond is the beginning of a more personal relationship between the characters, marked by equal parts admiration and enough respectful disrespect to keep you guessing as to how much M actually cares.
Appearing for the first time since being written out of action in License to Kill, Felix Leiter returns — this time played by Jeffrey Wright. Wright does a lot with his limited screen time as Bond’s “brother from Langley” and is so charming and likable you’ll leave the film begging for a buddy spy follow-up. Sadly, Wright’s Leiter hasn’t been seen since a brief appearance in Quantum of Solace.
Shaken and Stirred by Score: Casino is composer David Arnold’s fourth Bond and easily his best work in the series. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the title song, co-written and performed by Chris Cornell. Points to “You Know My Name” for doing something different, but it’s just another notch in a long line of post-Goldeneye sleepers that don’t come close to commanding the presence of past entries. The title sequence doesn’t help either. While notable for tastefully omitting sexy lady silhouettes (highly inappropriate in this film’s context), Daniel Kleinman’s bland computer animation is the one thing truly dated about Casino Royale.
An All-Time Bond: Casino Royale does what no other Bond film has done before: created a truly timeless experience. One of the great hallmarks of James Bond is that the series serves as a cross section for Western culture – each film aptly representing its moment in time through novel sequences, jokes, and style. The Bond backlog is an exciting romp through the 20th century, but at a cost. Bond 21 doesn’t fall prey to this. The conflict is personal, outside of any far-flung, tech-heavy plots, and the gimmicks are virtually nonexistent.
There was great danger in this “soft reboot,” but director Martin Campbell was in familiar territory. A decade earlier he’d resurrected the franchise in GoldenEye. Casino offers a grittier, drastically more rough and tumble Bond, but the look of the film is unburdened by modern conventions. There’s no Bourne shaky-cam action, no Dark Knight-fueled starkness or disaster porn. Casino is chic. The colors, set pieces, and action are lavish accompaniments to a story rooted in a beautiful tangle of spy work and villainy as evergreen as greed.
Skewered. One sympathizes: A defining trait of Craig’s Bond is his emotion. The guy has problems, and it’s not just believable; it’s tragic in a respectable way. This is a Bond who takes punches, but likewise feels each punch. Any cartoony sense of death and consequence present since the Connery era is long gone. Craig’s comfort in the role of cunning spy only serves to emphasize the tragedy that molds him.
Quantum of Analysis: Rather than neutering the Bond experience, Casino is a pure distillation of the essence of what makes Bond, James Bond. Thrilling espionage, exciting locales, dangerously sexy people, and even a gadget or two. It trades cheesy one-liners for genuine quips and features women who are three-dimensional characters, not just damsels or intermittent conquests. As grounded as the plot is, it’s playful enough not to disavow the possibility of classic Bond sensationalism being a part of this world. It’s a Bond liberated from the baggage of his sexist, imperialist roots while highlighting the absolute best of everything that made classic Bond stories iconic. If Casino Royale was the only James Bond movie ever made, it would still be a lasting and unmitigated triumph of popular cinema.