Wow, so it took a lot longer than expected, but we have finally gone through all the Eon-produced Bond films. Of course, as a new film is released, I will be sure to promptly review it and rank it in its proper place. And someday I would like to review the "unofficial" Bond films, such as Never Say Never Again and 1967's Casino Royale, but I think it is a time to take a short break from our British super spy!
Watching all the films again, in order, was truly a fascinating experience. For better or worse, the franchise changed with the times, accurately judging the latest fads that audiences were into and capitalizing on them. Sometimes that meant you were getting lean and hungry spy thrillers, and sometimes that meant James Bond was going to space!
This flexibility is also what allowed the franchise to survive longer than any other. Historically, most film series would chug along until the studios felt the audiences had lost interest, and then they would be put out to pasture. Bond was different. When Cubby Broccoli felt the audiences tuning out, he would tweak the formula to get them back in. We see this phenomenon more often today, as old franchises are rebooted for modern sensibilities. But Eon Productions was ahead of the curve; they’ve been playing this game and playing it well for over half a century.
First things first, here is my final ranking to all the Bond films, as well as links to their individual reviews. I don’t feel entirely confidant about the middle of the list, as some of these films really shift in their spots depending on my mood. But I am confident about the films that are in the bottom, and even more confident about Casino Royale being at the top. It really is that terrific.
1. Casino Royale
3. From Russia With Love
6. The Spy Who Loved Me
8. The Living Daylights
9. Dr. No
11. For Your Eyes Only
12. Tomorrow Never Dies
13. Live and Let Die
14. License to Kill
15. Man with the Golden Gun
16. Quantum of Solace
17. Diamonds are Forever
18. Die Another Day
20. The World is Not Enough
21. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
23. You Only Live Twice
24. A View to a Kill
I also wanted to rank the actors who played Bond themselves. I have already spent some time going into this, but thought it would be important to official rank them here at the end. The good thing is that I feel the Bond producers have almost always hit the mark with their lead character, only having missed the target once. I truly do not like Lazenby as Bond, even though I have liked him in other films. The rest of the performers playing the iconic role have been excellent choices – though only two have been the perfect package.
2. Pierce Brosnan – the man born to be Bond. He is the only other actor who I feel really embraced all the different elements of the character. I do feel that he took a different approach to the character, however. As mentioned in earlier reviews, I always felt that Connery was a fighter who taught himself to be a suave man of the world. Brosnan seems to me to be the opposite. He was a charming and roguish prep school kid who then learned how to fight. However you come into the role, I still feel these are two actors who most embodied everything Bond could and should be. People discount Brosnan sometimes because his movies were not the best (and two of them are close to the worst), but they should really revisit those films just to observe Brosnan himself. He truly was born to play the role.
3. Daniel Craig – another bruiser who became debonair, like Connery. I do feel Craig is terrific. No actor has so fully embraced the flaws in Bond’s character, especially his arrogance, as Craig has. His Bond is not a role model. He has deep rooted problems. Craig is dangerous and is excellent in action mode. Admittedly, I don’t think he is as strong in the lady and comedy department. While part of this is because his films are more serious, he has had some opportunities to show off Bond’s lighter side. And he is fine at it, just not remarkable. Can he nail the one-liner like Connery, Brosnan and Moore? Sometimes he can, but sometimes the jokes fall a bit flat. And his Bond is also missing one important component – Bond has a certain joie de vivre. He genuinely enjoys his work. Craig’s Bond really seems to hate it, which might be why he tries to leave MI6 every single movie. I know that is a character decision and not necessarily the fault of Craig’s performance, but on the other hand, good producers also know to play to their actor’s strengths. Creative teams see what their actor is good at and they build around it to reinforce those strengths. And Craig’s brooding anger is a huge asset that you can build around. It just doesn’t necessarily vibe with a character who just loves being a spy.
4. Roger Moore – talk about someone who loved being a spy! Moore was the perfect Bond for the 1970s. He could play up the absurd, and was terrific at delivering a pun. And his flirting with the ladies was always entertaining. Look, could anybody in real life get women to swoon the way Roger Moore’s Bond did? No, absolutely not. It is completely unrealistic. But in the context of the insane world that Roger Moore’s Bond inhabited – with its iceberg submarines and hovercraft gondolas – yes, I absolutely believe all of these women wanted to sleep with him. Yes, the world was crazy, but Moore’s Bond was in on the joke and winked at the audience through seven movies. Could I take Moore seriously as a dangerous spy? Not really, though he had his moments. Were Moore’s fights sometimes clunky and not particularly exciting? Definitely. Moore was better at throwing a quip than a punch. But it is hard to deny that the man was having fun, and we were having fun with him.
5. Timothy Dalton – Dalton was the polar opposite of Roger Moore. Until Daniel Craig arrived on the scene, Dalton was easily the most serious Bond, and certainly the most dangerous. In fact, if you were to think about which Bond actor fits the mold of a real spy, I would pick Dalton hands down. I totally believe Dalton as a Cold War superstar, whether it is assassinating KGB agents and stopping heroin smuggling in Afghanistan. Where he faltered was the other part of Bond's character. He wasn’t particularly funny, and his romantic scenes always seemed forced. I do understand the producers wanted to tone down Bond’s promiscuity as the headlines of the late 1980s were dominated by the AIDS crisis. But that doesn’t change the fact that Dalton’s Bond just looks uncomfortable with the ladies. He just doesn’t want to be there. He’s acting like he is begrudglingly sleeping with these women because he knows it is expected of him, and he would really rather be off somewhere else, beating up some bad guys. Dalton’s Bond is a complete stick-in-the-mud (which Craig is sometimes guilty of). He does enjoy himself like a true Bond should (look at the sheer pleasure he gets from sliding down the side of a mountain on a cello case in The Living Daylights). But he only seems to be happy when he is in the thick of the action, which I feel is only half the equation.
6. George Lazenby – the only terrible Bond. I like all the other actors who have played Bond. They may have some flaws, but I enjoyed all of them and thought they brought something cool to the role. But I really do think Lazenby is awful. And it is nothing against George Lazenby himself. I’ve seen him in a few other movies and he is fine. I think he is downright hilarious in his cameo appearance in Kentucky Fried Movie. But as Bond, I just think he is dull and flat. Maybe I can give him a pass because this was his first movie and he just didn’t know what he was doing yet. Maybe if he had accepted that multi-picture deal, he would have grown into the part and developed into a worthy 007. But in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he’s just dull and I feel he brings the whole picture down with him. I don’t believe him as a dangerous spy for a second, he’s not particularly suave or charming, he can’t really deliver a joke, his romantic scenes with Diana Rigg seem forced (apparently, the two actors didn’t like each other very much). I will say that the man clearly knows how to throw a punch. So I guess there’s that.
Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s go into a few other iconic Bond “elements” that I didn’t really get into during my reviews. There are a lot of pieces of the James Bond formula, aspects that have now become just as iconic as the character himself, and it would irresponsible for me not to mention them!
Best Bond Song:
The Bond films are now famous for their opening credit songs. As every new film goes into production, people wait with anticipation to see which artist has been Selected for the opening credits. It’s a brilliant marketing ploy to build buzz, sell soundtrack CDs, and potentially bring a new audience to your movie. Seriously, how many hardcore Adele fans do you really think would have seen Skyfall if she hadn’t performed the opening number?
Just like the films themselves, the Bond songs have kept up with the popular trends of the day, and a number of huge hits have come out of the franchise. I generally prefer the brass-heavy or faster-paced songs, but the franchise is just as well known for its slower ballads. There are some truly great songs in the canon: Diamonds are Forever, You Know My Name, Skyfall, Goldeneye and A View to a Kill - the last of which gets a special nod because the first 20 seconds are the coolest James Bond has ever sounded. The whole song is good, but those first 20 seconds...brilliant!
But in the end, these songs (except for the aforementioned 20 seconds) are just honorable mentions. There are two true titans of the franchise, two songs are so good they need to be separated from the rest of the pack. These songs are not just the best Bond songs, but should be considered among the best songs written for any film ever.
Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die is so dynamic and thrilling that it was used as the soundtrack for the entire film, and was somehow perfectly appropriate for both the love and action scenes.
Opening Title Sequence:
For better or worse, the franchise has also become famous for its elaborately designed opening credit sequences, popularized by the late, great Maurice Binder. Stylized and always heavily symbolic, these opening title sequences ranged from octopus tentacles engulfing the screen to footage of the characters projected on gold-painted belly dancers (and yes, it is just as weird as it sounds). The title sequences were probably most famous (and infamous) during the Roger Moore years when they truly went off the rails – often featuring blue-tinted nude silhouettes dancing, bouncing on trampolines, swinging off of giant gun barrels (with the guns often serving as the ultimate phallic symbol). They are bizarre and often unintentionally funny, but I wouldn’t call them good, necessarily.
For the best title sequence, I am going to have to go with Goldeneye – it features all the hallmarks of the Bond title sequences (tinted colors and silhouetted dancers), but they are dancing on top of crumbling monuments of Cold War Russia – and in some cases, smashing these monuments apart with giant hammers. What is a perfect symbol of the uncertain era that Bond is about to enter – a chaotic new world where it isn’t always as clear who the good guys and bad guys are. It’s pretty brilliant.
Best Pre-Credits Sequence:
Bond was also the first franchise to feature a pre-credits tease, a little mini adventure for audiences to enjoy before the film actually gets started. Sometimes these pre-credit sequences are connected to the main plot, sometimes they are completely random. But you can always count on a Bond film to start with one. There have been a number of truly superb sequences, including the stylized black & white scene in Casino Royale where a newly minted 007 gets his first kills. But for my money, you have to go back to Goldfinger for the best. This short adventure is Bond at his most iconic – everything we know about Bond’s character and the formula that has served is his character so well for decades is featured in this tight 5-minute sequence.
Bond sneaks into the villain’s base in a wet suit, plants some explosives and then peels off his wet suit to reveal a tuxedo underneath so he can go to a swanky night club nearby. We have some sneaky spy work, a few well-choreographed fights and even some spare time to make out with the local belly dancer. And who can forget Bond giving one of his best Bond puns. After electrocuting a bad guy at the end of a fight, he looks around in disgust, mutters “shocking” to himself and walks out. If there is a sequence that manages to literally define everything Bond is about in under 5 minutes, this is it.
Best Bond Villain:
I know the answer is supposed to be Ernst Stavro Blofeld. As the leader of SPECTRE, Blofeld is Bond’s ultimate nemesis and has plagued him for multiple films. But honestly, I feel the franchise has always sort of missed the mark with Blofeld. He was at his most terrifying and powerful when he was not seen, when he was just a faceless, intimidating voice in a Board Room full of villains. As soon as he started appearing in the films, he somehow became less scary. Whether it was Telly Savalas, Charles Gray, Donald Pleasance or Christoph Waltz, I never thought Blofeld was a truly credible threat. Instead, Blofeld’s henchmen were always more menacing – Dr. No, Red Grant, Fiona Volpe, even Mr. White and Silva in the Craig movies (following the logic that both worked for SPECTRE). But they all pale in comparison to the greatest henchman in the Bond movies, and maybe in any movie: the unforgettable Oddjob!
I have loved Oddjob, played by Hawaiian actor (and Olympic medialist!) Harold Sakata, ever since I saw him crush those golf balls with his bare hands in Goldfinger. The guy doesn’t have a line of dialogue, but his silence, with that “I am better than you” smirk permanently plastered on his face, is sublimely and menacingly perfect. I love that he has an unbelievable weapon (a killer hat he throws at people) that is somehow made believable by his badassness. And I love that Bond truly cannot defeat him. He just can’t. Oddjob mops the floor with him. In order to win, Bond has to cheat. I’ve always loved that. So for me, this really isn’t a difficult choice. Oddjob is my favorite villain, hands down.
Best Bond Stunt:
The franchise has also become famous for its stunt work. Lately, thanks to the vast improvements in digital effects, Bond's stunts have become a bit less flashy. But back in the day, there was a lot of buzz about the next big stunt - whether it was the record setting bungie jump in Goldeneye or the 18-wheel tractor trailer that pops a wheelie in License to Kill...or the entire winter sequence in For Your Eyes Only that is more imaginative and stunt-laden than most chase scenes today.
But there are a few amazing sequences that rise to the top. Here are my picks for top three stunts in Bond history below:
Coming in at #3, is The Spy Who Loved Me. While the franchise had employed a lot of fantastic stunt work in the past, this is the film where they really said, "hey, audiences, guess what? We are about to blow your mind!" And when James Bond skies off that mountaintop (another record-breaking moment for the franchise) and deploys his Union Jack parachute, audiences were given one of the most iconic stunts in movie history. And minds were indeed blown!
Then at #2 - we have what is easily the best car stunt ever, featured in Man with the Golden Gun. This stunt is important in movie history because it was the first stunt to ever be conceived and calculated with a computer program. There was some debate among my friends about whether this stunt was real or not, but I assure you it was. This was an actual car with an actual driver, a driver who thought he was going to die, and who refused to do a second take when the first take miraculously went off without a hitch. So enjoy this awesome car stunt. I urge you to watch this with no sound, because the stupid slide whistle pretty much ruins the whole thing!
And now, at #1, the best stunt in James Bond history! The cargo net fight in The Living Daylights. Sure, in the tighter shots, this is Timothy Dalton fighting in a studio. But for the wide shows...those are literally two stunt men hanging off the back of a cargo plane...this is an incredibly dangerous and awe-inspiring stunt once you realize what those stunt men are actually doing and how life-threatening it is...well, I'll just let the video do the rest of the talking:
Best Bond Girl:
Last but not least, the Bond Girl has become an enduring and iconic part of the franchise. The Bond Girl has become such a key ingredient of the franchise that there is actually an entire documentary about the phenomenon (Bond Girls are Forever). It’s an exclusive club – though in fairness, these actresses were often given nothing to do except to look pretty and get rescued. There is certainly a lot of sexism in these films, and watching how many of the female characters are treated, especially in the older films, can at times be uncomfortable. But there are also a lot of empowered and progressive Bond Girls – badasses like Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), Xenia Onatopp (Framke Janssen), Tracy (Diana Rigg), and Agent Mai (Michelle Yeoh) who go toe-to-toe with Bond and serve as equal partners or powerful villains.
So who is the best Bond Girl? I know I am supposed to say Ursula Andress in Dr. No. She was the first, and she has that famous entrance as she walks out of the ocean with a knife in her belt, like some sort of armed Venus de Milo. It's an iconic moment, and rightly so. And for that beach walk alone, she probably should go near the top of the list. But I would never put her at No.1 because after that iconic entrance, she kinda…doesn’t do anything. She’s just there, serving no purpose and adding nothing of value (except for her looks, of course). So who would I pick in her place?
It's also tough to choose just one because the Good Bond Girls and Bad Bond Girls are so different and hard to compare to each other. So I will pick a favorite in each of the three categories.
For the Bad Bond Girl, I love Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) from Thunderball, one of the few truly dangerous villains in Bond’s rogue’s gallery. One could argue that she is actually smarter than Bond; she’s almost always one step ahead of him.
For the Good Bond Girl, I would say Vesper Lynn (Eva Green) is terrific in Casino Royale; she is the one Bond Girl that I honestly believed the character could fall in love with. Her arch in that film is positively heart-breaking.
But wait, I hear you say, you mentioned three categories. Was that a typo? Definitely not! There is of course the important third category, the Bond Girl That I Would Most Likely Fall In Love With...and that is without a doubt Solitaire from Live and Let Die, played by Jane Seymour. Because it is Jane Seymour. And...well, yeah, there really isn't much else to say about that. It's Jane Seymour.
So there we go. That’s it. This series of reviews is over! This has been a fun experiment, and while I hope you enjoyed revisiting this franchise as much as I did.
But I’ll be honest, I do look forward to reviewing other films again!
Until next time…