When Spectre was coming out I watched all of the Bond movies with my then girlfriend in the six months leading up to the film’s release. Being a bit of a Bond-geek, I decided to list them all from best to worst. Less of an objective list of the very best but more my personal favourites. I tried to pick an image from my favourite scene in each film.
Note: I revised this list in April 2018 realising that I wanted to move some of them about. I’ve also included Spectre. And just to make it clear – these are my favourites – not an objective list…
24. A View to a Kill
It’s not just that Roger Moore seems old. The whole thing feels a little tired and the action’s a little flat. Stacey is just awful and at one point is just left in a mine screaming, “James! Don’t leave me!” At least Chrisopher Walken’s a lot of fun and the relationship between Moore and Patrick Macnee is great if a little quaint. Also, Grace Jones is pretty cool (although an odd match for Roger Moore) and there’s something quite I enjoy about the fight on the Golden Gate Bridge for some reason. But it’s that weird laugh Walken makes before dying.
23. Diamonds Are Forever
You can talk about the awful CGI of Die Another Day or the coldness of Quantum of Solace but if the action’s rubbish (the random moon buggy sequence is odd and the oil rig finale is just plain dull) there’d better be an awesome plot to go along with it. Diamonds Are Forever doesn’t have a great plot. Not that it’s bad it’s just a missing some excitement. I still find something really enjoyable about it but it’s mainly to do with the humour film is the humour. Charles Gray completely camps Blofeld up which is a lot of fun, as are Kidd and Wint (the only Bond henchmen to hold hands which is rather lovely). Gray’s line about Kansas being destroyed is great as is Connery’s “Alimentary, my dear Leiter” which is by far Bond’s most intelligent quip. But the film’s worst crime is that it glosses over the events of OHMSS. Bond is apparently after Blofeld at the start for revenge after he killed Tracy and then seems totally over her.
Relies too much on continuity references and despite a superb opening and the fun of the plane chase through the snow, it never really lifts off. The finale in particular feels really flat. The whole Blofeld story is underwhelming and Chrisophe Waltz delivers a diluted version of the most accomplished villiains he’s played in other flicks. Probably the worst thing about the film is its attitude towards women – Monica Bellucci is a disposable / a token older woman and Léa Seydoux tries valiantly to hide her character’s rather disappointing status as a damsel in distress with a gobby attitude. On the plus side, Craig manages to handle the humour particularly well.
21. Die Another Day
Once you’re prepared for the awful CGI it’s far more enjoyable than you remember it being the first time round. I read a Den of Geek review that said it starts as Licence to Kill and ends more like Moonraker. Seriously, it begins really well. The hovercraft chase is excellent and seeing Bond captured and being tortured is a great and unexpected touch (particularly as it carries on during the title sequence, although it does mean you can’t skip the awful Madonna song). Somewhere around Iceland it all goes to pot and there are way too many awful lines (Halle Berry gets a few of them which must have made the Academy wonder if they should nab their Oscar back). Toby Stephens is really irritating and quite why there was talk of Jinx rather than Miranda Frost (who actually has quite a good character) getting her own spin-off movie is anyone’s guess. As the film goes on Lee Tamahori relies too heavily on tacky post-production techniques to make Zao’s jacket swoosh in slomo, etc. which makes the whole thing look poorly planned. The film’s CGI looked dated from the second it came out (in the effects house’s defence, they felt they never had time to properly integrate Bronsan in the CG-seascape).
20. Quantum of Solace
Director Marc Forster excels in creating impressive individual sequences but overall there’s something missing. The action’s incredible (it’s a bit Bourne-influenced but then Bourne’s a bit Bond-influenced, OHMSS in particular). In fact it has everything. A car chase (one of the series best and most brutal), a rooftop fight, a boat chase, an incredible areal dogfight, a free-fall sequence (some sort of okay CGI but nothing compared to the opening of Moonraker) and an explosive finale. The story and character motivation is actually quite good but I have to go with a gut feeling, as most people do, and put the film this far down for being so cold. It’s the moment he dumps Mathis in a skip that really grates on me.
19. The Man with the Golden Gun
Another one of those Bond films where there’s definitely something lacking. This was the end of the Broccoli-Saltzman years which kicked off the whole franchise and the series is in dire need of some new energy. The hitman / solar energy plot doesn’t quite add up but who cares because Christopher Lee’s in it as one of the series very best baddies. The dinner scene is one of the best scenes in Moore’s entire tenure. Some people don’t really care for the house of fun finale but I love it. Also, Britt Ekland’s in it. But never mind.
18. Tomorrow Never Dies
It’s not Goldeneye but don’t hold that against it. There’s a fun bit of commentary on the media (which leads to a particularly bonkers masterplan) and Jonathan Pryce is having a ball. The opening is fantastically slick (Brosnan never had bad pre-titles sequence, did he?) having a deadline running throughout the film is a nice touch that the Bond films wisely use rarely. Teri Hatcher hogs all the character stuff, leaving nothing for Michelle Yeoh but at least she gets to kick ass. The explosive finale is brainless ’90s macho stuff but actually that’s absolutely fine. Also, Dr. Kaufman is lots of fun.
17. Live and Let Die
The third film in a row to introduce / re-introduce a different Bond, Roger Moore’s first outing sees him turn up with no fanfare. He just crops up after the title sequence nodding some Italian bird. It’s not the best but there’s an interesting plot and a very interesting baddie in Dr. Kananga / Mr. Big – just watch the scene where he realises Solitaire is not longer a virgin. The depth of his character makes of a number of slightly iffy racial stereotypes present in the film. The speedboat chase would be one of the series’ best action sequences if it didn’t slow down for the completely superfluous Sheriff J. W. Pepper (who has his moments to be fair but you’ve already had enough of him from the moment he turns up in The Man with the Golden Gun). Tee Hee and Baron Samedi are also a lot of fun and although Solitaire is a typical damsel in distress at least she has a character.
To some people this film was the worst of the worst (until Die Another Die turned up and ruined their fun) but it has one distinct advantage. It all looks pretty real. Even the model work used for the final (although not quite as impressive as Star Wars or 2001, the films it’s emulating) is still bloody good. Far more convincing than Pierce Brosnan surfing the Arctic at least. Everything from the opening (which took a jaw-dropping 88 skydives to achieve) to the stunning locations (South America in particular) and Ken Adam’s unbelievably awesome sets (many seen only for a few minutes) looks remarkable and distracts from the sea of dull characters populating the film. It may be daft but it’s a lot of fun.
15. You Only Live Twice
Lewis Gilbert is definitely the director who made Bond films quite literally big. Even the music is impressively grand. The screen is barely big enough to hold the staggeringly enormous volcano liar set, now the stuff of parody. The film doesn’t really hold together as well as you remember and quite why Bond undergoes surgery when all they seem to do is put a wig on him is anyone’s guess. He doesn’t look Japanese in the slightest but to be honest I think people would struggle to look back at this film with quite so much affection if Connery had gone the whole Mickey Rooney. The finale is incredibly impressive.
A great film that’s only really hampered by not quite being any of the previous films. The whole opening with Bond fighting a man dressed as a woman is hilarious and brilliantly nuts for being such a good fight (there’s a good amount of Austin Powers material in this film in general). The plot utilizes a countdown which is very effective and there are loads of wonderfully big sets. The humour the franchise embraced in Goldfinger is well-balanced with some darker touches which Terence Young pulls off well, such as Fiona’s speech to Bond after he attempts to justify sleeping with her and Bond dancing her to death just a few scenes later. The underwater scenes are impressive but slow. It’s worth remembering that on release this was groundbreaking stuff so the audience of the time may well have indulged in the pure spectacle of these scenes a little more than we may do now.
Mad title. Terrible racial stereotypes. But actually Octopussy is crazy enough to work. There’s some great action (the fight on top of the train gives Skyfall a run for its money) and the infamous clown scene is actually more dramatic for the fact that Bond is dressed so ridiculously. Only super-nuts-mental Steven Berkoff could make a throwaway line like “Follow that car” so awesome.
12. For Your Eyes Only
The film can’t quite decide whether it’s a serious, back-to-basics espionage thriller or another madcap Roger Moore escapade but in the end it pays off. Topol has all the charisma Julian Glover lacks and Carole Bouquet’s Melina is easily the best Bond girl Roger Moore ever had. John Glen shows himself to be a master of action and the ski / bobsled chase is impressive stuff. But best of all is ascent to St. Cyril’s which focuses on tension rather than spaceships and explosions as in the previous film and the backdrop for this sequence is jawdroppingly spectacular.
Just ignore the plot. You’ll start asking lots of silly questions about that hard drive, Silva’s plans and how the hell Bond and Moneypenny never get “properly introduced” until the end. It’s best to do what the film wants you to do and look at pretty pictures and enjoy the relationship between Bond and the series oldest Bond girl; the 77-year old awesomeness that is Judi Dench. The visuals during the finale on the Highlands and in particular the fight between Bond and Patrice look stunning and the opening action sequence chucks everything into the mix as a perfect celebration of 50 years of the EON Bond movies. It’s what Charlie Brooker would call a “chadult’s movie” for taking itself too seriously despite being very childish under the surface, but it’s lots of fun, looks amazing and Craig, Dench and Bardem are so brilliant you can’t help but enjoy it. (PS – I watched this about four times before I noticed that Judi Dench becomes the first person in Bond history to drop the f-bomb. If you’ve seen Spectre by now you’ll know that Ralph Fiennes very nearly gives her a run for her money.)
10. The World is Not Enough
Surprised this one so high? Watch it again. Seriously, it’s actually really good. For one thing, the story moves along with people doing things because their characters all seem to have motivation (sadly the same can’t be said for the action sequences which generally seem to happen for rather flimsy reasons). M getting in on the action is a wonderful which (along with Bond failing / falling at the end of the pre-titles sequence, Bond being sent on a mission despite failing a medical exam which the baddie knows about and the baddie wanting revenge on M) would be recycled for Skyfall without anyone noticing. Elektra’s such a good character (the first time a Bond girl actually turns out to be the main villain; Renard is ultimately more of a henchman) so it’s a real shame that the awful Lara Croft-rip-off that is Dr. Christmas Jones sticks in most people’s minds despite not turning up until an hour in and not having all that much to do with the plot. The speedboat chase at the start narrowly avoids entering Roger Moore in Venice territory to become one of the series’ best action sequences.
9. The Spy Who Loved Me
Just about edges in front of For Your Eyes Only as Roger Moore’s best outing for being slightly more even. The action’s great, the villain’s plan suitably mad and everything looks very impressive. Nothing too deep, it just gets it all right and there’s plenty of fun to be had. The car chase is great and what’s not to love about the ‘Wet Nellie’ sequence. Shame all the character stuff between Bond and Anya disappears the second she fancies a shag.
8. Dr. No
Critics would put the original Bond a lot higher, for obvious reasons, but I’m going with my gut again. Dr. No was chosen as the first of Ian Fleming’s books to be adapted as it was the most straight-forward and it’s its simplicity that makes it so effective. It’s an intense film were Bond uses his wits and improvises rather than relying on gadgets as in later films. Some people will be disappointed at the slow pace and lack of action sequences (there’s a only a brief car chase before the explosive finale) but it’s still a wonderful espionage thriller. Despite parading around in a bikini in her first few scenes, Honey Rider still seems to have more balls and far more independence than many of the women who would follow her. Joseph Wiseman as the titular Dr. No (just don’t think much about the fact he’s meant to be Chinese) is one of the best Bond villains for being such a perfect match for Bond. He beautifully underplaying the role. Never since has a Bond movie created such an overworldliness to a setting as Dr. No does with Crab Key.
It hardly seems worth listing things that make this film (always high up if not at the very top of critics’ list of best Bond movies) one of the best but I’ll give it a go. The humour and drama is very well balanced, Goldfinger and Oddjob are great, the gadget-ridden Aston Martin is loads of fun and the Fort Knox finale is grand and full of brilliant moments. We also have to mention the beautifully tense, wonderfully performed and masterfully scored laser scene. Despite his reputation for bringing humour and large-scale action to the franchise, Guy Hamilton’s best scenes are all intense character scenes (i.e. the laser scene, Kananga condemning Solitaire to die in Live and Let Die and the dinner scene at Scaramanga’s liar in The Man with the Golden Gun). Goldfinger’s plot is also far better than in the book. I love how Honor Blackman’s first line is delivered with such flatness just so she can get her silly name out of the way as soon as possible.
6. The Living Daylights
After seven Roger Moore movies the arrival of a Bond movie with a decent plot comes as a bit of a shock to the system. Dalton is great but doesn’t quite own the humour (although I love how Bond is finally interrupted in the middle of one of his bad puns – “he got the boot” – when he realises it might be best not to let the plane crash). The villain is rubbish (and shockingly he survives) but the story’s great and the attack on the airbase and the fight hanging out of the Hercules is a fantastic finale.
Martin Campbell is quite simply the best director to lay a finger on the series. His emphasis on pre- and post-production explains why his films are so slick; they are easily to two best edited of the franchise. The plot works pretty well actually (and actually starts in the pre-titles sequence for once!) Judi Dench is inspired casting (without a doubt the best M). Making the villain a double-0 is a great touch. Sean Bean is very good but Famke Janssen steals the show as Xenia Onatopp who’s OTT to the extent that she’s absolutely brilliant. Rather than skirt around the sex as with previous films, Goldeneye gives us a full-on violent shag and several instances of Onatopp achieving / coming close to orgasm from killing. At times Éric Serra’s score is moody and a refreshing change from John Barry but it’s mainly awful. The “GIVE ME THE CODES, NATALYA!” scene with the exploding pen (we all lose count) is one of the best scenes in the franchise than manages to be silly and tense all at once. And the brief unscored fight between Bond and Trevelyan at the film’s climax is bettered only by the fight with Red Grant. I should also mention that the tank chase is brilliant: the tank chase is brilliant. There you go.
4. Licence to Kill
You either love it or hate it. And you should love it but for some people it’s too brutal. For me the realism (well, realism for a Bond film) is part of the reason the film’s so thrilling. Robert Davi is the only genuinely frightening villain in the series (possibly the series’ best). Carey Lowell could teach some of the other Bond girls that the key to being a strong woman is not trying too hard. She’s stunning, intelligent, well-intergrated into the plot and doesn’t go chasing around after Bond (she has a little cry at the end that sort of ruins it but it’s brief enough to be excusable). Dalton is on top form and the finale with the tankers is possibly the series best. The darker tone and humour suits him so much better than in The Living Daylights and he gives a believable performance that has only ever been topped by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. Also, this is the only time that Bond isn’t on a mission for the British Government for one second of the film. The personal approach is something that the producers take away from this film, toy with in Goldeneye and then fully embrace once we get to Craig. The Michael Kamen score compliments both Dalton and the darker approach the film takes to the story perfectly.
3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
George Lazenby probably isn’t many people’s favourite Bond but he’s much better than you might think. To be fair, he gets far better material than Connery ever did (not that that’s much of an excuse since Connery returned two more times with pretty damn awful scripts). The film has a brilliant plot (which sticks close to the book) and some incredible action that isn’t really matched for pretty much the whole of Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond. The skiing sequences have probably never been matched in the Bond franchise. Diana Rigg is brilliant and Telly Savalas is actually the most fleshed out Blofeld (so far…) The fights are incredible, particularly between Bond and Blofeld on the bobsleighs which is one of the franchises fastest, most exciting sequences. But most spectacular of all is the raid on Piz Gloria. It’s a remarkably finale where lots is going on emotionally, the music and editing are perfect and the dawn setting gives Skyfall a run for its money for some of the best cinematography in the series. Dalton and Craig may have given better overall performances but the film’s final scene sees Lazenby give the most underplayed, most real portrayal of Bond ever.
2. From Russia with Love
If this was a slightly more objective list rather than my personal favourites this should be right at the top. Goldfinger always gets the credit for setting the formula for Bond forevermore but really it just adds the finishing touches and some more humour. It’s this film that gives us a globe-trotting hero, a pre-titles sequence, the first title sequence complete with a scantily-clad beauty, ambitious action sequences, multiple villains, henchmen and of course Blofeld himself. The plot not revolving around some big take-over-the-world scheme but instead focusing on a little tit-for-tat Cold War espionage stuff makes for a far more intelligent plot than we see in a lot of later Bonds. The style of the whole film is wonderful and the claustrophobic feel of a single setting for a large part of the film (i.e. the Orient Express) is something Bond wouldn’t really revisit until Casino Royale. But the best scene of all is the tense confrontation better Bond and Red Grant. The moment he tells Bond he won’t kill him until he kisses his foot is dark and brilliant and the ensuing fight is the best in the franchise. Why the series has never produced such a terrifying and deep henchman in the 50 years since is a mystery.
1. Casino Royale
I’ve been saying for years that From Russia with Love is my favourite but after rewatching them all I’ve decided I’ve been kidding myself. Perhaps because it feels like sacrilege not to pick an older film. Every second of Casino Royale is superb. Craig’s opening scene with Dryden is incredibly slick and underplayed. He barely has to say a word to establish his character. The bathroom fight and the Madagascar chase are both incredible pieces of action but even more tense is the game of Texas Hold ‘Em. And as for the torture scene…it is the best written, directed and performed scene in the entire franchise.The humour is what makes it work more than anything else and the way it balances this with Bond’s genuine fear for Vesper is masterful. Never has a Bond film been so well structured, so well shot, so well edited and, most of all, so well performed. The first three Bonds reserve to sit at the top of most lists for doing it first and doing it so well but Casino Royale shows that you have no excuse to look back at the 20 previous films and not do it better.