In 2022 the James Bond franchise celebrates its 60th anniversary.
When it comes to 007, aside from women wanting him and men wanting to be him, he has always managed to reinvent himself throughout the generations whilst staying true to the enduring qualities that make up his character: adventure, class, and most importantly heroism – something that will forever remain in fashion, and audiences will never tire of seeing on the big screen.
Although this list is a ranking of sorts, let me be clear. There are no bad Bond films – only good ones and great ones. Much merit is to be found in every Eon instalment. These days we have quite the wait between each film, with a likely longer drought ahead of us as one era ends and a new one is yet to begin. In the meantime, its gives me great pleasure to look back on the world’s oldest cinematic franchise – the first ever blockbusters – the screen adventures of the coolest agent ever. Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Bond. James Bond…
25. Die Another Day (2002)
Nearly 20 years have passed since the 20th Bond film celebrated the franchise’s ruby anniversary. Peirce Brosnan was back in his forth and untoward final outing as 007. After being captured and imprisoned in North Korea, a disavowed Bond must team up with swanky NSA agent Jinx (Hallie Berry) to stop madman Sir Gustave Graves (Toby Stephens) from using his satellite laser weapon. What follows is the premise for what would have proved a very decent video game, but thanks to floundering execution by director Lee Tamahori, ends up being an uncouth mess of cartoon whiz. Its overblown reliance on CGI, from Bond surfing on a Tsunami, to an invisible Aston Martin, seems not only a misstep with its fantastical tone after the changed world of 9/11, but a grievous moment of infamy for a franchise renowned for its jaw-dropping signature stunt work.
That being said, if you can swallow the telegraphed lines of uninspired dialogue – “yo mama” – the slavish aping of the franchise’s greatest moments, and even endure Madonna, with her awkward shoehorned cameo and non-Bondian theme that would set up an uncharacteristic lacklustre techno-soundtrack by David Arnold, there are nuggets of greatness to be enjoyed. Brosnan is great as Bond. Though he may not have found a definitive voice to the character as previous actors had, it would be hard to say that the man did not embody the charm and sophistication needed to play 007.
Meanwhile, the gothic ice-palace is a fun location; the hovercraft chase is interesting; Rosamund Pike’s Miranda Frost is welcome, and the gadgets, no matter how tacky, have excellent payoffs throughout the film, with the Aston-v-Jaguar chase on a frozen Icelandic lake being the film’s highlight. Yes, the villain is wearing what appears to be a Power Ranger’s suit. Yes, another villain has diamonds spangled across his face. Yes, Miss Moneypenny indulges in a VR-inspired wet dream. But despite being somewhat of a misfire, this film has its moments.
24. The World is Not Enough (1999)
Though not as offensive as Die Another Day (2002), its predecessor, The World is Not Enough, manages to be a very standard inoffensive Bond adventure. All the boxes are ticked of what one wants, but no feat is surpassed, and the film lacks an overall identity that fails to make it, well – memorable. In his third outing as 007, Peirce Brosnan’s Bond must protect oil heiress Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) from terrorist Victor Zokas, a man who does not feel pain – all whilst endeavouring to prevent an attack on a Trans-Asian pipeline.
The film overall acquires a vanilla quality, saved by the sprinkling of some fun moments: the opening boat chase across the River Thames, the return of Robbie Coltrane as Valentin Zukovsky (a loveable side-character first seen in Brosnan’s Goldeneye), a fight sequence in a caviar factory, and the outlandish idea of Bond girl Denise Richards playing Dr. Christmas Jones, a nuclear physicist… But the most brilliant scene for any-long-term fan has to be Desmond Llewellyn’s last appearance as the affable Q, who played the cranky quartermaster 23 times.
23. Quantum of Solace (2008)
Following one of the finest Bond films ever made, Quantum of Solace was always going to face an uphill battle. That, and produced amidst a writer strike, where dialogue was being written on the set, Daniel Craig’s second Bond film comes as a haphazard affair.
Acting as a direct coda to Casino Royale (2006) the film works best when seen as a sequential follow-up, for the thematic thread of vengeance carries through in this story where 007 must stop a renegade environmentalist from monopolizing Bolivia’s water supply. Though his plan was scoffed at by viewers at the time, the premise of capitalizing on water in an age of climate change remains an apposite choice today, suiting the grounded first-half of Craig’s brooding tenure as 007. Yet director Marc Forster leans into this tone a bit too much, offering the far from glamorous locations of Bolivia’s deserts and caves, whilst also taking inspiration from the Borne films in his quick cuts and edits that feel so unleashed at times it can be difficult to make sense of what is going on.
Jack White and Alica Keys were poor choices to pen a Bond theme, whilst Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Green is a suitable slimbeball, nothing more. The strength of this film lies with its women – from Gemma Arteton’s wry Strawberry Fields to Olga Kurylenko’s cool and capable Camille Montes. Yet perhaps the real standout is Craig’s wardrobe and the sartorial smart-casual look Bond sports, along with some snappy Tom Ford designs that give one a variety of choice to dress up like 007 without needing to seize a tux.
22. Diamond Are Forever (1971)
On the trail for stolen diamonds, James Bond (Sean Connery) must confront Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray), who intends to force the nations of the world to give up their weapons and be at the mastermind’s mercy. A disenfranchised Connery was lured back one final time to play the secret agent that made his name for a then-record $1.25 million salary. Sadly, a now older, portly Connery lacked the willingness to give an energised performance, providing a lacking portrayal. His supporting cast, however, help raise the film, with Jill St. John’s ditzy Tiffany Case and the ever-camp Charles Gray. Mr Wint and Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith) are villainous additions too. To set a Bond film in Las Vegas seems like an inclined choice, naturally giving the film a sordid sleazy vibe that is not opposed to the tongue-in-cheek nature of its overall tone, with Blofeld at one point disguised in drag.
To some, this film might be disappointing when knowing what could have been, expecting a grand showdown between Bond and his nemesis after Blofeld – spoiler – killed his wife in the previous entry. But such continuity between films is dusted away with in favour of Connery’s return and an effort to capture what audiences knew and loved. Nevertheless, if you accept Diamonds Are Forever for what it is – a camp garish romp, then plenty (O’Toole) of fun is to be had, propped up by some of the finest zingers of the series by screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz and a stupendous score by the great 007 composer John Barry, who can somehow equate sound to the glistening of diamonds – beautifully matched against a luscious theme song by Shirley Bassey that is just the right amount of dirty for this ribald racy romp.
21. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
James Bond (Roger Moore) is pitted against the Russians in a scrambled hunt for a sunken spy ship that contains the ATAC device – an instrument that, in the wrong hands, could prove troublesome to the British navy. After the previous entry took 007’s fantastical tone to the limit by propelling the MI6 agent into outer space (more – or Moore – on this later) producer and Eon Head Honcho Cubby Broccoli decided the franchise needed to steer less towards the stars and return to the grounded reality of the Ian Fleming novels.
This is certainly the most grounded film in Moore’s tenure – no supercars here, only a battered citroën as an impromptu getaway in an awesome car chase in Corfu, along with the climax being Bond teaming up with a small band of avengers reminiscent of a WW2 operation, scaling the mountain retreat of villain Kirstatos (a lamentably wasted Julian Glover). Moore’s Bond was known for capturing the more humorous side of the character, but here the actor proves himself as a consummate performer. He can do humour, yes; be the ultimate ladies man – but here is his turn as Fleming’s Bond, a man grounded with the pain and weight of vengeance, who deals the brutal reality of being a killer to a young Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet).
That being said, this is a Roger Moore Bond film, so is there still a healthy smattering of fun, from a talking parrot to a teenager ice-skater infatuated with a then 53-year-old Moore, to a bizarre cameo by Margret Thatcher. Bill Conti does a terrific job as composer, capturing with wah-wah guitars the funky discotheque sound of the burgeoning 1980s. It is unlikely to be the first Moore film you will reach for, but it is certainly a worthy addition to Eon’s rich 007 canon.
20. Moonraker (1979)
007 goes to space – a premise so bonkers how could you possibly not want to see it? In this stratospheric instalment Roger Moore’s Bond must thwart Sir Hugo Drax (Michael Longsdale) a megalomaniacal billionaire intending to wipe out humanity and replace it with his very own master race, cultivated in his own private space station. Unlike the novel, which was set entirely in England, the film capitalized on the popularity of Star Wars by launching their hero among the stars. Whilst the third act is hilariously bombastic and outlandish, there is a nice natural momentum from the grounded to the fantastical that leads into its cartoonish off-the-wall space-stationed splendour, with laser guns galore.
With any other Bond it would be something to pooh-pooh at, but with Moore’s fantastical turn as 007 it seems like a very natural progression for his outlandish tenure. Meanwhile, Michael Longsdale is an excellent Bond villain, his seemingly drab demeanour concealing a raging fanatic, and with such a mellifluous voice he very well makes the offer of a cucumber sandwich one of the most menacing lines in the series. Lois Chiles as Dr. Holly Goodhead is a welcome, smart and capable addition who can hold her own against Bond’s scepticism.
John Barry is back as our composer, this time delivering a sensuous operatic score that compliments Shirley Bassey’s theme – admittedly the lesser of her three Bond songs, but a good one none the less. We even have the return of fan favourite henchman Jaws, spoilt slightly from his sudden turn from baddie to goodie for the enamoured child-viewer to root for. But overall Moonkraker appeals to the child within us all. It’s James Bond – in space! There is no other Bond film that knows how daft it is. And this film is balls-to-the-wall fun because of it, putting it in the top 20.
19. Goldeneye (1995)
From the overblown Moonraker we come to the overrated Goldeneye. To be sure, a controversial choice for many fans, but let me explain. Goldeneye is not a bad Bond film – it is actually a very good Bond film – but one, without its popular video game that won a legion of fanboys, I’m unsure whether would have garnered as much popularity over the years as it did. But Peirce Brosnan’s first outing as Bond sees him at his grittiest, grounded and best. Here he must stop Goldeneye, a high-tech satellite weapon that could destroy all electronic circuits from falling into Russian rebel hands. A
few things let this outing down: extraneous padded sub-plots with dull side-characters who have a tiresome fascination for their 90s tech, Èric Serra’s middling hip-hop score, and 007 driving a BMW – a far from worthy successor to Aston Martin. That being said, Goldeneye is overall rich with its excellent supporting cast: Sean Bean’s sneering Alec Trevelyan, a former 006, Framke Janssen’s sumptuous sadist Xenia Onatopp with her trademark killer thighs (pun most defiantly intended) – and – the olive in the martini – Judi Dench as M, playing a bollicking queen of hearts who is not afraid to put Bond in his place. And let us not forget Tina Turner’s theme – simply one of the best.
18. A View to a Kill (1985)
At 57-year-old Roger Moore bowed out as Bond in A View to a Kill, squaring off against software tycoon Max Zorrin (Christopher Walken), a super villain who intends to destroy Silicon Valley in his greedy bid to wipe out his rival businessmen. Though Moore may be a bit long in the tooth, he still exudes the grace, suaveness and charm that makes him one of the finest Bonds in the franchise. His team up with Ex-Avenger Patrick Mower as Sir Godfrey Tibbet is both endearing and downright hilarious to think that these two ailing gents are her Majesty’s finest operatives. But go with the absurdity and you’ll have a great time. Because of his age a fatherly quality can be found in Moore’s performance when he is matched with his much younger Bond girl Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts), even taking time to cook her a quiche.
If the film had leaned into this interesting aspect, it could have ranked much higher. But there is still plenty of entertainment to be had. Walken as a mad tycoon is everything you would wish for and feels fitting among Moore’s rogues’ gallery, complimented by Grace Jones’s iconic Mayday. And if that wasn’t 80s enough, Duran Duran provides a killer theme.
17. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Peirce Brosnan’s second outing as 007 sees him going against mad media mogul Elliot Carver (Johnathan Pryce), who has initiated a military crisis between Great Britain and China merely for his own greedy purposes to acquire the scoops and headlines for his newspaper “Tomorrow”. This films seems to reach the zenith of the Brosnan era – not too grounded and self-serious like Goldeneye but not too crazy like Die Another Day.
Pryce plays a wonderfully hammy villain, embodying the mad newspaper men in our own reality who run and shape the world into their own image and sensibilities. Such an adversary very much speaks to our own modern media-saturated times. Teri Hatcher lends a smouldering sense of pathos as one of Bond’s former flames whilst Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin is a cool Chinese agent who helps raise Bond’s game, as well as other things. Director Roger Spottiswoode delivers an easy globe-trotting adventure, spoiling the audience rotten with a confectionary of exciting locations from England, France, Germany, Thailand and more. It’s a Bond film that will transport you and give you an easy ride, one that simply aims to be a breezy adventure.
16. The Living Daylights (1987)
Tasked with protecting a defected Russian agent, James Bond (Timothy Dalton) is soon embroiled in a plot to ship weapons to deadly mercenaries in what was the actor’s first outing as 007. Dalton, with his Shakespearian credentials, mines the character of Bond and his dark side like no actor before him, paving the way for Daniel Craig’s grittier portrayal in years to come and being the first actor who captured the true character of what Ian Fleming envisioned. There is a Byronic quality to Dalton’s performance, particularly when falling for Maryam D’Abo’s Kara Milovy. Additionally, plenty of Fleming titbits are found from the author’s short stories, satisfying fans of the canon.
There are standout original moments too – the Aston Martin V8 at times rivals the fan-favourite DB5, and John Barry is our composer for the eleventh and final time, delivering one of his best soundtracks – his marrying of sequenced electronic rhythms overdubbed with his orchestra were a relatively new innovation for the time and are a cool sound for this cold war thriller. Yet despite all this and boasting one of the finest pre-title sequences in the series, points are deducted for Dalton’s stiffness when it comes to humour, a core component to the Bond role no matter what medium he’s in.
15. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Roger Moore’s sophomore outing as 007 sees him and his Walther PPK going against Francisco’s Scaramanger, the world’s number-one hitman – the man with the golden gun. Though the plot may slump, with at times it turning into a mindless take on a Kung-Fu-film, this Bond adventure is incredibly entertaining.
Lulu’s theme is the dirtiest song in the series, Britt Ekland is galvanising as Bond girl Mary Goodnight, and the corkscrew car jump over a broken bridge is one of the finest stunts captured on film. But the standout addition is Christopher Lee’s three-nippled Scaramanga. Lee was a distant cousin of Fleming and, like the author, seems to know exactly what makes the Bond villains tick – greed, power, and an insatiable need to show off. His Thai island and deadly funhouse is a gothic masterstroke, setting the stage for what will be a tense showdown between these two masterful marksmen, whilst Scaramanger’s accomplice NickNack (Hervé Villechaize) is a wonderful twist on the classic Bond villain’s henchman. There is also the return of J. W. Pepper (Clifton James) a goofy American side-character, but for my money a hilarious addition, with the slack-jawed policeman and Moore’s Bond being the buddy-cop duo you never knew you needed.
With this being the early stages of Moore’s run as Bond, there are naturally some teething troubles; in one scene him being violent to a woman that seems more akin to Connery’s Bond than it does to Moore. But for the most part, Moore is playing his ever-charming self, brimming with aplomb – seducing two women in the same room – in one underappreciated outing.
14. No Time to Die (2021)
The latest instalment in the franchise sees James Bond’s Jamaican retirement interrupted by CIA pal Felix Leiter (Jeffery Wright), leading the former 007 into a treacherous plot involving Rami Malek’s Safin, a poisoner who harbours deadly nanobot technology in what is Daniel Craig’s swansong. There are moments in this film that stand out as superlative to the rest of the series: the DB5 has its finest hour in a stunning pre-title sequence in Matera, and Craig is given the most drama to chew on than any actor before him, with his performance and physical prowess on full display at he manages to keep up with one of the most action-packed Bond films to date; all while his MI5 regulars become wonderful touchstones that help tie his era up – with Ralph Fiennes delivering a cracking cankerous M – and new additions Lashana Lynch and Ana De Armas spicing up an overall stellar cast.
Director Carry Joji Fukunaga brings contemporary technical innovation along with a fresh va-va-voom flare to the Bond franchise, propelling it into the 2020s. It’s a Bond film that does its best to rise to its gargantuan ambition: giving Craig a worthy send-off, but in doing so collapsing slightly under a plot that feels muddled and overstuffed, failing, for example, to make clear what the villain’s intention are – a fairly basic requirement for any Bond film. It is commendable, however, for Fukunaga and co to try and remix new ideas into a franchise that is nearly 60 years old.
Spoilers ahead – but Bond’s child with Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux) is a daring yet natural follow up to a relationship that Bond (and us) consider to be his true love, building whole new avenues for high stakes. But the choice to kill Bond off was a risk too far. Not only does it pander to the modern tired trend of our heroes going out in a blaze of self-sacrifice, but it seems like it is an intrinsic betrayal of what Bond is – an unstoppable force. It’s a quick and unimaginative way of keying into a grand emotional payoff that does not sit right at all. Bond films should leave you thrilled and elated. You do not watch them to feel lost in a sombre silence.
For the most part this is a fun crazy last hurrah for the Craig era, energized by a rip-roaring Hans Zimmer score. But the last 20 minutes will leave you cold. This could very well have been the film that would have been remembered for its interesting, rewarding positive take on James Bond finally finding a family. Instead, it will simply be remembered as the one that killed him off. And that seems a shame. Nevertheless, don’t let the last 20-minutes sour what is otherwise a bombastic last throw of the dice for Craig’s thrilling take on 007. James Bond, of course, will return…