23. Die Another Day (2002).
Hardly the first time Bond jumped the shark, but this was definitely the first time he’d done so while having no fun. There is no way on earth this can be displaced from the bottom of the list.
Unsure? Ok: it’s the film in which Bond drives an invisible car, manages to outrun THE SUN’S RAYS (illustrated with CGI that will make your eyes bleed), it almost caused a diplomatic incident by annoying both North and South Korea , it was dubbed “Buy Another Day” due to the ludicrous amount of product placement, it had Madonna giving an award-winningly bad performance, it somehow managed to make bad actresses of both Halle Berry and Rosamund Pike, it had a face-swap plot twist…
Good sword fight though.
22. Quantum Of Solace (2008).
There are a lot of problems with this film. For a start, the plot revolves around a villain who’s attempting to take a majority stake in Bolivia’s water supply. When this dastardly plan is revealed, you wonder if Bond shouldn’t just refer him to the Latin American Mergers Commission and go home.
Basically, this is a film that isn’t as clever as it wants to be. So we get lots of arty stuff:
Clever. Because oil’s now more precious than gold. Except it isn’t. Likewise, the fight scenes were apparently “based around the elements,” for some reason.
It’s almost like Marc Forster (the guy previously best known for directing, um, Monster’s Ball) wasn’t a good choice for the project: there’s room for creativity in Bond, but not when the editing on the action scenes is so bad it looks someone’s trying to remake Bourne having drunk a bottle of vodka, the characters are tedious and the pacing’s utterly abysmal.
The whole thing wasn’t helped by the fact the draft script was delivered two hours before the Hollywood writers’ strike began, and then they couldn’t do any rewrites with, you know, actual writers. Believe it or not, parts of it were rewritten by the director and Daniel Craig.
21. Licence to Kill (1989).
And it’s a similar complaint here: above all, License to Kill just doesn’t feel right. History shows that Bond films come a cropper when they try to ape the prevailing culture of the age, and this film accordingly tanked at the box office.
Dalton’s Bond is a witless hardman, the villainy revolves around coke smuggling of all things, and the whole thing’s got that 80s VHS violence vibe, with people getting graphically squished in decompression chambers and shredders.
In short, it’s an ok installment of Lethal Weapon. Some critics have argued that this makes it closer to Fleming’s novels than many other films, but by the time this came out we knew what a good Bond film looked like, and this wasn’t it. You can have some fun spotting Benicio Del Toro as a henchman though. And of course it’s got one hell of a theme tune.
19. A View To A Kill (1985).
Make no mistake, this is definitely a worse film than most of the ones below it. An absolute horror show. BUT it’s bad in an extremely entertaining fashion. When you’ve got a film in which Christopher Walken is a failed Nazi experiment and Grace Jones is his sidekick it’s only ever going to go one of two ways, isn’t it? And believe it or not, their performances aren’t really the problem. The major issue can be summed up in six words.
Roger Moore was 57 years old.
Men of that age are capable of many things, but secret service field work looks a little inconceivable. Moore was older than his female co-star’s MOTHER. No wonder the romance was a bit awkward. Like a bad X-Factor performance, it’s the kind of thing you’ll watch through your fingers and secretly rather enjoy.
Plus it gives a great opportunity to make the GIF of the day:
18. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).
Pfft. Lots of potential, but it just gets carried away. Kung Fu, triple nipple delight, flying cars, killer midget of doom, unfunny sheriffs, Britt Ekland not really doing much…
It’s only saved by some good stunts and the fact Christopher Lee and Roger Moore’s acting in the scenes where they’re together is actually quite good.
UPDATE: This decision is clearly causing controversy, so a little more detail. There’s no denying it’s a fun film. But the problem is that it should have been genuinely thrilling: Christopher Lee as an assassin whose skills make him Bond’s match? Come on, this could have been brilliantly tense. Instead you get a lot of knockabout fun (he even has Doctor Evil’s laser), and if you’re going to rank the films on how much of a laugh they are then you’ve suddenly got a very different list. And it still comes behind Moonraker.
17. Diamonds Are Forever (1971).
In which Connery Bond gets silly. To say this film hasn’t aged well is an understatement. This is the film with Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, in case you’ve forgotten; the kind of stereotypical camp villains you might stumble across in a very bad Avengers episode. They try to kill Bond with an exploding cake, but Bond notices Kidd’s aftershave, which apparently “smells like a tart’s handkerchief.” This actually happens. We double down on the mildly offensive villains when we meet female bodyguards Bambi and Thumper. For those are their names.
Not even the stupidest thing in the film. That would be the moon buggy car chase:
It’s the silliest Bond film in an extremely silly period. It’s the film where Bond goes to space, where Jaws - who had been terrifying - is suddenly a lovestruck gentle giant, where this just happens and everyone carries on trading bons mots -
And it’s all rather enjoyable. A fair assessment would be that if it’s a good Bond film, it’s not a good Bond film in the classic sense.
15. Octopussy (1983).
It’s not terrible by any means, but this one’s all over the place. Roger Moore Bond is often unfairly chastised for being a complete and utter clown, when in fact some of his films are actually rather good on the whole gritty espionage vibe.
But look. The thing is, there’s this bit at the end when Bond has to diffuse a bomb and the only way he can do it is by disguising himself, and the short version is…well, this happens:
Actually it’s rather unfair that this is the only bit everyone remembers (along with Bond doing a Tarzan yell while swinging through the jungle on a vine for reasons unknown). Perhaps that’s because the rest of the film is a perfectly competent bit of not-too-gimmicky storytelling that occasionally drags.
14. Live and Let Die (1973).
Another Moore offering which hasn’t aged particularly well. If - and it’s quite a big if - you can get over all the blaxploitation stereotypes (and whether you can or not depends if you think they look naive or plain racist), there are some excellent scenes. Let’s be honest, this is brilliant:
13. For Your Eyes Only (1981).
From the ridiculous to the all-too sublime. Roger Moore’s next film after Moonraker drifts along at such a glacial pace that at times it’s like watching El Cid. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, there’s just nothing particularly great either.
There’s a plot about stolen missiles, some utterly forgettable foreign bad people and some quite pretty shots of Greece, but that’s generally all anyone can ever remember. It’s the most middling of Bond films. Roger Moore was ageing by this point, and it shows in his performance.
In short, if you’re crashingly hungover on a Sunday afternoon, this is the Bond for you.
Roald Dahl takes Ian Fleming’s worst Bond novel and makes a decent film out of it. It too divides opinion, primarily because it gets very Austin Powers towards the end (SECRET VOLCANO BASE anyone?), but the dull truth is that it’s solid enough. Except for the bit when Bond successfully disguises himself as a Japanese fisherman.
11. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).
No Bond film creates more division among the critics. Some observations:
- It’s a good film. It just doesn’t sit comfortably in the canon for a couple of obvious reasons, and that’s why it’s attracted so much opprobrium.
- No, if Sean Connery was the lead, it wouldn’t suddenly be the best Bond film.
- The action sequences are really good, especially for 1969.
- George Lazenby was neither as bad or good as has been alleged.
- Diana Rigg is wonderful.
- The ending IS incredibly moving, and ultimately that’s why it doesn’t feel like watching a Bond film.
10. Thunderball (1965).
Another opinion-splitter. Reason being that this one’s a glamorous, glorious failure. It weighs in at just over two hours but all the meaningful stuff happens in about 30 minutes, and the action hops from sunny location to sunny location so much it’s like watching Around The World in 80 Days with Phileas Bond. No wonder he ends up wearing a jetpack.
This isn’t a film that says: “Let’s have a fight scene underwater even though it probably won’t work”; it’s a film that says: “Let’s have a massive fight scene underwater that goes on for several years and features people kicking the crap out of each other in absolute silence, and let’s make that the film’s finale, even though it almost certainly won’t work.”
On the one hand, it might be an overblown remake of a National Geographic documentary (and at times far more tedious), on the other, this was arguably the film that made James Bond an event.
9. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).
Unfairly neglected. It’s a pretty strong film. You have to wonder what kind of overactive imagination would think a Robert Maxwell clone instigating World War III as a way of boosting his media organisation’s ratings was a plausible basis for a plot, but to be honest it’s so utterly ridiculous it almost works.
Jonathan Pryce is pretty good, and Michelle Yeoh’s awesome. There’s some egregious product placement and Teri Hatcher gets a bum deal, but you can’t have everything. You can have an awesome motorbike car and helicopter chase and dozens of people getting smacked upside the head with kung fu though. And this scene is just gold class Bond:
8. The Living Daylights (1987).
Pretty much every time Bond is rebooted, he puts in a strong showing. Timothy Dalton’s short-lived Bond career began after the disaster of A View to Kill, and it’s certainly very good in comparison. Dalton isn’t particularly at home when he’s called upon to do the jokey Roger Moore stuff, but it’s hard to take your eyes off him, while this is one of the best-scripted films in the canon: the plot fair motors along.
The stunning locations are also incredibly well-shot; and there’s an interesting politico-historical point when Bond rides alongside the Taliban (Rambo once did the same).
And in car news:
7. Dr. No (1962).
Let’s be honest, there are better Bond films. For the first hour it’s a bit like watching Inspector Clousseau trying his hand in the world of international espionage. But ultimately it was a strong platform for a first stab: it was made on a pretty small budget, Sean Connery’s superb in it, and there’s this:
6. Casino Royale (2006).
Maybe Bond should just have a different actor for every film. This is another strong reboot. Daniel Craig looks like a man chiseled out of granite with lumps of pure quartz in place of testicles (a possibility put to the test at one point), Eva Green is a fabulous Bond girl and it’s got a storyline that never lets up for a second. RIght from the start we knew this one wasn’t messing around:
But we should probably try harder than that. Fine. Sean Bean, Famke Janssen and Alan Cumming are all brilliant villains/sort of villains/possible villains. Which is good because Brosnan admittedly gives better performances in other, worse Bond films. Fair enough, it was his first time.
The plot is as fantastically twisty as any Le Carre novel, and the bit where Bond destroys a city with a tank long before this was a thing (i.e. Grand Theft Auto III hadn’t even come out yet) is magnificent. It’s not got the glamour of our next entry, but it’s got everything else.
4. Skyfall (2012).
- First great Bond film of the Twenty First Century.
- Every lead actor is marvellous. Especially Dame Judi Dench.
- The curious sexuality of former public schoolboys is a splendid theme.
- It. Looks. Stunning.
- Adele’s theme is a blinder.
- We like blue tuxedos.
- How has no one ever been eaten by a Komodo Dragon in a Bond film until now?
- Home Alone in Scotland finale sort of works for all the wrong reasons.
- The plot has holes big enough to smash a London Underground train through, but whatever.
3. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
No doubt sticking a Roger Moore film in the top three is a little controversial. But consider this an award for services rendered.
Some consider his oeuvre an anathema, and you can’t get more vowels in a judgement than that. They’re wrong: Moore’s films were not the Bond of the novels, but they did well and they kept getting made for a reason: people liked them. They were decent - he never really made an absolute stinker, but few of them were great.
Except this one. It’s hard to say exactly why this works so well, but it absolutely does. The tone is spot on. There’s just the right amount of gadgetry. The villains are excellent (Jaws is genuinely terrifying). The locations are splendid and it’s superbly shot, but among the glitz Bond himself is rather less ostentacious and jovial a character than usual. Above all, this happens:
2. From Russia With Love (1963).
Is From Russia With Love (FRWL) the best Bond film? It’s kind of incredible that the same lead actor and studio could create this and, say, Diamonds Are Forever, but that’s what happened.
Here’s a Bond we care about. He’s a real person - in equal parts callous, emotional and charming. Here’s a female lead who’s so much more than a cypher. Here’s a tense, brutal, gritty fight scene on a train that outdoes any of Jason Bourne’s, decades before Bond himself was attempting to emulate him. And who would’ve thought being kicked in the shins by an old woman could be such a terrifying prospect? It’s ludicrous to think this film’s 50 years old.
In the end it comes second - it had to come second - but that’s only because number one will never be bettered.
1. Goldfinger (1964).
Sigh. There’s a temptation to deviate from everyone else’s list and stick it behind FRWL, but you’ll realise you’re deluding yourself pretty quickly. So much has been written about this film it’s hard to know where to start, so let’s just look at this while we’re thinking about it:
There is no better line in the history of villainy than “No Mr Bond, I expect you to die.” It’s indicative of how this film hits the perfect tone in every scene. It’s witty, it’s visceral, it’s over-the-top (but not too over-the-top). There’s no magical formula for screenwriting tone, but Goldfinger just nails it. Again: