Monday, October 11, 2021

Ranking All 25 James Bond Films from Best to Worst

Sean Connery as the movies' first 007.
I originally ranked the first 22 James Bond films back in 2008. After recently watching No Time to Die, I thought it'd be interesting to review my list and update it to include all 25 Bond movies. Surprisingly, my rankings stayed much pretty the same. The two biggest movers were License to Kill and Quantum of Solace, two offbeat series entries which have improved with age. In the list below, the hyperlinks lead to in-depth film reviews by former Café staff writer Sarkoffagus. His assessment of a movie may not always be consistent with mine.

1. Goldfinger (1964) – The ultimate 007 film: terrific pre-title sequence, memorable song, worthy adversaries (Goldfinger and Oddjob), strong women, fun gadgets, clever plot, right mix of humor and action, Shirley Bassey's booming vovals on the title track, and Connery in peak form. Need I say more?

Roger Moore in Spy.
2. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) – As a fan of The Saint TV series, I thought Roger Moore would be an ideal Bond. But his first two entries had me re-evaluating that assessment; fortunately, this one restored my faith in Roger. He seems incredibly comfortable in the role for the first time. The film also benefits from lush scenery, the most famous henchman of the series, a great Carly Simon song, and Caroline Munro & Barbara Bach (did she ever make another decent film?). I only wish Stromberg was a more compelling villain.

3. From Russia With Love (1963) – Connery’s second-best entry features the meatiest plot of any Bond film. It introduces the trademark gadgets with 007’s versatile attaché case. Lotte Lenya and Robert Shaw (in freaky white hair) score as the villains. The close quarters fight on the train between Bond and Shaw’s henchman is one of the best in the series.

Lazenzy in his solo series entry.
4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – OK, so George Lazenby made a pretty bland Bond. The rest of the film more than compensates for the lack of a dynamic lead. We get Diana Riggs (truly worthy of being Mrs. Bond), a snowy mountaintop headquarters for Blofeld, and some of the most memorable action sequences in the whole series.  Director Peter Hunt, a former editor, was far ahead of his time with his quick-cutting fight scenes. I love the John Barry title theme, but am not a fan of the closing song warbled by Louis Armstrong. Composer John Barry loved it, though, and the song resurfaces in No Time to Die.

5. Casino Royale (2006) – Daniel Craig's first 007 outing remains his best. It’s a muscular Bond film in every way. I even think the poker game—often criticized as the lull point in the film—is exciting. The torture scene goes on too long, but that’s my only qualm. Eva Green easily convinces us why Bond is smitten with Vesper Lynd and Le Chiffre is a worthy 007 adversary. Craig brought an edge to 007 that had been missing since Goldfinger (except perhaps for a brief flare-up in Licence to Kill).

Dalton was growing in the role.
6. Licence to Kill (1989) – It took me several years to warm up to this one. It’s basically a revenge tale and that’s what disappointed me at first. But I later came to appreciate its uniqueness from other Bond films. It’s too bad Timothy Dalton didn’t appear as 007 again. Like Roger Moore before him, I think Dalton was growing into the role and might have had a breakout with his third film. The title song, sung by Gladys Knight, is an underrated gem.

7. The World Is Not Enough (1999) – All right, Denise Richards wasn’t convincing as a physicist and is saddled with the worst name of any Bond character (Christmas Jones, really?). However, we still get Pierce Brosnan in his best 007 outing, along with a great plot twist, a breathtaking pre-title sequence, and strong performances from everyone not named Denise.

Craig as the "blonde Bond."
8. Skyfall (2012) – Daniel Craig’s second Bond film delves deeply into the complex relationship between 007 and M (Judi Dench). That, along with a nail-biting chase through the London Underground, elevate Skyfall into the top third of the Bond filmography. It would rank even higher if it didn't dip into self-importance and borrow Bond’s last stand climax from The Bourne Identity (2002). Adele’s title song is one of the better later themes.

9. For Your Eyes Only (1981) – This was a pivotal entry because it righted the ship after Moonraker steered the series too far into comedy. It’s almost too low-key compared to others, but that works in its favor. Carole Bouquet, Topol, and Julian Glover boost this outing with convincing performances (although former ice-skater Lynn-Holly Johnson is a distraction).

10. Thunderball (1965) – It features most of the virtues of Goldfinger, but has too much of each of them. For me, it verges on being over-the-top, but that’s not to say it isn’t a lot of fun (especially Luciana Paluzzi who steals the film from pretty, but dull heroine Claudine Auger). The underwater climax should be exciting, but everyone moves slower in the water!

Ursula Andress in Dr. No.
11. Dr. No (1962) – The series’ first entry is enjoyable from a historical perspective. It takes awhile to really get going, but Joseph Wiseman sets the standard for Bond villains and Ursula Andress makes the most memorable entrance of any Bond heroine (so much so that Halle Berry pays homage to it in Die Another Day).

12. Octopussy (1983) – This solid outing benefits from Maud Adams in the title role (in her second 007 film) and more screen time for Q. The circus setting near the climax is certainly unusual, but who wants to see James Bond in clown make-up? John Barry’s “All Time High” is easiest his weakest title song.

Pierce Brosnan.
13. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – It initially works in fits and starts, but finally gains momentum once Michelle Yeoh’s character gets paired with Bond. Their action scenes are dynamite and their chemistry keeps the plot perking along.

14. The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) – This entry is a hodgepodge that balances Britt Ekland’s bubble-headed heroine and the unnecessary return of Clifton James’ J.W. Pepper with Christopher Lee’s delightful turn as the high-paid assassin Scaramanga and Lulu's blistering version of the title song. I probably rate it higher than most people—but the bottom line, for me, is that it’s consistently entertaining.

Charles Gray as Blofeld.
15. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – Connery’s much-publicized return after a one-film absence results in a lightweight affair where everyone seems to be having a grand time. Charles Gray steals the film as Blofeld, but, in all honesty, the supporting characters are the attraction here. Who can forget Bond fighting Bambi and Thumper and the amusing dialogue exchanges between henchmen Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd?

16. Quantum of Solace (2008) – It’s a grim, violent revenge picture from start to finish. It’s imperative that you watch it immediately after Casino Royale, because that film establishes the motivations for Bond’s actions. The first time I saw it, I was unimpressed. However, it has improved with subsequent viewings, likely because I watched it and Casino Royale back-to-back. I also like that it’s efficient action film (the shortest running time in the series) and Bond’s relationship with the heroine is all business. 

17. No Time to Die (2021) – This fitting conclusion to Daniel Craig’s five Bond pictures starts off promisingly with two gripping pre-title sequences. Once the dust settles, it focuses on Bond trying to find his place in the world as he comes out of retirement to help CIA friend Felix Leiter. Much time is spent on the relationship between Bond and his one-time love Madeleine—who harbors two big secrets. There are some fine set pieces and several delightful homages to previous 007 films. However, Craig and lead actress Léa Seydoux lack chemistry and Rami Malek’s weak villain seems to be channeling Peter Lorre…in a bad way.

Donald Pleasance as the best Blofeld.
18. You Only Live Twice (1967) – Donald Pleasance gets high marks as the series’ best Blofeld and his volcano headquarters (courtesy of set designer Ken Adam) is ingenious. On the downside, Connery looks tired and the climax is a letdown.

19. GoldenEye (1995) – This lackluster debut for Pierce Brosnan has its fans and was a big hit.  However, it feels like a mash-up of previous Bond films. Its highlights are Brosnan, who brought some panache in his 007 interpretation, and Sean Bean as the villain, a former MI6 agent bent on revenge. Incidentally, the GoldenEye video game is famous in its own right and is a personal favorite.

Judi Dench as M.
20. Spectre (2015) – Its first half is full of promise as a posthumous message from M sends James on a mission to expose a mysterious criminal organization. Unfortunately, the second half collapses under its own weight with the revelation that Bond’s evil foster brother is behind every bad thing in 007’s life. It’s a shame because Christoph Waltz is an excellent modern-day Blofeld and the story didn’t need to connect him to Bond.

21. Live and Let Die (1973) – I remember Roger Moore being interviewed when this came out and commenting that Bond films consisted solely of connected chase scenes. Well, the best ones do have a plot! But Live and Let Die has minimal plot and indeed features a ton of chase scenes, most of which are silly (Sheriff J.W. Pepper did not belong in a 007 film!). Yaphet Kotto makes a memorable villain, but needs more to do.

Richard Kiel as Jaws.
22. Moonraker (1979) – I first saw this film at wonderful time in my life and that probably shades my assessment (otherwise, it might be ranked lower). There’s little to recommend it: it’s too spoofy (e.g., the silly use of The Magnificent Seven theme) and it transforms Jaws from bad guy to good guy…with a love interest no less.

23. The Living Daylights (1987) – One of my nephews likes this one and says I need to see it again. I recall it being an uninspired affair except for Dalton, who brought some energy back to the role.

24. A View to a Kill (1985) – It’s hard to decide what’s worse: Christopher Walken’s incredibly campy villain, Tanya Roberts’ non-performance as the heroine, or the fact that Roger Moore seems to be walking through his role. On the plus side, John Barry and Duran Duran collaborated to compose one of the best James Bond title songs--and the only one to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

25. Die Another Day (2002) – An invisible car? A female spy that’s the equal of Bond? Madonna as a fencing master? These are indications that the producers and writers had run out of ideas and ingenuity. The decision to reboot the franchise with Craig? Excellent!

12 comments:

  1. I appreciate the depth you bring to your reviews of the Bond films; I've only been a casual viewer over the years. I grew up reading the novels, which made quite the impression, and for the most part when the film series outstripped the books it all became a non-descript mish-mash.

    That's my limited perspective when I say that Connery's early portrayals were indelible and an insurmountable hurdle for later actors, at least until Craig showed up. I didn't necessarily see him as Bond. But he went deep into character and muscled his way through "Casino Royale"; a brilliant portrayal of a spy, any spy.

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    1. Someone once said that your first Bond is your favorite Bond. There may be some truth in that. Connery is still my favorite, but I enjoy the other interpretations. I agree that Craig’s first is his best and one of the finest 007 films.

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  2. It certainly appears to ring true in my case as the first few Bond films I saw were all Sir Roger Moore’s and he continues to be my favorite and is still the face that comes to mind when I think of 007. Not far behind is Sean Connery, while Brosnan and Dalton just never did it for me. Still haven’t decided on Craig though.

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  3. I’m SO glad you ranked what, IMO is the worst Bond film, “A View To A Kill” so low. It had no redeeming factors despite the appearances of Patrick McNee, Christopher Walken & Grace Jones. The Dick Tracy line alone (the policeman saying that, infers that the world at large know who, a international spy, James Bond is)

    Also glad you have The Man With The Golden Gun fairly high compared to where many say it should be. It has, if not the best Bond villain, Scaramanga, one of the best.

    As for falling in love with your first Bond, I’m in an odd position. The first Bond film I saw in the theater was Diamonds Are Forever, which arguably is Connery’s worst and then saw Live And Let Die two years later in the theater. So, I’m not sure which is my favorite.

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    1. Christopher Lee's Scaramanga is indeed one of the best Bond villains. I love the scene where he assembles his gun in front of his target...and then uses it.

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    2. That's actually a loaded reading of that line in AVTAK. Bond says something like "The name's Bond, James Bond. I'm with the British secret service" and the cop says "Yeah and I'm Dick Tracy". His reaction could just be to Bond's claim that he's a secret agent, not that he's James Bond - although it also has a kind of wink to the audience that maybe that is what he's saying, which makes it quite a good in-joke.

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  4. Totally with you on Goldfinger, Rick. I haven’t seen every single Bond because I was never enamored of Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan in the role (Bond lite), though I've liked both of them in other roles. I've seen but don't remember the Lazenby film (he may have been fine but no one should have to follow Sean Connery). Did like Timothy Dalton very much. He seemed more akin to Connery than the others. I’ve seen Casino Royale, Skyfall and Quantum of Solace and liked Daniel Craig's Bond much. However, I’ll close with, “Sean Connery IS James Bond.”

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    1. Sean Connery was my first Bond and my favorite. I like all the others for various reasons, as each brought something different to the role. Lazenby was the weakest actor, but even he was respectable.

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  5. Only thing I really disagree on is On Her Majesty's Service, barely feels like a Bond film. I think the best action scenes are in For Your Eyes Only - skiing down a bobsled run while being chased by someone on a motorcycle is pretty great. Also glad to see someone else who likes Dalton as Bond. Licence to Kill I rank pretty high in the Bond hierarchy (and Carey Lowell is gorgeous).

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    1. The ski chase in The World Is Not Enough is pretty amazing, too. The film has a bad rep for some reason (yes, I know, Denise isn't very good...but the rest of the cast is aces).

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    2. Someone once did a sketch of Bond based on Ian Fleming's description, and it really doesn't look like any of the actors. Kind of a high forehead, what? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Bond_(literary_character)

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  6. I'm almost of the opinion that at this stage it's bordering on the pointless to attempt to make an ordered list (not that we haven't all tried), it can only really be a list of favourites. Is it fair or reasonable to compare Dr No to Casino Royale or Moonraker to Licence to Kill?

    I actually think that, to paraphrase Orwell, all Bond films are great, it's just that some are greater than others ;).

    That's why I don't agree with a statement like "There’s little to recommend it", even when talking about Moonraker, which does have a lovely score and some superb sets, as well as some amusing lines and nice location filming. And no it's not one of the best, but still.

    Anyway, if we are attempting it then your list is not massively controversial. LALD is rated a little too low and TWINE is eccentrically high. TLD is obviously much too low, which sticks out when compared with the high rating for LTK.

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