- “A dry martini,” Bond said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
- “Oui, monsieur.”
- “Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
- “Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
- “Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said Leiter.
- Bond laughed. “When I’m…er…concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”
Vesper was the name he gave it, after the woman he fell in love with fatal results. That passage comes from Casino Royale, the first book by Ian Fleming, an intelligence officer in the British Navy in WWII who is most famous for creating one of the most iconic characters of all time: James Bond. Fleming went on to write 14 books containing 12 novellas and a few short stories featuring his most famous character. He based the man on himself and his own experiences as a Naval commander working to advance British Intelligence. Obviously Bond had more fantastic adventures than his creator, yet many of his qualities are similar to Fleming’s own. Not all are good; Fleming was a misogynist, womanizer (they kind of go hand in hand), and racist, generally did not trust anybody, and saw certain people as tools to be used for a greater purpose, yet this is not surprising from a man in his career at that time, and it is Bond’s shared views that often help him stay alive and continue to effectively help Queen and country through the crises that he encounters. These flaws contribute to Bond’s intrigue as much as his skills, and help to give his character depth. Downright deadly, as Raymond Chandler once said, “Bond is what every man would like to be and what every woman would like to have between her sheets.” Bond is a thrilling character by nature. A loyal servant of old England and all she stands for, he trusts few and loves fewer (not when you count physically though). The ever adaptable agent is also adaptable to any time period, which has helped the film franchise based off of Fleming’s finest work endure longer than any other. While it shows no signs of stopping, I am going to weigh in on the 007 discussion in honor of the 24th film that was released in America over the weekend. I have seen every film, own every novella and movie not currently out in theaters, and recently rewatched them all. I decided to rank all of the official Bond films (so no Sean Connery’s-still-not-satiated Never Say Never Again or the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale) in the order of my least favorite to the best. This is based on my own opinions and obviously will almost certainly differ from any other like list you may find, but I’d like to think that it’s at least a decent assessment of the series’ highs, lows, and in-betweens, and hopefully it will help you to figure out which Bond’s to check out for entertainment and which to avoid for disappointment. I’m not afraid to have things shaken up, as long as they’re not stirred.
I have included with my list a format which breaks down the main characters and the actors who play them. Each Bond movie has multiple good and bad guys, as well as women of interest to 007 who operate on both sides, so I’ve narrowed it down to the primary villain and Bond girl in each, as well as the actor who played Bond in that particular film. Official titles for every character such as doctor have not been included, except in the occasional case of military rank such as Major. I also make mention of when each film was released, what number it is, and which of Fleming’s material each film is primarily based on if there is one. Enjoy! Oh yeah, Spoiler Alert.
Die Another Day (2002)
Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Main Bond Villain: Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens)
Main Bond Girl: Jinx Johnson (Halle Berry)
Based On: No Prior Material; Even Fleming at his worst wouldn’t have written this shit
We open this list with the worst in the Bond film franchise. There are many films that have silly scenes and bad effects that don’t exactly hold with a cold-blooded killer born of the Cold War, but this one, ohohoho, this one not only takes the cake of worst Bond, it lifts it off the table and forcibly throws it against the wall all the while staring at you while its eyes go cross and it begins to scream at the top of its lungs in a high-pitched manner that both confuses and concerns you before it gives chase after you as it morphs into the monster from The Thing and amidst your terror you recall what a much better movie The Thing is and how you’d rather be killed in gruesome fashion by this Thing monster then have to hear Madonna sing the title song again, and you’d sooner have your DNA used by the alien beast to camouflage itself as you to ensnare others than have to watch the scene with Madonna again. It’s not just Madonna that sinks this failed send up of the 19 better Bond films that preceded it, but she doesn’t help things any either. Zao, the diamond-studded bad guy, is about the only worthwhile thing in this example of why you shouldn’t try to collage every piece of your previous films into one movie.
Unfortunately, this bad Bond ended the run of Pierce Brosnan, who was a good Bond who didn’t always have a great script. Worse yet, it ended the series as a whole indefinitely, and served as a wakeup call to the producers that they had to change their ways and adapt to the modern world with real things like the Bourne movies. This prompted the only start-from-scratch reboot in the franchise, but as we’ll find, that all worked out for the better.
Best Line: “Your new transportation…” [Nothing appears to be there]
“I think you’ve been down here too long.”
- Q shows Bond his new car’s camouflage.
Best Part: The end.
Bond: Roger Moore
Main Bond Villain: Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale)
Main Bond Girl: Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles)
Based On: No Prior Material, save the title which is from Book #3
This is the least down to Earth of the Roger Moore movies, which is both an accurate statement and the terrible kind of pun you can expect from most of Roger Moore’s Bond films. Moore played Bond in seven movies, the most by any actor in the lead role, but there were other actors who stuck around longer than those who played Bond, even Roger Moore. One such was Bernard Lee, the original M who played that part in 11 movies before his death. this would be his last Bond, and it’s a shame his run had to end here. The movie honestly does all right until the end. It has a lot of things going for it: a villain who is like a reserved (and tall) Tyrion Lannister with more than touch of psychosis; an intriguing opening where a space shuttle is hijacked right off of its carrier plane; and the return of Jaws, who adds a touch of humor to his brutality and takes a turn for the better when he finds love. We’re all rooting for you Jaws. What we aren’t so pleased with is the silly space battle at the end, or the absurd idea that such a large space station could even exist unnoticed in 1979. Do you know how much money that would cost? Forget the problem of hiding it form everyone in the world with a radar dish, just think about how many trillions upon trillions Drax would have to pour into developing enough rocket fuel alone. Not to mention the trips you’d have to take to construct it. And what if something goes wrong?! You telling me that everything’s going to work on the first try without a hitch? That’s not how space travel works.
Moonraker wasn’t even supposed to be the next Bond when it came out. They rushed into it as part of the Star Wars induced sci-fi craze, and Bond suffered for it. The novella the title is taken from is a much better expenditure of your time and the producers should have used more than just the title.
Best Lines: “My God, what’s Bond doing?!”
“I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir.”
- Q shedding light on Bond’s zero-g celebration to the sexually stuffy Minister of Defence.
Best Part: I could say the end again, but I do enjoy the moment shared between Jaws and the blonde girl with pigtails aboard the crumbling space station where he utters his only line in two films.
A View to a Kill (1985)
Bond: Roger Moore
Main Bond Villain: Max Zorin (Christopher Walken)
Main Bond Girl: Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts)
Based On: No Prior Material, save for the title which is nearly the same as a Fleming short story included in Book #8
This was Roger Moore’s final film as James Bond and everyone was better off for it. Moore wasn’t a bad Bond, but his films were often meaninglessly over the top. Too many silly sound effects in some we can shrug off and ignore, but bad scripts are another story. There also was the matter that he was just too old to effectively portray a young, suave and sexy agent anymore, a fact that he claimed he realized when he found out Tanya Roberts’ mother was younger than he was. Moore was 57 when filming on A View to a Kill wrapped up, and producer Albert Broccoli felt that was too high a number for 007.
Moore’s legacy aside, this Bond is more trouble than it’s worth. If you’re expecting Christopher Walken to save it then you’re backing the wrong horse. Walken’s character, microchip mogul Max Zorin, is planning on flooding Silicon Valley to create a monopoly for himself, and neither the West, nor his former fellows in the KGB want this to happen. The plot tries to do what every Bond does in being at the forefront of technology, yet it is one of the most obviously dated Bonds today. Everyone involved seems to want to forget it ever happened, and I’m okay acting along with them. Short of the Duran Duran theme song, this movie is boring for a Bond and feels like a movie about Walken and Roberts’ characters that has James Bond thrown in it.
Roger Moore wasn’t the only one to bid farewell to the Bond franchise with this film; Lois Maxwell, the original Moneypenny was told by Broccoli this would be her last film in the role. She asked if she could return as the new M, but he did not believe anyone would buy James Bond receiving his assignments from a woman. 10 years later Judi Dench took over as M.
Best Lines: “Hello. My name is James St. John Smythe. I’m English.”
“I never would have guessed.”
- Stacey’s disinterested reaction to Bond’s introduction while undercover.
Best Part: The opening theme song by Duran Duran. Not that there’s much that’s exceptionally bad, but nothing truly stands out as great or even good enough to be considered the best part. Even Q’s moments are nothing special.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Bond: Roger Moore
Main Bond Villain: Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee)
Main Bond Girl: Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland)
Based On: No Prior Material, save for the title which is from Book #13
Another promising premise overreaches and falls flatter than we’d like. Christopher Lee is the kind of villain you’d expect from him, which is good for a Bond movie. Yet too many spectacular devices come into play, too many midget jokes are made at the expense of Nick Nack played by dwarf actor Herve Villechaize, and like any spicy dish in the eyes of my mother, and Iron Man 3 there is too much Pepper. in this case it’s Sheriff J.W. Pepper, the southern lawman caricature carry over from Live and Let Die. He’s a reincarnation of sorts of Sheriff Buford T. Justice from the Smokey and the Bandit movies (films the stunt crew for these first two Moore Bonds must have also worked on), and not one that’s welcome in a Bond movie, but somehow he was deemed worth getting a few jokes and even closer involvement with Bond in Thailand of all places. Yep, they wrote him and his wife on vacation in a place he clearly doesn’t want to be on vacation at just so that he could ride along with James Bond in a car chase. I know this was a bad plan now because as a kid I thought this was brilliant.
As much as J.W. Pepper is the Jar Jar Binks of Bond side characters, Mary Goodnight, Bond’s Hong Kong assistant, is the Jar Jar Binks of Bond Girls. She’s actually quite similar to Binks. She is bewilderingly important to advancing the plot, everything she does she screws up, yet also manages to make work out by sheer luck, and her presence as a pretty young thing for Bond and other guys to look at is hard to register when you’re constantly rolling your eyes every time she appears. Maud Adams’ character is a much more worthwhile woman to catch Bond’s interest, and she does pretty easily up until her death. Fortunately, she’d get another chance in a movie we’ll discuss shortly.
Best Line: “You get as much pleasure out of killing as I do, so why don’t you admit it?”
“I admit killing you would be a pleasure.”
“Then you should have done that when you first saw me. On the other hand, the English don’t consider it sporting to kill in cold blood, do they?”
“Don’t count on that.”
- Scaramanga and Bond exchange words over lunch.
Best Part: The duel between Bond and Scaramanga and Bond’s clever use of Scaramanga’s artwork.
Live and Let Die (1973)
Bond: Roger Moore
Main Bond Villain: Kananga / Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto)
Main Bond Girl: Solitaire (Jane Seymour)
Based On: Live and Let Die (Book #2)
Our introduction to J.W. Pepper in his home swamp is slightly less problematic, but still very flawed. It has some fun action, like Bond leaping over the snapping snouts of a row of alligators and crocodiles, but it is bogged down by general racism of the time reflected in the film and an obsession with deadly animals being used as lethal instruments for a variety of characters. Those snakes are pythons, not something you want coiled around your neck, but not venomous.
Best Lines: “What are you going to do on a train for 14 hours?” [Bond and Solitaire look at one another, then Bond looks at Leiter]
“Say Goodbye to Felix, dear.”
Best Part: The boat chase in the bayou.
The World is Not Enough (1999)
Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Main Bond Villain: Renard (Robert Carlyle)
Main Bond Girl: Christmas Jones (Denise Richards)
Based On: No Prior Material, although the title is the Bond family motto
The highlight of this movie is the superb send off of Desmond Llewelyn, the orginal Q who starred in that role in 18 straight films. He leaves Bond with a last scolding remark about returning his equipment in pieces if at all, and some grandfatherly advice. After that scene, the rest of the movie is melodramatic and missable, especially the Christmas puns!
Bond is tasked with protecting a beautiful oil tycoon who was once kidnapped by an unfeeling terrorist. No, really, he can no longer feel pain as a result of a very slow mortal wound killing off his nerves before him. It’s the kind of ridiculous concept we like in a Bond villain, I guess. As Bond investigates he learns that not everything is at it seems. One thing we do know for sure is that it’s one thing to make Denise Richards a doctor, but to name her Christmas Jones too is just too much.
Best Lines: “Are you here for a reason, or are you just hoping for a glimmer?”
“Mikhail Arkov, Russian atomic energy department, and you are, Miss?”
“Doctor Jones. Christmas Jones, and don’t tell me any jokes, I’ve heard them all.”
“I don’t know any doctor jokes.”
- Bond meets Christmas while undercover.
Best Part: The opening boat chase on the Thames. One of the first times we get to see Bond’s mayhem in London.
Bond: Roger Moore
Main Bond Villain: Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan)
Main Bond Girl: Octopussy (Maud Adams)
Based On: Octopussy, loosely, really just the backstory between her father and Bond, and Property of a Lady, also loosely, also just for one scene, both Fleming short stories included in Book #14, the rest is original
Maud Adams returns to the Bond world, this time as a lead Bond girl who has the movie named after her. She is a jewel smuggler in cahoots with Kamal Khan, but he has more in mind than even she knows about and it’s up to Bond to set things right. Along the way he explores the urban and wild side of India and East Germany, and gets a lot of airtime from beginning to end.
Best Line: “You seem to have this nasty habit of surviving.”
“You know what they say about the fittest.”
Kamal expresses his distaste with Bond’s skill at staying alive.
License to Kill (1989)
Bond: Timothy Dalton
Main Bond Villain: Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi)
Main Bond Girl: Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell)
Based On: No Prior Material for the main plot, but the shark scene and hiding smuggling goods in fish tanks is taken from Live and Let Die (Book #2)
Timothy Dalton appears in his second and last Bond film which is about even in entertainment value to his first. Dalton’s movies are about in the middle in the balance of serious and silly and as a result they are in the middle of the pack in terms of amusement. In this movie, Bond helps CIA friend Felix Leiter to catch Sanchez, a drug lord he’s been after and then delivers him to his wedding in grand fashion. After Bond leaves, the married couple are caught by the quickly escaped Sanchez and his goons, including Dario, Sanchez’s most bloodthirsty servant played by a young Benecio Del Toro. Bond learns too late that Leiter’s wife has been killed and Leiter half eaten by a shark. He vows revenge and goes after Sanchez despite orders from M and his superiors to return to MI6 duty. He gets help along the way from one of Leiter’s allies and his ever trusty quartermaster who brings his usual handy gadgets. Unfortunately, as Bond gets closer to getting his man, he mucks up other intelligence operations to the point where it would have been better for him to have left it to others.
Best Lines: “What about the money, patron?”
- Sanchez’s suggestion for getting the blood off his cash.
Best Part: The ridiculous maneuver Bond pulls to evade a rocket while driving a gasoline tanker.
The Living Daylights (1987)
Bond: Timothy Dalton
Main Bond Villain: Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker)
Main Bond Girl: Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo)
Based On: The Living Daylights, a Fleming short story included in Book #14, but mostly original
The first film starring Timothy Dalton as Bond focuses on a Soviet general defecting to the West, then being kidnapped out of their safe holding estate, but the Soviets aren’t behind it, and the general’s playing both sides and is really working with an American weapons manufacturer, and Bond is the man to bring it all down. Got it? Good, because you’ll really need to pay attention when we get to From Russia with Love.
Best Line: “Glad I insisted you brought that cello!”
- Bond lobbied hard against bringing the cello but changed his tune after the Aston Martin blew up.
Best Part: The car chase in the snow and on the frozen lake.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Bond: Sean Connery
Main Bond Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray)
Main Bond Girl: Tiffany Case (Jill St. John)
Based On: Diamonds Are Forever (Book #4), but liberally so
Sean Connery returns as James Bond after George Lazenby had a one-and-done as his replacement. It would prove to be a one-more-and-done-again, for Connery (until he made his own version of Thunderball with Never Say Never Again which is named such because he had twice declared he would never play Bond again and regretted it both times).
Hot on the hunt for Blofeld after the drive-by he did to end Bond’s marriage almost immediately after it happened, Bond tracks him down and kills him. Upon returning to London, M assigns him to go undercover as a diamond smuggler to find out where a flow of diamonds is going and why. The answer lies in Las Vegas where recluse billionaire Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean, yes, the breakfast sausage guy) holds the key to unraveling the mysteries puzzling MI6, but first Bond must find out exactly who Whyte is and why no one has seen him in years. It turns out an old adversary is behind it all and he and his henchmen have had some work done.
Best Lines and Best Part: “Exceptionally fine shot.”
“I didn’t know there was a pool down there.”
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Bond: Sean Connery
Main Bond Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence)
Main Bond Girl: Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi)
Based On: You Only Live Twice (Book #12)
Bond and the British Government fake his death to give him better cover to track the mysterious disappearance of an American space capsule when an unidentified spacecraft snatched it in orbit. The Americans blame the Soviets and threaten hostile action. The Soviets launch their own capsule which is also stolen out of orbit. They blame the Americans and threaten hostile action. The Americans have another launch coming up and Bond has to find out who’s really spacejacking the capsules before war breaks out. His hunch that it’s SPECTRE is correct, and with the help of the Japanese ninja force (that’s a thing in this movie) he trains in the ninja arts and also learns how to be Japanese by altering his appearance (that’s also unfortunately a thing in this movie and why it loses some points). The Americans move up their launch date, so Bond races to find the base the SPECTRE rockets are being fired out of. With the help of Little Nelly, a fully loaded gyrocopter, he discovers that a nearby volcano has been converted into a launching pad and infiltrates it. Before he can sabotage the rocket he is caught and brought before the leader of SPECTRE: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the man who becomes Bond’s nemesis. Will Bond’s ninja support arrive in time to save him and help him destroy the spacecraft before it’s too late? As this is only the fifth film in a series with almost five times as many, you can probably work it out.
The set design for this and other early Bond films is incredible. We also see Charles Gray, the actor who would go on to play Blofeld just two films later appear as an ally to Bond, although not one close enough to him to know how he takes his martinis.
“It can save your life, this cigarette.”
“You sound like a commercial.”
- Tiger Tanaka displays his rocket-propelled cigarette to Bond.
Best Part: The assault on the hidden launching fortress.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Main Bond Villain: Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce)
Main Bond Girl: Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh)
Based On: No Prior Material
Pierce Brosnan’s second go round as 007 is as action packed as his first. The sinking of a British naval vessel that may have been in Chinese waters is of great concern to MI6, and thanks to the headlines by Elliot Carver, a major newspaper mogul, it’s of great concern to everyone else and Carver shakes it up to sound like the start of World War III. Bond is sent to investigate Carver and finds some disturbing answers via his wife (Teri Hatcher), a woman from Bond’s past. Along the search for more answers about Carver and what he’s planning, Bond finds himself constantly crossing paths with Wai Lin, a Chinese agent trying to figure out if the MiGs that supposedly sank the British ship were outside of Chinese waters. They team up, initially reluctantly, yet they soon have great chemistry. Michelle Yeoh is one of the toughest Bond girls we see – one who’s certainly not a little girl. Together they blow the lid off a conspiracy run by Carver to make his own news by manipulating governments and world events.
Best Line: “I’m just a professional doing a job!”
“So am I.”
- Bond’s final words to Dr. Kaufman after turning the tables on his execution.
Best Part: The car chase in the parking garage.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Bond: Daniel Craig
Main Bond Villain: Dominic Green (Mathieu Almaric)
Main Bond Girl: Camilles Montes (Olga Kurylenko)
Based On: No Prior Material, save for the title which is from a Fleming short story included in Book #8
The title is taken from a Bond short story that has nothing in common with the movie other than the title and the title’s meaning. A quantum is the smallest measurement of something, and when you only have a quantum of solace, or comfort or care for another, then you are left an empty, uncaring shell of a man. In the movie, Bond struggles with the loss of his love Vesper Lynd, and the harshness of her betrayal. He seeks to avenge her while also trying hate her for the damage she dealt him. Everyone around Bond tries to convince him to forgive her in the fear that he will slip beyond the brink of humanity and not care about anything, not even himself anymore. Bond manages to steady himself and find something to fight for with Camille and her own vengeful pursuit that leads them along the same path. M is especially concerned for Bond and her relationship with him is one of the bright spots of this sequel to Casino Royale that was altogether disappointing as a follow up to a superb reboot of the franchise.
This film did do some things right, such as the misdirection of what exactly the coveted natural resource is – we can never forget there is something more precious to us than oil. The further unveiling of the shadow organization Quantum is a preview of things to come (especially so on this list), as well as a hearkening back to the good old days of Bond battling SPECTRE. However, the most significant development of this Bond movie is something that distinguishes it from every other. This is the only film in the franchise to date where Bond does not sleep with the main Bond girl on screen or it is at least strongly implied he will by film’s end. He does still have fun under covers, but not with Camille. If he did, it would detract from the story and his and her particular character arcs over the course of it, so it’s surprisingly refreshing to see Bond and the main female lead simply shake hands. Tough luck for Strawberry Fields though.
Best Lines: “I answered your questions. I told you what you wanted to know about Quantum.”
“Yes you did. And your friends’d know that, so they’re probably looking for you. But the good news is, you’re in the middle of a desert. Here. [throws a can of motor oil at Greene’s feet] I bet you make it 20 miles before you consider drinking that. Goodbye Mr. Greene.”
Bond: Daniel Craig
Main Bond Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Main Bond Girl: Madeline Swann
Based On: Not Specifically Any Prior Material, except in the name SPECTRE, or Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, the shadowy terrorist organization that Bond fights against in a few novellas (and plenty of early films). Beyond that and its leader, this film is new with a clear intent to update all these things it does contain.
This ain’t your grandaddy’s SPECTRE, and maybe it should be, but you can’t argue with the actors and performances in that dimly lit room in Rome. Sam Mendes keeps his Skyfall success rolling with another in the shadows themed Bond film, and he continues to bring back the big classical elements of the series and blend them with the contemporary with success. Still, this movie feels slower than it should and makes us wonder why we need to sit through another set up for things to come with the hidden state that is Spectre when we already endured those aspects in Quantum of Solace. Christoph Waltz and Dave Bautista help this Bond rise above that one, but it unfortunately doesn’t get too much higher. I did love some of the nostalgia, especially seeing that cat again. All in all, good, but not great.
Best Lines: “You shouldn’t stare.”
“Well, you shouldn’t look like that”
- Bond’s response to Madeline’s request for him to avert his eyes.
Best Part: The train fight that culminates in the exceptionally appropriate only word spoken by Hinx (Dave Bautista).
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Bond: Roger Moore
Main Bond Villain: Karl Stromberg (Curd Jurgens)
Main Bond Girl: Major Anya Amasova / Agent XXX (Barbara Bach)
Based On: No Prior Material, save for the title which is from Book #10
After British and Russian nuclear submarines go missing, both governments send out their best agents. At first they compete with each other as they race to recover a microfilm, but after inadvertently teaming up to take on the hulking Jaws, they return to find their respective agencies have forged an uneasy alliance until the subs are located. Bond and his beautiful Russian counterpart, Anya, get closer to the subs and each other, but troubles from their pasts and Karl Stromberg, the madman behind it all threaten their newfound friendship and the mission at hand.
This movie is great for getting the Russians more involved via an enemy-of-my-enemy relationship, and for making Anya a strong woman who can hold her own against any man that Bond can. However, they both need help against Jaws, who might be the greatest Bond villain henchman in the entire series. Played by Richard Kiel in this film and its absurd successor Moonraker, Jaws is a behemoth with a ferocious bite. Named for the sharp steel teeth that fill his mouth, he does not need them to take on most men, but they do come in handy when you run into tiger sharks. Go ahead and mock Happy Gilmore now, I dare you.
Best Lines: “Right. Now pay attention, 007. I want you to take great care of this equipment. There are one or two rather special accessories…”
“Q, have I ever let you down?”
- Q’s displeasure at Bond’s lightheartedness regarding his expensive machinery.
Dr. No (1962)
Bond: Sean Connery
Main Bond Villain: Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman)
Main Bond Girl: Honey Chile Ryder (Ursula Andress)
Based On: Dr. No (Book #6)
The inaugural film in the famous franchise that introduced the world to the suave secret agent we know and love today as he played a card game we’re so unfamiliar with now they had to change it to Texas Hold’em Poker in the reboot (Although Bond does play baccarat as recently as GoldenEye and that was only 20 years ago!). Bond starts off his film franchise with a trip to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of an agent and his secretary stationed down there. He meets Felix Leiter and Quarrel, a CIA agent and friendly local fisherman respectively, who are on the trial of someone who’s interfering with US missile launches out of Cape Canaveral. Bond suspects the man responsible for both is the enigmatic Dr. No, a reclusive scientist who stays hidden away on his private island that the locals are afraid to go near lest they become fire fodder for a dragon. Bond sees past the superstitions and is sure Dr. No is the man because of the rising number of attempts on his life. He and Quarrel go ashore on Crab Key to do some scouting around and they find Honey Ryder… and trouble.
Best Line: “That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six”
- Bond’s final words to Professor Dent in a lesson of ammunition conservation.
Best Part: Bond’s Introduction to the cinematic world with his signature line, “My name is Bond. James Bond.”
From Russia with Love (1963)
Bond: Sean Connery
Main Bond Villain: Red Grant (Robert Shaw)
Main Bond Girl: Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi)
Based on: From Russia with Love (Book #5)
The second film in the franchise builds off the success of the first and does even better. Less focused on the classic obvious supervillain and a showdown in his large lair like what we saw in Dr. No, this Bond goes the route of traps and surprises around every corner as Bond gets involved in a layered conspiracy meant to hide its true purpose: to humiliate and kill him at the hands of SPECTRE. Lured into Istanbul on the pretense of collecting a Soviet defector smuggling a rare decoder, Bond and MI6 know something is fishy, but the bait is too good to resist. It goes like this: a Russian woman named Tatiana Romanova has fallen in love with a picture of James Bond and wishes to defect and will bring the Lektor coding device, but only if Bond himself takes her to the West. Truly she is playing a role, and the British know full well of this and recognize the trap. What neither of them know is that Tatiana’s orders do not come from the Kremlin as she and MI6 believe, but rather from a former Soviet commander, Rosa Klebb, who has left Russia to work for SPECTRE. It is the head of that group who wants the Lektor, and more importantly, Bond dead. He has Klebb send out Red Grant, a British defector (you still with me on who’s working for whom?) who poses as a British agent onboard Bond’s getaway train to get close to him and kill him. As it happens, Tatiana actually does fall for Bond when she meets him, and she helps him to make it out with her and the Lektor, but not as much as the bag of goodies that Q gives to Bond in his first appearance in the series. In addition to meeting Q for the first time, we also get our first look at Blofeld, or at least his torso and white Persian cat. Plus this is the first Bond to have a cold open, and the only to have one without Bond in it, no matter what it might look like.
It may be noticeable older and of a different era, but remember that this is from the time James Bond was originally written for, and no other Bond (and not many other films in general) showcases the true nature of Cold War espionage than this one.
Best Line: “My orders are to kill you and deliver the Lektor. How I do it is my business…. It will be slow and painful.”
- Grant to Bond on the Orient Express.
Best Part: Bond’s confrontation with Grant on the Orient Express which results in one of the most realistic close-quarters fight you’ll see in any movie.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Bond: Roger Moore
Main Bond Villain: Aris Kristatos (Julian Glover) – ever choosing poorly
Main Bond Girl: Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet)
Based On: No Prior Material, save for the title which is from a Fleming Short Story included in Book #8
James Bond enters the 80s with Roger Moore still in the leading role, but this time the script is the best yet in his era. An invaluable encoder called the ATAC is onboard a British naval vessel when it is sunk near Albania. The British government reaches out to Dr. Timothy Havelock, a marine archaeologist and secret attachment to the British Intelligence, to uncover the ATAC before the Soviets do. Before he can he is murdered along with the rest of his family except for Melina, who vows revenge. Bond is sent to find Havelock’s killer and the ATAC. He runs into some trouble right of the bat, but is saved by Melina, who is a dead shot with a crossbow. After some snooping in northern Italy, Bond, with the help of Kristatos, digs up some dirt on Milos Columbo (Topol, who disappointingly does not sing “Tradition” or “If I Were A Rich Man”), and teams up with Melina to take him down. However, Columbo takes Bond captive and offers him friendship, claiming that Kristatos is the real fiend who is working for the Russians no less. Whom should Bond trust? the man who has helped him, or the smuggler who says all that man’s words are lies?
Keep an eye out for a young Charles Dance in his first film role as one of Kristatos’ henchmen. Dance is an alumnus of the Royal Shakespeare Company who has been popular lately thanks to high profile roles like Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones and Commander Alastair Denniston in The Imitation Game, but he also played Ian Fleming in a biographical drama called Goldeneye in 1989.
Best Lines: “That’s a laugh. Everyone knows it builds up muscle tone.”
“Well, how about you build up a little more muscle tone by putting on your clothes?”
“Don’t you like me?”
“Why, I think you’re wonderful, Bibi… But I don’t think your uncle Aris would approve.”
“Him? He thinks I’m still a virgin.”
“Yes, well…you get your clothes on… and I’ll buy you an ice cream.”
- Bond attempting to repel Bibi’s advances.
Bond: Sean Connery
Main Bond Villain: Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi)
Main Bond Girl: “Domino” Dominique Derval (Claudine Auger) – My personal favorite of Bond’s many women as a kid. It may have something to do with the fact that she spends almost the entire movie in a bathing suit.
Based On: Thunderball (Book #9)
SPECTRE has hijacked a NATO plane with two atomic bombs and demands a ransom or else they will destroy a major city, then another. Bond and every other agent are sent around the world to find the lost plane. Bond follows a hunch based upon a supposedly dead man he saw the night before at his health spa. It leads him once again to the Caribbean, this time to the Bahamas where friend and foe alike await him. He finds Domino, the sister of the man he saw and enlists her help against Largo, the man who has held her socially comfortable yet captive. A tremendous underwater battle ensues and the fate of the bombs and the West is at hand.
This movie features a lot of underwater shots (in more ways than one!) and was Connery’s favorite film to make. He enjoyed it so much he made another version of it separate from the official Bond franchise called Never Say Never Again. In addition to the numerous underwater fights and gadgets, Thunderball also contains a rare aerial gadget in the short distance jet pack Bond uses in the cold open.
Best Line: “I think he got the point.”
- Bond, after shooting Vargas with a spear gun.
Best Part: The climactic underwater battle.
Bond: Pierce Brosnan
Main Bond Villain: Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean)
Main Bond Girl: Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco)
Based On: No Prior Material
This was the first Bond film to not be based on any of Fleming’s stories or titles. It does however takes its name from Fleming’s house in Jamaica, which was in turn named after the WWII operation to spy on Spain that Fleming helped formulate. I’m not sure exactly where he got the name for that, but perhaps it was from a bird guide with a picture of a Goldeneye duck. I imagine Fleming had an interest in birds given that the name James Bond was taken from the author of a bird book of birds of the West Indies.
Wherever the name came from, the film is one of the best. After a six year hiatus and a considerable rewrite and staff change, Goldeneye ushered in the new era that the Timothy Dalton Bonds were transitioning to. There’s a seriousness that is well blended with humor, as opposed to being overrun with it, that had only sparsely existed since Roger Moore took over. The story is great, as are the characters. Pierce Brosnan emerges as the best Bond who would stick around since Connery took off his toupee, and he contends with the charming cunning of Sean Bean as his former friend and fellow 00 who stages his death only to return after nine years with the intent to use computer technology and a satellite weapon called GoldenEye to make oodles of cash. We also get treated to talented actors like Robbie Coltrane, Alan Cumming, and even Minnie Driver as a Russian lounge singer with terrible pitch. Famke Janssen plays a wild woman with an aggressive sex drive who has a name that Ian Fleming would love. Joe Don Baker gets his best role ever in this and the next Bond – one that fits much better than his turn as Whitaker two films prior in The Living Daylights. However, it is Judi Dench as the new female M who shines above the rest. Besides Brosnan, she was the lone bright spot of his Bonds after the abysmal Die Another Day, and was rewarded for it by being made M again in the rebooted franchise that Daniel Craig took over, but we’ll talk about that more later.
This was the movie that introduced me to Sean Bean, and the one that still contains my favorite of his deaths. He really brings a lot that I like to this movie. Nevertheless, the film is not without its flaws, especially where continuity and convenience are concerned. The fast pace helps us to overlook these issues though. Just be aware that your admiration for this film may also be attributed to your love of the N64 game that revolutionized FPS games and made everyone hate their friend who always picked Oddjob. There are other characters, Robert! Oddjob wasn’t even short! Or in this movie!
Best Lines: “Why can’t you just be a good boy and die?”
“You first. [Turns to Onatopp] You second.”
- Bond’s response to Trevelyan after boarding the armored train.
Best Part: The tank chase through the streets of St. Petersburg. Honorable mention for Sean Bean getting crushed by a burning satellite dish.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Bond: George Lazenby
Main Bond Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas)
Main Bond Girl: “Tracy” Teresa di Vicenzo, later Tracy Bond (Diana Rigg)
Based On: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Book #11)
George Lazenby’s only outing as Bond, apparently thanks to some historically bad advice from his agent at the time (notice how I said “at the time”; you don’t tell someone it’s a good call to not take the role of James Bond ever again and stick around very long), the Australian actor made the most of his short career as the world’s foremost secret agent. OHMSS is less a continuation of what Sean Connery started, as it’s its own film that goes in a bold newer direction in many ways. The score is excellent and unlike any other Bond film (it’s one of my favorites to listen to when writing, like now!). John Barry composed it, his fifth consecutive for the series, and he powered it heavy on synthesizers. It’s great!
Additionally, the theme of the film is different from others as Bond’s greatest contact, gangster Draco, has information on Blofeld, but will only share it if Bond dates his daughter Tracy, in an effort to tame her. Bond is familiar with Tracy because he prevents her from committing suicide in the cold open. He realizes no one can tame her and does not wish to try, but he does want to get Blofeld and stop him from whatever his next sinister plan is. Thus, Bond spends time with Tracy and Draco feeds him information when he gets it. Over the course of time though, Bond and Tracy genuinely come to care for one another. It is disappointing for them when he must part to infiltrate Blofeld’s limited access allergy treatment facility under the guise of a genealogist tracing Blofeld’s ancestry to a line of counts. When 007’s cover is blown he escapes down the mountain to the town in the valley where a familiar face is waiting for him.
The most stark difference between OHMSS and other Bond films is that Bond gets married! The sparks between him and Tracy are wildfires compared to the liaisons Bond has had with other women in the past and it shows. After the mission is completed he contents himself to settle down with his new wife, but things rarely work out for 00s….
- The film’s final heartbreaking line, spoken by Bond as he cradles Tracy.
Best Part: Bond’s escape from Piz Gloria and the continued chase Blofeld and his henchmen give after him and Tracy.
Bond: Daniel Craig
Main Bond Villain: Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem)
Main Bond Girl: This one’s tricky. Every Bond movie has multiple women with whom 007 comes into close contact with (hence why I use the word “main” to narrow down), yet Bond’s romantic ventures are less important in this film than in any other in the series. Classically I would call Severine (Berenice Marlohe) the main Bond girl as she is the one he has sex with, but as we saw in the previous film, Quantum of Solace, Bond does not have to physically love the main female character. Some might say that Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) is then the main girl, but she does not fit the traditional role as well either. Not to mention, that while she is a new take on Moneypenny (one that I like very much), she is still Moneypenny, who is always helpful to James on his journeys, and especially so here, but their fierce flirting never actually goes anywhere. That’s kind of the joke that they’ll always be united by their occupation but never in actual love.
All this being said, there is one woman who rises above these two and is critical to the plot as the most important female character, and really the most important character along with Bond, not after him. And for this, I declare M (Judi Dench) to be the main woman of Skyfall. She’s not the conventional definition, but this movie is liberal with following the archetypes laid down by the films before it, which is what makes it great.
Based On: No Prior Material
In the film that marks the 50th Anniversary of the start of the franchise, Bond’s trust in M is pushed to the breaking point after a botched mission nearly kills him. To make matters worse, MI6 comes under attack and the barrel is pointed firmly at M. Bond returns to help save the homeland, but still wonders about M. Likewise, she wonders about him, yet both trust the other enough to put their lives on the line. Bond goes in search of the new threat and discovers a former agent, Raoul Silva, long thought dead because of M’s refusal to negotiate a trade for him is quite alive and well and wreaking havoc all around. Bond captures Silvia, but he totally Jokers them and has an elaborate computer-based escape and retaliation plan in place to cloud the air even further as he attempts to kill M. As M’s past aggressively pursues her, Bond taps into his own to jump ahead of Silva and set up for a last stand.
Judi Dench gets her best movie in the franchise and gives her best performance in it, but she is not the only star to shine. New takes on old characters are appropriately worked in with reverence to their predecessors while also making the updated versions their own.
Best Line: “The whole office goes up in smoke and that bloody thing survives.”
“Your interior decorating tips have always been appreciated, 007.”
- Bond and M discussing her English bulldog desk ornament.
Bond: Sean Connery
Main Bond Villain: Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) – spelled with “Au” the atomic symbol for gold
Main Bond Girl: Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) – the most ridiculous and famous Bond girl name
Based On: Goldfinger (Book #7)
The most recognizable Bond film, Goldfinger is revered among fans as one of, if not the best of the bunch. It set the standard which all future Bonds and like-minded spy thrillers would follow. The crazy names; the girls, guns, and gadgets galore; the Shirley Bassey song; the supremely strong henchman; and of course, the Aston Martin DB5 complete with some special modifications from Q. This film is a must see not just for the sake of being a Bond film, but for being the Bond film and a great film with plenty of espionage excitement. Great fun that should be shared in by all.
Best Lines: “Do you expect me to talk?”
“No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”
- Goldfinger’s laughing response as he has Bond trapped on a table with an industrial laser inching its beam ever closer.
Casino Royale (2006)
Bond: Daniel Craig
Main Bond Villain: Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen)
Main Bond Girl: Vesper Lynd (Eva Green)
Based On: Casino Royale (Book #1)
The masterful reboot of the dehydrating franchise helped revive it and bring it back to the form that only the earliest films and a few others had. It launched Bond into the modern world with all the same coldness his creator gave him in the post-war tensions of the East versus West power struggle. Daniel Craig is the best Bond since Connery, and the closest to the Bond of Fleming’s books. Helped by a brilliant update that not only places Bond in present day, but taps into our realistic fears of global terrorism, Casino Royale learned well from the Bourne movies and real world events. Despite its update, Casino Royale is one of the closest followers to Fleming’s original text. A simple story that has been expanded with restrained sense of purpose, this movie does so much right, it’s hard to find flaws in it. Any unease at a new direction, a new Bond, and a new hair and eye color were quickly cast aside and the final result proved to be exactly what audiences were wanting and then some.
Beginning with the best cold open in the series, we see an unproven, yet not inexperienced Bond make his first two confirmed kills that are necessary to promote him to 00 status. Afterwards he is sent out into the field by M, again played by Judi Dench, the lone carryover from the Brosnan era and the previous Bond films. It was a wise choice to retain her as she excels as a feistier M with a fiercer script. She tacks Bond to take down terrorist treasurer Le Chiffre in a high stakes poker game (not even baccarat got to play with the new Bond) in order to bankrupt him and root out who he’s funding. At the heart of the story though is the relationship between Bond and Vesper Lynd, the British attachment sent to monitor Bond’s funds as they are the country’s funds. Like Tracy in OHMSS, she’s independent and not on board with the plan put together by the superiors around her. The banter battle between her and Bond is fun to watch, especially as increased views into the harsh and deadly world of espionage that Bond thrives in affect Vesper directly. She seeks comfort in Bond and he likewise seeks support from her leading to a grand and indivisible attraction between the two. It becomes clear that one will die for the other if necessary, and Le Chiffre and his men do their best to ensure one of them does. Danger and deceit surround everyone, Bond, Vesper, and Le Chiffre, and just when you think you know who’s got the better of whom someone else steps into the ring to join the dance of death.
- Bond to M after uncovering Vesper’s deceit.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this list and that it slims down some options for you with the Bond films. If you’re interested in more of the superspy, then check out Fleming’s books. I’ve read the first six and have found them to be quite enjoyable, but as I said, you see Fleming’s unfiltered view of the world through them, so brace yourself for that.
James Bond will return and I hope you will too. Next week will be a remembrance of the most famous shipwreck of the Great Lakes.