Almost 50 years ago, James Bond, already familiar to the reading public from Ian Fleming’s original novels, was introduced to movie audiences in Dr. No, the first film in one of the most financially successful film franchises of all time (only Harry Potter has done better, but that’s without adjusting for inflation, not to mention that the Bond series has no end in sight), leaving an indelible mark on pop culture, staying remarkably popular and relevant even amongst a constantly changing society and world. As a fan of the series, I decided to do a marathon viewing of all the Bond films, including the 22 official films made by Eon Productions as well as the few “official unofficial” films (“official” because they used the James Bond name legally and were based on Fleming novels, “unofficial” because they weren’t produced by Eon). After rewatching all the films, I’ve ranked them from best to worst, and done the same for the actors who played Secret Agent 007 as well. I also picked the best and worst Bond girls, villains, themes, title sequences, chase scenes, and more. If you’re interested to see my picks, just click the “Read More” button below to see the lists.
But before I get into that, I want to address one pressing question that always seems to come up when talking about the James Bond series: what is it that has made James Bond so unrelentingly popular for so many decades? The answer almost always given is, “Men want to be him, and women want to be with him.” Essentially, that is the answer, although I think we can assume that plenty of women would also love to be a secret agent just like James Bond, and that plenty of men would really like to have sex with James Bond. But I think there’s more behind that commonly-given answer. It’s not only that men want to be Bond or women want to be with Bond, but that men want to be Bond instead of themselves and women want to be with Bond instead of who they’re with now. Bond epitomizes the kind of escapism that the cinema has been associated with for years. He was a form of escape even for his creator - Fleming wrote the first book, Casino Royale, just prior to getting married after years of confirmed bachelorhood, as a means of expressing all the things he feared he would never get to do again (Fleming himself was a Naval Intelligence Officer in WWII, and also a known womanizer). Through Bond, the audience can experience the kind of glamorous, exotic, and exciting lifestyle that the vast majority of them will never experience. And it’s not only the cars, the clothes, and the sex that are enticing; it’s the idea of having a real impact on the world, of being at the center of global affairs and playing a part in keeping society running in a way that, again, few viewers would actually ever get to experience. And what’s maybe most key to Bond’s appeal to audiences is that even though he’s constantly saving the world, he’s not a superhero like Superman or Batman or Spiderman. He’s an average guy, a soldier promoted to Her Majesty’s Secret Service and trained to be a master detective and assassin. He doesn’t have super strength, super speed, super intelligence - he’s just a government employee who’s really good at his job. Unlike comic-book superheroes, a regular guy or girl could become a secret agent, and some of them in fact do, although it’s doubtful that their experiences are quite like Bond’s. None of us are James Bond, but maybe if we really wanted to, maybe if we tried really hard, maybe we could be James Bond. Alas, most of us don’t have it in us to actually try and be 007, and also some of us don’t want to be shot at, and we look uncomfortable when wearing a tuxedo, and we don’t particularly care for vodka martinis, regardless of whether they are shaken or stirred, so watching the Bond films is the closest we’ll ever get to being James Bond, and really, that’s probably as close as any of us really need to be.
Okay, enough of that. Time for arbitrary lists!
#5 - Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), The Man with the Golden Gun
Ironically, one of the best villains comes from one of the worst films. He’s great because, unlike too many other Bond villains, he has real backstory and character outside of his villainous plotting, and he’s one of the few to recognize his own parallels with Bond. Lee’s expertise at playing disarmingly charming villains (Dracula, anyone?) is on full display here. Plus, using a golden gun is a pretty baller move.
#4 - Ernst Stavros Blofeld (multiple actors), multiple films
The prototypical Bond villain, the mastermind of SPECTRE, the ultimate figure in world terrorism. Blofeld would probably be number one if he hadn’t been played by so many different actors, but it’s to the credit of the character that even with the many changes in actors who played him, the character was always recognizable with that gray suit and white cat.
#3 - Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), From Russia With Love
One of the few female main villains in the Bond films (although there are plenty of henchwomen), played perfectly by Lenya as a cold, humorless woman with no respect for human life except her own. Genuinely intimidating; the image of her fighting Bond with her dagger-tipped shoe is one of the most memorable in the series.
#2 - Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), Dr. No
The first onscreen Bond villain, Dr. No set a standard that lasted through the series - the villain as a gentleman, arrogantly treating Bond to the best food, drink, and comfort while imprisoned in his extravagant lair, calmly explaining his entire plot before offing Bond, suffering from physical deformity (metal hands). The majority of villains to follow Dr. No were more or less rehashes of the same idea, but none match the original, except for one…
#1 - Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), Goldfinger
It’s not a coincidence that three of the five best villains come from films named after the villains; as with Dr. No and Scaramanga, Goldfinger is a dominant presence in the film in a way so many other Bond villains fail to achieve. What puts Goldfinger above the rest is Frobe’s performance, which gives Goldfinger a level of nonchalance and humor that only adds to the sense of ruthlessness. His grand villainous idea is actually brilliant, his methods of murder are harrowing, and he gets to deliver the best line in the entire series (Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”, Goldfinger, slightly laughing: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”).
Worst Villain: General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe), The Living Daylights
Koskov could really share this accolade with Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), his accomplice in the film, as both are hardly interesting both in how they’re written and how they’re played, and their big villainous plan is really just an unnecessarily complicated attempt at buying a bunch of opium. It all seems like a big waste of Bond’s time.
#5 - Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder), Live and Let Die
Although Baron Samedi isn’t really the main henchman of Live and Let Die (that would be the claw-handed Tee Hee), he’s definitely the most memorable and disturbing villain in the film. In voodoo mythology, Samedi is the spirit of the dead, and the creepiness of his voodoo origins translates well onscreen. Even better, the film’s ending hints that he may actually be immortal. One of the most fascinating Bond characters, he’d be even higher if he played a bigger role in the film.
#4 - Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), GoldenEye
There have been a number of female villains who have tried to use sex as a weapon, but none so literally as Xenia, who squeezes men to death with her thighs and seems to literally get off on killing people. Janssen plays the part without any hint of restraint or self-doubt, which really makes the character stand out. She’s exactly what May Day from A View to a Kill should have been but wasn’t.
#3 - Red Grant (Robert Shaw), From Russia With Love
From Russia With Love is known for being one of the more realistic Bond films, and Red Grant, likewise, is a realistic henchman - he’s not super strong, he doesn’t have any crazy deformity or a gimmicky way of killing people. He’s just a highly-trained killer, but unlike future believable henchman, Grant actually has some personality and screen presence, and his train fight scene with Bond is one of the best scenes in the series.
#2 - Oddjob (Harold Sakata), Goldfinger
Probably the best known and loved of the Bond henchman, Oddjob is a domineering presence, a stocky, muscular Korean who is not only inhumanly strong and impervious to pain, but also wears a steel-rimmed bowler for decapitating his enemies. Completely silent, but his evil grin tells you everything you need to know about him. Even without speaking he still amazingly manages to have more personality than many other henchmen.
#1 - Jaws (Richard Kiel), The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker
Although essentially a ripoff of Oddjob with the steel in the hat moved to the teeth, Jaws is still an exceptional henchman, carrying all the same qualities as Oddjob but being put to even better use in his film, getting ample opportunities to showcase his murderous strength and seeming invincibility. Audiences loved him so much, he got to be in two films, although his turn in Moonraker isn’t nearly as successful, but he’s perfect in The Spy Who Loved Me.
Worst Henchman: Stamper (Gotz Otto), Tomorrow Never Dies
Stamper is the best example of the problem with many of the realistic henchmen who followed in the mold of Red Grant, where the filmmakers kept forgetting to actually give them personalities. Stamper’s the worst simply because he’s so completely forgettable and indistinguishable from any of the hundreds of nameless henchman that Bond has dispatched over the years. His most prominent trait is that he looks Aryan. That’s just lazy.
Best Bond Girls
#5 - Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco), GoldenEye
Being both a Bond fan and a feminist can be a hard thing to do, but despite the series’ reputation for being sexist and misogynistic, there are a substantial number of respectable female characters in the series. Natalya gets a spot on the list because, unlike many Bond girls, the film develops her character and her storyline separately from Bond, and again unlike many Bond girls, she plays an important and essential role in stopping the film’s villain and doesn’t play the damsel in distress. Also, she’s pretty.
#4 - Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), Casino Royale
With every new Bond actor and new cycle of films, the series always try to somehow “make up” for the errors of previous Bonds, and most often one of those errors they try to fix is how the Bond girls are portrayed. Such was the case with Casino Royale, which made Vesper Lynd smart, independent, self-assured, and capable, but more than anything else, she seems like a real woman, and it helps that Bond actually tries to treat her as such. Also, she’s pretty.
#3 - Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), Goldfinger
Easily the most mature of all the Bond girls as well as the most memorably named, Honor Blackman is the strongest female character of the Connery films. She’s a skilled pilot and an independent woman, not subservient to Goldfinger, Bond, or anyone else. Even when Bond does seduce her, his love doesn’t seem to consume her the way it does so many of his other sexual conquests. The notion that she’s a lesbian and Bond turns her straight is upsetting, but to be fair, the film isn’t nearly as forward about her sexual preferences as the book is. Also, she’s pretty.
#2 - Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), The Spy Who Loved Me
More than anyone else, Anya, a.k.a. KGB Agent Triple X, is the “female Bond”, as respected and renowned an agent in Russia as Bond is in Britain, and she’s just as skilled too. Her introduction in the film is brilliant, as the film misdirects the audience to think Triple X is the man she’s in bed with, only to discover it’s her. Her early friendly rivalry with Bond is amusing, her subsequent sexual relationship with him is convincing (female agents like sex too), and her late avowal to avenge the death of her former agent boyfriend at the hands of Bond adds an interesting twist to the story. Also, she’s pretty.
#1 - Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The woman who tamed Bond, the one who got him to put a ring on it. Tracy is one of the most fully-developed and complex Bond girls, and her relationship with Bond is also one of the few that’s actually fully developed. With nearly every other girl (even Vesper, to an extent), Bond seems to keep his distance and operate only on a level of lust, but with Tracy, he actually falls in love. She also does something truly rare for Bond girls: when she’s captured in the enemy’s lair, she saves herself instead of having to be rescued by Bond. Her death at the end of the film is genuinely touching and gives the series one of its rare moments of poignance. An all-around excellent character. Also, she’s pretty.
Worst Bond Girl: Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), The Man With The Golden Gun
Girls like Mary Goodnight are the reason people call the Bond films sexist. Mary is an MI6 agent, just like Bond, and yet she’s completely incapable of doing anything productive or helpful in the film. Her character is a bumbling fool who does nothing except make Bond’s job harder and nearly get him killed. Also, she’s so desperate to get in bed with Bond that it’s pathetic. People want to see Bond seduce women, they don’t want to see women begging their way into bed with him. That’s just sad. Her only good quality: she’s pretty.
#5 - Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), You Only Live Twice
Tiger Tanaka makes the list because of all the allies that Bond meets over the years, Tanaka is one of the most genuinely badass. He’s head of Japanese Secret Service even though he looks younger than Bond, he has a secret HQ and private train underneath Tokyo, a second HQ in a castle where he also has a ninja school where he teaches James Bond how to be a fucking ninja, and as far as we can tell, he gets as many fine ladies as Bond does. He wins life. Well, fictional life, at least.
#4 - Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell, Caroline Bliss, Samantha Bond), multiple films
Moneypenny’s relationship with Bond has always been a highlight of the series. She’s the one girl he hasn’t had and never will have, and it’s always hard to say whose fault that is. Lois Maxwell was the most long-lasting Moneypenny and by far the best, as she’s had some of the best flirtations and double entendres with Bond, some of the most humorous moments, and even some of the most touching moment (her crying at Bond’s wedding to Tracy is actually kind of heartbreaking). Samantha Bond did a good job with Pierce Brosnan, her Moneypenny seeming a little more feisty and definite in keeping the relationship with Bond possible. Caroline Bliss was forgettable; sadly she, and so too the other Moneypennys, were at times criminally neglected or underused by the filmmakers.
#3 - Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz), From Russia With Love
Kerim Bey is one of the more charismatic figures in the Bond series. He’s a gregarious member of MI6, a hit with the ladies, so much so in fact that all of his employees are his sons (the film never specifies how many he has, but it’s clear there are a lot of them). He and Bond develop an immediate friendship and respect for each other, perhaps because they are such kindred spirits. In Bond films, you can usually expect that Bond’s main ally in the field will get killed, but few manage to actually be as tragic for the audience as Kerim Bey’s.
#2 - M (Bernard Lee, Robert Brown, Judi Dench), multiple films
Head of MI6 and Bond’s superior, M has an excellent push/pull relationship with Bond. The two butt heads over Bond’s methods at times, but there’s also a mutual respect and admiration for each other that is always there. Bernard Lee’s M is stodgy and serious, the kind of attitude the head of secret service probably should have, but Lee kept him from being a one-note character, giving him a subtle levity that keeps the audience loving him. Robert Brown’s M is less memorable, but Judi Dench’s is excellent, some would say even better than Lee’s (I wouldn’t, but some would). Her M is a bit more antagonistic with Bond, but she also seems to get more joy out of his success and she seems to understand better than anybody why he does what he does.
#1 - Q (Desmond Llewelyn, John Cleese), multiple films
Q gets the top spot because his appearances are consistently highlights of the films. More than any other character, fans anticipate seeing Q and the crazy gadgets of Q branch. Desmond Llewelyn is easily one of the most beloved figures in the Bond universe, and although at times his benefit to the films was perhaps lost on the filmmakers (they didn’t even bother writing him into Live or Let Die), when he was used well, he was brilliant. Q’s relationship with Bond was antagonistic, the creator of gadgets riled at the agent who didn’t appreciate them or worry about keeping them intact, although like Bond’s other allies, the level of grudging respect is always there. Llewelyn’s death is one of the most saddest losses to the series, especially with how oddly poignant his final line in the series is. John Cleese would have made a fitting successor had he been given more time to develop it, but Q has been dropped for the Daniel Craig films, and it’s hard to say if that’s for the best or not.
Worst Ally: Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun
Can I be honest? The main reason I included this “allies” category is so I could talk about how much I hate Sheriff Pepper. Sheriff Pepper is without a doubt the worst character in the Bond series, and they put him in two movies. He’s a backwards, stereotypical Southerner/Cajun sheriff, loud, obnoxious, racist, and not at all as humorous as the filmmakers want you to think he is. At least in Live and Let Die he’s actually working against Bond because he doesn’t know who he is, and it seems the filmmakers want you to not like him. But then they inexplicably put him in The Man With The Golden Gun, even though it makes no sense that he would ever go on a vacation to Thailand, and then they make it worse by having him sit in the passenger seat with Bond for a car chase, because Bond decided to use the car Pepper was test driving (why would you go to Thailand to buy a car?). He’s annoying, he’s pointless, he’s completely unfunny (poor slapstick and exaggerated accents don’t equal laughs), and he’s offensive. Fuck Sheriff Pepper. FUCK HIM. He is the worst thing ever.
Best Songs (not including the “James Bond Theme”, because that’s not fair to the rest of the songs)
#5 - “Diamonds Are Forever” - Shirley Bassey, Diamonds Are Forever
Even non-Bond fans should recognize this song thanks to good ol’ Kanye sampling it. Shirley Bassey was always the best singer of Bond songs (she’s sung three of them, which is two more than anyone else) because her voice is seductive but strong, ominous but enticing. The song “Diamonds Are Forever” has a big, deep, almost sinister sound to it that promises far more action and intrigue than the film can actually muster up.
#4 - “Nobody Does It Better” - Carly Simon, The Spy Who Loved Me
This song doesn’t quite sound like what an optimal Bond song should, as it’s all romance and no intrigue, more pop than cinematic, but “Nobody Does It Better” still excels because, well, it’s just a really good song. Carly Simon has a great voice, the melody’s great, the lyrics make sense and apply to the movie they’re linked to (which is actually quite rare for Bond songs), and it’s just one of the most catchy songs in the series.
#3 - “The Look of Love” - Dusty Springfield, Casino Royale (1967)
It’s amazing that such an incredibly sexy and seductive song came from such a batshit-crazy movie, but “The Look of Love” is exactly that, and probably even more widely-recognized than any of the songs from the official Bond series (you might not recognize the title, but I guarantee you know this song). Burt Bacharach’s melody is beautiful, and Springfield’s breathy delivery, moving effortlessly from fragile to forceful, is perfectly seductive. The best song to ever be in a Bond film; the only reason it’s not #1 is because it’s not necessarily the best “Bond song”, but it is probably the only Bond song you would actually want to have sex to.
#2 - “Goldfinger” - Shirley Bassey, Goldfinger
Bassey’s first time singing for Bond was also her best and one of the series’ best. ”Goldfinger” is the biggest Bond song of them ever, with blaring brass and Bassey’s exotic vocals. The song grabs you right from her very first delivery of “Goldfinger” and never lets go all the way up to her incredible extended high note at the end of the song. And again, the lyrics actually make sense, and also do a brilliant job of introducing the film’s villain and establishing his presence and personality even before he’s seen onscreen. All-around excellent.
#1 - “Live and Let Die” - Paul McCartney, Live and Let Die
Bond purists will probably vehemently disagree with this choice, because the song is something of an anomaly in the series, and the first “pop” theme of the series too, but in my mind “Live and Let Die” is the perfect Bond song, mixing three of the most important elements of Bond films: the alluring romance of the song’s verses, the exotic sounds and humorous tone of its bridge, and then the sudden, blasting, chaotic danger and mystery of its chorus. Of all the artists other than John Barry who wrote the themes for the Bond films, Paul and Linda McCartney seemed to be the ones who most got what the Bond films were about. It helps that it has brilliant production from George Martin (who also provided the anomalous score for the film).
Worst Song: “The Man With The Golden Gun” - Lulu, The Man With The Golden Gun
Look, I’m an American, so maybe this is just me being an ignorant American, but who the fuck is Lulu? Not only are her vocals terribly grating, but the lyrics are fucking inane. Here’s some choice examples: “Lurking in some darkened doorway/or crouched on a rooftop somewhere/In the next room, or this very one/the man with the golden gun…”, “Love is required whenever he’s hired/it comes just before the kill…”, “His eye may be on you or on me/Who will he bang? We shall see./Oh yeah!” Ugh.
And now, some quick top 3 lists:
#3 - Attaché Case, From Russia With Love
The first gadget in the Bond series, and one of the most believable, with hidden knife, hidden money, a folding sniper rifle, and a tear gas canister. Simple but memorable.
#2 - The Golden Gun, The Man With The Golden Gun
One of the best gadgets isn’t even Bond’s; it’s Scaramanga’s gun, assembled out of a cigarette case, lighter, pen, and cuff link, and shoots golden bullets. Classy.
#1 - Bell Jet Pack, Thunderball
Why’s this number one? Because it’s a jet pack! And it’s not some silly thing hanging from wires - it’s a real jet pack developed by the US military. It’s been almost fifty years, so why is there not one of these in every house by now?
#3 - BMW 750iL, Tomorrow Never Dies
The cars with the most gadgets are usually the most memorable, and so it is with this car loaded with features, the coolest being that Bond can drive it remotely using his cell phone.
#2 - Lotus Esprit, The Spy Who Loved Me
An obvious choice, because not only is it a great car, but it’s also a great submarine, complete with all the requisite gadgets for underwater battle.
#1 - Aston Martin DB5, Goldfinger
The standard bearer, with a vast array of gadgets - machine guns, radar, revolving license plates, bullet proof shield, oil slick, smoke screen, tire slasher, and the famous ejector seat. All that, and it’s the most beautiful car of the bunch too.
Best Pre-Credits Sequences:
#3 - GoldenEye
The pre-credits sequences in Bond films offer some of the best action sequences in the series. GoldenEye introduces Pierce Brosnan as Bond by having him bungee jump off the side of a dam, blow up a Soviet chemical weapon plant, and then freefall into a diving plane, pulling up just in time to avoid crashing. Fabulous.
#2 - Goldfinger
Exemplifies the concept of the Bond pre-credits sequence as a mini-movie, and what makes Bond so cool, wearing a white tuxedo under a wetsuit, and not even batting an eye when a giant explosion takes place behind him. Add the pretty girl and the fight sequence at the end where Bond electrocutes the thug in the bathtub (“Shocking. Positively shocking.”), and you’ve got everything you could possibly ask for.
#1 - The Spy Who Loved Me
This sequence wins because not only is it action-packed, but it sets up plot payoff later in the film. Nuclear submarines are captured, Anya Amasova is cleverly introduced, and Bond escapes an assassination attempt by skiing off a cliff, pulling a parachute with a giant Union Jack on it. It’s arguably the best stunt in the series, and the sequence is arguably the best pre-credits sequence in the series too.
#3 - Goldfinger
Although not created by the series’ iconic and influential titles designer Maurice Binder, Robert Brownjohn’s titles make use of the most iconic image from the film - the gold-painted woman - and projects scenes from Goldfinger and the previous two films on various parts of her body. Simple concept, but still sexy and eye-catching.
#2 - GoldenEye
Again, not done by Binder, but by the extremely capable successor to his role, Daniel Kleinman. The titles speak to the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, which is a major theme in the film. In keeping with Binder’s style, but Kleinman’s own voice comes through strongly.
#1 - On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
One of the dirty secrets of the Bond films is that, as much as Maurice Binder is admired and deserving of admiration for his work on the series’ titles, a lot of his title sequences were lackluster. To see him at his greatest, turn to the strange Dr. No titles, the Thunderball titles, or his best work in this film, linking new Bond George Lazenby to the previous Bond films and pressing the British aspects of Bond and the theme of time, with hourglasses and Bond hanging from the hands of a clock, that plays such a sadly poignant role in the relationship of Bond and Tracy. And yes, the silhouettes of naked women are nice too.
#3 - Ski/Bobsled Chase, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Wonderfully shot by aerial photographer Johnny Jordan and skiing photographer Willy Bogner, Bond’s flight from Blofeld’s lair by ski and by bobsled is action-packed. As with the best stunt sequences in Bond films, it works because the speed and the danger feel real, largely because they are.
#2 - Freerunning Chase, Casino Royale
Easily the best on-foot chase in the series, Bond chases after a thug played by one of the founders of parkour, Sébastien Foucan, who runs lithely through a building construction site in contrast to the more brutish Bond who keeps pace with him the whole way. Visually thrilling, again largely because the stunts are real.
#1 - Truck Chase, License to Kill
I’m not a fan of this film, but even I can’t deny that the truck chase that ends this scene is an incredible example of stunt driving and action choreography. The crashes, the explosions, the truck going up on two wheels and crushing a car as it comes back down, it’s all astounding, and all without CGI. I can even excuse the absurd truck wheelie.
Best Fight Scenes
#3 - Stairwell Fight, Casino Royale
There are a number of good fights in claustrophobic spaces in the series (the fight inside an elevator in Diamonds Are Forever is another great example), but this one gets the pick because, more than any others, as Bond and his assailants topple and vault themselves down the stairs, it looks like it really hurts. Not to mention the gruesome ending.
#2 - Train Fight, From Russia With Love
The most famous fight scene in the series. After tricking Grant into releasing the tear gas from his case, Bond and Grant tussle, knocking the blue emergency lights on which gives the fight an gloomy glow. A masterpiece of editing and fight choreography, and looks pretty painful itself.
#1 - Ninja Attack on Blofeld’s Volcano Lair, You Only Live Twice
Did you see what I titled this fight scene? That should tell you all you need to know. Tiger Tanaka’s ninja-trained students join Bond in an all-out assault on Blofeld’s lair. It’s a massive battle, with hundreds of extras, ninjas rappelling down as henchman fire at them, giant explosions, the kind of brilliant spectacle that you can only find in a Bond film.
The Non-EON Bond films, from worst to best:
#3 - “Casino Royale” (1954)
Technically not a film, but a live television drama, but still important as the first appearance of James Bond on screen. It also works as a reminder that even the worst Bond films are better than this. Barry Nelson plays “Jimmy Bond” as an American. Disgusting, right? Even worse, he has no class, he’s not suave, he’s not anything recognizably Bond. Even the worst Bond is exponentially better than this one. The appearance of Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre is nice, but not enough to save this poorly-produced program. It’s one only for Bond completists.
#2 - Never Say Never Again
This film marked the return of Sean Connery to the role of Bond, playing him as an older man struggling to keep pace with an ever-changing world. Essentially a remake of Thunderball, it’s got some good action scenes and good villains, and Sean Connery is as great as ever, but the film lacks the polish of the EON flicks and dates itself in ways most Bond films don’t. I will say in its defense that the refrain of “Never say never again” in the title song is smooth and absurdly catchy, even if the rest of the song is not.
#1 - Casino Royale (1967)
One of the most brilliant and fascinating fiascos in cinema history. It boasted a giant budget, five, yes, five directors, and at least five 007s. The plot is convoluted, an absolute mess that doesn’t cohere or tie together its loose ends, and by the end of the film, the filmmakers stop trying to pretend that they care about having a plot. And yet I can’t help but love it. The film is pure psychedelic cinema, with excellent music from Burt Bacharach and Herb Alpert (except for the ghastly vocal version of the title theme that ends the film), inspired art direction, and a bevy of beautiful women (enough to rival any of the official Bond films) and brilliant actors agreeing to be absolutely goofy here - David Niven (Fleming’s original favorite to play Bond, interestingly), Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Deborah Kerr, William Holden, John Huston, Jean Pierre Belmondo, and more. The film is an absolute mess, but it’s an undeniably fun and bafflingly hilarious (both intentionally and unintentionally) mess.
Okay, now for the two big lists you’ve been waiting for: a worst-to-best ranking of the actors who played James Bond (EON films-only, the rest would be at the bottom of the list anyway) and the films themselves. So, here we go:
The Bond Actors, From Worst-to-Best:
#6 - Timothy Dalton
I should make clear that I don’t hate Dalton’s Bond. Even the worst Bond is still pretty good. The problem with Dalton as 007 is that he doesn’t project the same kind of personality and have the same screen presence the other Bonds do. That may not be his fault, that may be the fault of the writing or the filmmaking, but regardless, that’s the case, and his Bond is simply the least memorable and least interesting. It’s nice that they tried to make him a little tougher, a little harder-edged, more like the Bond in the books and a return to Connery, and maybe if he’d gotten more than two movies he could have been better, but as it is, he’s easily my least favorite.
#5 - George Lazenby
Lazenby is the forgotten Bond, the one that only Bond fans ever really remember, but he had the luck of being in one of the best Bond films, arguably the most credible as a piece of cinema art outside of the Bond universe. Lazenby’s Bond is a bit cheekier than Connery’s and shows more vulnerability, but he’s still tough enough to save the world. He gets the benefit of having the most poignant moment in the film, holding his dead wife in his arms mere hours after their wedding, whispering into her ear, “We have all the time in the world,” and absolutely selling it as a serious, emotional moment. Impressive, considering this was his first serious acting role. If he had only gotten to be in more films, he very likely would be near the top of this list.
#4 - Roger Moore
When I was a kid and first got into the Bond films, Roger Moore was the Bond that I became most attached to thanks to Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me, even more than Brosnan, the Bond that I actually grew up with. Still, as much as I admire him, one has to admit that his films feature some of the worst tendencies of the Bond series, mainly the focus on overt, lame humor and one-liners. Moore’s Bond is the least like the Bond of Fleming’s novels. That said, he’s still got an incredible level of class and sophistication to his performance and plenty of charisma. His biggest fault may have been simply playing Bond in the wrong era. But you have to give him credit for creating his own persona and style to the character after a decade of Connery, and audiences went for it. That’s not an enviable task, yet he tackled it with flair.
#3 - Pierce Brosnan
Brosnan carried the Bond films into a new post-Cold War era, when some fans worried Bond couldn’t stay relevant. Brosnan put that fear to rest. He was the perfect Bond for the ’90s, cool, suave, sexy, and witty, truly a mix of all the best elements of the previous Bonds all formed into one. It’s hard to imagine any other actor who could have possibly been Bond in those four films except for Brosnan. He’s easily as charismatic as Moore or Connery, and as adept with the comedic aspects as Moore was (although the humor in his films is often just as groanworthy) and with the action scenes as Connery was. The only complaint would be that he was a little light in the toughness department, but otherwise there’s little to knock him for.
#2 - Daniel Craig
Some fans will think I’m crazy for putting Craig so high on the list, but I think it’s well-deserved. I’d argue his version of Bond is the closest to the one found in Fleming’s novels - a tough brute with a taste for women that’s more about lust than romance and no reluctance when it comes to violence in the name of his job. Craig’s Bond is younger, which gives him leeway to be more emotionally vulnerable and unstable, offering more pathos in his films. Compared to the older Bond of other films who is more or less a superman, Craig’s Bond gets hurt, physically and emotionally, but he soldiers on. It helps that Craig is one of the most talented actors in the bunch, and that he’s also the toughest looking of the bunch. Hopefully his continued exploration of the character in upcoming Bond adventures will be as satisfactory as in the two we’ve already seen.
#1 - Sean Connery
This is pretty much a given. Any time I talk to someone about how I’m a Bond fan, invariably they will say, “I think Sean Connery was the best Bond.” He has a bit of an unfair advantage, because he got to create the onscreen persona of Bond, and all Bonds since have had to deal with the weight of his performance on their shoulders. That said, he is, in fact, the best Bond, and it’s doubtful anyone will ever be better. He’s the coolest of the cool, the suavest of the suave, the toughest of the tough. Everything that Bond did, whether it was killing a man, infiltrating a giant lair, bedding every woman he met, talking or punching his way out of even the most dangerous situations, it always seems somewhat plausible because it was Connery doing it. Even in his later films, where he seems almost bored by the proceedings, he’s still more man than most. As long as the series lasts, when people say the name James Bond, it will be the image of Sean Connery that first comes to mind, and that’s as it should be.
The 22 James Bond Films, From Worst-to-Best
#22 - The Man With The Golden Gun
The film takes a potentially brilliant concept with a great villain and turns it into drivel. Best metaphor for the film: the well-executed, visually impressive barrel-roll car jump, completely ruined by a comic slide-whistle sound effect. Boo.
#21 - Licence to Kill
Some fans love this film, but I’m not one of them. It tries too hard to be an ’80s action film, and the Bond of this film doesn’t fit with the Bond we know and love. Bond shouldn’t sacrifice his job and country for personal revenge; if he does that, then he shouldn’t be in the secret service. Final truck chase aside, it’s no good.
#20 - A View To A Kill
A film with Christopher Walken as the main villain and Grace Jones as his henchman should be excellent, but it falls far short of excellence. Doesn’t help having a useless Bond girl, nor does it help that the actress playing her (Tanya Roberts) can barely act.
#19 - Die Another Day
Like Licence to Kill, Bond’s turn away from MI6 nor MI6’s loss of faith in Bond doesn’t work. Also has the unfortunate distinction of being the most digital, which means its action sequences are much less thrilling. The spectacle of an ice hotel and giant sun laser must have rung hollow mere months after 9/11.
#18 - Moonraker
One of the biggest spectacles of the series, but also the most absurd. A crass attempt to cash in on the back of Star Wars mania. Bond doesn’t belong in space; he’s not an astronaut. The romance between Jaws and the blond girl is pure stupidity. Great set design, though.
#17 - Diamonds Are Forever
Roger Moore usually gets the blame for putting the series’ focus on humor, but this film is where that trait truly starts. It has its moments - the elevator fight, the cremation scene, the controversial but effectively creepy Kidd & Wint - but otherwise largely forgettable.
#16 - The Living Daylights
The best of Dalton’s two films. Lame villains, but good action, good Bond girl, good pre-credits sequence, and a nice change of pace to a more serious tone after the Moore era. Not an especially memorable Bond film, however.
#15 - The World Is Not Enough
There are a lot of really good ideas in this film, namely the idea of a villain with Stockholm Syndrome and a villain who can’t feel pain. The first is explored successfully, the second largely wasted. Denise Richards is laughably implausible as a nuclear scientist. You don’t fool us, EON Productions. We know you hired her for her boobs.
#14 - Octopussy
Better than its title would suggest, but still middling for the series. The title character is great and so is her second-in-command, but the villains are lackluster and their grand scheme is overly convoluted. The final defusing of the bomb amidst the circus is genuinely tense though. A fun watch, if not entirely inspired.
#13 - Quantum of Solace
Daniel Craig is still great in this one, but the characters and relationships aren’t as well realized as in his first outing. I also hate the “Bourne”-style fast editing, which doesn’t belong in a Bond film. Perhaps one of the smarter scripts though, as it recognizes that oil is today’s gold, and tomorrow’s gold will be water, an ever-shrinking resource.
#12 - For Your Eyes Only
A clear attempt to return to reality after the oversized escapades of Moonraker. Probably the least revered film in the series because it’s not big and epic, but it’s actually got a strong plot, great characters, and a fantastic car chase in its opening scene. Also, a rarity: Bond refuses the advances of a woman! Egads!
#11 - Tomorrow Never Dies
Quite smart for the series to address the power of the media in our modern world, the plot seems just as relevant today if not more so. Main villain Elliot Carver is an obvious reference to Rupert Murdoch. Brosnan’s love scene with Teri Hatcher is maybe the most erotic in the series. Becomes somewhat mindless in its last half, though.
#10 - You Only Live Twice
One of the best Bonds in terms of spectacle. The volcano lair set is absolutely awe-inspiring; the film may be overall the best display of production designer Ken Adam’s considerable talents and contribution to the series. Donald Pleasance’s Blofeld is arguably the best of the bunch. My main qualm with the film is that its depiction of women is questionable, and its treatment of Asians is borderline racist at times.
#9 - Live and Let Die
A personal favorite, although it has its flaws, mainly that the whole plot centers around a heroin ring. Can’t Bond leave that to the DEA? Great though because of its blaxploitation inspirations. The funk score doesn’t fit for a Bond film, but it’s funk, so why complain? Jane Seymour makes a great Bond girl, and Yaphet Kotto a great villain. Some argue the film is racist since all the criminals are black, but it’s no more racist in tone or intent than any blaxploitation film, and in some ways liberating.
#8 - Thunderball
The underwater sequences are beautiful to watch, and so too are the women. One of the best jokes in the entire series is Bond finding the villainous seductress Fiona Volpe bathing in his hotel tub. She asks him to give her something to put on. He hands her a pair of sandals, then sits and waits. That’s how Bond humor should be done. That scene alone makes the film worth it, although rest assured there’s more good to see.
#7 - Dr. No
The first Bond film doesn’t have all the elements that would become synonymous with the Bond series. It’s light on the action and heavy on the talking, but it’s still an excellent introduction to the Bond character. The room where Professor Dent is interrogated is one of Ken Adam’s best set designs, the scene where Bond kills Dent is gripping and defining of Bond’s attitude towards violence, Dr. No is a classic villain, and then there’s Ursula Andress coming out of the water. An icon born.
#6 - GoldenEye
After the end of the Cold War, there was fear that Bond couldn’t remain relevant, but this film proved that he could. Great set pieces, great characters, and very technically sound. The film’s ultimate message was that even in a unpredictable, ever-changing world, one thing is constant: you can always count on Bond.
#5 - Casino Royale
This film essentially resets the timeline of the series - a risky move, but ultimately a wise one. Visceral in a way no other Bond film has been; believable without sacrificing the elements that make Bond films stand out amongst the action film crowd. Gritty, raw, but still visually beautiful and inviting, and featuring some of the best action scenes and stunts in the entire series. No Bond film before would have the guts to include the chair torture scene. A welcome new direction for the series.
#4 - From Russia With Love
Bond films tend to be divided into two groups: epic fantasy spectacles like You Only Live Twice, or realistic spy fiction like this film. Personally, I tend to prefer the realism, especially if it’s as well done as this film. A surprisingly bold film (the plot centers on Bond and Tatiana both being ordered by superiors to seduce the other, and includes a secret sex tape made of them for the purpose of creating scandal) with highly memorably villains and allies. A more serious tone than most Bond films, which is not a bad thing at all.
#3 - The Spy Who Loved Me
This film more or less borrows all the best elements from previous films and brings them all into one film, and yet somehow it doesn’t feel like pandering to the audience. Instead, it’s a great adventure with all the best elements the Bond films are known for. Of all the Bond films, this one might be the most fun. Save for Anya becoming a damsel in distress at the film’s end, there’s little not to love here.
#2 - On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Unusual because it seems to have such high aspirations, and because it actually meets most of them. In technical terms, it’s the best in the series, with the best cinematography, one of the best production designs, and maybe the best of John Barry’s many Bond scores. Tracy is the best Bond girl in the series, the plot is pure Bond evil genius, and the ending hits hard and does so much to explain who Bond is and why he keeps his distance with women. Sad that director Peter Hunt didn’t make more of the Bond films; he may have been the best director the series ever had.
#1 - Goldfinger
Simply the best. So many elements of the film represent the peak of the series. If you hadn’t noticed already, many of the best lists above feature characters and elements from this film, and that’s because the film is so brilliant. Not only does it feature the Bond films at their best, but it’s Bond himself at his best. Truly the pinnacle of the series. Ironic, then, that it’s directed by Guy Hamilton, who directed three other Bond films, one of them being The Man With The Golden Gun, my pick for the worst Bond film. Strange how that works.
I should say one thing before I end this: even the worst Bond films have great aspects to them, and every Bond film is a blast to watch, even if the campiest ones. One of the most appealing traits of the series is that with a Bond film, you’re guaranteed to have fun.
Also, this list, and all these lists, were based on my own opinions of the film, and as such, I’m sure there are many people out there who would greatly disagree with me. That’s how it should be. There are 6 different Bonds and 22 different Bond films; that’s a different Bond for every taste.
Now that you’ve read these lists, let me know what you think. Agree with my choices? Disagree? Tell me, or let me hear your rankings would go. I’m a Bond fan at heart, and I’d love to hear from all you other Bond fans out there.