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  • Writer's pictureAlex George Pickering

I Watched Every James Bond Movie for a Month. Here's How I Ranked Them.

There have been 25 James Bond movies to date (27 if you count the two non-Eon productions). Here's how the famous spy thrillers stack up in the opinion of AGP!

Image of 6 Bond Actors

From left to right: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig

“Bond, James Bond.” For over 60 years, the world’s most famous spy has dazzled generations of cinephiles. Performing death-defying stunts in well-tailored tuxedos, his Italian ties always expertly fixed, he is a symbol of the suave, fearless male

idol—albeit, more than a bit chauvinistic at times, but with signs of growth from Connery’s version of the character through Craig’s. For a man on a pension, he certainly enjoys the sumptuous hotels, on-demand caviar and bottles of 1960s cognac on the British government’s dime. But there is also tragedy and heartache in his journeys. Indeed, the best of James Bond puts forth not simply the superhuman-like action star, but a vulnerable, struggling veteran assassin, faced with some of the most cruel and cunning adversaries every to grace the silver screen. And while no attempt at ranking the 007 films can ever truly capture the consensus of six decades of fans, I have done my best to curate the 25 Eon pictures (with an honorable mention to the two non-canon productions) and explain my reasoning. With that said, I welcome any dissension and disagreement. This article is, after all, just the opinion of one lifelong Bond fan.

To provide some quick context, in November of 2023, I noticed that Amazon had once again made every Bond film temporarily available for Prime members. (Max also recently hosted several too, though not the entire collection.) It had always been a bucket list item of mine to watch every Bond movie chronologically from 1962’s Dr. No onward. And so, with the help of my intrepid movie night gang—a group of mostly fellow USC film grads that join me regularly for a night of cinema—I embarked on my mission to watch one Bond film a night for a whole month. (Well, mostly every night. In fairness, I began around Thanksgiving and got a bit off course around the holidays.) As such, I want to thank Bobby, Jack, Brent, Corey, Manny and Christina for their occasional company on this adventure. Also, my lovely wife Lindsay who was gracious enough to let me commandeer our 86 inch TV almost every night during those winter weeks. Finally, it was a real pleasure to finish the franchise with my dad, who was visiting around Christmas and joined me for No Time to Die

Without further adieu, here is how I ranked all 25 James Bond movies. (Again, some lists might include Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again, and no judgements for those who do, but I elected to keep them apart from the official Eon entries—though a blurb about them is included below.)

James Bond Movie Quick Links:



Die Another Day (2002)

I wish I had better things to say about Brosnan’s final Bond chapter, but Die Another Day is just a mishmash of too many strange ideas that don’t organically jibe together. Albeit, it begins swimmingly enough. After a riveting hovercraft escape gone wrong in North Korea, Bond is imprisoned and tortured for 14 months by General Moon, who blames him for the death of his son, Colonel Tan-Sun Moon. Moon’s accomplice Zao is then traded for 007 under suspicion that the weary Bond has broken from the torture and leaked information. Sporting a Jesus beard and leaner physique, the rescued Bond’s MI6 medical team notes, “Liver not too good; it's definitely him then.” (Guess he had one too many shaken not stirred vodka martinis over the years!) With an irate M stripping him of his Double 0 status, and in classic disobedient fashion, Bond escapes his quarters, cleans himself up and sets out to find the double agent behind the false reports of his treason.

I remember coming out of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull thinking how much it reminded me of my experience with Die Another Day. In the case of Crystal Skull, I would have advised the filmmakers to choose between Indiana surviving a nuclear bomb blast in a refrigerator, swinging like Tarzan in a jungle alongside monkey allies or battling giant man-eating ants, but not include all three. The same could be said of the conceits expected of audiences watching Die Another Day. You can have Bond driving an invisible Aston Martin, paragliding over a glacier-laden title wave or battling an Asian man who surgically altered his face to be Caucasian—the latter cringey even by 2002 standards—but not all three. Oh, and Bond can evidently slow his heart down to near flatline levels at will (if you need a fourth). Roger Moore even famously said of the film, “I thought it just went too far—and that's from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!”

Thankfully, the film finds some saving grace in its female roles, Halle Berry’s Giacinta "Jinx" Johnson and Rosamund Pike’s Miranda Frost. Both characters have intriguing secrets revealed about them—namely, that Jinx works for the NSA and Miranda undercover for MI6. But Miranda’s deceptions go even deeper. In a surprise betrayal of 007, who once again falls victim to his greatest weakness (women), she swipes the bullets from his gun during an intimate night together. Turns out Miranda Frost is the very double agent who framed him in North Korea, and has been working for entrepreneur Gustav Graves (the new identity of Colonel Tan-Sun Moon post-surgery) all along.

With all that said, there are a few captivating action set pieces, such as the sword duel between Bond and Graves and the escape from the flooding ice palace, but the puzzle pieces grow increasingly irregular as the story unfolds. There is something plot-wise connecting Graves’ diamonds and a giant laser equipped satellite called Icarus, billed as a solar power solution for agriculture, but weaponized to aid North Korea in overtaking its southern neighbor. Though, in fairness, the moment that General Moon learns of his son’s transformation and utterly rejects both him and his deadly plan is quite poignant. Fans of the Bond franchise will also rejoice in the Easter eggs, purposefully planted to commemorate its 40 years, such as Q’s bunker of artifacts (e.g. the crocodile submarine from Octopussy or the jetpack from Thunderball). Bond narrowly saving a strapped-down Jinx from a deadly laser was probably my favorite throwback (a Goldfinger reference).


Moonraker Poster

Moonraker (1979)

What’s most disappointing to me about Moonraker is that it begins with such promise. After a space shuttle is mysteriously hijacked in mid air, Bernard Lee (in his final appearance as M) dispatches James Bond to investigate. While aboard an airplane en route to England, Bond is shoved out the door by his old steel-toothed foe Jaws, resulting in a stunning escape via the pilot’s parachute. Megalomaniacal industrialist Hugo Drax enters the mix next, doing everything in his power to stop the snooping MI6 agent, including subjecting him to 13 Gs in a centrifuge chamber. And in a haunting scene reminiscent to me of Ramsay Bolton unleashing his starving dogs on a fleeing woman in Game of Thrones, Drax sets his vicious hounds on his personal pilot, Corinne Dufour, for cluing Bond into the source of Drax’s deadly nerve gas. Sadly, women who dare to get close to Bond are often not long for this world! 

Thankfully, astronaut Dr. Holly Goodhead (yes, you read that surname correctly) is quick to fill the void, even as she rebuffs him at every turn. Then again, Roger Moore’s Bond is a master of turning even the most obstinate dames into lovers, and Goodhead is no exception. Together, they unravel Drax’s plan to populate an unfathomably futuristic space station with a select few couples, like a space age Noah’s Ark, hoping to wipe out the remaining earthbound human race with his nerve toxins. Tense action set pieces like the cable car bout with Jaws would be enough to please audiences, but Moonraker’s bloated budget takes us quite literally to the stars. In doing so, the film not only jumps the shark, but perhaps the moon itself, as the ever-versatile Bond uses his apparent space shuttle flying skills (who needs years of NASA training, right?) to dock with the station, which is evidently cloaked from earthly observation and equipped with virtual gravity. With the help of Goodhead, Bond takes out Drax’s forces, and even wins over Jaws, who Bond convinces will not meet Drax’s physical standards for his new “master race.” An utterly ridiculous laser fight in space ensues between Drax’s men, Bond and some space Marines. In the end, 007 manages to destroy the orbs carrying the nerve agents to earth.

Moonraker was James Bond’s answer to Star Wars in the late 70s, but here’s the truth: no one expects Bond to be a space adventure. Bond is a genre unto itself, a thriller-esque mystery caper series with action, humor and heart. Still, it’s hard not to consider Moonraker a success when it garnered the highest box office gains worldwide until 1995’s GoldenEye. For all its pomp, it’s also a guilty pleasure of a ride with a satisfying ending. Humankind is spared a Biblical-level extinction, Jaws finds an adorable romance with a sheepish young girl half his size (Dolly), and Bond and Goodhead engage in zero gravity lovemaking. In fact, perhaps all of Moonraker’s shortcomings can be forgiven by arguably the greatest double entendre in Bond franchise history. Sharing in the shock of seeing Bond and Goodhead’s weightless indiscretions, Q remarks, "I think he's attempting re-entry!"  


The Man with the Golden Gun Poster

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

The Man with the Golden Gun has everything going for it: a seemingly suave, sadistic villain played by Christopher Lee, extravagant machinery rising out of hidden mountains and even an iconic weapon that would make its way into Nintendo 64’s highly popular Goldeneye adaptation. The problem is, there just isn’t much of a Bond movie there, and what remains is often quite ludicrous. 

Take the famed assassin Francisco Scaramanga that Bond is seeking, whose most conspicuous attribute is a third nipple (yes, seriously). I guess this was a feature of the novel too. Nevertheless, in Bond’s efforts to impersonate Scaramanga and infiltrate industrialist Hai Fat’s compound by applying his own nipple prosthetic, I can’t help but recall a raunchy scene from Kevin Smith’s Mallrats (oh, you know the one). Only Christopher Lee’s exquisite blend of poshness and ghoulish restraint saves the character—that and his mischievous, half-sized accomplice Nick Nack, who proves to be a resourceful and cunning adversary for Bond.

Scaramanga also oversees the world’s most advanced solar power plant, technology that he obtained from Hai Fat, which he intends to market to the highest bidder, and to which I say… good! Maybe he got his hands dirty acquiring the tech, but a man putting forth clean energy on a massive level can only be a positive thing, right? He also wines and dines Bond before proposing an underwhelming pistol duel that spills over into his bizarre, carnivalesque funhouse, complete with a carefully detailed James Bond mannequin that you just know will confuse Scaramanga at the opportune moment. With no other soldiers or henchmen to be had but Nick Nack, the showdown on his secret island feels small and trivial—a far cry from the Fort Knox blowout in Goldfinger or underwater melee from Thunderball. Furthermore, the fact that the buffoonish Sheriff J.W. Pepper from the previous installment just happens to be on holiday in Thailand to assist Bond as a comedic sidekick does little to elevate a film already minimized by motorized sampans and flying cars. At least Andrea Anders, Scaramanga's mistress, provides a more grounded ally to 007 as she plots to kill her controlling lover. Her horrifyingly silent death stare after receiving a bullet as she sits with Bond in the audience of a Muay Thai boxing match will be forever etched in my brain.

Unfortunately, the story is further marred by the inclusion of possibly the most insultingly inept Bond woman in franchise history, British agent Mary Goodnight. Among her worst faux pas, her amply shaped buttocks that are on full and unapologetic display throughout the third act bump into the button for the deadly solar laser just as Bond struggles to retrieve its central control device, the Solex Agitator. On the other hand, Bond swallows a bullet off of a belly dancer earlier in the film, resulting in the hilarious line, “You mean to say there’s no way to trace that bullet? You’ve no idea what it went through to get here.” So, perhaps they’re both the butt of the worst joke? Drum roll, please. Thank you.


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The World is Not Enough (1999)

Brosnan returns for his third outing with a pleasant blend of Moore’s humor, Connery’s masculinity and Dalton’s edge. Named after the Bond family coat of arms, The World is Not Enough has a serviceable enough plot often invigorated by dazzling action sequences—most notably, its lengthier cold open. In classic Bond fashion, the MI6 legend leaps out of a multistory building, tears up canals in Q’s evidently unfinished jet ski boat hybrid and dangles from an exploding hot air balloon. If escalation was the filmmakers’ goal, mission accomplished!

But while the theatrics have enhanced, Bond himself has at best plateaued, or even regressed a bit. “The world’s greatest terrorist running around with six kilos of weapons-grade plutonium can’t be good. I gotta get it back, or someone’s gonna have my ass,” laments nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones, to which James cheekily replies, “First things first.” Later, having consummated the relationship, Bond further adds, “I thought Christmas only comes once a year” with all the hauteur of an eighth grade boy in a locker room comedy roast. Perhaps only the late great Roger Moore could have pulled off a line that ribald.

And then there’s the Doctor herself, played by Denise Richards, who throws out a few technical terms here and there, but whose introduction in a Lara-Croft-like crop top and short shorts does little to help her cause. Alternatively, Sophie Marceau makes a much more nuanced and compelling performance as oil heiress Elektra King, the two-faced victim of and accomplice to terrorist Renard Zokas’ scheme to dominate the petroleum industry by causing a nuclear meltdown in Istanbul. There is an obvious romantic chemistry between James and Elektra, making his split-second decision to call her bluff and shoot her all the more tragic. As for Renard himself, though the sensory-stifling bullet wedged in his head provides an intriguing plot device, it feels like a missed opportunity. He’s billed as a man who can’t feel pain, who can push himself farther than others. In his bout with Bond, I would have expected a seemingly unstoppable, Terminator-like foe who laughs off blade slashes and gun-blasts. Instead, the final sequence is a rather by-the-numbers showdown with the latest nemesis—though the vertical sub obstacle is fun.

On a positive note, Judy Dench’s M gets considerably more screen minutes this time around, and Russian mob boss turned Bond frenemy Valentin Zukovsky makes a welcome return from GoldenEye.


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Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Not since the abdication of Edward VIII have the British endured so shocking a turnaround as George Lazenby bowing out of the role of James Bond after just one film. It took a record-breaking $1.25 million offer, but series producers Broccoli and Saltzman managed to persuade veteran actor Sean Connery to return to the role one last time (not counting the non-Eon production Never Say Never Again). And though the events of On Her Majesty's Secret Service are never directly

referenced—in particular, the drive-by killing of Bonds newly-wed wife Tracy—Diamonds Are Forever begins with 007 ferociously hunting down his old nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, before drowning him in scolding mud. Or so he thought. In his latest mad experiment, Blofeld has mastered the art of creating lookalikes, including an identical twin of himself and—in the greatest crime against nature—a second of his white furry cats! Granted, the Fleming novels do provide a context for the returning Blofeld changing his appearance, which helps account for yet another actor filling his shoes—and that sudden head of hair!

While there are a number of gripping stunts, like Bond’s near cremation or his scaling of the Willard Whyte high-rise, the thrills are fewer and far between, and the laughs equally scarce, save the occasional chuckle over James piloting a moon buggy with flapping robot arms. To say Connery’s heart wasn’t in this one might be an understatement. Even the plot feels phoned in. There’s something about smuggling diamonds to create a space laser, the misadventures of Blofeld’s singular-minded henchmen (Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd) and 007’s bumbling adversary turned unwitting ally, Tiffany Case, a Bond woman without the cunning of her predecessors. Most notably, her efforts to reingratiate herself with Blofeld and swap out a special cassette with satellite control codes undoes Bond’s own tampering. But, hey, at least James has good old Felix Leiter and the CIA on the case with a convenient helicopter raid! As silly as the stakes were in You Only Live Twice, the end fight between Bond and Blofeld felt elevated and climatic, like Batman and the Joker or Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. That Bond essentially beats Blofeld in this film by turning his would-be escape pod into a wrecking ball just feels underwhelming for their final showdown. 

Critic Danny Peary went as far as to call the film “one of the most forgettable movies of the entire Bond series.” In truth, I had to Wikipedia the plot again in writing this review to remind myself what happened. Then again, it was refreshing to see Connery don his license to kill one more time. Moreover, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd’s futile last-ditch effort to assassinate Bond and Tiffany by posing as room service on an ocean liner, only to be engulfed in flames by Brandy and thrown overboard, was a fun closing beat.


Quantum of Solace Poster

Quantum of Solace (2008)

There’s something strikingly out of proportion about Quantum of Solace—and, no, it’s not the refreshingly short runtime. Produced in 2008, Quantum belongs to the Bourne and Mission: Impossible era of quick-cutting, hard-hitting thrillers, more interested in bloody vendettas and the leanest, fastest-camera-shutter-flickering action sequences than thought-provoking mystery and intrigue. Indeed, the editing is so tight at times that I can barely process what is happening across the many muscle car, motorcycle and speed boat chases, riveting as they might be. Tracking the action is held in less regard than the high octane energy of the moment—though Bond’s run-in with a Bolivian fighter plane and perilous skydive into a sinkhole makes for a decent and classic-feeling action sequence.

On the plus side, we get a vulnerable, wounded Bond, both grieving and bemoaning his late lover from Casino Royale, Vesper Lynd. In one of the movie’s more touching moments, a dying René Mathis (Bond’s friend who had been mistaken for a traitor in the previous installment) makes his peace with James while urging him to do the same with Vesper. For Bond, this means not only forgiving her for her deception, but himself as well for failing to save her. Not since Tracy Bond, the late canonical wife of 007, has there been a woman so deeply connected to him. As M puts it, Bond has become a man consumed with “inconsolable rage.” In fact, when James disobeys M and goes rogue for the umpteenth time, MI6 cancels his credit cards and dispatches Bolivian consulate agent Strawberry Fields to retrieve him. Yes, a gorgeous woman with a classically suggestive name is the candidate to subdue the most debauched Double 0 agent in British history. Go figure. At the very least, Fields seems aware of her name’s sexual overtones, which is never uttered on screen. Her death by oil bath is also a chilling homage to Goldfinger

On the other end of the Bond girl spectrum is Camille Montes, who makes a compelling foil to James as she hunts down the exiled general responsible for her family’s murder. We even get a hearty amount of screen time with the latest iteration of CIA agent Felix Leiter, who debates the geopolitics of doing business with dictators, barons and other bad men around the globe, but ultimately capitulates to helping Bond. Dominic Greene, meanwhile, makes a slimy, saucer-eyed menace, stalking a mysterious piece of desert in no-mans-land that turns out to house a reservoir of water. For all his talk of saving perishing Bolivian rain forests, the faux environmentalist means to starve the Bolivians of water lest they buy it at his inflated price. 

Unfortunately, Quantum, which Mr. White boasts as having “people everywhere”—yes, including M’s trusted bodyguard Mitchell with the squeaky-clean wrap sheet—feels like a poor man’s SPECTRE. And then, of course, it gets reconned as a subsidiary of the eponymous shadow agency in 2015’s Spectre. Still, as sequels go that carry the emotional baggage of the first, tough man Daniel Craig bears the weight of his failures with grace, wit and even some un-Bond-like humility—especially in heeding M’s request by saving Greene from a fiery death before depositing him in the desert—showing some welcome growth in the age-old assassin/spy. The fate of forcing a thirsty Greene to survive off motor oil in the desert is a delicious irony too!


Quantum of Solace Poster

Live and Let Die (1973)

Jams Bond movies are quite often the product of their times. By casting African American villains—most notably, San Monique’s corrupt Dr. Kananga, who doubles as Harlem drug lord Mr. Big—Live and Let Die takes its cues from the Blaxploitation films of the early 1970s, as well as the Black Panther party and other recent racial movements. (And thankfully, they had the good sense not to cast a white guy wearing Mr. Big’s prosthetic face!) Additionally, it is Roger Moore’s first entry in the series, a man who took a more debonair, comedic approach to Bond than his predecessors. With a plot that centers around jazz funerals, heroin-peddling gangsters and voodoo spells, Live and Let Die stands out as one of 007’s most unique and cutting-edge misadventures.

Jane Seymour bedazzles as Kananga’s personal psychic Solitaire, a woman whose Faustian bargain seems to preclude her from losing her virginity, lest she forsake her powers. (I never knew tarot card readers were such prudes!) Enter the eternal hornball that is James Bond, now in the handsomely refreshed figure of Roger Moore, add a stacked deck of tarot cards that contain only "The Lovers” that Bond somehow has the time to procure (do remote Caribbean islands have print shops?), and you get a night of nonstop debauchery! When Solitaire awakens to her indiscretions, she realizes that Kananga will kill her for losing her power, and elects to help Bond with his mission. A heart-throbbing boat chase in New Orleans ensues, in which we hazard one too many interjections by the pursuing doofus Sheriff J. W. Pepper. Mr. Big captures Bond, reveals his true identity as Kananga, and reveals his plan to distribute heroin at his restaurants, hoping to bankrupt other dealers. The poppy fields on his island are tied in somehow too—I’ll be honest, it was a bit convoluted.

While the fictional island of San Monique has its escalating terrors and intrigues, including a classic underground lair loaded with shark tanks and the gun wielding scarecrows that take out poor Rosie Carver, it lacks the mysterious and sinister aura of a Crab Key or Blofeld’s volcano. Then again, Tee Hee Johnson’s fearsome claw hand, the product of a crocodile biting incident, ads the sort of freakish flair expected of Bond villains of the Dr. No and Oddball kind. We also get a version of the occult, top-hat-bearing Baron Samedi, who Bond throws into a coffin as he saves Solitaire from a voodoo sacrifice. As for Dr. Kananga, his often quiet and stoic air might come off as underwhelming at first, but there is also an anxious restraint to him, like a shaken up carbonated beverage just waiting to explode—an apropos analogy given that he essentially blows up by inhaling a gas pellet in the end. As is often the case, the secondary villain Tee Hee even tries to ambush Bond in the final minutes of the film, with his own would-be weapon begetting his undoing. Bond uses pliers to cut the wires in Tee Hee’s arm, trapping him in the window of a moving train before James throws him out. Though a bizarre final beat, the image of Baron Samedi laughing maniacally on the front of the train that follows almost seems to mirror our reaction to Tee Hee’s demise.


Octopussy Poster

Octopussy (1983)

Before I begin, the answer is yes. There is actually a film in the Bond franchise with the title Octopussy. Cast members, advertisers and moviegoers alike had to utter that word with a straight face, which evidently went through some negotiation with the censors. Piling on to the name controversy was the fact that rival filmmakers had cajoled original cast member Sean Connery into reprising the role of James Bond in a rival production called Never Say Never Again—this owing to the Thunderball legal bout between series producer Albert R. Broccoli and Kevin McClory. Billed as “the Battle of the Bonds,” Octopussy would narrowly beat out Connery’s remake at the box office, but received mixed reviews from both contemporary and retrospective critics.

In many cases, the conflicting opinions owe to both the film’s meandering tone and overly-complicated plot. The story opens with the killing of a man dressed as a circus clown carrying a counterfeit Fabergé egg, British agent 009. Surely, the stalwart, time-tested MI6 agent 007 would never hazard such a campy disguise, right? Well, wrong. In fact, clown costumes are the least of his indiscretions this time around. Try a gorilla suit and a cheesy Tarzan cry during a jungle chase.

On the plus side, Maud Adams, who had previously played the tragic mistress Andrea Anders in The Man with the Golden Gun, returns in a new role as the eponymous Octopussy. Through their shared history—namely, Bond having arrested her father Major Dexter-Smythe while allowing him to die by suicide rather than face justice—she welcomes James into her sumptuous palace in Udaipur. From there, an intriguing sexual tension brews between them, diluted by a healthy serving of danger, as the enigmatic Octopussy weaves in and out of her allegiances with Soviet General Orlov and exiled Afghan Prince Kamal Khan. (Between Octopussy and Star Trek II, the name Khan must have just been a popular villain handle of the early 80s.) Somehow, the trio’s smuggling of expensive artistic jewelry from the Kremlin ties into a plot to “accidentally” set of a nuclear bomb at a U.S. Air Force base in Germany during a circus performance. (Again, you read all that correctly.) The goal: to prompt Western Europe into nuclear deescalation. That anyone might expect foul play seems to not be an overt concern for Khan or his associates. 

Granted, there are some truly thrilling stunts across trains and aircrafts that keep even the most easily-distracted fans constantly on their toes. Perhaps GQ writer David Williams put it best when he called Octopussy "one of the best 'Bad Films' of the franchise.” It’s fraught with hyperbole and convolution, but it has adventure, intrigue and some eye-popping set pieces. And for his penultimate outing as Bond, Roger Moore still hasn’t missed a step!


A View to Kill Poster

A View to a Kill (1985)

At the ripe ol’ age of 57 and with a few extra lines and crow’s feet, Roger Moore sets sail on his final outing as the famed MI6 agent. Granted, his sexual escapades have taken on a cringier feel, especially as the women haven’t appeared to age up with him. Still, the chiseled, acrobatic May Day is a welcome departure from the damsels in distress of prior entries. As for the main villain, a scrappy, young Christopher Walken (Max Zorin) brings tongue-in-cheek charm above a retched underbelly—so much so, in fact, that I am pleasantly distracted from the performance enhancing microchips for race horses that somehow connect to a plot to destroy Silicon Valley by flooding the San Andreas fault. Movies of this era (the mid 80s) were often excessively concerned with the novel technology of computers and their potential for exploitation (e.g. Superman III, The Terminator), and A View to a Kill is no exception. Even Q finds a way to busy himself with robotics gone awry as his intrusive drone finds itself spying on Bond in the throes of shower sex with Stacey Sutton, the granddaughter to an oil tycoon that doubles evidently as a geologist. 

On the plus side, whereas other Roger Moore installments left me feeling utterly devoid of real stakes for Bond and his allies, there are several scenes in this film that have real teeth. In one case, 007 escapes a sinking car and avails himself of tire oxygen as he hides from his foes under the surface. In another, he narrowly saves Stacey from the fiery pit that was an elevator shaft. Even the finale takes Bond from a flooding mine to a perilous blimp ride that eventually collides with the Golden Gate Bridge, Bond dangling in tow. And only then does an axe-wielding Zorin and his surrogate father of sorts (a former Nazi scientist no less!) begin the real final showdown. 

Of smaller note, I appreciated how in this film Bond finally wised up to using aliases, first at Zorin’s estate as the inheritor of horse stables, and then later as a reporter. “The name’s Bond, James Bond,” he is famously known for saying. But the world’s most famous spy, as the joke goes, must not be a very good spy, right? Perhaps with age comes not only creases in the skin, but a greater sense of anonymity when on assignment.


Spectre Poster

Spectre (2015)

With the 2013 settlement between the late Kevin McClory’s estate and Eon Pictures, the organization SPECTRE and Bond’s main series antagonist Ernst Stavro Blofeld were finally available for commercial use again. Rebranded without the acronym as simply “Spectre,” the eponymous shadow agency was then retconned to have participated in all of Bond’s escapades and failures too since Casino Royale—most notably, the deaths of Vesper Lynd and Judy Dench’s M.

With a stunning opening long take that lasts nearly five minutes, we follow Bond above the rooftops of a scenic Día de Los Muertes celebration in Mexico City. The ensuing helicopter scuffle has shades of For Your Eyes Only’s intro, the first nod towards Blofeld’s resurgence. Sam Smith’s Academy Award winning song “Writing's on the Wall” is also an apropos segue to the inevitable showdown between Bond and Blofeld. Meanwhile, MI6 is trying to stave off its own obliteration by the head of the new joint intelligence service, Max Denbigh, better known as “C” (I guess A and B were taken?), and his pursuit of the “Nine Eyes” resolution that would make the Double 0 program obsolete. Judy Dench’s M makes one final in-universe posthumous appearance, urging Bond to find and kill a man named Sciarra. From there, Bond oversees a secret Spectre meeting, where the mountain of a man Mr. Hinx gouges out an attendees eyes (ouch!). But even more eerie is the moment when the shadowy figure of Franz Oberhauser looks up to James in the rafters and asks, “What took you so long?” A thrilling chase ensues, complete with a gadget laden car (the Aston Martin DB10), meant for agent 009 but stolen from Q’s little tech bunker by the ever-obstinate Bond. Of course, it comes sans the ammunition in a fun irony, but at least the rear flame thrower and eject seat work! In similar fashion to Licence to Kill, Q and Moneypenny are covertly helping Bond on his secret mission. Even the new M comes to connect the dots between Spectre’s ambitions to control the Nine Eyes technology and C’s dismantling of MI6. “And now we know what C stands for,” he quips to the snarky Denbigh.

When Bond catches up with his old nemesis Mr. White, aka the “Pale King,” the dying man warns him, “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond.” Enter Madeleine Swann, Mr. White’s estranged daughter, who Bond rescues from an abduction attempt by Hinx and his goons due to her knowledge of the L'Américain hotel and its secret directions to Oberhauser’s base. Theirs will be another hot-and-cold love affair, two wounded souls brought together by chance and misfortune.

Upon meeting Oberhauser, Bond discovers that he—like all madmen—has a simple philosophy behind his bloodshed: from destruction comes beauty. And like many vintage Bond villains, he also delights in hosting his adversary with a 1948 Rolls Royce escort, a 5-star hotel room and champagne on demand, until subjecting him to a slow, overly-complicated torture device. There is also a wonderful and chilling moment when Oberhauser reveals his new identity just as the classic white fluffy cat jumps on Bond’s lap: “Franz Oberhauser died twenty years ago, James… The man you're talking to now, the man inside your head, is Ernst Stavro Blofeld.” Of course, Bond narrowly escapes with the help of Madeleine using a well-planted exploding watch, from which Blofeld gains his classic scar. Now all he needs is to shave his head!

Still, the movie could be criticized for retconning the disparate plot elements of the previous films all too conveniently. This decision, combined with making Blofeld a step brother of sorts to Bond, makes the world feel smaller and too coincidental. Nevertheless, after a 34 year absence, Bond’s greatest adversary is a welcome return to the franchise, giving it both enormous stakes and a classic feel.


The Living Daylights Poster

The Living Daylights (1987)

With Roger Moore finally aging out of his Bond role, in comes 41-year-old Timothy Dalton, a stage actor who had made the jump to movies in the 70s and 80s. While Moore had brought a certain lighthearted bravado, Dalton approaches the role with a refreshing grit and sobriety. Here is a man tailor made for a tuxedo, and with the gusto to fight in one too! Standing like a poster for Grey Goose Vodka, a lemon twist bobbing in his glass, he might have even made for a Bond villain. Indeed, the edgiest 007 actors have that almost criminal charisma, and Dalton would famously go on to play the main antagonist in the Rocketeer. Still, for all the seriousness he restores, the humor is sparser, which was the biggest criticism of Siskel and Ebert at the time.

Nevertheless, The Living Daylights evolves the Bond formula in numerous progressive ways. For one, the plot manages to be both incredibly intricate but comprehensible too, with a string of secrets and revolving allegiances driving the action. While Bond helps the seemingly defecting KGB General Georgi Koskov escape from a concert hall in Czechoslovakia, he’s intercepted by a strikingly beautiful female sniper, Kara Milovy, a cellist from the orchestra that night. Against his orders, he shoots the weapon from Kara’s hands rather than taking her life. (Yes, even Dalton’s Bond has his familiar kryptonite!) After escorting Koskov through the Trans-Siberian Pipeline, however, Bond discovers a terrible truth: Koskov’s defection was in fact staged with the help of Kara, his secret lover. What’s more—the Soviets handed arms dealer Brad Whitaker a $50 million down payment to buy weapons, but instead, he used it and other monies stolen by Koskov to buy opium from Afghan dealers that could be sold for huge profits. Yes, the villains of this film are playing both sides of the Cold War, the Western world and the Soviet Union, for fools.

But the double crosses don’t stop there! While Koskov had previously led MI6 to believe that Soviet General Leonid Pushkin has revived the old policy of "Smiert Spionam” (“Death to Spies”), Pushkin is actually intent on arresting Koskov for his misappropriation of funds. Joining with Bond, he fakes his own assassination in order to trick Koskov and Whitaker. While there are many moving parts, The Living Daylights makes for a wonderful unfolding mystery.

The film also has a certain maturity to its action pieces. Take the third act invasion of the cargo plane carrying the opium by Bond and his Mujahideen allies. We get some exciting action, bomb explosions, a mid-air fight on a cargo net and a daring escape via a parachute-equipped jeep years before The Fast and the Furious franchise would pull similar stunts. Yet, it all gels together so naturally and plausibly. No absurd gadgets, no impossible escapes. The same could be said of Bond and Leiter’s invasion of Whitaker’s antique-ridden estate in the closing moments, a gunfight that truly has fun with its environment. Perhaps some will criticize the film for its darker, realer-feeling tone, but for this Bond fan, it made this ride all the more heart-pounding!


No Time to Die Poster

No Time to Die (2021)

Less than ten minutes into No Time to Die, a seemingly retired James Bond travels to Matera, Italy with his lover from the previous film, Madeleine Swann, and tells her, “We have all the time in the world.” The ominous words harken back to the George Lazenby Bond’s exchange with his newly-wed wife Tracy in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service just moments before she was gunned down by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. In the case of this generation’s Blofeld, though incarcerated since the events of Spectre, he is still pulling the strings from the shadows—or at least via a cool bionic eye belonging to his henchman Primo. Having planted a bomb at the gravesite of Vesper Lynd, Bond’s deceased lover from Casino Royale, 007 narrowly escapes with his life.

Billie Eilish’s lyrics swoop us through the usual symbolic visual feast of a title sequence, until landing us in a lab not unlike that of GoldenEye’s opening. Like the late Boris of that film, a wormy tech who doesn’t get along with his peers (Valdo Obruchev) is in cahoots with some baddies preparing to burglarize the lab with lethal force. Their target: a deadly nanobot bioweapon developed under M called Project Heracles. With his 007 moniker passed on to a rookie MI6 agent named Nomi, it’s Bond’s old CIA confidant Felix Leiter that woos the reluctant and aging assassin back into glorious action!

Of course, Leiter’s participation is short-lived this time around. After his new CIA partner Logan Ash is revealed to be a traitor, the double agent shoots Leiter and traps both him and Bond below the deck of an exploding, sinking fishing vessel. Dying in Bond’s arms before settling into his watery grave, Leiter’s passing is utterly devastating, and a bit reminiscent of Vesper’s death. Meanwhile, after surviving a secret Spectre party in Cuba, Bond goes to interrogate the imprisoned Blofeld. Unfortunately, Blofeld only answers to his psychiatrist (and Bond’s old flame) Madeleine Swann. Things get a bit technical here, but simply put, Madeleine has been infected with nanobots designed to kill Blofeld, which Bond unwittingly catches in passing her. He then—you guessed it!—passes them on to Blofeld and kills him instantly in a stunning turnaround. 

The man behind it all is the facially disfigured Lyutsifer Safin, with the intellect of a Goldfinger and the eerie reserve of a Dr. No, even as he’s not the most formidable physical specimen. Having murdered Madeline’s mother for the sins of her father (Mr. White), who evidently killed Safin’s family, he now controls a remote nanobot factory in the Sea of Japan with world ending stakes. Still, with his swift dispatching of Leiter and Blofeld, there is a bit of a rushed feel to it all, as if the film is hyper-aware of its final standing in the series. 

With the famous gun barrel opening omitting the dripping blood, No Time to Die makes a subtle nod to its unprecedented ending. And while I respect the opinion of 007 purists who insist that James Bond can never die, if it is truly meant to be Craig’s final outing, why not tinker with the formula a bit and give us an evolution of the character? As James recites his famous romantic adage one last time (“we have all the time in the world”), awaiting the missiles descending on his poisoned body, there is a certain catharsis never before felt in a Bond flick. Madeline’s admission that her 5-year-old daughter Matilith indeed has James’ blue eyes is the final gut punch, as it corroborates the truth he knew all along: Matilith is his daughter too. And with all of Bond’s enemies now vanquished, we as an audience mourn for the lost potential, the family that could have been. The deepest love is indeed rooted in sacrifice. James Bond dies for his family in a moment as bright, beautiful and tragic as the explosion on the island itself, and our hearts burn along with it. 


Thunderball Poster

Thunderball (1965)

Thunderball is like a Bond flick on steroids. Where else can you find a spy employing plastic surgery on his own face to pass himself off as an Air Force pilot, or an underwater harpoon fight over two atomic bombs? 

After a one movie hiatus, 007’s diabolically-debonair, enigmatic nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his white fluffy lap cat are back. At the far end of an intimidatingly long boardroom filled with SPECTRE agents, we find Blofeld perched within a raised glass booth, his face customarily hidden behind partially drawn shades. Suspecting embezzlement of SPECTRE funds by one of his own, Blofeld dispatches with the traitorous agent with a deadly electrical shock from his control deck, the body discarded into a trap door as the others look on with mixed reactions. Among Blofeld’s more trusted foot soldiers is his ruthless, eyepatch-wearing Number Two, Emilio Largo, who aids the supervillain in his master plot to extort millions from Nato using a pair of stolen nukes that threaten the very survival of the Western world. Cue Commander Bond flying into action! No, seriously—he rockets away from danger on a jet pack during the pre-title action sequence, letting the audience know the sky’s the limit, and the ocean depths are no exception.

Indeed, the water-logged script finds Bond scouting Largo’s extravagant Disco Volante ship for clues, excavating the sunken remains of the Vulcan jet bomber, swirling through deadly shark tanks and, of course, plowing through the frenzy of underwater sleds and spear guns off the shores of Nassau at the movie’s climax. The resourceful, redheaded Fiona Volpe, who meets with a fatal bullet blast meant for Bond during a dance together, is another in a long line of fearsome femme fatales. For fans of action thrillers, Thunderball has it all! 

Then again, for those looking for those glibber Bond moments, the humor is a bit flat in this outing. It also has some of the most implausible gimmicks ever (I mean, who wouldn’t want a four-minute-long air supply the size of a flute?), not to be outmatched until Moonraker. Historically, it isn’t without its dark clouds either. Thunderball marked the beginning of a rights controversy that would last into the next century. The publication of the novel, which was based upon an earlier Bond screenplay by Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham, led to a lawsuit that was settled out of court, with McClory retaining certain story elements. Producers Broccoli and Saltzman gave McClory a producer credit at the time to settle the matter, but the conflict would continue to haunt them for decades to come.


Licence to Kill Poster

Licence to Kill (1989)

First off, yes, that’s licence with two c’s. We’re in British territory, folks. Have some humour. Secondly, all excess c’s aside, here’s a film with a whole lot of Q. Indeed, Bond’s now elderly gadget wizard has probably his most pronounced role yet as he aids a vengeful fugitive Bond, recently resigned from MI6 in protest, on his latest adventure. But this isn’t your everyday Bond mission. 007 has gone full John Wick (years before the eponymous assassin was even a thing) as he embarks on a personal vendetta against Latin American drug lord Franz Sanchez, who both fed Bond’s longtime CIA ally Felix Leiter to his pet tiger shark (though the latter lives, sans a leg and possibly hand in keeping with the novels) and murdered Felix’s newly-wed wife Priscilla Barnes. 

While the stakes aren’t as global as other Bond outings, the movie carries a deeper and more personal weight. Juxtaposed with the death of his own wife years priors—an uncomfortable topic breached when Priscella offers the reluctant James the garter after her wedding—Bond’s dedication to his friend at the expense of his MI6 standing has shades of Captain-Kirk-like defiance. He’s a man on a mission, harpoon bearing scuba divers and rocket launchers be damned! His meandering romances between Sanchez’ abused girlfriend Lupe and army pilot turned DEA informant Pam Bouvier feel mature and grounded. This is not a Bond driven by

lust—hell, he takes the sleeping quarters with Q rather than Pam! 

Still, while Dalton’s quest for revenge definitely lacks the levity of Roger Moore’s less weighty missions, he has his moments of flippancy, or the occasional wisecrack, with Q providing a welcome comedic bouncing board. Of course, it might just be that the audiences of the late 80s were looking for a more sober, grounded Bond. And if not for the legal disputes between MGM, United Artists and producer Albert R. Broccoli, owners of the film rights, Timothy Dalton might have dazzled us once again. Here was a Bond actor that had just started cookin’, with no limit to how far he could have taken the franchise. If it’s any consolation, his two films remain among the most revered for their darker and more serious tones.


For Your Eyes Only Poster

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

After the previous (and rather ludicrous) space-age spectacle (Moonraker), For Your Eyes Only is a welcome return to the more grounded, meat-and-potatoes adventures of the earlier Bond films. Governed by a through-line of revenge, its memorable opening sequence could almost serve as a short standalone sequel to On Her Majesty's Secret Service (which ends with the murder of 007’s wife Teresa “Tracy” Bond at the hands of his age-old nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld). Whereas Diamonds Are Forever began with the returning Sean Connery desperately hunting down Blofeld, there was never any mention of Tracy’s death. For Your Eyes Only, conversely, assumes this continuity, as evidenced by the year 1969 and epitaph (“we have all the time in the world”) on Tracy’s tombstone, a throwback to Bond’s final words to her. As a somber James lays down flowers at Tracy’s grave, he’s beckoned to a helicopter turned remote control torture device by none other than Blofeld—or is it? Owing to a copyright dispute over the character, his name is never disclosed. But he’s bald, maniacal-sounding and stroking a familiar white cat, so, you make the call. And in traditional Blofeld fashion, he takes Bond on a deadly ride full of near-collisions and colorful banter. Naturally, Bond finds a way to take control of the copter and impales Blofeld’s wheelchair, lifting his foe into the sky before depositing him into a giant exhaust vent. In smiting his archenemy, he not only avenges his late wife, but delivers a resounding middle finger to arguably one of the biggest copyright trolls of the modern era, Kevin McClory.

But there’s more to this film than just its harrowing first ten minutes. After a vessel called St. Georges mysteriously disappears, a marine archeologist and his wife are murdered by Cuban hitmen in their efforts to locate it. Their daughter Melina swears revenge, and becomes a formidable foil for Bond as he works to untangle the web of secrets hatched by Greek businessman Kristatos. The latter is working with the KGB to retrieve the film’s McGuffin, the ATAC device (Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator), capable of seizing control of the Royal Navy’s Polaris submarines and its ballistic missiles. Yes, yet another Bond film comes down ultimately to Russians wanting missiles—not quite global destruction stakes just yet, but the potential catalyst for such. 

But smaller is refreshing in the case of this film, which offers a greater emphasis on supporting roles sharing in the action, from Melina and her crossbow prowess, to even her pet parrot, who clues Bond in to the location of Kristatos’ hideout in the St. Cyril’s mission. Bond’s famed Lotus also makes a spectacular return before blowing up in a blaze of glory, and a riveting underwater salvage mission for the ATAC devolves into a battle against a hulking diving bell. Most importantly, Bond’s measured response to Melina’s hotheaded blood thirst shows growth and empathy. He’s loved and lost, and knows all too well that those seeking revenge ought to, in the words of Confucius, “dig two graves.” Even when the seemingly underage and aptly named Bibi Dahl, an ice skater under the sponsorship of Kristatos, throws herself at Bond again and again, the horniest man on earth shows remarkable restraint. "I can buy you an ice-cream,” he counters. Perhaps even unrepentant sexpots have their ethical boundaries!


GoldenEye Poster

GoldenEye (1995)

1995’s GoldenEye is a film that posits the question: is James Bond still relevant after the fall of the Berlin Wall? Indeed, the new M played by Judy Dench, the first woman to grace the role, essentially breaks the fourth wall with this very query, accusing the newly cast Pierce Brosnan of being “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur” and a “relic of the Cold War.” Even the new Moneypenny goes so far as to remind her alpha male colleague that his flirtation could constitute sexual harassment. Here is a Bond film that gets ahead of its own criticism with masterful self-awareness. And then there’s Bond himself. Cool and suave, Brosnan is a return to the debonair style of Roger Moore, but with a tinge of the Timothy Dalton intensity. Grace under pressure seems to be his MO. (Hell, the guy fixes his tie after rampaging through Saint Petersburg in a literal tank!)

What follows is a return to form for the franchise: the cocktail mixture of intense action, over-the-top set pieces and the double-entendre female names (e.g. the sexual sadist Xenia Onatopp), leaving the audience both shaken and, incidentally, quite stirred too! Counterbalancing Onatopp and her practice of asphyxiating her victims with her thighs is programmer Natalya Simonova, who comes trained in both guns and helicopter piloting. Even while Bond remains an unrepentant sexpot, the women in his orbit are increasingly strong, smart and independent. Sean Bean, meanwhile, makes a spectacular showing as Alec Trevelyan (006), who forms his own crime organization (Janus) after faking his death on a mission with Bond, the guilt of which has plagued James for some time. Besides the death of Teresa Bond from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the canonical wife of 007, this is one of the few films to show Bond coping with the consequences of failure. And when he finally meets up with Alec again, he learns that his decision to change the bomb’s timer from six to three minutes during their past mission threw an unexpected monkey wrench in 006’s scheme and left him with visible scars. Additionally, Joe Don Baker returns to the franchise as Jack Wade, a veteran CIA ally, while Robbie Coltrane intrigues as Russian gangster Valentin Zukovsky, a man who owes his limping leg to a past encounter with Bond. And don’t even get me started about Mr. “I am invincible” Boris!

The only piece of media to perhaps overshadow the film itself at the time was the video game adaptation for Nintendo 64, whose four-way multiplayer function became an absolute game changer for first-person shooters. To this day, GoldenEye for N64 is regarded as one of the greatest games ever made, and possibly the gasoline that reignited the flame of interest for a new generation of James Bond fans.


You Only Live Twice Poster

You Only Live Twice (1967)

If there was an Avengers: Endgame to the Sean Connery Bond’s multi-film war with Blofeld, the Thanos-like figure of the franchise, it would be You Only Live Twice. Originally meant to be Connery’s final film, the movie finds Bond traveling to Japan to investigate the hijacked NASA Jupiter 16 spacecraft, which reportedly landed in the Sea of Japan. The U.S. suspects Cold War Russian meddling, but in reality, the ship was swallowed (quite literally) but a futuristic rocket operated by SPECTRE. 

In a franchise first, the film draws less from Ian Fleming’s novels and invents numerous characters and plot elements, including the Japanese ninja SIS agent Aki, whose keen driving skills save Bond in a heart-thumping car chase. “I think I will enjoy very much serving under you,” she later quips, with the pun heavily intended. Unfortunately, Aki is the victim of a lethal sneak attack meant for 007 while they’re sleeping by way of poison dripping down a thread. (Between this and the tarantula escape from Dr. No, I’m convinced James has a sixth sense when he’s slumbering.)

In any case, the plot is quick to usher in Bond’s next would-be lover, Kissy Suzuki, who pretends to marry Bond under the guidance of Japanese secret service agent Tiger Tanaka, thus granting Bond access to the island under investigation for the missing ship. Bond is even outfitted not just with Japanese garb, but facial features too. (Guess no one learned their lesson from Mickey Rooney!)

Bond’s journey into Blofeld’s volcano is where the movie really shines (though the autogyro sequence is a close second). The extravagant base is loaded with hundreds of SPECTRE personnel, travel pods, launchable spacecrafts and, of course, a lovely piranha pool where Blofeld deposits his underperforming agents. Though the scope and scale may be a fraction of the Death Star that would follow in the Star Wars franchise a decade later, the base has the same terrifyingly grandiose feel. By the same token, the sensation I felt when Ernst Stavro Blofeld finally reveals his ashen, scarred face after all the previous unseen iterations was similar to the chill that came over me when Darth Vader removed his helmet in Return of the Jedi. You Only Live Twice carries a certain weight to it, a feeling of finality, even as Blofeld escapes in the fiery base explosion at the conclusion. The movie also supplies much of the inspiration for Bond parody figure Dr. Evil and his over-the-top base and weaponry from Austin Powers. Imitation, after all, is the highest form of flattery!


Dr. No Poster

Dr. No (1962)

In his first theatrical outing, Sean Connery’s James Bond is an archetype in the making. Suave, courageous and flirtatious, he’s a man who upon realizing that Kingston Government House secretary Miss Taro has lured him to her room for more than just knocking boots—yes, with hitmen in waiting—still decides to sleep with her before delivering her to authorities. Indeed, “living dangerously” will become a common ethos of both Bond and his future femme fatales.

While the stakes and set pieces pale in comparison to later chapters, the film introduces many ingredients customary of a Bond film, including an elegant yet freakish (in this case, bearing terrifying metal prosthetic hands) antagonist in Dr. No, who wines and dines 007 before imprisoning him in an easily escapable holding room. The Austin Powers movies would later lampoon this glaringly obvious conceit: Bond villains of the Dr. No kind could simply just shoot the captive agent square in the head. But where would be the elegance and theatricality in that? What’s more—with suggestive names like Miss Trench and Honey Ryder, Dr. No begins a long-standing and often criticized trend of overly sexualizing Bond women. Though in fairness to Honey, the bikini-clad shell diver turned Bond ally enjoys a fair share of the action on Crab Key.  

On the plus side, Dr. No delivers a wonderful douse of mystery, action and spectacle. CIA agent Felix Leiter also debuts to assist James in connecting the dots from Station Chief Strangeways’ disappearance to Professor Dent’s misleading geology—and even as far as a space launch at Cape Canaveral, which the egomaniacal Dr. No hopes to disrupt with his radio beam weapon. Smaller scale obstacles like a sneak tarantula attack in Bond’s hotel room riddle the film, giving the plot teeth without the blockbuster expense. There is also a certain mythos surrounding Crab Key and its alleged dragon monster that elevates the intrigue when Bond dares to excavate the island. His uncovering of the truth behind the flame tank and Dr. No’s underground bunker comes as a satisfying payoff, as is the planting of the seeds of SPECTRE, the shadow agency that will dominate much of Bond’s conflicts to come.

The film is also famous for popularizing Bond’s signature drink, the vodka martini, which a waiter serves to him in his hotel suite. Smirnoff Vodka reportedly took a gamble on the future success of the then unproven spy adventure franchise, paying a handsome sum to showcase the beverage in this and other films, and it paid off in spades!


Tomorrow Never Dies Poster

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Tomorrow Never Dies was the first Bond film that I ever saw in theaters, and as such, holds a special place in my memory. While some may attribute my decision to rank it above GoldenEye to this very connection, it has more to do with Brosnan’s evolution of the character and the feel of the world as a whole. Like The Empire Strikes Back is to A New Hope, a film that navigates its humor, action elements and darker tones with a greater balance than its predecessor, Tomorrow Never Dies takes the prototype Bond from GoldenEye and gives him his footing—and one hell of a cool remote control BMW too! Moreover, the villainous media mogul Elliot Carver is like a William Randolph Hearst on steroids. Like the best (or worst, depending on your definition) of Bond’s adversaries, his master plan is clear, diabolical and apocalyptic in scope: to use GPS satellite altering and stealth technology to start World War III and bolster his television, radio and print news empire. He also comes with the obligatory muscle man secondary, Richard Stamper, who happens to be skilled in Chakra torture. To further complicate matters, Bond has a prior and seemingly deep relationship with Elliot’s wife Paris. Thus, for 007, the mission has both global and personal stakes. And when Paris turns up dead in Bond’s hotel room after aiding him in his attempted takedown of her husband, an emotionally-charged 007 is set for his most meaningful manhunt since A Licence to Kill.

And then there’s Chinese secret agent Wai Lin, played by Michelle Yeoh, considered by many to be one of the best Bond women ever. Tough, athletic and skilled in martial arts, she doesn’t fall easily for Bond’s usual charms, giving us a delicious cat-and-mouse romantic subplot.

While plotting and character arcing are important to a film’s success, an often overlooked metric for me are memorable scenes—those cinematic moments from your favorite flicks that stay with you for years to come—and Tomorrow Never Dies is chock-full of them. There is the opening fighter jet battle, the BMW roller coaster ride, the death-defying motorcycle chase in Vietnam, the showdown in the stealth ship and the underwater kiss between Bond and Wai Lin. Still, nothing can compare to the way Bond disposes of Carver. As the same sea drill torpedo that sunk the off-course HMS Devonshire perilously closes in, Bond exclaims to Carver, “You forgot the first rule of mass media, Elliot: give the people what they want!” He then throws him into the device as the audience relishes the mogul’s gruesome demise. Again, the combination of comedy, adventure and grittiness make for the most complete and satisfying Bond beats, and Tomorrow Never Dies is a sheer masterclass in that style of storytelling.


Skyfall Poster

Skyfall (2012)

In many ways, Skyfall is the nexus of the Daniel Craig 007 films, linking together the stray pieces of the first two installments and completing Commander Bond’s arc. It also puts into place the rest of the Bond universe, namely the missing characters of Moneypenny and Q. In the former’s case, she is introduced to us as a field agent played by the young and talented Naomie Harris. Under M’s orders to shoot escaping mercenary Patrice (who has stolen a drive with the identities of undercover agents), she accidentally hits Bond instead as he grapples with Patrice atop a moving train in Istanbul. Following Adele’s spine-tingling opening title sequence, we discover that Bond has been living in a secret retirement and presumed dead ever since. Moneypenny, meanwhile, has been relegated to more of an office role. Still, she is more than willing to assist the returning 007 by meeting up with him in his Shanghai hotel room, where she offers him a rather intimate shave (though in keeping with tradition, their relationship remains unconsummated). The role also greatly overshadows Bond’s short-lived romance with Sévérine, mistress to cyberterroist Raoul Silva, the latter of whom kills her in a twisted shooting game. Meant to tease James more than threaten his feelings for Sévérine, 007 coldly notes after she falls dead with the glass spilling atop her head, “A waste of a good scotch.”

As for Q, Bond meets a much younger iteration of the character than ever before, with an underwhelming offer of a radio beacon and pistol. The previous Q’s were a bit more generous with their gadgetry after all. But at least Bond will get to drive a sleek and stunning Aston Martin to Scotland later in the film!

As for Silva, played by the number one go-to malefactor since No Country for Old Men, Javier Bardem, he is a fascinating study in the dark side of a spy’s life, a sign of what Bond could devolve into if pushed far enough. In his speech about the two surviving rats, Silva makes a haunting point about what happens to living things under duress: “You change their nature.” We learn that after M had betrayed him during the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese government, he endured a failed suicide attempt with a cyanide capsule that left his face disfigured. His vendetta against M is deeply personal, like an insolent child warring against his mother.

During the third act at Bond’s childhood home, often jokingly referred to as the Home Alone sequence, M elects to be the bait for a trap. Again, it’s impossible not to notice the faux family dynamic here, with M functioning as the maternal figure and Bond and Silva her wounded sons, one seeking retribution, the other defending her against his vengeful brother. With his late father’s hunting rifle in hand, as well as the crawl space he used to escape the discovery of his parents’ death as a boy, Bond turns his own past trauma into a weapon of defense. The result is a visually stunning climax, with a helicopter raining down hellfire and explosions all around. In the chapel scene that follows, Silva hands a wounded M his pistol and urges her to shoot them both through the head, but Bond lands a knife in his back in the nick of time. M then remarks with her dying breath, “I did get one thing right,” looking upon Bond, her surrogate son, the man she always stood behind when others doubted him. It’s a tender, tragic beat, and one of the most heartfelt of the series. Thereupon, with Chairman Gareth Mallory assuming the new role as M and Moneypenny gracing her customary neighboring room desk, the elements are all finally in place for Daniel Craig’s Bond—and on the 50th anniversary of the franchise no less!


 The Spy Who Loved Me Poster

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Many critics consider The Spy Who Loved Me to be the best of the Roger Moore films, chock-full of marvelous action set pieces and an enthralling personal story. Tantamount amongst its thrill points is the heart-thumping ski chase that opens the picture. After receiving orders from M to “pull out” from his cabin getaway with an Austrian lover—yes, with all the sophomoric innuendo intended—Bond takes us on a daring downhill race that culminates with him parachuting off a cliff to the wonderfully bombastic 007 theme, the British flag famously printed across his chute.

But even more impressive than the possibly greatest stunt in Bond franchise history is the character of Soviet KGB agent Anya Amasova, better known as Triple X. From the first moment we meet her, everything about Amasova subverts our traditional “Bond woman” expectations. When a call comes in over a bedside clock that doubles for a receiver for the mysterious Triple X, imagine our surprise when the beautiful woman in bed reaches over to respond rather than the suave-looking hunk. Adding to our intrigue, we soon learn that Amasova’s lover was killed in the opening ski chase by none other than James Bond. Thus, at only a few minutes in, the stakes are set for a very personal showdown between rival spies and—as the Carly Simon song "Nobody Does It Better" foreshadows—a hard-fought romance too. (The silhouetted women swinging on the barrel of a giant pistol like Olympic gymnasts was a nice touch as well!)

Meanwhile, the maniacal Karl Stromberg, played by the perfectly cast Curt Jürgens, makes for an adequately cunning and ruthless villain. In a return to Blofeld form, he dispenses with traitors in shark tanks, obliterates allies that serve no further purpose (e.g. the technicians who built his tracking system) and operates a wonderfully preposterous underwater Atlantis base. (Then again, Bond sports an equally ludicrous Lotus Esprit that converts into a submarine.) Like Hugo Drax in the ensuing Moonraker, Stromberg’s goal is global annihilation—in this case, through escalating the Cold War into World War III via a pair of stolen British and Soviet nuclear submarines—followed by a new beginning for humanity. But whereas Drax’s new Edin lies in the stars, Stromberg’s is firmly entrenched in the ocean depths. Aiding him in his goals is the towering henchman Jaws, who uses his terrifying set of metal teeth to bite through both locks and human necks. (Plus, he inspired Kanye West to take up a set of titanium choppers of his own decades later, begging the question: who wore it best?)

Bond and Amasova remain foils for much of the film, often fighting to outdo one another, or else digging at each other’s figurative scabs. Amasova even cites the death of Bond’s late wife Tracy as an example of the women he failed, leaving the usually debonair Commander for once at a loss for a quip. Even after Bond saves Amasova from an ambush by Jaws on the train to Sardinia and their subsequent night together, the Russian agent vows to get revenge on him once their shared mission is complete. But after Bond rescues her and dispenses with both Stromberg and Jaws, their torrid romance finds its resolution. "The mission is over, Commander,” a gun-wielding Amasova warns 007, her finger tightening on the trigger. But the cork pops off of Bond’s champagne bottle instead. "In my country, Major, the condemned man is usually allowed a final request,” he jokes in return. It’s a humorous and well-earned ending for arguably the most combustible couple in Bond history.


On Her Majesty's Secret Service Poster

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

For many years, On Her Majesty's Secret Service was unfairly looked upon as the odd man out of the series. After all, George Lazenby famously landed the coveted role but opted not to pursue sequels. (The 2017 documentary Becoming Bond chronicles George’s journey to the role and controversial decision to vacate it.) But from many contemporary perspectives (including yours truly), Lazenby’s one and all outing as the legendary assassin is among the series’ best. Suave and serious, Lazenby injected a bit of B-12 into the role that Connery—or “the other fellow,” as Lazenby puts it—had begun to more languidly occupy.

Telly Savalas assumes the role of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, sans the facial scar but with an adequately Lex-Luthor-like bald head. In this case, the SPECTRE leader plans to use his brainwashed “angels of death,” 12 beautiful women from all around the globe, to unleash a bacterial bioweapon that will wipe out all agriculture and livestock. Across the breathtaking mountaintops of Switzerland, Bond and the forces of Marc-Ange Draco’s European crime syndicate (Unione Corse) battle with Blofeld’s army. There is a moment in which Bond slides across any icy bridge firing a machine gun to the 007 theme that will give you chills colder than those Swiss Alps. The film culminates with Bond and Blofeld in an epic bobsled chase. This is some James Bond action at its best!

Still, the heroics are only one part of the movie’s mastery. On Her Majesty's Secret Service’s takes the character of James Bond to even greater emotional highs and lows than ever before through his courting of Draco’s daughter, Countess Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo. Fans of Fleming’s novels will no doubt recognize the name as Bond’s one and only wife. Indeed, their romance blooms into Bond mouthing those three words you would never expect of him: “I love you.” It would be enough that the movie ends with their wedding, a tearful Moneypenny both rejoicing in James’ happiness and mourning the end of their tacit flirtation. But with news of Lazenby leaving, the filmmakers took the footage meant for the sequel’s intro and stacked it on the end. As James and Tracy drive off from their nuptials with “all the time in the world,” Blofeld and his henchwoman Irma Bunt orchestrate a surprise drive-by shooting that leaves Tracy dead. The result is at once shock and heartbreak, James cradling his dead wife as he tells the arriving officer “she’s having a rest.” It’s a rare moment of vulnerability for the seasoned MI6 agent, and a staple of his paradox. His is a life meant for hunting and killing enemies of the state, a far cry from domesticity. Women must be kept at arm’s length. This is the tragedy of James Bond.


From Russia with Love

From Russia with Love (1963)

While Dr. No sets the table for the MI6 hero, From Russia with Love is the movie where he takes his seat at the head of it. With a budget double that of its predecessor, the stakes are bigger and the action pieces bolder—including a climatic boat chase complete with exploding barrels! Desmond Llewelyn’s debut as equipment expert Q adds to the rising scaffolding of the Bond universe, along with returning talents Bernard Lee as M and Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny. In this case, 007 is given more than just a gun, but a special briefcase loaded with gold coins, ammunition and throwing knifes—the first of many high-end gadgets to come—providing a brilliant plant-and-payoff during the dramatic train scuffle between Bond and SPECTRE assassin Donald Grant.

Daniela Bianchi shines as Soviet Consulate clerk Tatiana Romanova, the first of many tougher, no-nonsense Bond women. With an arguably greater depth of character than her counterparts in Dr. No, Romanova works in the Soviet consulate in Istanbul in the Intelligence Department, but with an air of future defection. Hers, like SPECTRE agent Donald Grant, will be a journey away from Soviet control, but for very different reasons. Still, her mission to essentially seduce Bond is a bit reductive. As Helena Bassil-Morosow observes in From Blofeld to Moneypenny: Gender in James Bond, Romanova’s presence in the film is “marked by a lack of agency,” and rather than exuding the characteristics of a professional spy, the lens focuses on “her slender figure, tight-fitting or sheer clothes and pretty face.” I would go as far as to say that Romanova represents an evolution, but certainly not the perfection, of the Bond woman formula. After failing to lure Bond with a Lektor cryptography device into a deadly trap (for those keeping score, a device that basically protects Soviet military communications during the Cold War), former Soviet counter-intelligence operative Rosa Klebb tricks Romanova into aiding SPECTRE’s vengeful vendetta against Bond for the killing of Dr. No. in the prior film. Klebb, meanwhile, is the other side of the anti-heroine coin: an older, cold-blooded matriarch schooled in Russian secret intelligence who has become the premier henchwoman for the world’s deadliest criminal enterprise. Though never revealed on screen, Bond’s archenemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, referred to only as “Number 1,” enjoys an enigmatic yet terrifying grip over the unfolding events as well. At one point, the unseen Blofeld even elects to kill Kronsteen (SPECTRE Number 5) right before Klebb and others for his failure in the plot.

From Russia with Love might be considered the first of the more mature lot of Bond cinema. It’s a film of aftermath, dealing as much with the consequences of Dr. No’s death as the cultivation of the shadowy menace of SPECTRE. Allegiances here are not as clearly black-and-white as its forerunner film. Bond’s wooing of Romanova is hard-fought and strained by misunderstandings. Bond’s obstacles, moreover, including Klebb’s riveting but ill-fated sneak attack on him in the final moments, feel even more herculean and perilous in nature, giving those action bits a tenser, more edge-of-your-seat feel. Some would put this movie among Bond’s best, if not certainly Connery’s.


Goldfinger Poster

Goldfinger (1964)

To say that Goldfinger is the gold standard of the James Bond franchise might be a bit on the nose. Still, with just the right balance of action, suspense and humor, it is quintessentially Bond; and its debonair, cerebral villain provides the perfect foil for 007’s third outing. Indeed, Auric Goldfinger, whose first name literally means “of gold,” is the mastermind behind Operation Grand Slam, which aims to break into the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, Kentucky and steal its gold—or so we thought, until Bond uncovers the true intention. In a course correction from the novel, Goldfinger intends to use a Chinese dirty bomb to pollute the gold with radiation, rendering it useless for precisely 58 years, and thus increasing the value of his own private holdings. In one of the most famous scenes, a tethered-down Bond squirms before an overhead laser inching towards his privates (ouch!), the same that will be used to break into the vault later in the film, and desperately pleads, “Do you expect me to talk?” To which Goldfinger glibly replies, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” Citing his knowledge of Operation Grand Slam, Goldfinger narrowly spares Bond’s family jewels in the nick of time, which is part of the brilliance of the film. Unlike other villains who allow James to live inexplicably, Goldfinger knows that a dead Bond will cause the authorities to move in on his operation. Taking a page from Dr. No, Goldfinger allows Bond to walk freely at his ranch with all the comforts of home, in clear sight of Felix Leiter and other intelligence operatives, who wrongfully conclude that Bond has infiltrated the operation and has it under control. Goldfinger is perhaps the most cunning Bond villain of all time, a man playing chess with those more acquainted with checkers. The iconic image of Jill Masterson’s gold-covered corpse also speaks to his utter ruthlessness.

For fans of a physical adversary for Bond, Goldfinger’s serrated-hat-wielding secondary Oddjob is a splendid addition, whose unique mode of fighting earns a wonderful plant-and-payoff demise in the final vault raid. Meanwhile, Honor Blackman takes a Bond woman to new heights (or perhaps lows, depending how you look at it) as Goldfinger’s personal pilot Pussy Galore, leader of an all female team of aviators. While her name evokes chuckles and was hilariously spoofed in the Austin Powers series via “Alotta Fagina,” what Pussy lacks in her moniker she more than makes up for in martial arts ability, enjoying some tense hand-to-hand combat with James. (Granted, the scene where Bond essentially forces himself upon her has not aged well.) Eventually, 007 convinces her to replace the deadly gas Goldfinger plans to spray over Fort Knox with a harmless alternative. In keeping with Tatiana Romanova’s transformation in Connery’s prior film, Bond turns his would-be femme fatales into fierce allies. 

Like Khan in the second Star Trek feature, the best villains gives us more than just a heart-stirring climatic sequence, but that final lunge, that last gasp of an attack. In Goldfinger’s case, it's aboard the plane piloted by Pussy as she escorts Bond to meet the President. The struggle that follows provides a wonderfully tense final beat to the film, as Goldfinger’s revolver goes off (an element predicted earlier in the movie), decompressing the plane and sending the psychopathic genius on a death spiral out the ruptured window. 

From beginning to end, Goldfinger is a masterclass in mystery, action and spectacle, the storytelling cornerstones of Bond’s best capers. To this day, it remains one of the most acclaimed of the series, and for some, the definitive proof of Connery’s dominance among Bond actors. 


Casino Royale Poster

Casino Royale (2006)

Daniel Craig’s inaugural film might better be called Bond Begins, as it not only takes us back to the plot of the first sequential Ian Fleming novel, but introduces us to Bond just earning his Double 0 stripes. His hot-and-cold relationship with M gives off Nolanverse Batman-Gordon vibes in the best possible way. When asked the classic question about his preference of martini, shaken or stirred, he claps back, “Do I look like I give a damn?” In a line, we get our answer to what’s new about this version of James Bond. Grittier, rawer, realer, he’s the 21st century Bond that has no patience for the tomfoolery of earlier iterations. At the same time, the wit, the charm and even the humor is there, carefully concealed behind that steely, blue-eyed gaze.

Then there’s Vesper Lynd, the British Treasury agent sent to accompany Bond on his entrance into the high stakes Texas hold 'em tournament with criminal banker Le Chiffre. From the get-go, James and Vesper are an amusing odd couple with the whiff of romantic potential. Psychologically undressing one another on the train to the Casino Royale in Montenegro, Bond remarks, “You’re not my type.” “Smart?” “Single.” Theirs is a hard-fought love affair, inching towards its inevitable consummation. Moreover, a particularly poignant and vulnerable moment occurs when James finds a traumatized Vesper crouching in the shower after the stairwell melee. There is nothing sexual about the scene, just a man comforting a woman that he’s coming to love. 

While Bond’s theatrics at the airport to save the Skyfleet airliner, which Le Chiffre had attempted to bomb in order to short his recent stock investment, has some Die Hard level action, it isn’t even the most adrenaline raising part of the film. Yes, the pulse of Casino Royale is indeed at its fastest in the casino scenes themselves. As Bond stares down his bleeding eye adversary, he faces everything from sword-wielding assassins between rounds to poison martinis, the latter of which requires Vesper’s help to restart his heart. Yes, Bond nearly dies and returns to the felt table, a bit shaken but hardly stirred! It’s moments like these that make Casino Royale such a great reboot of the Bond franchise. It’s a formative adventure, the Bilndingsroman of Bond. The world is just beginning to populate with series regulars like M (still played by the wonderful Judy Dench), a new Felix Leiter and Italian secret agent René Mathis. All of it amounts to a refreshing new twist on an age-old formula.

Still, nothing can compare to the heartbreaking conclusion in which Vesper manages to both betray and sacrifice herself for Bond. Locking herself in the submerged elevator in the Grand Canal, a horrified James thrashes and writhes with the lock as Vesper fades from life. It is perhaps the greatest on screen loss for 007 since Teresa Bond’s murder in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. And in losing Vesper, we come to understand the rookie MI6 agent’s worldview from the onset—his personal emptiness, his steadfast loyalty to the Crown. Here is a man who tried to live a normal life, but learned it isn’t for him. His is the life of a spy, exhilarating at times, but ultimately lonely. This is the tragedy of James Bond. At the same time, the bread crumbs left behind by Vesper, including the whereabouts of Mr. White, bring both Bond (and the audience) a modicum of hope for his future. And when 007 shows up unannounced to shoot Mr. White in the closing seconds of the movie, the first few riffs of the classic James Bond theme in tow, it’s pure magic. Bond is reborn, perhaps better than ever.

Honorable Mentions

Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983) Poster

Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983)

There is no really getting around discussing the two jilted step-children of the Bond film franchise, 1967’s Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again. As I mentioned in my opening, there are certainly lists that include these films in their rankings, and I mean no disrespect to those who do. It’s also interesting that in both cases, the plot revolves around an aging Bond returning to service in the winter of his career. However, especially in Casino Royale’s case, aligning it with Eon's anthology is like comparing apples and oranges. 

Yes, the 1967 adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel is intended to be a spy parody, lampooning the earlier Connery iterations and the burgeoning genre in general. (I mean, where else could you find Woody Allen playing a mute double agent?) Sure, it has artifacts of the 007 universe like M, Q, Moneypenny and SMERSH, but this is no Thunderball. Peter Sellers, who plays one of six agents impersonating Bond in order to fool SMERSH, reportedly was absent from set quite often owing to conflicts with Orson Welles (who plays master baccarat player Le Chiffre) and his general disappointment in the comedy angle of the picture. Indeed, Sellers would have preferred to play Bond straight, the role of which went to David Niven. From these and other on-set conflicts comes an often incomprehensible film with a few stray laughs and more than a few head-scratching moments. Though not as absurdist as the Austin Powers series, 1967’s Casino Royale is simply too tonally unique from the rest of the Bond franchise to be fairly measured.

Never Say Never Again, on the other hand, is occasionally catalogued with the rest of the Bond films because it stars original Bond actor Sean Connery returning to the role 12 years after his last appearance. Owing to the famous legal dispute between Kevin McClory and Eon Pictures, Never Say Never Again is simply a remake of 1965’s Thunderball, which is particularly strange, since Connery starred in the earlier film too. With Eon Pictures releasing Octopussy starring then canonical Bond series star Roger Moore, it would be like if Michael Keaton returned to the role of Batman during Christian Bale’s tenure and remade Batman Returns. What’s even stranger—characters like Lois Maxell’s Moneypenny and Desmond Llewelyn’s Q that had belonged to Connery’s Bond world now inhabit that of Moore’s, while Connery has an all new cast. It’s like he’s James Bond in another universe.

Indeed, especially knowing the plot to Thunderball, Never Say Never Again is just a bizarre experience. Watching the early scenes at the health clinic, billed now as a way to get the older Connery (who was ironically younger than Moore at the time) into fighting shape again, I am reminded of the Shrublands health resort sequence from Thunderball. In a similar déjà-vu-enducing moment, Never Say Never Again’s version of SPECTRE agent Largo challenges Bond to an electric-shock-producing video game battle, the movie’s answer I guess to Thunderball’s much more humdrum baccarat game between Bond and his eye-patch-wearing adversary. Granted, the action scenes in Never Say Never Again have a certain unpolished realism to them, such as 007’s messy scuffle with SPECTRE assassin Lippe at the clinic. Also, Kim Basinger offers a seductive and mysterious take on Largo’s mistress Domino. But when you put the melee of motorized sea sleds and harpoon blasts off the shores of Nassau from Thunderball against this version’s lower key infiltration of some underwater temple in Ethiopia, there’s just no comparison. The original feels bigger and higher stakes. Then again, for an unnecessary remake, it was refreshing to see Connery don his tuxedo and well-fitted tie one last time—yes, even in spite of that rather cringey closing wink towards camera.

Thanks for reading! Agree or have a different opinion? Offer your thoughts in the comments section below.

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