Welcome to a rundown of 007's greatest, and not so greatest, hits. If you agree, disagree, or believe that, like Kanaga, I have an inflated opinion of myself, let me know in the comments. Oh, and the title quote is, of course, from The Man with the Golden Gun, M's response to Bond asking, "who would pay a million dollars to have me killed?"
24. Die Another Day
An inglorious 40th birthday celebration for 007, as Pierce Brosnan’s last bow topples into a death plunge of hideous CGI and wearisome action sequences. For all that, the first half is actually quite decent, with Bond captured, incarcerated and tortured pre-credits and during the titles (you know, for acting), an enjoyable jaunt to Cuba and a vigorously OTT sword fight with villain Gustav Graves.
The North Koreans are the bad guys yet they aren’t even allowed unchaperoned villainy, led as they are by Toby Stephens’ white-washed, DNA-restructured and Anglicised Tan-Sun Moon. Unfortunately, the character and performance are ridiculous without being fun with it. Halle Berry is so lacking in presence (introductory scene aside) as Jinx Johnson (what?!), it’s mystifying a spin-off was ever seriously considered, but Rosamund Pike is actually pretty great (it would only take her another decade to be duly celebrated, though). There’s also Madge on instantly-dated song duties (and in an instantly ripe cameo) to contend with and Lee Tamahori’s thunderously distracting direction. It’s fairly typical of the series that, when the producers finally recognise Bond needs a stylistic shot in the arm, they look in completely the wrong direction. Cue jarringly awful slow motion and speed ramping. And the CGI. CGI planes, invisible CGI cars, CGI surfing of CGI waves, CGI satellites spitting CGI death rays. All of it bad CGI!
Review: Die Another Day
23. You Only Live Twice
A sluggish, set-driven mess. Sean Connery would clearly rather be anywhere else, and is ridiculously turned Japanese (if it was funny, as in self-mocking, that might be something, but there isn’t a shred of knowingness here).
Lewis Gilbert is all-at-sea, which suited him better tonally and geographically in The Spy Who Loved Me, as there’s scant humour to be mined. Only Donald Pleasance makes much impression among the guest cast (and even then, he’s more memorable in light of Dr Evil than for any particular wit). Bond looks like a very tired series with little life left in it at this point. It’s a good thing change was in the air…
Review: You Only Live Twice
22. Licence to Kill
As with For Your Eyes Only, Licence to Kill has its defenders to the hilt, particularly since the new dawn of Daniel Graig. It was “ahead of its time” (see Timothy Dalton generally). You can see why the comparisons are drawn, as Bond gets all moody and vengeful when poor Felix Leiter has his leg chewed by a shark (forget about his raped and murdered wife, it’s Felix who matters). Aside from the classic line “He disagreed with something that ate him” (a Fleming original) this is mostly a long-winded bust, one even Benicio Del Toro and Robert Davi’s spirited performances as the bad guys can’t alleviate (oh, and mentions too for a ludicrously explosive Anthony Zerbe and an amusing Wayne Newton as a tele-evangelist).
Bond undercover has potential but, as played out, Davi’s Sanchez is a complete idiot to even entertain him. The gritty drug cartel plotline, along with Micheal Kamen’s Die Hard-esque score, is an ill fit with John Glen’s leaden direction. Carey Lowell (for some reason she agreed to marry hamster man Richard Gere), meanwhile, is sadly saddled with a ridiculous jealousy subplot that entirely undermines her character. Bond needed a serious revitalising tonic, but it be six years before it got medicined.
Review: Licence to Kill
21. A View to A Kill
A watery-eyed, post-facelift Roger Moore, knocking 60, doesn’t really seem to want to be here. Not so surprising, since he’s obliged to share love scenes with the fearsome Grace Jones; Moore’s autobiography makes it clear the relationship was as uncomfortable off-screen as on. A View to a Kill goes down better during the first half, when Bond is idling around with John Steed (Patrick MacNee) and indulging a day at races, but even then it isn’t up to much.
Christopher Walken might be perfect casting for a Bond villain, and he certainly exudes a sense of the oddball as the genetically modified Max Zorin, but he’s dissipated by a surrounding movie severely lacking zest and energy, with the more topical elements, Silicon Valley (to be flooded) and Duran Duran’s (very sprightly) theme song getting dragged down with him. The worst thing you can level at a Rog Bond entry is that it isn’t gloriously self-aware, and this one isn’t. Bond on a blimp on the San Francisco Bridge? Only attempt set pieces if you can make them look vaguely convincing. And, while Rog’s chemistry with prior leading ladies wasn’t always a dead cert (Carole Bouquet in For Your Eyes Only, for example), it looks positively electric when compared to Tanya Roberts’ Stacey.
Review: A View to a Kill
20. Quantum of Solace
In some quarters there has been a growing reappraisal of Quantum of Solace; an unfairly maligned entry, it was laden with the impossible burden of following the universally-lauded Casino Royale. Viewed with hindsight, it’s actually a perfectly serviceable Bond revenger. Pay no heed to such talk. Hindsight reveals it is even worse than first impressions. Not only is Marc Forster’s ADD direction and editing an impediment to finding any of the action remotely thrilling, but the plot, what there is of it (Bond follows the villain around, a villain who wants to control the water supply in Bolivia, M shows up a lot, because that’s what regal Judi Dench’s M does) is as slim as the running time.
Olga Kurylenko makes for a regressively rescuable Bond girl, equipped with ultra-clichéd motivation, and Mathieu Almaric an unremarkable villain, particularly when he resorts to beating on Bond will a metal bar. The entire escapade is frenetic without being pacy and, for the shortest Bond film to date, it seems to take an age. A rare bright spot is Gemma Arterton’s Fields, but, alas, she only shows up for a couple of scenes, while the sterling Casino Royale supporting cast have exited by the time we reach the halfway mark.
Review: Quantum of Solace
19. For Your Eyes Only
Celebrated as Roger Moore’s Bond getting back to basics after going far too far on his Lewis Gilbert jaunts (this is the same kind of approach that spawned the likes of Licence to Kill and Casino Royale, evidencing the essentially cyclic nature of the series), For Your Eyes Only casts Moore adrift from his moorings, foisting an unaccustomed and uncomfortably ruthless persona on his 00-quipster.
Bereft of big set pieces, ironically the best is a comedic jaunt in a 2CV along a Corfu mountain road(s). Elsewhere, Moore must play the prudish uncle to a waif ice skater (a particularly irksome subplot) and exhibit negligible rapport with co-star Carole Bouquet. For Your Eyes Only is pedestrian, rather than gritty, and even the much-vaunted scene where Bond pushes a villain’s car off a cliff (Sir Rog was reluctant) is lacking when compared with the for-laughs rooftop henchman holding onto his tie for dear life in The Spy Who Loved Me. The Sheena Easton tune is quite nice, and Topol is good value, but Julian Glover makes a so-so villain and the chortlesome final scene, At Home with the Thatchers, is a shark-jumping series nadir the previous whacky, anything-goes Moore era antics would never have stooped to.
Review: For Your Eyes Only
18. The World is Not Enough
Good ideas, muddled execution. The World is Not Enough is the closest Brosnan got to a “serious” Bond movie, what with 007 running around injured and ruthlessly shooting a woman at point blank range. But it’s a thoroughly conflicted trifle too. On the one hand there’s the Patty Hearst-esque Stockholm Syndrome suffering Electra King (a good, but unsympathetic Sophie Marceau) and a deceptively tricky plot in which Bond spends most of the first half unwittingly doing exactly what the villains want. On the other, 007 is paired up with the silliest Bond girl this side of… well, perhaps ever in Denise Richard’s Christmas Jones, shamelessly named to set up the final Bond smutty line of the 20th century, a sadly bog-standard heavy in Robert Carlyle’s Renard, and a plucked-from-the-headlines premise concerning oil pipelines undone by a nonsense plan to gain maximum wealth through blowing up a nuclear submarine.
The biggest problem in all this is director Michael Apted, however, who has zero aptitude for action and leaves whacking great joins and scant chance of meshing together the first and second unit work. The biggest positive in this rather broken-backed enterprise is Robbie Coltrane’s Valentine Zukovsky, who turns out to be a decent kind of rascal, making it the more glaring that Bond is such a pig to him throughout. Oh, and Desmond Llewellyn waves a rather touching farewell (Brosnan always had great chemistry with him), replaced (briefly) by the lazily cast John Cleese.
Review: The World is Not Enough
The first time the series falls seriously prey to the more-is-more (and in the latter ’70s, more is more is Moore) approach. I don’t think Eon got the message. A series of set pieces (some tiresomely elongated; see the sleep-inducing underwater climax) in search of an involving plot, Thunderball is frequently very nice to look at but little else. That said, the first half of the picture isn’t bad at all (something true of several Bond failures), and there are welcome distractions in the form of Claudine Auger’s Domino and particularly Luciana Paluzzi as SPECTRE employee Fiona Volpe; she’d have been much better positioned as the main villain, rather than Adolpho Celi’s Largo.
Memorable turns too from Philip Locke (Vargas) and Guy Doleman (Count Lippe; Doleman being best known as Harry Palmer’s concurrent boss Colonel Ross). The end result, though, is as loud and empty as Tom Jones’ title song. Still, Thunderball was a massive hit, possibly still the series’ biggest ever globally (inflation adjusted figures are only available for the US, where it sits at the top of the roost), and so dictated the approach of many future instalments, alas. It also gave Kevin McClory a protractedly disputed stake in Bond (Never Say Never Again is not to be found in this rundown; nor are the David Niven Casino Royale or Operation Kid Brother come to that).
16. Dr. No
Just because it’s first, doesn’t mean it’s fantastic. Connery’s debut as Bond is more satisfying in the opening stages, when it more closely resembles a traditional spy picture, than when we are introduced to the titular character and his soon-to-be typically extravagant lair. It’s a fairly no-frills picture, made on a slim budget but boasting an exotic Jamaica location shoot and an easy confidence.
The crippled super villain is a requirement from the off, and his affliction (and name) is more memorable than the character Joseph Wiseman is required to essay. Ursula Andress’ remains justifiably the most iconic Bond girl entrance, and Connery himself inhabits his part magnificently. Much credit is due to Terence Young for influencing both the Scot’s performance and the series’ template. Also notable for Jack Lord’s Felix Leiter, the best Leiter until Jeffrey Wright alighted 44 years later.
Review: Dr. No
15. The Living Daylights
As noted above, the Dalton era has its staunchest advocates, claiming him as a trailblazer for the later success of Daniel Craig. Yet he never appeared entirely comfortable as 007. Indeed, his later riffing on the character in Looney Tunes: Back in Action is much more estimable than his two appearances proper. At the time, though, while he failed to capture the public’s goodwill in the way Roger Moore (abundantly) had, his incarnation was seen as a much-needed return to the spirit of Fleming following Sir Rog’s eyebrow raising digressions.
The Living Daylights did sufficient business to keep the franchise ticking over, while striving for a more grounded milieu, reminiscent of For Your Eyes Only six years earlier. An accompanying reinvigorated eye for action might have served Dalton’s debut better, but direction-wise this is probably the most satisfying of John Glen’s ‘80s-spanning stint on the series. While the Afghanistan backdrop may not have aged as badly as Rambo III’s, it’s nevertheless determinedly glib and broad-brush. As for the villains (despite Joe Don Baker’s debut in a Bond movie), they are wholly forgettable. So too, alas, is Maryam D’Abo’s chaste, anodyne, AIDS era Bond girl. Like A View to a Kill, the boy band pop of A-ha’s title song suggests an up-to-date sensibility the actual movie can’t match, but this isn’t a bad effort, all told.
Review: The Living Daylights
14. Tomorrow Never Dies
Brosnan’s second serving is a tad underrated, probably because it can too easily be mistaken for any old ‘90s action movie. If Tomorrow Never Dies doesn’t quite squander the potential of the best premise for a “classic” Bond villain since the ‘70s (media baron Elliot Carver is much better on paper than as portrayed by Jonathan Pryce, in full mugging mode), it doesn’t get the most out of it either.
But the mid-section of the picture nevertheless boasts strong action beats courtesy of journeyman Roger Spottiswoode, including a sterling Propellerheads-fuelled remote-controlled car park chase, a motorbike versus helicopter altercation, and, best of all, Bond’s confrontation with Herr Doctor, played by Vincent Sciavelli. Also on board is Michelle Yeoh as Brosnan’s most complementary Bond girl, kick-ass and with a sense of humour to boot.
Review: Tomorrow Never Dies
Perhaps the adulation and phenomenal success of Skyfall was bound to crumb-oh. I didn’t quite get the raves in the first place, to be honest; as a critic of Judi Dench’s increasingly omni-present M, this movie, The Bond and M Show, or Stop! Or My M will Make Dreadful Jokes About the Ejector Seat, is too indebted to her misplaced importance in the series. Consequently, villain Silva (Javier Bardem) is granted only a couple of scenes of preening before being reduced to standard-issue villainy, with a scheme heavily influenced by The World is Not Enough. So most of what is good here comes from the stylistic pretentions of Oscar-winning Sam Mendes, hardly an auteur when it comes to action but, helped along by cinematographer Roger Deakins, delivering by far the best-looking Bond movie, which in a paper-thin franchise like this counts for a surprising lot.
The embrace of Bond iconography after two movies staunchly resisting such things is only a partial success, with the new Q and M both well-conceived. But, for a picture attempting to be self-aware and progressive, it’s afflicted by a heavy dose of dubious sexism (Bond shagging a sex slave, Moneypenny consigned to a desk job, ‘cos fieldwork’s too tough for a silly woman); perhaps Goldeneye’s blundering address of such series tropes wasn’t such a bum move after all, if a director with Mendes’ rep can allow them to creep in so easily.
Who’d have thought, after nigh-on a decade of tracking down the elusive and mysterious Quantum organisation, the author of all Bond’s pain would turn out to be Christoph Waltz. Cuckoo! If Waltz’s Blofeld is a fizzle, and the childhood backstory an unnecessary encumbrance, Spectre is refreshingly old-school in its lack of obeisance to Bond’s pain, torment etc. All the things that have informed the post-Dalton era, to a greater or lesser degree, basically.
The downside is a mismatch of tone and content, the arch villainy of Spectre refusing to ally itself with Craig’s down-to-earth Bond and the ungainly desire from Mendes, thrust into the most conservative and reactionary of series for the sake of a pay cheque, to comment on important issues such as the surveillance state. A disappointment in the eyes of many, but they tended to worship the preceding entry.
Roger Moore wearing a clown suit. What’s not to like here? Admittedly, I used to hold this penultimate Moore excursion in slightly higher esteem; in the cold light of day, the Octopussy plotline is a bit of a damp squib. On the other hand, Octopussy features one of the best Bond songs (albeit perhaps only in my mind) and, if the finale is standard fare, it’s preceded by a first-class countdown race against time (cue the aforementioned clown suit). Plus, there’s Steven Berkoff, spitting scenery with every exhalation.
Moore’s ‘80s efforts definitely saw him looking the worse for years, but this is the noble exception and, if the flippancy never reaches The Spy Who Love Me/ Moonraker levels, Bond swinging on a vine accompanied by a Tarzan holler is irresistible. And let’s hear it for the double-taking camel.
10. The Man with the Golden Gun
Moore’s second adventure, and the end of his “early period”. The result is ever-so-slightly run-of-the-mill (bring on Pepper again, why don’t you, boy?), but hugely boosted by a charming and sophisticated performance from Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland’s inept eye candy turn as Agent Goodnight.
Bond is fully embroiled in fantasyland by this point, with cartoonish henchmen (Nick Nack), flying cars (both literally, and in terms of impressive stunt work) and an exotic, hi-tech island paradise (since an over-indulged tourist attraction). If Lee’s Francisco Scaramanga never quite becomes the mirror of Bond as devised, there’s a winning vibe of iconic ‘70s presences at loggerheads here that makes The Man with the Golden Gun one of the defining Moore entries. On the minus side, Lulu’s theme song is akin to being beaten about the head with a breezeblock. Or a Nick Nack.
Review: The Man with the Golden Gun
If Martin Campbell’s first exercise in reinvigorating Bond isn’t on a par with his second, it’s still nothing to be sneezed at. As with the Craig era, Brosnan’s best came first, in a sprightly post-Soviet tale that expressly expunges all trace of the Dalton double (it begins in 1986) and takes in a hugely impressive opening leap, a St Petersburg tank chase and the first appearance by Dame Judi Dench’s ubiquitous incarnation of M.
Eric Serra’s score is divisive, and Sean Bean manages to be one of the least notable Bond villains (like a fine wine, or more aptly an earthy ale, he became richer and more rounded with age), but, as per Casino Royale, the supporting cast are, in the main, exceptionally well chosen (Robbie Coltrane, Joe Don Baker, Famke Janssen), the titles provide a necessary upgrade on the tired Maurice Binder efforts, and the picture is shot through with a kineticism sadly lacking from the John Glen’s ‘80s output.
8. Live and Let Die
Roger Moore’s debut, embracing Blaxploitation movies and dressing 007 in some very ‘70s fashions. It’s the incongruity, in part, that makes the whole so appealing. Highly formulaic in some respects, quite unusual in others (the supernatural element), Moore enters the scene like he’s been playing the part for years (because, with The Saint and The Persuaders, he pretty much had).
Jane Seymour is at her most comely and a whole two decades shy of the TV doldrums of Dr. Quinn, but Solitaire is easily the least autonomous Bond girl up to that point. Moore’s penchant for adlibs (“Butter hook”) works better than some of the scripted laughs (the character of Sheriff Pepper is one long, overlong, equivalent of a fart gag). McCartney’s theme song is marvellously overblown. In some respects, this is still the coolest Bond movie, even if it’s some way from the best.
Review: Live and Let Die
7. From Russia with Love
The second Bond, and the last time (for a while at least) a tight budget would dictate content. The result is as economical and crisp as the series gets. Robert Shaw’s Red Grant is the ultimate brawny match for Connery’s brawny 007, and having him shadow the British spy, one step ahead, until the classic train dust-up is a smart move that puts our agent on a back foot. The fight itself is enthrallingly visceral.
Lotte Lenya makes a highly memorable henchwoman as Rosa Klebb (Frau Farbissina, anyone?), equipped with determination, endurance, and a poisoned toe-spike, but Daniela Bianchi, for such a suggestive title, is one of the least memorable Bond girls.
Review: From Russia with Love
For some, the nadir of the series. Bond in space! Jaws attempting to fly, set to comedy music, before landing in a circus big top! A double-taking pigeon! It’s difficult to understand this one being vilified and The Spy Who Loved Me being garlanded, however; they’re very much companion pieces, to the extent that they have virtually the same plot, and Moore’s at his arch best up squared off against Michael Lonsdale’s underrated Drax (definitely in the upper pantheon of Bond villains).
If Lois Chiles’ Holly Goodhead is merely adequate (surname apart), Jaws’ pig-tailed cutie Blanche Ravalec offers that most peculiarly loveable of henchmen a strangely touching send-off. The post-Star Wars cash-in (albeit with impressively old school effects) finale is laser-zap at its best. Perhaps the least illustrious thing here is wheeling Shirley Bassey back out for a non-descript title song.
5. The Spy Who Loved Me
Very much in the mould of the modern Bond film, where set piece leads to set piece leads to set piece. In that respect, The Spy Who Loved Me is merely picking up where the overblown mid-60s Connerys (Thunderball and You Only Live Twice) left off. Whether this was creatively advisable or not is another becomes irrelevant in the face of how much money the picture made.
And besides, the series now had an additional weapon in its arsenal; overt, even postmodern, humour. Richard Kiel’s Jaws delivers an imposing but pronouncedly comedic villain, Moore is ladled whole scenes based around his schoolboy wit (Egyptian builders and women drivers) and there’s a lightness of touch that feels fresh and different, even for a series which had spent the decade to that point going fairly broad anyway (but nothing on the level of the Lawrence of Arabia theme).
The grand villainy of (the somewhat indifferent) Stromberg (Curd Jürgens) contrasts with a post-SPECTRE interest in real-world Russkies, hence the title and Bond bonking his way to détente (Barbarba Bach, Mrs Ringo Starr, makes a much better Bond girl than she does a believable Russian agent). Elsewhere, Marvin Hamlisch delivers a Bond-disco-a-go-go score, while director Lewis Gilbert is completely on board with the goofy tone. Just don’t expect him to get action sequences “just so”. Alas, he comes as unstuck with the show-stopping enormity of the fireworks finale as he did previously in You Only Live Twice (that said, there’s a marvellous slapstick fight with Jaws on a train).
Review: The Spy Who Loved Me
4. Casino Royale
On one level, it’s slightly galling to have to admit that a reboot resulting directly from the Bond producers getting cold feet over the direction of the franchise, which entailed looking over their shoulders to Jason Bourne for (lack of) inspiration, led to such a vital shot in the arm. Well, for one movie anyway.
Yet so much is so good here, it’s very difficult to be crabby. Craig in particular, despite being a bit long in the tooth for a fledging agent (although still fairly junior as far as post-Moore Bonds go), is an unreconstituted sociopath of a 007, with a sure line in acid wit. Returning director Martin Campbell ensures the picture is sharp and brutal as far as the action is concerned, and the plot, through sticking closely to the Fleming novel, is that rare robust winner for a series so determinedly inflexible in terms of structure. At least, until the waterlogged finale. Strong support too from an astutely picked supporting cast, especially Eva Green and Mads Mikkelsen as Bond girl and villain respectively, and one of the very best, if not the best, title sequences.
Review: Casino Royale
The one fans and the public alike extol as a benchmark for quality Bonds. Certainly, the gift that is Gert Fröbe (albeit dubbed), possibly the Bond baddie par excellence, keeps on giving, He’s the ultimate scene-stealing villain, escorted by a soon-to-be-obligatory distinctive henchman (Harold Sakata ensuring Oddjob remains the Korean adversary of the series thanks to the risible Die Another Day). Meanwhile, Connery is still putting in some effort, and Honor Blackman more than matches him as his believably equal-and-opposite sparring partner.
So how to countenance the raves with the lack of action and Bond being locked up for half the running time? That it works, basically, but trying to make Goldfinger some kind of template would have been asking for trouble (notably, the planned return of Fröbe as Goldfinger’s brother never happened). It helps too that the finale is really good, of course, since it’s sadly much more common for the series to fluff them than to fashion them into a success.
2. Diamonds are Forever
Connery’s return for (charity-bound) big bucks is ironically the smallest scale 007 picture since From Russia with Love. The consequence is an emphasis on character and humour that pre-empts Roger Moore’s incoming era and echoes the more off-the-wall stylistic conceits of TV’s The Avengers. Connery may be greying and less-than-svelte, but he seems to be enjoying himself immensely, which is more than could be said for his two previous Bonds.
The supporting cast is appealingly larger-than-life, including Charles Gray as the best Blofeld (in a dress, no less) and gay hit men Mr Wint and Mr Kidd. In theory, you’d expect the Yankophile tendencies to maroon the series, but the Las Vegas seediness lends Bond a tawdry reinvigoration. And brash Tiffany Case could easily have been all wrong, but Jill St. John effortlessly establishes her as one of the most appealing, resourceful and all-round very best Bond girls. Added to the mix are deadly henchwomen Bambi and Thumper, Jimmy Dean as the hugely likeable, Howard Hughes-esque Willard Whyte and the bizarrely brilliant TV studio Moon landings/Moon buggy sequence. Oh, and John Barry, fully on board with one of his most playful Bond scores.
Review: Diamonds are Forever
1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
George Lazenby’s solo outing is also the best Bond by some distance. Don’t listen to those claiming On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would have been even better with Connery; can you imagine that heart-breaking final scene, the romance with Tracy (Diana Rigg), or Bond desperate, vulnerable and alone, delivered by the Scottish titan? No, Lazenby fits the material perfectly.
Peter Hunt (formerly working on the series as editor; this was his only Bond helming credit, alas) directs with flair and energy that still impresses. Telly Savalas might not be the best Blofeld (see Number Two on the list) but he’s no slouch, and the non-action interlude at his Swiss allergy research institute is a breezy highlight, giving Bond detective work to do while beset by a bevvy of beauties. Which entails him wearing a kilt and being dubbed by George Baker. The frosted icing on the cake (appropriate given the snowbound setting) is John Barry’s most glorious Bond score and Louis Armstrong crooning its most gorgeous song (We Have All the Time in the World).
Review: On Her Majesty's Secret Service