15. Spectre (2015)
All the pieces for Spectre were in place to make it a classic: Daniel Craig was fresh off a career-best performance in Skyfall; Christoph Waltz was brought in as a shadowy villain, and even Dave Bautista, post-Guardians of the Galaxy fame, brought the muscle. The problem was, it didn’t quite stick the landing thanks to the many, many moving parts. Blofeld is Bond’s half-brother for one thing, which is nonsense that bogged down half the film with familial hand-wringing. Then, even after that reveal, Spectre struggled to decide when it wanted to end, making what should have been an explosive final battle in London feel like a tacked-on epilogue. Still, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Finding out Spectre was at the heart of everything involving Craig’s Bond was a nice touch and the Day of the Dead opening sequence is, hands down, the best in the series. The colour and confusion as Craig is tracked through a hustling, bustling crowd of festival-goers and performers almost sets the bar a little too high for what’s to come. Overall, not bad in the grand scheme of things – but a slight letdown after Skyfall and Casino Royale.
Bond: Daniel Craig
Theme tune: Writing’s on the Wall by Sam Smith
14. Quantum of Solace (2008)
Quantum gets plenty of grief for being slower and more meandering than Casino Royale, which it followed. Dominic Greene, the villain, is a weasel rather than a proper, evil bastard, and there’s an unsatisfying attempt to carry a story over from Casino that never quite connects. All these are valid criticisms, and I can see why folks get upset by the fact that romance never flourishes between our James and Olga Kurylenko’s Camille. But the movie itself is wonderfully shot, and features some of the most breathtaking locations you’ll find in the Bond universe. The opera scene at Bregenz is stunning and smart, as many of the players from Quantum are exposed one by one. The finale at the eco hotel in the Atacama desert is similarly striking, with just the right mixture of explosions and axe-to-foot violence to satisfy as a conclusion. Sure, Quantum makes some missteps, and the fact it kills Mathis is pretty inexcusable, but it’s a watchable Bond outing that very much feels like an adventure on a global scale. Plus, the engine oil ending of Greene is a nice, neat finishing flourish.
Bond: Daniel Craig
Theme tune: Another Way to Die by Jack White and Alicia Keys
13. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
In a move that mirrors the dynamic in From Russia With Love, Bond is actually paired up with a Soviet agent - Major Anya Amasova - to investigate the disappearance of nuclear submarines from both America and Russia. The plot is as mad as a bag of badgers - mad scientist Karl Stromberg is attempting to use the nuclear subs to start WW3 between the East and West, which he plans to survive by living underwater in his ‘lair’ known as Atlantis. This is a movie with Jaws in it, too, so there’s definite excess and silliness. Despite it all, though, the core characters play well together. Stromberg is a decent villain, who gives us the “feed him to the sharks” trope that has been synonymous with Bond since, and Amasova is a good female counter to Bond. Sure, it’s a stretch to use the word equality, and she inevitably succumbs to 007’s charms, but there’s enough substance to the Russian Major to make her a positive figure in the universe. The final showdown in the submarine base, as US and Soviet sailors join forces - completing the message of collaboration - is a good one, and the ending scene with our James and Amasova getting cosy in the Atlantis escape pod is classic, classic Bond. And the theme tune is by far my favourite, so massive thumbs up for that.
Bond: Roger Moore
Theme tune: Nobody Does it Better by Carly Simon
12. The Living Daylights (1987)
The Dalton-era Bonds are divisive. Some find him too rough to be an effective 007, but I actually enjoy the edge he brings to the character - shame he only stayed in the role for a couple of movies. Even the plot has a darker, grittier edge: this one is about assassination, counter-spying, and arms dealing - stuff that seemed a million miles away from the PG-13 fare of the previous Moore-era movies. There’s a lot of heart at the centre of this movie, and we see Bond in almost a protective father role as he attempts to keep Kara Milovy (the cellist) alive. Almost fatherly - he still ends up shagging her. Similarly, Bond manages to visit a Mujahideen in Afghanistan and not act like a colonial asshole, allying with the rebel leader to prevent an opium deal that would bring more money into the local weapons blackmarket. The film tries its hardest to deliver some home truths about the modern world, and largely succeeds. More importantly, Bond is played hard but well by Dalton, and there are some neat action sequences blended with some genuinely heartfelt love moments. Not a classic Bond, by any means, but a decent film nonetheless.
Bond: Timothy Dalton
Theme tune: The Living Daylights by A-ha
11. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Famously, this is the only Bond movie with George Lazenby in the title role. A surprise choice, given his limited movie experience, the star was better known for modelling underwear than pretending to save the world. Still, despite bringing an outrageously ‘60s vibe to Bond, which was later mercilessly parodied by Austin Powers, Lazenby’s outing is one of the better movies in the whole franchise. It’s actually one of the most fondly thought-of novels, and is potentially ripe for a remake if EON decides to return Bond to the source material for 26. The plot sees Bond pursuing Blofeld into the Swiss Alps where his arch nemesis has set up a clinic for the treatment of severe allergies. Of course, it’s all a front. The 12 sexy ladies Blofeld is supposedly treating are actually being hypnotised, turning them into agents who the criminal mastermind will use to distribute poisonous biological gasses into the Western world. The movie holds up surprisingly well, and Lazenby makes a decent 007 - such a shame we didn’t see more from him. The biggest misstep is that Bond gets married, something die-hard fans were up in arms about, although his bride’s untimely death at the end of the film was a bold choice from the filmmakers, and it remains one of the most memorable and tragic moments in the whole franchise. In terms of presenting Bond as a human being, rather than a killing/sex machine, it’s only matched by the “the bitch is dead” finale of Casino Royale.
Bond: George Lazenby
Theme tune: We Have All the Time in the World by Louis Armstrong
10. The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
Ok, let’s get the elephant out of the room: secretly, The Man With the Golden Gun is a bit shit. It’s not a great movie at all, and despite having a bunch of decent Bond tropes, it isn’t vintage 007 either. But there are small pockets of brilliance here that mean it narrowly edges into our top 10. Why? First off, Christopher Lee’s turn as Scaramanga, the actual man with the golden gun (which would be a hideously impractical weapon, by the way) is immense. A sinister assassin with a flair for the extravagant, he’s possibly the only Bond villain to notably outshine the hero (perhaps only joined by Max Zorrin from View to a Kill), and I personally find it hugely puzzling why he’s paired with novelty assistant Nick Nack when Lee is potent enough to carry the baddie role all by himself. Then there’s the stunt, where Bond flips his AMC Hornet over a broken bridge, turning the car through a 360 degree corkscrew in the process. The most elaborate, daring stunt ever featured in a Bond movie… and they added the sound of a slide-whistle over the top of it. In hindsight the producers have admitted this was a massive mistake, but the stunt still holds up well even today. Sadly, Moore’s lacklustre Bond, the inclusion of Sheriff Pepper, and a litany of weird, over-the-top set-pieces make this a poor outing for 007. A mediocre outing with several nuggets of cinematic gold in it (Lee absolutely carries it), none of which are the actual golden gun, ironically.
Bond: Roger Moore
Theme tune: The Man With The Golden Gun by Lulu
9. Dr. No (1962)
From the moment James Bond sits down and introduces himself mid-card game, cigarette hanging loosely from his lips, with that iconic line, you know nothing’s ever going to be the same again. Even without that barnstorming entrance – one where he manages to even tip the doorman without the doorman noticing because he’s so bloody cool – Dr. No still holds up as among the best while still juggling the hefty amount of tropes and trademarks that would make Bond so iconic for decades to come. There’s the bikini-clad Ursula Andress (a more Bond-y name than even her character Honey Ryder) walking out from the sea, the climactic showdown with the eponymous Dr. No inside a nuclear reactor, and about a dozen effortlessly stylish moments in-between. Sean Connery proved he’s perfect for the role by dominating every scene and, honestly, every Bond has been doing a pale imitation of him ever since. This is quintessential 007 – what you think about every time the Bond theme stirs – and, while it may not match the action-heavy thrum of later instalments, this is a fantastic, enthralling debut.
Bond: Sean Connery
Theme tune: James Bond main theme
8. Live and Let Die (1973)
If there was an award for Best Bond Theme Tune, Live and Let Die would win hands down. Just throwing that out there - don’t @ me. Anyway, it’s a barnstorming start to the movie and what follows doesn’t disappoint. A tale of voodoo and mysticism, and a Bond movie that handles race issues and black culture with relative sensitivity, Live and Let Die is by far the best Moore era movie. It flips between Harlem and the fictional Caribbean island of San Monique, and features a plot that’s all about drug wars and corrupt dictators. There’s a healthy dose of mystery here too, and a few stand-out stunts - the most famous of which sees Bond sprinting over a line of floating crocodiles to escape a messy death. There’s a brilliant speedboat chase, and a handful of deadly animal scenes that all contribute to the mix. For once we have a decent Bond girl too, in the form of Solitaire, and the villains - Mr Big / Dr Kananga and Baron Samedi are memorable without being too ostentatious. The only real misstep is the weird, comedy buffoon Sheriff J.W. Pepper, who inexplicably appears in several Moore era Bonds, and fails to raise a single laugh in any of them.
Bond: Roger Moore
Theme tune: Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney and Wings
7. License to Kill (1989)
This is 007, but not as you know him. Timothy Dalton goes all-out to provide an edgier, more erratic Bond in this under-appreciated classic. We’ve seen Bond go rogue before and since – but nothing quite like this. Sub-par theme song aside, License to Kill doesn’t let up from start to finish. Gone are the one-liners and other trappings of the series and, in its stead, we have BFFs being fed to sharks, a wedding gone horribly, horribly wrong, and an explosive finish to rival any action film, Bond or otherwise. It’s all topped off by a villain you’ll love to hate to in Franz Sanchez. Here is an absolute prick of a man who smugly flits from scene-to-scene with an appreciative menace, and gets probably the greatest villain comeuppance in the entire Bond canon: being burnt to death with his own lighter after a miles-long tanker chase that’s so crazy in scale that you can almost see the money being burned during production. Yes, this isn’t the popular choice, but it laid the groundwork for Daniel Craig’s efforts decades in advance and featured a proper, moody Bond that didn’t go all soppy on us while getting from A to B. Plus, Benicio del Toro gets fed to a shredder, which is nice.
Bond: Timothy Dalton
Theme tune: License to Kill by Gladys Knight
6. Thunderball (1965)
Thunderball gets the mix of Bond ingredients just right. While the overarching plot is relatively generic - it’s about the theft of nuclear warheads from a downed bomber - every other element is brilliantly done. Connery is very much hitting his stride in this movie, playing Bond with a confidence and style unmatched by most other outings, and Emilio Largo is a perfect foil, having just the right amount of megalomania and sadism to make him a great villain. While Claudine Auger’s Domino isn’t the smartest or most charismatic Bond girl, she’s perhaps the most perfect pin-up, and a delight to see on screen. There are sharks, casino scenes, a brilliant opening scene in a spa retreat, a jetpack, and some hot SPECTRE intrigue. The pace ticks along at a good speed, the soundtrack is wonderful, and the theme tune is a Tom Jones belter. Few 007 movies put all the pieces together as expertly as Thunderball, and it’s only the lack of a genuinely clever plot (beyond the theft of the pilot’s identity used to steal the bomber) that holds this back from being top 3 material.
Bond: Sean Connery
Theme tune: Thunderball by Tom Jones
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