Midweek Memo: James Bond Films Ranked: Worst to Best

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In over-preparation for the arrival of Spectre I marathon’d all its predecessors.

Viewing those 23 films I made some incredible discoveries, dug up a couple repressed memories, and sat through some real garbage. But even the worst Bond film has a silver lining somewhere.  Below is the obligatory “worst to best” list accompanied by the highs and lows of each film.


 

24

Tomorrow Never Dies

1997 – Pierce Brosnan

THE GOOD

— There’s not a lot to praise for this one. I guess Sheryl Crow’s theme song is pretty okay. I wouldn’t put it at a classic-tier Bond theme, but I certainly endured far worse through the marathon.

— I can now remember which Pierce Brosnan movie has that dumb stealth boat (it’s this one), so I guess there’s also that.

NOTE: Had you held a gun to my head before I revisited Brosnan’s flicks I would have sworn Denise Richards was in “the stealth boat one”. Turns out she was actually in “the submarine one”.

THE BAD

Tomorrow Never Dies is my least favorite of the bunch simply because it’s so big and confusing yet totally unambitious. The film’s screenwriter, Bruce Feirstein, delivers a script that couldn’t be more dull and convoluted if he tried – which he didn’t. The villain, Elliot Carver, is media-mogul-by-way-of-Steve-Jobs-proxy whos basic plan (as I could understand it) to extort China for an exclusive 100 year broadcasting contract is overly complicated and impossibly absurd. Really Carver?? NO ONE is going to find any of these coinciding events even a little suspicious?!? Even if the dude succeeded and got the contract someone — the FCC, some international bureaucracy, anyone — would totally bring down the ban hammer on you. Why can’t you just be happy broadcasting to almost the entire world?

The plot is bad, but the jokes are even worse. If you’re going to attempt some wordplay at least put your heart into it, James!

Coming off of a surprising high from GoldenEye I was in disbelief at just how quickly Brosnan’s Bond turned to dull, flaccid camp. I find the cheeky Connery & Moore lines tiresome, but these feel like they only showed up so they won’t get fined. At one point 007 murders a henchman by throwing him into a working newspaper press. As blood-covered pages fly in the air Brosnan delivers, “They’ll print anything these days.” with the enthusiasm of a production assistant proofreading a cue card.

Oh yeah, the action sucks too. It’s well choreographed, i guess, but to absolutely no end. I challenge you to watch all seven minutes of the big motorcycle set piece and then attempt to defend it. Some impressive visual effects? Sure, but I simply don’t care about anything happening on screen.

BONUS this Visa Check Card tie-in commercial (complete with a cameo by Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks) is also pretty awful. At the very end Q says, “It’s going to explode in five seconds.” …but isn’t that Mission: Impossible’s schtick?

 


 

23

Die Another Day

2002 – Pierce Brosnan

THE GOOD

— The invisible car was so very unnecessary, but I have to admit I kinda enjoyed the car chase on ice.

— It was nice to see Rosamund Pike.

THE BAD

— It was not nice to see Madonna.

— Re: Madonna – Worst Bond song.

— The Korean-turned-white-dude bad guy can harness the power of the sun by plugging the Power Glove into the Virtual Boy??

— Halle Berry is just awful. Someone told me they were planning her own spin-off.  I can only assume they renamed it Catwoman.

— This movie ends with James Bond and Jinx Johnson (Berry) engaging in foreplay on bed of STOLEN CONFLICT DIAMONDS.

 


 

22

For Your Eyes Only

1962 – Roger Moore

THE GOOD

— The underwater scene of James and Melina recovering the A.T.A.C. machine is eerie in a way few Bond films ever are. It’s a small moment of great filmmaking in one of the dullest films of the pack.

— The main goon throws his rifle AND his motorcycle at 007 at the end of a downhill ski/motorcycle chase.

Take that!

And that!

THE BAD

— Worst cold open. Period.

— What is going on in the score in the aforementioned chase??

— Bibi Dahl the ice nymph has to be top five most unnecessary Bond characters of all time.

 


 

21

The World is Not Enough

1999 – Pierce Brosnan

THE GOOD

— The least awful of the awful Brosnan films.

— The original title was way better: Pierce Brosnan as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 in Running Away From Explosions as Slow as Humanly Possible Without Dying a Grizzly Death or Even Getting Maimed

THE BAD

— The title sequence looks like it was created exclusively with screen savers and unused graphics from TLC’s Waterfalls music video.

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH TITLE SEQUENCE

WATERFALLS

— The sniper in the cold open tries to escape via HOT AIR BALOON!

— People accuse Daniel Craig’s bond of being reckless, but I don’t think he does anything as stupid as Brosnan when he goes out for a post-coitus midnight stroll then finds himself in the trunk of a car pretending to be a dead guy, then in a plane pretending to be a nameless Russian guy, then in a mine pretending to be a Russian nuclear physicist with a name. None of this was planned. He got on that plane with zero clue where it was going, and absolutely no intentions! Dude just had sex, then decided to go for a little stroll to see if he could gather some intel. Next thing he knows he’s in a mine pulling a gun on a bad guy while surrounded by others who could just as easily be other bad guys! He’s lucky and careless.

 


 

20

Dr. No

1962 – Sean Connery

THE GOOD

— Sean Connery brings a whole lot of charm and even a bit solid detective work to inaugural Bond film. Unfortunately this tedious but awesome “spy shit” is quickly discarded in the subsequent films.

— Maurice Binder’s opening title sequence elevates the production value 1000% and sets a precedent for the series. Bender went on to create the title sequences for the next fifteen Bond films. License to Kill was his last.

THE BAD

— Let’s be honest. Watching Dr. No is a bit of a chore. The story is flimsy, the editing is bad, and frankly it just looks cheap. I would really only recommend it for historical context. Otherwise you’d probably be fine beginning with From Russia with  Love.

 


 

19

Octopussy

1983 – Roger Moore

MM_19_Bond

THE GOOD

— The cold open isn’t half bad once Bond gets in his little plane, and the button on the scene is some of the best light hearted work of Moore’s tenure.

THE BAD

— To quote the opening sent sentence of the plot from Wikipedia:

British agent 009 is found dead at the British embassy in East Berlin, dressed as a circus clown and carrying a fake Fabergé egg.

I understand 009 was undercover, but he holds onto a red balloon the entire time he’s evading knife throwing circus twins. You’d assume he had spy secrets hidden in that balloon, but you’d be wrong. After running a few hounded yards he conveniently arrives at the British embassy, and busts straight through the glass window of ambassador’s bedroom. Apparently security didn’t find anything suspicious about a clown emerging from the woods at a full sprint.

— From there it doesn’t get much better. This is one of the many, many unnecessarily complicated plots in the Bond franchise and it culminates with Roger Moore dismantling a nuclear bomb while dressed as a clown.

— Oh yeah, there’s also a terrible sequence in India where filled with sword swallowers, snake charmers, beds of fire, beds of nails, etc. It basically reduces an entire country to a token Disney World attraction.

— Bond swings from a vine and belts out a Tarzan howl. If I could find a video of this moment I’d absolutely share it with you, but take my word for it, it’s one of the lamest gags in the entire franchise.

— If you like your on screen love making to involve awkward open eyed kissing this may be the Bond film for you.

 


 

18

Live and Let Die

1973 – Roger Moore

MM_18_Bond

THE GOOD

— Less racist than the book.

— Paul McCartney! + Maurice Bender’s wonderful title sequence!

 

— This lady:

THE BAD

— Sheriff Pepper, woof.

 


 

17

License to Kill

1989 – Timothy Dalton

MM_17_Bond

THE GOOD

— Benicio Del Toro has some great moments, like this one:

— Wayne Newman’s televangelist, Joe Butcher, feels like a character written by the Coen Bros.

— Carey Lowell is HANDS DOWN my favorite Bond girl in the role of Pam Bouvier. She doesn’t take shit from Bond, and keeps him in check. Casino Royale’s Vesper is the only successor to even come close, but she’s still nowhere near the bad ass Bouvier is.

THE BAD

License to Kill doesn’t feel like a Bond film, and I’d be totally fine with that if it didn’t feel like it was trying so hard at times to just be a Michael Mann knock-off. There are some great flourishes throughout this one, but it’s so incredibly uneven. Each act feels like it comes from a completely different movie.

 


 

16

Diamonds are Forever

1971 – Sean Connery

MM_16_Bond

THE GOOD

— The moon buggy chase is good campy fun.

— Classic Bond theme! The best of the bunch.

THE BAD

— Putter Smith and Bruce Glover (Crispin Glover’s father) as Mr. Kidd and Mr Wint are more often than not played for laughs as homosexual henchmen.

— Charles Gray is okay as Blofeld, but the character is just sorta boring in Diamonds.

 


 

15

Thunderball

1965 – Sean Connery

MM_15_Bond

THE GOOD

— #DatUnderwaterFightScene

— In the cold open Bond punches a man dressed as a woman in the face and the escapes via jetpack!

— Largo (Blofeld stand-in) feeds a henchman to his pet shark. Dude’s kinda obsessed with sharks.

THE BAD

— Bond explicitly extorts a woman for sex in the opening of the film. To paraphrase the interaction:

JB: I want sex.
Nurse: No. This is my job. I don’t feel safe.
(Nurse straps Bond into a machine to stretch his back. While she’s gone a mystery man pulls some leavers and attempts to kill bond with the machine)

(After nurse turns the machine off and saves Bond)
JB: someone tried to kill me when you weren’t even in the room.
Nurse: please don’t tell my boss. He’ll fire me.
JB: I want sex.
Nurse: ….

— Rik Van Nutter is a second-rate Felix Leiter

RikVanNutter-Felix

 


 

14

The Man with the Golden Gun

1974 – Roger Moore

MM_14_Bond

THE GOOD

— Christopher Lee plays a pretty great Bond villain, complete with a third nipple

THE BAD

— The theme song gets pretty porn-y at times

— Bond uses hairspray as a weapon (not even a first for a Moore film)

— Apparently audiences wanted more Sheriff Pepper! Dude shows up on vacation in China with his wife, because Louisiana Sheriffs make that kind of dough. And of course Bond and Pepper get involved in a car chase, this time as buddies, sorta.

 


 

13

Spectre

2015 – Daniel Craig

SPOILERS

 


 

 

12

Moonraker

1979 – Roger Moore

MM_13_Bond

THE GOOD

— TOP NOTCH cold open. Probably my favorite of the entire franchise.

— Overall Moonraker isn’t nearly as bad as folks make it out to be. It’s goofy, but it’s a lot of fun, and that’s about the best you can ask for when Roger Moore’s donning the bowtie poncho & spacesuit.

THE BAD

— The big climax is basically a rehash of Thunderball’s underwater fight, but IN SPACE! …and it’s inferior in every way.

— Did I mention Roger Moore dresses up like Clint Eastwood?

 


 

11

From Russia with Love

1963 – Sean Connery

MM_12_Bond

THE GOOD

From Russia with Love was a HUGE step forward from Dr. No. on all fronts. For better or worse this seems to be the film that sets the tonal blueprint for James Bond throughout most of his films. …It also serves as a large blueprint for the Austin Powers films – once again, for better or worse.

— We get the very first glimpse of Blofeld as a torso stroking his cat. It’s well executed and really helps to build the anticipation of his final reveal in You Only Live Twice.

— Robert Shaw!

THE BAD

— Still a bit sluggish and boring. To be honest, this film is only in the dead middle because of its significance in the series, not its overall achievement.

— No one made a train sex innuendo like Hitchcock. They try several times throughout the 007 films, and this is the first.

 


 

10

Quantum of Solace

2008 – Daniel Craig

THE GOOD

Quantum is kinda a scrappy underdog. It’s the least memorable of all the Craig films (While Spectre is a mess suffering from too many plots this film hardly has one at all!) And it definitely has the stink of some smarmy Paul Haggis dialogue, but toe-to-toe with the worst of anyone else and it’s still pretty good. Watch it as a double feature with Casino Royale and you’ll get a whole lot more out of it. (Thanks for the suggestion Mitch!)

— Damn, that title sequence is so sexy! Of the modern Bonds this is the best.

— The art direction on this film is gorgeous. Deakins killed it on the cinematography for Skyfall, but Quantum of Solace easily cracks the top five if we’re ranking Bond films on how pretty they are. There is a persistent pallet black white and gold throughout that is simply stunning to look at. If nothing else staring at all the pretty colors helps to get through the frequent dry spells – Get it?? This movie’s all about hoarding oil water.

 

THE BAD

— Bourne-style action is just awful.

— That stupid plane. It’s all so poorly executed. There was absolutely no reason to make Bond and Camille fall nearly to the ground before the parachute finally opened. Dumb.

— More than any other Craig film this one has some pretty mediocre CG effects that cheapen the entire experience. The plane clip above and the latter half of the rooftop chase sequence are prime examples.

 


 

09

The Living Daylights

1987 – Timothy Dalton

MM_11_Bond

THE GOOD

— A pretty solid story with a mid-tier Bond villain that ultimately culminates in a pretty fun climax.

— The Ghetto Blaster!

THE BAD

— Up until the Dalton films Bond movies felt like they were a part of a genre unto themselves. The Living Daylights marks a turning point where outside influences began to shine through. Explosions are bigger in this movie and action is more action-y. It’s pretty clear that the folks at Eon wanted a piece of that sweet box office business the big pyrotechnic driven 80s action movies were raking in. This newer high octane action formula is better utilized here than it was in the later Brosnan films, butThe shift isn’t a total detriment to the film, but there are moments that still feel out of place.

 


 

08

The Spy Who Loved Me

1977 – Roger Moore

MM_08_Bond

THE GOOD

— Moore is best when he’s facing Christopher Walken, but he’s second best when he’s given some sweet under-water sequences, and this film’s got em!

— It’s the one with the underwater car

— It took eight years and four films, but The Spy Who Loved Me finally caught back up with the stunning visual style of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

— Mr. Larson from Happy Gilmore is Jaws????????

— Finally bond uses an alias instead of running around announcing his real name to everyone!

Jaws fights a shark and wins! Jaws v Jaws, if you will.

THE BAD

— Dialogue like this:

M: Where’s 007?
Miss Moneypenny: He’s on a mission, sir. In Austria.
M: Well tell him to pull out. Immediately.

— Stromberg’s death is pretty anti-climactic

— Agent XXX (the bond girl/007’s Russian counterpart) intends to kill Bond as revenge for killing her boyfriend, but he asks for a final request. She allows it. He asks for sex. She allows it??!?

 


 

07

You Only Live Twice

1967 – Sean Connery

MM_07_Bond

THE GOOD

— The build up to the reveal of “#1” is fantastic, and Donald Pleasence plays a pretty mean Blofeld! He runs his operation with an iron fist, and is willing to kill anyone simply for delivering disappointing news. He’s probably get along nicely with Darth Vader, and I’d totally watch a Saturday morning cartoon show about their antics, Vader and Blofeld, Best Friends Forever.

— M’s office is aboard a submarine!

— SPECTRE’s secret lair is inside a volcano!

THE BAD

— This movie has an absurd number of comments about how smoking can kill you

— Yellowface is never a great look for anyone

— Ugh! This:

 


 

06

GoldenEye

1995 – Pierce Brosnan

MM_06_Bond

THE GOOD

— Brosnan plays a deceptively awesome 007. I buy every word he says in this film, and almost nothing he says in the three that follow.

GoldenEye has some great miniature work and matte paintings throughout. All of this was replaced by premature computer generated effects in the follow-ups.

— Uh, Alan Cumming is great as Boris Grishenko!

THE BAD

— Uh, Famke Janssen is awful as Xenia Onatopp. She acts like a character from a Roger Moore movie while everyone else plays it fairly straight.

 


 

05

A View to a Kill

1985 – Roger Moore

MM_05_Bond

THE GOOD

— Listen, I know this movie is by no means Skyfall-level “good”, but it is sooo enjoyable to watch! Drowning in a sea of Bond pictures that look and feel like other Bond pictures, A View to a Kill stands out and has a rewatchability that easily  puts it in the top five for me.

— Christopher Walken! Please, just watch this movie for Walken alone. Dude wants to create a double earthquake!

— James Bond apparently invented snowboarding which of course leads to a Beach Boys accompaniment. This is equally great and awful.

— Did you know James Bond cooked a mad decent quiche??

THE BAD

— You still haven’t seen this one

 


 

04

Skyfall

2012 – Daniel Craig

MM_04_Bond

THE GOOD

— Every frame of this film is absolutely breathtaking thanks to Roger Deakins. That Shanghai assassination scene though…

— The third act of Skyfall is about about paying homage to the past and having fun. This is something I’m typically prone to hating, but all the moving parts (other than perhaps the Albert Finney character of Kincade) work so well together. This film gets better and better each time I watch it.

— The introduction of the new supporting cast could not be more perfect. Ben Wishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Miss Moneypenny, Ralph Feinnes as M. Perfection.

— Javier Bardem’s Silva directs his male gaze to James Bond. It’s startling, uncomfortable, and masterfully effective at showing what the women Bond interacts with must feel all the time.

THE BAD

— The whole “he wanted to get caught” plot in the middle of the film is essentially lifted straight from The Dark Knight.

— The shower scene involving Bond and Severine is equally creepy and unnecessary.

 


 

03

Goldfinger

1964 – Sean Connery

MM_03_Bond

THE GOOD

— The lazer scene, bro.

— The Asten Martin , bro.

— The Oddjob fight, bro.

— The obligatory golden girl, bro.

— The space heater, bro.

— The title sequence and theme song, bro.

— Overall Goldfinger is just a great villain and his plot to knock off Fort Knox is a ton of fun. If you only watch one Connery film watch this one!

— The granny gunner, bro:

THE BAD

— Apparently James Bond hates The Beatles

— 007’s ability to turn Pussy Galore to his side is pretty suspect in the most unsettlingly and typical chauvinist-Bond kind of way possible.

 


 

02

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

1969 – George Lazenby

MM_02_Bond

THE GOOD

— Bond’s wife, Tracy, is played by Diana Rigg who you just might know as Olenna Tyrell on the cult television drama Game of Thrones

— Telly Savalas is probably my favorite Blofeld. He plays the character with equal parts insanity and brilliance, and ultimately seems far more capable of pulling off one of these ridiculous plans than in any other film featuring Bond’s ultimate adversary.

The film’s director, Peter Hunt, worked on The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp!

— Up until this point (and for many films after) the 007 movies all had a cheapness to the way they were shot and lit.OHMSS changed that and set an extraordinarily high bar for production value and marks the beginning of the cinematic grammar of James Bond films.

— Bond cracks open a safe while simultaneously reading a Playboy

— Lazenby’s bond smokes a pipe

THE BAD

— George Lazenby’s no Connery, but I’d still probably take him over Moore

— Bond’s apparently in love with Tracy, but he beds a hell of a lot of women “for queen and country”.

— This film has one one of my least favorite cold opens of the franchise.  This is in no small part due to the line George Lazenby delivers just before the titles roll, “This never happened to the other fellow.” I was extremely worried for what was in store after that. Luckily

— This shirt is a pretty unfortunate decision:

OHMSS_HighlandShirt-01

 


 

01

Casino Royale

2006 – Daniel Craig

THE GOOD

— Daniel Craig: best Bond. Period. I never believed any of his predecessors were as quick and brilliant as the character demands, but Craig pulls it off marvelously. I’d never question his intelligence or where he learned Russian.

— Vesper is a great counterpart to 007. Tracy is the only wife bond has ever lost, but Vesper’s death at the end of Casino Royale is far more tragic, because she is perhaps the only woman Bond has ever seemed actively committed to.

— Mads Mikkelsen plays a quintessential bond villain in Le Chiffre, and that’s enough to make me happy in this film. But beyond looking and acting the part he’s also a Bond baddie actually provokes a bit of audience sympathy. On the surface he’s cool and stonefaced, but underneath he’s a scrappy underdog and struggling to do whatever it takes to remain alive, even if that includes maliciously decimating Bond’s crown jewels.

— The action throughout this film is outstanding! The set pieces play out like grandiose flourishes of silent cinema. If Buster Keaton was working in the 21st century this the type of stuff he’d be creating.

THE BAD

— With that said… Parkour isn’t aging well

— The title song by Chris Cornell really isn’t aging well

 


 

Did I rank Moonraker and A View to a Kill too high? Probably, but I don’t care. Come at me on Facebook or Twitter.

A LITTLE EXTRA: Check out Art of the Title’s piece on James Bond title designs

And if you need to catch up on some Bond flicks a ton of them (everything but Dr. No, the Brosnan films and the Craig films) are currently available on Hulu.