“Bond. James Bond.”
The introduction stands among the greatest one liners of all time. It is instantly recognizable as the smooth calling card of MI6’s best agent, 007. To date 6 different actors have delivered the line in 22 (soon to be 23) official Eon productions films.
I was asked to write a post about the 10 greatest James Bond films of all time. In compiling this list I had to review each movie not only for its inherent entertainment value but also how well it represented the Bond formula. You all know the Bond formula. It involves any given ratio of guns, gadgets, cars, women, eccentric villains and exotic locations all thrown into a movie cocktail and shaken, not stirred.
But while some parts of the Bond formula could be debated for hours (best gadget) and some parts are hardly up for debate at all (best gun) the purpose of this post is to attempt to take all of those aspects and more and somehow produce a list of the 10 best James Bond movies. Disclaimer: my personal bias ruled. There is no denying that.
Please note, this list was compiled before seeing Skyfall. I’m looking forward to the film. If looking to the past in the franchise has told me anything it is that a strong casts goes a long way, and the cast put together for Skyfall could be the best the series has ever seen. But the film’s place in history and perhaps on my list are yet to be determined.
By the way, I didn’t concern myself with spoilers. So…look out for that I guess.
10 Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Connery was paid an absurd amount of money to return as Bond for his 6th and final time. His age showed, but there was no doubt that he still had it. The film, as the title might suggest, revolves around diamonds. A smuggling ring sees Bond in Amsterdam, Germany, and eventually Las Vegas where he encounters his old nemesis Blofield, head of SPECTRE. Throughout the film a pair of monotone, drone like, henchmen follow Bond and provide what was supposed to be quirky and darkly humorous dialogue. However, as I watch the film I am only annoyed by their lack of back story and motivation. They are never seen taking orders from anyone and do not seem to have any directive other than “we are henchmen in a James Bond movie.”
A gripping car chase through the streets of Las Vegas and an absurd but entertaining chase between a moon rover prop and motorized tricycles are the action highlights of the film. While the film was a big budget success, Blofield’s plot to hold the world hostage and detonate nuclear missiles in their silos was, even at this point in the series, a bit unoriginal. It hinted at the turn the franchise would take in the 70’s. But the fact of the matter is that even though Connery had aged, his Bond was just as smooth and Diamonds delivered the entertainment value and cultural impact to cement its place in the James Bond lore.
Iconic Scene: The car chase through Las Vegas and Bond turning the Ford Mustang Mach 1 up on 2 wheels.
9 The Living Daylights (1987)
Timothy Dalton is just not quite James Bond. I’ll admit that. There is a reason he only lasted two films. Watch any of the films from the franchise and then watch one of Dalton’s performances. Sure, he’s very observant and a bit reckless—two traits that definitely hit the mark—but he just doesn’t quite have the authority or charm of some of the other men to play the character. Despite that, his first outing was a good film and a welcome addition to the franchise. It had all of the right elements: distant locations, betrayal, plot twists, and one of the most tricked out cars in the franchise.
The Living Daylights begins with the defection of a KGB general. This was 1987, and there’s a feeling the producers said “might as well pack as much of this whole Cold War/Soviet espionage stuff in while we can.” A female cellist in the Czech Republic is ordered to shoot the general attempting to defect. Bond, unwilling to shoot the untrained woman, spares her life. Later, we learn that the supposed defecting general is really in league with an arms dealer in Morocco attempting to sell weapons to Afghanistan. The double-crossing, fake deaths, and double-double crossing get a bit tiring after awhile, but there is no denying that the action taking us from the Czech Republic, to Morocco, to Afghanistan certainly delivers delight.
Iconic Scene: The Aston Martin steals the show early in the film with the chase over a frozen lake. We get to see all kinds of gadgets on the car including missiles, skis, and rocket boosters.
8 Thunderball (1965)
The movie Thunderball was a massive success financially and is still the highest grossing film in the franchise when adjusted for inflation. It was the fourth James Bond film and Connery’s fourth go at it which meant that the series was primed for audiences, especially following the success of Goldfinger. The antagonist was once again a SPECTRE agent with a diabolical plan. The film has all of the right elements in place: a good cast with a strong villain and exotic locations, but I believe it falls short of Connery’s best outing in Goldfinger.
The film starts with James Bond at a recovery clinic where he discovers that a French pilot who was supposed to be flying nuclear bombs has been killed. A SPECTRE agent has taken the pilots place and has crashed the plane in the ocean off the coast of the Bahamas. SPECTRE’s number 2 agent—Emilio Largo—is behind the switch and hijacking of the bombs. His plan is to hold the world hostage for $100 million dollars in diamonds (Dr. Evil, much?). Water features heavily into the plot of the film. We see beach scenes, pool scenes, shark tank scenes, and scuba diving scenes. All of the underwater scenes are well shot and most of them give us some really good action, but eventually it wears on the viewer as we’re treated to long stretches with a lack of dialogue. Overall, this is classic Connery and certainly deserves its spot in the top 10.
Iconic Scene: Though it is a bit long, the final underwater battle was exciting and provided a type of action that the audience was not used to seeing.
7 The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Roger Moore’s 2nd outing as 007 pits him against a deadly assassin in a struggle to control a device called the solex agitator. The device has the potential to focus the suns power and can be used for energy purposes or perhaps more deadly pursuits. The assassin, Francisco Scaramanga, is played by none other than Christopher Lee. That’s the same man who played Dracula, Count Dooku, and Saruaman just to name a few. He was also Ian Flemming’s cousin. What I love about his character is that he is in many ways Bond’s equal. He’s cunning, observant, calculating, and cool under pressure. Scaramanga’s only defect is a third nipple, which I must admit, is odd. But it’s the small and not so distracting type of defect that was later shown in Le Chiffe in Casino Royale (weeping blood). This means that the characterization of the villain wasn’t based on something gimmicky such as mechanical hands or voodoo powers, and that’s a good thing.
As I watch this movie I am struck by how great it could have been. The things that hold it back are some of the same things that made all of the Roger Moore movies in the 70’s a bit goofy. We get a good car chase, but we have to deal with a racist Sherrif J.W. Pepper from Louisiana riding along with bond for comedic relief. He’s an unnecessary carryover from the previous movie Live and Let Die. Then we get a fantastic showdown between James Bond and the deadly assassin Scaramenga followed almost immediately by a fight between James Bond and a Scaramenga’s wine bottle-throwing midget sidekick Knick Knack. No joke. So in the end the film is remembered for the high points, but only comes in at number 7 for its camp humor.
Iconic Scene: The final showdown between Bond and Scaramanga.
6 The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
This was Roger Moore’s third time playing James Bond, and he obviously felt comfortable with the role. His charm and goofy one-liners are welcome in this film as it was clear the series had taken a different turn and embraced the 70’s. The film also stars Barbara Bach as Russian Agent Anya Amasova. From the title, you can probably tell that the relationship between the two agents is a central plot point. Adding complexity to this relationship is their respective governments’ agreement to work together; something we’re not used to seeing in the franchise.
The plot centers on an ocean obsessed supervillian that has developed the technology to track submarines. He plans on using stolen submarines to start World War III and force man to live under the sea. Stolen submarines and an attempt to sell the technology is what brings the British and Russian governments together. Egypt is the setting for much of the film and it is among the pyramids of Giza that Bond first encounters the best henchman in the franchise: Jaws. Richard Kiel’s 7 ft 2 in frame along with those braces became a hit with audiences. The final action scene takes place on a ship and is captivating and hilarious all at once. It’s as if I’m watching a video game battle with unlimited grenades turned on, but there’s no denying that it is a thrill.
Iconic scene: The Lotus Esprit chase and subsequent transformation into a submarine is classic Bond gadgetry at work.
5 GoldenEye (1995)
Here it is! The first James Bond movie I ever saw and most likely the first for many of my generation. Pierce Brosnan’s first outing came after a six year hiatus for the franchise and a lot had changed since the world had seen a Bond film. The Soviet Union had been a common enemy for James Bond both in Flemming’s novels and the films. This was the first film to be released after the Cold War and the plot focused on the changing role of the MI6 agent. This film was a triumphant return with sharp direction and a stellar cast including Sean Bean and Judi Dench. Casting Dame Judi Dench as M was one of the smartest moves the franchise ever made. For the first time James Bond had a strong female superior who considers him a “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War”.
The movie focuses on a Russian satellite known as GoldenEye capable of detonating a nuclear bomb in the atmosphere and causing a total blackout on the ground. Bond has to battle not only a Russian general and a femme fatale, but also his former friend and MI6 Alec Trevelyan, who is now the head of a crime syndicate and has planned revenge on the British government. From the bungee jump at the beginning, to the tank chase scene through the crowded streets of St. Petersburg, to the epic fight between former friends on top of a satellite receiver this film had me hooked. After 6 years away from the big screen this was certainly a new era for Bond, and a strong exciting film like this helped the franchise secure a whole new generation of fans.
Iconic Scene: The last fight between Bond and Alec Trevelyan is one for the ages. Trevelyan’s death shows us the emotion Bond felt after watching his friend become his enemy. Trevelyan: “For England James?” Bond: “No, for me.”
4 Dr. No (1962)
I know, I know. Blasphemy! Dr. No not the greatest James Bond film of all time?!?! Hear me out. The very first James Bond film deserves a ridiculous amount of praise. The franchise would not be around 50 years later if it weren’t for success of this movie. But while this film has to be considered a classic, as you watch it you’re struck by one thing: it isn’t all that exciting. We get one location, no Q branch, and a relatively simple plot. But I say all of that simply to justify not putting it higher. Even with those drawbacks the film comes in at number 4 so that should tell you something.
The film begins in a Casino. Actually, the film begins with a killing in Jamaica, but the true first scene that everyone remembers is Connery flicking that lighter closed and for the first time delivering his introduction. Soon after, 007 is sent to Jamaica to investigate the murder of an MI6 agent. While there he teams with CIA agent Felix Leiter for the first of many times. After some investigative work they finally make their way to Dr. No’s island where things get interesting. We meet Honey Ryder for the first time when Ursula Andress emerges from the ocean in what is now an iconic image. When Bond and Honey are taken captive we finally get a glimpse of Dr. No and some back story on the character. A scary-and-futuristic-for-the-time plan to change the path of U.S. rockets is the Dr.’s scheme and Bond’s foiling of that plan is relatively simple. But there is no denying the entertainment value and historical significance of this film.
Iconic Scene: Ursula Andress is certainly memorable, but I have to give it to the Casino scene at the beginning of the film and 007’s first introduction. It set the bar by which all other actors to give the line would be judged.
3 From Russia with Love (1963)
Connery was back and even though it was only the second film in the series, we can already see the ambitions of the producers and their plans for the franchise in the future. We get better gadgets, better locations, and better action as they were clearly willing to open up their pocket books after the success of Dr. No. Of special note is the fact that Desmond Llewelyn made his first appearance as 007’s quartermaster “Q” in this movie. Llewelyn would play the character in a total 17 movies before passing away in 1999. His character certainly holds a special place in my heart and, truth be told, how the return of Q will be handled in Skyfall makes me a bit nervous, but that is a different story and we’ll all just have to wait and see.
The name of the game for this film? Revenge! SPECTRE and their leader want vengeance for the death of Dr. No. But revenge is only part of their plan. They also want to pit the British and Russian governments against each other by stealing a piece of Russian spy equipment and selling it back to their government. With the help of Russian agent Tatiana Romanova, Bond narrowly escapes death time and time again as he makes his way from a shootout in a Turkish gypsy camp, to a confrontation on a train traveling through Zagreb, and an exhilarating boat chase with some epic explosions for the time. This film is great for many of the same reasons that Dr. No and Goldfinger are great. It was iconic Connery at his best with great action.
Iconic Scene: I want to say the first appearance of Q branch and Desmond Llewelyn as Q, but I also enjoyed the fight between two henchmen in a helicopter and Bond on the ground. Seems a like the odds are against Bond, but of course he destroys the helicopter and goes on to save the day.
2 Goldfinger (1964)
Iconic. That would be the word to describe this film and many of its scenes. I daresay even my sister (who hates James Bond movies) would recognize parts of the film. As far as the Bond formula goes, this one pretty much covers it all. The women, the Aston Martin DB5, and lines such as “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die” ensure the audience is entertained. But while those parts of the film have made their way into mainstream pop culture the rest of the film is recognized by James Bond fans for its strong villain, great action, and yes, the Bond girl with an overtly sexual name; all things that became staples in the franchise.
The title of the film comes from its villain Auric Goldfinger. Goldfinger is a business man with a gold obsession and a plan to break into Fort Knox. With the help of investors and Pussy “how did they get away with that name?” Galore’s flying circus he plans on infiltrating the U.S. depository. As 007 later learns, his goal is not to steal the gold, but rather to radiate it with a dirty bomb, causing chaos in the west and multiplying the value of his own gold. A great fight scene with a Goldfinger’s seemingly indestructible top hat throwing Korean sidekick Oddjob (later parodied in Dr. Evil’s shoe throwing sidekick Randomtask. Get it?) top off an insanely entertaining film. It’s my strong belief that everyone should see this film. I even sat my girlfriend down to watch it recently and she approved.
Iconic Scene: Take your pick, but I’d have to say it is 007’s question, “Do you expect me to talk?” and Goldfinger’s confident response, “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”
1 Casino Royale (2006)
Yes, it is. Just watch it. Watch the movie. This is the greatest film in the James Bond franchise. This is the James Bond movie even my mom has seen more than once. This is the James Bond movie my girlfriend will agree to watch. This is the 007 film that didn’t just repackage or rehash the franchise, it completely started over and they hit the mark. Because this is a reboot we get to see a different side of Bond. He is shown to be completely reckless and headstrong. His relationships with M and Vesper are driving forces behind a character that matures before our eyes throughout the course of the film. I’ll say it again, casting Judi Dench was one of the best decisions they ever made. She acts as both 007’s boss and a sort of maternal figure. A connection between Bond and his superior with this much complexity had never been shown in a movie before and it is a big reason why the character and film were such a success.
There is no diabolical plot to put a laser on the moon or hold the world’s governments hostage. Instead we get a more realistic tale featuring a terrorist financier and the shadowy organization Quantum. Actually, they aren’t identified by name until the sequel but you can think of them as a sort of update to the SPECTRE organization from the earlier films. After losing a militant groups money betting the wrong way in the stock market, the financier Le Chiffe holds a poker tournament in an attempt to recoup the money. Vesper Lynd represents the treasury and is assigned to supervise and finance Bond as necessary. It’s after losing the match to Bond that Le Chiffe gets desperate and things get interesting. Quantum’s Mr. White comes to kill Le Chiffe and Vesper and Bond are allowed to live for reasons that will be revealed later in the film. A parkour foot chase through a construction site, a fuel truck chase scene at Miami airport and a fight in a sinking house along the canals of Venice provide the action for the film. But the reason this film is so great is not because of the action but because of the character arc we see Bond travel. Craig delivered an unbelievable performance as Bond and I was blown away by the gritty and cold Bond he presented.
Iconic Scene: The significance of the final scene cannot possible be overstated so please bear with me as I…well, as I possibly overstate it. Because this was a reboot and not simply a sequel with a different actor we got an entirely different Bond. We see him just promoted to 00 status in the beginning and he has to learn a lot about what his role as an agent is throughout the film. Bond had been a rookie all movie. He’d been reckless, careless, and even lovesick. We see him chastised by M and hurt by Vesper, but in this final scene he comes out the other side a polished, cold, and poised agent. “007” is no longer just his title, it is his identity. As the leader of the Quantum steps out of his car his phone rings and Bond states coolly, “Mr. White we need to talk.” Mr. White asks, “Who is this?” Then from seemingly out of nowhere he is shot in the leg and as he crawls towards the steps we hear–for the first time in the film–the familiar bass line of the James Bond Theme. The camera pans as Bond walks past Mr. White and stands above him in his iconic 3 piece suit delivers the line, “The names Bond…James Bond.” Boom. The James Bond Theme blares signifying the characters transformation and the credits role. Bond is born. Did I not do a good enough job describing it. Fine, just watch it by clicking here!
Hope you enjoyed this list. Feel free to disagree with me. In my opinion there is not a bad James Bond movie. This was not an easy list to create, but it was certainly fun.