Film & TV
2018 has seen its fair share of 007 drama. In May, it was confirmed after years of speculation that Daniel Craig would step back into his blue swim trunks and white tux jacket for Bond 25, the twenty-fifth canonical James Bond picture. Helming the project? Danny Boyle, the filmmaker behind kinetic flicks like Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, and 28 Days Later.
Fans were thrilled by the pairing. Then, in August, news broke that Danny Boyle had left the production over creative differences. In late September, Boyle's replacement was announced: Cary Fukunaga, the director of True Detective season one and Beast of No Nation, starring Idris Elba. Fukunaga's connection to Elba revived rumors/hope that the Luther star may soon play the English superspy.
With so much Bond news before us, now's the perfect time to order a martini, polish the Aston Martin DB5, and rank the best James Bond movies. The list below features the 24 canonical Bond films made by Eon Productions—thus skipping over 1967's Casino Royale and 1983's Never Say Never Again.
We don’t know Fukunaga's plans for Bond 25, but here’s hoping his entry in the series has the fun of Goldfinger, the drama of 2006's Casino Royale, and the twisty suspense of From Russia With Love. It’s a tall order, but as we’ve learned over the past 50-plus years, when you’ve got an impossible mission, there’s only one man for the job: Bond ... James Bond.
Space-themed Bond is the worst Bond, despite the futuristic gadgets and set designs and the welcome comic relief of steel-toothed henchman Jaws falling in love. But the 126-minute run-time, an overstuffed plot, and a criminally boring villain expose this Roger Moore-helmed vehicle as a naked attempt to cash in on Star Wars fever.
023. Die Another Day
Halle Berry and a thrilling car chase on a frozen lake couldn't save Pierce Brosnan’s fourth turn as Agent 007 from being his last. Fatigue had clearly set into his performance, and the digitally enhanced action sequences left audiences cold. Not to worry, though–Madonna’s theme song was a fiery blast from the depths of auto-tune hell.
022. A View to a Kill
In some ways, Roger Moore’s seventh and final film was far ahead of its time. Christopher Walken plays a millionaire industrialist and former KGB agent who plots to destroy Silicon Valley by planting explosives beneath the Hayward and San Andreas faults. If Elon Musk and Vladimir Putin ever joined forces, I’m pretty sure they’d have the same idea. But in other ways–namely, Moore’s cringeworthy performance as a geriatric lothario–A View to a Kill revealed the Bond franchise to be in desperate need of a reboot.
021. Quantum of Solace
Perhaps unfairly, Daniel Craig’s second turn as Bond suffers greatly in comparison to the thrilling reimagining of the character found in Casino Royale. The dark storyline, which seems to draw more inspiration from the Jason Bourne franchise than previous Bond films, features the theft of Bolivia’s water supply, lots of gratuitous violence, and a corporate villain hiding behind the cloak of environmental do-gooderism. Any Bond film that culminates in a fistfight in an eco hotel has gotten the tone of the series unforgivably wrong.
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It’s got a title that everyone remembers and the unique thrill of watching Maud Adams’s character switch from villainess to Bond girl. But the strange sight of Agent 007 defusing a bomb in full clown makeup will linger with you long after you’ve forgotten the plot points of a rather tepid affair involving a circus troupe that steals precious relics and replaces them with forgeries.
019. The World Is Not Enough
Critics and viewers alike were split on this late-1990s entry starring Pierce Brosnan, his third go-round as 007. The film's premise seems a perfectly good case for James Bond to crack—a British oil heiress gets mixed up in a plot to steal weapons-grade plutonium from Russia. Yet the film's execution, from its clunky dialog and misguided casting to its excessive action sequences, left many viewers unimpressed. The World Is Not Enough is also the first in the Bond series to earn itself a Razzie: Denise Richards won for "Worst Supporting Actress" while Brosnan and Richards were nominated for "Worst Screen Couple." Congrats?
018. Tomorrow Never Dies
A shallow and forgettable film that started the decline into silliness from which Pierce Brosnan never recovered, this spy adventure involves a deranged media mogul (Jonathan Pryce delivering a scene-chewing Rupert Murdoch impersonation) hell-bent on pushing England into a war with China is partially redeemed by the performance of Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin, a Chinese agent far smarter and more capable than the average Bond girl.
017. Diamonds Are Forever
Sean Connery returns to the fold after George Lazenby subbed in as Bond for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Unfortunately, Connery’s record-breaking payday ($1.25 million) did not inspire him to do more than sleepwalk through this Las Vegas-set caper involving an international diamond-smuggling ring and a satellite that shoots lasers at nuclear missiles. Fans disappointed by the final appearance of Bond’s archenemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld would have to wait until 2015’s Spectre for his return.
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And many of those fans were disappointed all over again, as Spectre’s deep-dive into Bond’s backstory feels ill fitted to the character. On top of that, the revelation that Blofeld has been behind the sinister schemes of the previous three films (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall) doesn’t land with the impact it might have. The opening sequence filmed during Mexico City’s Day of the Dead is a stunner, however, and former pro wrestler Dave Bautista delivers a memorable performance as the bruising assassin Mr. Hinx.
015. License to Kill
This surprisingly seedy entry in the Bond canon finds Agent 007 (played by Timothy Dalton) revoking his official license to kill in order to go undercover in a drug cartel and avenge the gruesome murder of a friend’s fiancée. The mood is dark and violent, taking its inspiration from Japanese Ronin films and such 80s action flick flare as Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. While some purists objected to the tonal shift, it’s fascinating to see Dalton embrace the ruthless side of the character. Keep your eyes peeled for one of Benicio del Toro’s earliest movie roles as an unhinged henchman.
014. The Man with the Golden Gun
Christopher Lee stars as Francisco Scaramanga, the titular man with a golden gun who wants to use it to kill Roger Moore’s Bond. The plot is loosely based on Ian Fleming’s last, unfinished novel, and trades the globetrotting pyrotechnics of later Bond films for a more intimate duel between two men whose deadly skills are equally matched. There’s some trendy yet poorly choreographed kung fu and cringeworthy scenes with a little person named Nick Nack, but the plot never slides into farce, thanks largely in part to Lee’s performance as one of the best Bond villains.
013. Live and Let Die
Roger Moore’s first turn as Agent 007 imports many of its themes and characters from the popular blaxploitation films of the era. Instead of an international super villain, Bond is in pursuit of a Harlem drug lord who plans to corner the market by giving his product away for free. Somehow the fact that the kingpin is also the voodoo-practicing dictator of a Caribbean island doesn’t feel too absurd to believe–thanks in larger part to the charismatic performance of Yaphet Kotto as Mr. Big/Dr. Kananga. The racial dynamics are sometimes ... uncomfortable, but Live and Let Die memorably delivers the familiar Bond thrills in a stylish new package, and the excellent theme song by Paul McCartney is a big bonus.
012. The Living Daylights
Timothy Dalton takes over from Roger Moore in this Cold War caper set in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan. To help defeat a rogue KGB agent and an American arms dealer, Bond briefly aids the Taliban in their fight against the Soviet Union. The film’s gritty realism and complicated politics are perfectly suited to Dalton’s steely-eyed reinvention of the character, but many fans missed the fun and glamour of the previous Bond films. Dalton would only get two chances as 007, but his legacy can be clearly seen in Daniel Craig’s take on the character.
011. You Only Live Twice
Beloved children’s author (and rumored British spy) Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay for the ninja-heavy fifth entry in the Bond canon. The theft of American and British spacecraft brings Bond to Japan, where he finally comes face-to-face with his archenemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld: cat whisperer and ruthless head of the criminal organization SPECTRE. The film’s big budget action sequences (including the ninja invasion of a secret rocket base underneath a volcano) and cool gadgets are worth the price of admission, You Only Live Twice’s paint-by-the-numbers approach makes it the most parodied of the Bond films.
010. For Your Eyes Only
Tasked with re-grounding the series after Moonraker’s ill-conceived space odyssey, For Your Eyes Only sticks closely to the traditional formula, sending Bond to the Ionian Sea to recover a missile command system before it falls into the hands of the KGB. He gets entangled in a rivalry between two shady Greek businessmen and finds love (or something like it) with Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), the daughter of a murdered marine archaeologist. Bouquet has good chemistry with Moore, and there’s a great action sequence where the two are dragged through shark-infested waters, but the villains are largely forgettable and the script lacks the verve and style of the best Bond films.
The fourth Bond film has style aplenty, with Sean Connery hitting his groove as the dashing secret agent who has time to sip cocktails on a Bahamas beach while thwarting SPECTRE’s plans to ransom two stolen atomic bombs for $100 million in diamonds. The success of the first three films allowed for a much bigger budget, which the producers spent on a massive underwater fight scene. It was big step toward the blockbuster production values of later Bond films, but the emphasis on special effects slows the film’s pace just when you want it to speed up. And while the Bond character has never been accused of progressivism, his casual misogyny is especially notable in this entry.
008. The Spy Who Loved Me
The rollicking tone of Roger Moore’s third turn at the helm of the Bond franchise is set early on, when he escapes KGB assassins by skiing off a cliff with the help of a Union Jack parachute. Later, a Lotus Esprit turns into a submarine and fan-favorite henchman Jaws makes his debut by chomping a shark to death. A web-handed super villain steals British and Soviet nuclear submarines as part of his plan to destroy the world and start an underwater civilization. In other words, The Spy Who Loved Me is pure fun from start to finish, and an ideal vehicle for Moore’s wisecracks and ironic charm. Many fans feel that it saved the series after a string of disappointing entries.
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Pierce Brosnan (James Bond) and Dame Judi Dench (M) make their series debut in a story that pits Bond against a MI6 agent gone rogue. Contract disputes delayed the follow-up to License to Kill for six years, and while some fans will always wonder what Timothy Dalton would have done with a longer run in the title role, Brosnan’s portrayal combines the louche charisma of Sean Connery, the quick wit of Roger Moore, and the hardboiled edge of Dalton. Dutch actress Famke Janssen delivers one of the series’s best femme fatale performances as Xenia Onatopp. The Brosnan Bond films quickly took a turn toward the ridiculous, but GoldenEye successfully brought the franchise into the modern age.
006. Dr. No
The first Bond movie launched Sean Connery on his way to superstardom and introduced many of the elements that have kept fans coming back to the series for more than fifty years. The plot follows Bond’s search for MI6’s missing Jamaica station agent. The trail leads to the heavily fortified island of Crab Key, where iconic Bond girl Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) emerges from the surf to join our hero in his fight against the titular super villain, a Chinese-German scientist working for the international criminal organization SPECTRE. Subsequent films had better action sequences and more memorable henchman and villains, but Sean Connery’s impossibly cool performance and production designer Ken Adam’s over-the-top visual style launched not just the Bond franchise, but an entire genre of spy films.
Javier Bardem delivers one of the series’s best villains as Raoul Silva, a flaxen-haired former MI6 spy who goes to the dark side after the agency abandons him to five months of captivity and torture by the Chinese. Silva seeks vengeance by stealing a hard drive containing the real identities of secret agents. Daniel Craig’s Bond comes out of retirement to stop Silva, but not before M (Judi Dench) is mortally wounded. Beautifully shot, masterfully paced, and finely acted by Craig, Bardem, and Dench, Skyfall makes it into the top five Bond films by adding psychological depth to a series better known for hijinks and beautiful babes.
004. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Viewed as a disaster on its first release, the one and only Bond film with Australian model George Lazenby in the title role has rightfully taken its place as one of the franchise’s finest. The criminal plot is as bizarre as usual–super villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld trains 12 “Angels of Death” to poison the world’s agricultural supply–but the love story between Bond and Tracy di Vincenzo (Diana Rigg) adds emotional depth and realism and raises the stakes considerably. Rigg, who is modernly known as Lady Olenna Tyrell of Game of Thrones, is excellent in the role, as is Telly Savalas as Blofeld. Throw in an epic ski chase atop Piz Gloria in Switzerland and a gut-punch finale, and you’ve got a classic Bond that only gets better with age.
003. From Russia with Love
This twisty, high-octane thriller finds Bond (Sean Connery) on a mission to seduce a beautiful cipher clerk at the Soviet consulate in Istanbul. Needless to say, he succeeds, but neither Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) nor 007 know that they’ve been caught in a trap set by two of SPECTRE’s most brilliantly evil minds: chess grandmaster Kronsteen (Vladek Sheybal) and former Soviet counterintelligence agent Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya). Joining them is one of the series’ most fearsome henchmen, Irish assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw). The brutal, masterfully choreographed fight scene between Bond and Grant on the Orient Express is a high point of the series, and Romanova’s quick thinking in the final scene proves that sometimes even the world’s greatest secret agent needs a little help from his friends. Drawing from excellent source material (Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name) the second Bond film fires on all cylinders, setting up the franchise for one of the longest runs in cinematic history.
2. Casino Royale
Many thought that Daniel Craig was too short, too rough, and too blonde to play Agent 007, but from the moment he calmly assassinates a traitorous MI6 agent in the film’s black-and-white opening scene, the classically trained actor makes the character his own. It helps that the producers envisioned Casino Royale as a series reboot, taking Bond back to the moment when earned his license to kill. Craig’s brooding charisma and blunt-force physicality were a perfect match for the story’s grittier tone, and he more than meets his match in Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, perhaps the most compelling and certainly the most fully realized of the Bond girls. With psychological depth, intensely realistic fights (the parkour chase across the rooftops of Madagascar is one of the best action sequences in modern moviemaking), and Craig’s pitch-perfect delivery of the film’s immortal final line (“The name’s Bond ... James Bond”), Casino Royale pays tribute to the series’ familiar charms while charting a course all its own.
The third time’s the charm in life as well as Bond movies. After the success of Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Sean Connery and director Guy Hamilton were ready to inject a little more fun into the series, and the result is the quintessential Bond film–an intoxicating blend of sex, intrigue, style, action, and humor that delights from start to finish. Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5 makes its debut, as does the pre-credit sequence that would become a series staple. Bullion dealer Auric Goldfinger is one of the franchise’s most charming villains, and his hat-throwing manservant Oddjob is a top three henchman. But the movie belongs to Connery, whose dry wit and effortless good looks can somehow make a blue terrycloth romper seem cool. The first of the series to win an Academy Award, Goldfinger gives viewers everything they’ve come to expect from a Bond film and has a smashing good time doing it.