This list first appeared in Filmhounds print magazine- click here to order

Good evening Mr. Bond, we’ve been expecting you. For quite some time in fact. The return of Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 has been tantalisingly close on a few occasions, but with the pandemic causing many blockbusters to shift their release dates, No Time To Die remains just out of reach.

September 30th is the current date in place, and all being well it looks as though audiences and Bond fans will soon be able to feast their eyes on Daniel Craig’s final outing as the British spy with a licence to kill. It’s been a long road, even before the shifting release schedule, one which started way back in 2015 with the release of Spectre, where Craig said at the time he would rather ‘slash his wrists’ than consider a return.

It seemed his time was done in the tux, but after letting the Spectre dust settle, development did soon begin on a fifth outing for Craig’s Bond, with the messaging clearly being that it would be his last.

Pre-production was hardly a smooth ride. With Skyfall and Spectre director Sam Mendes shooting down the opportunity to return, the search began for a new director. For a time, it looked as though that filmmaker would be Oscar-winner Danny Boyle. Producing a screenplay with his Trainspotting writing partner John Hodge, all seemed well until ye old creative differences reared its head and halted Boyle’s take in its tracks. With that story thrown out, longtime producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli brought back veteran writers Robert Wade and Neal Purvis to crack the story, before hiring Maniac and Beasts of No Nation’s director Cary Joji Fukunaga to helm.

He would go on to rewrite the script, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge also joining the party during production. The shoot seemed to go smoothly. Posters were revealed, and trailers soon came following. April 2020 couldn’t come soon enough – but you know the rest.

The footage that we did get to glimpse promised huge scale action, a tantalisingly strange villain in Rami Malek, and some gorgeous compositions courtesy of La La Land cinematographer Linus Sandgren. Being a Bond movie is enough to stoke anticipation, but seeing how intriguingly weird this one looks has made the delays even more agonising.

No Time to Die will be the 25th entry in the official James Bond franchise, taking its place along a long line of movies that date back to 1962. The series began life as a series of novels written by Ian Fleming, using the character to live out his spy fantasies after serving as a Naval intelligence officer during World war Two. That nearly 60 year history has seen the franchise transform across six actors’ portrayals, evolving to reflect modern times and re-tooling itself often to maintain its relevance. It is a thoroughly unique franchise because of this history, and how entries can be treated as time capsules for the tones, tastes and political makeup of the period in which it was made.

It is a purely cinematic series, with huge globetrotting on location shoots and massive practical stunts that many franchises aspire to. Even if you’re not a fan or haven’t seen any before you know the name, you know the theme tune, you know the tux, you know the Martini preference. It is in the Mount Rushmore of pop cultural phenomenons whose influence can be felt in both film and music over the last 60 years, with its history of reinvention creating the impression that James Bond will, one way or another, always return.

It’s not always been plain sailing, as this incoming ranking will demonstrate, but even at their worst, Bond movies offer that unique cocktail of action-packed set pieces, vicious rogues and beautiful accomplices, with any entry capable of scratching that particular Bondian itch. Let’s put the franchise in the crosshairs, and head out on an epic ranking of the 24 instalments that make up the adventures of one Bond, James Bond.

24 Moonraker

I’ll be straight up with you reader, I’m not the biggest Roger Moore Bond fan. While I find his take charming enough and appreciate some of the goofier elements, they are arguably also the collection of films that have aged the worst, and the most scattershot in their approach. While Moonraker has a chilling enough villain in Hugo Drax, it comes at the bottom as it is an odd blend of cringe-worthy comedy and lazy plotting that looked to cash in on the space-craze left in the wake of Star Wars, but it still features impressive stunts and production design along the way. It is the film that is the furthest away from what makes the character of Bond himself interesting, often coming across more as a parody designed by committee than anything genuinely worthwhile.

 

23 Diamonds Are Forever

Sean Connery looked like he was finished after walking away from the role after You Only Live Twice. But after George Lazenby retired after just one film, a deal was made for Connery to return in a final official outing (he would go on to play Bond in the non-EON produced Never Say Never Again in 1983. The results are somewhat anticlimactic, with Connery fairly unengaged in a film which sticks pretty tightly to formula, if never producing anything that exciting. Shirley Bassey’s theme song remains one of the best, but the film itself is ultimately a bit of a shrug as the final word of Connery’s beloved portrayal of the character.

 

22 Octopussy

Octopussy has all the camp and quirk you’d expect from a Roger Moore era Bond movie, without ever being particularly memorable at any point. It boasts a fun opening sequence with a BD5- airplane, but the bland Rita Coolidge song that follows very much characterises this tired entry. Roger Moore himself is starting to creak a bit in the role, shuffling through an adventure where the formula is starting to smell stale. Moore would go on to one more film, but it is hard not to think he’s past it by this juncture.

 

21 Die Another Day

The film that sounded the death knell for Pierce Brosnan’s iteration of the British superspy. All of Brosnan’s movies have a more exaggerated, close to sci-fi approach in the action and gadgets, but Die Another Day pushes it to the max with invisible cards, face swapping, a satellite with the power of the sun, and ropey CGI windsurfing. It is a bizarrely plotted film (even relative to this franchise) that is full to the throat of ham-fisted references to the franchise’s past. It will always have some nostalgic value for me personally, as it was the first Bond movie I saw in the cinema, but it is hardly a victory lap for Brosnan’s take on 007.

 

20 A View To a Kill

Roger Moore’s final outing sees the beloved actor offer some one liners one last time. Similarly to Octopussy, he does struggle to convince in the role, his pairing with much younger co-stars often feeling odd and uncomfortable. But A View To A Kill has a lot more going for it than meets the eye. It has a more intense tone than previous Moore entries, thanks largely by Christopher Walken’s villain Zorin and Grace Jones’ May May and it also boasts a brilliant John Barry score, as well as a fun theme song courtesy of Duran Duran. It is all absurd of course, but far from Moore’s worst adventure in the tux.

 

19 Quantum of Solace

Coming fast on the heels of Casino Royale’s success, Quantum of Solace is a film that keeps things pretty lean and mean, but struggles to recapture the same depth of its predecessor. It is filled with a number of intense, rapidly cut sequences that follow one another quite quickly, making the whole mission feel very rushed. Daniel Craig’s work remains magnetic, his more tortured approach coming through very strongly in a film which touches on the messy journey of grief, but it is a movie that struggles to build a decent story around this otherwise invigorating version of Bond.

 

18 The World Is Not Enough

Michael Apted’s The World Is Not Enough begins with one of the longest pre-credit sequences of the series, but it is also one of the best. The thrilling and witty chase through the Thames stands as one of the best sequences of Brosnan’s tenure. Alas, the film itself can’t maintain that level of excitement. Robert Carlise’s numb bad guy is never particularly engaging, and Denise Richards Dr. Christmas Jones is not exactly a Bond girl for the ages. It’s arguably Brosnan’s most forgettable entry, not through lack of solid craft or charisma on Brosnan’s part, it simply doesn’t offer anything particularly striking beyond its first 20 minutes.

 

17 The Man With The Golden Gun

Roger Moore’s second entry as Bond is one that does go someway to encapsulating the general makeup of a Moore Bond movie. While not the best, it certainly has most of the hallmarks. A cheesy sense of humour, a knowing wink in the action, exotic locations, questionable depictions of other cultures and outdated sexual politics, but it is still an engagingly odd film with some fun, trippy sequences. It also features one of the best Bond villains of the bunch in Christopher Lee’s three-nippled Scaramanga. Very much Bond’s equal, he is very intimidating in Lee’s hands, crafting one of the iconic rogues in the whole gallery.

 

16 Spectre

Spectre is a huge Bond movie, with incredible stunts, stunning cinematography and incredible use of globe-spanning locations. It has all the ingredients to be a very classy adventure for 007, with plenty of style from returning Sam Mendes. Sadly, on a storytelling level, it is a bit of a different matter. It is over-complicated as it tries to find ways to link all of Craig’s previous entries together, jumping through hoops and getting itself tangled up as the plot begins to bloat. It leads to a film that is often quite slow, punctuated by admittedly stunning sequences, but overall sits a bit heavy on the palette, never quite convincing as a natural next step for Craig’s Bond.

 

15 Thunderball

After the success of Goldfinger, the makers behind Connery’s next outing very much aimed to strike the same chord. Director Terence Young (who had previously done Dr. No and From Russia With Love) is someone who clearly seemed more at home with the more classical spy elements of his previous entries. Thunderball tries to up the ante somewhat with bigger stunts to match the more fantastical elements introduced through Goldfinger’s gadgets and laser beams, but doesn’t quite have the same impact. It has an iconic sequence in the underwater fight at the end, but it is often a slow burn, never quite offering anything as thrilling as anything in Connery’s previous entries.

 

14 Live And Let Die

Roger Moore’s introduction in the role came in the blaxploitation styled Live And Let Die. Its depiction of voodoo culture may not have aged well, but it makes for a satisfyingly strange addition to the franchise. Moore also quickly gets into his groove, offering a Bond with more of a sense of humour about himself. It’s more subtly played in this entry than in later ones, but he shakes the weight of expectation, all the while hopping over Alligators in the process. It is also responsible for delivering one of the best Bond themes of all time in Paul McCartney and Wings’ raging fire of a theme song.

 

13 For Your Eyes Only

Almost certainly Roger Moore’s most underrated effort, For Your Eyes Only still has much of the wit that his take on the character is known for, but offers a few greyer, darker shades along the way. It is a clear reaction to the overblown nature of its predecessor (Moonraker), offering a more traditional spy mystery involving cold war tensions and a race for a piece of game-changing tech. It may not be as exciting as some of his other efforts, but there’s more to his Bond here than in any other of his movies, displaying a slightly more nuanced portrayal of a man who is essentially a well-dressed assassin.

 

12 Tomorrow Never Dies

This is another one, like Brosnan’s Die Another Day, that holds special significance for me as a Bond fan. It was the first Bond film I ever saw, very much kicking off a love affair with the superspy that has been going strong ever since. It may not be the best Bond movie, but there is no denying the level of fun and confidence Brosnan’s second outing kicks-off with. The first hour as Bond investigates media mogul Elliot Carver (Johnathan Pryce) contains some thrilling sequences and an intriguing villain who is just as relevant today. The second half is less sophisticated, very much resting more on a by-the-numbers approach, but it is one installment of Bond that has aged better than most.

 

11 The Living Daylights

Appreciation for Timothy Dalton’s take on the character has grown in recent years. Retrospective reviews look at his movies in a more favourable light than their initial release, with Dalton’s more serious approach being considered ahead of its time in the wake of Craig’s gritty portrayal. His first entry, The Living Daylights is less impactful than his second, but it does a decent job at reinventing Fleming’s spy post-Moore. There’s still plenty of gadgets, explosions, and womanising, but the quips are far and few between, with Dalton offering both a stern and more emotional Bond for late 80’s audiences. Its Afghanistan set final act is a bit of a drag, but as an introduction to Dalton’s take, it is a very solid package, with a fantastic John Barry’s score, which also proved to be his last.

 

10 GoldenEye

There was a moment for a second there where audiences thought James Bond was going to end along with the Cold War. A by-product of post WW2 political tensions, and whose many previous missions involved Soviet villains and/or counterparts, it must have been a difficult task to come up with the best way to reboot the character after a six-year hiatus. The answer in the end looks pretty simple: cast the most handsome Bond there has been (Brosnan’s feathered hair is glorious) and create an exciting action blockbuster, one that uses artefacts of the Cold War to its advantage.

Another masterstroke is in the casting of Dame Judi Dench as M, who epitomises the spirit of this reinvention, one which is willing to do away with outdated components of the franchise, and do so with swagger to spare. Both Dench and Brosnan ease into their roles, relishing the chance to contribute to the storied franchise. It may be a little dated by comparison now, but there can be no underselling the significance of GoldenEye in demonstrating Bond’s capacity for change. If this one were to flop, it is likely the franchise would have died back in 1995. That it was a hit has only cemented the enduring nature of this franchise.

 

9 You Only Live Twice

Yes, the one where Sean Connery disguises himself as a Japanese man. Like many of the older entries in the franchise, You Only Live Twice has elements which may seem cringe worthy to modern sensibilities. But if you can get past that, there’s no denying that You Only Live Twice is a quintessential James Bond adventure, one that is full to the brim of classic elements.

Ken Adams production design is second to none in this entry, with the volcano lair of arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld standing as one of the most iconic villain HQ’s of any franchise. The Little Nellie aircraft is also delightfully absurd, and John Barry’s excellent score, paired with Nancy Sinatra’s main song, gives the film the big brass 60’s stylings that provides incredible flair to the proceedings.

For a time it looked as though this would be Connery’s last entry, and it would have certainly made for a more fitting conclusion than Diamonds Are Forever. It balances the absurd with gritty fights and globe-trotting escapades and is one of a handful of Bond films that best epitomises what makes up the DNA of a James Bond movie.

 

8 Dr. No

It is easy to forget how much of the iconography was already in place throughout the first installment of the franchise, Dr. No released back in 1962. It helps to have such a striking character to adapt from Fleming’s novels, a suave British gentleman with a cold hard streak that makes him an efficient killer. But the real slam dunk is, of course, the casting of Sean Connery.
From the very first moment Bond is introduced, sitting around a Baccarat table in a battle of wits with Eunice Grayson’s Sylvia Trench, we are instantly compelled by the magnetism of Connery. Lighting that cigarette and uttering those words – ‘Bond, James Bond’ – it is one of the coolest character introductions in cinema history. The rest of the film allows Connery to demonstrate more wit and grit, deftly switching between charmer and assassin as the occasion calls for it. He’s the best Bond at demonstrating that switch, and it is already on full display in his first outing.

This mission in Jamaica to find the mysterious Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) is peppered with moments that have become synonymous with the franchise, chief amongst them being Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder emerging from the ocean with a shell in her hand and a knife by her side. It was also the world’s first introduction to that theme tune. Written by Monty Norman and orchestrated within an inch of its life by John Barry, it more than matches the confidence exuded by Sir Sean Connery.

 

7 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

It could not have been easy for audiences back in 1969 to consider a Connery-less Bond. But with Connery falling out with producers, so began the tradition of a new actor stepping into the tuxedo to offer their take on Fleming’s secret agent. In came George Lazenby, an Australian model with little acting experience. While he may not ever seem as confident as Connery’s Bond, his more weary, more emotional Bond proves to be an intriguing hero for this darker, stranger take on the character. It is a story that leads him down a path of misplaced hope, becoming one of the first films that demonstrates the cursed life that Bond has chosen to lead where happiness and contentment will forever be out of reach.

Lazenby may not be the best Bond, but he is housed in a story that is faithful to Fleming’s novel, giving the character a touching love story with Diana Rigg’s Tracy di Vicenzo, and making him question his position as a government gun for the first time. There’s also plenty of exciting action sequences as well, from excellent chase sequences, to a gun-blazing siege on Blofeld’s alpine lair. It is one of the first films to create Bond as a more nuanced individual, an element which has given more of a lasting appeal than others.

 

6 The Spy Who Loved Me

The crowning jewel of Roger Moore’s run as the character, The Spy Who Loved Me is an action-packed night at a 70’s disco, all set to funky bass lines, glamorous locations, and exceptionally stylish production design. At every corner, you bump into something that has stood the test of time when it comes to the imagery of the franchise. That is clear from the off, as a canary yellow ski suit clad Moore makes his way down a mountain side, dispatching goons while he slaloms, culminating in a leap from a cliff edge to deploy a Union Jack parachute. Alan Partridge simply cannot contain himself.

The stylish action only grows from there, as Moore teams up with Barabba Bach’s Russian spy to track down a megalomaniac who wants to pull civilization into the sea (no, seriously, that’s the grand plan). From a striking set piece amidst the pyramids of Giza and one of the most outrageous villain lairs of them all, not to mention the introduction of Richard Kiel’s metal toothed henchman Jaws, The Spy Who Loved Me is not only the high point of Moore’s contribution to the franchise, but is one of the most entertaining entries full stop.

 

5 Casino Royale

After a four year hiatus following the over-blown Die Another Day, Bond was once again in dire need of reinvention. With the Bourne trilogy shifting spy-based action into a more grounded, character based approach, Casino Royale shifts towards a similar style, giving more layers to the character than ever before. With GoldenEye’s Martin Campbell back in the director’s chair, Casino Royale comes storming out the gate with a great deal of confidence, muscular action and in Daniel Craig, it has a Bond fit for the modern era.
Operating as a reboot of sorts, Casino Royale drops the quips and outlandish gadgets but keeps Dame Judi Dench, the tux and the cars, as Bond heads out on his first mission as a double-0. Tracking Mads Mikkelsen’s terrorist banker to a high stakes poker game, all the while falling for Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, the film is all about stripping Bond down to find the tortured man within. Craig is perfect for this approach, offering just enough sardonic humour and vulnerability to make this Bond a more tangible hero for post 9/11 audiences.

When the film was released, many were left eating their words after criticising Craig’s initial casting. He portrays a Bond who is driven by ego, fuelled by hard liquor. While he may get the job done, he’s going to be a bit of a wreck when all is said and done. It was one of the finer reboots of any pop cultural figure in recent memory, re-assessing the character to provide intrigue and a new distinctive flavour to the long running franchise.

 

4 Licence to Kill

The argument can be made that if there was no Licence to Kill, there would be no Daniel Craig or Casino Royale. The seeds for Craig’s more emotionally raw and vulnerable take can be traced back to both the martini sodden pages of Fleming’s novels, but also by the Bond’s that came before him, namely Timothy Dalton.

Licence to Kill was the first time the franchise aimed for something a little harder edged, with some bloody violence, drugs and swearing to boot. The R-rated nature of the proceedings may have seemed like a hard cocktail to swallow upon release, but time has been incredibly kind to Dalton’s second, and final, outing as 007. The film sees him untethered, going rogue to pursue brutal drug lord Franz Sanchez (a brilliant Robert Davi), after Sanchez leaves Felix Leiter (David Hedison) for dead on his wedding night.

It is significantly darker than any other Bond film that came before it, but the tone pairs well with Dalton’s more intense depiction of the character. There’s still notes of camp throughout, particularly supplied by Desmond Llewyn’s Q, who is much more involved here than in any other installment, but it doesn’t rob from the film’s impact. The action comes thick and fast, with some stunning stunts both up in the air and down on a desert road with a free-wheeling oil tanker. It’s a thrilling installment, and one that stands as a distinctive entry that physically wrangles with franchise expectation to deliver a dirtier cocktail with a hell of a kick.

 

3 Goldfinger

While it may not be top of this list, 1964’s Goldfinger is the film which epitomises what a Bond film is the most distinctly. For starters, Shirley Bassey’s thundering vocals and John Barry’s massive arrangements crafted a theme song gold standard for the series going forward. That is just the first ingredient that goes into the Bond formula that becomes fully formed across Goldfinger. There’s a slightly more outlandish approach to the gadgets with the introduction of the ejector seat, machine gun toting Aston Martin DB5, and it has a villain with a penchant for theatricality complete with laser beams, gold painting and bowler hat throwing henchmen. These elements would soon become the trademarks of the franchise, and it is Goldfinger that laid down the marker.

Connery is entirely in control of the role at this point, swaggering from scene to scene with exceptional style, tailored in some stunning suits and driving what remains one of the finest pairings of character and car in cinema. Beyond that, the film itself remains a fun spritely paced tale of espionage that provides big thrills, silly jokes and memorable characters. It is arguably the one that has been parodied the most, but that is only because of how big and bold it is for the franchise, offering a crowd-pleasing adventure oozing with 60’s style.

 

2 Skyfall

While Craig knocked it out the park in his first installment, his second go-around was a little bumpier, failing to quite capitalise on what made Casino Royale tick. His third outing, released on the 50th anniversary of the franchise, is one that manages to course correct his take on the character by crafting the perfect old fashioned. Skyfall is the most successful Craig’s run has been at crafting a Bond film that builds on the more introspective character approach, but also finds ways to bring in more classical Bond flavours without undermining Craig’s more nuanced approach.

After a mission goes awry, Bond is presumed dead and is quite happy to let that remain the case, hiding in a bottle until M comes under attack from a previous agent from a past life, the vengeful Silva (Javier Bardem) In Bardem, Craig has his first great Bond villain to contend with, while Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins make sure to craft the most stunning Bond movie yet, with some incredibly artful lighting driving the action sequences throughout. Craig himself also seems very at ease, giving his Bond a bit more of a dry sense of humour, while continuing to convince as a more human Bond who takes the hits and has to deal with the consequences.

 

1 From Russia With Love

Truly the crème de la crème of the franchise, From Russia With Love is the series at its classiest. It is a lean, mean spy thriller that thrusts Bond into a game of shadows with rival organisations to track down a piece of Soviet tech that could change the balance of the Cold War. Before the franchise slipped into more outlandish elements with the bigger Goldfinger, Connery’s second outing made it all about the spy game, one being played behind the scenes, a game that can sometimes get a little dirty.

It still has elements of the Bond formula, from the gadgets to the glamorous women and the bruising baddies, but it is more a tale of espionage, largely played straight and down to earth. It peppers in impactful action sequences as it travels across Istanbul and climbs aboard the Orient Express. Robert Shaw’s Red Grant remains one of Bond’s more intimidating adversaries, with their claustrophobic fight onboard the famous train standing as one of the franchise’s most intense and surprisingly brutal sequences that still packs one hell of a punch.

Time has only been kind to From Russia With Love, fermenting it like a fine wine across nearly 60 years. It stands as one of the great examples of 60’s blockbuster filmmaking. It is gorgeously designed, with great care taken in the details to make this one smooth elixir, right down to costume, music, action and pacing. It is an incredibly classy thriller that is Bond at his absolute finest.

 

Andrew Gaudion

Photo: © 2021 DANJAQ, LLC AND MGM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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