Sorry, but it had to be done. As I posted previously, horror and sci-fi are my two favourite film genres but, when it comes to excitement over a movie, nothing tops waiting in line to see the latest extravaganza featuring Ian Fleming‘s definitive gentleman spy. Here then are presented all 27 films (three of which are ‘unofficial’, ie not produced by Albert R. Broccoli or his descendants) in my personal order of preference, with some damn fine dialogue from each. Enjoy – and let the battles begin…
27. Casino Royale (1966) Dir. Val Guest, Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Richard Talmadge
Seriously, though, all you have to do is look at the list of directors involved in this ungodly mess, and you just know how bad it’s going to be. In fact, it’s worse – the late, great David Niven plays Sir James Bond, who comes out of retirement to battle SMERSH and take on Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) in a high-stakes game of baccarat. Trouble is, there’s more than one James Bond involved…I am sorry, but I don’t know how many times I have tried to watch this right to the end of its near-interminable 131 minutes and failed – and I adore James Bond. Only if you absolutely must.
Q’s Assistant: [showing Bond a pen] When the nib touches the paper it releases a stream of poisonous gas into the writer’s eye.
Evelyn Tremble/James Bond (Peter Sellars): Ideal if you want to send a…
Q’s Assistant: [chiming in wearily] …Poison pen letter, yes, all our agents say that, sir.
26. SPECTRE (2015) Dir. Sam Mendes
Sam, how could you? You gave the world the simply marvellous Skyfall (2012), then you followed it up with this utterly pants effort. SPECTRE (the organization that Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory fought so long and hard over who owned the rights to it) is back, but you wouldn’t really know – utterly pointless, unengaging and bloody silly. What a pity.
Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz): Why did you come?
James Bond: I came here to kill you.
Oberhauser: And I thought you came here to die.
James Bond: Well, it’s all a matter of perspective.
25. Die Another Day (2002) Dir. Lee Tamahori
Before Daniel Craig gave the franchise the reboot to top all reboots in Casino Royale (2006), Pierce Brosnan had achieved something similar for the 1990s, when he finally became Bond in Goldeneye (1995), following a six-year absence of 007 from our screens, during which time it was even suggested that James Bond might not return. Well, frankly, I wish that he hadn’t returned for this travesty – representing the 40th anniversary of the series, the film is filled with more in-jokes, references and simple stupidity than it knows what to do with, and Halle Berry as Jinx is just irritating. A shame that Brosnan had to go out on such a low note – his Goldeneye was excellent as was The World Is Not Enough (1999), but this, along with Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) (see below) was just godawful.
James Bond: [a device closes; cocks gun] So you lived to die another day… Colonel.
Graves: At last… I was beginning to think you would never guess.
James Bond: Was it painful? The gene therapy.
Graves: You couldn’t possibly imagine.
James Bond: Oh, good. I’m glad to hear that.
Graves: But there have been compensations, like you floating around in peril. Granting you life day by day just to see you get wise. It’s been fun.
James Bond: Well, the fun is about to come to a dead end.
24. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) Dir. Roger Spottiswoode
I’m giving Pierce a bit of a hard time here – don’t worry, I’ll make it up to him later. Displaying the unfortunate trend of taking their eyes off the ball when it came to following up on the enormous success of Goldeneye (1995), director Roger Spottiswoode and screenwriter Bruce Feirstein devised a fairly ludicrous set-up in which media mogul Elliot Carver (one of the series’ least charismatic villains, thanks to an also-ran performance by Jonathan Pryce) is set on starting war between the UK and China, in order to guarantee complete exclusivity of coverage for himself and his media corporation, Tomorrow. After the edgy excesses of Goldeneye, this was simply dull.
Elliot Carver: Ladies and Gentlemen, hold the presses! We have the perfect story in which to launch our satellite news network tonight. It seems a small crisis is brewing in the South China Sea! I want books, I want magazines, I want newspapers, I want us on the air 24 hours a day, this is our moment! And millions of people around the world are going to hear about, read about it, and learn about it from the Carver Media Group!
Elliot Carver: There’s no news, like bad news!
23. Casino Royale (1954) Dir. William H. Brown Jr
Included here for oddity value, this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novel was broadcast as part of the US TV thriller series Climax!, and featured Barry Nelson as American (?) spy James (Jimmy) Bond, whose mission it is to beat crime boss Le Chiffre (Peter Lorre) at cards. Surprisingly faithful in places to parts of Fleming’s yarn, it nevertheless simply does not work, due in no small part to the heresy of having a Yank play Bond. Barry Nelson passed away in 2007 – make sure you remember his name for the inevitable pub-quiz question.
[James Bond in bathtub. Zuroff is tying rope on him. Le Chiffre, Valerie, Basil enter bathroom]
Le Chiffre: All right Mr Bond where’s that money? Look Mr Bond, as you should know by now I…I’m quite without mercy and if you continue to be that obstinate, I…I’ll have to torture – you’ll be tortured to the edge of madness. Believe me. You have no hope whatsoever. You hear? None.
[Turns to face Valerie]
Le Chiffre: Nor has she.
22. Moonraker (1979) Dir. Lewis Gilbert
Before we get on to the old ‘Connery was so much better than Moore’ chestnut, let it be quickly known that I very much enjoyed Sir Roger Moore’s take on Bond in the seven films in which he appeared. Unfortunately, at least three of the films in question were by and large pants, through no fault of Moore’s – and Moonraker was the worst, no question. Released to coincide with the Star Wars mania that was sweeping the world, and having absolutely nothing to do with Fleming’s original novel, apart from its central villain Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale, who is actually the best thing in the film), this is all a bit silly, really.
Sir Frederick Gray, Minister of Defence: My God, what’s Bond doing?
Q: I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir.
21. Never Say Never Again (1983) Dir. Irvin Kershner
It seemed like a good idea at the time, sure enough – Sean Connery comes out of retirement as Bond in a remake of Thunderball (1964) which, along with Casino Royale at the time, was the only Bond story over which Fleming’s estate did not have complete rights, as the original was co-written by Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham. So, we revert to SPECTRE-stealing-nukes nonsense, and any number of in-jokes. Not really a very good testament to the earlier, marvellous work that Connery achieved as 007, but Max Von Sydow does make an impressive Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and Klaus Maria Brandauer a suitably threatening Maximilian Largo.
Largo: Do you lose as gracefully as you win?
James Bond: I don’t know, I’ve never lost.
20. A View to a Kill (1985) Dir. John Glen
Don’t worry, I do include more of Moore higher up the list, but, again, this really wasn’t much to write home about. An enigmatic performance from a young Christopher Walken as Max Zorin, who’s aiming to destroy California’s Silicon Valley to create his own microchip monopoly, and Grace Jones as his deadly lover May Day liven up proceedings somewhat, but that’s about it, as it was for Moore, whose last film as Bond this was.
James Bond: Well my dear, I take it you spend quite a lot of time in the saddle.
Jenny Flex: Yes, I love an early morning ride.
James Bond: Well, I’m an early riser myself.
19. The Living Daylights (1987) Dir. John Glen
And then, there was Dalton – the former Shakespearean thesp stepped into Bond’s shoes with quite some aplomb here, even if there was perhaps the sense that it would take him a few more films to truly make the role his own. In fact, he only had one more stab at it, with Licence to Kill (1989). This was very much a product of the advent of AIDS, with the emphasis much more on the romance between Bond and the ‘armed cellist’ Kara Milovy (the delectable Maryam D’Abo) than sex.
Saunders: I’m telling M you deliberately missed. Your orders were to kill that sniper.
James Bond: Stuff my orders! I only kill professionals. That girl didn’t know one end of a rifle from the other. Go ahead. Tell M what you want. If he fires me, I’ll thank him for it.
18. You Only Live Twice (1967) Dir. Lewis Gilbert
And so, the first of Connery’s official Bonds to feature. The action shifts to Japan, and we finally get to see the face of Ernst Stavro Blofeld – and it’s Donald Pleasence. Scripted by Roald Dahl and with an excellent volcano set and set-piece, this should have been one of the best Bonds, but Connery was growing tired of the role, and it shows. He was to make a triumphant return, however…
Blofeld: James Bond. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld. They told me you were assassinated in Hong Kong.
James Bond: Yes, this is my second life.
Blofeld: You only live twice, Mr. Bond.
17. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) Dir. Guy Hamilton
Officially, the first of the ‘fun’ Bonds (my vote, in fact, goes to Goldfinger (1964) in that category), and marked by the camp excesses that were either to plague or improve (depending on your own perspective) the films during the Moore years, this is still a very enjoyable romp, featuring the last fully fledged turn from Connery. While, strictly speaking, Bond is out to avenge the death of his wife Theresa at the hands of Blofeld (Charles Gray), this is hardly referenced in the film at all, probably to distance it from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) in which, as everyone knows, Bond was not played by Connery. Very much of its time, its camp villains Mr Wint and Mr Kidd are still among the series’ high notes.
Sir Donald Munger: Tell me, Commander, how far does your expertise extend into the field of diamonds?
James Bond: Well, hardest substance found in nature, they cut glass, suggests marriage, I suppose it replaced the dog as the girl’s best friend. That’s about it.
M: Refreshing to hear that there is one subject you’re not an expert on, 007…
16. Licence to Kill (1989) Dir. John Glen
Without doubt, the most brutal Bond yet made – Timothy Dalton returned to the role out for revenge on evil drugs lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), who has mutilated his friend Felix Leiter and murdered Leiter’s wife. The only film of the series to be given a ’15’ certificate in the UK (and it had to be trimmed to avoid an ‘R’ in the US), this is as vicious as Bond has got.
[Felix is being lowered into a pool full of sharks]
Franz Sanchez: I just want you to know that this is nothing personal. It’s purely business.
Felix Leiter: Killing me won’t stop anything, Sanchez!
Franz Sanchez: There are worse things than dying, hombre.
[Lowers him into the shark pit]
Felix Leiter: See you in hell!
Franz Sanchez: No, no. Today is the first day of the rest of your life!
15. Octopussy (1983) Dir. John Glen
This should have been the film that Moore finished on – a fun, fast and furious Fabergé eggs folly, with playwright Steven Berkoff chewing the scenery as General Orlov, who plans to bring NATO to its knees. Unusually, Maud Adams makes a second appearance (after The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)) as a Bond girl, namely the titular Octopussy.
Kamal Khan: You seem to have this nasty habit of surviving.
James Bond: You know what they say about the fittest.
14. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) Dir. Guy Hamilton
With the exception of Auric Goldfinger, this had perhaps the best villain of any Bond film, namely Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga. Rumour has it that Lee was in the original running for the Bond role, but missed out – but he made up for it with his portrayal of the world’s leading assassin, who may (or may not) have Bond in his sights.
Francisco Scaramanga: You get as much pleasure out of killing as I do, so why don’t you admit it?
James Bond: I admit killing you would be a pleasure.
Francisco Scaramanga: Then you should have done that when you first saw me. On the other hand, the English don’t consider it sporting to kill in cold blood, do they?
James Bond: Don’t count on that.
13. The World Is Not Enough (1999) Dir Michael Apted
A really big, bolshy and exciting entry from Pierce Brosnan, this, and I so wish that it had been his last (see my thoughts above on Die Another Day (2002)). Although Denise Richards is annoying as Dr. ‘Christmas’ Jones, Sophie Marceau is seductively evil and Robert Carlyle wonderfully vicious as Renard.
Renard: She’s beautiful isn’t she? You should have had her before, when she was innocent. How does it feel to know that I broke her in for you?
[Bond gets angry and pistol-whips Renard across the forehead. Renard falls to the ground]
James Bond: [as he puts the silencer on his P99] I usually hate killing an unarmed man. Cold-blooded murder is a filthy business.
Renard: A man tires of being executed.
James Bond: But in your case, I feel nothing, just like you.
Renard: But then again, there’s no point living if you can’t feel alive?
12. Quantum of Solace (2008) Dir. Marc Forster
OK, OK, it wasn’t as good as Casino Royale, but still damn good for all that, in this reviewer’s opinion. The first direct sequel in the history of the franchise, QofS sees our hero going off the rails in his efforts to avenge the death of Vesper Lynd. Or is he? Mathieu Almaric gives a striking performance as the environmental crusader who has much to conceal, Dominic Greene. For me, a very good template for how the franchise should proceed.
M: If you could avoid killing every possible lead, it would be deeply appreciated.
James Bond: I’ll do my best.
M: I’ve heard that before.
11. Goldeneye (1995) Dir. Martin Campbell
Martin Campbell is certainly a man who seems to know how to rejuvenate Bond – this was his first effort and, along with the introduction of Dame Judi Dench as ‘M’, set the series in the direction it looks likely to follow for some time yet. Brosnan slips into the role a treat, and Sean Bean as ‘006-turned-traitor’ is a lot of fun too.
Natalya Simonova: How can you be so cold?
James Bond: It’s what keeps me alive.
Natalya Simonova: No. It’s what keeps you alone.
10. For Your Eyes Only (1981) Dir. John Glen
With the possible exception of Live and Let Die (1973), this was Moore’s finest hour as Bond. Moving away from the silliness of Moonraker (1979), John Glen’s film introduces a romantic angle to Moore’s performance – he is visiting his dead wife’s grave at the film’s beginning, for example. And the international conspiracy is more rooted in reality, too, concerning efforts by East and West to get their hands on an invaluable encryption device. Carole Bouquet, too, is suitably willowy and winsome as fiery damsel-in-distress Melina Havelock.
Bibi: That’s a laugh. Everyone knows it builds up muscle tone.
James Bond: Well, how about you build up a little more muscle tone by putting on your clothes?
Bibi: Don’t you like me?
James Bond: [Wearily] Why, I think you’re wonderful, Bibi…But I don’t think your Uncle Aris would approve.
Bibi: Him? He thinks I’m still a virgin.
James Bond: Yes, well…get your clothes on, and I’ll buy you an ice cream.
9. Thunderball (1965) Dir. Terence Young
Remade as Never Say Never Again (1983), see above, this was by far the better film, and was to be original master director Terence Young’s last association with the series. Exciting, charged, and a brutal edge to Connery’s performance.
[after making love to the evil Fiona Volpe]
James Bond: My dear girl, don’t flatter yourself. What I did this evening was for Queen and country. You don’t think it gave me any pleasure, do you?
Fiona: But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue…
[she steps on Bond’s foot]
Fiona: … but not this one!
8. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) Dir. Lewis Gilbert
The first Bond to have nukes actually explode, this was a fun romp concerning East-West ‘relations’, and was also the film that introduced ‘Jaws’ (Richard Keil), who reprised his role in Moonraker (1979), but the less said about that, the better. By now, Moore had made the role his own, and it showed.
James Bond: Oh, by the way, thanks for deserting me back there.
Major Anya Amasova: Every woman for herself, remember?
James Bond: Still, you did save my life.
Major Anya Amasova: We all make mistakes, Mr. Bond.
7. Live and Let Die (1973) Dir. Guy Hamilton
Moore exploded into the role with this, which is still one of the darkest, with its voodoo overtones and creepy villains. Jane Seymour is the tarot reader whose powers Bond, ahem, ‘removes’, and Yaphet Kotto is more than suitably menacing as Mr Big/Kananga. A new Bond was on the block, no question.
Mr. Big: [to his men] Is THIS the stupid mother who tailed you uptown?
James Bond: There seems to be some mistake. My name is…
Mr. Big: Names is for tombstones, baby! Y’all take this honkey out and WASTE HIM! NOW!
6. Dr No (1962) Dir. Terence Young
‘Bond. James Bond.’ No sooner were those words out, than a legend was born. Legend has it that Fleming did not originally approve of the casting of Connery, but was so impressed by the work he saw here, that he wrote a lineage for Bond involving Scots parents, who were killed in a climbing accident, rendering Bond an orphan. And the first film is still very enjoyable, with Joseph Wiseman (who only died recently) setting the template for all Bond villains to follow, and Ursula Andress doing the same for the Bond girls with her emergence from the ocean.
[Professor Dent tries to kill Bond, but his gun is out of bullets]
James Bond: That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.
[shoots Dent twice]
5. Goldfinger (1964) Dir. Guy Hamilton
For me, this is still perhaps the most fun to be had watching Bond; Gert Frobe as gold-obsessed madman Goldfinger is one of the best-ever villains, and who has the best quote in any Bond film, see below. And, of course, there’s Oddjob (Harold Sakata ‘Tosh Togo’) and ‘Golden Girl’ Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton). What’s not to like?
James Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Auric Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.
4. From Russia With Love (1963) Dir. Terence Young
Connery is Bond – never more sure of himself in the character than here, which also features a great performance from Robert Shaw as the SPECTRE-trained assassin, Donald ‘Red’ Grant, who’s on Bond’s trail, but who unfortunately doesn’t know which wine to order with fish. Daniela Bianchi is simply gorgeous as Tatiana Romanova, the girl who’s under SPECTRE’s orders herself to begin with, until Bond has his way with her, of course, and the film as a whole is up there with the series’ very, very best.
James Bond: Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.
Donald ‘Red’ Grant: You may know the right wines, but you’re the one on your knees. How does it feel old man?
3. Skyfall (2012) Dir. Sam Mendes
A credible, adult, highly intelligent and thrilling white-knuckle journey into what it means to be Bond, this needs nothing more to be said about it than my review.
James Bond: Everyone needs a hobby…
Raoul Silva: So what’s yours?
James Bond: Resurrection.
2. Casino Royale (2006) Dir. Martin Campbell
The rumours were flying around thick and fast ahead of the release of Campbell’s film – that the famous ‘gunbarrel’ opening that had preceded every previous Bond film was going to be explained (check), that the story was going to go back to Bond’s beginnings, to explain how James became 007 (check) and that there was going to be a genuine relationship at the story’s core, something that had not been done since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) (check). But what nobody saw coming, least of all the CraigIsNotBond online morons, was just how good Daniel Craig was going to be as a Bond for the 21st century that was still very much faithful to Fleming’s original vision. To wit – Bond does not like what he does for a living, but he is a professional and, if you place him at risk, he will kill you. Also beautifully incorporated was the genuine romance between him and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), his thorny relationship with M (Dame Judi Dench) who is yet unsure as to whether she can trust her latest ’00’ recruit, and Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre, one of the series’ finest bad-guy portrayals. Oh, and yes, it has *that* torture scene…
James Bond: [naked and laughing – after being struck five times between his legs with a knotted rope] Now the whole world’s gonna know that you died scratching my balls!
Le Chiffre: [holding the rope over one shoulder] Oh… I died? I died?
James Bond: [laughing] Yeah! ‘Cause no matter what you do, I’m not gonna give you the password which means your clients are gonna hunt you down and cut you into little pieces of meat while you’re still breathing. Because if you kill me, there’ll be nowhere else to hide.
Le Chiffre: [rounds on Bond] But you are SO WRONG! ‘Cause even after I slaughtered you and your little girlfriend, your people would still welcome me with open arms… because they need… what I know.
James Bond: [quietly] The big picture.
[in another room, Vesper screams. Bond and Le Chiffre notice this]
Le Chiffre: Give me the password, and I will at least let her live.
[slaps Bond on the cheek again]
Le Chiffre: Bond, do it soon enough and she might even be in one piece.
[Bond considers this, then looks at Le Chiffre and laughs. Le Chiffre laughs as well, and realizes that Bond will not give in to the torture]
Le Chiffre: You *really* aren’t going to tell me, are you?
James Bond: [laughing] No.
And the winner is…
1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) Dir. Peter R. Hunt
Truth be told, this and Martin Campbell’s wonderful Casino Royale (2006) were/are in the running for first place – Australian model George Lazenby didn’t exactly have charisma in spades when he stepped into Connery’s shoes, but what he did have was natural grace, cat-like physical agility and a sincerity he brought to the role, which fitted in very well with the story’s romantic and tragic aspects. Plus, the film is far and away the most faithful to Fleming’s original, and has in Diana Rigg’s Tracy the series’ most beautiful ‘Bond girl’, though she was of course destined to be far more than that. Plus, in Telly Savalas as Blofeld, the character had a raw physical intensity and, of course, you have *that* ending, which every subsequent Bond film before the Casino Royale reboot referenced, and which gave Bond the tragedy that was so necessary to his enigmatic character. As Lazenby says, ‘breaking the fourth wall’ just before the opening credits: “This never happened to the other fella!” Too true, too true.
James Bond: [Tracy has just been shot and killed] It’s all right. It’s quite all right, really. She’s having a rest. We’ll be going on soon. There’s no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world.