After over six months of rewatching every single James Bond movie the time has finally come to sit down and officially rank all 25 official EON production James Bond films. As discussed many times over on That Bond Show I love this series, warts and all. James Bond has been a constant in my life since I was 5 years old. For a quarter of a century now I’ve watched, debated, and talked about these movies and characters.
I’ve done these big rewatch and rankings multiple times over the years, but this is my first time rewatching everything and updating my ranking in a decade, by far the longest gap. There were a number of surprises on this most recent rewatch, some disappointments, and some really fun improvements in my feelings on other movies. This whole James Bond project has been one of my favorite things I’ve done and I’m so thankful for all of you, and my amazing That Bond Show co-host Trevor Starkey for sharing this journey with me. Anyway, let’s bring it to a close for the time being with my rankings.
25. The Man with the Golden Gun (1973)
The Man with the Golden Gun is not a good movie. Indeed it is the worst of the worst for the entire Bond series, only one other movie even comes close to being as blagh as this. Roger Moore was still figuring out his Bond for his first couple of movies and here delivers possibly his worst performance as Bond, veering too hard into asshole territory that just doesn’t work for the kind of actor Roger is.
Uncharming, gross, aggressive Bond falls utterly flat. Mary Goodnight is easily one of, if not the, weakest characters that’s been paired up with Bond, the writers giving her no chance and turning her into a bumbling and silly damsel in distress. The film veers into racist tropes again and again and takes a great premise, the world’s greatest spy vs the world’s greatest killer and somehow turns it into a meandering story about the energy crisis. Just baffling choices.
Really the lone bright spot is Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga as the titular man with the golden gun. Lee is great and his scenes with Moore are some of the only ones that Roger seems to really shine in, but Lee is in far too little of this film. Just a mess and the bottom of the barrel.
24. Moonraker (1979)
As I said on the pod, I think Moonraker might have the single worst 3rd act of any Bond movie. Bond in space has always been unforgivable for me, whether as a kid or now as a 30 year old man it’s a truly awful decision and it dooms this film.
Even before we get to the series low of the film’s finale though, Moonraker largely just muddles along in a fine but bland showing. It doesn’t help that it’s a retread of the prior film, The Spy Who Loves Me, in a lot of ways. Moonraker just has no energy or drive to it. It oftentimes is its own worst enemy.
Its pre-title sequence is ruined by the dumb gag at the end. Them stripping Jaws of so much of his menace, introducing Holly as a great foil for Bond but rarely using her. Hugo Drax is such a forgettable baddie and the movie really begins to show the strain of the original Bond team burning out and just being creatively spent.
Moonraker would start the rapid decline in quality of the Roger Moore films and Rogers increased boredom in the role. When Roger is on he is a fun, engaging, presence who can light up a screen, but his cool indifference can veer into bored and checked out performances very quickly.
Plus the space based ending is truly out of this world awful. Just horribly horribly bad in understanding what makes James Bond special.
It just keeps out of the bottom spot.
23. For Your Eyes Only (1981
This was for a long time my bottom pick so look at FYEO slowly making its climb to the top! In all seriousness I think there is a bit of a jump for the bottom two movies to this. For Your Eyes Only is a slow, mostly chill, uneventful time but is a prime example of a lazy Sunday Bond movie.
It’s probably Roger Moore’s last truly good performance as Bond and he is much more engaged with these proceedings than he was in Moonraker.
This is one of the most forgettable films within the series but it has some great moments, from Roger kicking the car off the cliffs, to the final mountaintop climb and base assault, For Your Eyes Only is at its strongest at the end.
I just wish they hadn’t felt the need for Bond and Melina to end up together, because it takes this more father/daughter familial bond we’ve seen for most of the movie and throws it away.
It’s plain but largely fine.
22. Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Diamonds is not a good movie, but then it’s not really trying to be either. This is a B-tier cheesy comedy, the Bond movie that leans the most into camp and absurdity. It doesn’t really work as a James Bond movie at all, but instead as a comedy in the vein of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World.
This was perhaps THE Bond movie that would most benefit from having watched it with my That Bond Show co-host Trevor. Just getting to constantly riff on it and turn it into an almost Rocky Horror Picture Show-esque viewing was a great time.
But with performances like Charles Gray as Blofeld or the truly stellar characters of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd who cares. The movie that created the expression “they know what kind of movie they are in” that me and Trevor would use throughout the rest of the series.
If for nothing else Diamonds are Forever has that and the fact that the series’ campiest installment happened not with Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan, but the legend himself, Sean Connery.
21. Octopussy (1983)
I think Diamonds are Forever is the last outright bad Bond movie. We’ve entered the next tier of Bond movies now. Indeed I actually expected Octopussy to be higher up on my list and it was a bit of a toss-up between this and the movie directly above it but ultimately Octopussy is just slightly weaker. It’s rarely bad, but it’s mostly just a sleepy, “this is ok” movie.
The Indian setting is great, if perhaps not as well used as it could have been. Kamal Khan and Gobinda are more memorable than most of Moore’s villains but still short of being truly great. Octopussy is sort of a strange one. Campy and goofy but also serious and straightforward. The movie with Bond doing a Tarzan yell, telling a tiger to sit, and dressing up as a clown, yet also never really that fun or silly. It is this odd hodgepodge of things that mostly work fine but very rarely amaze.
Not the final silly Moore movie I wanted it to be.
20. SPECTRE (2015)
I just don’t like this movie. There are things I can point to that bug me, mostly concentrated in the last act. I think almost all of the Blofeld story I find outright bad, and Christoph Waltz is wasted.
Really SPECTRE is a story of a movie where its individual parts are good enough, but taken together as a whole, it’s a story and a film I really can’t vibe with. Easily one of the Bond movies I would least want to watch. It’s a largely unfun, grim experience and a massive misstep after the greatness of Skyfall.
Just what a swing and a miss. I don’t mind the idea of James and Swann driving off together though, that’s a good idea for an ending for that character. But on the whole this is easily one of my least favorite 007 experiences.
19. A View to a Kill (1985)
To be open I’ve gone back and forth a great deal on this and the film ranked right above it. Ultimately I’ve got A View to a Kill that little bit lower because despite how fun it is, it’s not really a good movie.
Actually, it’s a bit of an outright mess. So much of A View to a Kill is just lifted by the utterly bizarre and strange performances of Christopher Walken as Max Zorin and Grace Jones as May Day.
The two have this very odd and strange chemistry and each is playing their characters like they are almost from another movie. Grace Jones as May Day in particular is not giving a good acting performance but that inadvertently plays into her character’s mythos and general weirdness in really effective ways.
As for Christopher Walken, his Zorin is unhinged, all over the place, and truly insane in a way a Bond villain hasn’t been in years at this point. He is a glorious cartoon villain and is always captivating to watch.
Yet, so much else of A View to a Kill decidedly doesn’t work. Roger Moore who has been too old, sluggish, and bored by the role of James Bond for years now, is clearly just done with all things 007 and delivers a complete phone in job here. This is easily his most listless and one note performance and is right alongside his performance in Golden Gun as the very worst of his tenure.
None of this is helped by the fact that he is surrounded by such a strikingly young cast. Walken, Jones, and particularly Moore’s female co-star Tanya Roberts are decades younger. The contrast between Moore and Roberts is particularly devastating for Moore who is older than Roberts’ mother.
Roberts also fares pretty rough though. Her Stacy Stutton is for all purposes the archetypal damsel in distress Bond girl and is basically just tasked with needing saving throughout the film. Her chemistry with Moore is rough at best and she just can’t compete with so much else happening around her.
Despite all of that, A View to a Kill is fun. It’s a good time, you can’t help but nod along and enjoy yourself when watching this film. It’s not great but it’s leagues better than some of the other films we’ve gone over and in many ways defines the back half of Moore’s tenure. No longer even pretending that Roger is doing any of the stunts or fights, almost all drama removed from it, save one shockingly brutal sequence, and largely just a straight comedy, A View to a Kill is a moment where the series was in dire need of a reset but still managing to have one last laugh on the way out the door.
18. You Only Live Twice (1967)
One of my childhood favorite James Bond movies. A film of such Bond lore and myths around it. From Blofeld’s face being finally revealed, to Bond’s death and resurrection, Bond sorta falling for someone, and the epic absurd, and instantly iconic volcano lair at the film’s finale, You Only Live Twice had so much that little Loggy wanted from a Bond film. That’s all in addition to it being the Infinity War for the Connery era, what so much had built up to.
The only problem is that it’s severely damaged by so many behind the scenes aspects. Sean Connery, the man I and so many others view as THE James Bond was just so clearly burned out and exhausted by this point in time and is only half there for stretches of this movie. The constant media attention and Beatlemania-like craziness around him and his time as Bond had come to a breaking point and he announced midway through filming he’d be leaving the role after it wrapped. That comes across in his performance.
Elsewhere the script constantly fails the movie, which is presented almost as a travelogue to Japan more than a straight forward movie at times and YOLT constantly stumbles over its handling of Japanese culture.
The movie meanders, slowly builds, and just walks along for the first 2/3rds of proceedings before finally sparking alive in its iconic and action packed finale, which – while almost universally excellent – also can’t lift what came before it.
I’d watch the last 30 minutes of this movie all the time if I could, but getting there is rough, and as I grow older, the film’s flaws begin to increase while its strengths largely fall to just the ending. That ending is still excellent and while it pains my nostalgic affection for the film to have it this low, it is just the weakest of the first 5 Connery films.
That ending and lair is top tier though.
17. Quantum of Solace (2008)
What a weird strange movie Quantum of Solace is.
On the one hand, it’s not nearly as bad as some of its detractors claim. Its opening theme is fine and it’s hardly the series low some people talk about it as. On the other hand though, it is very much a product of a slapdash script, a number of baffling and distracting direction choices, and a failure to really nail down a reason to be. Quantum threads the line between the bad/weak tier and the ok/good one.
Firstly let’s talk about Marc Forster, the man who claims the title as the weakest Bond director. His quick cuts and bizarre framing, particularly during the pre-title sequence and its immediate aftermath, is a trippy, confusing and muddled mess that just pulls you out of what should be a tense and exciting sequence and instead constantly has you trying to piece together what is even going on.
Dominic Greene is arguably the weakest Bond villain in the entire series canon, utterly forgettable and bland and possibly superseded by another baddie in his own movie. Greene’s only moments of on-screen presence come in his final ax-swinging manic fight with Bond.
I actually like Camille and think they treat the relationship between her and Bond really well. I love the fact that the two don’t pursue a romantic connection, yet she is a bit too in and out of everything and swings a little too much from talented badass and rookie newbie for my taste.
As for Craig’s Bond, he is definitely angrier and quieter than in Casino Royale. While that makes sense given what he is going through, it can also make for a less than enjoyable experience at times. And for all of the action sequences in Quantum: Bond has car, boat, plane, and foot chases, none are particularly standout or well shot, save for a quick brutal fist fight Bond has with a random goon.
And that’s Quantum, a host of good ideas not executed terribly, but also not done brilliantly. It just sneaks into being a fine if forgettable Bond film. One dwarfed by the masterpieces both directly before and after it.
16. The World is Not Enough (1999)
The World is Not Enough was the first 007 misstep in the post Roger Moore era, a movie trying to balance the sillier and more tongue in cheek nature of Roger’s films with the desire to tell more mature and dramatic stories.
It doesn’t particularly execute either brilliantly. Certainly the jokes and one-liners are more often than not cringy and eye-roll inducing. Indeed, this one film has seemed to have had a larger impact on Pierce Brosnan’s cultural legacy and public perception as Bond than any other, with the numerous Brosnan era Bond games pulling from this one-liner spewing cheesy Bond than his more dramatic performances elsewhere in the series.
All of which is a shame, because this version of Bond is honestly an outlier for Brosnan. Even as it is, Brosnan is yet again great as Bond and delivers an emotional and vulnerable portrayal of 007, particularly in relation to his relationship with Elektra King.
The World is Not Enough occupies an uneasy middle ground in the Bond series. Serving almost as the last gasp of the classic era of Bond while also continuing the trend toward where the Craig era would take us. Like most bridges in the series, it struggles to pull off the transition perfectly but serves a key role.
If for nothing else The World is Not Enough gave us a beautiful final performance by longtime series Q, Desmond Llewelyn who would tragically pass away shortly after filming. With his passing and the subsequent turn into the new millennium, the Bond series would turn a major chapter in its history.
15. Thunderball (1965)
I can think of no better spot for Thunderball than for it to come right smack in the middle grouping of Bond films. My That Bond show co-host Trevor hated this movie and couldn’t get over its slow, plodding, mess of a last act. And that’s fair, Thunderball’s strong suit is not its ending, particularly the unimaginably long underwater sequence.
But I do find something enjoyable about Thunderball. It was a Bond movie I really liked as a kid, with this perhaps the most SPECTRE-focused of any single film in the series. Indeed, while the film has slowly drifted away from its former lofty spot in my rankings, it is a Bond movie I view as a great example of just a lazy Sunday morning film to have on.
It has few real moments of excitement or energy and instead contentedly drifts along at a pleasant if unspectacular pace. It’s hard to pin down but there’s a charm here. Thunderball almost reminds me of when sitcoms do a vacation or camp episode. Everything just feels more chill and low energy. Honestly it feels like the cast and crew just wanted an excuse to film in the Caribbean. But it all gives the film this sunny, low stakes charm.
The movie needs it too, because those underwater sequences that define so much of this film (again, 20 percent of Thunderball is underwater) constantly bring things to a screeching halt. Particularly at Thunderballs conclusion, it becomes so easy to lose interest and focus on what is happening on screen.
Still, Emilio Largo, one of the creators of the femme fatale archetype in Fiona Volpe, and just a sunny beach Bond adventure take Thunderball to 15th on the list.
14. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
What a weird movie OHMSS is. I feel a bit like the man without a camp in the internet debate over it. Easily one of the most divisive and fought over Bond movies, the critical reception around this film and slow cult following it has achieved has been interesting to see. OHMSS is by no means the worst Bond movie and in director Peter Hunt’s hands, has a more art house style to it.
Indeed through the first 15 years of the series arguably no other movie has as unique a visual style as OHMSS. In Dianna Rigg’s hands, Tracy Bond comes alive and delivers the finest female lead the series had to that date. Romantic and utterly her own character, she pierces through Bond’s armor and turns the movie into a romantic drama for an act.
With Telly Savalas’ Blofeld we get arguably the best acting performance of the character, even if Donald Pleasance is still my personal favorite.
All that said, George Lazenby is not good. Much has been said about OHMSS and I agree with a fair amount of it, but for me, so much of it is dragged back down by Lazenby. And only so much of it is his fault. George Lazenby never should have been in this situation to begin with. This is for all intents and purposes his first ever acting gig and he performs about as good as could be hoped given those circumstances, but compared to Rigg and Savalas in their scenes together he is clearly outclassed.
He is further hurt by being sandwiched between the respective tenures of Connery and Moore. Having to step into Connery’s shoes in particular was going to be a lose-lose for anyone but the contrast is so striking with Lazenby that it becomes impossible to ignore.
For what it’s worth OHMSS is also one of the Bond movies I would least want to put on and watch for fun.
An important movie, a daring one, and one arguably ahead of its time, OHMSS is not in the bottom grouping of Bond movies, but a lackluster and in over his head performance by George Lazenby keeps it from soaring above the middle of the pack.
13. No Time to Die (2021)
I think it is altogether fitting that No Time to Die finds itself just above On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a movie it is unabashedly inspired and influenced by. In some ways NTTD is the Daniel Craig Bond movie most emblematic of his tenure as 007. Somber, a tad messy, and smashing into uncharted territory with the character in both great and…less great ways, it is utterly a Craig Bond movie.
It is fittingly the only “good” Daniel Craig Bond movie as well. WIth Quantum and Spectre in ok or bad turf and Casino Royale and Skyfall in masterpiece territory.
I know for most people, their thoughts on NTTD are going to come down to the film’s instantly divisive and controversial conclusion, yet there is a lot going on before that point in what is far and away the longest Bond movie.
I think for what the film is designed to be, a farewell to Daniel Craig’s much debated, complex, brooding James Bond, No Time to Die delivers a beautiful and highly emotionally charged finale, even if it’s uneven in going there.
Also, its usage of the OHMSS theme throughout the film might be the greatest instance of the Bond franchiseusing its sixty-year history the series has ever seen. An inspired choice that left a shiver of melancholy, foreboding, and sunny tragedy to the film.
Curious to see how I feel about this film with more distance.
12. Dr. No (1962)
These next four films I spent more time debating and thinking about than any other part of this list. All four are good Bond movies, each with its own distinct flaw that keeps them just out of the truly great tier but still easily the best of the rest. Ultimately after a lot of thought I decided to start off with the first ever James Bond film, Dr. No.
Now let’s address the elephant in the room right away, this is not me saying that Dr. No isn’t a fundamentally important and crucial entry in the Bond series canon. Indeed, as the first ever 007 film it laid the foundation that the entire 25-film and 60-year franchise is based off of. For that alone, its legacy and impact is secure.
But, this isn’t a ranking of the most important Bond films, where Dr. No would obviously be in the top 5 or 6. Instead it’s me ranking the best films and Dr. No can be rough at times. Indeed rough is probably the word that best fits the film. Everyone is still figuring out what this thing is. The villain isn’t introduced until about the last 20 minutes of the film, the co-lead in Honey Ryder doesn’t show up until the last act, there is no pre-title sequence, the Jamaica setting is nice but hardly spectacular, and the direction is straightforward and simple, save one key exception: James Bond’s on-screen introduction is utter cinematic perfection, brilliantly staged and performed.
At the heart of it all though is the incredibly raw performance by Sean Connery. I could obviously write a book about Sean Connery as James Bond (there’s an idea) but one thing I find particularly fascinating about his James is how the character was constantly evolving and changing over time. Whereas Roger Moore was basically playing the same finished product for most of his run, or Pierce Brosnan nailed and just slightly tweaked his Bond over time, Connery’s was constantly shifting and transforming. Where his Bond goes between here and Diamonds are Forever is a gap the size of an ocean. Even the image of Connery’s James Bond that burned into pop culture forever really only existed for two or so movies. The impact of Goldfinger is massive.
Here in Dr. No though, he is raw, very young (just 32 years old), and just exudes a balance of danger and power the series has never matched again. He is captivating to watch grow into Bond. But that’s the thing: Dr. No is that first tentative step into a larger world. Its legacy is the series it spawned and the films that improved on what it started off with, not it being the best of them all.
11. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
People don’t admit when they are wrong enough. Let me play my small part in helping to fix that. I was wrong about Tomorrow Never Dies. Contrary to what I have said for most of my life, this movie is a great time. Closer to GoldenEye’s vibe and style than it is given credit for, featuring a great performance by Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin and a similarly important one by Terri Hatcher, the film continues the legacy of GoldenEye by attempting to tell a more emotionally complex Bond story. Indeed the history of the Brosnan Bond films is one focused on the emotional damage and consequences of James and all those women and Tomorrow more than holds its own there.
I was so surprised by how much I dug this 90’s ass Bond flick. I couldn’t help but smile throughout. Elliot Carver is still a blah baddie, more of a throwback to the forgettable Moore era goons I think and Stamper is just the newest iteration of the Big, Bad, Blonde Euro trope the series loves. For what it’s worth, he’s also one of the last as well.
On the plus side we also get Dr. Kaufman, an utterly absurd and yet wonderfully brilliant character who in his five minutes on screen injects so much charm into things. In my review of Tomorrow for this very site I described how the film doesn’t do anything groundbreaking or revolutionary for the Bond series. Instead it just sought to do every single aspect of a Bond film as good as it could be done and it gets close in many ways.
While Tomorrow Never Dies just misses out on the top 10, it is a really well made good movie all the way through. Consistent and well crafted, it should be far more favorably remembered than it is.
10. Die Another Day (2002)
Let’s start off the top 10 with what I’m sure will be the most divisive and debated of any entry. Die Another Day is a ton of fun. I know people will bemoan “but the invisible car” and that is just a nothing argument to me. The much maligned final Bond movie from Pierce Brosnan captures so much of the magic and fun lighthearted joy of some of the best Bond movies while updating things for the 21st century.
Indeed this film is probably one of the most influential in terms of its impact on a generation of Bond fans and how they view the series. For even if you don’t enjoy Die Another Day itself you probably enjoy the swarm of video games all around it that take much of this film’s sense of fun and enjoyment.
Honestly I would probably rather pop in this movie over the Bond flick that just beats it out to the number 9 spot, but just couldn’t lift it any higher due to Die Another Day’s major failing: the baddies in it.
Zao is a great henchman and one rife with so much chemistry and potential with Pierce. Sadly, he is pushed aside after Gustav Graves’ introduction midway into the film and then killed off, after an admittedly great car chase sequence, in rather unceremonious and early fashion.
Miranda Frost is a wonderful new adaptation of the femme fatale archetype, but Gustav Graves is just so…blah and bland. He is so forgettable and one note and the brief glimpse we get of him as Col. Moon always leaves me more excited than the faux Brit we get for the rest of the movie.
Elsewhere John Cleese is great fun as the new Q, Halle Berry is of course excellent as Jinx, a character I really enjoy, and the movie experiments and tries new things – see its excellent and dark pre-title sequence and theme.
Ultimately, I don’t know, Die Another Day is just a trip and prolly the last unabashedly fun and casual Bond film we’ve got.
9. Licence to Kill
The film that might still hold the title of the darkest and most brutal Bond film, Licence to Kill has gone on a long journey from film that nearly killed the series to beloved cult classic.
First and foremost we must talk about how excellent Timothy Dalton is as James Bond. One of the joys of this most recent rewatch was getting to see just how much I enjoyed his take on Bond. Here in Licence to Kill, we get what feels like the ultimate dream of the darker, more brutal, and melancholic Bond that we got teases of in The Living Daylights.
Licence is in many many ways an 80’s action film more than a classic Bond story. With both 007 operating as a rogue agent on a revenge mission and the tropes of so many Arnold and Sly films of the era peppered in (shoutout to a literal roadhouse fight scene). Licence has a very different feel than anything before it.
That difference is a strength more often than not. Robert Davi and Benicio Del Toro are simply electric and instantly iconic as Franz Sanchez and Dario, easily two of the very greatest Bond villains and on a very short list of the best villain pairings of any Bond film.
Davi and Dalton’s chemistry and on-screen time together forms the backbone of the film. I honestly feel like very few, if any, Bond and big bad get as much time together as these two and Bond’s Punisher-esque mission to take down Sanchez from the inside is brilliant and unnerving and just generally bloody.
Licence to Kill definitely isn’t for the faint of heart and there are certainly a few sequences of particular gruesomeness that make this so utterly of its time.
In the end it is a blood soaked, brutal, brilliant, finale for the far far too short tenure of Timothy Dalton’s time as James Bond and one of the most unique and unforgettable Bond films.
8. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
The Spy Who Loved Me is pure cinema baby. 45 years after it came out it remains one of the most beautifully shot and striking of all Bond films. In many ways it was the first truly artful Bond film in a decade. In Lewis Gilbert’s expert hands we get a lovely and well-framed film that features numerous breathtaking shots, with the night time Pyramid scene a particular favorite.
The Spy Who Loved Me is so much more than that. It remains one of the greatest Bond love stories to date, in some ways superior to the much talked about OHMSS, for the ease of intimacy between James and Anya.
Roger Moore is at his absolute coolest as a suave, funny, and utterly witty and charming James, putting forth his most confident and self-assured performance as 007.
Alongside him we get possibly the series’ most iconic and enduring henchman in Jaws, played by a menacing and seemingly unstoppable Richard Kiel. Whereas in Moonraker, he is played for laughs, in Spy they nail the ominous nature of Jaws perfectly.
A sweeping epic, The Spy Who Loved Me was an instant classic that re-cemented the idea of James Bond as a British icon and secured the series’ future for the next generation, searing the idea of who James Bond was into the minds of countless children and adults through to the Brosnan era. While not without some flaws (looks at Karl Stromberg), the movie is a fun globe-trotting Indiana Jones-esque spy adventure and pretty damn great.
Roger Moore is never better as James Bond than here.
7. From Russia with Love (1963)
FRWL is a pretty popular pick for the best Bond film. Indeed it is far and away the most popular Bond movie by the Bond actors themselves with no fewer than 3 of them naming this movie as the series’ highpoint.
And I get it. From Russia with Love is a fantastic opening 90 minutes. A twisty, cold war thriller that is pure espionage, style, and panache. It’s great.
In Robert Shaw’s Red Grant, we have one of the all-time great series villains in this mirror image of James. Grant would also serve as the archetype of the big, bad, blonde Euro baddie the series would go back to so often.
In Rosa Klebb, we get the first real in-depth look at SPECTRE and the criminal organization operating behind the scenes.
Kerim Bey is still one of the best friends and allies Bond has served with after 60 years. The two just click and operate on such a great wavelength and Kerim serves as a wonderful classic 60’s Cold War ally.
Sean Connery is utterly brilliant in the film. While still honing and sharpening the final finishing touches on his 007, what we get here is a sight to behold. Smart, clever, brutal, caring, romantic, and brutish in quick turns, his Bond comes alive any time he saunters across the screen. Any fan of either Dalton or Craig’s Bond should be especially thankful for this film because both actors pulled heavily for inspiration for their takes on the character from Connery’s performance here.
His chemistry with virtually every cast member is top notch and constantly a delight. The 15 or so minute sequence with Bond and Grant on the train together, both the cat and mouse game of the two trying to suss each other out and the final brutal train compartment fight, still easily ranks among the all-time greatest moments in the series. It is Connery at his brutal best.
So why, do you ask, is From Russia with Love only 7th then? Well, firstly there are lots of great Bond movies. The bigger issue though is that the movie doesn’t close with the Bond and Red Grant fight but instead just sorta putters around for another 20 minutes as it slowly brings things to a close with all momentum and energy spent now. The Bond v Helicopter and Bond v Boat scenes are both missing something and rather lackluster after the electricity the film was carrying before.
If the movie had ended on the train fight scene, From Russia with Love might honestly be 3 spots higher. Still, From Russia with Love is masterful, tense, and razor sharp at its best. The most gritty, grounded, and thriller entry of the series until the Dalton era. It is easily one of the series’ strongest films and a remarkable follow up to Dr. No.
6. Live and Let Die (1973)
This and Living Daylights are so close together. Honestly the margins between films 5-8 on this list are all fine and it’s just the smallest details that make all the difference. I love Live and Let Die. It has been a Bond favorite for as long as I can remember.
Roger Moore gets a well-deserved amount of criticism for his time as 007 and for sticking around for too long. Yet here in his debut he is a breath of fresh air, making the character of Bond instantly updated to the 70’s and utterly his own.
Moore manages to capture the air of cool that Connery had but in a vastly different, still great manner. Moore is without a care, just exuding charm and he has an ease to him which, coupled with the effortlessness of his wardrobe, made him a sight to behold.
The cast around Moore helps to further elevate this movie. Baron Samedi is an iconic and brilliant baddie, Tee Hee a joy and Whisper a funny punchline. Mr. Big is both historic and great in the hands of Yaphet Kotto. Standing out as both the first ever black Bond villain and the series’ only black villain to this date.
Indeed, though a blatant homage to the numerous films of black cinema at the start of the 1970’s, Live and Let Die also easily stands out as arguably the most diverse Bond film to this day, featuring an overwhelming black cast and set in places like Harlem and New Orleans that very rarely get play in big budget productions like this.
Through it all, Live and Let Die just carries forward this spirit of fun and joy to it. It has this air of lightness and humor to it right from the jump that accompanies the best Guy Hamilton films.
Could it be tighter or do without Sheriff Pepper? Yeah, of course.
Does it need the back-to-back chase scenes? Definitely not.
This movie is just a blast though. A great time that always leaves me smiling throughout. The decision to not include it in my top five is probably one I’ll go back and forth on until my next big series ranking.
5. The Living Daylights (1987)
What a gift to the James Bond series Timothy Dalton was and how sad it took decades for that to be recognized. By far the highest I’ve ever had a Dalton film in my rankings but something I am utterly happy with, The Living Daylights is both Dalton at his very best and one close to Bond at his.
Tapping into the magic of From Russia with Love in its Cold War thriller vibes, particularly in the film’s opening act, Living Daylights recaptures the feel of the grittier, more hard-edged spirit of the early Connery era films and brings it into the late 1980’s. In Dalton’s hands we finally get a man clearly inspired not just by Sean Connery but also the more despondent and slightly nihilistic Bond found in the Fleming novels themselves.
For all the grief he gets about being one note or bland, I found Dalton to be a delight and crucially successful in his more vulnerable and romantic scenes with Kara. Indeed, the James and Kara relationship is in so many ways the heart of this movie and one of the strongest of the series. It is a testament to both actors and their performances that this is one of the few Bond love stories that I actually could have seen carried on past the film itself. There is such an ease and charm to their relationship and the natural way they slowly fall for one another is a lovely element to the film.
On the other side of things we get some of the series best baddies in Necros as the music playing henchman and the best of the Red Grant inspired big, bad, blonde, Euro baddies since the OG himself. Alongside Necros we also get the wily, absurd, and over the top Georgi who whipsaws and double and triple crosses seemingly everyone while playing the fool as he gets ever closer to his goal. In fact, if not for freak chance his plan would have gone off without a hitch at the end.
The movie does do the odd double villain thing I traditionally don’t enjoy, with Brad Whitaker also serving as the big bad, but even he is played in such over the top grand fashion by Joe Don Baker that you can’t help but love his moments.
That’s the thing, The Living Daylights does such a delicate and almost impossible-to-pull-off balancing act between silly, over the top characters, authentic and beautiful love story, and taut gritty, cold war thriller that it could have failed on multiple different ends and no one would be surprised. The fact that it pulls it all off, while also introducing a new Bond and pulling off arguably the hardest tonal shift and thematic change in the series history is an incredible achievement and testament to the strength of Timothy Dalton’s performance.
4. GoldenEye (1995)
The 25 films of the James Bond series, I think, can be best broken down into varied tiers. Even the top 10 best Bond films can be viewed through the lens of 4 separate tiers. GoldenEye finds itself alone among these tiers. It doesn’t make the final step into the 3 best almost perfect Bond movies but it is a tier above the films ranked 5-8 here.
What GoldenEye unquestionably is, is a massive reorientation for the James Bond persona and series; it’s among the most important, influential, and culturally resonant films in the entire series’ canon.
Letting Pierce Brosnan step into the role of his dreams in Bond was a magical decision, with Brosnan offering distilled elements of each of the four prior Bonds into his performance. Suave, funny, tragic, and romantic, the pretty Bond as Brosnan is sometimes dubbed was a perfect figure to knock off the cobwebs and bring Bond into the modern era.
It can not be understated enough just how good Pierce Brosnan looks here as well. This is right up there with Connery in Goldfinger or Craig in Casino Royale and that’s it in terms of a Bond actor at their absolute physical apex. Brosnan nails the look of James Bond.
The film is helped along by quite possibly the deepest Bond cast of any film up to that date. In 006 Alec Trevelyan, we get a man who smashed through any prior series best rankings of baddies and instantly seized the top spot. Bond’s former friend turned foe is cooly seething in his performance and a wonderful inversion of who and what we know James to be.
In Xenia Onatopp we get one of the most iconic henchmen in the series’ run and a wild, borderline unhinged figure who is somehow constantly going bigger and bigger yet utterly fitting in the world of GoldenEye.
Boris is brilliant and another wonderful comedic touch to a generally more serious 007 adventure. And finally with Natalya we get what is probably the strongest Bond relationship of Brosnan’s run.
Indeed it is all the more impressive for how little time Bond and Natalya actually spend together. The movie operates on two parallel tracks for the first 2/3rds of its proceedings before finally throwing the two together and leaning into the romantic tension between the pair.
It helps further that Natalya, along with Judi Dench’s M in her debut appearance and even Xenia in her sexually charaged energy, are all calling into question either indirectly or very directly in M’s case the Bond character’s legacy and mythos.
GoldenEye is obsessed with who and what James Bond is. After 30 plus years of the character and the close of the Cold War, where does Bond stand? Who is the man? After the series longest break between films ever, 6 and a half years, do we even need a new Bond film?
With so much on the line, GoldenEye utterly delivers. A sweeping, beautiful, sad, action-packed romance, the film delivers a masterclass in blending genres and film styles and helped to craft the defining Bond adventure for a generation of film-goers, indeed it can be argued that GoldenEye remains the most influential and long lasting of the series since its release. What a film, what a debut by Brosnan.
Top 3 James Bond films:
(Quick note: all three of what I consider the best James Bond films are masterpieces. I think they are all virtually perfect movies and a clear step above everything else. There is a very strong “any given day this list can change” sense to things. For what it’s worth I love all three of these movies so so much.
Anyway, enough stalling onto the three greatest James Bond films.
3. Casino Royale (2006)
What an absolutely phenomenal film. Even with me liking Die Another Day more than most, Casino Royale was a stunning change in direction and tone. Right from its opening black and white laced prologue, Casino sought to break from the established 45-year history of the series and deliver us something wholly original and yet utterly Bond.
Daniel Craig is a force of nature and delivers an exceptional and career-defining performance as James Bond here. Stripping the artifact and armor away from Bond and leaving him utterly human in his flaws and vulnerabilities, Craig perfectly captures the arc of the cocksure and devil may care blunt instrument version of James we get at the film’s opening and shows how he transforms into James Bond as we know him.
He is helped by the magnificent Eva Green as Vesper Lynd, with the pair having a beautiful and wonderful dynamic together. There is simply no Bond love story or romantic relationship delivered as expertly as James and Vesper’s here.
Hilariously witty, so utterly charming, a touch antagonistic, and heartbreakingly tragic, the pair are the ultimate star-crossed lovers whose time together forever pierces James and leaves him changed. All of Green and Craig’s scenes together are wonderful but their first introduction together on the train is probably within my top 5 or so favorite scenes in the entire Bond canon.
Judi Dench as M steps more to the fore here as her M takes a more hands-on and maternal approach to Craig’s Bond as the pair have a great interplay between one another. Rene Mathis is a wonderful introduction to the film and brings a noted dose of levity to proceedings and Jeffrey Wright is brilliant as Felix.
The other big piece of what makes Casino Royale’s casting so good is Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre. So much of what makes Le Chiffre great is that he isn’t out to rule or destroy the world but instead is ultimately just a mid-level pencil pusher within a larger criminal organization. He is terrifying and terrified at different times throughout the film and his scenes across the poker table with James as the two trade barbs and threats provides some all time great tension and dialogue.
His final brutal torture scene with Bond is still so visceral and raw 15 years later. Just a masterclass and one of the series’ best pieces of acting between both actors.
Casino Royale is the last Bond film with a true sense of fun to it. For obvious reasons, after this adventure, Craig’s Bond is going to be much more somber and less flashy. But I love the version of an evolving and unknown 007 we get from him here.
The impact and legacy of this film is still felt to this day. And for the rightful and deserved grief Craig gets at times for being a little miserable, he is a joy here.
While it just misses out on the overall top spot on this ranking, make no mistake, Casino Royale is an astounding and masterfully-crafted film, featuring one of the finest performances, not just of Daniel Craig’s stellar career, but by any Bond actor ever. Brilliant all around.
2. Goldfinger (1964)
There is simply no more enjoyable or pure fun Bond movie than this, 007’s iconic 3rd outing. All of the tropes, templates, and pieces of what makes up a James Bond film finally all clicked into place here. From Bond himself, to the women, villains, locations, music, pre-title sequence, sense of humor, and its bombastic finale, Goldfinger did it all and took the rough sketch of a Bond film laid out by Dr. No and put a giant exclamation point next to it.
Certainly, James Bond has never looked better than here in Goldfinger. As discussed before, I love Sean Connery’s portrayal of James and here he delivers the indelible performance of the character. There are so many iconic Bond looks to pick from in this movie. From the white dinner suit jacket (my personal favorite Bond look since childhood), to the golf outfit, to the chef’s kiss brown suit he wears in the alps while watching Goldfinger, to even his leisure wear while being held hostage, Connery’s Bond is dressed to the nines like nowhere else.
It isn’t just the look. Sean Connery has finally nailed the perfect formula for his 007. Indeed he has crafted the version of James by which every other Bond actor will be judged to this day. His twin performances in this and From Russia with Love are a devastating one-two punch for any other actor to try and live up to.
Connery is just magnificent. A king in total command and comfort with his talent. Charming, powerful, dangerous, funny, and with his raw, rough energy, Connery is blessed with piercing eyes that convey any given emotion: all of which are used to brilliant effect. Nowhere else is Bond as sure of himself or confident as here. It is not just Sean Connery’s finest hour, but James’ himself.
This is matched by perhaps still the best villain and henchman pairing of the entire series in classic villains Auric Goldfinger and Oddjob. I love how much of a presence both men are in their own way. I mean Goldfinger is all over the place in this movie. No last act reveal or slow build for Auric, oh no. Once he is introduced cheating at a card game, he is a dominating force in this thing and constantly coming up against James. And I love how Goldfinger more than holds his own. In fact, he very well probably should have won the day and gotten away with his plan. That’s how good he is.
Played to bombastic and larger-than-life perfection by Gert Fröbe, he is a charming and fun delight and matched wonderfully by the absolute silent but fiercely ominous Oddjob. Harold Sakata’s Oddjob is the lurking figure just behind James’ shoulder for so much of this movie and in his final fight with Bond inside Fort Knox, he makes you feel every bit of how imposing and punishing Oddjob is. Every blow and punch to Bond is felt and heard.
Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore is done a disservice by her name but is in fact the first great female character of the series, one who more than holds her own against the larger-than-life male figures all around her. I love that she is the sole occupant of this morally gray area and ultimately does the right thing only when shown the true extent of the bloodbath Goldfinger has in store.
Goldfinger is a wild, genre-defining film. A movie still referenced, parodied, and homaged 58 years after its release. There is without a doubt no single movie in the entire Bond canon as influential or impactful as this one. No movie with the cultural force and longevity as what was done with Goldfinger.
It is a joyous, put a smile on your face, hour-and-50-minute ride that serves up so much of the very best of what James Bond has to offer while featuring a defining performance by Sean Connery at his absolute physical peak. James Bond has never looked better, had more fun, or been more of a joy like he is here in this masterful movie that changed film.
What a fucking good time.
- Skyfall (2012)
And yet there is by the tiniest of measures one movie better. Skyfall stands tall in the shadow of the Bond series. A perfect film to ring in the 50th anniversary of the longest-running film series, it is the greatest James Bond movie.
Taking in the full 50-year cinematic sweep of the character, Skyfall delves headfirst into the mythos of James Bond, building off the work of prior films like GoldenEye or Casino Royale. Daniel Craig gives an anguished and pained performance as James, a man who is utterly broken and dead so he can be reborn into a new, better man.
Judi Dench subtly and gradually delivers one of the finest performances of the entire series as her reign as M and her maternal bond with 007 is taken to its shocking and beautiful conclusion. Elsewhere Javier Bardem’s Silva steps into the footsteps of 006 from GoldenEye to become the single greatest Bond villain of all time, as well as quite possibly the most terrifying and unnerving.
In director Sam Mendes’ hands and Roger Deakins’ cinematography, we get just the most exquisite and beautiful Bond film ever made. Indeed, Deakins’ shots in this film are simply breathtaking and feature some of my favorite frames in any movie ever.
Whereas Goldfinger excels in its bright, sunny, joy and as the quintessential James Bond adventure in utter technicolor, Skyfall is moody, and muted, and so utterly British in its devotion to gray, both the color and moral world.
Skyfall is the smartest Bond, the most emotionally powerful one. It is a James Bond story both made by people who clearly love the character and yet also aren’t devoted to the sacred tenets of who 007 is. Daniel Craig is given plenty of deserved grief for his time as 007 but truly only he could have given this despondently tragic and powerfully steadfast performance.
Skyfall is a masterpiece. A film that blew me away upon first and subsequent watches. It is both the greatest James Bond movie of all-time and also one of the finest films of both its and any decade. A masterclass and the image of the best of who James Bond can be.