With the latest James Bond thriller, SPECTRE, set to explode onto movie screens on November 6th, The Workprint did its due diligence to rank the characters of this longest running franchise in movie history. First, we tackled the Bond Girls and then we ranked the Villains followed by the Henchmen and the secondary Bond girls. But now it’s time to tackle the ultimate task – ranking the films as a whole.
As a massive Bond fan this is a bit like making me rank my own family members but for those of you who are new to Bond I genuinely believe if you start at the top end of this list you’ll find yourself having a really good time. Naturally, this list is limited to the 23 official James Bond films leaving off the first few attempts at cracking Casino Royal and the rival studio Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again.
But without further ado let’s get started…
23. The Living Daylights (1987, Directed by John Glen)
Best Scene: Bond and Kara escape the Soviet Union using her cello case as a sled.
I hesitate to call The Living Daylights “the worst” James Bond film because I honestly believe there is something to love and enjoy within every entry in the series, but this is definitely the one that leaves me the most cold. From a dull villain with an unexciting plot to a tap water-esque Bond girl, this first effort from Timothy Dalton is a bit too self-serious and stylistically flat to register many thrills.
22. Diamonds Are Forever (1971, Directed by Guy Hamilton)
Best Scene: Bond takes on the gymnastic female bodyguards, Bambi and Thumper.
Sean Connery might be my favorite Bond actor but this final outing from him in the official series (the less said about Never Say Never Again the better) just doesn’t quite work. For starters, they only vaguely reference the tragic death of Bond’s wife in the previous film, which makes my blood boil. But there is also a severe tonal shift toward 70s cheese with campy villains and a kind of humor that only Roger Moore could later handle with believability. Oh and why does it look like Connery aged 30 years between this and You Only Live Twice which came out just four years earlier?
21. Moonraker (1979, Directed by Lewis Gilbert)
Best Scene: The excellent pre-titles sequence with Bond taking on Jaws and other henchman in mid-air without a parachute.
Moonraker is truly Bond at his most ridiculous. Laser guns and space battles dominate the last third of the film, but those aren’t the only things to blame as being silly. The film also boasts a gadget laden gondola ride in Venice, a love story for the cartoonishly unstoppable Jaws, and a gloriously over-the-top fight in a glass factory. Throw in an extremely wooden Bond girl named Holly Goodhead and you’ve got what amounts to cinematic Bond’s biggest detraction from his literary origins.
20. A View to a Kill (1985, Directed by John Glen)
Best Scene: Bond teams up with May Day to get the bomb out of the mine shaft and turn the tables on Zorin.
Roger Moore’s final film as 007 is essentially a remake of Goldfinger that substitutes microchips for gold bullion, but it never manages to meet that film’s level of quality. And honestly, that’s kinda shocking when you consider that A View to a Kill boasts Christopher Walken and Grace Jones as villains – a casting coup if there ever was one. And don’t even get me started on the comical age difference between good old Roger Moore and his female suitors in this flick…
19. The Man With the Golden Gun (1974, Directed by Guy Hamilton)
Best Scene: The final duel between Bond and Scaramanga with the dramatic islands of Thailand in the background.
The Man With the Golden Gun is a weird Bond film for it’s time because it actually gives 007 an enemy on a more personal level than the typical madman out to destroy the world. In this case he faces Francisco Scaramanga (the great Christopher Lee) as a rival in the business of killing. This naturally sounds intriguing but the screenplay never quite nails the potency of that rivalry in a way that you might see in the more personal, gritty films of the Daniel Craig era. The film also feels a bit rushed and lacks the high quality production values usually found in every entry of the series. I have a confession though: that ultra cheesy theme song by Lulu is a major guilty pleasure for me.
18. Die Another Day (2002, Directed by Lee Tamahori)
Best Scene: Miss Moneypenny uses a virtual reality machine to finally realize her 007 fantasies.
Pierce Brosnan’s final film as 007 starts out promisingly enough with a storyline featuring Bond being imprisoned and tortured in North Korea before getting traded for a terrorist who becomes person #1 on Bond’s hit list but then…the rest of the movie happens. What follows is an increasingly absurd flick featuring extreme plastic surgery, a palace made out of ice, a diamond studded satellite weapon, and Bond windsurfing away from a melting glacier. In other words it’s from the Moonraker school of James Bond adventures and that ain’t easy to pull off with a straight face anymore. Let’s hope this was the last time they try to go that route.
17. Quantum of Solace (2008, Directed by Marc Forster)
Best Scene: Bond and Camille plummeting to their possible deaths in a plane crash over the Bolivian desert.
Everyone expected big things from the followup to the phenomenally successful Casino Royale but this second outing for Daniel Craig didn’t quite match those expectations. For all of the rough and tumble Bourne-style editing, the film is actually a bit of a lightweight that never adds up to much more than a string of fight scenes loosely held together by a revenge story. By time it reaches the climax you’re left asking, “Is that all?”
16. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997, Directed by Roger Spottiswoode)
Best Scene: Bond and Wai Lin race through the streets of Saigon on a motorcycle while handcuffed to each other.
At first glance, James Bond versus a media baron doesn’t sound all that compelling, but when said media baron is trying to prompt a war between the UK and China for ratings the stage is set for a surprisingly fun 007 adventure. The film has a sense of playfulness about it that doesn’t beg to taken seriously but is still rested firmly enough in reality that it never gets too silly. But when dealing with Bond, who doesn’t like the tiniest bit of cheese?
15. Licence to Kill (1989, Directed by John Glen)
Best Scene: The finale’s tanker truck chase through the mountain roads of Mexico.
007 has had to “go rogue” multiple times in the series’ history but never has it been quite as potent as what plays out here when Bond’s best buddy, Felix Leiter, loses his wife and gets maimed by drug lord Franz Sanchez. As he quits the secret service to seek revenge Bond must insert himself into Sanchez’s business and try to destroy it from the inside, which makes this unlike any other Bond film. Major bonus points are awarded for Desmond Llewelyn’s Q joining Bond in the field for the first time for more than just dropping off a gadget or two. If this didn’t have such a flat, workman-like directorial style it would probably be one of my favorites.
14. You Only Live Twice (1967, Directed by Lewis Gilbert)
Best Scene: Bond checks out the volcano with his mini helicopter, Little Nellie, and takes on four enemy helicopters with some of the best gadgetry ever.
If anything is true in this world it is that the Austin Powers films are roughly ten times funnier if you’ve seen You Only Live Twice. It is a Bond film that epitomizes the tropes of the 60s spy genre and does them bigger and wilder than any other film of that decade. Hidden volcano lairs, ninja training schools, rocket launching cigarettes, and gadget-laden mini helicopters are just a few of the things that make this Sean Connery’s most outrageous Bond adventure. It’s a damn fun watch but probably not for those who like the more serious side of 007.
13. Live and Let Die (1973, Directed by Guy Hamilton)
Best Scene: The epic boat chase that dominates the middle act of the film.
Roger Moore’s first time out as 007 doesn’t quite nail what would become his signature lighter touch in the role, but watching him here makes it easy to see why he would go on to become the longest running Bond actor. This entry also gets points for the surprising-for-its-time supporting cast made up almost entirely of African American actors. And let’s not forget that killer theme song from Paul McCartney and Wings.
12. Dr. No (1962, Directed by Terence Young)
Best Scene: Bond’s iconic introduction at the casino where we first hear him utter the immortal words, “Bond. James Bond.”
It’s not often that the original film of a series lands at only the halfway point in a ranking of said series, but even with a heavy dose of iconic moments the franchise was still very much a work in progress with this inaugural effort. The plot isn’t particularly thrilling but simply getting to know 007 and his world is enough to make this a worthwhile viewing experience. And if you ever think some of the other films under use the classic James Bond Theme, your ears will not be disappointed here.
11. Octopussy (1983, Directed by John Glen)
Best Scene: Bond blasts his way through some thugs by sliding down a long stairway railing with machine gun roaring.
Even though this film boasts my least favorite theme song of the series, it’s hard to deny how fun everything else about it is. Striking a nice balance of cold war dramatics and exuberantly fun action set pieces, Octopussy is a Roger Moore Bond film firing on all cylinders. And with roughly three or four different action climaxes to the plot, those looking for pure spectacle will not be disappointed.
10. Goldeneye (1995, Directed by Martin Campbell)
Best Scene: Bond rips apart a big chunk of St. Petersburg, Russia in a tank.
Pierce Brosnan’s first Bond film comes so painfully close to perfection it hurts. It’s got great villains (with a clear and palpable evil scheme), an excellent leading Bond girl, pulse-racing action, and the sterling debut of Judi Dench as M, but another major aspect of the movie is so off-kilter that it actually keeps it from moving higher on this list: it’s score. Composer Eric Serra’s score is so painfully stuck in early 90s stylings that it makes this one of the few Bond films to actually feel dated. Had John Barry or even future Bond composer David Arnold lent their talents to this flick it could quite possibly be at the top of this list. It is seriously that good.
9. The World Is Not Enough (1999, Directed by Michael Apted)
Best Scene: Elektra tortures Bond with an antique chair designed to snap his neck.
I realize it’s a little controversial putting any of Pierce Brosnan’s other Bond films ahead of Goldeneye but The World Is Not Enough clicks for me in a way that edges out that first film of his and it is largely in thanks to the music. David Arnold’s big, brassy score makes this film feel truly Bondian and pairs nicely with the other elements of the film that make this quintessential 007. The less said though about Denise Richards’ Dr. Christmas Jones the better.
8. For Your Eyes Only (1981, Directed by John Glen)
Best Scene: Bond escapes his pursuers in a series of winter sports-themed obstacles that culminates in him going down a bobsled run on skis.
After 007’s blatantly absurd trip into space in Moonraker the producers of the series wisely decided to bring James Bond back down to Earth in every manner of speaking and the result is the best Bond film of the 80s. Roger Moore strikes the perfect balance of humor and ruthlessness in this outing with an adventure that rockets along with perfect pacing and some of the best action sequences of the Moore era. And to top it all off, a parrot flirts with Margaret Thatcher at the end. What more could you want?
7. Thunderball (1965, Directed by Terence Young)
Best Scene: Bond and a horde of marines wage an underwater war against Largo’s forces in order to halt their nuclear blackmail plot.
Stealing nuclear weapons and holding the world hostage may have been a punchline in Austin Powers for what all evil organizations attempt to pull off but Thunderball was really the first to explore such a plot line and nobody has done it better since! The villains, the women, and the Bahamas setting are all so perfectly Bond that you really couldn’t ask for more but then they throw in some truly groundbreaking underwater action and this achieves classic status.
6. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977, Directed by Lewis Gilbert)
Best Scene: Bond skis over the edge of a mountain only to reveal a Union Jack parachute to take him to safety.
This third film to star Roger Moore as 007 is hands down the reason why he’ll remain ranked as one of the best James Bonds of all time and helped assure that he would remain in the role for a record-breaking seven films. The plot might be shockingly similar to You Only Live Twice but the relationship that develops between Bond and the ultimate Russian spy codenamed Triple X is so palpable and fraught with rivalry that it takes the proceedings in an entirely new and exciting direction. Also major props go to the introduction of Jaws, the stunning pre-credits sequence, and Carly Simon’s classic theme song. Nobody does it better indeed.
5. From Russia With Love (1963, Directed by Terence Young)
Best Scene: Bond and Red Grant finally come to blows on board the Orient Express – one of the best fight scenes in the series’ history.
Even though Dr. No outs himself as a member of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. in the first Bond film, it isn’t until this second, outstanding film in the series that we truly get to see what that evil organization is capable of. What makes this film so spectacular is how closely it adheres to Ian Fleming’s original source novel, which delves deeply into serious spy territory unlike the more fanciful adventures that would follow it. The Cold War comes front and center here as the East and West are pitted against each other by Blofeld and his cohort of schemers. Exotic locations, mysterious train rides, and a poison-tipped shoe blade all paired with John Barry’s masterful score make this an absolute must see.
4. Casino Royale (2006, Directed by Martin Campbell)
Best Scene: Le Chiffre interrogates Bond using a method best described as “ball-busting”.
Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first novel starring Agent 007, has a long history of adaptation. From a 1950s television version with an American “Jimmy” Bond to the 1967 comedic spoof starring the likes of Peter Sellers, David Niven, Orson Welles, and Woody Allen, the rights to this original Bond story didn’t land in the lap of the official film series’ producers until the early 2000s when it was deemed time to slightly reboot the series with a fresh approach. It took a long time but the resulting film is a stunner. Daniel Craig gives a captivating debut performance as 007 in a film that tosses out the classic formula (the main villain doesn’t even make it to the final act!) and gives new life to my favorite fictional character.
3. Skyfall (2012, Directed by Sam Mendes)
Best Scene: Judi Dench’s M gives a defiant speech to a government committee as enemies move in attempting to kill her.
For the 50th anniversary of James Bond’s big screen debut, the producers truly pulled out all of the stops for Skyfall. Acclaimed director Sam Mendes led the charge with a film that not only paid tribute to Bond’s past but paved the way for an exciting new future with a new M, Moneypenny, and Q all finally coming together for the modern era. The cast is across the board exceptional in every role and that Oscar-winning song from Adele is just icing on the cake.
2. Goldfinger (1964, Directed by Guy Hamilton)
Best Scene: Bond is strapped to a table as Goldfinger’s impressive laser comes ever so close to taking away 007’s best gadget.
Not gonna lie – choosing between this and my number one selection was borderline traumatizing. Both films are equally masterful and if you ask me again a week from now I might switch them around, but what makes Goldfinger so outstanding is that it really is – and forgive the pun – the gold standard for what a Bond film is. The third film of a series rarely sets the mold for the films that follow but Goldfinger took the great aspects of the first two films and blended in the tropes that ultimately made the character we know of love today. The grand schemes, the henchmen, the girls, the elaborate set pieces, and a glorious soundtrack all come together here to make a Bond film that became a blueprint for all that followed.
1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969, Directed by Peter Hunt)
Best Scene: Bond proposes marriage to Tracy while hiding out from Blofeld and Co. in a rundown, frozen barn.
What ultimately puts this film on top of the heap for me is an aspect that most entries of the series seem to neglect: heart. For the one and only time in the entire series, James Bond falls hard enough for a girl to actually ask for her hand in marriage. And it isn’t just your standard spy meets girl kinda story where they meet cute and everything falls into place neatly; there are complications on multiple fronts and their genuine love happens slowly and believably in a way that makes the film’s tragic final scene all the more powerful. But don’t confuse this as just a love story – it’s also a rollicking traditional Bond flick with Telly Savalas as the best iteration of Blofeld thus far and some stunning ski action in the Swiss alps. And as always, John Barry’s musical score perfectly epitomizes the genre and its style at the time.
But of course the elephant in the room here is the man who played Bond for this one and only time. George Lazenby was a relatively unknown model when he was cast as Bond and for a first time actor the results are actually quite remarkable. Sure, he’s no Sean Connery, but I genuinely believe that if he had stuck with it for more films his talents would have grown to give him more comfort in the role and ultimately rank him as one of the best actors to ever order a martini shaken, not stirred.
Now, how will SPECTRE rank on this this? Check back later this week for a full review!