I’ve wanted to do a series of posts like this for a while, just a compendium of my opinions on an array of subjects that I love and have been fond of for most of my life. I would hope that they will be interesting to someone to read, but more than anything it gives me an excuse to write extensively on some things that I really enjoy and place all these disconnected interests under a single umbrella. I’d like to write about hiphop, spaghetti westerns, science fiction (in general) and Star Trek and Star Wars (in specific). Today I want to start with the Bond movies.
I think a lot of people take the James Bond movies for granted. They have been such a constant in the past fifty years of cinema, and so often memorable in a wide range of ways, that people don’t give them the respect they deserve. Fortunately for me, I grew up in a Bond household. It’s hard to completely trace my history with the Bond movies, but I know it starts with a vinyl record that my dad owned with many of the early theme songs. I was obviously too young to watch or appreciate these movies as a kid, but as I got older and saw more and more parts of them, the suave and unbreakable spirit of Bond had a profound impact on me. Bond represents so much of the masculine “ideal,” often to a fault, with his guns, girls, gadgets, cars, and inhuman confidence in any situation, and that persona can be very appealing to a kid. My dad did a good job of making sure I enjoyed these movies for what they were, and to not absorb the misogyny and callous attitude so often portrayed by the various Bond actors. Watching a “Bondathon” over a holiday has become a personal and family tradition, and one that gets better every few years with more and more films still being made in such high quality.
The Bond movies are really in a category of their own, because it is hard to find a series of films that are all related, but comprised of twenty-three (official) movies over a fifty year span with no true remakes. Each movie has a different aura and direction, each actor a different style and persona, and each era a different purpose. This makes arguments about who the “best Bond” is and which film is the greatest very difficult, because each actor and film encapsulates a different slice of the Bond ideal. All six Bond actors had varying degrees of success portraying Bond’s skill in espionage, combat, one-liners, and gadget use, along with his ability to woo the myriad women and outsmart the pantheon of bad guys that he has encountered in his missions. The films range from simple lighthearted entertainment to dark and character-driven, each one with its own merits and faults. It really is one of the most unique and diverse film series in history, and behind all my analysis, I just really love watching them. They’ve got so many memorable moments, great action, lots of puns, and in almost every case, incredible theme songs and soundtracks. Cars that become submarines, deadly bowler hats, Ursala Andress in a bikini, Bond movies have given us so much, it makes what I’m about to do even more challenging.
My Favorite Bond Movies
I look forward to rewriting this list tomorrow and a year from now and on my deathbed, because not only do the movies appeal to me differently during different stages of my life, the excellence of the Daniel Craig films prove that no list is safe, and that as amazing as it sounds, even after fifty years, Bond’s best days could very well be ahead. There’s no telling what the future holds, but the franchise is in the right hands of late. I’m going to list all of them in descending order, but try not to go crazy with the analysis. Keyword: try.
24. License to Kill
23. Tomorrow Never Dies
22. Diamonds Are Forever - Ranking not adjusted for the amazing theme song and subsequent Kanye sample.
21. Quantum of Solace – Not as bad as I remember, but not any better either.
20. The Living Daylights – Remember how I said every actor had a different slice of the Bond ideal? Dalton tried, but no Bond should be this serious and dull.
19. Die Another Day
18. A View to a Kill
17. The World Is Not Enough
15. Never Say Never Again – Lots of debate whether this is a real Bond movie or not. It’s Connery as Bond. Good enough for me.
13. Live and Let Die
12. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – A lot of regular fans don’t care for this one, but George Lazenby did what he could, which was get Bond married. This and Casino Royale are the most romantic films in the whole series.
11. For Your Eyes Only
10. The Man with the Golden Gun – Roger Moore’s second Bond movie, this has all the elements that made Moore’s films memorable: a terrific bad guy (Christopher Lee), a couple deadly weapons (the Golden Gun itself and the solar-powered ray gun), a cat-and-mouse duel in a funhouse, and lots of suave and cheesy lines from Moore himself.
9. You Only Live Twice – From the haunting theme sung by Nancy Sinatra (recently heard in the Mad Men finale) to the piranha pool, this is a prototypical Bond movie that blends the real threat of the Cold War with the gadgets and demeanor of our favorite secret agent.
8. Thunderball - It takes a special movie to make an underwater fight scene this good. Sean Connery was really picking up steam as Bond at this point, and Thunderball evokes all the right motifs that defined Bond movies for years to come.
7. From Russia With Love – Probably the realest of all the Bond movies, FRWL is free from a lot of the gimmicks that fill the later Bond movies and focuses on actual characters and stories, which has helped it maintain dignity as it ages. A true spy movie.
6. Skyfall – Time may move this movie around on this list, but after a couple initial viewings it is one of the best yet. Audiences are finally ready for a vulnerable James Bond, and Daniel Craig plays it to perfection. Instead of the world-conquering, space-shuttle-stealing, plots of previous films, Skyfall is smaller and more personal and reveals things about the character of Bond you wouldn’t imagine seeing during the Roger Moore days.
5. Goldeneye – I’ve actually ranked this much higher than I initially anticipated, but for all intents and purposes this should be my Bond movie. I was a little too young to see it when it first came out, but the relaunch of the series with Pierce Brosnan as Bond, and the subsequent Nintendo 64 shooter, changed everything Bond for me. Brosnan brought the most complete Bond possibilities since Connery, and Goldeneye was the perfect start, thanks to a fantastic performance by Sean Bean and an unforgettably 90’s soundtrack. Unfortunately Brosnan’s first was also his best, through no real fault of his own, but the subsequent movies he starred in were just really sub-par, compared to the series and the standard of Goldeneye. But no matter what his legacy, Brosnan started off on a great note, tearing a tank through Moscow and rappelling down a dam and setting timers for three minutes instead of six. For England.
4. Dr. No – The one that started it all. Thanks to Connery’s brilliant introduction, Ursala Andress’ bikini, a relentlessly cool theme song, James Bond went from being a movie to a franchise. It’s a lot of fun to watch this movie, knowing the legacy that will follow, and imagine that Bond would handle the ideal of so much success with the same laid-back and keen flourish on display in Dr. No.
3. Casino Royale – Quite simply the best relaunch they could have ever hoped for after dragging through the later unfortunate Brosnan films. Seeing the origins of Bond’s 00 status, his relationship with Vesper, riding the global poker hype during the mid 2000’s, and just enough homage to the older movies while injecting new flair and style for the modern viewers made Craig a perfect Bond. The first follow-up was pretty lackluster, but Skyfall got things back on track, so I am very interested to see where they go with this series. Oh, and the theme song by Chris Cornell is one of the best ever.
2. The Spy Who Loved Me – This movie would be ranked up here based only on this scene. The girl, the smart retort, the single trumpet sounding Bond’s love for country, the betrayal, the chase on skis, the gadget gun in the ski pole, the X-Games flip, the fall off the cliff, the subsequent opening of a British-flag-parachute, and the incredible “Bond 77″ blaring its 70s spirit all over the theme song. All in two minutes. What more can you ask for? Far and away Roger Moore’s best work as Bond, TSWLM has the scope and the action and the quirk to make it one of the best Bond films ever. Jaws is probably the best henchman in movie history. And Carly Simon crushes the theme song.
1. Goldfinger – While Dr. No was the original, and From Russia With Love was more character-driven, Goldfinger was the first Bond movie to set the standard for the rest to follow: a great villain with a nefarious plot to get rich/take over the world/both, several Bond girls, gadgets in the cars and out, and an unforgettable theme song. Goldfinger has it all, and thanks to Guy Hamilton, the whole Bond visage is directed perfectly. Connery is flawless, wearing a tux under his wetsuit and ordering martinis and oozing style and braggadocio. It’s fun without being too cheesy and the drama is entertaining without being overkill. Pure Bond.
Who knows what the future holds for James Bond, but I do know I’ll be there for every one of them. The franchise is doing better than ever, both critically and commercially, and I’m excited to see what’s next. These movies will always hold a special place in my heart, and there’s really no quicker way to get me to stop scrolling through channels then to see a classic Bond film just getting started. Bond movies aren’t for everyone, and ethically, they leave a lot to be desired, but as far as entertainment and quality over a fifty year span, there’s not much that can compete with 007. As I was writing this I realized that there’s no way I can cover all the Bond discussion I want to do in a single post, so this is getting divided into three: first, this one about the movies, next, a post ranking some of the theme songs, and finally, an essay about the different actors who have played Bonds and my favorite. I hope this has been an enjoyable read; I know there is much room for argument about this series, and that’s part of what makes it so great. Every movie means something different to different people, and each Bond is loved and loathed by different fans. This series has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I know there are many who feel the same way. Thanks for reading!
(Featured Bond 50 image from ArkadeBurt)