Ranking the James Bond films

I finish my Bond Retrospective series with a complete ranking of the James Bond franchise.

Over the past few months I’ve been watching all of the James Bond films in order – many for the first time in years – and writing about their individual merits as well as how they impact the legacy of the James Bond franchise. Now my Bond Retrospective series has come to an end and how else to end it than with a full ranking of every James Bond film (Never Say Never Again included). There’s no Bond film I absolutely hate, each have at least some merit, but there’s a wide scope of quality in the series, from pretty damn terrible to masterpiece. So, without further ado, let’s rank every film to star Britain’s most iconic cinematic figure.

25 – A View to a Kill

Roger Moore is my favourite James Bond and that fact goes some way into explaining why A View to a Kill is my least favourite Bond film. It’s not wholly awful – no Bond film is – it’s just mostly awful. Moore is far too old to be in the role, the tone is tremendously inconsistent and the plot is too slight to hold up a 130 minute film. And you feel every single minute because above all else it’s just so boring to watch. It doesn’t have the worst elements of any Bond film but it is the dullest and, despite John Barry’s incredible score, nothing can save A View to a Kill from being at the bottom (or is it top?) of my list.

24 – Die Another Day

Just like A View to a Kill, Die Another Day is another final film of a great Bond actor that doesn’t do them justice. Do I really have to explain why Die Another Day is here at the bottom of the list? It’s the stupid plot that makes little sense, the awful CGI stunts and action scenes with Bond kitesurfing a tsunami and an invisible car chase and incessant speed ramping that ages the film dramatically. Okay, but I admit, when I’m not cringing at the film, its stupidity can make it quite enjoyable to watch.

23 – Diamonds Are Forever

After George Lazenby’s one and only outing as Bond, Sean Connery returned to the role one last time in Diamonds Are Forever and I wish he hadn’t. Everything about the film just feels tired, most noticeably Connery’s performance which is by far his worst and no doubt he only returned to the role for the pay check. The smuggling storyline is intriguing at first but soon becomes unnecessarily convoluted before the film devolves into a basic ‘bad guy with big space laser’ plot with Charles Grey as an nonthreatening Blofeld. It’s one of the Bond franchise’s lowest points and marks a reluctance to move forward and innovate.

22 – Octopussy

I like a good portion of Octopussy, when Bond is tracking down Kamal Khan, a wealthy Afghan prince and seller of a fake Fabergé egg along with Octopussy, a jewellery smuggler who also happens to run a circus. It’s nothing special and a bit bland but it’s a fun enough adventure. And then the film takes a turn, instead focusing on Bond chasing after a train carrying a nuclear bomb in Germany thanks to a rogue Russian general. These two plots just don’t match and the second becomes a straight-up farce at some points with Bond having to dress up as both a gorilla and a clown to get close to the bomb. Nothing particularly sticks out at being truly amazing or awful and overall I see it as that Roger Moore Bond film that just exists. The most vanilla Bond film of them all.

21 – Quantum of Solace

Casino Royale was a brilliant reboot of the Bond canon and its direct sequel fails in comparison. Gone is the tight plot and copious character work and in comes action scene after action scene, poorly edited in a faux-Bourne fashion, tied together with one of the slightest stories of the series. It’s an addendum to Casino Royale; an epilogue to the story that works for about 15 minutes of its run time while the rest feels disappointingly shallow.

20 – Moonraker

Moonraker is a lot of fun and its first half has some genuinely good moments but it’s let down by the Moore era’s desire to capture the trends of the time. Star Wars had been released and so the producers turned the third act of Moonraker into a space-set, gravity-defying laser gun battle with the entire Earth at stake. Mix that with fan favourite henchman Jaws becoming a good guy, and the plot largely being a remake of The Spy Who Loved Me, and you get a disappointing mess.

19 – Thunderball

There’s no denying that Thunderball has that classic 60’s Bond charm but that’s not quite enough to keep it afloat. Despite some great scenes and moments – the SPECTRE meeting comes to mind – the film is bloated and doesn’t warrant its excessive run-time. The expanded budget didn’t help and the film is brimming with underwater fights due to the technology to film such action recently being invented. The issue is that the fights are long and stagnant and it’s hard to see who’s who in the depths of the Bahamas. Overall, it’s charming but pretty boring.

18 – Never Say Never Again

The unofficial remake of Thunderball trumps the original in my eyes. Just barely, though. Certain Bond familiarities are missing such as the music and gunbarrel but for the most part they aren’t missed. Despite its unofficial status, it’s a Bond film through-and-through, following the popular formula and having fun while doing so, just like star Sean Connery who gives a great performance. Gone is the slow pacing of Thunderball; replaced by the panache only 80’s films managed to make work and, despite some bad scenes (the video-game casino), it’s an entertaining watch.

17 – The Man with the Golden Gun

The Man with the Golden Gun is on one hand very enjoyable but on the other frustrating to watch. It has so much potential but a lot of it is squandered by the silly tone that begins in the first scene and continues for the entire running time. Moore is having fun but there’s a little too much wry smirking and eyebrow-raising for my taste. What does work is the titular assassin who is one of my favourite Bond villains. What we get with Scaramanga is fantastic, we just don’t get enough of it. The World’s Greatest Spy vs The World’s Deadliest Assassin is a concept worthy of being an entire film itself and those scenes are incredible but the plot is brought to a standstill with the inclusion of a boring McGuffin device.

16 – The World is not Enough

“Bond thinks he’s found Tracy, but really he’s found Blofeld”. That’s how producer Barbara Broccoli describes the plot of The World is not Enough and it’s what I love about the film. Everything else, with the exception of the opening boat chase, is complete rubbish including Denise Richards as Christmas Jones but the relationship between Bond and the villainous Elektra is a diamond in the rough. It’s the anti-On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and I buy them falling in love and the ultimate betrayal is a powerful moment. Overall, it’s not a particularly good film but I have to give praise to the character drama which I feel gives the film a lot of merit.

15 – The Living Daylights

No Bond film is more adequate than The Living Daylights. There’re some good action scenes, Dalton is interesting to watch and John Barry’s last score of the series is brilliant but everything else about the film is merely… fine. The plot is slightly dull and feels too much like an Octopussy remake at times but it’s never completely boring. It’s just the Bond film that exists and I struggle to feel anything towards it, good or bad. It’s the most forgettable entry in the series but I guess the car is quite nice so that’s something.

14 – Dr No

Dr No is proto-Bond. Most of the elements are there but feel off somehow and it’s not until the sequel that they work completely. That’s not to say it’s not good in its own right but most of my interest is based on its quaint charm and genre shifting. The low budget means the action is small and barely present and so its much more of a detective film than those that follow. Connery’s Bond is the one thing that is properly defined and he’s a pleasure to watch. The whole film is in fact, but more on basis of it being fascinating to see the origins of the franchise rather than being a great instalment in its own right.

13 – Spectre

I love a lot of Spectre. The opening sequence, the slow pace, Bond as an investigator, the scene at the SPECTRE meeting, the direction and Craig’s understated performance as a more tired Bond. And then it all falls apart. I absolutely hate that they made Blofeld Bond’s adoptive brother. There’s a big push to make everything personal to Bond when it doesn’t have to be and the relationship with Blofeld, and that he was after Bond for personal reasons, is the most egregious example. I also don’t like Bond leaving the service to run off with Madeline Swann at the end. She’s certainly no Vesper from Casino Royale – her and Bond have little chemistry – and James leaving undermines his decisions in Skyfall.

12 – You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice is so much fun to watch. Partly because it’s a genuinely good film that features one of the best villains, soundtracks and narratives of any Bond film and partly because it’s so awkwardly silly. It manages to be both things at once. Take Bond teaming up with ninjas; a great idea that makes for a fun watch but is also inherently silly. At one-point Bond is turned into a Japanese man using a cheap wig and taping his eyes back, an embarrassingly bad moment that just makes the film all the more enjoyable to watch. Everything the film does wrong makes it all the more entertaining and it still gets a lot of things right.

11 – Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die used to be my favourite Bond film but now, even though I still love it, I can see its flaws. For large periods of time it hardly feels like a Bond film at all, instead dabbling in the supernatural and the ethnic subgenre of Blaxploitation. It’s as if the producers are trying out new directions for the franchise and it doesn’t quite work. But I love it. There are some great Bond moments and the film acts as a good introduction to Moore’s more romanticised version of the character. And the bus/boat/plane chases are fantastic! This was the hardest film to rank and could easily slide further down or up this list but just outside of the top ten seems like the right place for it.

10 – Tomorrow Never Dies

When people think of Brosnan’s Bond they remember the greatness of Goldeneye and the shock horror of Die Another Day which is a shame because the often forgotten Tomorrow Never Dies is a great Bond film. Above everything else it’s just a lot of fun to watch, striking a less serious tone than Goldeneye but never going into the territory of Brosnan’s latter two films. It’s got an enjoyable villain, henchman, car chase, Bond girl and great music. The formula is all there to make a strong and solid instalment of the Bond franchise.

9 – Licence to Kill

License to Kill is the darkest Bond film to date and that works in its favour even if at times it feels more like a generic 80’s action film than a Bond film. James goes rogue after Felix gets on the wrong side of a drug dealer and his hungry shark and the film is a basic revenge story with Bond killing anyone who gets in his way. It’s a violent movie, taking inspiration from blockbusters of the time like Die Hard, and features blood squibs and even a gory exploding head. It still works as a Bond film despite the doing away with the classic formula because of Bond himself. This is clearly still the same character, just a different aspect of him and I love exploring that with Dalton being the perfect actor to take the character to such dark places. When the film tries to be a classic Bond film, with a casino scene and the random appearance of ninjas, is when it fails but overall it’s a unique and fantastic film.

8 – Goldfinger

Goldfinger set the rules of the Bond franchise and while not the best film of the bunch, it’s the one with the foremost influence on the franchise. The entire film is iconic and one of the films that spring to mind when anyone thinks of James Bond. While I think the legacy is greater than the film itself, it’s still fantastic, whether on the small scale of charged gold course conversations or its wonderfully silly finale that sees Bond strapped to an atom bomb inside Fort Knox. It also introduced the Aston Martin DB5 so the film has to be in the top ten for that alone.

7 – For Your Eyes Only

I never gravitated towards For Your Eyes Only when I was younger but now I love it. After the pure ridiculousness of Moonraker, it’s a clear attempt to reign the franchise in and take it in a more serious direction. Moore’s camp factor still plays a part but it’s a much quieter and tense film that aims to be more Cold War thriller than action blockbuster, and is successful in doing so. There’s a fantastic ski chase at the film’s mid-point and the finale does away with spectacle and is an amazingly tense sequence that sees Bond have to climb a precarious cliff face. It’s a brief and underrated respite for the series in the midst of its silliest phase.

6 – Skyfall

In many ways Skyfall is M’s film before its Bond’s. And I love that about it. We see her in a new light: through the fractured lenses of two of her agents. The hero Bond and the villain Silva. Two characters who met similar fates at M’s hand and went in two different directions. I absolutely love the Batman/Joker style relationship between Bond and Silva and how it dredges up the secrets of Bond’s past like no other film in the series. It’s a great way of celebrating 50 years of the character on film with multiple references to past movies. Technically the film looks spectacular too with Sam Mendes directing and the master Roger Deakins as the cinematographer. While I like one Daniel Craig Bond film more, I feel like the impact of Skyfall’s legacy will be felt for longer than its contemporaries.

5 – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is not just some action spectacular like a lot of Bond films but rather a character-driven drama. It was the first film to delve into Bond’s character and the repercussions of the life he lives, which wouldn’t return to the franchise until over 35 years later. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is often more interested with themes and character than the usual Bond tropes and is therefore a much slower experience, but one I’ve grown to appreciate over the years. I never used to care for the film but now I absolutely love it. It has the best music, great action and a wonderful turn from George Lazenby as Bond who takes the character in a more tender direction. The film’s a tragic love story before anything else and the romance has never been topped in any subsequent film. It’s one of the best films of the 1960’s and I’m glad more and more people are embracing it as an underrated gem.

4 – From Russia with Love

Not all good Bond films are good films. They exist on their own terms with their own comparisons and qualifications. From Russia with Love is different however. Not only is it one of the best Bond films ever made but I think it’s one of the best films ever made. Period. It’s a classy, glossy and grounded Cold War thriller, by far the most complex Bond film of the era and more at home on the quiet cobbled streets of Venice or the roaring Orient Express than in some megalomaniac’s secret base. It has the Bond tropes but plays with them subtly in a way no sequel has ever replicated. And I’m glad. Over 50 years later it’s still as good and special as it was upon release, if not more so, and as I’ve gotten older I appreciate it more and more. Who knows, in a couple of years it could be top of the list.

3 – Goldeneye

Goldeneye is the best of both worlds. It managed to reboot the series in a more relevant and serious direction while still being, at its heart, a silly spy movie. The world had changed and the Bond series had finally caught up, even if the character hadn’t but that’s kind of the point. Brosnan is perfect in the role and the film perfectly captures the ‘hyper-reality’ all Bond films should inhabit. Mixing the gritty tone and character beats with the outlandish plot and villains. Martin Campbell’s direction is flawless and the film features two of the best and most independent Bond girls in the entire series. As character reintroductions go it’s on a par with Casino Royale, exploring the character both personally and professionally in new ways. Speaking of which…

2 – Casino Royale

So yeah, Goldeneye and Casino Royale are quite interchangeable on the list for me and their role as reintroductions of the character and world of James Bond is why. It’s an origin story for Bond. Not in the superficial ways – although we do get to see the origins of the gun barrel sequence among other things – but in learning and understanding why Bond is the way he is. The character feels like Bond throughout but it’s not until the finale and the first time he utters “Bond. James Bond” as the music begins to play that all the film’s events snap together and create the character we know and love. The film deconstructed the character before putting him back together in a way more complete than ever before. It’s a perfect way to reboot the series and Craig has to be commended for portraying such a complexly vulnerable and yet tough take on the character.

1 – The Spy Who Loved Me

When I think of Roger Moore, no scratch that, when I think of James Bond this is the film and performance I think of. What makes The Spy Who Loved Me the perfect Bond film is balance. Balance between action and humour, between silliness and seriousness. Tonally and technically it’s a masterpiece. It sets a formula that would be used and abused for the decades to come and nails it first time round. It’s got the megalomaniacal villain who wants world domination, the perfect henchman, the coolest gadgets and action scenes and the best back-and-forth between Bond and Bond girl, despite Barbara Bach’s inability to act. The film is worthy of its iconic status and gets every single aspect of James Bond correct like no other film.

So, come on, just how wrong is my list? What’s your favourite Bond film and who do you think is the best James Bond? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.

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