New James Bond Film Titles Can Still Come From Fleming’s Original Works

While most of the titles of Ian Fleming's James Bond stories have been used for the films, some fantastic chapter titles and quotes remain, perfect for the new reboot...

There’s an art to a James Bond title. It can be pulpy, but not too pulpy. It can be punny, but not too punny. It has to stick to a convention, but not be too conventional. Like the character himself, the title of a James Bond film has to be cool, but effortlessly so. It can’t seem like it’s been mulled over by a board of executives for months, trying to reverse-engineer the formula. It has to be instantaneous and snappy, unique but recognisable, and feel like Bond rather than a Bond parody. It is incredibly difficult to think of a good one and it’s only getting harder with each film released.

The last great title was perhaps Skyfall. It’s hard to get away with a one-word title, although it is actually just two random words smushed together. Yet, somehow, for an almost undefinable reason, it feels like Bond, mixing the cool with the nonsensical. Spectre is as boring, serious, and uninspired as you can get and No Time to Die, while better, is too generic a Bond title. As for ‘Bond 26’, the film set to relaunch the franchise with a new actor, the title is anyone’s guess. But perhaps the producers and writers don’t have to rack their brains for the next five years to come up with a new title. Perhaps it already exists, deep in the back catalogue of Ian Fleming’s original works.

It used to be easy in the early days of Bond films. Need a title? Just pluck one of Fleming’s, almost at random. As the films continued, they began less and less to take plot inspirations from the novels but the titles were all there, ready for the picking. Want to do a sci-fi adventure after the success of Star Wars? Then name it Moonraker because, well, moon is in the title. But then, in the late 80s, the titles started running out and original ones had to be created. It seems common knowledge now that all of Fleming’s titles have been used up but it’s not true: the titles of four short stories are just waiting to be appropriated.

Risico. The Hildebrand Rarity. The Property of a Lady. 007 in New York. Okay, so maybe there’s a reason they haven’t been used yet. They’re rubbish, but that didn’t stop them from using Quantum of Solace, the most try-hard pretentious title of them all. 007 in New York is an absolute no-go. The Property of a Lady is more befitting an 19th century Jane Austen romance. The Hildebrand Rarity isn’t particularly provocative. And Risico is decent until you realise it is titled after a Greek person attempting to say the word “risk,” so maybe has too much embedded casual racism for the modern audience. So yeah, the remaining titles probably haven’t been used for a good reason, then. But! It’s not just book titles that could be used but chapter titles too.

Fleming titled all of his chapters meaning within each imaginatively-titled book is a multitude of other brilliant Bond titles ready to be assigned a future movie. I’ve combed through the back catalogue and have collected a selection I think could work, book by book:

Casino Royale: The Secret Agent; Number 007; The Nature of Evil (Two very simple titles, but for a new beginning without a recognisable Bond actor maybe that’s what is needed, plus one that fits the ‘generic but not too generic’ mould)

Live and Let Die: Valley of Shadows (Sure, the film could be set in a literal valley of shadows but the title also implies a sense of mystery and hidden danger)

Moonraker: Cards with a Stranger; Dead Reckoning (Dead Reckoning is great but might be off the table after the next Mission Impossible film. I love Cards with a Stranger though. Classic Bond that can feel romantic and/or dangerous, depending on the stranger)

Diamonds Are Forever: The Eye That Never Sleeps (Great-sounding, vaguely-poetic nonsense. A perfect fit)

From Russia, With Love: The Moguls of Death; The Fuse Burns; Killing Time (Why reuse ‘Die’ in a title for the umpteenth time when “Death” will scratch the same itch. Killing Time is a good pun and The Fuse Burns might not be particularly Bond-y but it is a good title for an action thriller)

Doctor No: Horizons of Agony (A title befitting either a James Bond film or a Hellraiser movie. That’s a win in my book)

The Spy Who Loved Me: Perchance to Die! (As much as I love the pulp flair of the exclamation mark, perhaps it should be removed for a film. Otherwise, a quality pun on a literary quote, striking the balance between clever and silly)

You Only Live Twice: The Impossible Mission; The Death Collector; Blood and Thunder (The Death Collector is good but perhaps has a serial killer vibe, if Dead Reckoning is off the board because of the new Mission Impossible I guess The Impossible Mission is too, and Blood and Thunder is such a fantastic title once you realise it’s not a Thor film)

While all the good novel titles have been used there is however the chance one could be reused and altered just enough to make it work in the modern day. I’m talking of On His Majesty’s Secret Service. With the Queen dead and the King on the throne, the classic title of Fleming’s eleventh book just needs a change of pronoun and it’s ready to go. It’s too delicious an idea to ignore. Not only has the original On Her Majesty’s Secret Service gained new appreciation by fans but Barbara Broccoli seems to love it too, with No Time to Die being very referential to the earlier film. It doesn’t have to follow the same plot but it might suggest a more personal, character-driven, emotional film. Despite having just one short word between them, I think enough time has passed that no one would be genuinely confused about the two films sharing a title.

But my main reason for writing this article is because I already know what I want the next title to be. Not a book title or even a chapter title, but rather a direct quote from Fleming’s third novel, Moonraker: “The Man Who Was Only a Silhouette.” Not only is it a perfect, enigmatic phrase befitting a Bond movie title, but it is the quote that has come to define Fleming’s Bond in my mind. It’s how Bond describes himself in the novel’s final passage after being jilted by a potential lover. Bond isn’t just a silhouette but that’s what he feels he has to become in order to fulfil his role effectively; it’s a defence mechanism. He chooses to bury his emotions and humanity for his country, become a shadow in the dark. A criticism could be that it’s too long for a title. I’d disagree but it could always be shorted to just “Silhouette” to fit the one-word titles being with S that dominated the Craig era. Bond is known for his silhouette after all, from posters to the image of him against the gunbarrel at the beginning of (almost) every film. It’s a perfect fit.

Of course, there are continuation novels with their own Bond canon that could inspire new titles too. Most are bad, particularly those by John Gardener, but a few modern titles could work, such as Devil May Care, Trigger Mortis, Forever and a Day, and With a Mind to Kill. But I don’t think it’s time to move away from Fleming’s wordplay just yet, in fact it can be embraced again like it hasn’t been for decades.

Do you have a suggestion for the next James Bond film title? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.

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