Ever since Sean Connery lit up a cigarette and uttered the immortal words, “Bond, James Bond,” 007 has been cemented in pop-culture lore as one of the most iconic film characters of all time. Although he may not be great at spying, given that one of his catchphrases reveals his name (not exactly conducive to having a secret identity), Bond has persevered for more than fifty years, employing six leading actors, and a litany of writers and directors.
With Spectre’s release, the franchise’s twenty-fourth offering, Halftime attempts the impossible. We will try to create a definitive ranking of the twenty-four Bond films. A disclaimer is necessary: there is no such thing as a “bad” Bond film. Every single one has moments of enjoyment. Keeping that in mind, let’s order our vodka martinis (shaken, not stirred), load our Walther PPKs (less of a random killing machine, more of a personal statement), and hop behind the wheels of our Aston Martins (ejector seats included) and get underway.
Unranked/Dishonorable Mentions: Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983)
Both of these films have the character of James Bond in them, but neither are officially recognized by fans as canon. Casino Royale is a half-hearted attempt at a spoof movie starring David Niven, and it’s all too forgettable, especially in light of some of the better spoof movies that have come out in years since.
Never Say Never Again was a product of a long-gestating battle over the film rights to Thunderball, and is essentially a remake of that film starring an aging Sean Connery. Despite a surprisingly strong cast, the film doesn’t do anything too well or anything too poorly, but it feels like an insult from Connery to the producers of Bond. Connery had previously spurned the role of Bond after You Only Live Twice for fear of being typecast, and only returned for Diamonds Are Forever because of a salary offer of one million dollars (a record for an actor at the time). After Diamonds, Connery left the role for good to expand his career, and only returned for Never Say Never Again because he was promised a significant amount of creative input, along with a generous paycheck. Interestingly enough, Never Say Never Again was released the same year as Octopussy, and despite the return of Connery, it ended up grossing less at the box office with a significantly larger production budget.
Fun Fact: Casino Royale was released in 1967, the same year as You Only Live Twice. The only other time two Bond movies were released in the same year was in 1983, with Octopussy and Never Say Never Again.
24.) A View To A Kill (1985)
Christopher Walken as a Bond villain should have made for an instant classic. Unfortunately, the film is something of a mess. Roger Moore, at 57, really shows his age, and he has absolutely zero chemistry with any of the female leads. Moore has even admitted in multiple interviews that he was far too old, and that the movie essentially falls apart as Moore is unable to sell any of the action scenes convincingly. A couple of bright spots, such as a great foot chase up the Eiffel Tower, cannot redeem a film that feels far too forced to be successful.
Fun fact: The film’s title song, written and performed Duran Duran, remains the only Bond theme to have reached number 1 on the US Billboard Top 100.
23.) Die Another Day (2002)
The 20th overall film and the final film of the Brosnan era, Die Another Day was a sign that the franchise needed to reexamine its course. The film starts off extremely well with an exciting opening chase between hovercrafts, but it quickly goes downhill. The plot has something to do with diamonds and satellites, but most will be distracted by just how over-the-top the whole film is. There’s an invisible car (which admittedly leads to a fantastic chase scene), an ice palace, and one of the franchise’s worst scenes, complete with Pierce Brosnan surfing on CGI waves. The over reliance on flashy CGI and a Madonna cameo sum up exactly what’s so wrong with this movie. The only good thing to come out of this debacle was the fact that the producers decided to reboot the franchise. Audiences got Casino Royale to make up for this debacle.
Fun fact: As this was the 20th Bond film, Die Another Day has references littered throughout to every previous Bond movie. Some are obvious, such as the jet-pack from Thunderball in Q’s office, and some are less obvious, such as the line that villain Gustav Graves utters, “Diamonds are for everyone,” a reference to the title of Diamonds Are Forever.
22.) Moonraker (1979)
Moonraker is a good enough movie, it just isn’t a good Bond movie. The film was produced in the wake of the Star Wars fever that had gripped moviegoers all over the world, and the producers behind Bond, the Broccolis, wanted to capitalize on this excitement. The film itself has an outlandish plot concerning the creation of a “master race,” but most audiences were concerned with the exciting climax, which involved a laser battle on a space station (yes, you read that right). The film tries way too hard to be over-the-top, highlighted by an absurd love story between the seven-foot tall Jaws and the much smaller, younger, sans-metal teeth Dolly. However, if you can ignore the ridiculous plot and hammy scenes (including one where Bond wrestles a giant snake), there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had. Plus, Michael Lonsdale has one of the best Bond villain performances of all time in his fantastic representation of the main villain, Hugo Drax.
Fun fact: The space-related special effects earned the film a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
21.) Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Connery’s final Bond role is unfortunately his worst. Diamonds Are Forever is noteworthy for the fact that it sets the majority of its action in America, the first time a Bond movie had done so. The movie is way too campy to be taken seriously, and Connery looks disinterested at best in his swan song. The film’s highlights include a chase with Bond driving a moon buggy and a final fight with Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, Blofeld’s henchmen. Charles Gray as Bond’s nemesis Blofeld is unremarkable, and he and Connery’s performancescombine to give the film a half-hearted feeling. Plenty O’Toole also deserves an award for one of the worst Bond girl names, although her initial exchange with Connery is priceless. Overall, it’s an eminently forgettable movie, noteworthy only for its silliness.
Fun Fact: Because of an argument over rights, this is the last movie before the upcoming Spectre to feature SPECTRE and Blofeld. Blofeld appears briefly in the opening to For Your Eyes Only, but is never named and his face is never shown. The argument over who owned the rights to SPECTRE was settled with the making of Never Say Never Again and paved the way for the evil organization to reappear in the latest Bond film.
20.) Octopussy (1983)
Perhaps the height of Moore’s campiness, the ridiculous title sums up much of what is wrong with this movie. Its climax features Bond dressing up as a clown, which is about as absurd as Moore could get. The film also lacks a memorable central villain, as most of the runtime is concerned with Bond’s relationship with the eponymous female. It does boast one of the most memorable pre-credits sequences, and plenty of great one-liners. Maud Adams, who plays the titular Octopussy, is still one of the best Bond girls, and there’s plenty of fun to be had with most of the action sequences. Just ignore the ridiculous Tarzan yell Bond makes as he swings through the jungles of India, and you’ll be fine.
Fun Fact: Roger Moore was initially hesitant to return to the role of Bond, as his contract had expired with Moonraker and he had agreed to do one final film, For Your Eyes Only. In his stead, the producers were ready to cast James Brolin in this film, but Roger Moore decided to return at the last minute at the behest of the producers, who were concerned with how Octopussy would fare against Never Say Never Again with a brand new Bond.
19.) The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
Much like the afore-mentioned A View To A Kill, this is a film that is only redeemed by its villain. The incomparable Christopher Lee portrays the titular assassin, and any scene with him immediately elevates the movie. He relishes every moment he has on the screen, and the showdown between him and Moore’s Bond is a great end to the film. The rest of the movie, unfortunately, is terrible. Britt Ekland, who portrays a Bond girl named Goodnight, gives one of the most forgettable performances of the entire franchise. Additionally, Sheriff J.W. Pepper is most likely the worst attempt at comic relief in film until Jar Jar Binks. The film’s low point may be a fantastic stunt that is ruined by an awful sound effect. That scene sums up the entire film, as the story could have made for a great duel of wits between Lee and Moore, but the its silliness ruins the film’s quality.
Fun fact: The film was produced in the middle of a martial-arts craze in Hollywood, and this led to the film’s settings in Asia. Specifically, shooting took place in Thailand, Hong Kong, and Macau. Part of the film was also shot in Lebanon, which made it the first Bond film to be include a location in the Middle East.
18.) Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The second film of the Brosnan era, Tomorrow Never Dies, plays it fairly safe with the conventional Bond formula. The film moves from set-piece to set-piece with very little in between. The action is great, and there are certainly some memorable villains (Jonathan Pryce’s Walter Murdoch-inspired Elliot Carver is a highlight). It all just feels way too by-the-numbers Bond to be a great movie. This was most likely the result of an extremely rushed production process, which caused the production to start shooting without a finished script. As Tomorrow Never Dies doesn’t do anything particularly poorly or well, it unfortunately cannot be any higher on this list.
Fun fact: This was the only one of Pierce Brosnan’s films to not open at number one at the box office. Because the film opened against Titanic in 1997, it finished number two. Despite this, Tomorrow Never Dies still managed to outgross Goldeneye at the domestic box office.
17.) Live and Let Die (1973)
Live and Let Die essentially saved the Bond franchise. It was Roger Moore’s first film, and he felt the pressure to continue the franchise after Sean Connery had departed for good. Live and Let Die was a huge hit at the time, but in retrospect, it isn’t all that good a movie. The villain, Mr. Big, isn’t a particularly great antagonist and the film’s racist overtones make it feel extremely awkward to watch again. The inclusion of Sheriff J.W. Pepper (who would return in The Man With The Golden Gun) didn’t help things. With that being said, the film does contain a few fantastic action sequences, even if the plot in between does not make a whole lot of sense. Bond’s escape from the alligator farm is a particular highlight.
Fun Fact: Before Moore was chosen, a litany of other actors were considered for the role: Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford, to name a few. In the end, the decision was made to keep Bond British, and Moore, who had gained recognition for his role on television’s The Saint, was selected.
16.) You Only Live Twice (1967)
Connery’s fifth turn as Bond is a solid effort. The story takes place largely in Japan due to the fact that the Bond franchise was extremely popular there. The story is outlandish, involving the hijacking of a spaceship, but it works well enough. Unfortunately, much of the scenes set in Japan involved a “Japan-ized” Sean Connery, and the results are painfully racist. However, everything about the film is quickly forgotten when you get to the climax: an epic battle in a volcano lair between SPECTRE and a team of ninjas working with Bond. Does it get any better than that?
Fun Fact: Blofeld’s signature scar was actually an idea that came from the actor who portrayed him, Donald Pleasance. However, Pleasance soon came to regret the decision, as the glue required for the scar began to irritate his skin.
15.) The World Is Not Enough (1999)
The World Is Not Enough would be so much higher on this list if it had done one simple thing: recastthe role of Christmas Jones. Jones is intended to be a nuclear physicist, and yet for some reason the producers chose Denise Richards to play the role. Richards doesn’t do a particularly bad job, but her tank-top and short shorts outfit completely undermines the intended intelligence of her character. This complaint aside, The World Is Not Enough is the ultimate guilty pleasure for any Bond fan. Its action scenes are superb and Sophie Marceau gives a great performance as Elektra King, the film’s femme fatale. Unfortunately, an overly-convoluted plot and Richards’ casting keeps the film from being any more than a guilty pleasure.
Fun Fact: The pre-credits sequence lasts for fourteen minutes, the longest of any pre-credits sequence in Bond history.
14.) Thunderball (1965)
Thunderball is noteworthy for its extended underwater action sequences. The fourth of Connery’s films, Thunderball was the product of a long-gestating legal dispute with Kevin McClory (as explained above). The film is probably best known today as being the story that Austin Powers spoofed so memorably. The story involves nuclear weapons stolen by SPECTRE and Bond’s adventures retrieving them. The underwater scenes are fantastic to behold, even by today’s standards. Domino Derval is a superb Bond girl, and Emilio Largo is serviceable as the villain. Why so low on this list? It was the first Bond film to be more than two hours, and it certainly feels much longer. You can’t help but wish that an editor had tightened up the pace of the plot. Still, Thunderball is eminently enjoyable.
Fun Fact: When adjusting for inflation, Thunderball is the most financially successful Bond film of all time. It also won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
13.) Quantum of Solace (2008)
Quantum is, in many ways, an absolute mess of a film. The editing is incoherent, as director Marc Forster used the Bourne approach to action scenes: quick cuts and excessive shaky cam that makes it impossible to follow what’s going on. Moreover, the villain, Dominic Greene, is extremely weak, and his scheme does not make a ton of sense (it has something to do with water, I think?). Why is Quantum rated in the middle of this list? It tells a genuinely interesting, emotional story for Bond. He spends the entirety of the film recovering from the death of Vesper, and Daniel Craig shows his inner turmoil in subtle, yet brilliant ways. At a lean hour and a half, Quantum works best when viewed in conjunction with its predecessor, Casino Royale. Together, these films make for a great examination of Bond’s emotional journey, and they explain why he becomes the way he is in all of the succeeding films.
Fun Fact: The film was produced in the midst of the Writer’s Guild of America’s 2007-8 strike. Because of this, Craig and Forster were forced to write some of the dialogue for the film on the set on the day of shooting.
12.) The Living Daylights (1987)
Daylights injected some much needed life into the franchise after the disappointment of A View to a Kill. Timothy Dalton steps into the role after Roger Moore’s departure, and he is sublime in his first attempt at playing Bond. Dalton brings a much darker edge to the role, and although he can’t quite nail the one-liners, his performance is still great to watch. The entire film is solid, despite a forgettable villain.. Overall, Daylights has some great set-pieces, and is a solid enough film to earn Dalton recognition as a hugely underrated Bond.
Fun Fact: The villains of the film use vehicles and packages marked with the Red Cross’ logo. In response, the Red Cross attempted to sue the production. No lawsuit resulted, but the film now has a disclaimer at its beginning and during the end credits.
11.) Dr. No (1962)
The one that started it all. Dr. No was filmed on a miniscule budget, but it is still undoubtedly a fantastic Bond film and a great start to the franchise. There are too many iconic moments to count: the first “Bond, James Bond” introduction, Ursula Andress’ bikini-clad Honey Ryder, and the villainous Dr. No himself. The movie’s action sequences are small, yet tense: an encounter with a tarantula is a particular nail-biter. More importantly, Connery showed from the get-go that he embodied everything that would make Bond iconic. Dr. No may look aged today, but it still is a great Bond film.
Fun Fact: In the iconic gun barrel sequence, that’s not Sean Connery shooting the gun. Stuntman Bob Simmons filmed the scene, since Bond’s face wasn’t visible and Connery was not needed.
10.) Goldeneye (1995)
Another film that saved the franchise, Goldeneye proved that Bond could still be relevant in a post-Cold War world. It’s easily the best of Brosnan’s films, as Brosnan owns the role from the start. The pre-credits sequence is one of the franchise’s best, with a bungee-jump that stands as a marvel to behold. Sean Bean is superb as the villainous Alec Trevelyan, and Famke Janssen is all sorts of crazy as the sex-murdering, not-so-subtly-named Xenia Onatopp. The film’s only real flaw is the score: Eric Serra’s soundtrack is just…odd. It’s way too 90s, and is the only part of the film that has really aged. Brosnan is great, the tank chase through St. Petersburg is fantastic, and the film is populated by some genuinely memorable supporting characters (Xenia, Boris, Zukovsky, to name a few). It’s too bad that Brosnan would only go downhill from here.
Fun Fact: Dalton was originally supposed to star in the film, but legal troubles delayed the production in 1991. Brosnan, who had been approached to take over after Moore but was unable to due to contractual obligations to Remington Steele, jumped at the part. The six-year gap between 1989’s License to Kill and 1995’s Goldeneye is the longest in Bond history.
9.) Spectre (2015)
The most recent Bond offering, Spectre is wildly uneven and less than the sum of its parts. Sam Mendes, a masterful auteur, returns to the director’s chair, and he does his best with an incredibly messy script. The film’s story involves Bond facing off against his half-brother, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), and something about a surveillance system. (Think too hard about it, and you’ll just give yourself a headache). Fortunately, the first two-thirds of Spectre are superb. The pre-credits sequence is arguably the best in the franchise’s history, and Mendes is probably the most visually-skilled director to direct a Bond film. Dave Bautista’s Hinx steals every scene he’s in without saying a word, and the buildup around Walz’s character is well done. The third act really falls apart, with incoherent plotting and a villain whose motivations don’t make a ton of sense. (What was his plan exactly? I’m still not sure.) Waltz is underwhelming, but the other parts of the film work well. It’s a shame that the writers couldn’t have come up with a more satisfying ending.
Fun Fact: The film earned a Guinness World Record for the largest explosion ever filmed (when Bond blows up Blofeld’s compound in the desert).
8.) The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Spy is one of the few Moore movies to have gotten better with age. Everything clicks: there’s a memorable Bond girl, a fantastic villain, a just-ridiculous-enough evil lair, and a great henchman (Jaws). Moore is completely comfortable as Bond, and it shows. The opening stunt, with Bond skiing off of a huge cliff and parachuting his way to safety, is one of the most memorable in Bond history. The underwater Lotus is another great part of Bond lore. The final showdown is reminiscent of You Only Live Twice, and it lends an epic feel to the whole affair. There isn’t much to dislike about Spy, and it’s arguably Moore’s finest feel.
Fun Fact: When Fleming sold the film rights for the Bond novels to the producers, he sold only the title to The Spy Who Loved Me novel. The producers had to come up with a brand new story for the film. Because there was no relation between the film’s screenplay and Fleming’s novel, Eon Productions authorized the writing of a novelization of the film, by Christopher Wood, the first one in Bond’s history.
7.) Goldfinger (1964)
The quintessential Bond film. Connery’s third offering finally identified the formula that would make the franchise so successful: a villain with an insane plan to get rich, a Bond girl with a ridiculously sexual name, a memorable henchman who doesn’t say much, and some classic one-liners. Connery gives his definitive Bond performance, and Gert Frobe is fantastic to watch as the titular Goldfinger. The car is beautiful, the action is fantastic, and the interplay between Bond and Goldfinger gives way to one of cinema’s most iconic exchanges: “Do you expect me to talk?” “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” Just please try to ignore the 60’s era sexism.
Fun Fact: Goldfinger was the first Bond film to win an Academy Award. Norman Wanstall won for Best Sound Effects Editing.
6.) Skyfall (2012)
After Quantum of Solace’s poor reception and MGM’s financial troubles, there was a lot of pressure riding on Skyfall to be successful. $1.1 billion dollars later, it’s pretty obvious that Skyfall exceeded expectations. The story isn’t anything too special: Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva is out for revenge against M and Bond has to stop him. It’s the execution that makes the film spectacular. Assisted by Roger Deakins, an acclaimed cinematographer, Sam Mendes makes Skyfall a visual delight. The action is beautifully shot, the locales are unique and colorful. Although the story isn’t too inventive, Bardem’s performance sells Silva’s character. Sure, there are pretty significant leaps in logic here and there, but Skyfall offers a deep psychological look into Bond’s character, and the ending is one of the few emotionally crushing ones in franchise history.
Fun Fact: Sean Connery was originally planned to play Kincade, the groundskeeper at the Skyfall ranch at the end of the film. However, Mendes vetoed this idea, because he believed that it would seem too much like stunt casting. Hence,the role went to Albert Finney.
5.) License To Kill (1989)
This is certainly the darkest film in the Bond canon. License’s story sees Bond go rogue as his best friend, Felix Leiter, and Leiter’s wife are brutally maimed and Bond goes on a quest for revenge. It’s an incredibly violent movie, taking many chances with the traditional Bond formula. Dalton rarely cracks a smile, and his intense performance brilliantly conveys Bond’s darker side. License is an extremely divisive film among Bond fans. Some praise its edginess while others criticize it for not being Bond. It’s fifth on this list because of the low-stakes, realistic story and brutal action sequences. Dalton cements himself as the most underrated Bond. The villain, Franz Sanchez, is a drug-lord who invites Bond’s wrath, and the finale is one of the most harrowingly intense sequences in any Bond film. Its flaws? A forgettable Bond girl and a long running time. Look past that, and Dalton was out-Craiging Craig years before Craig made the darker, edgier Bond a hit.
Fun Fact: The film underperformed at the box office in the United States. The title was originally “License Revoked,” but the producers changed it during the advertisement campaign because they worried that audiences would think that the film would be able James Bond getting his driver’s license revoked. Although, now that I think about, that could make for a very interesting showdown: Bond vs. the line at the DMV.
4.) For Your Eyes Only (1981)
After the science-fiction-influenced plot of Moonraker, the producers decided to bring Bond back to Earth. This proved to be a wise move. For Your Eyes Only is Moore’s finest film, and it’s also sits in theCold War-era genre. The plot concerns Bond’s attempts to obtain a missile tracking system called the ATAC. The action scenes vary widely: underwater sequences, a great car chase, and a finale that is one of the most tense in any Bond film. It involves Bond and company climbing up a mountain to launch an assault on a monastery, and the sequence’s stunts feel real and involving. Melina Havelock is one of the tougher Bond girls. Everything feels tighter and better-edited here. The only real flaw is an embarrassingly uncomfortable sequence where a teenage figure skater tries to seduce Bond. Yikes. Other than that, For Your Eyes Only works brilliantly.
Fun Fact: The pre-credits sequence closes the door on the Blofeld character. Bond drops a bald man in a wheelchair down a chimney stack (it’s the only real over-the-top sequence in an otherwise restrained film). Blofeld’s name is not used because of the rights dispute with Kevin McClory, but it’s fairly obvious who the man in the wheelchair is supposed to represent. The first shot showing Bond visiting Tracy’s grave is a nice callback to the next film on this list.
3.) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Ah yes, the black sheep of the bunch. OHMSS is a one-off for George Lazenby, a former-model turned actor who had the difficult task of replacing Sean Connery. Lazenby’s awkward performance cause many to write this one off unfairly. The film is incredible, outside of his acting: the locations in the Swiss Alps are beautiful, Lazenby’s stuntwork is the reason why he was cast and it shows during the action scenes, John Barry’s score is his best work, and the film has an absolutely gut-wrenching ending. Telly Savalas isn’t quite Donald Pleasance as Blofeld, but he does a good enough job of being a menacing ending.The story is a little ridiculous, but the rest of the film is so beautifully done that it’s easy to ignore Blofeld’s ludicrous plot. Modern-day directors like Christopher Nolan have called OHMSS their favorite Bond movie (the action scenes in the Alps would influence Nolan’s finale to Inception). If Connery had been Bond, this would have easily been number one on this list.
Fun Fact: During Lazenby’s audition for Bond, he accidentally punched the stunt coordinator in the face. This convinced the producers that he was fit for the role. The reason why this movie is his only appearance is because his agent convinced him that the Bond franchise wouldn’t survive the 60’s. Lazenby showed up to the premiere sporting an unsightly beard that he refused to shave at the behest of the producers. He stated in later interviews that turning down the seven-film contract he was offered was the biggest regret of his life.
2.) From Russia With Love (1963)
The follow-up to Dr. No, From Russia With Love is considered by many fans to be the best Bond film of all time. It’s best known for the iconic showdown on the train between Bond and Red Grant. It encapsulates the entire film, which is an extremely tense, well-acted story. The budget doubled after the success of Dr. No, and it shows, with an early set-piece involving a gunfight at a gypsy camp being a particular highlight. It’s really the fight on the train that steals the show; the confined, claustrophobic choreography feels practically Hitchcockian. From Russia With Love would be the final true attempt at realism from Connery’s Bond, as the subsequent films became grander in scope. Fun Fact: The reason the film was made was because President John F. Kennedy said that the novel From Russia With Love was one of his top ten favorite books, and the producers decided to adapt that novel next.
1.) Casino Royale (2006)
Casino Royale isn’t just a great Bond movie, it’s a great movie. From the black-and-white pre-credits sequence, it’s clear that there’s something different about this film. The action is realistic and brutal, highlighted by an absolutely brilliant foot chase through a construction site in Madagascar. Le Chiffre, the villain, portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen, manages to be imposing without ever posing a physical threat to Bond. Craig fits right in as 007, owning the role from the pre-credits sequence. The intial sequence might be the best scene in the whole movie: it brilliantly juxtaposes the calm of Bond’s second kill with the chaos of his first. Eva Green as Vesper Lynd is possibly the greatest Bond girl of all time. She is smart, intelligent, strong, and layered. Green is sublime as Lynd, and her ultimate death is a somber moment for all Bond fans. The exchanges between Bond and Vesper are fantastic, as you really grow to care about their relationship and believe in it by the end of the movie. Martin Campbell’s direction is excellent, as he proves to be a master of the action scene. Best of all, the film shows us why Bond is the way he is by its end. It’s a fascinating character study laced into a post-modern action film.
Fun Fact: The Aston Martin crash scene set the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of flips done by a car in a single take.
That’s our definitive list. Thoughts? Agree or disagree? What movies are ranked too high or low? Sound off in the comments section.