Here’s something a little different. Now that I finally watched the one Bond movie I had not seen in its entirety from start to finish (see number 23), I can finally offer up my definitive ranking of all 24 Bond movies. Note: The spoof Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again are not included.
1) Goldfinger: Every bit of the Bond formula is done to perfection here: the villain, the henchman, the Bond girl, the top notch opening song and sequence: all among the best in Bond history. It also manages to be a bit campy without being absurd. Sean Connery’s Bond carefully hues the line between badass and sauve lady’s man in a way that would not really be replicated again, with perhaps Daniel Craig coming closest.
2) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: George Lazenby’s only appearance as Bond stands out if for no other reason than it being the only time until the number six movie on the list that Bond shows anything like emotional vulnerability. Opinions certainly vary, but Telly Savalas to me is the signature Blofeld, though I could be persuaded toward Donald Pleasance.
3) From Russia With Love: For many, Daniela Biancha as Tatiana Romanova might be the greatest of all the “Bond girls,” and I wouldn’t particularly argue with that. As for the movie itself, I wouldn’t fuss with anyone who put either of these three at the top of the list.
4) Casino Royale: The Bond franchise desperately needed a fresh start after the disastrous Brosnan era and the mediocrity of latter-day Moore and Dalton, and what better way than to go back to the beginning with the very first Fleming novel. Daniel Craig was perfectly cast as Bond, and the script was the most faithful adaptation of a Fleming story since the Connery era ended. It brought the Bond franchise in the present without sacrificing the essential elements of what makes Bond so good.
5) Dr. No: The common thread among the top five movies on the list is that they are faithful adaptations of Ian Fleming’s novels. When they started veering from the plot towards the end of Connery’s run and especially in the Moore era is when the franchise started to falter. Hee we have the first in the series. It would take a couple of more films before the formula was clearly established, but this sets the series off on phenomenal footing.
6) Skyfall: After the disappointment of Quantum Solace, it was heartening to see a second strong effort from Craig. Sure, some of the plot is utterly ridiculous, but it showed a different side of the character.
7) The Spy Who Loved Me: Easily the best of the Moore movies, and the turning point of the franchise before it devolved into high camp. Also the one time when not being faithful to the novel was a good call.
8) Thunderball: It’s generally more highly regarded by others, but I’ve always thought it was a bit too busy, and the underwater scenes are simply hard to keep track of. Still brilliant, otherwise.
9) You Only Live Twice: The absurdity of Sean Connery trying to pretend to be Japanese aside, the introduction of Blofeld (finally) as the big bad is worthy of a top ten entry.
10) Live and Let Die: As cringe-worthy as some of the blackploitation scenes are, and as silly as the general plot may be, it’s still a ton of fun. It certainly sets the scene for the what the Roger Moore era would be: for good and bad.
11) The Living Daylights: Timothy Dalton was basically a 180 degree turn from Moore, perhaps turning too far to the hard-edged version of Bond. This movie would be an island of good in a sea of awfulness between the end of the Moore era and Craig.
12) SPECTRE: It disappointed, but was still a fairly solid feature.
13) Diamonds are Forever: Connery came back for one more turn, and it may have been better had he just remained retired from the series. There are still some high points, including the delightful Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), but Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are more awkward than imposing. Throwing shade at Howard Hughes was certainly an interesting choice as well.
14) For Your Eyes Only: After the sheer awfulness of Moonraker (more on that later), a good comeback and the last of the good Moore movies. Bit of trivia: the ending of the movie with Bond and Melina being drug behind the boat as shark bait comes from the novel Live and Let Die.
15) Licence to Kill: This may have taken the concept of a more hard-edged Bond a tad too far. Bond going on a bloodthirsty, revenge-fueled quest is something they would kinda reprise with Quantum of Solace, though dialed back a notch.
16) The Man with the Golden Gun: We really didn’t need to see a return of
Roscoe P. Coltrane Sheriff JW Pepper. A slightly ridiculous movie but Christopher Lee is enjoyable enough as the villain.
17) Goldeneye: The best of the Brosnan movies. That tells you all you need to know about this period.
18) Octopussy: I’ve seen this multiple times and I’m still not sure what the hell the point is supposed to be.
19) Quantum of Solace: This happened.
20/21) Die Another Day/The World is Not Enough: Completely interchangeable and forgettable movies. I’d have to rewatch them to remember what the plot was supposed to be, and frankly I’d rather not. One of them had Denise Richards and, well, my brain has tried to blot the memory of that performance permanently.
22) A View to a Kill: The only Bond theme to hit the top of the Billboard charts. It singlehandedly saves this movie from being at the bottom of the list. Christopher Walken being Christopher Walken is normally enjoyable, but this was just awful.
23) Tomorrow Never Dies: The scene in which Eliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) is speaking to his media henchmen is the most cringe-inducing scene in the history of the franchise, and that is a high bar. It plays out like a scene which would have been cut out of one of the Austin Powers movies for being too over-the-top. Pryce’s performance is especially disappointing, because he’s at an 11 on the maniacal villain scale, and he needed to be at about a 7.
24) Moonraker: James Bond in space. Some argue this is so bad it’s campy good humor. No. No it is not.