The release of the latest film from the longest running franchise in Hollywood history, Spectre, marks the 24th film about the ultra-cool British superspy. As James Bond continues his never-ending exploits to save the world from evil forces, we take a look back to our Top Five Bond films.
Since the introduction of Ian Fleming’s superspy in 1962’s Dr. No, there have been six actors that have played James Bond over the past 53 years. Scottish actor Sean Connery established the blueprint that all future Bonds would follow. He was succeeded by George Lazenby for a single film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service before Connery returned for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.
Connery would depart once again (even though he made one more Bond film, 1984’s Never Say Never Again, which wasn’t a part of the series) turning the reins over to Roger Moore. His debut Bond film was 1973’s Live and Let Die. Moore would go on to make six more Bond films before ending his run in 1985.
Following the release of A View to a Kill, Moore was set to return to the role again in the next film, but after seven films and twelve years in the tuxedo, he decided to move on. (He also would have been 59 by the time they started making the next film, which was perhaps understandably deemed too old for the character.)
Enter Timothy Dalton, whose performance in the role was engineered to be more faithful to the character as written by creator Ian Fleming. He debuted in 1985’s The Living Daylights. Dalton would only make one more film, that proved to be ahead of its time failing to catch on with audiences. The franchise took a six-year hiatus before returning with an actor who was a throwback to the book’s roots.
After he was briefly considered for the role of Bond in the mid-1980s, Pierce Brosnan got his shot more than a decade later, and he turned the series around after Dalton’s decidedly more understated interpretation failed to catch on with audiences in the same way as predecessors Connery and Moore. GoldenEye grossed more than $350 million worldwide.
Brosnan sparkled in a total of four Bond films. Although Madonna’s theme song (and cameo) invited plenty of derision for Brosnan’s last outing as Bond, the film paid homage to its legacy with a litany of references to famous lines or details from preceding films. At the time of its release, Die Another Day was the series’ highest-grossing film, with more than $431 in box office receipts, but it also demanded an almost total reboot of the franchise by the time the Broccolis attempted another installment in 2006.
After Brosnan’s final entry as Bond received some of the worst reviews in the series’ history (despite being its highest-grossing installment to date), the Broccoli family went back to the drawing board for a reimagining of the character — an origin story of sorts which provides the foundation for much of the series’ mythology. Daniel Craig was more than up to the task of breathing new life into the character, creating a visceral interpretation of the usually impeccably dressed character and updating the franchise for a new generation of fans with Casino Royale.
As we prepare for what may be Craig’s final film as the legendary superspy, let’s take a look back at our Top Five Bond Films.
5. Goldfinger (1964)
Goldfinger is iconic, yes, but the best Bond film ever, as so many would have you think? Not quite. It’s the point where the series willfully forges ahead into a realm of silliness, leaving any subtlety behind for a taste of excess.
But oh, what excess. This is the movie where the obligatory expendable Bond girl suffers death by paint, where the villain is so obsessed with gold he intends to nuke Fort Knox in order to increase the value of his own supply, where the henchman crushes golf balls and wears a hat that doubles as a throwing weapon, and where the female love interest is literally named Pussy Galore.
The budget appears noticeably limited in places (the Fort Knox-set finale that should appear much grander than it does), but elsewhere the film is well-orchestrated and almost gleefully tongue-in-cheek, and it’s so packed with iconic moments that the entire film feels like a touchstone for every Bond movie made since. Connery, too, is in fine fettle, electrocuting goons and ejecting supervillains from aeroplanes as though he hasn’t got a care in the world.
4. Casino Royale (2006)
Casino Royale was, arguably, the first Bond film that non-Bond fans could truly enjoy. With the misogyny, eye-rolling humour and general wackiness ditched in favour of a Bourne-like realism, Casino Royale made an effort to scrap the Bond template and start all over.
The film was the second time Martin Campbell revived the Bond series (the first being with GoldenEye), and the director – in recognition of how overblown the films had become – grounded the secret agent back in reality. Well, as close to reality as Bond can get – Casino Royale still involves mad spectacle and ends with a battle in a building sinking into Venetian waters.
With the emphasis on character, the newly cast Craig puts in his finest 007 performance as a tortured brute of a secret agent, but Eva Green more than matches him as one of the all-time great Bond girls. Not that she really qualifies as one – Vesper Lynd is so well-written and brought to life with such vivacity by Green that she makes a match for Bond like no other there’s been.
3. GoldenEye (1995)
Looking back, GoldenEye is a Bond movie with surprising depth – it’s the first Bond movie set after the Cold War’s end, and the first to truly consider whether Bond is a man out of time. This would later be explored further in Skyfall, but GoldenEye manages to find the sweet spot between thoughtful self-analysis and “screw it, how about some superlative action sequences?”
GoldenEye’s beats are some of the best, with the tank chase, the explosive finale and that opening scene – perhaps Bond’s best ever – all serving as series highlights. Campbell also shows off an eye for location, with post-Soviet Russia a cruel concrete ruin of the former USSR and Cuba a lush, eerie paradise; his handling of actors, too, is impeccable (Izabella Scorupco’s Bond girl and Famke Janssen’s villain feel unique, as opposed to being just types).
Throw in an evocative, brassy industrial score, and some emotional weight in the form of Sean Bean’s former 00 agent turned against Bond, and you have easily the best 007 outing of the Brosnan era. None of Brosnan’s subsequent Bond movies even came close, which seems like a waste of an actor so well-suited to the part, but at least there’ll always be this stonking effort to look back on.
2. Skyfall (2012)
Under the helmsmanship of Sam Mendes, Skyfall is perfectly pitched somewhere between the realism of Craig-era Bond, the cool bombast of the old 007 stories, and the introspection of a Mendes movie. Then it throws in shuddering action and a gonzo villain in Javier Bardem, and you have what some reasonably refer to as the greatest Bond movie ever made.
Numerous superlatives can be thrown at Skyfall: it has the best cast (Bardem, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney and Ralph Fiennes join the returning Craig and Judi Dench), the best cinematography (Roger Deakins does some of his finest work here), and the best single-take monologue (“Now, they only eat rat…”). As the 50th anniversary movie, it delivers as the sum of half a century of 007, and then some.
Though it doesn’t top Casino Royale for soul-searching angst – there are too many great set-pieces going on for all that – Skyfall is unique in that it makes reference to a noticeably older Bond. Here, Bond is fallible, broken down and less effective than he once was. That doesn’t stop him winning in the end, but no other Bond movie makes you question the longevity of 007 quite like Skyfall.
1. From Russia With Love (1963)
Before Goldfinger set the template for what everyone expected a Bond movie to be, 007 was still finding his feet. And if the franchise had followed the example of From Russia With Love instead, audiences would have been looking a different kind of movie altogether, one of leanness, intelligence and stark, uncluttered cool.
Arguably the finest Bond – that’d be Connery – gives arguably his finest Bond performance, while his nemesis is probably the greatest the Brit spy has ever faced: Robert Shaw’s sociopathic Soviet agent, Red Grant. Their duel is rare – aboard a train carrying them from Istanbul to Trieste, Grant tentatively stalks Bond then sits him down to dinner, where each try to crack the other’s facade before they lock into the series’ single greatest fight scene.
From Russia With Love is almost the antithesis of Bond: it’s low on gadgets, high on brutality (Bond beating a woman for information here seems less like misogyny, more like a product of Bond’s success-by-any-means philosophy) and it centres on a low-key plot that actually forces the viewer to engage. It may not often feel like ‘true Bond’, but it’s a truly great movie all the same.
(contributions from Brogan Morris, WhatCulture.com and Todd Gilchrist, Variety Magazine)