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Top 10 James Bond Movies

With the release of the 23rd official Bond film, Skyfall, it’s time to rank my top ten favorite James Bond movies.

Any top ten list I write has a few rules and caveats up front.  First, I’m only ranking “official” James Bond movies.  Never Say Never Again and the original Casino Royale don’t count.  Not that either one would have made the list anyway.  Two, I am ranking these films based on my own personal enjoyment of them.  So even though Thunderball is reversed as a classic by some, I find it bloated and kind of boring.

10. Tomorrow Never Dies –Pierce Brosnan’s second outing as 007 amps up the action to near ridiculous levels.  Terri Hatcher takes a turn as a Bond girl but her role gets cut short.  Tomorrow really comes alive when Bond spars and teams up with Wai Lin, a Chinese spy played by Michelle Yeoh.  Each of Brosnan’s turns as Bond was a little more ridiculous than the last.  Tomorrow Never Dies was the last Brosnan Bond that didn’t collapse under its own weight.

9. From Russia With Love – The Bond formula was not fully realized in the second Bond film.  A lot of the prototypical elements are there.  Robert Shaw makes a great henchmen.  Rosa Klebb is a classic Cold War villain.  And Daniela Bianchi as Russian agent Tatiana Romanova is a fetching Bond babe.  The series hadn’t yet gone off into ridiculous flights of fancy that would later define it.  The result was a Bond movie that was more of a spy thriller than the standard 007 action film.

8. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the first and only James Bond film to star Australian model, George Lazenby.  It’s got some great action scenes including one of the best skiing sequences in the series.  Telly Savalas makes a terrific Bond villain as Blofeld.  And Diana Rigg plays the love of Bond’s life, Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo.  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service differs from every other Bond film.  Lazenby’s Bond is far more sensitive than Connery ever was.  The movie ends with the unthinkable, Bond getting married.  Unfortunately, Lazenby lacked Connery’s charisma which sinks what would otherwise be one of the greatest Bond films of all times.

7. License to Kill – After years of Roger Moore’s increasingly silly James Bond, Timothy Dalton tried something new.  A grim and serious Bond who fought (relatively) real world threats in the form of a killer drug dealer (Robert Davi).  The film is basically Yojimbo as a Bond film.  Bond leaves the secret service to avenge an attack on his friend, Felix Leiter.  He infiltrates the organization of the drug dealer who fed his friend and his wife to a shark and brings him down largely by sowing seeds of mistrust among his men.  License to Kill is better than most people give it credit for, although that Wayne Newton cameo is painful.

6. For Your Eyes Only – The Roger Moore Bonds became increasingly silly over the years.  This trend reached its pinnacle with the dreadful Moonraker.  Fortunately, the series went back to basics with For Your Eyes Only.  This film features Moore at his most lethal.  Slightly grittier than the usual Moore outing while still retaining all of the charm of Moore’s best films, For Your Eyes Only strikes a good balance between super spy action and fantastical silliness.

5. The Spy Who Loved Me – The Spy Who Loved Me is Roger Moore at his Roger Mooriest.  It’s silly and cheesy.  It featured a disco-tinged score by Marvin Hamlisch, introduced the world to Richard Kiel as Jaws and cast the future Mrs. Ringo Starr (Barbara Bach) as Russian agent, Triple X.  I shouldn’t love The Spy Who Loved Me, but I do.  The opening sequence with Bond skiing over a cliff and then parachuting with a giant Union Jack is one of the all time greats.

4. Goldeneye – After the Dalton years, the Bond franchise reinvented itself with Pierce Brosnan in the lead.  Goldeneye features Sean Bean as Bond’s former partner gone bad and Famke Janssen as a Bond badgirl who kills men between her legs.  The opening bungee jump was a stunner and the tank chase through St. Petersburg set a new bar for action scenes in Bond films.  It’s a shame that every film Brosnan made after Goldeneye fell off a bit.  Oh and the Nintendo 64 game was awesome!

3. Skyfall This one may get adjusted on second viewing.  But for now, I’m putting Daniel Craig’s third Bond film at #3.  Rebounding from the so-so Quantum of Solace, Skyfall breaks the Bond formula to the point where it barely feels like a Bond film.  Javier Bardem’s Silva is one of Bond’s creepiest and most memorable villains.  And Judy Dench’s M gets to take a central role.  Despite all the changes, Skyfall has just enough nods to Bond tradition to feel like 007 and not just an imitator.

2. Goldfinger – When I think of James Bond, I think of Goldfinger.  It is the movie where all the pieces of the formula finally came together.  It’s got everything.  Great car, great villain, great henchmen, great gadgets and Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore.  What more could you ask for from a Bond film?  “Do you expect me to talk?”  “No, Mr. Bond.  I expect you to die.”  Classic!

1. Casino Royale – I have been reluctant to unseat Goldfinger as the #1 Bond movie.  It’s a sentimental favorite.  But Casino Royale expertly ushered in the Daniel Craig era of Bond.  And with Skyfall legitimizing that era, I feel like Casino Royale can finally lay claim to that top spot.  Hopefully future Craig Bonds will take as many chances as successfully as Casino Royale and Skyfall did.  If so, Craig will no doubt be remembered as the best Bond.  Something I would not have thought possible before Casino Royale cast him as a broody, thuggish government assassin.

I actually spread the love more than I expected to.  2 each for Connery, Moore, Craig and Brosnan and 1 each for Dalton and Lazenby.  Every Bond made the list at least once.

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Posted on November 13, 2012, in James Bond, Movies, Top Ten and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.

  1. “Moonraker” is a guilty pleasure film of mine; right up there with “Basic Instinct,” “Wild Things,” “Cocktail,” & “Obsessed.”
    Having said that, this is a good list, although I thought “The World is Not Enough” was better than “Tomorrow Never Dies” because of the great Bond/Elecktra scenes. Sophie Marceau is my favorite Bond villain from the Brosnan era.

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    • When it came out, I preferred TWINE over TND for exactly that reason. She was a good Bond girl/bad guy. And that was a pretty cool twist. But unfortunately, Denise Richards just sucks the life out of that movie for me. Upon multiple viewings, I find I don’t care for TWINE any more. But I can still sit through the mindless thrills of TND.

      As long as we agree Die Another Day was the low point of the Brosnan era 😉

      I dog on Moonraker because it is ridiculous and represents the worst excesses of the Moore era. But I have a soft spot for it too. It’s really not all that far separated from The Spy Who Loves Me which is inexplicably my favorite Moore movie.

      The thing about Bond films is that most of them follow the same formula. So the best Bond film and the worst aren’t all that different. Even a bad Bond film has something to recommend it. A View to a Kill has the terrific Christopher Walken, for example. And the best Bond films usually have some element that doesn’t quite work. The villain in Casino Royale was hardly a classic.

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  2. Casino Royale is an an excellent first choice, but I think Skyfall should be second….and only because you can’t have Skyfall without Casino Royale starting up the reboot.

    Also, I think Skyfall is just a damn good movie…period. Did you know Die Hard 4 was not originally a John McClane flick, it was intended to be a stand-alone film? Skyfall is like that for me, it could be a stand-alone film.

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    • I really hate making Top Ten lists because I am terrible at rankings. I considered giving Skyfall the top spot. But I want to see it again before I bestow that kind of honor on it. Until I see it again, I decided to be conservative and cap it at 3. That left Goldfinger and Casino Royale to duke it out. In the past, I would have given the nod to Goldfinger for having stood the test of time. But with the success of Skyfall, I decided to let Casino Royale have the top spot as acknowledgement that the Craig era has come into its own.

      At the end of the day, they are all three great Bond films. I could shake up the rankings differently on another day.

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  3. Truthfully, the only part of “Die Another Day” that I detested was the shoddy SFX & camerawork, which contrasts with the awesome SFX in “Moonraker” that made you believe that Bond was in space (although I’m so happy that we never saw Bond in space after that. Once was cool, more than once would’ve ruined the series, & it’s to Moore’s credit that he did 3 more Bond films after that one).
    I didn’t exactly care for Madonna’s song either, but “Die Another Day” did give us nice views of Halle Berry & Rosamund Pike.

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    • The CGI in Die Another Day was horrid. It’s especially galling in a James Bond movie when the series is known for real stuntwork. It really stood out. I don’t hate it. It’s just my least favorite of the Brosnan Bonds.

      I’ll assume you’re being sarcastic about the effects in Moonraker, right?

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  4. Gotcha!

    Check out QI if you haven’t already. All episodes are available on YouTube. I listen to it while doing other things.

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  5. Your Top Ten list mostly matches mine. The one switch I would definitely make is to swap the two Dalton films–Licence to Kill out and The Living Daylights in. Dalton’s first film has a muddled plot and hammy villains, but Maryam d’Abo is one of my very favorite Bond Girls and she and Dalton have a palpable onscreen attraction to each other.

    Depending on my mood, I might decide to swap Tomorrow Never Dies out in favor of Thunderball or Octopussy. Or, I might not–TND is, if nothing else, an action fan’s dream.

    Within the top 10, I would move From Russia With Love and OHMSS up to the top five, and I would reverse the rankings of For Your Eyes Only and The Spy Who Loved Me. I’m still working out what I think of Skyfall–I’ve only seen it once–so for the moment I’d drop it down to somewhere in the 6-10 range. My top five would then include Goldfinger, Casino Royale, From Russia With Love, OHMSS, and one of Goldeneye or For Your Eyes Only.

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    • Having rewatched Skyfall since I initially made the list, it probably drops if I reranked the movies today. I can respect The Living Daylights. Daffy has a lot of love for it and for D’abo on our podcast. I hope to have that up this weekend for your enjoyment. Best Dalton film is a close call. They are both good movies with some flaws.

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    • The one point I forgot to add to this earlier is that I have a bit of a soft spot for the non-canonical Never Say Never Again, which was the first Bond film I ever saw, way back in 1983. It isn’t a great movie, but I prefer it over Connery’s last two Eon Bond films and some of the Moore or Brosnan films as well. Because it kicked off my thirty-plus years of enjoying Bond films, I give it a sort of Honorable Mention status.

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      • We talk a bit about NSNA in the podcast. It was nearly my first Bond in theaters. Alas, I was thwarted in my effort to see it. So The Living Daylights became my first theatrical Bond.

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  6. My Top 10:

    10: For Your Eyes Only. One of Moore’s best entries, this one lowers the comic book elements and give us a Bond who can be serious when he must. A rebound after the abysmal Moonraker.

    9: Dr. No. The first one to introduce moviegoers to everyone’s favorite British secret agent, this debut picture is more low-key than many of the ones that followed, Which is not a bad thing. Connery establishes himself as Bond quickly and makes the role his own. Great cinematography.

    8: You Only Live Twice. One of the lesser Connery entries. But also one of the most purely fun ones. Over the top. But not ridiculously so as later ones would go. Donald Pleasance is still the best Blofeld.

    7: Tomorrow Never Dies. Easily the best Brosnan Bond film. Not as overblown as his two later entries and more to the point than Goldeneye, this one has 007 up against a Rupert Murdoch style media mogul out to start World War III as a ratings booster. Great action and a great Bond girl in Michelle Yeoh.

    6: The Spy Who Loved Me. Definitely the top of the Moore Bond heap, this one has plenty of action and well-done stunts yet also allows room for some well-placed emotion. Moore is at his best here, Barbara Bach is a great Bond girl and Jaws is easily the best henchman not named Oddjob.

    5: License To Kill. The most underrated Bond film starring the most underrated Bond actor. Dalton is definitely high up on the Bond list. Not as high as Connery or Craig. But definitely ahead of Moore, Brosnan and Lazenby. Here we see Bond go rogue in an attempt to bring down a South American drug lord who put his buddy Felix Leiter in the hospital. Cary Lowell is a truly tough Bond girl who never has to yell “save me James” and Robert Davi is a superb villain. Even Q plays a substantial role in this more gritty and realistic film. Dalton’s Bond is truly dangerous yet still has a sense of humanity.

    4: From Russia With Love. The second Bond film and the one that was closer to an actual spy picture than an action film. But the action is done well, the spy elements work and the villains are appropriately sinister.

    3: Casino Royale. As Bond, Daniel Craig is the perfect combination of the ruthless but suave Connery and the dangerous but still human Dalton. Casino Royale introduced him and brought the series back down to earth after it tread into Michael Bay territory in the last Brosnan entry Die Another Day. Casino Royale, like From Russia With Love, focuses greatly on spy stuff yet also has room for action. This one also shows Bond truiy in love and handles it quite well, just as good if not better than On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and has better acting to boot. By far, the king of the recent Bonds.

    2: Thunderball. Connery at his peak. Some of the best (if a tad overlong) action. Well-done suspense. Appropriately slimy villainy. One-liners done right.

    1: Goldfinger. The Bond with the most classic elements, Connery in top form. Pussy Galore. Oddjob the defintive Bond henchman. The perfectly villainous title character. The Aston Martin DB5 complete with ejector seats. Fantastic action. Great theme song by Shirley Bassey. What more could you want?

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    • I agree with a lot of your list. I like TND but I definitely prefer Goldeneye. TND is a bit of a mess to me. It almost crosses the line that Brosnan’ s last two movies crossed. I really do not like YOLT. Connery on Asian drag is a series lowpoint.

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  7. I just saw that Richard Kiel just passed away in Fresno, CA. When ever I think of Bond villains he is the first to come to mind. A terrible villain with stainless steel teeth on screen, and a gentle and articulate man off. I will miss him. My condolences to his family.

    Brad Deal

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    • Yes what a shame about Kiel. He was also wonderful in Happy Gilmore, the only Adam Sandler movie I would ever actually recommend to anybody. I remember seeing him as Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, as a kid I liked that they made him a bit more sympathetic in the second one, he even gets the girl at the end, he must’ve learned a thing or two from Bond on how to do that. I’m just thinking out loud here, but is Jaws the only guy besides Bond to get the girl at the end of the film in a Bond film?

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    • Ah that’s a bummer. I remember seeing Kiel on a children’s show one morning before school. I had never seen either of his Bond movies yet, but I think I was familiar with the character. He always seemed like a gentle giant. Condolences.

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    • Sad news, and I join the condolences to his family. We’ve discussed some of the “iconic” elements of the Bond films over the years–Jaws was, along with Oddjob from Goldfinger, probably the iconic villainous henchman character. Even though they turned Jaws into a bit of a cartoon character at times.

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      • That’s too be expected. The Moore movies turned Bond into a cartoon character at times.

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        • See? That’s the difference between Bond and me. In that exact same situation, I would’ve soiled myself. But not Bond. NO, never Bond.

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        • That stunt was really done with a car and driver. No special effects. I saw a documentary on it a few years ago. Before computers and no cartoons, but great entertainment. In my opinion, the music detracted from the effect and diminished all the hard work that went into making that great scene. This was back when men were men and women were women. If I remember right it was the first and only 360 degree spin and jump ever done….I love Bond.

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        • I agree, that stunt would have been far more impressive without the silly whistle sound effect.

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        • That 360 stunt really is one of the most impressive car stunts I’ve ever seen. In this CGI age I appreciate older films with real stunts even more than I did before. The Bond series has had some of the best stuntmen and stuntwomen in the business over the years, no question. One of my favorite stunts from all the Bond films is at the beginning of Goldeneye, when Bond bungee jumps off the edge of the dam to infiltrate the secret base below. A real stuntman did that jump off a real dam, a world record 700 and 20 feet! That’s like bungee jumping off a 72 story building! It still boggles my mind that a real stuntman did that.

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        • The James Bond stuntmen (and women) were the real unsung heroes of the franchise. Especially pre-CGI. I own all of the DVD releases pre-Craig. They had some tremendous making-of featurettes that detailed all of the stunt work and it was incredible. Yes, the music detracts from this one.

          There was one stuntman who was disappointed he would not be able to do the Eiffel Tower stunt for A View to a Kill. He just couldn’t handle missing the opportunity. So he did it himself on his own time. Unfortunately, this was illegal and got him fired from the series. But that’s the kind of guys these stuntmen were. They just loved doing crazy stuff.

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  8. I am sitting here thinking about Jaws and can remember him being left floating around in outer space without a spacesuit or anything. I always wondered how he got back to Earth without being burned up….? I can’t remember. Ahhh

    How bout it Lebeau …10 questions on Richard Kiel???

    Or maybe 5…

    Brad Deal

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  9. As sort of a mini-memorial to Richard Kiel I watched The Spy Who Loved Me again tonight. It still holds up pretty well today. Besides Jaws, it has a classic Bond moment in the BASE jump off of a glacier in the pre-credits sequence (performed by Rick Sylvester). There are also a lot of great set-pieces, and Barbara Bach, while a bit stiff as an actress, is a super-easy on the eyes Bond Girl.

    A couple of other things I noticed while watching. First, this is one of the best-looking of all Bond films. Cinematographer Claude Renoir, nephew of the great French director Jean Renoir, deserves some credit.

    Second, there are a lot of familiar faces in this one. Besides Kiel as Jaws, three other actors who became regular players in the series are seen here. Walter Gotell as KGB General Gogol and Geoffrey Keen as the British Defense Minister are introduced, and Robert Brown, who assumed the role of M in the 1980s, plays a British Admiral. Also, George Baker (Sir Hilary Bray in OHMSS) plays another RN officer, and Shane Rimmer, who had bit parts in 2-3 previous Bond films, plays a US Navy sub commander.

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  10. Classified: Top Secret, For Your Eyes Only:

    Congratulations Mr. Bond for another job well done. Dr. Bloefeld’s (Jr) plan to monopolize the North Sea oil field by tampering with Scotland’s vote for independence would have disrupted the continued use of the petro-dollar and destabilized world trade. Your brilliant plan to use the BitCoin operating system to counteract Bloefeld’s voter fraud computer stations saved the election and strengthen the Empire! As you well know, Scotland can only be as free as is necessary to keep them satiated and compliant, but never independent. Scott’s, as you well know, could never successully self govern without the guiding hand of Mother England. The Queen Mother herself stated that Scotland, “Should Choose Carefully.”

    Your actions guaranteed the success of our “Operation Vote for England” where the drinking water was dosed with lithium/fluoride thus making the entire population susceptible to the subliminal messages in every TV commercial. Every time the Queen Mother was seen on TV, pictures of starving children, and women in Arab Harems were transmitted directly into the voter’s Sublim-Cotex if they voted for independence. It is unfortunate that 008 was discovered and forced to drink untold gallons of contaminated water and now sits simi-catatonic in a voting booth pulling the handle, “Vote for the Queen” over and over again. In retribution, Bloefeld’s beloved cat, Fluffy, is to be terminated.

    “M”

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    • “M”

      Need I remind you Sir, that I am Scottish and was raised at Skyfall. Had I known about your efforts to subvert the election of my homeland I would never had allowed it to take place. Bloefeld is bad enough, but England too?

      I must now submit my resignation to Her Majesty’s Secret Service and will now devote myself to a free and independent Scotland.

      With Regrets

      007

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  11. I know this isn’t a common or popular opinion, but I thought that Timothy Dalton was the most believable Bond. That’s not a comment on the movies themselves, but a reflection on my image of the character.
    Yes, Sean Connery was super smooth, and Daniel Craig has a Connery feel about him
    But if you just came from Mars, Dalton had the look of a super spy / assassin when he needed to be look about him.

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    • J. Norman,

      The problem with Dalton is that I just don’t like the guy. He is too stiff or something. His movie is fine but I can’t get past the likeable factor. Is that fair? Probably not, but I can’t help it…

      Maybe Bond should not be likeable after all. Maybe because he is a sociopathic killer…..

      Brad Deal

      Like

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