Bond. James Bond. He’s a pop culture icon, who went from essentially defining pop culture in the early to mid ’60s (look up how many dozens upon dozens of spy movies there were) to rebooting himself as a vital force today. Only Harry Potter has made more and only Godzilla has had more movies. And he’s hated by millions of bartenders across the world, all of whom have to endure “shaken, not stirred.”
Since it’s summer and there is officially no more Daniel Craig Bond being mad we thought we’d revisit the five best movies in the franchise, perfect for, ironically, drinking beer and eating popcorn…
You Only Live Twice – Rating: 8.5/10
There are a lot of things that make You Only Live Twice one of the best Bond movies. In some ways, it’s a cultural milestone; this was the movie that introduced ninjas to the world stage. It’s got Connery at his best; self-assured and, no matter the situation, faintly amused at what’s going on around him, whether he’s flirting with a (male) guard. It introduces ongoing series bad guy Blofeld, although amusingly, the actor we most associate with the role, Charles Gray (you might know him a bit better as the Criminologist from Rocky Horror), isn’t playing Blofeld, just a bit part to get shot. It’s got the single best large-scale setpiece in the entire Bond filmography, the assault on the volcano crater.
And if nothing else, it’s got that glorious, sweeping theme, one of the best John Barry ever produced, backed by one of the best scores Barry, the longtime Bond composer, ever put together. The radio version is terrible; the movie version, with Barry’s trademark violins, is by far the best.
And finally, it has Connery’s “transformation” into a Japanese man, which mostly consists of a Beatles wig and gluing some very furry caterpillars over his eyebrows. It was the most embarrassing get-up Connery was ever in.
OK, maybe not…
The Living Daylights – Rating: 8.7/10
Bond movies are always at their best, after Connery, introducing a new Bond, and Daylights is a great example. This reboot, taken up right after Roger Moore finished his term as Bond, intentionally moved away from the over-the-top gadgets and one-liners, going for a grittier feel that actually suited the new Bond, Timothy Dalton, quite well.
The very opening sets the tone, with a training mission going horribly wrong, and Bond hunting those behind the Soviet organization Smiet Spionam (Death To Spies, the name of a real Soviet counter-intelligence organization). It’s immediately followed up by a creepy blond guy strangling a milkman to death with his Walkman.
Dalton, unfortunately, only got two movies to show off his fairly hard-edged Bond; showing the classic bad luck that’s haunted the poor guy for his entire career, the follow-up License To Kill fell victim to being released in the summer of 1989, and Dalton was bumped in favor of Pierce Brosnan. He wound up as the romantic interest in “The Beautician and the Beast” starring…Fran Drescher.
Well, it beats the time he had to pretend he wanted desperately to have sex with an eighty-year-old Mae West and competed with Alice Cooper for her affections. Yes, seriously.
GoldenEye – Rating: 9.2/10
Speaking of reboots, they don’t really come any better than this. After Kill mostly served to threaten to end the series, the series lay fallow for a few years, as Brosnan was finally allowed to become Bond. Dalton was actually a stopgap Bond; originally it was going to be Brosnan, but NBC renewed Remington Steele, depriving him of his shot.
GoldenEye has a lot of brilliant moments, including the single best car chase in the history of the franchise, featuring Bond in a tank versus St. Petersburg: Bond, of course, wins. It also shows the way forward after the end of the Cold War; namely, chasing terrorists.
It also made for a classic video game, so there’s that, too.
Casino Royale – Rating: 9.5/10
Die Another Day was incredibly fun if you were a Bond nerd, and fun for approximately nobody else. It was chock full of gags and little references to the rest of the franchise, right down to finally taking the idea behind Moonraker and turning it into something that wasn’t pain. But it was still kind of a terrible movie, right down to the ridiculous Madonna theme song.
So Royale, going back to Bond’s beginnings and featuring a hard-edged, angry Bond was practically a revelation. Even the opening, which is kind of ridiculous in retrospect, is great; thrilling, funny, and precise as Bond bashes through walls and uses brutal, but effective, methods.
Although we really could have done without the scene involving the mace to the nuts. Just…ow….ow…OW.
Thunderball – Rating: 9.7/10
Thunderball has never quite gotten a fair shake, but if you think about it, this is the movie that actually has Bond operating as a spy for the most amount of running time. The movie actually opens with his being sent to a health spa and he just happens to notice something fishy… which in turn leads to him investigating and cracking open a plot to steal nukes.
It’s also got some very well-shot and designed underwater fights, where who’s attacking who and where is always clear, and the hilariously fun moment where Bond plays cat and mouse with some sharks.
AND it has the most ridiculous Bond theme song in the entire franchise. Seriously. Listen to the lyrics. It makes absolutely no sense. “He strikes…like Thunderball?” Um, OK. But Tom Jones’ delivery is what sells it, complete with that endless high note.
Good thing they didn’t go with the Johnny Cash version!
Think we left a good one off? Let us know in the comments!