“Bond. James Bond.”. Though hard to believe, it has been five decades since Sean Connery first uttered that iconic line, and now we’re on the verge of the release of the twenty-third official Bond film Skyfall starring Daniel Craig as our latest incarnation of Bond. But over the years, James Bond has been through many different itterations. Despite having its share of setbacks both artistically and commercially, the series has endured and continues to win over new legions of fans. So let’s take a look back at some of Bond’s most memorable (and not-so-memorable) adventures.
#1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
This grand, sweeping epic has everything a fan could hope for from a Bond movie: drama, the wry humor, a tragic romance not undercut by Bond having loads of sex, and thrilling action (the sharply edited ski sequences still impress). The only thing keeping it from being the undisputed champ is the presence of one-time James Bond George Lazenby. Sure, Lazenby doesn’t have a tenth of Connery’s effortless charm, but by the end of the film it doesn’t matter.
#2. Goldfinger (1964)
If there is a manual for how to make the perfect Bond film, this is it (and it’s obvious they’ve tried to follow it with mixed results). After two well-produced though somewhat subdued first entries (Dr. No and From Russia with Love), Goldfinger was where the Bond series really began to find its identity with the biting one-liners, cool gadgets, and over-the-top villains. It also stars the definitive James Bond Sean Connery in peak form. A classic in every sense of the word.
#3. You Only Live Twice (1967)
Though Connery had grown disillusioned with James Bond, the franchise was a global phenomenon leading in to this fifth entry. As a result, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman felt they had a responsibility to go bigger and bolder. They did not disappoint. You Only Live Twice features exotic locations, intricate stunt work and the most impressive production design of any film in the series. One look at Ken Adam’s massive volcano lair and it hits you that they don’t make movies like this anymore. While other Bond adventures were certainly more dramatically ambitious, few can match this in terms of shear spectacle.
#4. Casino Royale (2006)
After the disaster of Die Another Day, the Bond series triumphantly returned with this fantastic reboot. Daniel Craig certainly made a strong impression by bringing wit, smarts, and a touch of menace to his interpretation of Bond. Though slightly hampered by an odd three-act structure and bloated running time, Casino Royale is still first-rate entertainment. The opening foot chase through a construction site in Madagascar is one of the most exhilarating set pieces in the series’ history.
#5. Licence to Kill (1989)
This is sure to be controversial. A commercial flop when released in the summer of 1989, many fans were quick to dismiss this as being “Miami Vice meets James Bond”. With the story following a rogue Bond (Timothy Dalton) as he tracks down a vicious drug lord (Robert Davi), they’re not wrong, but every Bond film reflects the period it was made. Regardless, there is no denying that it’s one of the most briskly-paced and soundly-structured entries of the series. and by having Bond go deep undercover, the audience sees that while he is an incorruptible superhero, Bond could also be a masterful criminal if he wanted to. Also of note: a priceless cameo by Wayne Newton as the sleazebag televangelist, Professor Joe Butcher.
#1. Quantum of Solace (2008)
The Daniel Craig-era began with a bang with Casino Royale. Unfortunately, what followed nearly sank the series all together. Poorly directed by arthouse darling Marc Forster, Quantum of Solace wasn’t so much a movie as it was a series of poorly executed set pieces that generated few thrills and no suspense. This disaster is ruined by a flat villain (Mathieu Amalric), forgettable Bond girls (Olga Kurylenko, Gemma Arterton), and a horrendous title track. It was also the first film in the series where it was very difficult to root for Bond himself as the writers went out of their way to turn the iconic spy into a cold, ruthless, and vengeful killer. Someone has to tell Craig that if he wants to succeed in this franchise, he is going to have to lighten up. (On a side note: whoever thought to turn Judi Dench‘s M into some kind of mother figure for Bond should be banished from Hollywood. It’s not only strange but totally unnecessary.)
#2. A View to a Kill (1985)
Right from the opening ski chase set to The Beach Boys‘ “California Girls”, everything about Roger Moore‘s final outing as Bond just feels awkward and out of place. And while playing a Bond girl doesn’t require much in terms of acting ability, there are blocks of wood that have more range than Tanya Roberts. By the end, you may want to claw your eyes out having watched the 58-year old Moore make out with women young enough to be his daughter. The only reason it’s not #1? Christopher Walken‘s turn as the bad guy, and the theme song.
#3. Moonraker (1979)
It’s no wonder why many fans hold Roger Moore in low regard given the poor quality of many of his James Bond films. Of all of them, none is more desperate than Moonraker. Trite, bombastic, and gimmicky, this shameless cash-grab attempted sends Bond into space in the wake of Star Wars‘ massive success. While it did make money, the artistic integrity of the franchise was damaged considerably, so much so they followed it with one of Roger Moore’s most low-key and best Bonds (For Your Eyes Only).
#4. Die Another Day (2002)
Pierce Brosnan may be the most polarizing figure in the James Bond legacy. He elicits either a love or hate response. But even fans of his will agree that Brosnan’s swan song Die Another Day was a dud. Though the film opens with the best idea of Bronson era (the opening credit sequence starts with Bond being caught and tortured), the film keeps finding ways to get worse, like introducing Madonna as a fencing coach. Add outlandish gadgets (Though some of Q’s inventions beggar belief, it was always great when they seemed reasonably grounded in technology. But an invisible car? Come on!), corny dialogue and laughable CGI, and it was clear the series was in need of a serious makeover.
#5. Live and Let Die (1973)
Make no mistake, Paul McCartney‘s title track absolutely rocks and only seems to get better with age. Unfortunately, that was the only memorable thing to come out of Roger Moore’s lifeless and borderline racist debut, Live and Let Die. At the time, the filmmakers attempted to give the Bond series a hardened, 70′s edge by sending 007 after a heroin dealer in the streets of Harlem. Like Bond at its worst, it tries to latch on to the trends of the time, and here we see Bond doing a blaxploitation film. Today, the film is dated, obvious, and, worst of all, dull. This entry is also infamous for introducing the bigoted Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), who is possibly the most annoying supporting character in the whole franchise.
Where do you rate your James Bond movies?