The best and worst James Bond movies: a ranked list
In celebration of the new Skyfall, we return to all 22 official James Bond films in search of the perfect spy cocktail, rating the best and worst Bond girls, 007 theme songs and leading actors with the licence to kill.
Tue Nov 6 2012
It’s been 50 years of James Bond: five decades of gadgets, glamour and the coolness of a concept that shows no signs of dying. But does one installment tower over them all? Time Out’s film critics have revisited childhood memories and six swarthy, eyebrow-arching actors—from Sean Connery’s iconic pioneer to Daniel Craig’s tough remodel—to consider all 22 of the official Eon entries (we’re omitting 1967’s intentionally silly Casino Royale and 1983’s independently made Never Say Never Again, a semiremake of Thunderball). How do all the Bond girls stack up? How about those syrupy theme songs? (Delve into our Spotify playlist for an aural taste.) We give these components a shaken-not-stirred “Martini rating,” as well as an overall ranking for the movie itself. Join us as we count backward toward number one with a bullet. And if your favorite spy hasn’t gotten enough love, tell us in the comments.
Die Another Day (2002)
Pierce Brosnan bids farewell to Bond with a stinker that can fairly be called the franchise’s Batman & Robin. There’s a kernel of an interesting idea in the plot, about a North Korean general—who remakes himself through surgery as a white Anglo businessman—with plans to harness the sun’s rays for a destructive laser. Actually, no: There’s nothing not ridiculous about that, whatsoever. Ceaseless digital spectacle (parasailing on a tidal wave is a series nadir), barrel-scraping gadgets (an invisible car?) and quite possibly the worst Bond girl ever make this a cringingly tough sit. When Madonna is your most likable performer (she cameos as a fencing instructor), you know something is majorly off.
Theme song: A few eye-rolling lyrics aside (“I’m gonna avoid the cliché”—more like milk it, hon), Madonna’s blood-pumping title tune is one of the film’s few saving graces.
The Bond girl: Halle Berry’s Jinx, a sassy NSA agent, is 100 percent arch line readings and calculatedly sensuous poses without a shred of genuine allure.
The killer moment: Moneypenny consummates her flirtatious relationship with our polyamorous secret agent using Q’s virtual-reality simulator.—Keith Uhlich
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The second Brosnan Bond was a troubled production, with numerous script rewrites, openly unhappy performers (Teri Hatcher took her frustrations to the press) and the absence of hands-on producer Albert R. Broccoli, who’d recently passed away. So it’s kind of a miracle the movie is as watchable as it is, even though it’s still a pale shadow of Brosnan’s inaugural GoldenEye. Monomaniacal media mogul Jonathan Pryce is a splendid villain—an unholy amalgam of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates—who’s out to use his headline-blaring influence to start a war between Britain and China. And there’s a terrific central action scene, just the right mix of comedy and thrills, involving a motorcycle-helicopter chase through Saigon’s slums.
Theme song: A bizarre mix of torch song, soaring ballad and coffeehouse improvisation, the lackluster title tune by Sheryl Crow immediately dies, and not tomorrow either.
The Bond girl: Hong Kong martial-arts superstar Michelle Yeoh is more equally matched with her male counterpart in terms of brain and brawn than past heroines, and she’s got a hell of a roundhouse kick.
The killer moment: Bond and his leading lady descend the outside of a skyscraper with the aid of a behemoth billboard of Pryce’s baddie.—Keith Uhlich
A View to a Kill (1985)
How do you screw up a Bond film in which both Christopher Walken and Grace Jones plot to flood Silicon Valley by blowing up the San Andreas Fault? Here’s your blueprint. The constant quips of 58-year-old Roger Moore come off like ossified shtick, and his chemistry with Bond girl Tanya Roberts is nonexistent. Then there’s Walken’s bleach-blond Nazi superman, Max Zorin, who’s more of a petulant child than a terrifying psychopath. Aside from a vertigo-inducing climax involving a zeppelin and the Golden Gate Bridge, the action scenes are a mishmash of shoddy stunt-doubling and eyesore rear projection. Not the best note to go out on, Rog.
Theme song: The only Bond theme to go No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill” is a glammy, delirious piece of ’80s cheese.
The Bond girl: Roberts’s bland geologist pales next to the snarling, statuesque Jones, who can kill with a camptastic glare as much as a poisoned fishing rod.
Martini rating for Jones:
The killer moment: Bond snowboards down a mountain to the Beach Boys’ “California Girls”—a cheeky summation of the Moore era if ever there was one.—Keith Uhlich
Live and Let Die (1973)
Roger Moore started playing secret agent Simon Templar on TV’s The Saint in 1962, the same year that Connery ordered his first onscreen shaken-not-stirred martini. In fact, Moore had been suggested as a potential Bond from the get-go. So the London-born actor would seem like a wise choice to take over the reins—a notion that his disastrous first Bond film was apparently hell-bent on disproving from start to finish. Moore’s interpretation of 007 as a mobile cardboard cutout isn’t helped by the fact that the producers decided to turn his inaugural entry into a blaxploitation movie, spiced with offensive ooga-booga voodoo scenes and cringeworthy comic relief. We’d have been happy to let this one die, frankly.
Theme song: It’s ironic that one of the worst Bond films has one of the franchise’s best theme songs, courtesy of Paul McCartney and Wings in full pop-genius mode.
The Bond girl: Could Jane Seymour’s psychic tarot-card-reader Solitaire be any sexier? No. Could she be a little less bland overall? Definitely.
The killer moment: A fellow agent encounters a parade of New Orleans mourners: “Whose funeral is it?” “Yours!”—David Fear
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Having exhausted the novelty factor of a new 007 by this point, you can feel the producers straining to come up with ways to keep viewers interested in Bond 19: Here’s an even more extreme version of a ski chase, one with helicopters, too. Our oil-pipeline plot is torn straight from today’s headlines. Look, there’s a new Q, and it’s John Cleese. Pierce Brosnan brings a feline grace to the role, but even with Robert Carlyle playing an unfeeling terrorist—literally, as the bullet in his head means he can’t experience pain—this is a Bond film on autopilot. An above-average entry would have been enough.
Theme song: Garbage’s alt-rock take on what otherwise sounds like a typical Bond theme is passable but wanting.
The Bond girl: Sophie Marceau’s bad girl brings the right mix of exotic beauty and predatory danger; the less said about Denise Richards’s nuclear physicist (?!?), the better.
The killer moment: The precredits set piece has Bond chasing down a comely assassin via speedboats and an explosive hot-air balloon.—David Fear
The Living Daylights (1987)
Roger Moore recedes into a mild, safari-suited haze; Timothy Dalton arrives to fill the tux. There’s no denying the vigor Dalton brings to the action sequences (he did many of these stunts himself), and an aging franchise suddenly feels high-octane. But couldn’t the dour actor have found his way to a little charm? No one leaves the theater shaken or stirred. Real-life world events have since transpired to make this movie’s endgame laughable: Bond joins with heroic mujahideen forces in the Afghanistan desert (pay no attention to those long beards and terrorist intentions) to foil a Soviet counteragent.
Theme song: After the global success of Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill,” producers thought it wise to go with Norwegian pretty boys A-ha, but the resulting title number (composed with John Barry in a reportedly spiteful collaboration) sounds thin.
The Bond girl: Bobbleheaded Maryam d’Abo, playing a Czech cellist and bedroom pawn, never seems comfortable with Dalton’s hard-ass 007 (is it even possible?), plus she’s especially helpless during the chase sequences.
The killer moment: Bond and an evil henchman hang off the back of a cargo plane’s open hatch while soaring thousands of feet over the desert. Oh, and there’s a bomb onboard.—Joshua Rothkopf
Merely the idea of a movie named Octopussy proved more suggestive than watching the final product, a formative sexual disappointment for many ’80s teens. This was the vehicle that put Roger Moore’s Bond in a clown costume (redundant?) and also had him running around India searching for priceless Fabergé eggs and the jewel thief who might precipitate a nuclear war. Tennis pro Vijay Amritraj makes for an inert sidekick, while Gigi’s Louis Jordan brings such a swishy suavity to his villain that the whole movie threatens to cave in on its own masculinity. For the first time in franchise history, Bond seemed thoroughly exhausted on every front.
Theme song: Adult-contemporary crooner Rita Coolidge moans her way through series embarrassment “All Time High,” a song with lyrics so awful, Broadway legend Tim Rice should have returned one of his Tony Awards in shame.
The Bond girl: It’s a tribute to Maud Adams’s timeless glamour and good nature that this was her second Bond film, almost a decade after The Man with the Golden Gun. Still, her character is a relic of diaphanous female intrigue.
The killer moment: Undeniably, thrills arrive with Bond’s daring escape via personal mini-jet; he pilots it through an open hangar at 150 miles per hour.—Joshua Rothkopf
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I disagree with this horrible list on every level, How do u rate quantum of solace above octopussy????? Tht. Was actually 1 of my favorites, and tomorrow nvr dies was actually decent
I disagree with this horrible list on every level, How do u rate quantum of solace above octopussy????? Tht. Was actually 1 of my favorites, and tomorrow nvr dies was actually decent
Casino Royale is the best Bond movie with also one of the best lines. While discussing accommodations and their cover stories..... Craig to Green: "Don't worry, you're not my type." Her response, "What, smart?" haha Now that is witty and a Bond girl for the new millennium. Also on the train, listen to how he pronounces his watch brand, Omega. And her response, "Gorgeous."
As a Bond fan I actually didn't like that many now that I look at the list. I agree about Casino Royale, it was fantastic from beginning to end. They managed to update fight and chase scenes. LOVED the opening chase scene on foot and the crumbling Venetian palace at the end. Craig was amazing. Quantum of Solace: WHO can be afraid of Bolivian dictators (except the Bolivian population)?? Skyfall could have been really, really good, but too long and with Javier Bardem playing something too close to Hannibal. Then Goldfinger and From Russia With Love and let's also save Dr. No. Incredibly enough, the worst Bond of all -George Lazenby -- came out in a film that was otherwise really good; Diana Rigg saved it. The Brosnan era, frankly none. Don't buy him for one second, I think he wears hair spray. Until Craig, Timothy Dalton was the only one who brought intensity and the pyschopath edge to the role, but the films look too dated. And Roger Moore really took it to clown territory. They should have burnt every copy of Moonraker and Octopussy. I have a fondness for Live and Let Die -- so 70s, great song, and though he was as expressive as a roast beef I guess I saw it young enough so that it stuck -- and same for The Man with a Golden Gun. Great villain, Scaramanga/Christopher Lee. The rest frankly would be at the bottom of the list...But, let's all agree to disagree.
You have to update this list. Skyfall is the best Bond film of all time.... nothing even comes close. Actually, novelty and sentimentality aside, all the D. Craig Bonds are by far the best Bond films, if you are being serious about this (nothing against Connery, who is one of my mentors). QoS was the weakest of the three D. Craigs, but was still an amazing film. I disagree with everything else on this list however, other than Casino Royale. The rest of this list makes little if any sense to me. Has the writer of this article even seen the films? Oh well, different strokes I suppose.
Okay, for whatever it's worth (not much), here's my ranking of the Bond films on a scale from 000 to 007: Dr. No - 004 - before the series hit its stride, but a great beginning. FRWL - 005 - even better, but not quite there. Goldfinger - 007 - just about perfect. Thunderball - 005 1/2 - very good but slow in parts. YOLT - 005 1/2 - Yes it's overblown, the plot is basically a series of "Kill Bond now!" scenes and SC looks bored, but the sets, the music and the locale make it a gem. OHMSS - 007 - Yes, GL is no SC, but in a way, he was just right for this particular film, far and away the most emotionally resonant of all 23. DAF - 004 - Routine story, non-threatening take on Blofeld, cheesy Vegas settings...and no mention of what went down in the film before! LALD - 002 - My personal least favorite thanks to bizarre voodoo villains and Smokey and the Bandit set pieces. TMWTGG - 003 - Marginally better. TSWLM - 006 - A near perfect Bond film. Moonraker - 005 - Sure, it's absurd at the end, but most everything leading up to the finale works very well. FYEO - 006 - Another expressionless lead actress, but a very well done back-to-basics entry in the series. Octopussy - 004 - Bland villains and clown suits - need I say more? AVTAK - 004 - Enlivened by a genuinely captivating bad guy but brought down by a weak leading lady and aging leading man. TLD - 005 - TD always made me uncomfortable in the role - too intense, even when trying for a light or romantic moment, but a good film nonetheless. LTK - 003 - A good film, but not a Bond film. Goldeneye - 006 - PB's best, though his always-trying-to-look-cool "Bond face" and heavy breathing delivery sometimes got annoying. TND - 005 1/2 - Solid all around. TWINE - 004 1/2 - Brought down by another centerfold-as-rocket-scientist leading lady (a la Tanya Roberts as a geologist in AVTAK). DAD - 005 - Yes, ridiculous gadgets and the awful CGI scene, but - unlike many of you - I like a dose of fantasy in my Bonds, which leads us to the DC era: CR - 005 1/2 - Exquisitely done (if a bit long), but even after seeing Skyfall the other day, I still can't quite buy DC as JB. He's a terrific actor, of course, and this may be more the storylines he's been given than him, but I've had it with intense, brooding, Batman-ish heroes of late; I miss the fun early Bonds of the past that had villains and sets you could never find in one of today's Jason Bourne movies. QOS - 003 - Instantly forgettable save one or two great scenes. Skyfall - 005 1/2 - Beautifully done and I certainly appreciate (a la OHMSS) any effort to give Bond more dimension such as a family back story, but another heavy, dark and downbeat entry in the series (plus I could have done without the Home Alone ending). Let me know what you think - thanks! Peter
Lots of negative comments made about Quantum of Solace, and while it wasn't nearly as good as Casino Royale it still beats any of the crap put out with Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan.
TO all the tasteless pigs dumping on Casino Royale for "not having any gadgets" or any of the other bull**** trappings that dragged down previous Bond films, I suggest this: Go read the books. Casino Royale was right on the money as far as Bond showing some emotion, as far as the tone, as far was what a good Bond film should be. To the idiot above in the Facebook comments with the Rambo facebook profile pic (Ryan Hoskins) and the tastelessness to think that the Brosnan atrocities are anything but, I suggest this: Run head-first into a wall as fast as you can because you are simply too stupid to live. The end.
Like most people, I would not have ranked these films the same way. Here's my list: 22. Die Another Day - a huge letdown. 21. Live and Let Die - simply awful. 20. License To Kill - Dalton's low point. 19. A View to a Kill - Roger Moore should have retired long before it. 18. The World is Not Enough - pointless. 17. Diamonds Are Forever - Connery should have stayed away. 16. Moonraker - lousy script and even worse special effects. 15. For Your Eyes Only - tepid plot, but gorgeous Bond girl. 14. Tomorrow Never Dies - Michelle Yeoh makes up for much of the film's shortcomings. 13. The Living Daylights - had its moments, but not great, either. 12. You Only Live Twice - passable, but not up to Connery's previous 4 Bonds. 11. The Spy Who Loved Me - fun, but not especially memorable. 10. Octopussy - goofy fun. Worth it if only to see Moore playing Bond playing a clown. 9. Quantum of Solace - revisionist Bond that doesn't entirely work, but has a very creepy villain. 8. On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Diana Rigg was terrific and Lazenby wasn't half bad. 7. The Man With the Golden Gun - Moore's best Bond. Christopher Lee was perfect. 6. Goldfinger - Connery's previous two and the one after it were better. 5. Goldeneye - Brosnan's best Bond, by far. 4. Dr. No - SPECTRE's auspicious debut. 3. Casino Royale - solid Bond. Fabulous location shots. Eva Green was sensational. 2. From Russia With Love - not one, but three awesome villains. Also had a great John Barry score. 1. Thunderball - hit all the marks. This is also Connery's favorite Bond.
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You selected Casino Royale as the #1 Bond movie???? Seriously???? It felt like I was watching any number of tired Hollywood action movies, not a Bond movie. It lacked sophistication and Craig was no more than a beefcake thug with about as much charisma and smooth charm as Timothy Dalton. Quantum of Solace was poorly edited and photographed... and to top it off... seemed to be copying the "style" of a Bourne movie. One needed a barf bag to get through those ADHD-fests. Connery and Moore were the best, when they were allowed to be at their best with a good script. Brosnan would be third IMHO. A good portion of his films, sans GoldenEye, were stinkers. He knew it too. And OHMSS is quite overrated with a sillier than usual premise, except for the Mrs. Bond subplot.
Good list EXCEPT - move Casino Royale down 15 spots. Come on, an almost non existent cool car, almost no gadgets, below average Bond babe and a sensitive Bond. We can get that in a Jennifer Anniston movie.
It would take about 10 martinis for me to think the mousey French lady from Casino Royale deserves a 10 martini rating. Otherwise a fun list.
Decent list, dragged down by some glaring errors. The correct answer is: 1. Casino Royale 2. From Russia with Love 3. On Her Majesty's Secret Service 4. Thunderball 5. GoldenEye 6. Dr. No 7. The Living Daylights 8. Tomorrow Never Dies 9. For Your Eyes Only 10. Goldfinger 11. The Man with the Golden Gun 12. The Spy Who Loved Me 13. License to Kill 14. Moonraker 15. The World Is Not Enough 16. Quantum of Solace 17. You Only Live Twice 18. Diamonds Are Forever 19. Live and Let Die 20. Die Another Day 21. A View to a Kill 22. Octopussy
A very good list! But I would put Tomorrow Never Dies a lot higher (it has a great villain and Bond girl, not to mention an excellent k.d. lang alternate theme song) and the ultra-campy Diamonds Are Forever a LOT lower (it's ludicrous in almost every way and creepily homophobic).
@Peter Berk It sounds like that you want Austin Powers. The Villains and Sets of yesteryear could not be put into a modern Bond film and pass muster.
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