20. Thunderball (1965)
How does a film with such fascinating behind-the-scenes stories end up being so dull? Just watch the Everything or Nothing documentary for the full lurid details, but basically producer Kevin McClory had the other Bond producers over a barrel for decades having co-created villain collective SPECTRE with Ian Fleming and claiming never to have received his dues for it. The cold and calculating worldwide extortionist organisation manipulating western superpowers behind the scenes is a fun concept, but Connery is on autopilot and the whole thing feels overstuffed and lacking in thrills right up to the end, where a lot of people die by harpoon.
Licence to Spill: “Most girls just paddle around – you swim like a man”.
19. Die Another Day (2002)
The best thing you can say about Die Another Day is that it’s better than you remember it. Pierce Brosnan still seems remarkably engaged and has to put the work in for the uncharacteristically dark opening set in North Korea, but (Judi Dench aside) the other performances – Halle Berry, Toby Stephens – leave a lot to be desired. It’s pretty interesting seeing MI6 use Bond as a means to an end more overtly than usual; a colder, more cynical view of intelligence agencies in general. But, after the hour mark, the whole thing goes somewhat to pot. The second half of ice hotels, face-swapping and really bad CG action just can’t hold together even if you check your brain at the door.
Licence to Spill: Bond wind-surfing down a melting glacier and looking about as convincing as a 90s video game cutscene.
Recommended for you: Shot For Shot: Safe-Theft Scene in Hitchcock’s ‘Marnie’ (1964)
18. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
It’s a weird sort-of follow on from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Bond is sad and thoughtful again, and he gets revenge for his wife’s death in the opening scene. The film’s theme song by Sheena Easton and the score by Bill Conti are admittedly things of beauty, and there’s a tense shoelace-assisted climbing set piece. But does anyone know what this franchise’s obsession is with winter sports? They always make for rubbish action scenes, and here you get the added discomfort of an underage skater (Lynn-Holly Johnson) making advances towards Bond he doesn’t seem to reject with enough gusto.
Licence to Spill: At the end Margaret Thatcher talks to a parrot over the phone (don’t ask) and she thinks it’s Bond flirting with her.
17. Spectre (2015)
Spectre never manages to match its thrilling opening in Mexico City and gets bogged down in rewriting Craig’s Bond history with some head-slappingly stupid ret-cons. It aimed to elevate all of Craig’s Bond movies but if anything it cheapens them. Definitely-not-Blofeld Christoph Waltz is disappointingly one-dimensional as the grand schemer, and the effort to give Léa Seydoux’s Dr Madeleine Swann enough to do feels token at best. As for Monica Bellucci as Lucia, she gets one scene and is subsequently abandoned without even the courtesy of an on-screen death. They also try to make the plot feel relevant with global surveillance scaremongering but it actually ends up feeling a few years behind the curve.
Licence to Spill: “It was all me, James. It’s always been me. The author of all your pain”. Translation: our producers have just won a court case to bring the arch-nemesis back but it’s too late to set him up.
16. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Connery dropped out, so they got in beefcake Bond George Lazenby, who didn’t do badly shouldering one of the series’ most difficult dramatic moments. They draw attention to the re-casting with a long buildup to the new Bond’s reveal, Lazenby even saying to camera, “This never happened to the other fella”. Diana Rigg’s Tracy di Vicenzo plays her wry amusement at Bond’s antics wonderfully – for once you actually buy one of his relationships with a woman and the romance element of the story actually works better than most of the spy stuff. Elsewhere we get the frankly ridiculous sight of a research clinic’s universally gorgeous patients queuing up to bring Bond to their beds.
Licence to Spill: The toboggan “action” finale – I hope you like staring at the faces of actors in unflattering helmets as an ice chute speeds away from them on a greenscreen.