10. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Why doesn’t 007 tangle with journalists more often? They could make his life a living hell! Jonathan Pryce hams it up with the best of them as totally-not-Rupert-Murdoch Elliot Carver – “There’s no news like bad news!”. Brosnan’s Bond gets around in a variety of entertaining ways, from HALO jumping to falling with style and the assistance of a ridiculously long banner down the outside of a skyscraper. Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin is an active player and a pretty good counterbalance to Bond and I’d like to think that they didn’t just hire a Chinese Bond Girl to do some martial arts. The whole thing’s a not so subtle dig at the tabloid press and media conglomerates, but what in Bond movies is subtle?
Licence to Thrill: That one part where Bond and Wai Lin kill a helicopter with a hook and chain.
9. You Only Live Twice (1967)
“Killing off” Bond pre-titles seems old hat now, but it was an attention-grabbing opening 50+ years ago. You Only Live Twice has eye-catching scale, stunning scenery and one of the more ostentatious plots (script by Roald Dahl of all people) that tapped into 1960s paranoias. Donald Pleasance is the only truly memorable Ernst Stavro Blofeld the series ever produced with his modulated sing-song voice and iconic appearance, but he only gets about ten minutes of screentime right at the end in and amongst the pyrotechnics of the volcano lair battle. This is also the film where Bond gets a haircut and some eyeliner to appear more “Japanese” all the while casually approving of Japanese women’s submissiveness, which admittedly isn’t great…
Licence to Thrill: The air skirmish where Bond and his ridiculously-equipped gyrocopter takes out a squadron of full-sized bad guy helicopters.
8. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Amazingly, and embarrassingly, they were still trying to shoot Moore’s fight scenes like they shot Connery’s fight scenes in his second appearance. No wonder more slapstick and quips were incorporated after this point. Christopher Lee is the perfect preening villain Scaramanga, a gleefully immoral killer who thinks he’s better than Bond and might just be right. Britt Ekland also makes her mark, making the best of the outdated role of Mary Goodnight and calling Bond out on his behavior despite spending most of the film in swimwear. The film features one of the franchise’s most impressive car stunts, the infamous “corkscrew” jump over a river (almost spoiled by bizarre slide-whistle sound effect).
Licence to Thrill: The mock-chivalrous duel between Bond and Scaramanga in a literal funhouse at the film’s climax.
7. Goldeneye (1995)
The first of two times director Martin Campbell reworked Bond for the modern age. As Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) puts it “One day you’ll have to make good on your innuendos”. Judi Dench’s M asserting her authority and dressing Brosnan’s Bond down so brutally certainly helps, though the agent largely still gets away with what he always has done. Goldeneye moves and talks like a contemporary action-thriller – sharp, pacey and with a sneeringly charismatic antagonist in Sean Bean’s rogue agent Alec Trevelyan. The increased reliance on now-dated CGI has not helped to keep it looking as fresh as it could be, and the use of cod-Russian accents instead of using subtitles is irritating, as much as cartoony hacker Boris (Alan Cumming) almost makes it worth it.
Licence to Thrill: The 700 foot bungee-off-a-dam stunt is one hell of an eye-catching opening.
6. From Russia with Love (1963)
AKA the one where Connery proved himself to Ian Fleming.
Two films in and they already had the Bond formula – 007 globe-trots in an effort to find something or someone (in this case to retrieve a Cold War technological McGuffin), bedding women, being beligerant to his superiors and beating up bad guys all the way. Speaking of scrapping, this was Bourne 40 years before Bourne with Bond’s visceral train fight with Red Grant (Robert Shaw) really making you believe he’d have no problem killing with his bare hands. The film’s lack of cultural sensitivity (“They must settle this the gypsy way”) certainly dates it, but it reflected the time in which it was made and Fleming’s simplistic take on the world.
Licence to Thrill: Bond vs Red Grant, destroying most of a train carriage in the process.
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