5. Casino Royale (2006)
Any doubts about Craig’s suitability for Bond melted away after this uncompromising introduction.
Bond professes not to feel, to be a tool for the job, but Craig puts the work in to convey a fragile humanity just below the surface. No other Bond film allows for a moment of tenderness without explicit sexuality between him and his love interest like he and Vesper (the fantastic Eva Green) get, sitting fully clothed in the shower comforting each other after narrowly surviving a machete attack. The action is full-on, but even more exciting is the plot-central poker game against Mads Mikkelsen’s chilly LeChiffre that makes up much of the film’s middle act. If only it was 20 minutes shorter as the final action flourish really tries your patience.
Licence to Thrill: Bond chasing a bomb maker through a construction site in the film’s opening – his quarry uses parkour, Bond runs straight through walls.
4. Licence to Kill (1989)
Licence to Kill is violent to the point of desensitisation and the plot is stripped right back to Bond-is-very-angry-and-wants-to-kill. Dalton’s second and sadly last appearance as 007 cements his place as the most human Bond. Dalton plays the spy as engagingly flawed – you believe he can handle himself, but he takes a beating, he gets overly emotional and over-stretches himself, often getting by on luck as much as anything – evidence of how he is one of the few Bonds who unflinchingly depicts the collateral damage of 007’s work. It also has a great villain in Robert Davi’s powerful and charming kingpin Sanchez, who makes the very grave mistake of wronging Bond in such a way to make it personal. The two of them go at it in a visceral and brutal oil tanker chase to cap off the film.
Licence to Thrill: Bond’s inventive (and film certification-pushing) use of a decompression chamber.
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3. Skyfall (2012)
Trust Sam Mendes to make one of the only Bonds with a theme – aside from being a 50th anniversary Bond fanfare filled with knowing and loving references to Bond history, Skyfall is really about mothers and sons, and skeletons in the closet. It’s a great-looking Bond too with Roger Deakins behind the camera making every frame so much prettier than it has to be. Much like Casino Royale, you could argue there’s one action scene too many at the end and maybe Craig doesn’t look the most comfortable becoming a Bond who quips, but it’s a real ride regardless. Javier Bardem’s villain Silva and Judi Dench’s M have the showiest moments, but Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw breathe new grounded life into Moneypenny and Q respectively.
Licence to Thrill: 007’s Shanghai skyscraper fight in silhouette illuminated by neon advertisements – more a dance than an action scene and all the more beautiful for it.
2. Goldfinger (1964)
Goldfinger is just the right kind of silly – Bond wearing a seagull on his head for underwater infiltration silly. Lead henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata) throwing a razor-edged bowler hat silly.
It brings to the fore many series hallmarks, such as innuendo-laden names (Honor Blackman playing Pussy Galore is one to beat), Q’s (Desmond Llewelyn) handing out “modified” spy tools and a knock-your-socks-off theme from Shirley Bassey. It’s also the first Bond blockbuster and one of the first mega-productions of the British film industry, boasting polished action and impressive stunt work. The sexual politics are problematic to say the least, with Bond seemingly able to “turn” Pussy Galore who previously had no interest in men, but it was a less enlightened time.
Licence to Thrill: Connery’s Bond strapped to a slab with film’s slowest laser heading for his genitals: “You expect me to talk?” / “No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!”.
1. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
The Spy Who Loved Me is not only Roger Moore’s best Bond (performance and film) but it also had striking set design (look at Stromburg’s pulp sci-fi underwater lair) and meticulous photography of its featured locations, with Egypt looking particularly stunning with film noir shadows and extreme angles. Uber-henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) makes his imposing debut and there’s a fascinatingly contradictory relationship dynamic between Bond and Russian agent XXX (Barbara Bach) who gratifyingly gives as good as she gets from Moore’s 007. But, even the best of Bond didn’t learn that back-projected skiiing action scenes always look rubbish, especially when someone thought a canary yellow ski suit was a good look…
Licence to Thrill: The sheer practical scale and spectacle of the finale shootout on the villain’s super-tanker.
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Updated to include No Time to Die 3rd October 2021. Originally published 29th November 2019.
The world and the film landscape has come a long way since the first Bond film Dr No made its debut in 1962. The world is more socially enlightened but in a lot of ways far less innocent, and is arguably more complicated than it was at the height of the Cold War. But Bond perseveres. Every age has its own 007, and he’ll always find some way to thrill each new generation.
Does this ranking shake or stir you? What’s your favourite James Bond film?
Do I expect you to talk? No Mr Bond, I expect you to comment!