This is the second part of my James Bond film ranking series. Part one can be found here, and it comprises the bottom 15 films. This piece is my top 10 ranking.
The James Bond Criteria
The list is purely based on my own enjoyment of the films. This list is my opinion, not based on some objective fact. I've also recently watched all of the films again, as to best have a frame of reference for each movie. There'll be a synopsis (some more detailed than others) for each film, so spoilers aplenty here.
Now, this ranking isn't concrete. As time goes on, I come to appreciate some films more, and some a little less. This time next year, plenty of the films will shift around a bit. That's normal, and it's something that happens for most Bond fans.
The idea to do this article came from messages and conversations I had after my Walther PP article from last year. The PP & PPK are very much tied to the Bond franchise, which lead to people asking for my opinion on the films. I'll be covering my top 10 films in this article.
Unless otherwise noted, all of the photos used here are owned by MGM and Eon Productions.
So, what's at the top of the list?
10 - Goldfinger (1964)
Goldfinger. This may be the most iconic film in the whole series, and rightfully so. This film brought on a lot of tropes that would show up in later Bond films; A villain with a world-domination plan, a unique henchman, cool cars, gadgets, bombastic title songs, and Bond girls with innuendo-names. While Goldfinger set the mold to be used for many later films, it's not the best at it. However, it is damn good.
The plot to Goldfinger is quite simple: Our villain, Auric Goldfinger, wants to radiate the United States' supply of gold in Fort Knox, so that his own stockpiles will gain incredible value. We don't learn this till the 2/3rds point of the film, but the lead up to it is classic Bond.
The pre-title sequence in Goldfinger is one of my favorite in the series, and set the stage for grandiose sequences. Bond sneaks into a lab via a set of scuba gear and a seagull disguise, and blows it up using explosives. He then removes the tactical gear, with a clean white tuxedo beneath. A fistfight follows after he is betrayed by a beautiful lady, and the goon is killed by a fan in the bathtub. This sequence has nothing to do with the main plot, but gives us insight into the various missions that Bond goes on. I really, really dig this.
While the main plot is simple, the path to get to the conclusion is great. Bond follows Goldfinger across the US and Europe, snooping and watching, while toying with him too. The opening in Miami leads to classic cinematography, with Goldfinger killing his secretary by painting her gold. Like that opening seen, much of the film is etched into the annals of cinematic history. Bond's game of golf with Goldfinger, his chase into Switzerland, the Aston Martin DB5 with ejection seats, and the raid on Fort Knox are all iconic.
The acting is excellent here (and generally are on all of my top 10). Connery is at peak form here, as he is handsome, suave, and very deadly. Goldfinger was played by two actors (one on screen, and an Englishman to dub him), and both are top notch. Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore is perfect too, possibly being the most iconic Bond girl of the series. And well, Goldfinger's henchman Oddjob is iconic too, with his killer tophat.
All in all, Goldfinger is amazing, but why place it at the bottom of this list? Well, as I stated above, Goldfinger was the first of a bunch of Bond films that followed the "world domination" mold. 5 of the next 8 films have plots that are similar to Goldfinger, but executed better. Bond being in captivity for the second half of the film does hamper it a bit for me, but it's still a fun ride.
9 - On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service is vastly different from the films that proceeded it. This was the first film to introduce a new actor to portray Bond, along with a story that is much more rooted in a serious and romantic tone. While not the most true to the Fleming source material, it is the runner up to the film that gets closest to that.
Majesty's is a film that I really, really enjoy. Lazenby often gets some shade tossed on him, as his performance as Bond is a little wooden. However, I think he does a fairly good job, at least for most of the film. In this outing, Bond courts the daughter of a mob boss, while trying to stop Blofeld's current world domination plan. The plot is fairly simple, however, it takes a lot of turns to get to the big points. Bond disguises himself as a genealogist halfway through the film (my least favorite part, mostly due to Lazenby's performance) , and sneaks into Blofeld's lair. Being captured, escaping, and returning to save his love, Bond saves the day. However, the film ends with the death of his wife, and a vow for revenge.
Aside from a few short parts, the acting in this picture is top notch. Lazenby does a fairly good job as Bond, however, Telly Savalas as Blofeld, and Diana Rigg as Tracy di Vicenzo are my favorite parts of the film. Both exude so much charm, and are extremely skilled here. Savalas' Blofeld is easily my favorite portrayal of the charter, and is the deadliest the character has ever been. The supporting cast pull their weight too, but the main cast really do a fantastic job.
Majesty's is a wonderfully shot and edited film. While there are some scenes with dodgy rear-screen projection, for the most part, this is an incredibly technically competent film. Director Peter Hunt did a wonderful job, and that's likely due to the fact that he had been editor for the previous five films, and assistant director for four of them. His style really comes through, and helps to make it distinct from the Connery era of Bond.
The action in Majesty's is great too, aside from some sped up footage. We've got gunfights, ski chases, car chases, and fistfights aplenty. They all work well, and are a massive step up from YOLT. The John Barry soundtrack is one of my favorites in the series, with the "Majesty's Theme" being my favorite version of the 007 theme.
Now, this film is #9 for me, as some of the slow parts are well, slow. For me, the sign of a perfect film, is one in which I would not cut a scene. I would cut scenes here, so it lands where it does. That being said, this is excellent.
8 - Thunderball (1965)
Talking about "improved Goldfinger", we've got the 1965 sequel, Thunderball. In this film, Bond squares off against Emilio Largo, a SPECTRE agent who steals nuclear bombs from the Royal Air Force. Largo and SPECTRE plan to hold the US and UK hostage, wanting money in exchange for not destroying cities with the bombs. As always, Bond swoops in and saves the day, but we've got a revenge subplot too.
As in the previous films, Connery is perfect as Bond. He's suave, he's cool, and he's deadly as ever. On top of that, we've got Largo, the new villain. While not has charismatic as Goldfinger, I really, really like Largo. His evil cabal is cool too, with bombshell Fiona Volpe being an excellent henchwoman, and most of his goons being fairly distinct. While Fiona is an evil Bond girl, Domino is our good one. Domino is beautiful, and has a great character arc, as she wants revenge for the murder of her brother, which was directly at the hands of SPECTRE. By the end of the film, she gets this, and it is very, very earned.
Thunderball has one of the most iconic pre-title sequences, with Bond faking his death, so that he could weed out an enemy operative. He kills the operative, escapes via jetpack, and then makes a further exit with the trusty DB5. It's cool, it's quick, and it sets the stage. This film is also packed full of tropic and underwater scenes, which some folks won't enjoy. I love it. From the crash landing of the Vulcan at the start, to the combat and scuba scenes throughout, I think it looks great, especially for the era it was filmed. Sure, there are some cheap looking sets at some parts, and some of the rear screen projection doesn't hold up, but this is an otherwise excellent looking film.
The vistas of Nassau look so damn good. This is one of my favorite "getaway" films, to toss on when it is gloomy in February. This is just such a pretty film to watch. Now, it's not perfect. I'm not the largest fan of Bond's time at the fitness club near the start of the film, but I don't hate it. Bond getting info while killing SPECTRE agents is always great, but that scene of him on the pully bed is just so goofy. The rest of the film is much better, but again, I don't hate the spa. We get to see a lot of Bond doing spy things, which is honestly lacking in a lot of the films. From sneaking into Largo's villa, to getting onto his ship, the Disco Volante, we get more espionage, akin to the pre-title sequence from Goldfinger.
I cannot speak about this film without discussing Tom Jones' title track. It is bombastic, and is easily my favorite of all of the Connery era tracks. The general Barry soundtrack is great too.
If you weren't a big fan of Thunderball (I know a lot are out there), I'd give it another try. I used to not really be a big fan of this one, but the last few viewings have really swayed me. It's my second favorite Connery film, with the first coming up soon.
7 - The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Let's set the scene; It's a white, snow-covered mountain. Soviet agents on skis are chasing 007, firing rifles at him sporadically. Bond is on his skis, evading the enemy spies. He spins around, and blows away a man with a projectile launched from one of his skiing poles. He crests a hill, and flies off the side of a massive mountain. As he freefalls, his skis detach, and a parachute opens, revealing the Union Jack.
The opening to 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me may be one of the most iconic in the series. We've got mystery with stolen nuclear submarines, a switcheroo with a female soviet agent, and Bond jumping from a mountain after a ski chase. The plot in Spy is also simple, but works well. Bond has to team up with Soviet agent XXX, Anya Amasova. The catch? Bond killed her lover. As viewers, we know this twist at the onset of the film, but it isn't until the halfway point that Amasova finds out, vowing to kill Bond at the end of the cooperation. So who are the two trying to take down?
The villain of Spy is shipping tycoon Karl Stromberg. Stromberg has stolen two nuclear submarines (and a third near the end of the film), and plans to start nuclear war, while creating an underwater society with him at the helm. A nice change of pace from the "Goldfinger footprint", Stromberg doesn't want to hold the world ransom, he just wants to kill people. As weird as it is to say, this seems a lot more realistic in the GWOT world, rather than in the 1970s when the film was released.
While we've got a solid plot, without great acting, it's nothing. Well, Roger Moore is at his best here. This is my favorite of his films, and it's due to his performance. He's suave, he's brutal, and he's charming here. One of my favorite scenes is when Bond is looking for Fekkesh, a contact in Egypt. Bond is ambushed by a henchmen, and manages to defeat him. Bond dangles the henchmen by his own tie from a ledge, questioning him as to the location of Fekkesh. Once Bond gets that info, he slaps the tie, and lets the man fall to his death. I like a harder Roger Moore, and this film is a good balance between Live and Let Die and his goofier outings.
Anya is played by Barbara Bach, who gives a pretty good performance. She acts as Bond's equal for most of the film, until the end. She spends the last 20 minutes of the film tied to a chair, which kinda negates a lot of her potential. A film later on this list does a similar ploy, but in a much better way. In the scene where Anya promises to kill Bond after finding out that he killed her husband, both give stellar performances.
The supporting cast is on point here too. From M, his Soviet counterpart Major Gogol, Stromberg, and the henchmen Jaws, everyone does a great job. I'd like to highlight the henchwoman Naomi, who is badass, and is dispatched by a missile launched by Bond's underwater car.
While usually good, the action in Spy is excellent. From the opening scene ski jump, to the fighting in Egypt, to the car chase/underwater chase with the Lotus in Sardinia, and the shootouts on Liparis, it's all fantastic. From gunfights, to car chases, to cool gadgets, Spy has it all. I got to see one of the Lotuses used in the film recently, which was really cool.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the soundtrack and title song. The soundtrack composed by Marvin Hamlisch is exceptionally fitting for the film, with Bond 77 being one of my favorite version of the Bond theme. Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better is excellent in the film, and has grown to be a song that often defines the character of James Bond.
After Man With the Golden Gun underperformed, the producers needed the next film to be a hit, and they knocked it out with Spy. Moore proves that nobody really does it better than Bond, with this being his top film for me.
6 - Skyfall (2012)
When it comes to James Bond films that the average movie goer has seen, three of them come to mind. Goldfinger, Goldeneye, and this film, Skyfall. There are many reasons as to why these films were popular with more casual fans, but for Skyfall, I think there's one major part: Adele. Adele sung the title track for the film, and my god, it's a wonderful song. It's my favorite song that's been made for a Bond film, and it's one of the three that I hear when I'm out and about in public. Now, Skyfall is an excellent film, but Adele's song is (in my opinion) a large part in why moviegoers saw this film in droves.
Skyfall's plot is one of revenge. After a hard drive containing the identities of undercover MI6 agents falls into the hands of a terrorist, Bond and MI6 attempt to get it back. Bond is "killed" in the pre-title sequence, by Ms. Moneypenny herself. After a few months off the grid, Bond returns to MI6 after a terror attack. He has to train to prove that he's fit for service, and then follow the stale breadcrumbs to track down who has the hard drive. This leads him to Shanghai, and to an island owned by Raul Silva, an MI6 agent who was burned by M in the late 1990s. Silva is captured, but then has an elaborate escape. He attempts to kill M during a hearing in Parliament, but Bond comes to M's rescue. Bond and M flee to Bond's family manor, where they stage a last stand against Silva.
Skyfall is an extremely solid Bond film. The film is beautifully shot, with nearly every scene looking like it could be a painting. While the cinematography is great, the writing is a little off. The dialogue is wonderful, but the plot relies on a lot of contrivances to work. Silva's whole escape plan requires a bunch of specific dominos to fall in place for it to work, which is kind of cheap writing. When you look at the Hollywood landscape of 2008-2012, writer's strikes were aplenty, which is why Skyfall took 4 years to release after QoS. Now, I don't think these plot holes make the film bad, but I cannot un-see them on viewings.
Despite some questionable writing, all of the acting is top notch. Bond, M, Silva, Moneypenny, and the whole cast deliver top-tier performances. Craig is always great, but when I think of Skyfall, I think of Judi Dench's M, and Javier Bardem's Silva. This is a film where Silva desires revenge on M, and they play a massive part of the story. This is the first Bond film where the Bond girl is M, and by god, I love it. The relationship built between Craig's Bond and M has been one built on trust, and getting the job done. In this film, she's relying on him for her own safety, and at the end of the day, he fails. M's death is one of the most emotional scenes in the series, and I love it.
Aside from the writing, my only gripe with this film is that it is a little "stoic". Bond is pretty emotionless for the film, something that seems off after the previous two Craig entries. I don't hate it, but it feels very 1970s Bond, and not in a great way. As you'll see, the two of the most emotional Craig films are among my favorites in the series.
As a final point, the soundtrack to Skyfall is excellent. While Thomas Newman's soundtrack isn't quite as good as Arnold's work on the previous few films, it is still wonderful. As the Skyfall lodge is being destroyed and Bond is escaping, the swell of the soundtrack is extremely memorable. I've touched on it already, but Adele's song is my favorite in the series. In a sea of great Bond tracks, Skyfall stands very tall.
5- Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
1997's Tomorrow Never Dies is Pierce Brosnan's sophomore outing as James Bond, and I absolutely love it. Knowing the background of this film, it should not have worked as well as it does. Calvin Dyson did an excellent review of the film, where he discusses the troubles that went on during filmmaking. Essentially, the scriptwriting was going on while filming was occurring, and a lot of the movie ended up on the cutting room floor. However, the end product is wonderful.
Our film opens with Bond foiling an arms deal, and with a British warship being destroyed. In the pre-title sequence, we have the plot setup that will carry us through the film. Media mogul Elliot Carver (played by Jonathan Pryce) runs the largest news network on the Earth. He's destroyed a British warship, and using a GPS encoder, made it look like it was done by the Chinese, in Chinese waters. As we'll find out later on, Carver plans on starting a war between Great Britain and China, in exchange for exclusive coverage of the event, and broadcasting rights in China for the next century.
TND is a step up in action from Goldeneye. From the opening, it is apparent that Bond will be doing a lot of stunts and action scenes in this film. For some folks, they find this to be too much of a departure from previous films, but I think it works great. After the pre-title and title sequence, we dive deeper into the film.
Much like many Bond films, we’re doing a lot of globetrotting here. From snowy Russia, to the industrial center of Hamburg, to the warm waters off the coast of Vietnam, TND takes you all over the world. It’s a very well shot film, and it really helps to make this one of my favorites.
During the course of the film, we’ve got two big female players; Paris Carver (played by Teri Hatcher), and Chinese agent Wai Lin (played by Michelle Yeoh). Paris is a stilted former love interest of Bond, but is now married to our villain, Elliot Carver. While her role in the film isn’t massive, it is memorable. Hatcher’s performance isn’t the best, but it works in the film. Wai Lin acts as Bond’s counterpart during the film. We see her infiltrate Carver’s media ball, and later his newspaper printing plant. Later, she teams up with Bond after they’re both captured, and the two take down Carver by the film’s end.
While the plot is fairly simple (yet another Goldfinger style film), teaming Bond up with another agent is wonderful. Bond has a MacGuffin to follow all throughout the film, but it keeps the pacing quick throughout. The film generally follows the practice of “exposition scene followed by action”, pretty much down to the letter. While this might seem boring to some, the action is just so great.
For me, the Hamburg printing facility scenes are my favorite in the film. Bond’s infiltration is wonderful to see, and when the situation goes “arse over tit”, it really gets fun. The BMW chase in the garage is one of my favorite scenes in the entire franchise.
Given how rough the production was, the fact that the film is so succinct is honestly shocking. This film was directed wonderfully by Roger Spottiswoode, who has made some films that I really dislike (Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot). However, this one is wonderful. The cinematography is great, as is the soundtrack and sound design. This was the first Bond film composed David Arnold, and he knocked it out of the park here. Both vocal tracks (Tomorrow Never Dies by Cheryl Crowe & Surrender by K.D. Lang) are wonderful too.
I think that Brosnan really hit his stride as Bond here. He's on point, being serious and wisecracking, and really fits the theme of the film. This is a serious movie, but with some lighthearted, fun moments. His smirk while driving the BMW from the backseat is something that really highlights his confidence in the role. Alongside Brosnan, Michelle Yoh gives a great performance as Wai Lin. Wai Lin is the improved Anya from Spy Who Loved Me, and I'm glad that this was Yoh's springboard film into the Hollywood film sphere. Jonathan Pryce is excellent as the monomaniacal Elliot Carver, who gives an over the top, but great performance.
Aside from the main cast, the side characters are great too. Dench is wonderful as M, and the various members of MI6 are well acted and utilized too. Carver's henchman Stamper is a tall, German, who just wants to cause pain to Bond. When it comes to Brosnan era henchmen, he's my second favorite in the series.
If I haven't gushed enough, I'd really recommend that you watch this film. If you've seen it in the past and don't remember liking it a ton, give it a second try. With the rise of social media, this film feels more relevant than ever before.
4 - From Russia With Love (1963)
What if Alfred Hitchcock made a Bond film? Well, 1963's From Russia With Love is essentially that. This is a Hitchcockian thriller, with a plot to kill James Bond being center stage. Directed by Terence Young, (director of Dr. No & Thunderball), FRWL is a nearly perfect Bond film.
The plot is relatively simple; SPECTRE want's revenge for the death of Dr. No, and they have an elaborate plan to kill James Bond. Bond will be lured into assisting with the defection of a Soviet agent, who is in possession of a Russian "Lektor" machine. While Bond is doing so, SPECTRE agents will kill Bond, and stage his death as blackmail against the British Intelligence Community. As such, we have a Hitchcockian MacGuffin in the form of the Lektor machine, and the stage is set.
Through the story, Bond meets with his contact in Istanbul, Kerim Bey, who exists to help Bond retrieve the Lektor, and the defecting agent. FRWL is much more globetrotting than Dr. No, as Bond travels from London, to Istanbul, to Gypsy camps, Yugoslavia, and to Venice. This film would set the stage for a lot of the travel we'd see in Bond films, and I love it.
While in Istanbul, Bond and Kerim Bey are ambushed by Soviet agents, but manage to defeat their attack. Later traveling to a gypsy camp, Bond is able to see the locals fighting, until the Soviets attack again. The two fight off the Soviets, protecting the gypsies in the process. Eventually, Bond and Kerim Bey meet up with the defector, Bond girl Tatiana Romanova. This is all a part of SPECTRE's plan, as they are setting up the blackmail. The three escape on the Orient Express train, however, they are being trailed by Red Grant, the henchman of the film. Grant kills Kerim Bey, but Bond is able to subdue him using his gadgets.
Romanova and Bond continue to make their escape, dodging SPECTRE attack helicopters, and a series of SPECTRE boats. While Bond and Romanova think that they had made their escape, there's one last fight with the lead SPECTRE agent, Rosa Klebb. Romanova shoots Klebb, and the film ends.
The joy of FRWL is that it is very transparent. The film opens with Red Grant tracking a James Bond double through a hedge maze, practicing the kill the real 007. The SPECTRE plan is made apparent at the start of the film, with Blofeld giving orders to his underlings, with the plan being well known to the viewer. Even when Bond gets his briefing at MI6, M tells Bond that this seems like a setup. Regardless, sometimes you have to spring the trap to get the cheese, and the film really does that.
Stepping up the action from the previous film, FRWL really amps it up. From the opening of the film, the raids by the Soviets, the fight on the train, and the combat against helicopters and boats, FRWL ramps up the carnage. I love it. It's cool and iconic, and Bond feels a lot more dangerous than he did in Dr. No.
On top of a fun plot, we've got great, well, everything else. Connery is on point as Bond, and for me, all of the supporting cast really knock it out of the park. Kerim Bey is one of my favorite Bond sidekicks, with him being both helpful, and interesting as a character. Unfortunately, Pedro Armendáriz (Kerim Bey's actor) did not live to see the completed film, killing himself after his parts were finished. If you know of the cancer related issues after the filming of The Conqueror, Armendáriz was one of the victims of shooting, getting cancer while shooting the film. Aside from that sadness, our other heroes are acted wonderfully. Tatiana Romanova was played by the stunning Daniela Bianchi, and is the posterchild for a top-tier Bond girl.
Now, our villains are great too. While we have Blofeld, and his underling Kronsteen, the two major stars are Rosa Klebb, and Red Grant. Klebb, (portrayed by Lotte Lenya) is a former Soviet SMERSH operative, and is our primary villain. She's evil and ruthless, and is one of the first LGBT characters in the series. While this might sound like a footnote, it is interesting, as the Bond franchise has a long history of LGBT characters in the films and books. Klebb is conniving, and is one of my favorite Bond villains. However, I've gotta talk about Red Grant. Grant is Klebb's henchman, and he's perfectly portrayed by Robert Shaw. He's big, buff, and brutish, and works excellently in the film. I've got a real soft spot for Shaw, as I grew up watching Battle of Britain and Jaws on repeat, so seeing him here is just great.
While the acting and screenwriting are on point, the cinematography and sound design are excellent too. This is a very pretty film to watch. Some of the rear scree projection shots are a little rough, but otherwise, it's extremely great to look at. The John Barry soundtrack is one of my favorites, with the opening title theme really scoring high for me. A lot of the cues throughout the film are iconic too, much like the Majesty's score. The soundtrack was so memorable that composer Shiro Sagisu sampled parts of it for Neon Genesis Evangelion in the 1990s. Maybe a part of my enjoyment comes from the 2005 EA game of the same name, which used a lot of the Barry score.
At the 60th anniversary of this film, I'm happy to say that I still absolutely love it. I think it's Connery's best Bond film, and the highlight of his "fab 4" films of the 1960s.
3 - No Time To Die (2021)
I'm gonna get flak for this, but I really, really love No Time To Die. Many fans would place this film at the bottom of their rankings, purely because of the ending. Yeah, Bond dies at the end. However, I found it to be an extremely emotional, and fitting end to Craig's tenure as 007. With many of the Bond films, repeat viewings make me enjoy the film more. For NTTD, I feel this resonate more than any other film in the franchise.
Much like Quantum of Solace, No Time To Die is a direct continuation of the previous film. Spectre kind of sucks, so NTTD had to do a lot to right the ship back to being seaworthy. Well, I really think it did.
The opening of the film is easily one of my favorite pre-title sequences in the series. We have a flashback to Madeleine Swann's (Bond's love interest from Spectre, and daughter of Mr. White) childhood, in which her mother is killed by a masked gunman. Madeleine escapes, only to fall into a frozen Norwegian lake. She awakes, at the beach with Bond, on her honeymoon in Italy. Bond and Madeleine share a night in a scenic hotel, where the topic of Vesper Lynd comes up. Vesper, Bond's former lover, us buried at a nearby graveyard, and Madeleine urges him to go visit her grave. Bond does so, while allowing himself to forgive Vesper for her actions in Casino Royale. However, her tomb explodes, as Bond is ambushed by SPECTRE agents. Bond makes a daring escape, grabbing Madeleine in the process.
Both get in the DB5, and make a further escape. However, they are chased and cornered, leading to a massive sequence in a courtyard. Bond is willing to die on the spot, as he feels as though he's been betrayed. However, he decides to live, opening fire from guns in the DB5, and escapes to a train station. Bond puts Madeleine on a train, telling her that she'll never see him again. From there, the title sequence rolls.
The pre-titles here are 20 minutes long, and are fantastic. For me, they undo the majority of the issues I had with the romance in Spectre, tying together action and romance here. Hell, the pre-titles are almost like a short Bond film. They lead us into the major plot, of a genetic weapon falling into the hands of a new villain.
NTTD shows us a Bond in retirement, and it's great. We get to see him sail, and spend time around his home in Jamaica. Notably, his home is Ian Fleming's actual Jamaican residence. Bond ends up getting roped into the plot again, via Felix Leiter. We've got a great chunk of the film spent in Cuba, with an awesome action scene. From there, the plot has Bond and crew traveling around the world, from London to Norway, and ending at a contested island off the coast of Japan.
The plot for this film is a little floaty. We've got a main villain, in the form of Saffin, played by Rami Malek. His goals are also a bit floaty. If anything, the plot is very Bond focused, rather than on the bad guy. This is Craig's final film as Bond, and we've got a deep look into his biggest romantic relationship since OHMSS. For some viewers, they hate this. We've got a more emotional, more mature Bond, and for lots of folks, that doesn't work. For me, I love it.
For many people, the ending sours the whole film. I love it. It's a fitting end to Craig's Bond, something that even Craig predicted after Casino Royale. Now, while I like the Bond plot, I'm not the biggest plan of Saffin. His character is meant to be a sort of remake of Dr. No, with the island factory. However, Saffin's plan is to kill a ton of people, but in more muddled words than Stromberg in Spy Who Loved Me. While I don't hate the character, Saffin is one of the weaker parts of the film.
What isn't weak is the action. The action in NTTD is fantastic. I've already gushed about the pre-title sequence, but the Cuba segments, Norway chase, and all of the combat on Saffin's island are among the best in the series. Coupled with that is excellent cinematography. The film looks beautiful, possibly the prettiest film in the series. Jamaica, Cuba, and Norway look absolutely picturesque.
The soundtrack is fantastic too. The first Bond film scored by Hans Zimmer, NTTD's OST is very Bond, but with the Zimmer flair. The Bond theme is used a ton, something that was missing in the last few Bond films, and the title track is worked into the OST too. We've also got elements of the score from Casino Royale, which really works in this film. Billie Eilish sang the title track, and by god, is it excellent. Both within the title sequence, and just in casual listens, I really enjoy the track.
Aside from the poor writing for Saffin's plan, I think that all of the actors give fantastic portrayals of their characters. Craig is amazing here, showing an emotional side of Bond, something that has been lacking since QoS. Léa Seydoux's Madeleine is so much better than in the previous outing, as the romance actually feels like a real element in this film. Jeffery Wright as Felix Leiter was great too, and his death was something that really stuck with me through the film. I liked the new 007, as Lashana Lynch's Nomi is a competitive, but green 00 agent. All of the supporting cast is fantastic too, with Ana De Armas' Paloma being a great standout.
I've been gushing a lot, but I'm not blind to the gripes with this film. Do I think that it's the objectively best in the series? No, but this list is ranking the films on my enjoyment. I really, really enjoy this film.
2 - Goldeneye (1995)
1995's Goldeneye is something of a cultural phenomenon. For many Bond fans, this is their top-tier film. For many moviegoers, this was their entry into the franchise. With the 1997 FPS game on the Nintendo 64, this film has kind of had a second life. Goldeneye N64 was an extremely important note in the history of FPS games, laying the stepping stones for further console shooters. Without Goldeneye N64, there's a solid chance that Halo: Combat Evolved would not exist. However, the N64 game would not exist without this brilliant film.
Goldeneye has some of the strongest iconography in the series. We start with Bond running across the top of a dam, located near a Soviet chemical plant. He bungee jumps from the top, doing a swan dive as he falls. Much like the ski jump in The Spy Who Loved Me, we've got a stunt right at the start of the film. Bond infiltrates the facility, dropping in on a guard in the restroom. He sneaks through the facility, linking up with a friendly OO-agent, Alec Trevelyan. The two continue through the facility, planting explosives to destroy the chemical operation. Eventually, Trevelyan is caught by the Soviets, and is killed by the base commander. Bond makes a daring escape, first on an airplane, then on a motorbike, then back into the airplane. We've got a close call with a mountain, and into the title sequence.
Right from the start, we’ve got quippy lines, action, and the stage set. Goldeneye may be the name of the film, but this is a Goldfinger plot, with a twist. What’s the twist? Betrayal.
The plot features Bond chasing after the elusive “Janus” crime syndicate. So what’s the specific plot? Well, it’s pretty simple; Trevelyan wants generational revenge after the British government repatriated his Lienz Cossack family to the Soviet Union post-post World War 2. He fakes his death, and collaborates with a Russian general to steal “Goldeneye”, a Soviet-Era satellite weapon. With this, they’ll rob the world’s banks.
This is a globetrotter of a film, as Bond’s adventure takes him from Monte Carlo, to Russia, and down to Cuba. While the plot is fairly basic, it still keeps the audience on their toes. From stolen EMP-proof helicopters, to Goldeneye weapon strikes, the twists and turns are a ton of fun. However, you need compelling characters to make this have some weight to it.
Goldeneye may be Brosnan's first Bond film, but he is utterly excellent in it. While I like his performance more in TND, he's wonderful here. He's got charisma, charm, and plenty of one liners. You can really feel the anger when he’s confronting Trevelyan, and his coldness when shooting Ouruomov feels solid too. His on-screen presence is wonderful, and this film is a great start for him in his Bond tenure. The rest of the cast is spot-on too.
Sean Bean is great as Trevelyan, as is Famke Janssen as henchwoman Xenia Onatopp. For many fans, Onatopp rates at the top of their favorite henchmen of the series. Janssen brings so much personality to the character, and she steals every scene she's in. The bathhouse scene is probably my favorite, with my favorite line in the film. Bean is great too, but Janssen really steals the show.
Izabella Scorupco as Natalya is easily in the top tier of Bond girls. She's charismatic, resourceful, and is bailing Bond out throughout the film. This series has a ton of great supporting actresses, but Scorupco really does a stand out job.
The direction by Martin Campbell is utterly fantastic. He was an excellent pick to direct this film, and we'll see him come up again. Every scene has wonderful cinematography and lighting, and it really ties the film together. While the plot is walking on a well-traveled path, it just really, really works well here.
Now, the sound design in this film is quite solid. Gunshots and explosions are punchy, and everything just sounds great. The tank chase is appropriately grindy and squealy, and the car chase near the start has wonderful engine noises. However, the soundtrack (aside from the Turner title track) is garbage. Éric Serra's soundtrack for this film is garbage. It doesn't work at most times, and feels largely unfinished. Honestly, Goldeneye N64 has a better soundtrack. This is the only blight on an otherwise nearly perfect film.
So why is it #2 if I have a handful of gripes with the film? Well, I’ve got a lot of nostalgia for this movie. It was one of my favorites as a kid, and as I’ve grown up, I still appreciate it. However, I’ve found that with each passing year, this film just grows more and more on me. Will it be my #2 film in 5 years? Who knows? But right now, it is.
What's my #1?
1 - Casino Royale (2006)
Casino Royale (1953) was Ian Fleming's first Bond novel. The book acts as an introduction to the character of James Bond, and the film does about the same. Now, the 2006 film is not the first time that Casino Royale was turned into a film, as two iterations were made in the 1950s and 60s. Both of those were non-Eon films, and aren't really remarkable at all. However, the 2006 film certainly is.
Casino Royale (2006) was a bit of a reboot for the franchise. While Die Another Day performed well at the box office, it was mostly panned by critics. The producers wanted a better film, and Brosnan was done playing Bond. The search was on for a new Bond, and someone to direct the next film. Of all of the actors who were in the running, Daniel Craig was the one that the producers liked the most. After a great performance in 2004's Layer Cake, he was chosen to be Bond. Who would direct? Well, how about the director of Goldeneye, Martin Campbell?
With this reboot, we've got one of my favorite films of all time. Casino Royale acts as a Bond origin story, along with setting the stage for the next four Craig films. It's a masterclass of direction, writing, sound design, and acting. However, it's not a direct adaptation of the titular novel, but I'd say it's better because of that.
CR's plot is a bit more complicated than some of the other films. Our primary villain is Le Chiffe, a financier to terrorist organizations. We see him take money from a Ugandan warlord, with the promise that he'll turn it into much, much more. The unique thing about Le Chiffe is that while he is the villain of the film, he's actually a henchman of the real villain. Bond ends up on the trail of Le Chiffe, after he finds a connection between him, and a bombmaker in Madagascar.
Le Chiffe plans to short the stock of an airplane manufacturer, then destroy their new prototype to make millions. Bond foils the plan, and this sets the primary stage for the film; a high stakes poker game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond is partnered up with Vesper Lynd, an agent of the British Treasury. She's the money here, and Bond needs her to buy into the poker game. Through the rest of the film, the poker game takes center stage. It was a bold move to actually feature so much of this element of the book onscreen, but I'm really, really glad that they did it.
Bond ends up making contact with René Mathis, who acts as his local contact. He also finds out that another player is CIA agent Felix Leiter. After he bombs out of the game, Felix buys Bond back in, and Bond eventually wins the game. Bond and Vesper are captured by Le Chiffe, who tries to torture the banking info out of Bond. Eventually, Le Chiffe's employer shows up, and kills him for his failure to act. Bond and Vesper eventually end up in Italy, with Bond giving his formal resignation to MI6, and devoting himself to Vesper.
However, things are not well. As it turns out, Vesper was forced into working for Mr. White, Le Chiffe's employer. She eludes Bond, withdraws the money, and hands it over to agents of Mr. White. Bond fights through them to rescue Vesper, but she commits suicide so that Bond will leave her behind. Mr. White makes out with the money, but doesn't make it out of the film without a 9mm in the leg.
Casino Royale takes a lot from the 1950s literature, while updating it for the 21st century. The Cold War is long over, and we're in the era of global terror. However, a lot of the charm of the book is put into the film, including much of the direct dialogue. "The job's done, the bitch is dead", is my favorite line from the novel to appear in the film, as Craig's delivery really sells Bond's emotional state.
While I can gush about this being a solid adaptation, it really does just stand on its own. Campbell's direction is incredibly strong, even more so than in Goldeneye. This film is so excellently shot, edited, and scored, and it really, really makes it a solid viewing. Pacing is excellent too, as the film never really feels like it drags. This is one of those films that really keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Even on repeat viewings, I'm just mesmerized by it.
The action is so great in this film. We open with the retelling of a fight, in graphic execution. The second large action set piece is a parkour chase through a construction site and embassy in Madagascar, which has some of the best stunts of the franchise. We're taken to the Miami International Airport for a car chase, and plenty of action at Casino Royale, and ending in Venice. While some of the action in the later Craig-era films would be more intense, Casino Royale does a great job at blending the violence with the mindgames of the poker table.
The sound design and score are utterly fantastic. Gunshots, explosions, engine noises, and all of the effects sound punchy and excellent. The score is David Arnold's best, as it interweaves in the main theme, along with the title track excellently. Even in simple moments, such as Bond showing up in Nassau in a rental car, seem grandiose with the score playing. Now, I've gone too long without mentioning Chris Cornell, and his track for the film. "You Know My Name" might be the best song made for a Bond film. It absolutely captures the theme of the film, as it is a bombastic, rocking track. It's great on its own, but when mixed into Arnold's score, it's just perfect.
What's also perfect is the acting. Every member of the primary and secondary cast are wonderful. Craig's first Bond portrayal is just perfect. He's suave and handsome, but is lethal too. His first two Bond flicks are him at the dirtiest and bloodiest, and I love it. Eva Green's Vesper Lynd is a wonderful foil to Bond, as she is frail and acute, in contrast to Bond's rough bluntness. The two of them really make this film a piece of kino, but the rest of the cast really kicks it into high gear too.
Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffe is such a great casting. Mads is charismatic as hell, and plays the cautious financier and gambler so well. He's tough at parts, but a coward when his life is on the line. The fear in his eyes when the Ugandan warlords show up at Casino Royale is just perfect. Judi Dench returns as M, and she's cold and callous, but is also caring. Casino Royale is fundamentally a film about trust, and we've got this conveyed via M through the course of the film. Dench is great as always. Rounding out the secondary characters, Giancarlo Giannini does a great job as Mathis. Is he on Bond's side, or against him? Either way, he's charming and charismatic.
For the minor characters, (Solange, Mollaka, Dimitrios, etc.) they are very much in the film to push the plot forward. However, they are memorable despite that element. Solange is a great Bond girl, and her demise is a chilling moment in the film.
Do I have any gripes with Casino Royale? Well, no. As time goes on, I tend to get harder on the films I like. Some grow in appreciation, while others tend to flounder with a more critical eye. With Casino Royale, I just keep coming up blank for things that I dislike, or would want to change. For me, this is the best Bond film, and while a lot of my list changes with time, I don't foresee this one leaving my #1 spot for a good long while.
Well, that was a lot of writing. This was a project that took about 4 months to complete, as it was an undertaking to put my thoughts to words here. What's the ranking in listical form?
- Casino Royale (2006)
- Goldeneye (1995)
- No Time To Die (2021)
- From Russia With Love (1963)
- Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
- Skyfall (2012)
- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
- Thunderball (1965)
- On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
- Goldfinger (1964)
- The Living Daylights (1987)
- Live And Let Die (1973)
- Quantum Of Solace (2008)
- For Your Eyes Only (1981)
- The World Is Not Enough (1999)
- Dr. No (1962)
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
- Licence To Kill (1989)
- Octopussy (1983)
- You Only Live Twice (1967)
- Spectre (2015)
- Moonraker (1979)
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
- Die Another Day (2002)
- A View To A Kill (1985)
What's your list look like? How does it compare to mine? Leave a comment down below!
Other Film Reviews and Patreon Link
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