24. Die Another Day (2002)
You know you’re in trouble when a cameo by Madonna (as a rapier-wielding fencing instructor, no less) is nowhere near the low-point of your film. As the 20th entry in the James Bond franchise, Die Another Day was conceived as a celebration of the series’ rich history, and there’s at least one continuity nod to each previous Bond film dotted throughout the production. A nice, nostalgic idea; but instead of adding to the James Bond legacy, the resulting film is as much a parody of James Bond as Austin Powers (released five years earlier)—albeit without the laughs. Well, not intentional laughs, that is. Between Bond’s invisible car, Halle Berry’s cringe-worthy performance as Bond-girl Jinx, and an action sequence in which 007 surfs a tidal wave (yes, you read that correctly), it’s impossible to take any of it even remotely seriously. In fact, the film proved such an embarrassment to creator Ian Fleming’s legacy that it marked the end of Pierce Brosnan’s stint in the title role and put the franchise on ice for four years until it could be successfully re-booted.
The good news? It’s all uphill from here on our list!
23. Live and Let Die (1972)
In a word? Sleazy.
In a few more words? Live and Let Die is an unfortunate stumble straight out of the gate for Roger Moore, making his debut as 007. Although most James Bond films before this had been set against beautifully-shot backdrops of glamorous and often far-flung destinations, Live and Let Die has a seedy, low-budget feel, largely due to its gritty New Orleans setting. It’s also down to the leading man’s interpretation of the role, which is less of a worldly playboy than that of a crass cad. On the plus side, Jane Seymour has a memorable guest role as Solitaire—a Tarot card-reading mystic, who, would you believe, will lose her powers if she loses her virginity. Needless to say, with Moore’s Bond on the scene, her future-predicting days are numbered.
22. Spectre (2015)
Slow, shallow, and incredibly talky, Spectre is so busy telling us it’s an epic movie that it never gets around to delivering on its promise. In lieu of a plot, what follows the (admittedly spectacular) pre-credits sequence set amidst Mexico City’s Day of the Dead celebration is a random collection of set pieces, seemingly cobbled together as a “greatest hits” from previous James Bond films. You’ve got the villain’s secret lair in a crater (You Only Live Twice), Bond’s deadly fisticuffs on board a luxury train (From Russia With Love), and a baddie motivated (at least in part) by a personal vendetta (Skyfall). What’s worse, the big bad (played by a sleepwalking Christoph Waltz) cheapens the memory of the previous three Daniel Craig outings by taking the credit for the past 11 years of vastly superior villainy. Deeply disappointing.
21. License to Kill (1989)
Owing more to television’s Miami Vice than any James Bond film before it, License to Kill is gritty, dark, and ultimately, dull as ditchwater. The plot, involving Bond going rogue to avenge the death of his CIA counterpart’s wife, has a lot of potential, but there’s an astonishingly little amount of action for a for a series that defined the genre. A disappointing end to Dalton’s days as Bond, and a failure that brought about the longest period between Bond films to date (six years).
20. The World is Not Enough (1999)
Bond girls have a history of ridiculous (and often suggestive) names, but Denise Richards’s “Christmas Jones” in The World is Not Enough ranks among the silliest. It’s a name that exists just to give the film it’s appallingly tacky last line—a bad double-entendre that even the great Pierce Brosnan has difficulty selling. (I’m not going to repeat it here—you’ll have to sit through this film’s unbearably tedious 128-minute run time to find out for yourself.)
Bonus: Find out The Most Popular Movie The Year You Were Born!
19. The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
Poor Roger Moore. After getting off to an abominable start in Live and Let Die, his Bond doesn’t fare much better in this only slightly-less-tacky foray set in Thailand. The production is beleaguered with the same, low-budget exploitation-flick feel of Live and Let Die—which is a crying shame, as it boasts one of the finest actors ever to have assumed the role of a Bond villain in Christopher Lee. As the titular Man With the Golden Gun—the world’s deadliest assassin—Lee is so much better than the script he’s given, and in spite of insipid dialogue, he makes a superb match against Moore. It’s just a shame that the time that could’ve been spent on Lee’s character development is wasted on silly bits with Britt Eklund’s totally superfluous Mary Goodnight—a misguided attempt at giving Bond a comedy sidekick.
18. Octopussy (1983)
Between Fabergé egg forgeries, the threat of nuclear apocalypse, and a cult of octopus-worshipping she-thieves, there’s certainly a lot going on in Octopussy—it’s just a shame none of it ever really gels. The location filming in India provides a refreshing backdrop to the patchwork-quilt plot, but the cheese-factor that permeates so much of the Moore-era truly stinks up the joint. Take for instance, Bond’s swinging through the Indian jungle with the help of some conveniently placed vines. The scene would’ve been silly enough, but instead of leaving it as-is, they’ve dubbed a Tarzan call over the soundtrack. Unforgivable.
17. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
For a film in which the villain is a media mogul vying for the entire world’s attention, it’s ironic that Tomorrow Never Dies is so utterly, well… Unworthy of attention. Brosnan is (as always) supremely confident in the lead role and as charming as ever, but the rest of the production is James Bond-by-numbers, from the notion of an evil third party trying to stir up war between the east and the west to Bond finding an ally in the villain’s moll (a post-Lois & Clark and pre-Desperate Housewives Teri Hatcher), who pays for her treachery with her life. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and brings any momentum generated by Brosnan’s introductory vehicle, GoldenEye, crashing to a halt.
16. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
It’s impossible to think of Sean Connery’s swansong without hearing Shirley Bassey blast its sultry theme tune in your head. And that’s just as well, as the film itself isn’t worth remembering in any great detail. SPECTRE head honcho Ernst Stavro Blofeld is back, but since he’s reduced to managing a sordid Las Vegas casino and impersonating an old woman to elude Bond, he’s not quite the Machiavellian mastermind he once was. Similarly, Connery’s Bond is a (flabby) shadow of his former self, and seems bored to tears with the proceedings. (We as the audience can relate.)
15. Quantum of Solace (2008)
The long-awaited sequel to 2004’s Casino Royale sees James Bond at his darkest and most depressed. That same take on the character was largely dull in Dalton’s Licence to Kill, but somehow—and maybe it’s because Bond’s just lost the love of his life—Daniel Craig makes it compelling, and his very human 007 is one of the two selling points of the film. The other? A brilliantly-staged final shoot-out at a compound in the Bolivian desert. Vicious, exhilarating and beautifully orchestrated.
14. A View to a Kill (1985)
Where else but a mid-’80s James Bond film would you find a cast list that included Christopher Walken, Grace Jones and Patrick Macnee? Largely reviled among Bond fandom, A View to a Kill may be a mess, but—unlike its predecessor, Octopussy—it’s a gorgeous mess. The plot—Walken’s mad-as-a-hatter villain wants to sink Silicon Valley to ensure a monopoly on silicon—is risible, but things move along so quickly, there’s no time to dwell on how dumb everything is. The breakneck pace could be credited to John Glen’s direction, but it’s also largely down to John Barry’s brilliant musical score, which includes the kickass theme song performed by Duran Duran. How kickass? Well, it’s the only Bond theme to have ever hit #1 on the U.S. charts.
13. The Living Daylights (1987)
If Roger Moore took James Bond to outer space (and he did—literally), Timothy Dalton brings the character back down to earth. And that’s certainly not a bad thing. Dalton’s restrained debut performance as Bond is largely regarded as the closest we’ll ever get to the super-spy of Ian Fleming’s novels, but after the past 15 years of increasingly goofy Moore, it takes a bit of getting used to. It’s a shame his first adventure doesn’t pit him against more memorable threat, though, as the plot, which involves a host of villains cooking up a poorly-defined arms-dealing scheme, is pretty pedestrian.
12. You Only Live Twice (1967)
Although he’s largely remembered for penning kiddie-lit like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, writer Roald Dahl also contributed this gem of a story to the James Bond saga. And the wordsmith’s brilliant ideas for You Only Live Twice are so iconic they’ve become cliche: The big-bad’s lair in a hallowed-out volcano? Check. An evil third party stirring up war between the East and the West by gobbling up their respective spacecraft? Check. Heck, even the defining image of SPECTRE’s Blofeld as bald and hideously scarred was established in this ambitious flick.
11. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
A genuine oddity, For Your Eyes Only has earned the distinction of being the Roger Moore James Bond flick that actually takes itself seriously. Not only does Bond dispose of Blofeld once and for all (in the pre-credits sequence, no less!), but he also seems more “secret agent” than “superhero” for the first time in ages. Toss in some expertly choreographed ski chase scenes and spectacular location filming in Greece and Italy, and you’ve got a recipe for premium Bond.
10. Moonraker (1979)
Moonraker is the ultimate “guilty pleasure” of the James Bond franchise. The plot is an uninspired rehashing of The Spy Who Loved Me (released a mere two years previously); the final act consists of a laser gun battle—in space; and memorably scary metal-mouthed baddie Jaws (another repeat from The Spy Who Loved Me) gets made-over as a lovable softie. But somehow, in spite of these weaknesses (or perhaps because of them), Moonraker… Works. The production values and musical score are as over-the-top as the story, achieving a weird kind of balance that makes for the perfect mindless popcorn movie. (Even if you know it’s crap.)
Speaking of mindless, these 9 Movies are Worth Watching—If Only For the Clothes.
9. Goldeneye (1995)
Pierce Brosnan hits the ground running in his debut as 007. Frankly, it’s the part he was born to play—something he reportedly would have done a decade earlier, if it weren’t for his commitments to TV’s Remington Steele. Charming, confident and totally in-control, Brosnan’s James Bond banishes the dreary Dalton in favour of non-stop action, sparkling dialogue and a refreshingly straightforward plot. Too bad he peaked early—his following three entries are relegated to the bottom-third of this list.
8. Dr. No (1962)
It’s tempting to write-off the film that launched the James Bond legacy as a prologue; a mere laying of groundwork that just hints at the glory days to come. But that would be completely unfair to everything that Dr. No does right—a list that’s as long as the number of films it spawned. You’ve got John Barry’s iconic James Bond theme; one of cinema’s all-time greatest casting choices in Sean Connery for the lead; Ursula Andress, setting the standard by which all Bond girls would be judged; the exotic location in the form of sun-soaked Jamaica; and the introduction of SPECTRE itself—the terrorist organization that would menace Bond throughout the halcyon days of the franchise. A bona fide classic in its own right.
7. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Slick, sexy and sublimely directed, The Spy Who Loved Me is easily the best James Bond film of the seventies—and one that still manages to impress to this day. For the first time in the Moore era, it looks as though no expense has been spared. From the impressive sets to the globe-spanning nature of the narrative (which takes Bond from the ruins of ancient Egypt to Sardinia, with some filming in Nunavut thrown in, would you believe!), this is Bond as a big-budget blockbuster and one of the defining action flicks of the decade.
6. Thunderball (1965)
Pioneering underwater camerawork aside, Thunderball is a rollicking ride that see Bond comfortably riding the wave of its ’60s popularity. Sean Connery is at the height of his powers, and even the slightly over-long first act, which sees his Bond recuperating at a health spa (!), is carried off which such style that you don’t even mind that it’s pure padding. The cinematography as the action shifts to the Bahamas (site of the aforementioned underwater battles) is breathtakingly beautiful, and more than makes up for the curiously low-key opening.
5. Casino Royale (2006)
One of the litmus tests of a great James Bond movie is the question, “What would someone who’d never seen a Bond flick think of this film?” And even if Casino Royale stood in isolation as opposed to being part of an overarching series, it could only be regarded as a tautly-directed, brilliantly-plotted piece of filmmaking. Despite public outcry following the announcement that he would indeed be Pierce Brosnan’s successor, Daniel Craig makes the role his own, and gives us the most dangerous and complex Bond yet. The new depths afforded to the character make his doomed romance with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) as engaging as the high-stakes poker game at the heart of the story.
Want to catch a flick with your father? Here are 10 Films That Will Tug on Dad’s Heartstrings!
4. From Russia With Love (1963)
The follow-up to Dr. No builds on the strengths of that film by tossing in James Bond’s first proper romance, and fleshing out the threat of SPECTRE in the form of three truly memorable adversaries. From Russia With Love gives us big league creeps who have taken a master-class in villainy. It’s here that we get our first glimpse of Bond’s ultimate foe—terrorist kingpin Ernst Stavro Blofeld—and he’s ably (or not so ably, as it turns out) abetted by the venomous Rosa Klebb (with her dagger-tipped kicks) and psychopathic strongman Red Grant: A triumvirate of evil that’s so despicable, you’ll be cheering their demise at the film’s conclusion.
Check out our countdown of the Best Movie Happy Endings Ever!
3. Skyfall (2012)
Ever wondered what makes James Bond tick? For the first time ever, the series tackles that question—the elephant in the room since Dr. No—and in answering it, delivers one of the all-time best entries in the canon. The revelations about Bond’s origins come fast and furious as a direct result of Bond’s friendship with Judi Dench’s formidible M—which, when you think of it, is the only meaningful non-romantic relationship we’ve ever seen him pursue. In opening up to her, Bond’s backstory starts bubbling to the surface, only to erupt (quite literally) as the action shifts to his family’s ancestral home in Scotland. Thanks to Sam Mendes’s expert direction, the odd couples’s battle to the death against Javier Bardem’s unhinged Silva is almost unbearably tense, with a real sense of gravitas that makes it so much “more” than the bulk of its predecessors.
2. Goldfinger (1964)
Only three movies in, and the James Bond series delivers one of its undisputed classics in Goldfinger. So effortless is Connery’s performance, it’s easy to see why, 50 years on, he’s still inextricably linked with the role. This is the definitive portrayal of 007—debonaire and dangerous in equal measure—just one of many all-time highs reached in this near-flawless production. From the eminently quotable dialogue (“No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”), to the memorable villains (who can forget mute henchman Oddjob, with his razor-rimmed bowler hat?), this is truly Bond at its most iconic. In fact, much of what we define as “James Bond” comes directly from this film: The double- (and sometimes single-) entendre naming conventions of Bond-girls (can you believe they got away with “Pussy Galore?”), Q’s charmingly quirky spy gadgets, and the recurring plot of a villain attempting to achieve a global monopoly on a precious resource. Even the means by which characters meet their untimely ends—which, in Goldfinger, include death by gold paint, getting sucked out of an airplane window and crushed in a garbage compactor, among others—show a diabolical creativity that would set the gold standard (sorry, couldn’t resist) for the Bond films to come. The double-edged sword of this early success, of course, is that by trying to replicate the many things Goldfinger did right, the next two decades would largely see the series treading water instead of breaking new ground—with a few notable exceptions…
1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Despite the fact that this is the one everyone seems to forget, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service boasts a shocking number of “firsts” for James Bond. Not only is it the first time Bond falls in love, it’s the first (and to date, only) time he gets married. What’s more, it’s the first time we see Bond played by someone who isn’t Sean Connery—likely the reason this remains the most unfairly overlooked entry in the series. Granted, Connery’s successor, George Lazenby, isn’t quite capable of filling his shoes, and there are moments in the film when his performance is woefully wooden—but the character is written so strongly here that the role is virtually actor-proof. Anything lacking on Lazenby’s part is more than made up for by the dynamic Diana Rigg in the role of Tracy Draco, the lovable yet self-destructive daughter of an amiable mobster, who later becomes (the tragically short-lived) Mrs. Bond. Having challenged virtually every convention already established in the series, the film continues to break the mould by pitting the doomed lovers against Blofeld’s most audacious scheme, in which he’s using an allergy clinic as front to turn a bevy of beautiful women into the living carriers of a biological weapon. Toss in some truly breathtaking stunts that make full use of the snow-capped Alps setting, and you’ve got the makings of the best Bond film of them all.