I’ve been meaning to watch the James Bond films for years now. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t familiar with the 007 series, partly through various pop culture references, but also the huge build-up to the first two Daniel Craig entries. As the series says goodbye to Craig, and with a break before the next Bond fires down the iconic gun barrel, it seemed like a suitable time to marathon through all twenty-five 007 adventures. I’ve ummed and urred over this list for a while now, but having seen No Time to Die, I felt it was finally time to state this as my definitive Top 10 James Bond films… at least until I completely change my mind in five minutes.
Where better to start then, but with the beginning…
10. Dr. No (1962)
The first James Bond film is iconic for a myriad of reasons: Sean Connery‘s distinctive performance, Monty Norman‘s catchy theme tune, and the way it establishes the many hallmarks of the series – the Bond women, the Bond villain (complete with robotic hands), the exotic locations, the casino scenes and of course the sci-fi-esque villains lair, complete with evil sharks. The shot of Ursula Andress (playing Honey Ryder, the first and not the last ridiculous ‘Bond Girl’ name) walking out of the ocean has proven so iconic that the 007 series has replicated it not once but twice, with Halle Berry in Die Another Day and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. Dr. No doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises, especially to an audience so familiar with the Bond formula, but it’s such a polished production that you can see why it caught on – and why he’s still popular sixty years later.
9. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Apparently, one of the most troubled James Bond productions, I was surprised by just how entertaining Tomorrow Never Dies is. Jonathan Pryce is a gloriously OTT villain, while Michelle Yeoh‘s butt-kicking secret agent Bond girl Wain Lin is great fun to watch (and it’s a shame she never returned), and the remote-control car makes for an entertaining and unique chase sequence. I love the small scene between Bond and the assassin preparing to stage his suicide – he’s so polite and awkward when everything starts going wrong. Pierce Brosnan delivers a more tongue-in-cheek performance than in Goldeneye (I suspect partly to cover up the silliness of the plot), but it’s interesting to see a 007 film that tackles such a big theme; a villain who manipulates events to create news stories to influence the entire world. It’s a brilliant idea in 1997 and feels just as relevant in 2021.
8. The Living Daylights (1987)
The 007 franchise often needs to refresh itself, and after the last few Roger Moore entries it really needed a new tone and style. Timothy Dalton‘s Bond feels like Craig‘s incarnation twenty years earlier; a more brooding and violent character in grittier and thrilling films. Dalton may not have the charm of Moore, or the screen presence of Connery, but he’s a great leading man. He also feels very ‘modern’ in comparison to his predecessors, only interested in just the one ‘Bond Girl’ (Maryam d’Abo‘s Kara, who’s obsession with the cello leads to one of the film’s most entertaining set-pieces). The Living Daylights is one of the few Bond films I can remember the story of, twists and all, and features some solid action and memorable appearances from John Rhys-Davies and Art Malik. It’s a shame this was yet another Bond film directed by John Glen – a perfectly serviceable director, but on his fourth entry doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The theme song is great too – if only I could remember who did it…?
7. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Roger Moore is probably my favourite Bond; he’s not as threatening as Connery, and while he was clearly too old for the part for almost all of his seven-film run, he’s by far the most endearing and charming; a little bit like a middle-aged dad pretending to be a super spy and seems to have moulded Colin Firth‘s performance in the Kingsman films. Picking a favourite Moore film is quite difficult, his first two films are solid but not the best, Moonraker is incredibly entertaining but not strictly good, and the latter three entries are almost completely forgettable. Enter The Spy Who Loved Me, clearly the most influential film of his era and often cited as a favourite by 70’s kids; it’s easy to see why. Barbara Bach is a nice foil to Moore’s Bond, Richard Kiel‘s Jaws is an iconic and memorable henchman, and who can forget the Bond car that turns into a submarine? The futuristic, spider-like villain lair looks great on screen too…
6. No Time to Die (2021)
The latest Bond film – and Daniel Craig‘s last – is still very much fresh in audiences’ minds, but for me I think it’s safe to say that No Time to Die is one of the very best 007 adventures: an exhilarating rush of action, character development and a story that hits a little too close to home at a few moments… particularly in the wake of the past two years. Craig himself delivers his most raw and honest performance as Bond, in story that actively avoids many of the usual tropes, while director Cary Joji Fukunaga offers a terrific action spectacle. It may not be the most memorable 007 film, nor does it have the best villain, but it is by far the most emotional, and entirely focused on its characters. A truly fitting end to Craig’s 15-year career as Bond.
5. Goldeneye (1995)
After a six-year hiatus, James Bond needed to come back with a bang – and it got just that. Martin Campbell delivers so much energy to the film, bringing new life after John Glen‘s serviceable – if not distinctive – five-film run over the 80’s. Pierce Brosnan‘s Bond blends the action-man persona of Dalton’s with the raised-eyebrow charm of Roger Moore, selling the film’s heightened violence as well as the more ridiculous aspects (See: the tank sequence). We get introduced to Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) before she meets Bond, as she experiences the destruction that the Goldeneye can cause first-hand. It’s this distinctive touch that Campbell brings which makes the story more authentic, and the lead ‘Bond Girl’ a more compelling and endearing character. Sean Bean makes for one of the series’ best villains – a mirror image to Bond, knowing all his tricks and trademarks. Naturally, his evil plan still gets thwarted, but for once it does seem like Bond might have met his match. Éric Serra‘s score is the most distinctive of the Bond series, much more in line with his work on Léon than the typical John Barry orchestral soundtracks but compliments the film’s modern approach.
4. Goldfinger (1964)
Goldfinger has it all: the Shirley Bassey theme song, the Aston Martin DB5, Honor Blackman‘s Pussy Galore, Oddjob, “Do you expect me to talk? / No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!” – It strikes the right balance between silliness and solid action fare, Sean Connery delivers his best performance, and the whole thing is a blast from start to finish. Perhaps the main issue is Bond’s attitude towards the women in the film, which certainly doesn’t hold up too well in the #MeToo era.
3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
George Lazenby‘s one-off Bond film is remarkable change of pace after the last few Connery outings. It’s the first time that the franchise really reinvents itself, and the first to give Bond some personal stakes. His relationship with Diana Rigg‘s Tracey is the backbone of the entire film, giving the typical “Bond raids the villain’s lair” climax an extra level of suspense – surely, he can’t have the happy conclusion he wants? Lazenby may not be anyone’s favourite Bond, but he does do a solid job with a more complex version of the character, someone who isn’t motivated by Queen and country but love for a woman unlike anyone else he’s ever met. Diana Rigg, meanwhile, is one of the best Bond girls, and I really like Telly Savalas as Blofeld – not as iconic as Donald Pleasance, but by far the best Blofeld performance in the series for me. John Barry‘s score is so good, it later became the key inspiration for The Incredibles‘ soundtrack – and features in No Time to Die…
2. Skyfall (2012)
In case you haven’t guessed the running theme of this list, my preferred Bond films tend to be the more personal tales, the adventures that delve deeper into the main character and expand him into something (vaguely) more three-dimensional. Skyfall attempts just that, with hints about James’ backstory, but keeps its focus firmly in the present, with the interesting dynamic between Judi Dench‘s M and Daniel Craig‘s 007. There’s mention of a surrogate parent/child dynamic between the two, from Javier Bardem‘s wonderfully camp villain Silva, although the two characters are so cold and emotional distant that they could probably never form that kind of relationship. It’s surprising that after so many films to see a sense of finality to this film, as the characters grow, change, and move on. Skyfall challenges Bond’s relevance in an ever-changing, more technologically advanced world, and while it may be a little over-the-top with its themes, it is filled with striking imagery and some lovely character work. Had you asked me six months ago, I’d have said this was my favourite Daniel Craig Bond film, but on this marathon, I discovered that I actually preferred…
1. Casino Royale (2006)
Trust Goldeneye director Martin Campbell to bring 007 back with style not once but twice in this thrilling prequel/reboot of the franchise, which despite all odds is my favourite of the entire series. The stylish black and white pre-credits sequence is an instant change of pace after the dated CGI and awful puns of Die Another Day, before transitioning into one of the best Bond intros in the entire franchise (You Know My Name being one of the best, if not the best Bond song). Daniel Craig is terrific as a slightly younger, happier and more naïve Bond, and while not quite an origin story for the character, Casino Royale shows us the defining events that made James Bond, the James Bond. Eva Green is great as Bond’s love interest Vesper – the dialogue between the two leads sparkles on screen. Mads Mikkelsen also makes for one of the best 007 villains – not because he’s the evilest but because he’s the most vulnerable, never in control of the situation and trying to regain it any way he can. His surprise fate in the film was a major surprise on my first viewing, and still makes for a dynamic twist. When the classic Monty Norman theme played for the first time and Craig uttered the iconic “Bond… James Bond“, I concluded that Casino Royale is the best 007 film in the entire franchise.