As a huge fan of all things 007 (except for the 1967 spoof spinoff), I feel it is my civic duty to rank them for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
From Russia With Love (1963)
Because there is truly never a dull moment from start to finish, it barely edges its predecessor Dr. No as the best James Bond movie ever. Amazing pre-titles sequence, tremendous story, another smoking-hot Bond girl, and Kerim Bey has got to be the coolest Bond sidekick/accomplice ever. Not only is this a more realistic Bond story, but the fact that Bond shows he can really fight is a nice boost as well. Flawless.
Dr. No (1962)
Connery is amazingly cool, witty, dry and in shape. This is a no-nonsense Bond and couldn’t be any better in any way. The line “That’s a Smith and Wesson, and you’ve had your six” is the one that made me fall in love with these movies oh, so many years ago. The fact that Ursula Andress is the hottest Bond girl ever doesn’t hurt, either. Jack Lord is also the only Felix Leiter in the same level of the stratosphere of cool as James Bond. 2nd to one.
Essential for so many reasons; if someone is watching a Bond movie for the first time, this is probably the one to watch. Connery at the top of his game, amazing pre-titles sequence, a stellar golfing scene, and some of the most clever and classic iconic scenes in the 007 franchise. The Aston Martin. OddJob. Shirley Bassey. A smoking hot babe covered in gold paint. Bond Heaven.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1967)
A faithful adaptation and the book and a smooth transition from Connery to Lazenby, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the best – probably only behind Goldfinger because Connery was in Goldfinger. Lazenby is witty and entertaining, and his relationship with the wounded bird Tracy is what keeps this story pumping. The movie is long but does not slow down. The plot is a little different, but hey – it came from the book. A tragic ending that not only molds the character of James Bond forever but is referenced numerous times going forward. A masterpiece.
Casino Royale (2006)
When word first came that the franchise was going to be rebooted like the Batman series with a blond Bond, I couldn’t have been more skeptical. However, the opening sequence got me hook, line and sinker and the movie is an absolute masterpiece. This is one of those movies that is for fans of movies, not just for fans of 007. Now that I have seen what this movie did for the franchise, it’s clear that the right thing was done. Sometimes you have to trust the caretakers of something to take care of it. In no other movie could 45-minutes of card-playing be entertaining and exciting. Daniel Craig is a cold-blooded, ruthless killer and is not a prettyboy; making him more of Ian Fleming’s Bond than some of the others. He is second to one.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
This movie certainly proves that Ringo Starr (Mr. Barbara Bach) is a very lucky man. Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” is the 2nd best Bond song ever created and, if I ever choose to marry, it is my lifelong dream to have it sung to me at the reception. Roger Moore is more Live and Let Die here than the goof that he was in The Man With the Golden Gun and the ones to follow. It jumped the shark a bit but was his best outing, slightly edging For Your Eyes Only because it has so many staples of the series. And Jaws is still my favorite villain of the series.
Enter Pierce Brosnan. His first outing is his best – he’s smooth, not afraid to kill, has pithy comments galore, and the first hour is such vintage 007 transformed to modern day that it is uncanny: the car chase, the casino, the interaction with M. All priceless. This movie resuscitated James Bond after a 6-year absence and made him relevant again, if you believe he ever left. This one truly has it all. The Eric Serra music is pretty lousy but aside from that, this one is tough to beat. Add in the gorgeous baby blue BMW and the exchange, “How can you act like this? How can you be so cold?” “It’s what keeps me alive” and you’ve got yourself a true winner.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Pierce’s second outing is nearly as strong as the first. David Arnold does a great score for this movie, the intro is wildly entertaining and thrusts us straight into the action, and scenes like the indestructible BMW, remote-controlling the BMW, the exchange with Dr. Kaufman, and the literal barrage of witty one-liners make this one a keeper. It only loses a step from GoldenEye because of some of the slow Wai Lin scenes – the second hour is nowhere near as powerful as the first. The plot and the villain are interesting and Pierce is on top of his game.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
This movie sees the demise of Blofeld, Bond cool again in the wake of the awful Moonraker, and some great scenes like 007 knocking baddies into the hockey net of the ice rink and him uttering, “Send them to the funeral” regarding the lilies he orders just prior to dispatching some motorcycle-riding henchmen. There really are no slow parts to this movie – it returns triumphantly to the basics of Bond that make him worth watching. Good, realistic plot, entertaining sequences and it also has Topol; what more can you ask for?
Licence to Kill (1989)
Those who try to pin the near-death and 6-year absence of the franchise that was to ensue on Dalton or Licence’s shoulders needs to take a second look. Bond was having an identity crisis. The series went cold turkey from a pretty boy with quips who never killed anybody to a killer who wasn’t pretty and wasn’t funny in the eighties when everything was lighthearted and campy. Personally, I love this movie. Sanchez is a great villain, Q gets a much-deserved and entertaining expanded role, the plot is solid, Bond goes rogue, it references his lost wife Tracy, the ending is amazing, Talisa Soto is hot, there is brutality, there is card playing, and the line, “Then I guess it’s…a farewell to arms” (delivered to M in the Hemingway House no less) is one of the best in the entire series. This movie even has Benicio Del Toro and Wayne Newton, for crying out loud! “Bless your hearts.” Great flick.
Live and Let Die (1971)
Featuring the third different actor as 007 in three movies would sound like a gamble, especially following Connery, but this movie delivers. It is Roger Moore being funny but not over the top, Jane Seymour as one of the sexiest Bond girls ever, a good plot, and the absolute best theme song ever: the song of the same name by Paul McCartney and Wings. Roger Moore goes on to take Bond in the wrong direction as more of a clown (literally in Octopussy, sadly enough!) but this movie is just flat out cool.
Thunderball continues the unfolding of Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s SPECTRE organization and its most entertaining part is when Bond antagonizes #2 Emilio Largo with his mocking use of the word “specter”. Domino is one of the most amazing Bond girls yet and this movie has it all: Connery being cool, gadgets, fast cars, hot women and a good story. The detractor: too much underwater stuff.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Literally picking up as the next scene following the end of Casino Royale, this flick follows Bond hell-bent on revenge and not caring who he kills. All of the changes that were made to the overall series in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace make sense after seeing both from start to finish. The villain Greene is uninteresting, the plot is not the greatest, but if you want to see James Bond as a brute murdering machine, this is the flick to watch. Pretty much action from start to finish and it ties up the previous film’s loose ends well.
You Only Live Twice (1966)
It gives a face to Blofeld, has some entertaining lines, and some typical cool Bond moments, but the corny outer space stuff, Bond becoming Japanese, and some slow sequences push this back a little in the fold. Still: it’s Connery, and that makes this better than many Bond movies that are to come. Frankly, the fact that it is Connery is the only reason that it’s this high on the list.
The Living Daylights (1987)
This is probably the mid-point of all of the Bond movies because it’s not great but it’s not bad. Timothy Dalton debuts without a whole lot of bombast and he does not visibly bed any beauties (we can only assume he bunks down with the main Bond girl and the pre-titles girl), but he puts an end to the corniness of the Roger Moore era and finally lights up a cigarette for the first time since the sixties. The plot is plausible and the movie is watchable all the way through – the shooting of Pushkin is the high point. A decent effort…though Dalton is not funny.
Truly, the bulk of the first hour of this movie is pretty entertaining: Bond at the auction, seducing the female baddie, the whole Property of a Lady storyline with the antique egg, the game of dice, and some witty one-liners make for a fun first half. Sadly, the second half falls apart. The absolutely shameful Tarzan reference signals the beginning of the end. James Bond in a clown suit? Makes me want to scream.
Diamonds Are Forever (1969)
The way this started out and could have headed was pretty promising: 007 pissed off and hell-bent on making Blofeld pay for murdering his wife, and featuring the return of superstud Sean Connery. Instead, it took cornball twists, had an out-of-shape Connery, really bad plot, an unimpressive Bond girl and Jimmy Dean the Sausage King (in an albeit funny role). This movie is pretty horrible and is definitely the worst MGM-sanctioned Connery flick. The pre-titles sequence is first rate. The rest of the picture is far from great.
Die Another Day (2002)
While the pre-titles sequence is fairly good and a select few of the plot devices are mildly entertaining, this movie overall is pretty bad. Madonna? An ice palace? Gene therapy-mutated villains? A diamonds-powered weapon designed to blow up South Korea? Bond surfing with remaining scraps of a plane? An invisible car? Madonna? The movie itself was bad enough but the end was even more horrible. Even the one-liners have become stale. It is relatively fun to point out the references to each and every Bond movie prior, but the bad outweighs the good on this one. It made a ton of money, but it really ran the gamut and, after this, a reboot was needed.
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist? That pretty much sums it up. The pre-titles sequence is fine – Bond kicking butt in a Swiss bank over the death of an MI6 agent and falling off an exploding hot air balloon onto the Millennium Dome after a high-speed boat chase. Unfortunately, the villain is very boring and, while Robbie Coltrane makes another good performance as Zukovsky, there isn’t enough good in this movie to outweigh the bad. There are some terrible lines – the script is in bad shape. Sadly, this would also be the last appearance of Desmond Lleweyln as Q.
From A View to a Kill (1985)
Honestly, how realistic is it that the head of MI6, his secretary, the quartermaster of all technological exploits and the top field agent would ALL take the morning off to go to a horse race just to scope out the head of a corporation that the Brits suspect MIGHT have something to do with a death of one of their agents? The Beach Boys reference in the pre-titles sequence is shameful, Roger Moore is old, but there are a few bright spots: horse racing is cool, Christopher Walken is somewhat entertaining, and this is the end of the cheese: Roger Moore’s final movie in the 007 franchise. Duran Duran’s theme song can’t save this stinker.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
Okay, here’s the skinny: Moore is less, so seeing Connery again after all of the cheese is a nice change of pace. However, the fact that they expect us to believe that every woman in the world still turns their head to adore when an out-of-shape 50+ year old 007 walks around is a little much. It’s good to see the best Bond one last time, but a video game contest with the nemesis? The cornball Fatima Blush wanting Bond to sign something saying she was the best lover he ever had? Kim Basinger looks good, but everything else about this stinker is very, very bad. The guy that played Brad in super-turd Superman III is in familiar territory – this movie is almost THAT horrible! It may be an unofficial Bond, but it officially sucks.
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
In a word: cheesy. Few redeeming qualities exist in this hokey departure from the norm, which was to become the norm in the Roger Moore era. The concept of an assassin using a golden gun and a duel of two great marksmen was lost amidst the cheesy use of “Fantasy Island”’s half-sized Tattoo, half-wit banter and a half-baked plot. I mean, seriously, what is the point of this movie? Christopher Lee is cool; but the plot is that his lover wants him dead so she makes MI6 think that Bond is his next target so he will come after him and kill him in his funhouse? Ridiculous and forgettable.
Due to the success of Star Wars, this space-based flick was bumped up in the stead of For Your Eyes Only. Bad move. This whole movie was a bad move. Don’t get me wrong: the pre-titles sequence is entertaining: Bond somersaulting in mid-air, freefalling with a baddie while haggling over a parachute – then followed by Jaws. After the Shirley Bassey tune sounds the opening, the movie goes downhill and never recuperates. Awful, awful, awful. The Romeo and Juliet theme celebrating Jaws finding love? The Magnificent Seven reference? The Close Encounters reference? A plot about expunging Earth’s population only to replenish with a new breed of superior genetically engineered humans? Those God-awful special effects and laser blasts in space? Please. A new low that is so bad it makes Star Trek I look like Citizen Kane.