Film

Shaken Not Stirred: The Church of Bond

This summer was meant to see the release of Bond 25 (now titled, No Time to Die). Due to circumstances we all know about, the opening has been pushed time and again, and most recently to 2021. And that’s a shame, because I could have really used a martini-fused Bond pick-me-up right about now (couldn’t we all?).

When it does finally grace our screens, I will be the first in line opening weekend with a big smile on my face and zeal in my eyes because at this point Bond is not just a movie-going experience, it is, for some of us, a religion. Going to Bond is like going to church. It feels like it’s been around forever and nothing has changed. It’s familiar. Repetitive. Misogynistic. It is both outdated and keeping up with the times. It’s filled with grandeur, pageantry, miracles, and more than its fair share of stupidity. But also earnestness. Devotion. Resolve. And, of course, tradition.

Every Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving you can find a Bond film playing on your television. Doesn’t matter which one it is—you’ll know the plot. Someone wants world domination. The Americans aren’t smart enough to deal with it, so luckily for the world, the Brits, or specifically one British Spy, can save the day—again. 

Going to Bond is like going to church. It feels like it’s been around forever and nothing has changed. It’s familiar. Repetitive. Misogynistic. It is both outdated and keeping up with the times.

At some point, a tour of the villain’s elaborate lair is required and undoubtedly he’ll spill the beans on his entire plan. A fight or set piece will ensue. Bond will defeat him, save the day, get the girl (the second one, since the first always dies), and probably get picked up by those pesky Americans on whatever exotic location he’s at. But not too soon—after all, he’s got more sex to have. Movie over. Here endeth the lesson. We are but the flock. Bond is the shepherd.

And so it’s with great disappointment that I find myself having to wait even longer than anticipated for a chance to kneel at the altar of Bond. Greatest Briton of them all. And so, like a good zealot, I turned to the scriptures and found solace in revisiting, restudying, and reevaluating what has come before—by sitting through every single EON Productions Bond film in chronological order. And so, duly enlightened, I present my overview of the Bond franchise.

In other words, a worst-to-best-of list. Spoilers galore!

BOND MOVIES, WORST TO BEST

Author’s note: I have decided to omit NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN since it is not an EON production.

24. TOMORROW NEVER DIES (Brosnan)

You don’t remember the plot of this one, do you? Neither do I and I just watched it a few weeks ago. Horrifically boring. I literally stopped watching it and just discussed my trips to New York from a decade ago with Lady while the third act played through. And Lady happens to be a dog.

23. DIE ANOTHER DAY (Brosnan)

This one has Bond being held POW in a North Korean war camp (though he’s still pretty fat at the end of it). It also has an ice castle and an invisible car. Yes, an invisible car! Oh and he windsurfs a tsunami. Let me repeat that as well: HE WINDSURFS A TSUNAMI.

Special Mention: Halle Berry proves to be the worst Bond Girl of them all, even edging out Denise Richards.

22. MOONRAKER (Moore)

Finally, Roger Moore enters the scene. This one has Bond going to space and having the same third act as Thunderball, only in space with lasers (yes, lasers). It also has villainous henchman Jaws falling in love and becoming a good guy…. Just awful.

Special Mention: Jaws tries to flap his arms and fly while falling from a plane without a parachute. He survives. Wow.

21. QUANTUM OF SOLACE (Daniel Craig)

The sequel to Casino Royale and they almost ruined the whole reboot. Incomprehensibly dull. Incomprehensible action scenes. Truly badly directed.

20. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (Moore)

Supposedly a return to form after Moonraker (they don’t go to space and shoot friggin’ laser beams!) I think that’s the only reason it received okay reviews. Moore with the teenage ice skater is one of the creepiest things in the entire Bond canon (and that’s saying something!). Some half-assed plot about revenge. A talking parrot that bears witness to a murder. Topol… Ooof. Let’s just leave it at that.

Special Mention: Worst pre-credits opening ever with Bond flying a helicopter and scooping up a wheelchair-bound Blofeld and dropping him down a chimney.

19. OCTOPUSSY (Moore)

A bit surprised to see this doing so well (just shows how bad those bottom two Brosnan films are). Another example of a blatantly racist western interpretation of Indian culture. The plot involves Bond trying to stop a Russian general turned rogue from acquiring a Fabergé egg. Yes you read that correctly. (Whatever next?!)

Special Mention: Bond, dressed as a gorilla, checks his watch while hiding from circus knife throwers… God, I couldn’t make that up. Oh, and then he dresses up as a clown… a clown… A FUCKING CLOWN!

18. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (Brosnan)

Denise Richards as Dr. Christmas, nuclear scientist… Need I say more? It is, however, the first of the “M is in peril, Bond must come to the rescue” plots—a trend that’s become all too familiar in the Craig era.

17. SPECTRE (Craig)

Possibly the best looking Bond girl, also one of the worst Bond theme songs ever recorded. Some pretty bad decisions—the henchman is pretty awful, the multiple film references (including Spielberg’s JAWS?? Why?); Blofeld as Bond’s step-brother! (PLEASE!) But it also has some great moments and Moneypenny and Q really come into their own. Also I was never bored, which (like a church service) is very rare with a Bond film.

16. A VIEW TO A KILL (Moore)

Let’s get the good out of the way first. Christopher Walken is a great Bond villain as a neo-nazi bio-engineered killer. The Duran Duran song is awesome and Alison Doody (in a small role) is very sexy. Grace Jones is an interesting henchman too and precursor to Famke Janssen in Goldeneye. But the film suffers from Roger Moore being nearly 60 years old and unable to run up a flight of stairs without looking winded.

15. ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (Lazenby)

People love this movie and maybe if viewed alone outside of the canon it would be better, but Lazenby is a terrible actor and the movie is pretty dire. A long, stupid, hippy-inspired subplot involving a harem of women (cue the Fembots) goes nowhere. Worst moment, and there are so many, is Bond breaking the fourth wall and saying “This didn’t happen to the other guy.” Oy vey. Just awful. 

Special Mention: On the plus side, the song We have All The Time In The World is actually great. Tele Savalis as Blofeld is interesting. And the ending is by far the darkest in Bond history and could have been great if it wasn’t ruined by Lazenby’s terrible delivery of his (admittedly stupid) last line.

14. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (Dalton)

Half of this movie is pretty good. Half of it is terrible. It starts off down and dirty and a deliberate change of tone from the Moore films, but then descends into a long winded plot involving arms dealing and the Middle East and double-crossings which are just too boring to pay attention to.

13. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (Connery)

The first of the Connery films to make the list. This one is hugely popular with Bond fans. Personally, I’ve never enjoyed it and Connery was clearly no longer into the role and it shows. The whole thing seems phoned in. Also at one point they make him Asian. Why? I don’t know. That said, the plot of a space rocket swallowing up another space rocket and the Russians and Americans blaming each other (when actually it was those pesky boys at SPECTRE!) was pretty ingenious at the time and has been reused often, most notably in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Special Mention: Great song. Great volcano/rocket launch pad set by Ken Adam complete with monorail. And the definitive Blofeld played by Donald Pleasence.

12. GOLDENEYE (Brosnan)

I think this holds up pretty decently. Great henchman in Famke Janssen’s sex-crazed killer. Good Bond girl. Sean Bean makes a good villain. But best of all, Judi Dench takes over the role of M and steals the show.

11. LIVE AND LET DIE (Moore)

Roger Moore’s first outing as 007. Bond film as blaxploitation. Tarot cards. Voodoo. A truly great song by Paul McCartney/Wings. And Yaphet Kotto makes for a great villain (double villain actually). But it’s too long and Roger Moore hasn’t totally come to terms with the part yet.

Special Mention: Good stunt work as Bond runs over the backs of alligators; the stunt was done for real. The death of Yaphet Kotto by inflation is both hilarious and ingenious. And the introduction of recurring character J. W. Pepper deserves a mention as well. (Not all of those are good btw.)

10. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (Connery)

Connery’s highly-paid return to Bond after Lazenby walked away from the role. I have a soft spot for this. The song itself is pretty good, but the theme music is great. Plus it sports two of the greatest henchmen in Bond history—Mr. Kidd and Mr. Winn. However, Charles Gray is probably the worst Blofeld.

09. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (Moore)

A real change of pace from the whole ‘Bond needs to save the entire world’ syndrome, this one is much more of a one-on-one escapade, pitting one great assassin against another. The martial arts are very dated and dumb, however. And the film sports a (not so) welcome return of J. W. Pepper, this time in Thailand being shockingly and outrageously racist.

Special Mention: Possibly the greatest single car stunt ever filmed, ruined by some dickhead’s decision to put a slide whistle over it. Christopher Lee as the title villain, however, is superb and elevates this into the top ten.

08. THUNDERBALL (Connery)

Too much underwater photography. The entire third act feels like it takes place underwater and it gets pretty tedious. This above all slips it down to eighth position. Otherwise it has everything one could expect from a Connery Bond—in other words, plenty of booze and plenty of girls. Also it’s the introduction of Blofeld, which is pretty important obviously. Later remade as Never Say Never Again, but not nearly as good.

07. LICENSE TO KILL (Dalton)

And this time it’s personal… Actually not the first time he’s gotten personal (Goldfinger he takes things pretty personally as well), but the first time he actually goes fully rogue. Pretty good film and holds up. Good song. Good Bond girl. Good villain and a very young Benicio Del Toro as one of the henchmen. Perhaps not enough of a Bond film however, and too much of an 80s action movie instead.

06. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (Moore)

A bona-fide great Bond film and from the Roger Moore era too no less! This probably has the single best pre-credits stunt in any Bond film (skiing off a cliff and releasing a Union Jack parachute). It has a disco-infused score by Marvin Hamlisch (goodbye John Barry). A fantastic song: Nobody does it better. A Goddamn Lotus that turns into a submarine! And a plot stolen straight from You Only Live Twice, but frankly done better. Also the introduction of super henchman Jaws. Really there isn’t much more you could want from a Bond film. This is a quintessential Roger Moore Bond film.

05. CASINO ROYALE (Craig)

Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond and he grabbed the role by the balls and squeezed. Gone were the smarmy one-liners from Brosnan. Gone were the gadgets. Gone was the opening gun-barrel! This was a new kind of Bond and we all loved it. Over a decade later it’s still great. The card game is a bit too long (and Texas Hold ‘Em, really??). And the third act is far too drawn out, leaving us with a cliffhanger and the unbearable knowledge that we have to sit through Quantum of Solace next. For those reasons, this film got edged out of the top three for me. And then I found it slipping down to fifth place. But it’s still a great Bond film and Craig proved to be the first Bond to truly give Connery a run for his money.

04. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (Connery)

Highlights from this film include Rosa Klebb, the spiked-shoe wearing lesbian SMERSH colonel who is secretly working for SPECTRE. The introduction of Q. A great Bond girl. And Connery at his best. But most of all, the great Robert Shaw as the ultimate SPECTRE assassin. Probably my favorite henchman in Bond history and the only man who ever really made us feel he could beat Bond—or at least Connery’s Bond (he would have walked all over Moore and Brosnan, who are we kidding?). And in fact, he does defeat Connery. If not for the gas-pellet exploding briefcase he was handily given, Connery wouldn’t have had a chance. Let’s be honest, Q should be given a knighthood for the amount of times he’s saved Bond while saving the world. So why doesn’t this rate higher? Mainly because the gypsy camp stuff is just too tedious. And it has a few too many endings.

03. SKYFALL (Craig)

What a great Bond film! Barely a dull moment in the whole thing and a fantastic Bond villain. Not much of a Bond girl though. There’s the usual first one he sleeps with who gets murdered (a Bond girl tradition), but then who? M??? It does seem like she’s the Bond girl this time around. The third act is pretty boring; just a long shoot out at his former residence. And it does have a very definite Batman feel about it. If they had had the balls to shoot M in the head during the hearing as they were about to, instead of saving her at the last second—only to have her die anyway at the end of the film instead, this probably would’ve nabbed the number one spot. It may even have transcended Bond cinema altogether. But they didn’t and it doesn’t. But Javier Bardem is great and Adele’s song is very good (the best in a very long time). The set pieces throughout are brilliant. And the pre-credits action scene is fantastic and shocking. Also, you can’t help but smile when Bond is introduced to the new M and the office is now exactly the same as it was in the Connery-era Bond films. Cut to the famous gun-barrel opening. Just GREAT.

02. DR. NO (Connery)

I feel a bit lame placing the original Bond film so high up on the list, but frankly it’s the one I could sit through the most, and (along with Goldfinger) it introduced everything that was to become associated with Bond: lavish Ken Adam sets, beautiful women who almost immediately sleep with Bond, Baccarat, fancy locations, Bond always being given a detailed tour of the facilities by the villain and usually a long explanation as to his overall scheme before trying to dispose of Bond in a complicated manner. SPECTRE. Felix Lighter. Monorails. And that theme. That great Bond theme music. It’s all right here! So why bother putting in another Bond film when the original will do?… Unless that other film is…

01. GOLDFINGER (Connery)

The definitive Bond in the definitive Bond movie.

And probably the definitive Bond song too (though not the best). Possibly also the greatest villain and certainly the greatest duo of villain and henchman. Two stunning Bond girls who both die (like I said—tradition). Only to be followed by Honor Blackman…. Really? Her? Okay. And, of course, there’s the introduction of that Aston Martin DB5. Frankly the car and the line “No Mr. Bond, I want you to die” are enough to ensure the top spot for this film. The end battle is a little lame, but all the stuff at the Kentucky compound holds up, as does the rest of the film. Honor Blackman and her ridiculous flying circus is certainly no match for Ursula Andress and her rendition of Underneath the Mango Tree—but that aside, Goldfinger really is the gold standard.

BOND PORTRAYALS, BEST TO WORST

  1. Connery
  2. Craig 
  3. Moore
  4. Dalton
  5. Brosnan
  6. Lazenby

TOP FIVE BOND SONGS

  1. Nobody Does It Better (The Spy Who Loved Me) – Carly Simon
  2. Live and Let Die – Paul McCartney, Wings
  3. Skyfall – Adele
  4. You Only Live Twice – Nancy Sinatra
  5. Goldfinger – Shirley Bassey

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