Happy 60th birthday, James Bond: Ranking every 007 film, from Dr. No to No Time To Die – The A.V. Club

James Bond turns 60 on October 5, at least on film. The first Bond film, Dr. No, directed by Terence Young from the sixth novel in author Ian Fleming’s best-selling book series, arrived in theaters on this date in 1962. It gave the world an immediately iconic portrait of a debonair, dangerous superspy—and the world has either wanted him or wanted to be him ever since. Six decades later, Bond remains a cultural flashpoint, and it seems a day doesn’t go by without some morsel of information being meted out by the franchise’s longtime owners, the Broccoli family and their Eon Productions. And every time, media and fans gulp down the info like one of Bond’s famous martinis.
To commemorate this benchmark in the history of the character, and of course the series, The A.V. Club has ranked every Bond film to date, including Connery’s 1980s one-off Never Say Never Again—but not Woody Allen’s Casino Royale, a decidedly more comical interpretation of the character from the late ’60s (though that film does boast an Oscar-nominated theme song, Dusty Springield’s classic “The Look Of Love”). Suffice to say that one’s opinions of each actor in the role, the importance of an installment’s fidelity to its source material, and the general quality of the films themselves virtually guarantee a different list for every fan; but if this particular countdown convinces you to go back and revisit even a few of the films—if only to disagree—then we consider our mission a success.
2 / 28
Pierce Brosnan’s second and third movies took such pains to paint him as a serious Bond that they rendered him rather dull—a deadpan actor responding to real-world threats in a vain attempt to compete with Jason Bourne movies. Die Another Day goes way in the opposite direction, understanding that Brosnan’s deadpan is more effective in reaction to absurd situations. His casual entrance into a hotel after months of torture sets the tone, as does the villain’s insane plan. To wit: a North Korean colonel gets radical surgery to turn himself into a Caucasian British billionaire as part of a scheme to restart the Korean War using a heat-ray satellite, with the aid of a henchman who has diamonds embedded in his face.
Appropriately, this is the one and only Bond movie where John Cleese serves as Q, and his Ministry of Silly Gadgets produces an invisible car for Bond to drive around a hotel made of ice. Madonna, during her full British phase, shows up onscreen while also providing a love-it-or-hate-it techno tune as Bond’s opening-credits North Korean prison theme. That said, Halle Berry nearly earned herself a spinoff until Eon decided it was reboot time for the next installment. Even Roger Moore found the movie too over-the-top for his tastes—but it is never, ever boring. (Luke Y. Thompson)

3 / 28
Because so much of Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond is either him learning on the job, going rogue, or deciding to possibly give it up, it’s nice to have one film that’s just 007 on an official mission against a bad guy with an evil organization and a secret base. Of course, that would be too simple for this iteration: EON, the production company behind the Bond films, was clearly happy to finally have the rights back to Spectre after settling a lawsuit with the heirs of Thunderball co-writer Kevin McClory, so they retconned the terror group as responsible for everything that happened to Bond so far, from the murder of his temporary adoptive father at a young age to all the villains’ malfeasance in the previous three films.

Fooling absolutely nobody, partly due to Star Trek Into Darkness trying the same trick (with similarly disastrous results), Christoph Waltz was cast as “Franz Oberhauser,” who of course renames himself Blofeld for no particularly obvious reason. Silly pseudonym and convoluted backstory aside, he’s a fun choice, as is Dave Bautista as Blofeld’s mostly silent henchman Mr. Hinx. And even though both Blofeld and new love interest Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) survive to appear in the sequel, it feels like the most complete single mission of Craig’s tenure. (Luke Y. Thompson)

4 / 28
Casino Royale arrived in theaters and wowed moviegoers around the world. A new Bond actor. A contemporary portrayal of Bond. After much negative buzz about Daniel Craig’s casting—too blond, too blue-eyed, too short, etc.—he delivered a vital, thoughtful, tough performance. Everyone was primed for Quantum Of Solace, and it was a turkey, an outcome exacerbated primarily by an industrywide writer’s strike but also too-high expectations. The story, a direct sequel to the events of Casino Royale, has something to do with a dubious organization called Quantum, its ruthless leader Dominic Green (Mathieu Amalric), and a nefarious plot to gain control of Bolivia’s natural resources.
Even at a merciful 106 minutes that makes it the shortest of any Bond outing, Quantum Of Solace lurches along, jumping from one confusing scene to the next, absorbing the audience in none of it. Craig anchors the proceedings as best as he can, providing necessary gravitas, and Judi Dench’s M figures more prominently than usual, but the other female characters, played by Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton, and Almaric’s big bad, barely register. And Jeffrey Wright is wasted. Two adjectives no one ever wants to associate with a Bond film come to mind: inconsequential and forgettable. (Ian Spelling)

5 / 28
A rare 007 outlier produced outside the auspices of Cubby Broccoli’s Eon Productions: in essence, a lower-budget remake of Thunderball due to rights still held by a film producer who’d worked with Ian Fleming on early story points that the author later used in the novel. NSNA would’ve likely been a dimly recalled curiosity if Sean Connery, long out of the 007 game, hadn’t decided to reassume the role (for a big payday, and to needle Broccoli—it was released just months ahead of the Moore-headlined Octopussy). Though the film’s real-world backstory is more compelling than its plot, it still offers certain charms: Briskly directed by Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back), it moves far faster than Thunderball and replaces spectacle with humor, especially when winking at the very game Connery’s advancing age; he nevertheless proves formidable opposite Klaus Maria Brandauer’s appropriately arch, oily villain, a saucy, scenery-chewing Barbara Carrera as the bad Bond Girl, and stunning then-newbie Kim Basinger, still finding her way on screen, as the good one. (Scott Huver)

6 / 28
Pierce Brosnan’s third Bond entry continued his run’s downward trend. It’s not all bad, especially when compared to what came after—Die Another Day. But it’s really a shrug of a Bond movie that attempts to bring back some of the smirk and flair of the Roger Moore films, but Brosnan doesn’t have the charm to pull it off; he’s kind of just there in his suit and “acting really hard” face. Highlights consist of a goofy hot air balloon chase, the threat of a nuclear bomb, and Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist named Dr. Christmas Jones, the absurdity of whose casting cannot be overstated. Also, it featured Desmond Llewelyn’s final performance as Q, always a treat, and Robert Carlyle is pretty fun as a former KGB assassin who can’t feel pain, a role that ironically almost went to Javier Bardem. Ultimately Michael Apted’s Bond film feels like a slapdash pastiche of better Bond films, only this time with a glossy sheen of flavored lip balm courtesy of 1999. The whole film just has the atmosphere of a mall in the late ’90s, a collection of curiosities signifying the end of an era. McDonalds’ Nacho Fries, HitClips, bucket hats, Backstreet Boys’ Millennium, and The World Is Not Enough. They all belong together. (Richard Newby)

7 / 28
Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond was a wild affair that traded many of the classic conventions of the franchise for a Blaxploitation-influenced caper that ends up being silly rather than hip. Live And Let Die is a good time nevertheless. Realistically, Moore’s Bond, who was in dad joke mode from nearly the very beginning, was never going to fit into an urban action story. And Guy Hamilton, though already practiced at making Bond films, was never going to convincingly handle a plot that tackled both the heroin trade and voodoo. But everyone sure does commit to the bit, even adding a bit of supernatural flair to Bond, making it the only horror-adjacent entry in the franchise.
Despite its rather comedic attempt to cash in on the Blaxploitation genre—a little too late to capture the craze, I might add—the film deserves credit for featuring the first Black Bond girl, Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry), which feels all the more significant given that it happened in a film with a fresh-faced Bond. But the main highlight of the film is Yaphet Kotto’s Mr. Big, a chilling experiment in makeup effects with one of the most disturbing (and implausible) fates to ever befall a Bond villain. (Richard Newby)

8 / 28
Roger Moore’s last Bond movie was supposed to be For Your Eyes Only, which would have been a more fitting career capper than A View To A Kill, an uneven, campy entry that pits Bond against a former KGB operative-turned-psychopathic tech giant (a GREAT Christopher Walken) hellbent on flooding Silicon Valley.

At 57, Moore had significantly aged in the two years since his last outing—and it unfortunately shows, especially in the action sequences; it’s the most “on autopilot”-feeling performance of his 007 career. Other than the titular Duran Duran theme song (still a bop) and Walken’s scenery-chewing commitment to villain Max Zorin, the few highlights of Moore’s final 007 movie are Grace Jones’ scary-good May Day and an epic fist and ax fight between Bond and Zorin atop the Golden Gate Bridge. (Phil Pirrello)

9 / 28
Licence To Kill was definitely ahead of its time. Released 17 years before Casino Royale, during the crowded summer of 1989—home to four-quadrant blockbusters like Batman and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade—audiences rejected Timothy Dalton’s brooding 007, who this time found himself out for revenge and taking on ripped-from-the-headlines drug lords. Moviegoers were already less-than-sold on Dalton’s dour portrayal of the superspy, and License To Kill doubled down on it.

At the time of release, Dalton’s Bond was the closest to the character that shot and drank and killed his way through Ian Fleming’s novels. The film’s more grounded approach to the action scenes still retains some of that classic Bond flare—especially when Bond waterskis barefoot while being dragged by a seaplane, or when he engages in a riveting tanker-truck car chase that is one of the series’ best third act finales. All of these elements create a mostly satisfying would-be blockbuster that serves as a preview of the Daniel Craig era that audiences and critics would eventually embrace. (Phil Pirrello)

10 / 28
Few entries in the Bond oeuvre are as divisive as Moonraker. It’s more of a sci-fi/comedy/adventure meant to capitalize on the success of Star Wars than an actual 007 movie. Huge chunks of the nonsensical story unfold in outer space and the laughs come not just from a particularly broad and hammy Roger Moore, but from Richard Kiel as Jaws. A formidable threat as the villain’s henchman in The Spy Who Loved Me, Jaws here is utilized as comic relief, first as a henchman working for the underwhelming baddie Drax (Michael Lonsdale), who conspires to create a master race, and then as Bond’s unexpected ally. Jaws even gets a girlfriend. It’s cute and all, but just wrong in a Bond movie. Still, Moonraker boasts tremendous visual effects (which hold up well to this day), an assured Moore, one last go-round for Bernard Lee as M, and a breathless pre-credits sequence in which Bond, without a parachute, is pushed from a plane, only to—in mid-air—snag someone else’s parachute and then fend off Jaws. Oh, and let’s not forget an unusually strong Bond gal (Lois Chiles) with a particularly amusing then/cringe-y now name, Holly Goodhead, who inspires Q (Desmond Llewelyn) to utter one of the most memorable double entendres in Bond history: “I think he’s attempting re-entry.” (Ian Spelling)

11 / 28
Let’s start with what works best about The Man With The Golden Gun. That would be Christopher Lee as Scaramanga, a three-nippled hitman who is the rare worthy adversary to Bond; kick-ass stunts (notably a terrific car chase with a literal twist, and a fun martial arts sequence); a then-timely plot nod to clean energy; Scaramanga’s epic lair (with its wacky funhouse mirrors that’s put to good use at the beginning and end of the film); stunning locations (including Hong Kong and Bangkok); and an unusual, small-scale, mano-a-mano/pistol-to-pistol showdown between Bond and Scaramanga. Oh, and the flying car is eternally cool. But as a whole, the film is fairly boring, and it’s not helped any by elements that have not aged well at all, among them Bond’s dumb-as-a-brick assistant (Britt Ekland, not at fault), and Scaramanga’s little-person henchman Nick Nack (a pre-Fantasy Island) Hervé Villechaize, who’s undeservedly the butt of lazy visual and spoken jokes. John Barry’s score and Lulu’s titular theme song are also meh at best. (Ian Spelling)

12 / 28
Sean Connery can barely conceal his boredom in his final official turn as Bond, but a story that sends him to Las Vegas to find a facially transformed Blofeld running a casino while developing a laser satellite is enough of a high concept to keep things moving. Diamonds Are Forever isn’t much as a sequel to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but it does feature an obviously toupeed Connery driving a moon buggy around the desert.

While Charles Gray isn’t many people’s favorite Blofeld, a couple of paired antagonists keep things memorable here. In one scene, Bond gets a smackdown laid on him by bodyguard beauties named Bambi (Lola Larson) and Thumper (Trina Parks). But the movie is absolutely stolen by a pair of gay assassins, Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith), who finish each other’s sentences. Though they’re clearly in a relationship, their orientation doesn’t play into obvious stereotypes—they even know less about wine than Bond does, which proves key to their demise. (Luke Y. Thompson)

13 / 28
Oh, what might have been: as audiences grew weary of Roger Moore’s tongue-in-cheek take on Bond (and, hitting his fifties, the increasingly conspicuous use of stuntmen), The Living Daylights promised a course correction in the form of the younger, far more intense Timothy Dalton in a film that stripped Bond back to its leaner, meaner basics—but still with all the expected, ambitious hallmarks of a 007 entry, including a harrowing midair fight on cargo netting hanging out of a transport plane. If the film’s plot and villains were boilerplate, its plucky Bond Girl and A-Ha title song were a notch fresher than usual, and Dalton showed genuine potential in the role. To aid in the transition to a new style of Bond film, he might have benefitted either by adding some Moore-ian twinkle or leaning into Craig-like cold-blooded ruthlessness. In any event, his promise was derailed by the bland follow-up effort, Licence To Kill—and the long-awaited availability of Pierce Brosnan. (Scott Huver)
14 / 28
Moonraker may have been the Bond film made in immediate response to Star Wars, but for kids who weren’t old enough for Bond just yet, Octopussy was the gateway (The “Cold War for dummies” scene early on effectively conveys the stakes to children who never watched the news). It’s very much a Bond-as-superhero movie, even though Roger Moore’s patently too old for that sort of thing. Director John Glen almost cuts deftly enough between long shots of a stuntman and rear-projection screens behind Moore: the seams still show, but both parts of the equation are enjoyable enough to make it not matter much.

Moore essentially becomes the English William Shatner here, with hammy expressions, cheesy flirtation, fake-looking hair, and the hilariously basic fight moves of 1960s-era Captain Kirk … hell, he even has a nemesis named Khan. He orders a tiger to sit; dresses up as a gorilla, clown, and crocodile; swings and yells like Tarzan from a vine, and preposterously hangs on to the top of a plane in flight more effortlessly than Tom Cruise. Large-scale setpieces in India and Germany serve up spectacle, while Louis Jourdan’s unlikely Afghani prince and Steven Berkoff’s mad Russian Colonel chew more scenery than Jaws. (Luke Y. Thompson)

15 / 28
“Bond’s valet.” That is how the late Gene Siskel described Pierce Brosnan in his blockbuster debut as the super spy in GoldenEye. Fans would disagree with Siskel at the box office, as GoldenEye proved that not even a six-year absence from theaters could dull the franchise’s appeal.

After accepting the role in the mid-’80s, only to lose it due to a last-minute contract renewal for his NBC TV series, Remington Steele, Brosnan finally gets his chance in this 1995 hit to play Bond and update the character for the ’90s. The “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” that Judi Dench’s M sizes him up to be serves as a welcome meta-commentary on the character’s past as GoldenEye charts a new future for Fleming’s hero that isn’t all martinis, girls, and guns.
Martin Campbell’s assured direction and Brosnan’s effortless charisma help elevate the shoulder-shrug of a plot that centers on 006 (Sean Bean) coming back from the dead to steal a helicopter with help from a Russian space-based satellite’s EMP weapon. GoldenEye is not a great movie, but it is a great time at the movies. (Phil Pirrello)

16 / 28
The much-anticipated and delayed release of No Time To Die, Daniel Craig’s last 007 movie (and, arguably, his most divisive), is a nearly three-hour emotional epic that goes through a checklist of “what if…” scenarios that the creatives would like to see this iteration of Bond deal with before he signs off. The intimate, character-first approach the filmmakers give this mostly satisfying wish list comes with a sense of scale that rivals most of what has come before in the Bond canon.

Executed with a confident and inventive visual flare, No Time To Die reintroduces a very retired (and very haunted) Bond back into service. The closer Bond gets to his target, the more dangerous his final mission becomes, and the more Bond’s fate and that of the world are tragically braided together in an explosive, if somewhat disappointing and unearned, tragic finale. But along the way, we get to see flourishes in Craig’s performance that have never been seen before, as he seemingly explores all the remaining sides of the iconic spy that his historic tenure in the role had left unrealized. It’s a lively and vulnerable performance, with Craig committing fully to every scene. Rami Malek’s villain is “okay,” neither terrible nor outstanding, but he is memorable as being the only baddie to take Bond down without the use of some elaborate torture device. (It’s ironic that after almost 60 years in the spy game, it’s not being keel-hauled or bisected by a laser that does 007 in, but rather a few lucky shots from a handgun).
That “controversial” ending feels both bittersweet and undercooked, but never not daring—which seems to be No Time To Die’s M.O. It leaves no stone unturned in its full-throttle effort to give Craig a proper (and, at times, hilarious) sendoff, one that is both full of Bond iconography and refreshing, outside-the-box moments that reinforce how special Craig’s time in the tux truly was. (Phil Pirrello)

17 / 28
Brosnan’s tenure as Bond feels like it’s comprised of more hits than misses after GoldenEye. His films struggled in a post-Cold War, pre-9/11 environment driven by technological advancements and surface-level cool that was already dated by the time new Bond entries came out. Tomorrow Never Dies at least feels prescient in its understanding of the 21st-century 24-hour news cycle and major media conglomerates who care more about profit than information—to the point where war is a good business investment. Jonathan Pryce chews scenery as Elliot Carver with a maniacal energy that makes what would be a rather boring Bond villain, at least on paper, quite memorable. And Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin is one of the best Bond girls, who I’d argue outshines Brosnan by just about every possible measure. Though Roger Spottiswoode, best known for the ’80s slasher Terror Train, isn’t one of the most memorable Bond directors, Tomorrow Never Dies is one of the better-looking Brosnan films, and it’s got a pretty thrilling third act. (Richard Newby)
18 / 28
Even as it works out the kinks of the Bond formula that would soon settle into place, the original 007 screen outing Dr. No announces itself, then and now, as something cinematically singular, as much due to its novel premise, Cold War high stakes, and extravagant production design as to Sean Connery announcing himself as a fresh, potent model of screen masculinity, redefining the type of leading man women want and men want to be for a new generation of moviegoers. Connery’s icy-cool, casually commanding, can’t-look-away, dangerously sexy screen presence is only matched by stunning, statuesque Ursula Andress as perfect proto-Bond Girl Honey Ryder, a capable, vaguely international femme who might as quickly knife Bond as kiss him. Though classic elements are still finding themselves—the music veers from iconic to weirdly whimsical, and Bond would sadly never again sport a onesie—the template it lays down would prove indelible. (Scott Huver)

19 / 28
The Spy Who Loved Me did for Roger Moore what Goldfinger did for Connery: It solidified his 007 as the Bond for its era of moviegoers. From the iconic ski jump opening sequence, this classic Bond adventure definitively proves that the franchise can survive despite actors rotating in and out of the lead role.
Moore has never been better in the role, finding the perfect balance between his double-take sense of humor and Bond’s more dangerous side as Bond takes on a villain who wants to turn Earth into his own personal Atlantis with the help of stolen nuclear submarines. To stop this ocean-obsessed baddie, Bond teams up with Triple X, his Russian counterpart played by the alluring Barbara Bach.
As the two spies bicker and banter throughout their globe-trotting mission, with Triple X often besting the over-confident secret agent, The Spy Who Loved Me delivers a breezy and very rewatchable blockbuster. It’s a movie full of exotic locations and amazing sets, thanks again to the late Ken Adams’ production design. (Bond trivia: This movie first introduces audiences to the metal-mouthed thug, Jaws.) (Phil Pirrello)
20 / 28
Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the big appeal of You Only Live Twice is that it feels like the most James Bond movie ever made. It’s got everything you want from one of these films: exotic locations, a menacing, eccentric villain, beautiful women, impossibly cool gadgets, unlikely escapes from death, and of course a whole lot of casual racism. Suffice to say that the film’s depiction of Japanese culture is regressive, not-quite-but-almost to the level of Mickey Rooney’s Yunioshi in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, but at the very least it seems as if Gilbert and screenwriter Roald Dahl want you to think that depiction is cool and enviable rather than bumbling.
Otherwise, You Only Live Twice is a consummate spy tale, on the biggest scale possible, culminating in a battle featuring hundreds of people in an evil lair hidden inside a volcano. Connery meant to retire from the role after this installment, but returned for a variety of reasons detailed elsewhere in this list. But he commands the screen with absolute confidence in a huge, thrilling, sexy, fun adventure that for better or worse has become synonymous with the character’s identity—just ask Austin Powers and his nemesis Dr. Evil. (Todd Gilchrist)
21 / 28
Sean Connery’s Bond is so virile he doesn’t even suffer shrinkage: he has sex underwater in scuba gear in one of Thunderball’s more memorable moments. There’s a lot of below-the-surface action here, most of it of the non-intimate variety, for better or worse. Not everyone enjoys the slower choreography, but it’s undeniably impressive in its staging, and was groundbreaking in its use of aqualungs.

Coming after Goldfinger, it helped solidify the Bond formula of a villain threatening the world with nuclear weapons, Bond turning the bad guy’s girl against him, and the metaphorical cavalry (or Coast Guard, in this case) being called in to back James up for the final assault. It wasn’t the first movie to mention SPECTRE and Blofeld, but it was the first screenplay to do so, prompting co-writer Kevin McClory to bring legal action and a seriously ill Fleming to ultimately resolve ownership of the story. In 1983, McClory would use those rights to create the unofficial remake Never Say Never Again, and he was trying to get a third remake off the ground at the time of his death. While the original is certainly fun, and Tom Jones’ theme tune is appropriately bombastic … once was enough. (Luke Y. Thompson)

22 / 28
There may be overall better films in our ranking, but Skyfall includes everything you want in a Bond adventure, along with one additional element it has in common with just a couple of the other installments atop our list. For starters, there’s a baddie for the ages in Javier Bardem’s Silva, a creepy, deformed revenge-seeker who wants M dead. That’s the plot: Silva wants to kill M and will go to any lengths to do it, and a presumed-dead Bond will do likewise to stop him. It’s personal, for all three of them. Bardem’s scenes with Craig and Dench sizzle. Director Sam Mendes also dips into the Bond playbook for winsome callbacks: a ’60s-esque theme song performed to Oscar-winning perfection by Adele; Moneypenny (Naomie Harris); Q (Ben Whishaw) and his toys; 007’s DB5 and Walther PPK; cool stunts; and glorious cinematography (Oscar-nominated Roger Deakins).
Best of all is Skyfall Lodge and its cranky old inhabitant, Kincade (Albert Finney). Skyfall is the name of the Scottish estate where Bond grew up, and Kincade was its gamekeeper. Both the building and Kincade shed light on Bond’s history and who he’s become—and Finney deserved a Best Supporting Actor nomination for what turned out to be his big-screen swan song. (Ian Spelling)

23 / 28
With its third film, the 007 franchise finds itself. Everything essential about the screen character, his conventions and trappings and the style of storytelling locks neatly into place, providing a form for every installment that follows (including those that rebel against it). The opening scene’s intrigue buttoned by a sly yet cruel quip, the defining brassy belt of Shirley Bassey’s title theme, the faux-civilized brute villainy, throwaway death traps and obsession-driven schemes of the evocatively named Auric Goldfinger, the exotically armed Astin Martin and the formidable, eccentric henchman Odd Job – all the Bondian elements have properly aligned. And precisely as Connery finds his ideal take on 007: chilly efficiency leavened with detached bemusement, an affinity for available sex and wit as dry as the martinis he swills. Dueling Bond Girl archetypes are also set in stone—or gold: Shirley Eaton’s doomed, good/bad moll, symbolically and sacrificially gilded, nude, for maximum visual effect; and Honor Blackman’s heroic Pussy Galore, setting the high bar for naming Bond’s intimates with erotic entendre, uber-capable on her own but still swooning for 007. Goldfinger still stands as the quintessential Bond formula. (Scott Huver)

24 / 28
Roger Moore’s best Bond outing also ranks as one of the best Bond adventures, period. For Your Eyes Only caught 007 fans and critics alike off-guard. After the entertaining, but buffoonish and bloated Moonraker, everyone expected Eon to go even bigger and broader. Well, they went smaller and tighter, delivering a straight-up, action-packed espionage tale that went light on jokes and let Roger Moore show off his acting chops. It’s a shock when Bond kicks a car off a cliff, sending the baddie inside to his demise, and Moore punctuates the moment with a quip—“He had no head for heights”—that’s coldblooded rather than playful. It also gets bonus points for a great pre-credits sequence involving a Blofeld-esque character and a remote-controlled helicopter; a strong main title song (performed by Sheena Easton, who was so gorgeous she even appears in Maurice Binder’s lush sequence); and a bit of trivia nirvana (the late Cassandra Harris, who plays Countess Lisl von Schlaf, was married to future 007 star Pierce Brosnan). (Ian Spelling)

25 / 28
At the time of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s original release, it feels like almost no one could have succeeded in following Connery as Bond. But George Lazenby, an Australian model with virtually no acting experience, was in for an especially difficult time as the franchise itself went through growing pains at the end of the 1960s, when the character’s unassailable cool needed to be leavened, however gently, with a dose of the world’s cultural realities. The result was an installment that many fans of Connery’s era unambiguously hated, but has since been reappraised and become the seedling of what the franchise needed to grow into as it entered more thoughtful and progressive eras.
Lazenby’s shambling interpretation of the character makes Bond slightly less ruthless, more versatile, and more self-aware, as he impersonates a genealogist that doesn’t quite put Telly Savalas’ more street-tough Blofeld at ease, but makes it more fun to see how deeply Bond can get himself into trouble before he’s identified. But it’s Bond’s relationship with countess Tracy di Vicenzo, played by a feisty Diana Rigg, which forms the unlikely emotional relationship that sets him on his path to ruthless tradecraft. Not only did the film provide a backbone, thematic and musical, in Cary Fukunaga’s No Time To Die, but that bittersweet finale—which unfolds literally in the final seconds of the film—would become the template upon which almost all of the Daniel Craig Bond films would draw. That it was so far ahead of its time was, of course, unbeknownst to audiences back in 1969, but for a character so often seen as a relic of a bygone age, the film’s legacy highlights how forward-thinking Bond could occasionally be. (Todd Gilchrist)
26 / 28
As promised during the closing credits of 1962’s Dr. No, Bond returned for 1963’s From Russia With Love, which surpassed the original in quality and box office results. The title mentions Russia, but the film, released during the duck-and-cover tensions of the Cold War, purposely makes SPECTRE the primary enemy. Based on Ian Fleming’s fifth 007 novel, FRWL features 1960 Miss Universe first runner-up Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanova, a Russian defector in possession of a valuable decoding device that she will only turn over to James Bond. The ensuing double crosses and betrayals are par for the Bond course, but the film leans more heavily into espionage and less on action, making it a much-loved franchise outlier.

The film features no lack of villains, including SPECTRE operative Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and her brass knuckles, which she memorably uses on Bond’s other nemesis, Robert Shaw’s Red Grant. Grant’s close-quarters fisticuffs with Bond in a train compartment marks one of the series’ best fights. Making his franchise debut is 007’s ultimate baddie, the mysterious Ernst Blofeld, of whom we see so little he’s listed in the end credits as being played by “?” FRWL is definitely a movie of double-oh firsts, introducing elements that would become key ingredients of the Bond Formula like the pre-opening credit scene and the gadgets presented by Desmond Llewelyn, making the first of his 17 appearances as Q.

Those railing against the franchise’s treatment of women will find much ammunition here, including the gypsy catfight and Bond leering at Tatiana through a periscope. If you can get past that, FRWL is a highly ranked franchise entry. Its tough-minded mix of spycraft, action, and romance and its relative lack of camp would be an electrifying exception to the rule until Daniel Craig’s brute force series of Bond films that launched with 2006’s Casino Royale. (Mark Keizer)

27 / 28
It’s hard to imagine, back in 2005, how pissed off fans were at Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond. No one wanted him as 007, especially on the heels of Brosnan’s unceremonious dismissal from the role. Now, thanks to Craig, director Martin Campbell, and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, it’s hard to picture anyone sporting the tux but him.

Casino Royale reboots both the franchise and the character, giving audiences a Bond who bleeds and needs a drink to settle his nerves after killing a man in a drag-out stairwell brawl. For the first time in the franchise’s considerable history, Bond truly feels dangerous—and, also, menacing. Craig invests the venerable spy with a threat level and vulnerability that he almost never had before, as 007 finds himself playing poker in order to win back hundreds of millions of dollars before they fall into the hands of terrorist Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen).

In between the exotic locales and brutal fist fights, Bond finds himself on the heartbroken end of a tragic love story that sees him cry over the death of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). This fatal romance is the crucible through which James Bond is forged, as M (the always-great Judi Dench) gambles with Bond’s soul in order to sacrifice the man he could have been for the spy she needs him to be. By raising the personal stakes for Bond to a then-historical high point, Casino Royale becomes the first Bond movie where the more dramatic, talky scenes (think Bond and Vesper’s clever “meet cute” on the train) are just as memorable and iconic as the set pieces (like the all-timer opening parkour chase).

Casino Royale is the Batman Begins of Bond movies—the best, most complete-feeling entry of the franchise. (Phil Pirrello)
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