Wait. Before you hit “send” on the death threat, consider this: Our opinions on James Bond movies often vary dramatically because what makes a good Bond movie isn’t always what makes a good action movie or spy thriller and vice versa. Which means that the films often satisfy different genre needs depending on the mood you’re in or what year it is on the calendar. That is a challenge but also one of the reasons the James Bond series has continued to be popular for more than 50 years. Each generation gets a different version of the spy, in movies that have to include just enough preordained elements to qualify them as Bond pictures while still working as plain old movies. And then, a decade or so later, all the things that once seemed new start to feel old or tired. Case in point: This week’s often-enjoyable No Time to Die sometimes seems to suffer from a certain self-importance … which, back when the Daniel Craig Bond era first kicked off with Casino Royale, felt downright bracing and revolutionary. Where does the new one stand with respect to all other Bond movies? And which one is the best? Here, all the James Bond films, ranked.
26. Die Another Day (2002)
Hot take: Pierce Brosnan could have been the best James Bond, but he often got saddled with the worst movies. And this – his final outing – was the low-point of his reign. And yet it has so much promise: a credit sequence that (mostly) forgoes the gyrating ladies for shots of Bond being tortured while he rots away in a North Korean prison; the henchman with diamonds embedded in his face; the swashbuckling sequences; and Rosamund Pike’s ice-perfect performance as triple-agent Miranda Frost, who betrays Bond, seduces him, then betrays him again. Meanwhile, the love scenes between Brosnan and Halle Berry are surprisingly intense, but the two actors don’t seem to have much chemistry otherwise. Really, very few people involved with this thing look like they wanted to be there. It’s tired in execution, from Madonna’s dreadful theme song, to Bond’s lame invisible car, to some of the worst effects work of the entire franchise. Seriously, Moonraker looks like Terminator 2: Judgment Day next to this thing.
25. Licence to Kill (1989)
Timothy Dalton’s turbulent, short-lived reign as James Bond came to an end with this nasty little piece of work that’s so eager not to be a Bond film that … it basically winds up being nothing at all. Or rather, it’s more like an expensive but not particularly distinguished episode of Miami Vice: A Manuel Noriega–like drug lord (a truly menacing Robert Davi, give props to him) is freed right after Bond and his CIA pal Felix Leiter capture him, and he proceeds to feed the newlywed Felix to his shark and kills his bride. This prompts Bond to lose his mind, quit his job, and go on a revenge-killing spree, with the aid of DEA informant Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell). The latter was billed as a new-look, bad-ass Bond girl (marketing clips at the time made much of her proficiency with a shotgun) but spends much of the film throwing childish fits over the fact that the villain’s long-suffering, prisoner-in-her-own-right girlfriend (Talisa Soto) also shows interest in our hero — weirdly humiliating, even by the Bond series’ already-low standards for many of its female characters. Elsewhere, the decision to break the aging Desmond Llewelyn’s Q out of his lab and make him part of the action might have seemed fun on paper, but just feels pandering and dumb onscreen. This was the final film for a number of Bond veterans, including producer Albert R. Broccoli and director John Glen. It has its share of defenders these days, partly thanks to the reassessment of Dalton as 007, but watching it recently, one can feel the Bond series coming extremely close to certain, eternal death.
24. Quantum of Solace (2008)
Incoherent nonsense on both a macro and a micro level: The overall story makes no sense, and neither do individual scenes. Daniel Craig’s follow-up to Casino Royale continues that film’s darker, grittier tone, and even adds a welcome political angle, with a villain seeking to monopolize water rights in Bolivia. But director Marc Forster is basically the opposite of Casino Royale helmer Martin Campbell when it comes to staging scenes: While Campbell was obsessed with spatial logic and clarity, Forster seems to prefer the throw-it-all-in-a-Cuisinart approach to action. It’s supposed to be breathless and fast-paced, but it winds up being dull and headache-inducing. And sadly, even we Olga Kurylenko stans have to admit that her turn as a vengeful Bolivian agent is far from her best work. A massive letdown after Craig’s remarkable debut in Casino Royale.
23. The World Is Not Enough (1999)
That amazingly catchy theme song (by Garbage, of all artists) deserved better. Brosnan’s third outing as Bond takes him to the pipeline wars of Central Asia and into the arms of energy heiress Sophie Marceau, who is supposed to be mourning the murder of her oil-tycoon father but, of course, turns out to have been secretly behind everything in the first place. Instead, Bond shacks up with nuclear scientist Dr. Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards, in what surely counts as the most self-parodic Bond casting of all time. But honestly, Richards’s howler of a performance isn’t even the main problem here. It’s the pedestrian action scenes, the incredibly dopey dialogue, and the fact that the film doesn’t know what to do with its chief baddie Renard, which feels like a crime given that he’s played by Robert Carlyle, one of the most accomplished actors ever cast in a Bond picture. Even the location work is shockingly uninspired: The opening, set in Bilbao, Spain, is mostly a bunch of nondescript interiors; the scenes set in Azerbaijan look like an anonymous backlot; and the climax, set in Istanbul, does absolutely nothing with that magnificent city.
22. Live and Let Die (1973)
Not a great start to Roger Moore’s turn as Bond. The first of the actor’s 007 films feels at times like it’s supposed to be everything that the Connery pictures weren’t, right down to the hard-charging theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings. (Just nine years earlier, Connery’s Bond had uttered the immortal line, “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Pérignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.”) But Moore’s softer, funnier Bond hasn’t quite come into focus yet; he feels directionless here, a kind of Connery Lite. With its nods to Blaxploitation and its gritty, handheld New York car chases, Live and Let Die does feel at times like it’s trying to be more hip – only to wind up as anything but. This one featured Bond making love to a Black woman for the first time – a double agent played by Gloria Hendry – but their subplot is undone by the fact that her character is depicted as dumb, superstitious, and backstabbing. (Her character was also written to be thoroughly inconsequential to the plot, so that these scenes could be easily removed in theaters where audiences might be offended.) Indeed, the film’s racial politics wind up being quite hideous, which it tries to mitigate a bit by making the most ridiculous character in the movie Clifton James’s racist redneck southern sheriff (who would return, unfortunately, in The Man With the Golden Gun). That said, the film does offer a terrific showcase for the work of actor-dancer-choreographer Geoffrey Holder, whose captivating, albeit brief turn as Baron Samedi is delightful. And Yaphet Kotto, playing a craven drug lord disguised as a corrupt Caribbean leader, at least seems to be having fun. (Speaking of drugs: Try and watch his ridiculous death scene high some time.)
21. A View to a Kill (1985)
The Duran Duran theme song is a banger, yes, but what’s even more impressive is how it translates into moody instrumentals throughout this surprisingly soft-focus Bond entry, Roger Moore’s final bow before relinquishing the part to Timothy Dalton. The age thing was a problem for Moore for years, but it’s borderline catastrophic here: His hair looks sprayed on, he seems alarmingly tired, and the stunts are even more awkward and fake-looking than usual. The film is a mess, which isn’t necessarily a new thing for Bond, but it’s also often a lifeless mess, which might have something to do with the fact that the star seems ready for retirement. Christopher Walken, playing a psychopathic, genetically engineered former KGB agent–cum–oil magnate looking to flood Silicon Valley, seems like inspired casting — but this was before the actor went full weirdo, so he plays the part basically straight, which in turn makes him one of the more forgettable Bond villains. Grace Jones, however, steals the show as Walken’s girlfriend/henchman, who can kill you with a mere fishing rod or just her bare legs. If nothing else, she deserved better.
20. Moonraker (1979)
For years, this was largely considered the worst Bond film, simply because it so often felt like an outright spoof; this, after all, is the one where our man goes to space. And while it probably still holds the (admittedly contentious) title of Stupidest Bond Film, Moonraker is easier to enjoy nowadays as a goofy, sprawling, see-what-sticks-to-the-wall pageant, veering from the sublime (the amazing opening parachute chase, still one of the series’ most impressive stunt showcases) to the ridiculous (a Kendo fight in a glass museum) to the patently idiotic (what might be the worst laser battle ever committed to film). Among the highlights: Michael Lonsdale making a meal of his turn as the soft-spoken, genocidal industrialist Drax, who wants to colonize space, kill off humanity, and then repopulate our planet with a master race he himself has engineered. This was Bond trying to keep up with the sci-fi craze inaugurated by Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, not to mention the emerging blockbuster era, and the desperation often shows – right down to the film’s attempts to make The Spy Who Loved Me’s terrifying henchman, Jaws, cuddlier. At the same time, when all that pandering works, it does kind of work marvelously: When the awkward, lumbering Jaws hears Drax’s alarming speech about creating a master race and turns on him, it’s hard not to be moved.
19. Never Say Never Again (1983)
Yes, it absolutely counts as a Bond film, despite not being produced by Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions and being released just several months after the canonical Octopussy. After an intricate and contentious legal battle over Thunderball in the 1960s, its co-writer Kevin McClory was able to hang on to the rights to that specific story, giving him the opportunity to basically remake Thunderball and create an alternate Bond entry, in the process bringing back a 52-year-old Sean Connery (who had vowed to “never” play our hero again, hence the title) for one last go-round. Here’s the bad news: With its tacky effects, dated music (which, to be fair, was much reviled at the time, too), and indifferent style, it’s no Thunderball, which was the high point of Connery’s original reign as Bond. Honestly, it’s not even Octopussy, which despite being one of the sillier Bond films has an evocative charm and good-natured sense of fun that the makers of this one would probably see as obscene. But there’s some good news, too: Connery, despite one of the worst toupees in cinema history, has a wry bitterness that matches his evident age, and makes an intriguing contrast with Moore (who despite being older than Connery was still playing Bond as a seemingly younger man). And the Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, who might actually be the best pure actor to ever play a Bond villain, gives Largo a frantic, maniacal energy that is somehow both deeply ridiculous and deeply sinister. But the highlight of the film is Barbara Carrera’s indelible turn as the sex-crazed, murderous, megalomaniacal Fatima Blush, who also rocked some of the wildest outfits anyone has worn in any Bond film, ever.
18. The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
Roger Moore came in for his share of criticism for this, his second turn as 007 and one of the lower-grossing films in the series, but in some ways, it’s actually the movie in which he finally began to settle into the character, striking the right balance of comic charm and elegant brutishness. The problem is that the impossibly charismatic Christopher Lee, playing the evil, three-nippled expert marksman Scaramanga, acts circles around him. And the anemic script doesn’t really give Bond all that much to do, quite frankly. It’s almost as if the film is trying to downplay his character in an effort to throw his inevitable victory against Scaramanga into some doubt.
17. Spectre (2015)
There’s a reason why the typical Bond film used to insert lots of sex and dopey double entendres and exotic spectacle in between the action scenes; it’s because without that stuff to pass the time, you’re often left with boring stories that make zero sense. Spectre’s amazing opening sequence — an assassination attempt followed by a collapsing building followed by an insane helicopter fight during Mexico City’s massive Día de los Muertos celebrations – would seem to suggest that its makers were aware of this conundrum. Much of the rest of the picture, however, would suggest not. Daniel Craig is his usual dependably brooding self, and the action scenes are occasionally impressive, but the film is a bit too invested in its rather silly plot, which involves Bond saving (and falling for) the daughter of an assassin, then slowly learning that much of his recent distress has been caused by the sinister titular organization (which of course had been Connery’s chief nemesis eons ago), led by Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who just happens to be Bond’s long-lost foster brother! Still, when it isn’t suffering from 21st-century origin-story-itis, Spectre can be reasonably entertaining. In future years, it will probably be best understood as part of a two-movie cycle with No Time to Die, which often plays like a direct sequel. And both films suffer from a rather unwarranted self-importance …
16. No Time to Die (2021)
… But No Time to Die is just a bit better. The Daniel Craig era tried mightily to shed as much of Bond’s legacy as it could — opting for stonier characters, sadder story lines, and grittier action sequences. And in some ways, this is the saddest, grittiest, stoniest of the bunch, with a pall of closure over the whole film. The constant callbacks to the earlier Craig pictures are a bit much, and the chemistry between him and Lea Seydoux hasn’t improved from Spectre. But the movie comes to life whenever director Cary Joji Fukunaga gets to stage one of his many, eclectic action sequences. And let’s face it: If you’re a Bond fan, it’s hard not to get at least a little choked up at that ending.
15. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Perhaps as a response to the financial disappointment of the kinder-gentler Bond of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this film – which returned Connery to the role – offers up one of the nastier versions of 007. Admittedly, his brutality makes some narrative sense, at least initially; the bad guys did, after all, kill his wife in the previous movie. This is also one of the rare Bond films to treat the United States like some kind of exotic foreign land, with its Vegas-based plot providing director Guy Hamilton with lots of opportunities for visual wit and splendor. (Along with Thunderball, this might be one of the best-looking pre-Craig Bonds.) And the theme song, sung by Shirley Bassey (the only singer to date to get three Bond theme songs) is an all-timer — maybe even catchier than her iconic “Goldfinger.” But the oft-convoluted Diamonds is still a wildly mixed bag: The bizarrely psychotic assassin duo of Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint (played by Putter Smith and one Bruce Glover, who is not only Crispin Glover’s dad but looks so much like him that one suspects a Django Fett–Boba Fett–type cloning arrangement) are initially a surreally sinister delight, but the decision to make them gay ultimately strikes a sour note. Elsewhere, Jill St. John as international diamond fence Tiffany Case is not only one of the loveliest of Bond girls; she’s resourceful and savvy. She’s also, like, never not half-naked.
14. The Living Daylights (1987)
Timothy Dalton’s short-lived, two-movie run as Bond was the first true attempt to revitalize the series with a more serious approach – call him Daniel Craig Version 1.0. But arguably the attempt didn’t go far enough. Dalton is a fine actor, but he seemed ill at ease with the one-liners and the attempts at Bondian magnetism, forcing his dialogue out with the reluctance of a grown man forced to play a child’s game. Still, the film has plenty of charm. As a corrective to the frivolity of the Roger Moore era, it’s not a bad reset, often feeling like a big, sprawling, satisfying espionage novel — like John le Carré on steroids. Among many forgotten Bond efforts, this one rewards rewatching.
13. You Only Live Twice (1967)
Look, we all know that the sexual and racial politics of James Bond movies, particularly the early Connery ones, have dated to an almost comical degree; in fact, they were dated even in their time. But there is probably a special, separate-admission room reserved in the #Problematic Hall of Fame for a movie in which James Bond’s first line is “Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?” And yes, this is also the one in which he goes undercover as a Japanese fisherman. Which is all a bit ironic, since once upon a time You Only Live Twice was probably considered one of the more lighthearted and inoffensive of the Connery Bonds, with its increased emphasis on colorful locations, elaborate gadgets, Space Age technobabble, a big old ninja battle, and that whole amazing bit where a volcano opens up to reveal a military base hidden inside it. The script (co-written by Roald Dahl) is inventive, but also disjointed and overloaded — perhaps in an effort to take some pressure off the star, who had voiced his displeasure with continuing to do Bond. In ways both good and bad, it’s a heck of a time capsule.
12. Octopussy (1983)
Quite possibly the strangest James Bond film ever made (and Homer Simpson’s favorite), this is the one where Roger Moore keeps going into disguise — as a Latin American colonel, as a circus knife-thrower, as a clown, even at one point as an alligator. The movie’s over-the-top charms — Steven Berkoff’s bellowing performance as a mad Soviet general, the legendary Kabir Bedi’s turn as a quietly intimidating henchman, and that one guy with the yo-yo buzzsaw — more than make up for a more-impenetrable-than-usual story line. But the best thing about Octopussy may well be Octopussy herself, played by Maud Adams (who had appeared in The Man With the Golden Gun as a different character). She’s older than the typical Bond girl, and she leads her own all-female cult, which she employs in her career as a smuggler and, uh, circus impresario. But her affection for Bond seems genuine, and John Barry’s score (softer and more melancholy than the brassy sound he employed earlier in his career) does a nice job fortifying their relationship. Still, this is perhaps the closest the Bond series came to making an outright cult film.
11. Dr. No (1962)
There’s a reason why the first James Bond movie led to more James Bond movies. Sean Connery’s particular brand of strapping sociopathic charisma made Bond an aspirational ideal right from the get-go. He was detached just enough from the violence around him; he was horny as hell but still able to play it cool; he was also, well, just plain beautiful. (Fun fact: Connery’s brand of worldly, aristocratic nonchalance did not come naturally to the working-class Scottish actor; director Terence Young basically taught him how to be 007.) Since this was the first one, the full Bond template hadn’t been established yet. The gadgets aren’t notable, and there are relatively few action scenes; much of the movie is just our hero going to various offices in London and Jamaica, as he investigates the disappearance of a British agent. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: The film often feels like a proper mystery. Dr. No himself doesn’t show up until the final act, and the movie even waits until its second half to unleash Ursula Andress on us.
10. GoldenEye (1995)
The Pierce Brosnan era began with such incredible promise. After Timothy Dalton’s somewhat abortive turn and the goofiness of Roger Moore’s later pictures, the world was ready for a Bond who could be both debonair and tough, who could balance the well-established needs of this franchise with a more modern, post–Cold War sensibility. For much of its running time, GoldenEye replaces the colorful locales with the grim despair of post-Soviet Russia — so that, in lieu of fruit carts and carnival parades, Bond tears his way through a wasteland of decommissioned statues, gray housing blocks, and drab bureaucratic offices filled with mountains of paperwork. (Don’t worry: He makes it to sunny Cuba by the end.) The villains are solid, too: Sean Bean’s turn as an embittered, orphaned MI6 agent and Bond chum turned madman is surprisingly moving, and Famke Janssen became an immediate star thanks to her performance as the psychotic murderess Xenia Onatopp, who takes orgasmic pleasure in her kills. As the beautiful programmer Natalya Simonova, however, Polish actress Izabella Scorupco is largely wasted. We can see glimpses of her talent, but mostly she just runs.
9. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The best of the Brosnan Bonds, Tomorrow Never Dies is a goddamned delight from beginning to end. For starters, Jonathan Pryce’s mad, preening Rupert Murdoch–like international media tycoon, with his fondness for fake news, divisive headlines, and sanctimonious power-of-the-press bullshit, has turned out to be one of the most prophetic of Bond villains. Then there’s Michelle Yeoh’s Chinese secret agent Wai Lin, who gets to kick all sorts of ass in her own right. The motorcycle chase through Saigon, with Brosnan and Yeoh handcuffed to each other on a bike while a helicopter goes vertical in an effort to chop them up, is certainly one of the greatest of Bond action sequences — alternately audacious, hilarious, sexy, and explosive. On top of all that, we have Vincent Schiavelli’s wonderful turn as a German assassin, Ricky Jay playing a terrorist, the remote control car … Tomorrow Never Dies recaptured a kind of genuine Bond movie magic that once seemed like it would never return.
8. Goldfinger (1964)
For many years, Goldfinger was a consensus choice for best Bond film. The third in the series, it was the one you had to see if you could only see one Bond movie. There is good reason for this. Goldfinger has some of the series’ most iconic lines (“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”), images (think Shirley Eaton’s gold-covered corpse), and sounds (this was probably composer John Barry’s most accomplished Bond score). It also has one of the all-time greatest villains in Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger, not to mention one of the most unforgettably deadly henchmen in Harold Sakata’s Oddjob, and, of course, Honor Blackman’s immortal Pussy Galore, a take-no-shit pilot who switches sides over the course of the film. (That said, the scene where Bond forces himself on her has aged horribly.) All those elements helped Goldfinger establish a Bond movie template that subsequent entries would be judged against. And for all its occasional datedness, it remains a classic.
7. Skyfall (2012)
This is probably the most acclaimed Bond film; there was even talk of a Best Picture nomination at the time, which in retrospect seems rather insane. Shot by the great Roger Deakins, it’s certainly the best-looking entry in the entire series, from the moody neon cityscapes of Shanghai to the otherworldly interiors of Macau, to the bleak, foggy moors of Scotland, where the film’s elaborate, tragic final siege takes place. Javier Bardem is clearly having enormous fun as the over-the-top villain Raoul Silva, a scarred, ex-MI6 spy who sees Judi Dench’s M as a neglectful mother he must destroy. For her part, Dench effectively conveys M’s hardheadedness while allowing for moments of genuine vulnerability. Weirdly, it’s Daniel Craig who doesn’t seem to have all that much to do this time around. But the particular genius of Skyfall rests in its willingness to give great opportunities to just about everyone besides Bond; Craig’s performance might as well be an entirely silent one. Sam Mendes (a man with actual Oscars under his belt) makes a fine Bond director, classing up the genre theatrics just enough to make everything feel fresh. He does, however, occasionally get mired in some dodgy storytelling, as well as a self-seriousness that would threaten to consume his subsequent outing, Spectre.
6. From Russia With Love (1963)
The second Bond film, not unlike Dr. No, still feels more like a typical (albeit crackerjack) espionage thriller that is slowly discovering the Bond movie template as it proceeds. The villains really make this one: Robert Shaw as the almost-superhuman assassin; Lotte Lenya as the stern, dagger-toed Rosa Klebb; even the brief glimpses we get of Blofeld and his cat. The story is also interesting (which can be rare for a Bond film), following 007 as he connects with a supposedly ready-to-defect Soviet agent (Daniella Bianchi), who claims to have fallen in love with him from afar. Of course, it’s all a ruse. In fact, it’s a double ruse: She’s lying to him, but SPECTRE is lying to her. Meanwhile, Pedro Armendariz’s turn as Turkish spy chief Kerim Bey gives us one of the series’ most memorable local allies.
5. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
In some ways, The Spy Who Loved Me was to Roger Moore’s reign as Bond what Goldfinger was to Sean Connery’s: the entry in which the character and his ethos came into full focus. Comparing himself to Connery, Moore liked to describe his Bond as a lover, not a killer, and this might be the most romantic of his Bond efforts. That is in part because Barbara Bach’s Soviet agent Anya Amasova is in many ways his equal; beneath much of their amorous repartee lies a lot of super-spy maneuvering, and the fact that Bond turns out to have killed her lover — he was, we learn, one of the several seemingly anonymous assassins chasing our hero during the opening ski chase in Austria — adds an extra edge to their relationship. Add to that some remarkable location work (particularly in Egypt), the wonderful amphibious-car chase, and Curt Jurgens’s Nemo-like undersea madman Karl Stromberg, and this is among the most beloved efforts of the entire series.
4. Thunderball (1965)
Director Terence Young, returning to the Bond franchise after steering Dr. No and From Russia With Love to great success, truly outdid himself here. This is the pinnacle of the Connery era because it works both as a freewheeling, fantastical, touristic Bond film and as an unusually absorbing espionage thriller. Keeping his camera close to the action, Young creates immersive sequences that draw us in with their immediacy and authenticity; the early passages showing SPECTRE’s methodical hijacking and sinking of a nuclear-armed Vulcan jet fighter demonstrate a loving attention to detail that’s quite rare for this franchise. As the volatile tycoon Largo, the great Adolfo Celi makes a terrifically cruel villain, and his relationship with “kept woman” Domino (Claudine Auger) is one of the more twisted of the franchise. (If Domino’s voice sounds familiar, that’s because Auger’s voice was dubbed by German performer Nikki van der Zyl, who provided the voice of many a Bond female through the 1960s and ’70s.) The effects are particularly nifty, and the underwater photography, including the climactic parachute-submersible-harpoon mêlée, is tremendous. As noted above, it was remade as Never Say Never Again years later (owing to an odd legal situation regarding co-writer–producer Kevin McClory). But in truth, one sees traces of Thunderball all over the entire Bond series.
3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Something of a bust in its time but now considered a classic, George Lazenby’s sole outing as Bond has not just inspired future Bond movies (its influence, including its memorable score, is all over No Time to Die) but action movies in general. (Look no further than the climax of Christopher Nolan’s Inception for evidence of this.) The Australian Lazenby was certainly a looser, gentler, more malleable Bond; his Highland disguise in this movie would have been unthinkable on Sean Connery. And Telly Savalas’s Blofeld has a punchy New York toughness that feels more convincing than Donald Pleasance’s soft-spoken psycho from the earlier films. Directed by former Bond editor Peter Hunt, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service seems more like a classic spy thriller, with Bond going undercover in Switzerland to investigate a plot by Blofeld to poison the world. And, of course, the finale, in which he marries his love interest from this film, Countess Teresa Di Vicenzo (played by the incomparable Diana Rigg), then loses her to an assassin’s bullet is the kind of ending Bond movies never dared attempt again – until the Daniel Craig era.
2. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
No, you read that right. The meh villains aside, this is the most purely entertaining of classic Bond films (not to mention a touchpoint for Gen-X Bond fans). It’s effectively a series of action set pieces executed with supernatural charm and skill by then-new director John Glen, who (like On Her Majesty’s Peter Hunt) had served as an editor for several previous entries. Almost all the action scenes hold up, which is quite incredible for a Bond film from 1981; if anything, some have grown even better with time. Pick your favorite: the car chase through the narrow roads of rural Spain, in which Roger Moore and Carole Bouquet attempt to outrun the bad guys in her beat-up tiny Citroen lemon? The motorcycle-ski-luge chase? The cliff-climbing sequence? Even the opening helicopter sequence, in which Bond seemingly does away with Blofeld, still works. (Frankly, many of us would kill for an action movie this breezily entertaining to come out nowadays.) The location work is spectacular, and Bouquet’s Malina Havelock is one of the greatest of all Bond girls, with her quest for revenge – and her handiness with a crossbow – adding a bracing dose of melodrama to the proceedings. That she and Bond don’t jump into bed immediately actually makes their relationship more compelling, age difference notwithstanding; along with The Spy Who Loved Me, this remains one of the more romantic of Bond films.
1. Casino Royale (2006)
They said it couldn’t be done. They said James Bond would always be a Cold War dinosaur, the series just a blast of ironic nostalgia that couldn’t possibly keep up with changing cinematic, political, and social norms. But Casino Royale (directed by Martin Campbell, a man who had revamped Bond once before, with GoldenEye) turned out to be one of the greatest reinventions of all time, with Daniel Craig making for a rivetingly intense and surprisingly vulnerable 007 (in this timeline, he’s at the start of his career). Returning to an actual Ian Fleming novel was certainly a wise choice, but the film adds so much more: The action and stunts are spectacular — the parkour chase is still one of the great action sequences of this century — and the relationship between Craig and Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd is refreshingly complicated and moving. (So moving, in fact, that he would spend the next four films mourning her.) Plus Mads Mikkelsen’s blood-crying Le Chiffre made for an unnervingly realistic Bond villain – not a cool criminal mastermind but a dangerous and very smart man trapped in a corner. Most important, Casino Royale proved that one could make a Bond film that felt truly new — one that wasn’t wedded to the battles of the past. And by making it clear that Craig’s Bond wasn’t really the Bond we’d known from before, this movie effectively liberated all the movies that would come after it, both in the Craig era and beyond.