James Bond 007 is one of the most iconic faces in all of cinema. Whether he’s being played by Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan (God, a lot of actors have played this guy), Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore, or even George Lazenby, Bond is the ultimate British gentleman. Men want to be him, women want to be with him. He’s been a staple of the movies now for over half a century, exercising his license to entertain for Queen and country. So, here is a definitive ranking of every James Bond movie so far from worst to best – shaken, not stirred.
Boy, what a suck fest. This movie had such promise. Daniel Craig seemed to be in fine form, Sam Mendes was back in the director’s chair, and all of the action sequences in the trailer looked like they would be breathtaking. But then the movie came out and it was simply terrible. It was a big, loud, expensive movie with no substance. The humor fell flat, the plot was tired and stale, it was overlong, and the action sequences were huge, but they weren’t fun. Plus, the attempts to tie all of Craig’s Bond movies together in one long story arc feel forced and completely unnecessary. The talents of Christoph Waltz and Dave Bautista were wasted. It’s just a movie that is obscenely offensive in how awful it is.
23. The Man with the Golden Gun
This sucky movie featuring Roger Moore’s Bond is a big, silly, cartoonish misfire. It doesn’t seem to be going for spy thrills, despite having a legend like Christopher Lee in the villain role, as much as it seems to be going for laughs. Dumb laughs. And it doesn’t have dumb laughs in a hip or ironic way. It’s just a really dumb movie. It would seem like a spoof of itself, but that makes it sound too smart. The 360 degree corkscrew jump across the river is one of the most spectacular car stunts ever captured on film, and it is completely ruined by a stupid slide whistle sound effect.
22. Live and Let Die
The first time that Roger Moore played James Bond was also the first time that 007 was romantically involved with a black girl, so there was a lot of change for the character in this one. It’s hardly progressive in its black representation, since it’s basically a blaxploitation movie, but it’s interesting to see Bond reflect the cinematic landscape of the time. Blaxploitation movies were crazy popular when this movie came out in 1973 and it’s fascinating to see how the Bond producers responded to that. Paul and Linda McCartney’s theme song is one of the most memorable and iconic in Bond history, but it has that silly alligator scene and an uncomfortably stereotypical depiction of African Americans.
21. Quantum of Solace
Daniel Craig’s sophomore effort in the role of James Bond was flawed from the ground up in that it simply wasn’t a Bond movie. It felt more like a generic Hollywood action movie. It didn’t have that added flair to make it really feel like a Bond film. There was no eccentric villain or a henchman with a defining character trait. The only Bond-ish moments were not original – they were just pastiches of or homages to earlier iconic Bond moments. After Craig’s first Bond movie had been such a breath of fresh air, this one felt all the more disappointing.
20. Die Another Day
This movie is the George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy of the Bond franchise. New CGI effects were being pioneered and director Lee Tamahori got all giddy and gave us ridiculous set pieces like Bond surfing on a goddamn tidal wave. It was a resoundingly disappointing way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the franchise. Still, Halle Berry makes a great Bond girl. Her character Jinx is so powerful and so enrapturing and so much a match for Bond that the producers considered giving the character her own franchise to run as a “Winter Olympics” sort of alternative to James Bond’s movies. For whatever reason, they called it off, which is a shame.
19. A View to a Kill
This movie has a very silly plot, but then that’s where Roger Moore always thrived. He seemed to feed off of absurd plotlines and reflect them in his performance as James Bond and that made him a screen legend. Christopher Walken, as expected, is brilliant in the role of a classical Bond villain, although the film does waste the talents of Grace Jones. In the end, there is more bad than good in this movie, but its opening ski chase in Siberia is pretty astounding and the climatic airship sequence is also quite spectacular, and the overall flavor of Cold War paranoia is interesting.
Despite having one of the strangest and most terrible movie titles of all time, the Bond girl whose name it was taken from is one of the strongest Bond girls in the franchise’s history. The plot is an interesting espionage story filled with intrigue and murder, but it is told through some of the dumbest set pieces ever conceived, including 007 dressing up as a clown to avoid the West German police and doing a Tarzan yell during a jungle chase. These movies can have moments of humor – it’s actually one of the hallmarks of the series – but the humor can’t be this stupid. That’s a problem with a lot of the Roger Moore movies.
17. The World Is Not Enough
The opening Millennium Dome sequence was the longest opening action scene of any Bond movie up to that point, which would be exciting if the scene was any good. It’s just silly and contrived – it plays out like one of those Peter Griffin vs Ernie the Giant Chicken fight sequences. And the plot that follows it is so unnecessarily complex and intricate. These are fun spy movies – you’re supposed to be able to follow what’s going on. Pierce Brosnan is as well suited as ever in the Bond role, but even he can’t follow the plot (and he has admitted that himself).
16. Tomorrow Never Dies
Pierce Brosnan’s sophomore effort in the role of James Bond is not a terrible movie. It’s certainly entertaining and it was made before Hollywood went through its wave of overreliance on underdeveloped CGI technologies, but it is flawed from the ground up. It’s not a script problem; it’s a premise problem. The premise feels less like an action movie and more like a ham fisted satire. It’s about a mad media mogul who wants to start World War III so that his company can have exclusive news coverage of it. That sounds more like an adventure for the Simpson family than James Bond.
The problem with this Sean Connery entry is that it takes a while to get going. Most Bond movies kick things off with a bang and move nice and quickly with their plot, but this one takes a while to feel it out and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t come off as deep and contemplative like the slow, talky movies of Kenneth Lonergan or Noah Baumbach work – it’s just a drag. A lot of the movie’s action sequences are set underwater, and back in 1965, the technology simply wasn’t there to properly capture underwater action. Luciana Paluzzi is pretty great as a femme fatale SPECTRE agent, though.
14. Dr. No
This is the movie that introduced the character of James Bond 007 to cinemagoing audiences. Naturally, as the first of 26 movies, it is a little rough around the edges and doesn’t quite nail the character as we have come to know him. But of course, Sean Connery is stellar in the role of Bond as he would be for years to come, and as a spy film, it is quite fantastically structured and crafted. It’s the most faithful Bond movie to Ian Fleming’s literary works upon which the movies are based and its take on the actual espionage side of things is intriguing.
As an actor, Pierce Brosnan was the ideal James Bond. He was suave, handsome, and charming. But unfortunately, he took the role at a time in Hollywood history when CGI effects had just been invented and filmmakers were going crazy with them. His first movie as 007 was also his best, as it opened with a breathtaking bungee jump into a Soviet chemical weapons facility and ended up with Bond driving a stolen tank through St. Petersburg. This is also the first movie to feature Judi Dench as a female M, inspired by Stella Rimington becoming head of MI5 in 1992, so it’s a very progressive movie on top of everything else.
12. From Russia with Love
This was only the second ever Bond movie, so the producers can be forgiven for not having figured out the formula completely by this point. This was before Bond movies were standalone adventures and this one actually follows on from the plot of the first movie like a sequel should – it sees SPECTRE plotting to kill Bond to avenge his killing of Dr. No in the first film. It’s not perfect. It has its ups and downs: there are some inspired moments of fun and some dull moments of bleh. Sean Connery is as charming as ever in the lead role, though, to smooth things over.
Thanks to George Lucas and his galaxy far, far away, James Bond went to space in 1979. He followed a stolen space shuttle into outer space. The movie gave Mike Myers plenty of material for the second movie to feature his Austin Powers character, but this film isn’t just fun when it’s spoofed – the fact that it opens itself up to spoofing comes from the fact that it is an awful lot of fun itself. Before jetting off into space, Bond goes to Venice and Rio and the Amazon rainforest – it’s a hell of an adventure and it’s very cinematic.
10. You Only Live Twice
This Sean Connery entry is one of his finest. The plot moves quickly and there’s a terrific variety of action. This was the first Bond movie directed by 007 regular Lewis Gilbert, who would go on to make a few of the Roger Moore movies, and interestingly, the screenplay was written by acclaimed children’s author Roald Dahl. Dahl deviated from the original novel, which he described as being more like a travel guide, and wrote some of the zaniest action scenes and plot turns in Bond history. This is the one where Bond fakes his death at the beginning to go deep undercover – it’s iconic!
9. Licence to Kill
Timothy Dalton’s last film in the role of Bond made sure that we wouldn’t be forgetting about him any time soon. It has a much harder edge to it than most of the other Bond films. It was more violent than usual and the violence was much more brutal and realistic than usual. It was a dark and gritty action film before dark and gritty action films were in style. Audiences back in 1989 had no idea what to make of it, so they disregarded it. More modern audiences have come to see that it’s a brilliantly dark thriller with fantastic stunt work and deftly directed action sequences.
8. For Your Eyes Only
As the next Roger Moore starring Bond movie after he had gone to space, there was a lot of pressure on this one to either top that or go back to basics. In the end, it went with the latter and it worked out pretty brilliantly. It tells a story of revenge in a gritty and realistic way, which is closer to the actual works of Ian Fleming than most of the Bond movies. The screenplay was written, not with how it would read in mind, but with how the eventual movie would look in mind, and so the result is a terrific, action packed, spectacular work of cinema.
After one great movie and one crappy movie, Daniel Craig turned it around for his third movie and gave us another great movie. Sam Mendes directed some of the finest action sequences in Bond history – from the opening train set piece to the silhouetted fight scene – and the script gave us more backstory about 007 than we usually get. The whole “getting caught was part of the plan” plot has been being overused in recent years – Bane, Khan, Loki, Ben Linus, and the Joker all incorporating “getting caught” into their evil plans – but Javier Bardem is brilliant in the role of Raoul Silva, giving us the first memorable Bond villain in years.
6. Diamonds Are Forever
This was Sean Connery’s return to the role of Bond after George Lazenby jumped ship after just one. The script was originally developed as a revenge tale that would follow on from Lazenby’s first Bond movie, which ended with 007 getting married before his wife is gunned down. To see that followed up would have been interesting, but the idea of Connery coming back is too tantalizing to mess with Bond history on that one. The movie is a visual feast, too, as Bond travels to Amsterdam and Las Vegas before a big, action packed finale on an exploding oil platform. This is action cinema at its finest.
5. The Living Daylights
Timothy Dalton’s first movie in the role of James Bond went back to basics. It was originally conceived as a prequel that would get Bond back to being Bond, after the ridiculousness of some of Roger Moore’s latest efforts, and it also brought back his Aston Martin DBS. The nitty gritty realism of Bond’s spy world was back and Dalton brought a beautiful dark side to the character. After years of crummy Roger Moore movies, this one felt like a wonderful breath of fresh air. The humor was gone, but that was just a necessary by-product of finally going darker.
4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The casting of George Lazenby was controversial, because he was an Australian model playing the most quintessentially British role in the history of fiction, but he proved to be quite brilliant in the role. And this, the only Bond movie he ended up doing, has long been considered to be the only Bond film that can be enjoyed as a truly well crafted film. The rest can be enjoyed for their fun, but this is the only one with extra substance. It’s also one of the few Bond movies to have some genuine emotional engagement. It’s the only one where 007 actually falls in love with the Bond girl and marries her – and then she is tragically struck down in a drive-by shooting.
3. Casino Royale
Inspired by the gritty, shaky, dark look of Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne movies, this Bond movie came as a slick update of the Bond franchise. Long gone were the silly gadgets and absurd stunts and self parodies. Now, Daniel Craig was in town for a seriously cool Bond picture. Watching people play poker isn’t particularly riveting, so there are a couple of boring spells throughout the movie, but watching people fight to the death in sinking buildings and do parkour on a construction site as they hop from crane to crane certainly is riveting, so it is suitably up and down.
2. The Spy Who Loved Me
The opening scene of this film, in which Bond is pursued through the snow by ski and then jumps off a cliff before deploying a big Union Jack parachute, is one of the most breathtaking and cinematic sequences ever filmed. And the movie that follows comes close to being the best, most action packed Bond movie. It’s a near perfect example of the Bond formula at play that set the stage for the slicker Bond movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Carly Simon’s theme song “Nobody Does It Better” is one of the best Bond themes and Roger Moore never looked cooler in the role of 007.
This is the movie that established the formula for a James Bond movie: open with a big action scene that leads into an extensive opening credits sequence, introduce an eccentric villain, a love interest who the villain eventually kills, and a quirky henchman, send Bond across the globe to a bunch of exotic locations, and then end with an extravagant climax. It also still stands as the finest example of that formula. The screenplay has the perfect pacing, its fair share of quotable lines and iconic moments (from the laser scene to the tuxedo scene), and all the right story beats. No wonder it became the template for all Bond movies to come.