It’s gratuitous but what the fuck, it’s James Bond’s 50th B-day and Skyfall is shaping up to be what critics are calling the best Bond movie ever. (Not that I would know. I’ve been avoiding the reviews like an airborne Moonraker virus due to spoiler-age.) Nonetheless, as a total geek to her majesty’s secret service’s most famous agent, here’s my top ten 007 flicks. And yes, in some of them, I got a lot of justifying to do but I have this funny feeling, the series is like your taste buds: as you age, things change. When you’re a kid, you hate spinach, but now it’s your favorite side-dish at Wolfgang’s. With a martini. Shaken, not stirred.
1. Casino Royale
Yeah this is totally sacrilegious. Goldfinger is supposed to be your favorite Bond movie but if you’re actually more of an Ian Fleming book freak, Casino Royale hued the closest to the source material in spirit. Not to mention, even beyond Sean Connery, blond and all, Daniel Craig most embodies the blunt, yet soulful, instrument that is essentially James Bond. Plus, that Chris Cornell song was a jolt in the right masculine-aggressive direction.
2. Never Say Never Again
More sacrilegious blasphemy. This isn’t even an official 007 movie, but still… Klaus Maria Brandauer was the best bad guy ever—and yes, that includes Goldfinger. Remember when he kissed Kim Basinger and made that long spit-line before destroying his own precious heirloom which she was holding? See? He’s totally, believably nuts! And that tango with Connery and Kim Basinger? And Barbara Carrera as a ludicrously sexy femme fatale who wanted to shoot our hero in the balls? We won’t see completely Bond-ian moments like these until two decades later with Famke Janssen in GoldenEye.
When it was released, Bond was seriously due for a much needed revision and this entry essentially saved the series. The Nintendo game of the film gets the attention so people tend to overlook how much this movie understood the franchise while at the same time turning it on its head. The opening credits were almost brilliantly phallic with gun barrels in women’s mouths while Tina Turner purred lyrics by Bono and The Edge. Bond finally takes on another 00 agent. The banter with Moneypenny is now conducted with an ironic political correctness. But the sauciness is still there. Xenia Onatopp (how’s that for a villain name?) kills men with her thighs causing Bond to eventually point a gun at her and say, “No more foreplay.” If that ain’t improved re-invention enough, we get our first meeting with the chilly yet motherly Judi Dench as M.
Okay, it’s the classic that started the whole process and established the formula. But seriously, it’s actually pretty slow moving. Perhaps this is because we are all so inoculated with the movements that must have seemed original and thrilling back then; so in a perverse way, Goldfinger doesn’t stand the test of time simply because of the legacy it created. Still, everyone has their favorite moments and there’s so many to choose from. Of course, my preference: “My name is Pussy Galore.” / “I must be dreaming.”
5. The Living Daylights
Licence to Kill (yes, they used British spelling) gets all the glory, but TImothy Dalton’s portrayal of Bond in this post Cold War thriller was the closest we got to the original Fleming until Craig. Heck, even the a-ha theme song was pretty farking cool. For some reason, during this era of Batman, Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, the world just wasn’t ready for the most cerebral portrayal of Bond ever. The most under-rated 007 film in the series.
6. For Your Eyes Only
The one and only time Roger Moore was allowed to be something other than a doofus and it’s arguably his best entry. As a direct reaction to the stupidity of Moonraker, we see Moore actually act like a dangerous secret agent. The race on skis down a toboggan route, the out of control helicopter opening, the jalopy car chase, the cold-blooded kick that sends a bad guy off a cliff to his death… Especially after the over-rated The Spy Who Loved Me with Jaws and that underwater car, the cleansing effect is sobering. Extra points for the camp classic Sheena Easton song.
7. Tomorrow Never Dies
Brosnan’s second entry in the series built upon his strengths as the character. More pathos, this time with Teri Hatcher as a former lover that hints to the possibility that Bond was in a serious long-term relationship, post-Vesper. (No way!) These are all things Craig gets credit for, but the Brosnan films really did try to push the envelope. Tomorrow Never Dies also discovered the best composer since John Barry for the franchise: David Arnold. His techno-flavored score—check out the remote-controlled BMW sequence—dragged the music into the 21st century while still paying the proper homage to the indelible theme.
8. Die Another Day
The second most under-rated Bond film in the series. Yes, it had an invisible car. So what? That’s what we pay to see. (In fact, that’s the one thing missing from the Craig legacy: the crazy gadget-ridden car chases.) The villains were also Asian for the first time, the North Koreans. (Dr. No doesn’t count.) Even the opening titles took a chance, for the first time telling a narrative: Bond’s torture in the prison over the years. Madonna’s decidedly odd song probably didn’t help matters though. And keeping things low-tech, the epic sword fight between Bond and bad guy may possibly be the best edited and choreographed fight sequence ever in all 22 (so far) films. Yes, even better than Connery versus Robert Shaw in From Russia, With Love.
9. The Spy Who Loved Me
Like Goldfinger, this one tends to be somewhat overrated simply because of the stunning ski jump opener and Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better,” but the rest of the movie is ridiculous. Most fans love the underwater Lotus, but that stretched it a bit for me, especially when Moore rolls the window down and drops a fish onto the beach. It also introduces Jaws. Again, fans love them some Jaws, but a lot about his character is just kinda stupid. But no stupider than a henchman with diamonds scarred into his face (Die Another Day). Even more brain dead is Barbara Bach. Granted, she’s gorgeous but out of all the women in the films, her stare was definitely the most vacant.
10. A View to a Kill
And while we’re at the over-rating of the Roger Moore ouvre, A View to a Kill—after over two decades—isn’t that bad. Famously reviled as one of the worst Bond films, it features a balls-out nutso Christopher Walken as a maniacal Nazi experiment and slinky, panther-like Grace Jones parachuting from the Eiffel Tower; classic baddies. Then there was that game-changing Duran Duran song. Granted, the snowboard opening with “California Girls” was cringe-inducing and Moore looked pretty Jurassic by this time, but A View to a Kill is far from guilty of complete negligence.
In fact, all the films, even the worst ones, had its moments. Live and Let Die had crocodile jumping, the rocking Paul McCartney, the luscious Jane Seymour, and an inflatable death scene. The Man with the Golden Gun had Bond dueling Sarumon and that keen dismantling pistol. Even Quantum of Solace had… Well, I can’t think of anything memorable in that one yet. But upon re-watching it, I probably will. And that’s what just plain magical about this series.
What’s your favorite Bond film? Let us know in the comments.