Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:
Q: What is your favorite James Bond movie?
The critics' answers:
"Favorite Bond: 'From Russia with Love,' a film that differs from the rest of the canon in being a fairly grounded, Cold War-style espionage thriller. Despite its serene approach to telling its story, with far fewer gadgets and action beats and other Bondian accoutrements 'From Russia With Love' has a sense of propulsion, fueled by that seemingly fateful train journey. The story itself is almost batshit insane and makes no sense, but the sheer machismo of Sean Connery and the almost homoerotic chemistry between him and Robert Shaw during their strange confrontation on the train grant the film a sense of modernity and realism. And, look, I didn't even mention Istanbul once!"
"Shirley Bassey's theme song. Oddjob and his hat. Pussy Galore. 'No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die! The raid of Fort Knox. Gotta be 'Goldfinger.'"
"I'm notable amongst my kind (an Englishman) for being something of a Bond apathetic. A Bond flick on a wet Bank Holiday Monday is little short of a national institution over here, which, when one takes into account that it was Moore more often than not whose face would fill the family television set, all but put me off completely for life. But alas, I rather enjoyed 'Skyfall,' which gets my vote here. Sure, it's heavily indebted to the Nolan school of populist filmmaking, but I'll take that particular brand of mythology-woven action film over the Bourne-aping earlier Craig movies any day of the week. The rest? Stick 'em on the fire, so as to save further generations of British youngsters from the same hell as I."
"'Casino Royale' is more than a great Bond movie, it's a truly great film that cracked my 'Top 25' of the last decade (although admittedly I have a penchant for including genre films on those lists). A mostly faithful adaptation of the original Ian Fleming novel that actually established Bond as a character whose decadent lifestyle suddenly (and, it turns out, technically always) had meaning beyond a projection of the masculine ideal. It helps that the cast is note perfect, the plot is coherent (for a change) and the action setpieces, though thrilling, are actually an extension of the story and not just an excuse to film something crazy at an exotic locale. Honorable Mentions go to 'Tomorrow Never Dies,' which is big and silly but has a memorably (and persistently topical) villain, 'Diamonds Are Forever,' which may be the perfect marriage of plausible Bond storytelling with over the top craziness, and 'Live and Let Die,' which may be one of the most racist mainstream movies ever made and is utterly fascinating for it. Okay, I guess that doesn't make 'Live and Let Die' 'good,' but I'm never likely to forget it, and that's more than I can say for most of the other Roger Moore entries."
"Some of the entries are better as movies (notably, 'From Russia With Love') but in terms of sheer fun, 'Goldfinger''s always been where it's at. 'No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!' Pussy Galore. Oddjob. The countdown stopping at '007.' Shirley Bassey's theme song. And, of courshe, Sean Connery."
"'On Her Majesty's Secret Service,' but only because that ending is such a kick in the balls."
"I haven’t seen very many, but I love 'Skyfall' more than any that I have seen. I do like the silliness of 'Diamonds Are Forever,' though."
"The answer is a cliche in its obviousness: 'Casino Royale,' for its rare emotional investment not to mention set pieces that never get tired. When I ask myself which Bond I would trade places with, honestly it's Daniel Craig's version. I won't deny however that Sean Connery was awesome in his middle installments as Bond."
"It’s not the best, but my first Bond, 'GoldenEye,' holds a special place in my heart. As a kid, I merely loved its stunts — the best cold open of the franchise, the tank vs. the train, one of the most ludicrously scaled villain deaths in a franchise defined by ostentatious comeuppances. Looking back, its attempt to keep Bond relevant via autocritique, like Brian De Palma’s 'Mission: Impossible,' suggests that, in the void left by the end of the Cold War, our deadliest enemy might be ourselves, or at least those to whom we entrusted unlimited and unchecked power to fight our foes. What’s more, 'GoldenEye' reminds people that the spy agency that bankrolls Bond’s lavish carnage is still a factory for killing machines, and one almost sympathizes with the villain’s betrayal. Oh, and I almost forgot: a woman screws people to death."
"It's between 'Casino Royale' and 'GoldenEye' for me, however 'Casino Royale' just edges it. 'Casino Royale' is the first Bond film I saw in the cinema and therefore has an instant advantage over the others. However it is also perhaps the Bond film that will stand the test of time better than others due to its dark, gritty, character-driven focus. It's a take on Bond unlike any other and one that did reinvigorate the franchise yet in a way that still made it maintain its identity and not fall into the Bourne imitation of 'Quantum of Solace.' Whilst 'Skyfall' may boast a better theme song and villain, 'Casino Royale' is in my eyes the better film overall. 'GoldenEye' is the first one I remember watching and can remember being stunned by the opening stunts when I was a child. However a recent rewatch of that opening on television gave me the stark realization that it was much sillier than I remembered."
"There are any number of metrics by which to measure how great a James Bond movie is. Which one has the best villain? Best song? Best Bond girl, etc. I've yet to see one that gets top marks in every category. But some come pretty close, like 'Goldfinger.' I suppose that I've always preferred Bond when he's closer to the way author Ian Fleming envisioned him — as a brutal thug in a tailored suit. Objectively, that would make 'From Russia With Love' the best expression of that. With a minimum of gadgets, the best actor to ever portray 007, Sean Connery, faces one of the series' most dastardly villains, Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and her sadistic henchman, Red Grant (Robert Shaw) with the help of a defecting Russian agent (Daniela Bianchi) and a Turkish security official superbly played by Pedro Armendáriz. Regardless, the question I'm answering today doesn't ask what the best Bond film is but what your favorite Bond film is, and for that I turn to the unfairly maligned 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service.' It's biggest drawback merits mention right upfront. It is the first of the official Bond movies to cast another actor as 007, George Lazenby. Lazenby, an Australian model, is surprisingly serviceable throughout and, at least onscreen, unperturbed by filling Connery's storied shoes. But even if I grant that Connery would have been better in the film, imagine what a movie that would have been. In all other respects, 'OHMSS' is the most satisfying execution of a Bond film ever. Its leading lady is Diana Rigg (TV's Emma Peel), perhaps the most proficient performer to take up the mantle of Bond girl. A chilly Telly Savalas does an exemplary job of salvaging Bond's archenemy, Blofeld, after a mousy Donald Pleasence fizzled as the character (in his onscreen debut) just one film prior. 'OHMSS''s locations offer fantastic possibilities, i.e. the downhill ski chase in the Swiss Alps. Thankfully, there are precious few gadgets for the filmmakers to rely on for entertainment value. Punctuated with the fabulous score by John Barry, who here forgoes the traditional song for a piece worthy of serving as an alternate theme for 007 himself, 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' is a frustratingly near-miss as the finest James Bond film ever made."
"For me, the best Bond is easily 'Goldfinger.' It's stylish, silly, sexy, and fun, but it also feels like the prototypical 007, with the best examples of all of the series' signatures. It's got the best Bond actor, the best villain, best henchman, best Bond girl and more. (It also has a hilariously dramatic death performance by an extra in the scene with the miniatures — watch for it next time you see the film.)"
"'Moonraker' of course! Nah, just screwing with 'Moonraker' haters like Matt Singer. Instead of going for one of the recent movies that were pretty good, I'll go with Roger Moore's finest hour in 'Live and Let Die.' Great villains, a super-sexy Bond girl, and the best Bond theme ever written/performed."
"Given my recent field of study, the fact that this is the only Christmas-set 007 movie certainly helps, but even before I did a book about holiday films I loved 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service.' Yes, George Lazenby is no Sean Connery, but I think the things that Bond is required to do here (pretend to be a bookish and kilt-wearing genealogist, fall in love with a woman and marry her) might have been outside of Connery's wheelhouse. Throw in a breathtaking villainous lair (atop Piz Gloria), a wonderfully nasty bad guy (Telly Savalas as Blofeld) and arguably the greatest Bond Girl of all time (Diana Rigg as Tracy), and you've got a 007 epic that's not only sexy and exciting but that also achieves the most poignancy we'd see in the series until the Daniel Craig movies."
"On weekdays: 'From Russia With Love.' On weekends: 'Casino Royale.' During NHL lockouts: the one where he fights the hockey team."
"I haven’t seen 'Skyfall' yet, but you find me a better action packed movie that has parkour, Mads Mikkelsen, Texas Hold’em, an ass kicking 007, AND, the-sexiest-Bond-Girl-to-ever-grace-this-franchise, Eva Green, and I’ll switch from 'Casino Royale' as my favorite James Bond film."
"Was just asked this for Twitch, and had to come up with only one. I'm doing what I wanted to do there, and cheat — my fav Bond (to date) is the unholy hybrid of 'Casino Royale' and 'Quantum of Solace,' and now we can kind of slam 'Skyfall' on there creating a Craigy MegaBond. Seen as one long character piece reinventing the character (for the better, in my opinion), with just the right slapdash of nostalgia, glamour, and action/adventure chutzpah, I think watching the trinity of most recent releases as a single work will prove to be the best Bond experience of all."
"Before I answer this, I think I should offer the caveat that I've only been able to sit through two Bond films in their entirety. There is something about the style of the movies and the portrayal of the character that never appealed to me. With that caveat given, my Bond choice would be Craig's 'Casino Royale.' From my limited Bond experience this film seems the most understated while exploring a more flawed Bond. And that's my kind of Bond."
"One has to approach Bond movies thusly: they are all goofy. Even the so-called good ones are goofy. I mean, the kernel of 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' is that Telly Savalas is hypnotizing a group of allergy-prone international hotties to go forth into the world and spoil the grain supply, right? (Note, I'm seeing 'Skyfall' in less than 24 hours and, if advance word is correct, it isn't goofy, but we shall see.) The most straight-forward Cold War spy thriller of the bunch, 'From Russia With Love,' still has a periscope up from the Istanbul sewers into the Russian consulate. As such, I'm gonna give you my honest answer without fear of judgement. My favorite Bond movie is 'Octopussy.' It's the one I saw in the theater (at age 8) multiple times then 'played out' in my cousin's backyard. Yes, that's right, we pretended to be clowns stealing Faberge eggs for some reason. Roger Moore forever!"
"I can't say I have a favorite James Bond film as I don't have a particular affinity for the series, but if pressed, I'd say 'The Spy Who Loved Me' because Richard Kiel is one of my all-time favorite character actors and Jaws is one of his more iconic roles. Honorable mention to 'Moonraker,' obviously."
"There was a moment in 'GoldenEye' where Sean Bean throws all the women and liquor back in Bond's face, asking if it stops the screaming of all the people he's killed, that might make it my personal favorite. Another factor being that it was the first Bond movie I got to see in a theater, which was a thrill. But I wouldn't see another Bond film in the theater's until 'Casino Royale,' when I was older and didn't care so much. So my answer is 'Moonraker!'"
"'Casino Royale' — because it's very good, and is the only Bond film I actually remember anything about. I grew up on the Roger Moore movies but haven't revisited them, and while I appreciate the Connery flicks I caught up with in college, there isn't a major stand-out for me. What can I say, I dig the icy existential angst and physical prowess Craig brings to Bond."
"Sentimental favorite: 'You Only Live Twice,' first Bond I ever saw theatrically, at a drive-in in Paramus. I was so excited I wore my black 'Jonny Quest' turtleneck. I was 28. No, I was seven, ar ar ar. The opening scene — Bond's 'assassination' — completely freaked me out. Once I adjusted I had a delightful time. I did not know how large Akika Wakabayashi would loom in certain realms of my consciousness until seeing 'What's Up Tiger Lily?' several years later. My favorite Bond film as film is 'Goldfinger,' because 'Goldfinger.' What else?"
"I love the different Bonds and different Bond eras differently. My love for the Roger Moore era looks an awful lot like hate. But 007 adventure No. 002, 1963's 'From Russia with Love,' is my all-time favorite. I know it's a conventional pick, but the math just checks out: this is the Bond that gets the mix of suspense and humor exactly right. Bond's irresistibility to women, and the egotism that make him believe in said irresistibly, are both actual plot points here; not the increasingly pathetic bit of wish-fulfillment furniture that they become later. Shot largely on location in Turkey, the film feels exotic without being cartoonish, and Robert Shaw brings a touch of class resentment to his performance as Red Grant, one of the most formidable and memorable foes Bond would ever face. Bond's tear-gas and hidden-dagger equipped briefcase in 'From Russia With Love' is the first of his many famous gadgets. Like that arsenal of gizmos, the Bond franchise would get bigger after this, but it's never gotten better. 'From Russia with Love,' always."
"I've never been a huge Bond fan, though some of my adolescent memories are playing the 'GoldenEye' video game for hours on end with friends, but my favorite of the ones I've seen is 'Thunderball.'"
"I think 'Skyfall' is actually the best one, but in terms of 'classic' Bond films, it would be 'From Russia With Love.'"
"Before seeing 'Skyfall' today, I would have been inclined to say 'Goldfinger' or 'Dr. No,' but even for someone indifferent to the franchise, I think Craig's third outing as the superspy is certainly up there with the very best. For nostalgia reasons, Roger Moore's entries always ranked high for me as a child, but they certainly don't have the classy timelessness of Connery's adventures, nor the hard-edged style of the 'Casino Royale'-era (Moore cooks a quiche for Tanya Roberts in 'A View to a Kill,' for heavens sake!). I'm going with 'Goldfinger,' but another viewing of 'Skyfall' could change that."
"There are some interesting debates to be had about what the 'best' James Bond movie is, but when it comes to my favorite, nothing really beats 'Casino Royale.' I grew up on 007, watching the old ones during Bond Week on TV with my male family members, but only started seeing them in theaters with 'GoldenEye.' They've all varied wildly in quality, but with only one or two exceptions I've had fun with them all. 'Casino Royale' is the one I come back to most often though, re-watching it far more than any other. It's incredibly good, and easily my favorite of the lot."
"When it comes to Bond films, I tend to like the majority of them. I really enjoyed Dalton as Bond and think he got a bit screwed over, so to speak, considering his was a cool and darker approach, which we're applauding right now (myself included) with Daniel Craig's portrayal. But when it comes to my favorite, surprisingly it's a toss up between two Roger Moore films. Don't get me wrong, I love Connery in the role like most others on this list (assuming), but Moore hit a special place in my geeky genre heart when he did 'Live and Let Die' and 'The Man With the Golden Gun.' 'Live and Let Die' is the goofier of the two, therefore the one I watch the most often, somehow taking the popular blaxploitation genre and mashing it together with Bond. There's Yaphet Kotto as the villainous Mr. Big/Kananga, his main henchman Tee Hee who has a hook hand weapon attachment assortment, a man named Whisper because you can barely hear what he's saying, traps consisting of alligators, a bumbling Sheriff Pepper who feels like he was chasing the Duke Boys, and quite possibly my favorite Bond Girl in Jane Seymour's Solitaire. Is it a good film? Not at all. Is it popcorn fare with action and comedy that thrilled my 8 year old eyes and years later still continues to make this 32 year old feel like he's had a good time after watching it? It is. Plus a kick-ass theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings which then got remade in badass fashion by Guns N' Roses. What a legacy."
"This might make me a bad film nerd, but I'm not really a Bond fanatic. While I have certainly enjoyed most of the 007 films, I've never felt compelled to see any of them more than once. Generally speaking, though, I prefer the ones where Bond has an edge of danger, as opposed to the jokier Bond outings. And since I think Daniel Craig is a brilliant, inspired choice for the role, I'm going to pick 'Casino Royale.' Besides, the villain cries tears of blood, and HOW FREAKIN' COOL IS THAT?"
"As an admitted 007 superfan, I hate to fall back on conventional wisdom, but 'Goldfinger' is both the best and most defining film in the franchise. It has one of the series' best theme songs, as performed by the incomparable Shirley Bassey. It has a career-best John Barry score. It has the best car (the Aston Martin DB5), which doubles as the best gadget. It has two of the most iconic setpieces in 007 history (Shirley Eaton's gold paint job and Bond's squirm-inducing faceoff with a high-powered laser). And most importantly, it has Sean Connery, who remains — for now — the best James Bond. But because the James Bond franchise is too big and varied to be defined by just one film, a few honorable mentions: 'From Russia With Love,' 'The Spy Who Loved Me,' 'GoldenEye,' and 'Casino Royale.' You'd have a tough time convincing me that 'Goldfinger' isn't the best 007 film, but I wouldn't argue with anyone who selected one of those very strong entries instead."
"My favorite James Bond movie is the 1967 version of 'Casino Royale' which has not one James Bond, but several. David Niven is supposed to be the original Sir James Bond, 007, who is forced out of retirement and then masterminds a plot to have several James Bonds running around the world. Peter Sellers is the baccarat master Evelyn Tremble who becomes a James Bond and suddenly disappears during the movie (explained as a death but the result of artistic differences leading to him leaving the movie). Ursula Andress is a millionaire spy named Vesper who becomes one of the female Bonds. Barbara Bouchet (Kelinda in 'Star Trek') plays Miss Moneypenny, the daughter of the original Miss Moneypenny who is recruited to be a James Bond. As one who expect, Bond did have a child — with Mata Hari, his true love, and that Bond, Mata Bond, played by Joanna Pettet, becomes another faux James Bond. Two British agents, played by Terence Cooper and Daliah Lavi, are also recruited to be James Bonds. The final James Bond is the nephew of the original James Bond, Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen). In the end we have James Bond versus James 'Jimmy' Bond and the best and worst of what Roger Ebert referred to in his review as 'a blight of these unorganized comedies, usually featuring Sellers, Allen and/or Jonathan Winters, in which the idea is to prove how zany and clever everyone is when he throws away the script and goes nuts in front of the camera.' It was the 1960s and this psychedelic self-indulgent spy spoof had six directors, making it the cinematic equivalent of the Surrealist game 'Exquisite Corpse' (from the original French 'cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau') and should probably be viewed as an art film not unlike the even less cohesive 1929 'Un Chien Andalou.'"
"'Dr. No.' It's the first, the best, and features the most iconic Bond woman, Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder (as if Ursula Andress wasn't a fitting enough name for a Bond girl)."
"'Goldfinger.' Best theme song, the debut of the Aston Martin DB5, and LASERS!"
"'On Her Majesty's Secret Service.' And George Lazenby isn't terrible."
"I have a pitiful level of Bond knowledge, having watched the Brosnan ones growing up and barely remembering them, and having vague ideas of what happens in the earlier films, but never really watching them. So, ignorantly, I have to say 'Skyfall!' I loved it!"
"'From Russia With Love' or 'Casino Royale'… I almost don't want to call 'Casino Royale' a Bond film since it is nothing like anything which came before it. It's the best solid action film of the franchise, but is separated from the franchise in every way possible (filmmaking, story, character). So in the 'true' cannon I vote for 'From Russia with Love' having Robert Shaw as one of the best actors to play a villain in the films."
"Boy, I am tempted to say 'Skyfall' because I think it might be true. But I know that's not the point of this here exercise that you're posing. For whatever reason (longevity, probably?), I think James Bond movies tug at nostalgia maybe more than any other film franchise. I like to think that I am a person of at least average intelligence, so, yes, I do realize that Sean Connery is better at portraying James Bond than Roger Moore. But, dammit, that doesn't mean I will listen to reason. I know the Roger Moore movies are, for the most part, goofy, but he was the first Bond that I knew and I will forever love that guy as Bond. Yes, this is irrational, but this is what nostalgia will do to a person. So, to go all out on nostalgia, I'm picking the first Bond movie that I ever saw, which would be 'For Your Eyes Only.' Also, as a bonus, 'For Your Eyes Only' produced one of the weirdest (i.e. greatest) Oscar performances of a nominated song that I have ever seen."
"I've been thinking, and writing, a lot about Bond lately: reviews of 'Skyfall' and the Bond 50 Blu-Ray set for Slant, and a forthcoming Primer on the franchise that I co-wrote for The A.V. Club. So, suffice it to say, I've also been watching a lot of Bond. And while it may seem totally eager and premature to say this before the movie has even been properly released in North America, I've got to say that right now, my favorite Bond movie is 'Skyfall.' Having already raved about it effusively elsewhere, I'll just say that the movie's an absolute treat: totally riveting, smart, and most exceptionally, it feels like a 'real' movie, not another entry taking place in some cinematic alternative universe that is the Bond series. Like so few in the franchise, 'Skyfall' stands on its own merits, appreciable without using the sliding scale employed to milk merit out of, say, 'Octopussy.' In this sense, it's a franchise high point, right up there with 'From Russia With Love,' 'The Spy Who Loved Me' and even 'Casino Royale.' Though I also legitimately enjoy 'Licence To Kill,' so what do I know, right?"
"'Live and Let Die.' I haven't seen very many Bond films, but this one has always been fun and eminently rewatchable."
"Because I’ve committed the equally grievous dual sins of a) not seeing every James Bond movie and b) not thinking much of the pre-Pierce Brosnan Bond movies I have seen, mine is perhaps a suspect opinion. But still, I’m going with 'Casino Royale,' the 2006 film that introduced Bond to me less as a mythic figure, but more as a person. The Bond that was presented to us as far back as 'Dr. No' is a caricature of manliness, a figure more worthy of parody than deification. As played by Daniel Craig, Bond is a tough guy, certainly; however, he’s closer to a living, breathing human. Humanity aside, 'Casino Royale' is a hell of a lot of fun, directed solidly by Martin Campbell and filled with action sequences that toe the line of outrageousness (Look, parkour!) without fully jumping over it. Whereas the other Bond movies I’ve seen have flashes of something truly special, 'Casino Royale' is the one that hits the spot most frequently and consistently."
"Thanks to my dad, I saw pretty much every pre-Craig Bond movie as a child. But it's been years now since I spent much time with 007, and I have to admit that most of his adventures linger in my memory only as a haze of explosions and sexism. In fact, the one I remember most fondly now is the sprawling, disastrous spoof adaptation of 'Casino Royale,' starring David Niven and Peter Sellers and Woody Allen and Orson Welles and everyone else who was alive in 1967. ('Everyone else who was alive' should also give you an idea of who wrote and directed this mess.) It appeals to my weakness for train wrecks and, like Otto Preminger's 'Skidoo,' it's a fascinating Hollywood-and-the-counterculture time capsule. Unless Eon someday endorses something else this shrill and misjudged, I suspect 'Casino Royale' will remain the weirdest Bond movie ever made."
"James Bond movies blend so well, and fold into each other so effortlessly in my mind, that I have a hard time telling them apart. That must be the reason I am taken with the parodies, like 'Casino Royale' with the incomparable David Niven as Bond, six directors, and a wild cast that includes Deborah Kerr, Jacqueline Bisset, William Holden, John Huston, Orson Welles, and Jean-Paul Belmondo. I like how Pierce Brosnan employs his Bond persona in 'The Matador,' and the two 'OSS 117' caricatures with 'The Artist' star Jean Dujardin, that Michel Hazanavicius wrote and directed, for their unrestrained energy."
"These two may not be the most illustrious Bond films, but 'The Spy Who Loved Me' and 'Moonraker' are my favorite and for one reason alone: Richard Kiel."
"I've really enjoyed Daniel Craig and I yield to no one in my admiration of the filmmaking in 'From Russia With Love,' but my preferred Bond is Timothy Dalton, based upon just one movie: 'The Living Daylights.' No Bond film better combines the kiss-kiss-bang-bang fantasy of being Bond with Cold War politics that seem mature and pragmatic. Other movies from its time (like 'Rambo III' a year later) look childish and embarrassing by comparison."
"My favorite Bond movie is 'GoldenEye.' It's the first one I saw in a theater, and the subsequent video game provided endless entertainment for me and my friends."