So I just watched 25 Bond movies, in order, from “Dr No” to “Skyfall.” The reason for this quixotic folly is, of course, the imminent arrival of “Spectre,” (Oli’s review is here) for which I thought there could be no better preparation than viewing nearly fifty hours of MI6 Agent 007 killing, climbing, punning, unzipping, skiing, swimming, and finding novel ways to avoid sharks. I’ve witnessed six different versions of Blofeld. I’ve lived through six consecutive incarnations of M, and six successive Qs (counting those times that Q was “Major Boothroyd” or “Algie”). And, of course I’ve gasped, laughed, sighed and more often than I’d hoped, tapped my watch and glazed over, at every actor who’s ever said “…Bond. James Bond” on the big screen. I have not consumed a single martini, shaken or stirred, throughout this entire endeavor, which I think is probably where I went wrong.
Why volunteer for such a perilous mission? Because despite knowing quite a few of the films to be terrible, despite understanding the datedness of everything from their political attitudes to their gadgetry, I had enough residual affection for Bond to be the (often lone) voice piping up in defence of the franchise. Certainly here at The Playlist, I was one of the few regular staffers to count myself, however reservedly, a Bond fan.
At the same time, I suspected this was largely nostalgia. The very concept of the Bond film is inexorably associated with childhood Christmases, but what of watching them now in 2015? Coming, perhaps, from a place of love but being a little more critically adept these days, how many of the Bond films actually hold up as films?
So that’s what this ranking is about: not nostalgia, not irony, not how-much-you-love-the-memory-of-the-film, not even how much they define the essence of “Bond,” but the films themselves, and how bearable they are to a 2015 viewer. Right, then, so much for the pre-credits sequence, let’s get down to it: worst to best, here’s every James Bond film released prior to this week’s “Spectre.”
25. “Casino Royale” (Various Directors 1967) — David Niven, etc
One of only two non-Eon films on this list (Eon being the production company behind the “official” Bond franchise), there are two very good arguments for excluding the spoof “Casino Royale” from any lineup of Bond movies. Firstly, it’s a spoof that bears only the slightest resemblance to the Ian Fleming story on which it’s based (mainly in terms of character names like Vesper Lynd and Le Chiffre), so it’s only that it has a character called James Bond (several in fact…with hilarious results!) that puts it in contention instead of something like “Austin Powers.” Secondly, it’s quite extraordinarily bad, and no one should ever have to watch it for any reason ever again. You might not believe that a film with this cast could be so awful: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, John Huston, Woody Allen, Deborah Kerr, Jacqueline Bisset, George Raft, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Peter O’Toole. You would be wrong. The five credited directors, including Huston, and three credited writers (plus seven uncredited, including Allen, Billy Wilder and Ben Hecht) might account a little for the film’s tiresome incoherence, but it doesn’t explain why jokes like the description of a toupee as a “family hair-loom” made the cut. So mindwarpingly unfunny that to watch it is to wonder if you will ever laugh again.
Pros: Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote the gorgeous “The Look of Love” for Dusty Springfield to sing on this soundtrack.
Cons: The ruination of so much dignity, without even a snigger to show for it.
Sample Dialogue: “It’s depressing that the words “secret agent” have become synonymous with “sex maniac.””
24. “The Man With The Golden Gun” (Guy Hamilton 1974) — Roger Moore
The fourth and least of director Guy Hamilton‘s contributions to the Bond canon, there are various specific reasons why ‘Golden Gun’ sits so low on this list. Chief among them is the unforgivable waste of the great Christopher Lee as villain Scaramanga, whose distinguishing feature — a third nipple — has also got to be the lamest Bond villain physical quirk of them all. To compensate for this immensely uninteresting and unthreatening trait, Scaramanga employs a dwarf butler, NickNack, who is at least responsible for one of the most outright surreal, “Jackass“-style sequences when dressed like a Mexican wrestler and wielding a pitchfork, he takes on Moore’s Bond aided by two sumo wrestlers, one of whom is defeated by wedgie. But let’s not forget all-time worst Bond girl (yes! including Denise Richards!) Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland). Having suffered several humiliations including being literally kicked out of bed in favor of Maud Adams (“Your turn will come” smarms Bond as he stuffs her in a cupboard) at the film’s climax she unwitting sets off a weapon with her arse and proves less useful at helping Bond out of his near-death situation than an actual fucking cloud.
Pros: Scaramanga demands Tabasco by name for his oysters (which he is also eating with Guinness and Champagne) in a rare moment of Bond product placement we can totally get with.
Cons: We are reaching peak Moore misogyny, Sheriff JW Pepper, first “experienced” in the previous year’s “Live and Let Die” is back for more wacky hijinks unfortunately, and the slide-whistle/kazoo sound effect accompanying the great car stunt marks a low point in Bond foleying too.
Sample Dialogue: [Pepper] “I know you! You’re that Secret Agent! That English secret agent! From England!” [Try not to hurt yourself on that rapier wit]
23. “Diamonds Are Forever” (Guy Hamilton, 1971) — Sean Connery
If there’s an exhibit A in the case of nostalgia-versus-quality when it comes to Bond movies, it might very well be this film. Starring the first and definitive best Bond in Sean Connery, and being exactly of a vintage that saw it replayed throughout the 1980s on TV, insidiously embedding itself into many a childhood, a lot of us might think we have fond memories of “Diamonds are Forever.” But if you want to hang on to them, do not rewatch it: Connery’s return to the series, lured back by a record-breaking paycheck should have been a victory lap, reteaming him with “Goldfinger” director Hamilton and even getting Shirley Bassey to do the song again. Instead, the forces of change are already at work — this is Connery’s Moore-est Bond performance — smug, somnolent. And as perhaps a reaction against the actual emotional stakes represented by Diana Rigg in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” ‘Diamonds’ “re-masculates” Bond by surrounding him with ludicrous gay stereotypes and the most disposable women yet in Plenty O’Toole and strident, screechy Tiffany Case, not the worst but certainly the most irritating Bond girl ever.
Pros: In a way, it’s equally offensive to women, gay people and Southern billionaires which has to be the result of special effort.
Cons: Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, the homosexual henchmen of placeholder Blofeld Charles Gray. One of whom (not the one who looks like the ‘Mythbusters’ guy — the other one) is dispatched by wedgie-bomb.
Sample Dialogue: [to a rat] “One of us smells like a tart’s handerkerchief”
22. “Live And Let Die” (Guy Hamilton, 1973) — Roger Moore
A new Bond for a new era (he no longer wears a hat in the gun barrel sequence, making it feel super fresh and contemporary!) Roger Moore‘s first outing as 007 is sadly one of his worst. Rather than relaunching with something less dateable, “Live and Let Die” attempts to ride the crest of then-popular blaxploitation cinema, but from a blankly uncomprehending, condescending white perspective, obviously. There are some street-level 1970s Harlem shots early on but that authenticity soon gives way to a low-stakes plot that involves drug smuggling (because who would buy a black supervillain bent on world domination?) voodoo and tarot and that portrays most of its black characters as superstitious, backward naifs. Its sole nod to progressiveness is that Bond deigns to copulate with a black woman (a double agent and a blithering idiot, mind you, but still). Jane Seymour is also barely present, under a series of increasingly ludicrous high-priestess-like outfits and headdresses, some of which are attached to her chair apparently. It’s such a shame this film is so crap, because Yaphet Kotto is brilliant at being an urbane, unflappable villain in amongst so many black-panic exploitation stereotypes, but any movie that finds the series’ Jar-Jar Binks (Clifton James‘ Sheriff JW Pepper) as hilarious as this one does is a stinker.
Pros: It does yield one of the series’ most iconic moments when Bond undoes some rando’s zip with his magnetic watch.
Cons: Moore’s light blue double-denim look in the boat sequence is a fashion nadir for the series.
Sample dialogue: “No sense in going off half-cocked.”
21. “Die Another Day” (Lee Tamahori, 2002) — Pierce Brosnan
Going back through the Bonds with a 2015 perspective, it’s interesting to note how many times prior to 2006’s “Casino Royale” the franchise tried to “go gritty” only to gradually morph back into something lighter and sillier. Sometimes, that happened all in the space of one film, as in the inarguably worst Brosnan entry, “Die Another Day.” You may have forgotten by now, but the film infamous for its invisible car gadgetry and awesomely stiff Madonna performance (Sigmund Freud, analyze this, as she intones during her equally horrible theme song), actually starts off with Bond’s months-long torture in captivity in North Korea. After which he is sternly upbraided by M in tiger-mom tough-love form and forced to go rogue. But just when you think 007 might be involved in something resembling the real world, we’re suddenly in a remote Cuban cosmetic surgery clinic and Halle Berry‘s NSA agent Jinx is eyeing Brosnan’s crotch while delivering single entendres like “There’s a mouthful.” Toby Stephens does a good “poor man’s Damian Lewis” as the snarling Korean megalomaniac who for whatever reason had himself remade as a ginge, and Michael Madsen shows up as M’s American counterpart, while Rosamund Pike gets skewered along with a copy of “The Art of War” because irony. Remember when for a while Jinx was regarded as such a hot prospect she was going to get her own movie? Hahahhahahhahahha! 2002!
Pros: The swordfight duel is actually really, really good.
Cons: Dreadful CG and the overuse of now really tacky looking speed ramping throughout.
Sample dialogue: “I’ve been known to keep my tip up”