Ranking Bond - Gordon's List Part 1
Updated: Apr 2, 2022
2022 marks 60 years since Ian Fleming's superspy first hit our movie screens. The Bond Daft project from Kapeesh has officially ended, now that we have reviewed the first 24 movies individually, but 'unofficially' I have plans for extra content to mark this momentous milestone in film history. As we speak, our final overall ranking podcasts are emerging on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all the usual channels (see top-right of screen), where the four double-0s collectively decide where each film stands from best to worst. Unfortunately, the numerous delays to No Time to Die mean that film was not released in time for those shows, which were recorded in late-2020, but stay tuned for an individual review on the way soon.
In the meantime, I have decided on my personal choices for the Bond Charts, starting with positions 25-13 below. In my head, my rankings are forever changing and some films have even switched places since the podcast debates. No Time to Die is included in the rankings, but does it make the top half? What films will make the cut for the Top 12?
25. Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Diamonds are Forever is a bewildering crossroads in the James Bond franchise following the progressive nature of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Harry Saltzman and Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli persuaded Sean Connery to return for one more mission but his presence and charisma is one of the few endearing qualities to this strange entry in the series. Nobody could do anything about the fact George Lazenby chose to walk away from the 007 role but the writers deemed it necessary to correct everything they thought people didn’t like about the previous film.
The end result is a disjointed, uninspired mess of a film. The enraged, ‘wounded animal’, dangerous Bond out for revenge after the murder of his wife is what we should have got. But after drafting Guy Hamilton back in to direct, Diamonds took a different path, in an attempt to recapture the spirit of Goldfinger. This was probably to appeal more as a standalone popcorn flick for the general public to enjoy, rather than please fans of the franchise looking for continuity. Diamonds thus feels more like a sequel to You Only Live Twice and by omitting OHMSS from one’s memory, there is a fair bit of continuity. It’s a stretch though and still doesn’t take away the lazy writing, unrealistic acting and ridiculous plot holes. On a good day, Charles Gray had the presence to be an effective Bond villain but any attempts are undermined by his smirking, overly-charming personality as Blofeld, plus an appallingly gratuitous scene of him dressed in drag. An equally baffling sequence of a woman turning into a gorilla inside a kid’s arcade room makes it look like we are watching a second-rate B movie rather than a blockbuster spy thriller.
It appears that Eon Productions’ budget was somewhat lacking by this point, which shows on the special effects and locales. Some of the stunts are still great it has to be said and you can’t take anything away from the driver performing the ‘wheelie’ in the Ford Mustang, or stuntman George Leech, who set himself on fire standing in for henchman Mr Kidd towards the end. Good or bad, this film was made by professionals who put their heart and soul into it.
For that reason, Diamonds are Forever is still watcheable. Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn and Lois Maxwell provide their usual charisma as M, Q and Moneypenny, but even they can’t save this from being the ultimate low in the 007 series.
24. Die Another Day (2002)
It has been claimed that Die Another Day started out as a dark, political espionage thriller which was subsequently ripped apart by director Lee Tamahori to fit his vision of what Bond should be. It certainly feels like someone was on a mission to single-handedly dismantle Ian Fleming’s original creation we had all come to love.
DAD’s tense pre-titles sequence in North Korea is tense and well done, but the film immediately abandons this tone in favour of mindless, reckless-abandon action. The scheme of villain Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) is utter nonsense and following all the film’s atrocious dialogue, terrible CGI and pointless slow-motion action scenes, watching him press buttons on his Batman-style armoured suit is the final confirmation that we are not watching a Bond film. Halle Berry’s NSA agent Jinx is an equally unrealistic comic book character, as are the henchmen. Yet despite all this, Pierce Brosnan is still acting his heart out and composer David Arnold is still on the ball, holding the film together.
Bond being tortured gave us a fresh new avenue to explore and by keeping this up, we could have had an incredible story, with 007 focussed on vengeance and getting his old life back. Despite the shift in tone, DAD is still fun and more watchable than Diamonds Are Forever.
23. A View to a Kill (1985)
While Licence to Kill often gets flak for being Miami Vice-Bond, A View to a Kill is the one entry in the 007 catalogue which feels ‘TV movie’ to me. Out of John Glen’s five films, this middle one is where he drops the ball from a director’s standpoint. Character and location-wise, it lacks the exotic feel of For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, and there’s an overly-long, poorly-written chase scene with Bond taking on the San Francisco police (why?). Roger Moore seems to have a signature groan sound as well which is seemingly copied and pasted in wherever there’s an action set-piece (invariably using rather obvious stunt doubles), giving the impression of a bumbling old secret agent.
Yet, I don’t have a major problem with ‘Rog’s age the way many viewers do; I just wish they had embraced it in a better way. Patrick Macnee’s Mi6 ally Tibbett was masterfully paired with him on the mission early on but we needed more of this. Interestingly, Never Say Never Again is a far worse film than this but one thing they did well at times there was to acknowledge we are dealing with a senior, more seasoned spy.
Despite its flaws, there is plenty to love about AVTAK. Moore is still at his charming best, the dialogue is well-written and the stunt performance is terrific. There are still hints of Fleming’s Bond and psychopath villains Zorin (Christopher Walken) and Mayday (Grace Jones) give a genuine sense of danger throughout the proceedings, helped throughout by John Barry’s edgy score. Clunky in places but an entertaining film.
22. Skyfall (2012)
I was never a great Skyfall fan and it has actually slid down my rankings still. Another 007 fan on social media once called it an average Joe on the street’s take of what a James Bond movie should look like and I can’t disagree. Bond driving ‘back in time’ to Scotland in a DB5, superhuman stunts and a villain who bombs around from place to place blowing everything up. The end result is somewhat dull.
There are still many positives about Skyfall. The story is relatively simple and proves that we don’t always need a myriad of twists and technical exposition to enjoy a modern film. I love the idea of Bond going under the radar when presumed dead and then just attacking a standalone mission with no connection to the last two. The Silva character (Javier Bardem) was later retconned in Spectre but I liked the idea of Skyfall just being a one-off, in the style of Goldfinger or Live and Let Die.
The sets and cinematography on Skyfall are incredible. Musically it it less memorable, with Thomas Newman’s two scores in the franchise being more cookie-cutter action movie than anything. It has its moments though, as do much of the supporting cast. Mallory’s (Ralph Fiennes) transition into an ally is well written and we get a fun introduction to Ben Whishaw’s ‘Q’.
Silva helps to contribute to the film’s suspense but he is one of the Bond franchise’s weakest villains. Inexplicably able to cause terrorist attacks and escape prisons with a click of his fingers, Javier Bardem was not well served by the screenwriters. I like the idea of Bond returning to his childhood home in Scotland, but it is cheapened by the Home Alone-style preparation of household artillery to catch the bad guys. An overload of CGI also fails to stand up in the action sequences.
Skyfall just makes me want to reach for older Bond films when the humour was original, stunts were done for real and Bond acted like a spy. Grittier than A View to a Kill but lacking the fun of The Man with the Golden Gun, it’s sure to be one of my least-played discs in the box set.
21. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Like so much of the series, great fun if you take it for what it is. When you look for faults, there are many and so superfluous to what would otherwise be an excellent story in the Moore catalogue. The idea of Bond tracking down an almost mirror-image secret assassin, culminating in a gun duel between them is ingenious and Scaramanga (Sir Christopher Lee) is one of the all-time greatest villains. Stunning locations in the far east are the perfect backdrop - watch out for the car spiral jump, incredibly performed for real.
For a film with many iconic Bond moments and characters, there is some incredibly lazy writing in the action scenes. An Mi6 contact in Hong Kong goes through a completely pointless charade of making 007 think he is being arrested, then later drives away abandoning him to the mercy of on an entire karate school of henchmen. After some lengthy martial arts sequences, the cop from Live and Let Die Sheriff J.W. Pepper has somehow gone from making a cameo to pro-actively helping Bond with his mission. The character already stuck out like a sore thumb in the last film and to bring him back here seriously undermines the story.
With all of the people holding him back, it’s a miracle Bond succeeds in his mission at all. He also has Agent Goodnight to contend with, who is written to be so incompetent it’s impossible to believe she could ever work in the secret service (though no fault of Britt Ekland who at least gives the character some charm). But ultimately I return to the great Christopher Lee, who absolutely owns this movie despite the madness going on around him.
20. Quantum of Solace (2008)
I find Daniel Craig’s three middle Bond movies largely interchangeable. How many times have we seen his Bond go rogue? And doesn’t ‘M’ always seem permanently angry with him? Quantum of Solace continues much in the style of Casino Royale to the extent that it lacks an opening gunbarrel sequence, the Bond theme is largely absent and humour is minimal. While this was appropriate for its predecessor at reboot point, Quantum just feels a bit too low-key.
Quantum is a short movie and feels nicely self-contained. There is something which feels real about it’s atmosphere and storytelling, its plot is down to earth and you feel as if you are living within the spy world. You don’t quite get a sense of this in Skyfall or Spectre, which suffer from mismatched tones at times. The film gets plenty of flak for being dull and understated, but there is still that certain amount of class typical of the early films in the series, particularly settings. Seeing Bond strut around hotel lobbies, dinner parties and bars is such an important ingredient to our character’s world and shown effectively here. The opera scene in particular is a standout.
Camille (Olga Kurylenko) has a very personal interest in 007’s mission, giving some much-needed story in amongst a constant barrage of special effects and action sequences. The extremely fast editing makes the fights and chases hard to follow, though it does at least give a sense of it feeling very real. Jason Bourne, eat your heart out.
19. The World is Not Enough (1999)
Pierce Brosnan’s third adventure stands out mainly for its strong story, which quite rightly lowered the stakes from the massive world-changing events in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies. The dialogue is notably sharp and Brosnan brings his usual charisma to the role, not to mention physicality and serious acting skill. Sophie Marceau is a real highlight as Electra King. Her psychopathic scheme to murder her own father and assume control of his oil empire makes her one of the more complex, intriguing villains of the series. The fact she is also the femme-fatale and develops a relationship with Bond adds even more layers to the character.
Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) tends to be one of the main targets for criticism in TWINE but generally she is fine. I have more of problem with the reappearance of Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane), who was a sinister gangland figure in GoldenEye. This time the tension between him and Bond is non-existent, with Zukovsky now a bumbling comedy figure.
Most of the usual Bondian ingredients are there, such as stunt work, special effects and music. Despite this, I find TWINE an oddly forgettable entry in the 007 canon.
18. Spectre (2015)
Bringing the swaggering, classic James Bond back to the screen in Spectre was most certainly a step in the right direction, following three films of Daniel Craig as the moping, tortured-soul secret agent. As well as an abundancy of subtle references to past films, many of the sets and locales are terrific blasts from the past (e.g. M’s office) and then there is silent henchman Mr Hinx. This type of character was a breath of fresh air and the best heavy in the series for a long time.
Of course, a film should always have the story and cinematography to back this up; Spectre succeeds partially in that regard. The plot unfortunately feels more like a series of events put together, which fails at the final hurdle. The manner in which Bond arrives at and escapes from the main villain’s base feels like a convenient means to get to the final battle in London with Ernst Stavro Blofeld. To his credit, Christoph Waltz brings 007’s arch nemesis back to the screen effectively and there are some tense, creepy moments in the run up to his proper reveal.
The childhood backstory connecting Blofeld to Bond is an unnecessary contrivance and being arrested by the London bobbies at the end of the film is not a particularly dignified way for his character to disappear. Yet I admire the way in which him and his organisation were brought back to the big screen in an original style, without simply remaking a Thunderball or You Only Live Twice.
17. You Only Live Twice (1967)
You Only Live Twice would be the last 007 outing to star Sean Connery on his initial run of films. He admitted at the time he was tired of the Bond role and it definitely shows in his performance. Alternatively, one could interpret his disinterested and moody demeanour as a scripted persona of an older, seasoned Mi6 agent who really has got fed up with the stresses of international espionage. I‘ve actually found if I view the movie through this lens, I really enjoy it!
If you’re after pure escapism joy, YOLT is possibly Connery’s best and escapism is essentially what the Bond series was meant to be all along. It is very much a ‘comfort film’ in a similar vein to Roger Moore’s outings, to the extent that it feels formulaic at times and frequently skips logic. The death of Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) brought a heightened sense of drama just when it felt things might have been getting too silly and this was a bold move for a female lead, never seen up until this point in the franchise. As for Bond staging his own death at the start of the film? I certainly buy into that as a way for Mi6 to get his enemies off his back.
Production Designer Ken Adam broke new ground in film history with his massive SPECTRE volcano set and Bond at least has some action of value in the movie’s climax, unlike Goldfinger. We then get the much-anticipated reveal of Blofeld, played by Donald Pleasence. For music, John Barry’s Oriental-style score is his best of all time. He bases so much of it around the highly-memorable title song and the Bond theme itself - modern-day Bond composers take note!
It is mostly the strange, head-scratching moments that let YOLT down, like Helga Brandt’s plane escape and the endless amounts of inept henchmen that completely fail to take Bond down, even at very close range. Then later on, so much screen time is devoted to Bond getting a full-on transformation into a Japanese fisherman, when a quick scene using a simple disguise would have done. Yet, the strong presence of his ally Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) and the beautiful Japanese locations dominate the screen for so long that it’s enough to make this a memorable swansong for Sir Sean.
16. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
While GoldenEye had a somewhat drab and dated look, Pierce Brosnan’s second film is pure 1990s. Colourful, stylish and sexy, Tomorrow Never Dies also nicely brings back the ‘imminent World War Three’ narrative not seen for some time. Agent 007 has a matter of days to stop conflict between the UK and China, and he’s having fun doing it with ‘Martinis, girls and guns’, as Sheryl Crow reminds us on the title song.
Composer David Arnold is one of these people behind the scenes that just gets Bond. His soundtrack (his first of five Bonds) is sublime and almost everything a fan could want. If only his song Surrender performed by k.d.Lang could have been the actual title song instead of playing over the end credits, as it works brilliantly used within the actual score.
The supporting cast in TND are relatively good, but I am not taken by them the way the film wants me to be. I admire Jonathan’s Pryce’s excitable, maniacal tendencies as Elliot Carver but his death doesn’t feel like the satisfying payoff it should be. Wai Lin is a worthy partner in 007’s mission, made all the better by the fact Michelle Yeoh performed all her own fight sequences in the role, but I don’t feel much chemistry between the pair. The film’s stunt work, by the way, is second to none, especially the halo jump and the motorbike leap in Saigon – done for real, the way it should be! The ‘villain’s lair’ scene of TND sees Bond and Wai Lin mostly on a Rambo-style machine gun rampage. A classic Bond film but classic in that it falls away in the second half!
15. Moonraker (1979)
Moonraker is another Bond blockbuster with a bit of a reputation. When the action gets serious, I’m really with the film and when it gets daft, I’m actually still fine with it. For a large part, Roger Moore is acting very much as a detective, following leads across the world and being very much the covert spy with a martini in one hand and a glint in his eye all the while. This is the side of Bond I often miss these days, seen most obvious in Connery’s first couple of films.
Moonraker, alas, is not a down-to-earth film (quite literally) and its dark moments contrast with some quite outrageous sequences, such as the ‘Bondola’ and a double-taking pigeon on the streets of Venice. The reappearance of Jaws was a mistake and he is portrayed as an incompetent henchman in all kinds of slapstick comedy scenes. Can you imagine Red Grant holding hands with a random girlfriend,or dancing along in a street party? Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) has an equally mental Bond girl name but she is almost as badass as 007.
Typical of a Lewis Gilbert-directed film, Moonraker uses epic sets and stunning idyllic locations as its backdrop. I have to suspend disbelief during the final third, as our secret service man does battle in space to stop Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) in his plan to beat all plans for world domination. As silly as it gets, the truth is I am having too much fun with this picture to get upset by it all and this is exactly why Moonraker saw such a huge box office return.
14. The Living Daylights (1987)
Timothy Dalton got his wish to make Bond a more flesh-and-blood character close to the original novels in the first of his two movies and looks every inch the trained killer. The excellent pre-titles leads to the superbly-staged defection scene with Bond behind the lens of a sniper’s rifle, taken from the short story The Living Daylights. It’s a big change in tone from the Moore era, yet there is still a familiar feel thanks to director John Glen returning on his fourth consecutive film and composer John Barry doing what he does best (his final 007 score). The humour is subtler but still works.
Dalton is a highly believable Bond, bringing a dark physicality and aggression to the role some nineteen years before Daniel Craig. Maryam d’Abo and John Rhys-Davies give strong performances as allies, alongside Andreas Wisniewski who plays classic henchman Necros. Jeroen Krabbé and Joe Don Baker play the much-less memorable dual villains, who are slimy but unthreatening.
The conversational scenes in The Living Daylights are the best but there are some brilliant action sequences too, with top special effects. The fact Dalton performed many of his own stunts heightens the believability and it’s hard to find any obvious body doubles this time around. The finale in Afghanistan scores high for all the aforementioned reasons, yet this part of the film is somehow disengaging. It loses my attention here and subsequently a few ranking points for the movie.
13. Octopussy (1983)
I enjoy Roger Moore’s penultimate outing for being another ‘light film, dark score’ type similar to Moonraker, helped once again by the sounds of John Barry. It is the quintessential cold war thriller, with a complex but realistic plot this time, benefiting from one or two crucial scenes taken from Fleming’s short stories, plus some dark moments such as the deaths of 009 and Bond’s ally Vijay. Despite this, Octopussy is often seen as one of the sillier entries in the series.
Characters are one of the film’s biggest strengths and it’s one of the best casts yet. Maud Adams is a standout Bond girl playing the title character, while Louis Jourdan and Steven Berkoff are both absolutely in their element as egotistical, conspiring villains. The story is full of mystery and there are plenty of action scenes to enjoy.
Octopussy ticks so many boxes as a Bond film that there is little to criticise. Ironically, despite the scenes adapted from the books, it’s weakness is that it feels somewhat distant from Fleming’s Bond at other times. The tongue-in-cheek humour is ramped up slightly from For Your Eyes Only and goes into overdrive on a few occasions, yet somehow the film shifts tones from light to dark very well so it isn’t a big deal. An entertaining ‘comfort film’, with Roger on top form once again.
Well Bond fans, there we have it. No sign yet of No Time to Die and the much-berated Octopussy almost makes the cut! Stay tuned for my essential Top 12 Bond on this website coming up!
The Kapeesh team are still keeping the British end up on Soundcloud, Spotify and Apple Podcasts, plus other pod platforms. Earlier episodes include discussions dedicated to the music of Bond, best villains, vehicles and all kinds of 007-inspired themes. Please click the symbols on the top-right of the page to listen. We also appreciate feedback and would be very grateful if you could please give Kapeesh a quick review on Apple Podcasts.