Updated: Mar 2
Steve is the founder of Kapeesh and in between editing podcasts and playing retro games he likes to tell anyone who will listen how good GoldenEye is.
It’s been quite the journey. Since we started the Bond Daft podcasts back in April 2019 there was no such thing as Covid-19. ‘Bond 25’ was still in production. Steve McCaul had only seen two or three 007 films. We weren’t on the brink of war with Russia. Ah, those halcyon days.
But now, 25 Eon Produced films later and we have lived through a global pandemic. No Time to Die has come and gone. Steve is now a true Bond aficionado that he sometimes mutters in his sleep ‘Danger Wheel’ or ‘something, something Ken Adam’s sets’. And, yes every notification I am getting on my phone the last few days seems to indicate we are about to enter some sort of economic/cold war with the Russians. If it wasn’t so scary or cliché, you might say it sounds like we have been living in some warped Bond story but the writers couldn’t think of an ending and simply kept going.
However, our film journey is reaching its end. As I type this there are only two more Film Ranking episodes left to edit (shamefully recorded a year ago) and the No Time to Die finale. And they will arrive in a monumental time for the Bond series - this year marks the 60th year since Dr No was first released!
So, what better way to sign off the project with my own personal ranking list? I have to admit, this has been chopped and changed over time and even as I write these I am shuffling a few around. And because I love rating things, I will stick to the five-star scale for these too although some ratings have changed from what I gave on the podcasts as the more I ruminate on certain aspects - like music or plot - my feelings change (for better or worse).
This will be split into three parts and this particular set will cover the bottom five films. And believe me, it’s not just Diamonds Are Forever five times over. Tempting, as it is. Enjoy!
25. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
This was a film I had seen out of order as a kid growing up and actually do remember enjoying. Not knowing the history of the franchise I vaguely remember finding the other Connery films From Russia with Love and Thunderball boring. Though, everything was being compared to GoldenEye at this point (I swear I will stop mentioning it soon) and for whatever reason the weirdness of the villains Mr Wint and Mr Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith) I found likeable.
This was before I understood such things as characterisation. Or Plot.
But, revisiting this was quite the experience. Gordon had given us a fair warning in our preamble but it wasn’t enough. The returning Connery seems so uninterested and the awful pre-title sequence featuring a clone of Blofeld played by a smirking Charles Gray is literally the beginning of the myriad of issues to follow. The Las Vegas setting somehow seems dull. The oil rig finale is uninspired. The ‘kidnap plot’ of a wealthy American is forgettable with the diamonds story also very muddled in the middle. Not to mention, the pre-titles being the only real connection to the previous film in which Bond’s wife was murdered by Blofeld’s assassin; a story thread that seems ridiculous to have been sidelined.
It’s not only a difficult watch with asinine supporting characters Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood), Tiffany Case (played by Jill St. John, who begins quite promising to be fair) and the gymnast assassins Bambi and Thumper but it’s a truly awful follow up to one of the most gut wrenching endings of a Bond film to date. Returning director Guy Hamilton failed to capture the pizzazz of Goldfinger and instead delivered a cheap and derivative oddball comedy but without the laughs. It’s saved from 1 star domain because of a mostly excellent John Barry score and a playful and catchy Shirley Bassey theme song.
24. Die Another Day (2002)
In some ways, we have this film to thank for the riches of the Craig era and in particular the debut, Casino Royale. That film’s gritty reboot and tonal change were prompted from the critical backlash of this CGI-laden invisible car crash.
Growing up, Brosnan was my Bond. So I have a soft spot for his entries but even this is too much to make excuses for (even though he is still eminently watchable). Director Lee Tamahori and writers Purvis and Wade clearly took the escalation of action and silliness of the previous two entries and dialled it up to nonsense levels. It’s more of a comic book film and as much as that doesn’t suit the Fleming idea of the character, it’s at least a unique take (if not entirely intentional).
Beginning with Bond surfing to North Korea, then an action sequence with hover craft and then a weird credits section in which Madonna’s auto-tuned dance theme overplays as Bond is beaten senselessly (as nothing says ‘party time’ better than unflinching torture) – the clues were there that this film was not your standard Bond flick. Even with those, the film keeps getting weirder and the mismatched tone throughout will cause whiplash.
I could go on for ages about the very literal character names (guess what Mr Kill’s favourite hobby is?), the lamentable dialogue (the scene on the beach about birds inexplicably leads to the most graphic sex scene in the whole series) and the nonsensical plot which involves a South Korean General undergoing an entire genetic transition to a Caucasian English billionaire all in the space of a year. Not to mention his plans to use the Sun Laser he has built to cut through the Korean Peninsula to let North invade South which would seemingly trigger World War 3. This film is ridiculous and when you start listing off things like Invisible cars, Ice Palaces and Super Soldier suits it doesn’t feel like we are talking about a Bond film.
However, I will admit I do have a soft spot for its full commitment to insanity and also love Rosamund Pike’s Miranda Frost as she is genuinely captivating despite the poor material she has to work with. And David Arnold’s score is fairly decent. But, then I remember Madonna repeating ‘Sigmond Freud, analyse this’ and I need to let out an audible groan.
23. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Roger Moore’s second outing as the MI6 agent has many similarities to the preceding film, Live and Let Die. Aside the obvious elements like the directorial flair of Guy Hamilton and flamboyant writing of Tom Manciewicz, they also benefit from great scores and inventive and captivating villains. But they also have aged rather poorly outside of their era.
For TMWTGG, the writing around Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight character is staggeringly poor. The joke is that she is supposed to be a secret agent working alongside Bond but that she is incompetent. In some ways, this can be done right if this was a pure comedy and there is some establishing moment that highlights how ridiculous it is that this character holds a job with the intelligence services. However, from early on we simply see an eager agent in Goodnight who Bond immediately treats with relatively carefree abandon. It only gets worse when he seduces her then forces her into a cupboard so he can sleep with Scaramanga’s mistress Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) and Goodnight has to remain hidden the entire night while they get it on. Eeeeshk!
Then we also have Bond beating Miss Anders (which even Roger Moore felt was not appropriate for his version of the character) as well as the mandatory scantily clad Ekland fumbling about with her derriere bouncing off buttons to the large laser causing all sorts of mayhem for Bond. Seventies humour, folks!
But aside where it’s dated, there is the returning Sheriff Pepper (Clifton James) who seemed to be a hit with audiences first time around. If you can buy that his character would have travelled to Thailand to purchase a car of all things, then that’s a start. But, his shtick doesn’t work second time around and the middle portion of this film suffers from a lengthy car chase with him and Bond as buddies, as he whoops and hollers alongside the cringing Moore. It’s also here that a fantastic practical stunt was ruined because of a poor choice by composer John Barry to add the infamous slide whistle comedy effect, undermining the whole thing.
Yet, the film is saved in some ways by the excellent Sir Christopher Lee. His Scaramanga is very much the perfect villain in that he is as refined, intelligent, highly trained and deadly with a gun as our superspy. It’s a great conceit and their chemistry in the final act alleviates some of the misgivings from before. Even Lulu's admittedly catchy theme song about large weapons and banging people can be forgiven.
22. You Only Live Twice (1967)
This film and TMWTGG occupy a similar space for me and are very interchangeable. This is mostly due to their John Barry eastern-sounding scores being great as well as each having a strong finale.
Director Lewis Gilbert’s first of his Bond trilogy has many other things that can be enjoyed such as the mid-film airborne dog-fight with ‘Little Nellie’ sequence, Bond’s ally Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) is fairly charming and of course the final unveiling of the menacing Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance). But the main positive is set designer Ken Adam’s underground volcanic lair reveal and the ensuing battle with Bond’s ninja forces against Spectre’s henchman. It’s a classic cinema moment and set the standard for every major villain base to follow, within Bond and even outside of the franchise.
Yet, there are issues with this film. Roald Dahl’s screenplay smartly deviates from the Fleming story almost completely (with Dahl even labelling it his worst book) but in keeping to the idea of spending a fair bit of time in the oriental setting, there is a lengthy section of this film devoted to Bond going undercover as a Japanese fisherman with full yellow-face and awful hair. It’s aged horribly alongside the general racist (sexist, too) undertones throughout (‘why do Chinese girls taste differently?) and the pace of the whole marriage section is glacial that it makes it really difficult to revisit without skipping.
This was also the film that Connery was clearly disenfranchised with the Bond persona and it’s even evident in his performance, which lacks the usual energy and vigour of the previous outings. Towards the end it seems that rather than be Bond for any longer he actually wants to go to space which is bafflingly nearly what his character unwittingly did.
It’s definitely got its issues and is the lesser of the main Connery Bond films he did prior to leaving the franchise. But, John Barry’s soundtrack is phenomenal and Nancy Sinatra’s soft voice over the main title theme is hypnotising enough to make a revisit worthwhile.
21. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
I have seen this film multiple times now for this project alone and I still find it unmemorable. On paper, there is some great stuff in director John Glenn’s first film (he was second unit director for many before this). There are fantastic action scenes throughout with plentiful ski scenes, car chases, underwater peril and an epic finale as Bond climbs up to the villain’s mountain-top hideout. The stunt team - as with all of the films to be fair - were unbelievable and in this one they really earned their pay.
However, I really struggle to find the main villain Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover) an interesting character and even the main villain lair I find plain and lacking in comparison to what has come before (this was the film that followed Moonraker which was dripping in fantastic set designs and exterior locations).
Of course, this might be the point. After all, this was their attempt to bring Bond back down to the Fleming-esque version after the dizzying heights of Moonraker and so the majority of the comedy and farce was stripped out. I respect this and in some ways do quite enjoy seeing this version with Moore however you can almost see him wanting to break out and adlib a cheeky one-liner or whip out a Q branch gadget created specifically for the unlikely predicament he's been landed.
It doesn’t help that Bill Conti’s disco score gives the film a light and breezy feel when the tone they were going for was slightly darker than the typical Moore era. I do wonder how I would feel if this was one of John Barry’s scores considering how much of his soundtracks have elevated my enjoyment of otherwise very flawed films. Sheena Easton’s title theme is also decent but not one of my standout favourites.
But the main complaint I have with this film is the pre-title section - in which I went into in great detail in my Worst Pre-Titles Ranking list - and how it again feels completely discordant to the rest of the film. Dropping an un-named Blofeld stand-in down a large industrial chimney to comedy foley crashing sounds? Not my idea of the beginnings of a gritty adventure and comes off as petty if you know the background behind the Spectre legal troubles.
And that does the initial bottom five! I should really get back to editing the podcasts now for the group’s consensus ranking of the films. Once that has been uploaded, I will share my own middle tier ten ranked Bond films.
Until then, enjoy the rest of our Bond content! If you haven't listened to our group ranking of the worst Bond films, check it out here below!