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Ranking Bond - Fran's List

James Bond, then. You know, I had always considered myself to be a bit of a Bond fan. Certainly, I was young during a period of time in which the franchise was peaking – helped not inconsiderably by games such as Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64 – a game that I, and my friends, played to the point of exhaustion and (dare I say) a burgeoning obsessiveness. I recall, too, being taken to a James Bond exhibition in Glasgow with my father and recognising almost everything there (the stacks of props all over the place) and thinking to myself – I reckon I’ll dig out the Bond videos when I get home and watch a couple. Videos I had been given by my uncle, who’d bought them in the 80s, mainly spanning the Moore era: his era of Bond, in contrast to my own experience growing up during the Brosnan years. Suffice it to say, I have some familiarity with Bond.

When Kapeesh started the Bond Daft Project, I finally encountered a true classic Bond fan – the inimitable Gordon Webster. Where Steve McCaul, Mr. Barry and myself had various levels of exposure to the franchise, Gordon was every bit the aficionado of everything Bond. In fact, I saw parallels between his Bond fandom and my own experience with Star Trek: very much wrapped up in childhood memories. Not the later childhood and teenage memories exclusively, but the deeper more formative ones that shape who you are as a person and leave you with a protective, almost traditionalist view. It was interesting and – I dare say – crucial to have that perspective on the cast itself. Once again I recognised this view, having myself been unhappy about changes to Star Trek canon and tone in recent years.

The Project itself was an epic undertaking. Over a year of work for the four of us – though most of the time it didn’t feel like work at all. The discussions were of a high quality, I felt, honestly picking apart the flaws of the movies and – at times – our own biases. There were moments of harmony, and other moments where – such as in Red Dwarf – a couple of cast members would cluster together against the other two on some subtle point about the film in question. Little alliances that would shift and break from one cast to the next, often – but not always – culminating in a consensus.

That’s without even mentioning the ranking casts which were challenging to say the least. Lists (especially ranked ones) are hard to come up with at the best of times, but with others it becomes something else. It made me realise what it must be like to work in government, coming up with new laws and contending with a spectrum of perspectives. But we got there in the end, and enjoyably so I must say.

Mr. Barry, of course, had one more exquisite torture up his sleeve for me: to come up with my own Bond movie ranking. Not content with the group task, he has guided me back to the grindstone to squeeze out the very last ounce of movie ranking strength from the depths of my soul.

That’s a lie. Well, an exaggeration.

He asked if I’d come up with my own list of the Bond movies and I said yes. So, here we go. Take it or leave it, ladies and gentlemen (and everyone else too, of course you’re included).

A note: I am not going to deconstruct these movies – I will simply give a flavour of what each film is to me personally. There will be memories of first seeing the films, other personal experiences as well as a very liberal dose of my own opinion.

25. Die Another Day (2002)

Oh dear. Giant ice fortress? Terrible CGI? Awful jokes? The less said about Die Another Day the better. To be honest, it should be renamed Watch Another Day. A mantra that should be repeated every day. (Groans.) All right, I'm going to have to explain a bit more aren't I? Well, rather than dissecting the train-wreck that Die Another Day represents, I'd rather explain what happened when I first saw it in the cinema - I sighed a lot, over and over again, and I walked out of the theatre feeling a bit depressed. Bearing in mind that I was sixteen years old and a pretty enthusiastic youngster, it was quite the achievement for Die Another Day to make me feel this way. I have no doubt that the film made many, many others feel the same - a sad impression for an utter failure of a movie. Note: I DID like the North Korean torture intro, but the music just made it feel silly.

24. A View to a Kill (1985)

Moore is so old in this film that it might actually fit into the 'zombie movie' genre. As much as I love Moore and his era, this was one movie too far. Patently absurd at times (not least a scene where Bond is waiting in bed for a woman to ravish him), it still somehow has some charm - and an intensely played villain (I'm looking at you, Walken). I was also pleased to see the ever enjoyable General Gogol make another appearance in the franchise. Aside from a few admittedly enjoyable performances and scenes, this was a film that needed a new Bond. I'd go as far as to say that I felt a little sorry for Roger Moore here - he clearly adored playing Bond, but his time was up in Octopussy. I suppose it can be hard to let go.

23. Quantum of Solace (2008)

Watching Quantum for the cast, I was able to appreciate the story and saw it as part of the 'set' of Craig films, but for this list I am looking at it on its own. Imagining, if you will, that the film is being watched in isolation. Looking at it from that perspective it is a meandering and quite frankly boring entry in the franchise. I am reminded (again, personal experience) of when I first saw the film - I took someone to see it on a date. Afterwards she described the film as "boring and confusing". I felt rather embarrassed to be honest, given that I had been confident we were in for a wild ride after Casino Royale. Even worse, I had hyped up the Bond franchise beforehand and, when the film started, we sat through the experience shifting uncomfortably in our seats. Sure, as part of the Craig narrative the film makes more sense, but that was never the point of a Bond film - they should be a thrilling, breathless spectacle that one can hop into as a complete stranger to the franchise and enjoy. In this crucial area, Quantum falls flat.

22. Moonraker (1979)

The late 1970s were suffused with movies wanting to go to space after the phenomenal success of Star Wars. This was not often wise. Moonraker is a great example of this. And yet, dammit, there's still charm to be found - Jaws, for instance, getting some depth. His strange love story and his eventual betrayal of Drax are, in the moment, touching. Michael Lonsdale, too, turns in a great performance as the aforementioned Drax - an absolutely ruthless villain. Moonraker is by no means the worst Bond movie but is far from the best, not least because - beyond the aforementioned flaws and high points - the movie itself just didn't make much of a lasting impression on me. I simply don't have much to say about it on reflection.

21. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

An enjoyable if tepid entry in the franchise, I felt that there wasn't very much actually going on in the story. If you strip out Christopher Lee (who is, undeniably, fantastic) there isn't much else to be found in this movie. What's the best way to describe it? Safe, perhaps. We get glimpses of something else - an almost romantic level of admiration from Scaramanga when it comes to Bond, which isn't explored anywhere near as much as it could have been. Unfortunately, the producers decided it would be a better idea to resurrect a certain Mr. Pepper and employ a slide whistle to destroy one of the best vehicle stunts of the series. Stupendous lack of judgement there - so bad in fact that it ruins the movie as a whole for me. Allow me to get a bit metaphorical - an upstanding man lives his whole life as a pillar of the community, donating to charity, being a good husband and father. Unfortunately in his later years he accidentally runs over a pedestrian. In a moment of madness, rather than face the consequences, he drives away. He is subsequently caught. None of his past virtues can wipe away his crime. This describes perfectly what Pepper and the slide whistle do to this movie.

20. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

I was unendingly disappointed at the continuation of the story from On Her Majesty's, if you can even call it that. For me the saviours of the movie are Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, with their kooky charm and creepy vibes. That being said it is slightly disturbing that homosexuality is - in all likelihood - paired with weirdness, perversion and villainy. That aside, I adored these henchmen. Jill St John plays Tiffany Case brilliantly - I am always pleased to see a 'Bond girl' with something about them in the 'independent thought' department. So that's another plus. Vegas itself is an excellent setting for some glitz and glamour as well as the ever present seedy underbelly. Shirley Bassey provides an iconic theme that - while it doesn't light me on fire personally - is embedded firmly into the soul of the franchise. Summing up the film? Good but not great, by a long shot.

19. You Only Live Twice (1967)

There's a lot to like about this movie - fantastic visuals (volcano base), loads of gadgets, fun galore, travelling around the world. Sadly for all the fun (and Connery being, once again, a fantastic Bond in general) the movie drops about ten places for one line from Bond: “Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?”

18. Dr. No (1962)

It's fascinating looking back at the first entry in the franchise - grittier than mid-franchise entries, edgier, and showcasing a Bond with a very cold, hard, militaristic edge to him. You can see the birth of many series traditions - and more grounded elements that would vanish for a number of films to return far later in the Craig era. The film is refreshing in that there is a genuine case to be solved by our beloved spy: we are not privy to the actions of Dr. No as an audience before Bond himself locates him, giving the film a sense of anticipation often lost in subsequent entries in the series. The formula wasn't perfected yet, though, leading to a disjointed feeling at times - hence Dr. No being a but further down this list.

17. Goldfinger (1964)

I know this movie is a firm favourite to classic Bond fans, but despite being chock full of iconic elements (from henchmen to gadgets to John Barry's music to Oddjob to "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!") there is a dated feeling here for me. The main unique feature of the movie for me is the scene in which Goldfinger seems to have constructed an entire house for the purpose of holding one elaborate meeting. A source of unending amusement for me, this certainly contributed to the film's higher placement on the list.

16. From Russia with Love (1963)

Another genuine spy thriller here, albeit with the disadvantage of the 'early Bond movie formula not being quite fully there' issue. I adore, though, the chance to follow Bond as a spy doing 'spy things' - e.g. some actual genuine espionage. The scene with the assassin (played by Robert Shaw) is about as tense as it gets. Rosa Klebb, too, is an early iconic entry into the franchise - the small, stern woman - evoked in the Austin Powers series via the unforgettable Frau Farbissina. The second entry in the franchise isn't quite 'there' though with the disjointed aspect of Dr. No still very much a detriment to the flow of the narrative.

15. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Notable in this film, for me, is the dynamic between Bond and Soviet agent Anya Amazova (played by Barbara Bach) - coloured very heavily by the fact that Bond had, earlier in the film, killed her romantic partner. I felt there was something special there that could have been explored further, but it wasn't. That being said, the movie itself was a big improvement over the previous entry in the series (The Man With The Golden Gun), which was saddled with the (personally loathed) slide whistle, among other flaws. Certainly one of the better Moore films, and following the 'formula' to a tee, we are also treated to Jaws with his almost supernatural abilities. Certainly a terrifying force to behold. As a combined piece it didn't capture my imagination somehow - but intellectually I can confidently place it at number 15.

14. The World Is Not Enough (1999)

The silliness of Brosnan's run grows and grows here - a lurching, charmless 'thing' bearing down on all of us. You know, I almost feel like they wanted to evoke Moore as the Brosnan run continued and it just didn't sit well. There's a 'lameness', too, to the movie output of certain franchises in the late 90s and early 2000s that I can't quite put my finger on. There are a few moments of edginess of course - Elektra King being killed in cold blood, for example - but they don't save the movie for me. M being kidnapped and locked in a cell has shades of Mario saving Princess Peach, too, which wipes out some of the good work done in the production and writing. That aside, the exploration of Stockholm Syndrome is at times compelling, Robert Carlyle plays a bit of a silly villain as well as he can (I mean, his injury? How is that even possible?) and - well, it's not a total disaster I suppose.

13. Thunderball (1965)

We have it all here folks! Spy thriller and wild ride - in my opinion, this is where the 'Bond formula' and feel came together. Largo makes a great villain too, and he's as twisted as they come, especially in his relationship with Domino. Makes the skin crawl. Some fantastic production work for the time too, particularly the underwater scenes which are, at times, terrifically creepy. Going back to my comment about the Bond 'feel' - I do reckon that Thunderball is where the formula for Bond (which would be present for years in later entries) really came together. By no means my favourite of the series (not daring enough for me, despite the good points) it still shines to this day.

12. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Absurd and silly intro sequence aside (Blofeld cast aside like a meaningless circus sideshow act, right down a chimney) this is a genuine romp from start to finish. In fact that's pretty much what this movie is - a series of action sequences, showcasing some astounding work from director John Glen. I don't have much of a personal connection to this film - I didn't watch it over and over on video as a kid - but I am endlessly charmed by Moore's performance. Supporting cast shine too, particularly Carole Bouquet's Malina Havelock. Nothing like a bit of revenge to get the blood pumping - and giving a Bond girl a proper motivation is a feather in the cap for this film. Very, very good stuff.

11. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Tomorrow Never Dies retains some of the grit from GoldenEye and hasn't any of the silliness of the later Brosnan era. There's a dark tone to this film without a doubt - the death of Paris Carver for instance, strikes a deeply uncomfortable note. Hard hitting. Dr. Kaufman, played by Vincent Schiavelli, is one of my favourite henchmen of all time. His scene with Bond is superb - dark comedy played out to a tee. The fact, too, that his protege Richard Stamper is so devastated by his death only adds to the enjoyment of this little side story. The cherry on top of all of this is Michelle Yeoh, who plays Chinese agent Wai Lin to utter perfection. I don't need to go into the action sequences too much (motorbikes and handcuffs?) - simply stunning. A hugely enjoyable entry from start to finish.

10. Spectre (2015)

I'm not going to lie, this movie is mainly here because of the opening sequence which in my opinion is one of the best in the series. There's also my bias towards the Craig era. But it's not perfect, by any means. I found the entire 'Blofeld is Bond's foster brother' story to be a bit fourth-wall-breaking, personally. I wasn't captured by the story as much as with other entries, but in terms of cinematography and general production, it pips the previous entries to the number 10 slot. I won't lie, it was difficult, but I have to be holistic here in my appraisals - these later movies are undeniably polished.

9. Octopussy (1983)

And yet, despite my previous comment, here we have Octopussy. This may be the Bond film I watched the most growing up. This film should have been Moore's swansong, rather than the unnecessary A View To A Kill. For me this movie is the quintessential Moore outing - quips, kooky henchmen, slightly cringe worthy romance, and an acceptable dose of silliness. We also have Q too, along for the ride at times. The number 9 slot for Octopussy is undeniably due to my personal love and affection for the movie more than its merits as a narrative, its strengths in terms of cinematography, music or anything else. Cards on the table: it's simply here because I love it.

8. The Living Daylights (1987)

Hard edge returns! Dalton should have been Bond for longer than he was - there's something of the Craig era about his run's return to the grittier, edgier Bond. That being said there are some roll-overs from the Moore era that don't sit quite right with me, and no doubt Dalton resisted (this is purely my own conjecture given what I know of the man). What's interesting about Dalton is that, more often than not, he is cast as a villain. This darker edge suits Bond very well. Story wise, we return to the 'Bond is actually a spy' theme that was lost in many the action-heavy entries preceding it. Dalton's performance and the grittier tone secure a higher-middle placement for The Living Daylights in my estimation.

7. Skyfall (2012)

I have strong memories of seeing Skyfall in the cinema while in the USA. The American audience reaction was stunning - clapping, cheering, loving every second of the film. To me Skyfall felt like an event movie - a huge, sweeping and bombastic trumpet call to Bond fans everywhere - resplendant with musical call-backs, visual references and shameless fan service. For all of this, for all the action and fun, Albert Finney steals the show as the wonderful Kincade, gamekeeper of the Bond family estate. For a character that appears once it is stunning that he secured a place in my affections as a fan. This is a credit to Finney, one of my favourite actors (particularly in 2003's Big Fish).

6. No Time to Die (2021)

A new entry and very high on the list - shocker! I'm a sucker for the daring, though, and there are shades of On Her Majesty's throughout No Time To Die - not least musically. Perhaps for the first time in the franchise we get to explore Bond as a human being - and we get, in his own words, why he does what he does. In my own words, something along the lines of: if there's bad people in the world, Bond is the sort of person who's needed to stop them. This remains true in today's world as much as when the franchise started all those years ago. The film is far from perfect but it spoke to me with it's poignancy and daring in killing the very character the franchise is named after. The supporting cast is wonderful, the score is phenomenal, the theme is compelling and the film is enjoyable from start to finish.

5. Live and Let Die (1973)

This entry is often further down on rankings. For me, Live and Let Die is another one that I watched over and over again as a kid and has a special place in my heart. Moore looks stunning - every bit the younger charmer, and the exploration of Voodoo and the supernatural element has a strangely post-1960s peace and love corrupted feel to it. A little poison in the heart of the optimism of the previous decade, expressed through uneasy esoterica. The theme is one of my very favourites from all the movies - I'm sure I don't need to go into huge detail about it, given its iconic status. Some of the silliness with a certain police officer irritates many viewers, while once again this for me is linked heavily with childhood enjoyment. As often is the case with older Bond entries, the film does sadly irritate when Bond manipulates a very young Solitaire into bed via a pack of cards.

4. Licence to Kill (1989)

Bit of a controversial one this - but I loved it. I'm a big fan of Dalton's era - he brought a real edge back to Bond. What really pushes this film higher for me though was the inclusion of a 'team' feeling - we had the 'edge' of Dalton with some of the ensemble antics, evocative of the Moore era. Who with a human heart wouldn't feel some form of warmth inside watching Q giving it his best? Some might call it pandering - I don't care. If it's pandering, sign me up. That being said the movie isn't perfect. For example, while Pam Bouvier is undeniably a bit of a 'badass', the writing fails her at times - such as her jealousy over other woman taking even a passing interest in Bond.

3. GoldenEye (1995)

Ah, GoldenEye - a movie inextricably linked to GoldenEye 64 in my mind. I don't doubt that its high placement in this list comes from this childhood association. That being said GoldenEye itself is almost a little brother to Casino Royale - there was a grittiness to the film, a pared down and harsher quality remaining from the Dalton era. A quality I adored, of course, hence that eras high placement on the list too. Of particular note is the music in GoldenEye - the spooky, poignant, almost ghostly tones of a recently crumbled Soviet Union. GoldenEye straddled the end of the Cold War and the sunny 1990s perfectly, somehow crystallising in film that 'thing' we all felt at the time. From possible horror to optimism and excitement, and yet the undertones of unease remain. A great film.

2. Casino Royale (2006)

Of course this is going to be up here for me. Casino Royale is almost the dictionary definition of 'refreshing' - and an excellent example of two ideas - the first, that 'less is more' and the second being 'let's get back to basics'. The Brosnan era sadly spiralled into a vortex of absurdity which, personally, began to turn me off of the franchise. Casino Royale was a wild handbrake turn back into realism, high stakes and sharp writing.

1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

It's no secret to those who listened to the podcast that I adored this movie the first time around and more so on watching it as a group. In terms of story this film was as daring as it gets - especially with the ending in which Bond's new bride is murdered. Musically compelling (the theme is beautiful and certainly informs later entries in the series with a wistful quality), a great villain (Terry Savalas almost brings a gangster-ish quality to Blofeld) and a strong female lead in Diana Rigg are all attributes that contribute to this being my very favourite of all the Bond films. As a final note, despite No Time To Die making this a challenge, I still think this would have made a brilliant end to Bond's run - losing his wife - suffusing the end of his story with tragedy. Ah, well.

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