Updated: a day ago
The pre-titles section is one of the iconic staples of a Bond film. It sets the tone and ideally gets the audience jazzed up for the rest of the movie. They can range from self-contained mini action films with little connecting thread to the main plot or they can be a direct set-up for the story to follow.
Ever since 1963’s From Russia With Love introduced the first cold opening of the series as Spectre agent Red Grant (Robert Shaw) pursued and killed another henchman wearing Sean Connery’s face as a mask, audiences have been gifted some truly fantastic opening sections. Some have leaned into the mystery and devious schemes of the villains, others have focussed on the reveal of a new Bond and – in the case of The Man With the Golden Gun – some have ignored Bond completely to showcase the villain.
There is no right or wrong way to do it, as such. Well, actually in the case of the below six, there very much is a wrong way to do it. With a long running film series that has spanned nearly six decades, there were bound to be a few misfires.
And as we here at Kapeesh have released our podcasts ranking the best three and worst three as a collective, I thought I would air my own personal list of favourites either end of the collection. So, beginning this article from number 18, I have ranked the weakest six pre-titles and given a rating out of five for each one.
So, without further ado, here are my least favourites of the series. Enjoy!
18. Moonraker (1979) - Rating 3/5
It feels unfair putting this as low as this. Of its total five minutes nine seconds the first four minutes 55 seconds are astounding. From the opening shots of space with a shuttle that has a Moonraker space rocket connected to it, the eerie John Barry score creeps in when two villains unveil themselves from hiding and strap into the Moonraker cockpit to initiate blast-off. The unsuspecting NASA pilots are killed instantly as the blast explodes their shuttle.
Quick cut to M in his office as he is delivered the bad news and then Moneypenny mentions 007 is ‘on his last leg’. Another quick cut to Bond with an unnamed lady, caressing her leg. However, he is interrupted as she and the pilot pull guns on him. Moore effortlessly quips that it was all a little premature but after a scuffle the pilot is shoved out the plane with his parachute and as Bond looks out he is then thrust out the plane himself by an amazingly hidden Jaws, returning from The Spy Who Loved Me.
Bond - falling through the sky with no ‘chute - spots the pilot and dives towards him and they tussle mid-air. The two fight and Bond wrestles the parachute off the pilot and just as things seem to be looking rosy for 007, we spot Jaws diving towards him. At this moment the classic Bond theme kicks back into gear. In another tremendous display of stunt choreography as the two meet in the air, our hero uses his wits and pulls the parachute to escape the metal teeth as Jaws continues to fall towards land.
And in the last 14 seconds the breathtaking stunts, fantastic cinematography and tight editing are wasted as Jaws realises his parachute cord has been cut and flaps his arms as the wide-shot shows him plummeting into a massive circus tent accompanied by the slap-stick comedy clown music. FOURTEEN SECONDS.
19. You Only Live Twice (1967) - Rating 3/5
This is in three parts. The first section is actually fantastic. Opening with shots of space and routine astronaut work as they communicate with the ground teams at NASA, an unidentified flying object appears. John Barry’s orchestral score swells and underpins the dread as the astronauts realise it’s another space ship which is veering right towards them. The side-on shot shows the larger ship opening up and swallowing the smaller American one and cutting the cord which connected one of the astronauts whom had vacated moments earlier. As the ship leaves the shot, we are left with the lingering astronaut floating aimlessly in space, a cinematically beautiful and simultaneously nightmarish image.
The second section shows the global fallout as the United Nations bicker over who is to blame, namely the US pointing fingers at the Russians. The UK minister, acting as an intermediary, mentions that intelligence reports show the large aircraft was spotted around the seas of Japan and that their man in Hong Kong is currently working on it.
We then cut to a short post-coitus moment with Bond and Ling, in which Connery ponders – in a dialogue sequence that hasn’t aged well - why Chinese woman taste different from other women. It’s a short exchange as moments later she triggers a mechanism on the bed so that he is sprung backwards into the wall and then a slew of men appear to riddle the wall with bullets. Afterwards a police team appear and confirm he is dead but he died on the ‘job’; the way he would have wanted.
Overall this is a gripping opening for the film but is slightly let down by its cringe-worthy opening line from Connery. Logically, it also raises questions. Connery is showing bleeding on the bed – was it fake blood? Was the entire thing a ruse and everyone but Ling was in on it? Were the police fooled too and Bond was able to somehow play dead very effectively? This was something Brosnan’s Bond did in Die Another Day so maybe a special skill a OO Agent learns? Either way it’s brushed off rather quickly to get the plot moving but feels like it could have been handled a bit better.
20. The World Is Not Enough (1999) - Rating 3/5
This opening is the longest pre-titles of any Bond film, clocking in at over 14 minutes. It’s interesting as the director Michael Apted had initially wanted this to be a brief and snappy introduction that only included the Bilbao meeting with the Swiss banker and it would end at the moment Bond escapes out the window. On showing this version to test audiences it was widely decried as ‘underwhelming’ and so it was re-edited to include the MI6 meeting with Judi Dench’s M and David Calder’s Sir Robert King. But this also included the ensuing MI6 bomb explosion and subsequent lengthy boat chase sequence around the Thames, culminating in Bond falling from a hot air balloon onto the Millennium Dome.
Individually, most of the scenes are fine and I do really like the banker section as it is vastly different from the previous two mission openings for Brosnan’s Bond. It feels more grounded in reality than some of the other movie openings as it is a simple undercover transaction (which, naturally, ends with many dead henchmen).
However, the MI6 scene feels undercooked as Bond instantly figures out what has happened with the money and King’s lapel whereas if it had happened after the main title theme it might have had more time to develop. Having not only that but all of the insanity of the boat chase sequence as Bond chases the ‘cigar girl’ through fish markets and all sorts to the eventual climax it becomes too bloated as an opening to the film.
Not awful as such, just too long and convoluted.
21. A View to a Kill (1985) - Rating - 3/5
Action scenes with Bond skiing have been done before (and arguably better) in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only. It feels at this point that they returned to the same well too often and that the franchise was coasting a little. It’s what likely makes Dalton’s first outing so refreshing after this.
However, I would argue the film in general is maligned more than it should be as I love Walken’s villain Max Zorin, Grace Jones’s Mayday and even Moore’s performance feels like it was stretching at points (and yes, he was pushing it at age 57 but it’s only really an issue because they cast such young actresses for him to bed.) Anyways, this is beside the point.
This pre-titles feels like the blu-print for what Mike Myers would use over ten years later for his Austin Powers series. It starts decent enough with Bond finding the corpse of 003 and retrieving the locket but then is spotted by enemies in a helicopter (because, of course they are in a helicopter). The action starts with Moore’s stunt double cleverly evading all manner of gunfire and pulling off impressive feats.
Then the throwaway Beach Boys California Girls cover track suddenly interrupts John Barry’s fantastic electronic score as Bond snowboard drop-kicks one goon and leads the rest on a hectic chase. After despatching them using his wits and a handy flare gun he then spots the Union Jack-blazoned Iceberg boat with his very young and beautiful accomplice inside. Naturally, he opens the champagne and then wastes no time as he makes moves on her but crucially not before putting the iceberg boat on auto-pilot.
Ultimately, it’s an average opening but mainly ruined for the music switch-up - which was clearly done for comic effect but fails miserably - and the general sense of déjà-vu.
22. For Your Eyes Only (1981) - Rating 2/5
With a promising start as Roger Moore’s Bond is seen paying tribute over his dead wife’s grave - a fleeting but encouraging nod to continuity - it descends rather quickly as our spy is tricked into entering a helicopter that is being remote-controlled by an unnamed neck-brace wearing bald man in a wheelchair. Amidst sweeping shots as the ‘copter flies aimlessly around and the pilot is murdered with an electric shock, Bond at first struggles to climb into the newly vacated cockpit but eventually arrests control over the situation and – with odds that would make even the most cocksure gambler squirm - actually swings by to pick up the wheelchair villain mid-flight.
After some, admittedly, decent stunt work and model shots, the scene ends with one of the most surreal lines of dialogue in the history of film, as the bald villain hanging from the ‘copter barters with Bond, offering ‘a delicatessen in stainless steel!’ This doesn’t do much for 007 as he – after making a lazy ‘bald’ joke - then drops our villain into a large industrial chimney to the sound of him screaming ‘MRR BONNDD!’ followed by some unconvincing foley work to simulate the wheelchair crashing down. And THAT is what precedes Sheena Easton’s title song.
Tonally, this is a strange beginning for this film. For Your Eyes Only is the more serious of Moore’s run as they tried to bring the character back down to reality after the dizzying farce that Moonraker became. Although, Moore wasn’t keen on this humour-less take; you can tell from his performance that he wanted to bring out the laughs in each scene and this opening feels like a concession to him from the film-makers. The dramatic initial minutes morph into slapstick when Tom Conti’s score kicks in and it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the film.
But more obviously, this was clearly a scene manufactured to get one over the bane of the Broccoli family, Kevin McClory. For brevity’s sake, I will forgo explaining the entire Thunderball/Spectre legal troubles but the character Blofeld was legally owned by him at this point as well as use of the Spectre organisation and so the film-makers could only infer that it was him (the bald head, grey tunic, menacing voice and stroking a white cat are fair giveaways). It was their approach to making fun of the character and showing that he wasn’t needed anymore but ultimately comes off as petty and misjudged.
23. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) - Rating 1/5
How do you follow up the series’ most heart-wrenching moment with that ending of OHMSS (you know, the murder of the new Mrs Bond)? A Kurosawa/Kill Bill-like opening comes to mind, with a bloodthirsty, murdering, Bond-on-the-hunt?
Not quite, it seems. With Connery returning to the role as well as director Guy Hamilton trying to emulate the pizzazz and flair of Goldfinger, what we got was instead a disinterested Connery roughly manhandling a bikini-clad young woman, tumbling around with some stuntmen and then culminating with a strange confrontation with a man pretending to be Blofeld (a Blofeld that has inexplicably morphed into the smirking Charles Gray).
If you can ignore the awful dubbing as Connery opens the film, unseen, simply asking where Ernst Stavro Blofeld is to some unknown grunt, if you can ignore the weird editing as Connery seems to float towards the young lady and then hastily jump-cuts as it switches locations, if you can ignore the whole face-switching reveal and if you can ignore the underwhelming ‘mud pie’ fight then you will still be deflated by this opening. This is not how you follow up a film that previously ended with your main character’s wife’s murder. Awful.
And that is the list, folks! Feel free to comment and share yours. I will also eventually get round to completing the rest of the list to reach my favourite of the pre-titles sequences.
But until then I would love to hear your lists - we can at least agree on Diamonds Are Forever, right?