Ranking Bond - Steve B's Middle Ten Films
Updated: May 5, 2022
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.
I will forgo giving much of a preamble to this on the basis that it's late as I type this and I already did it for the Bottom 5 list.
For anyone interested in knowing the bottom five without actually checking out that link and reading the rationale for each choice, here is the list below:
25. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
24. Die Another Day (2002)
23. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
22. You Only Live Twice (1967)
21. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
And now, on to the middle ten films in which I have ranked the Bond films and given a star rating out of five.
20. Octopussy (1983)
This was a film I seemed to be on the opposing side of during the podcasts. The others found this one to be a movie that deftly handled regular switches in tone from camp lightheartedness to grim seriousness. I on the other hand found its change-ups to be too erratic and lacking in restraint.
The second of John Glen’s directorial outings is still a fun film by most measures in that it has a plentiful amount of action scenes (the pre-titles is a little long but thrilling; the climactic aeroplane stunts are incredible), attractive jet-setting and some interesting characters to mix it up with the ageing Moore. I also enjoy the returning Maud Adams’ Octopussy, a jewel smuggling businesswomen who is neither a clear villain nor on the true good side. Plus there is a typically brilliant John Barry score that really underpins the menace of the Soviet era.
But, in with all of that is the over-the-top General Orlov, Moore prancing about in a clown outfit, gorilla and alligator disguises and making a Tarzan scream as he swings from jungle vines. The India setting is otherwise well used but the dialogue could have aged immeasurably better if they had cut the ‘that’ll keep you in curry’ line. I also find the title theme for this one to be a bit of a dirge. Rita Coolidge’s All Time High written by Barry is actually one of the All Time Lows in my Bond theme song rankings.
19. Spectre (2015)
The pre-title scene is absolutely thrilling. Returning director Sam Mendes and director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema’s camera tracks Craig’s Bond in disguise as he manoeuvres through a Mexican Day of the Dead festival, then out to a lush apartment nearby as he seems to romance an unknown female before quickly disregarding her and grabbing an assault rifle to skulk across rooftops for his target. This culminates in a terrific action sequence involving Bond precariously fighting his target within a spinning helicopter before he wins and flies off. All of this to Thomas Newman’s fantastic orchestral score which utilises the Bond theme early on to really bring this section home.
But, unfortunately the rest of the film does not match this level of quality. Craig’s penultimate film was intended to be his final until its mixed reception on release convinced him on doing one more. With the Spectre rights now squarely back with the Eon producers it was time to bring back Bond’s old nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. However, as menacing as Christophe Waltz is – and well suited to the Bond villain tunic, with no socks either – it is all undone by writers Purvis and Wade’s decision to reveal that Bond and Blofeld are step brothers. It’s at this point a lazy and contrived way to derive emotion between characters when a familial link is revealed. The Empire Strikes Back did it best and was released in 1980 – we have seen this become a trope over the last forty years and only generates a groan from me when I think of Blofeld recounting how they grew up together. Not to mention cheaply retconning the previous Craig films as well as his farcical over-plotted scheme and over-the-top theatrics.
But, it’s got some great characters in Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann and tough henchman Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista) with the latter engaging in an intense train fight with our super spy lead. It’s not a particularly humorous film but does have some great cinematography and style, and Sam Smith’s falsetto-style title theme will not be everyone’s taste but the instrumentation is grand and ominous that I have come to enjoy it.
18. A View To A Kill (1985)
John Glen’s third directed film seems to move the most in my rankings. On first rewatching it as part of the project I fairly enjoyed it with particular love for Christopher Walken’s maniacal villain Max Zorin (always terrific) and his tough henchwomen/lover Mayday (Grace Jones). It has a fantastic ‘80s score from composer John Barry and an absolutely belting title song from Duran Duran (despite the actual titles imagery looking a little dated). To top it off there is a thrilling finale atop Zorin’s airship and Golden Gate Bridge which still holds up for intensity.
However, on rewatching the film again for my research for the Ranking episodes I found it a little dull especially in the mid-section as Bond is working alongside Tanya Roberts’ Stacey Sutton. The ridiculous fire truck sequence with 007 fighting nonsensically with the LAPD feels like it could be cut completely and wouldn’t harm the film. Also, the plot doesn’t make too much sense and even feels too familiar (destroy Silicon Valley! Monopolise it for Zorin to be the only tech baron around!) Change a few words like ‘tech’ to ‘gold’ and you have the Goldfinger plot.
Then, there is the elephant in the room (the rather aged elephant in this case). Roger Moore was criticised in contemporary reviews for his age playing the suave secret agent especially as the action scenes became more prevalent. But, where it stands out is the fact he seems to be more successful in the romance department in this film than any other, with Moore’s elderly agent bedding four throughout the two hour ten minute lead time. And, this wouldn’t be so icky if they weren’t all young twenty-something’s (Moore was 58 at this point). Yikes!
It’s a film that can be enjoyed as the end of an era – with a final performance from mainstay Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny and Moore also departing, it signified the closure of his lighthearted take on the character. It’s not his best or his worst (despite his own critique saying so) and any film which has a scene with a businessman being escorted out of a meeting via being dropped from an air blimp in the sky, gets a few points from me.
17. Moonraker (1979)
If Casino Royale is the pinnacle of Bond as a grounded spy story, then Moonraker is the defining point of farce and slap-stick hijinks. Sure, there are others which run for its money like Die Another Day but returning director Lewis Gilbert’s final 007 film mostly carries it off.
Beginning with that tantalising pre-credits sequence with Bond tussling mid-air with Richard Kiel’s Jaws (we’ll get to him), this film has a plethora of extravagant action scenes, exotic locations and is resplendent with Ken Adam’s set designs. It’s also decorated throughout with a memorable John Barry score and features one of the most mega maniacal villains in Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) with a plot that takes 007 into outer space and features a space laser battle with the American NASA (marines?) and Drax’s army. Read that back and tell me this is still a spy story.
Lois Chiles is a fantastic addition as well, with her doctor Holly Goodhead (yup, groan) actually being able to handle herself in hand-to-hand combat (this was still the ‘70s, mind, so was relatively novel) and Roger Moore carries the dry humour perfectly. That’s actually one of its secret strengths – the film is so farcical with Drax’s ludicrous schemes and murder attempts that each one becomes subtly funnier. He even references it with a line to Bond with hilarious monotone. Some are obvious moments looking for a laugh (Venice gondola-coffin knife-man) but some less so and it’s the strength of these moments that builds towards the insanity of the final battle in space which forgoes all logistics of space travel for cinematic panache.
However, there is a lack of restraint with the cheap laughs and nearly always surrounding the returning Jaws. In the previous film, he was a terrifying prospect – a seemingly unkillable henchman who could appear when least suspected. Whereas, for his return the writers dialled up his misfortune around Bond so that every time he appears he gets flattened, crushed or in one instance dropped into a circus tent with accompanying silly music. It demeans the fear factor he had previously and by the end of the film is Bond’s lunk-headed buddy and even gets a girlfriend (it makes sense on reflection that they did this because young children had written into the writers saying they loved Jaws but wanted him to be friends with our super spy). Sigh.
So, it’s a film that I can find many things to admire yet equally groan at but it’s ultimately an enjoyable viewing.
16. The World Is Not Enough (1999)
The general trajectory of Brosnan’s Bond tenure is a steady decline. Beginning with one of the greatest Bond films of all time in 1995’s GoldenEye, and then a relatively exciting action flick in Tomorrow Never Dies that somehow didn’t have that lasting appeal, the following sequel was again a mixed bag of terrific action but silly humour and writing. And, I have already covered his last film previously so won’t repeat its many, many failings. Cough! Invisible car. Cough!
One of its strengths was the power couple idea. With the face of the marketing showing Renard (Robert Carlyle) as the main adversary prior to release, it was a genuine surprise when the actual brains behind the operation was Electra King (an exquisite Sophie Marceau) with their admittedly complicated plot concocted as a nice two-hander for Bond.
Renard is, also admittedly, not the greatest. Carlyle does his best but the character has a ridiculous back-story with a bullet slowly penetrating his brain and making him feel no pain or sensations, coupled with his lack of screen time with Bond that by the end of the film he feels more like a glorified henchman.
However, Marceau is terrific as the spoiled heiress to a business empire and her chemistry with Brosnan is genuinely captivating. By the time the reveal of her treachery is upon us, Bond has a dilemma where he has to kill a villain that he has romantic feelings for (which I suspect is not something he had to deal with previously with Hugo Drax). And King’s teasing of Bond and playing with his emotions adds to this dynamic.
In other areas, it ticks the boxes we need. I enjoyed the snow mobile action sequence even though that setting was a little overdone by the franchise at this point. It has the final scene with Q which has a touching moment ‘always plan your escape route’. Of course, the less said about Cleese’s slapstick introduction as R, the better.
Denise Richards gets a lot of flak for her performance as Dr. Christmas Jones and I still believe the writers and costume designers are the real issue. The name is tacky and clearly used solely as a means to have the sleazy joke at the end of the film. She is mostly given exposition with barely any character development and the costume team seemed to think Lara Croft was the character she was playing instead of a nuclear physicist.
As much as the bloated pre-titles section was in my worst five of the franchise, it still has some decent action and intensity and Garbage’s title theme is an absolute banger. I also enjoy David Arnold’s score so there are many things to love about this film amidst where it falls flat with its plot and broad comedic moments.
15. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
It seems this film more than any other has had a critical revaluation over the years and is now looked on fondly as a ‘Bond fan’s Bond film’. However, it wasn’t always like that. Having been seen as a bit of a disappointment following the Connery years and new audiences not completely won over by the new 007 in George Lazenby, it was the reason the producers Broccoli and Saltzman rehired Sir Sean for Diamonds are Forever two years later. Yet, director Peter Hunt’s slavish devotion to Fleming’s source material is one of the key aspects which many Bond fans now cling to as well as its rejection of the silly gadgets and humour which was starting to pervade the series.
I admire many things about this film. For starters, John Barry’s instrumental title song is incredible and could perhaps match the Monty Norman theme for its evocation of what makes a song sound ‘Bondian’. As with all of Barry’s scores, this one is also terrific and really adds to the film’s chilly atmosphere.
However, Dianna Rigg is the stand-out performance as her Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vincenzo is every bit Bond’s match in this film and you can genuinely believe he would give up his womanising ways for her hand in marriage. She is a delight from the first introduction, can hold her own in a fight and was the driver in a fantastic action set piece which saw her taking the lead as Bond sat in the passenger seat. This mirrored the dynamic on set as well as the seasoned Rigg was the guiding force for the newcomer Lazenby who had previously only been in a couple of commercials.
Yet, it’s not all brilliant. Hunt’s film sticks too close to the source material as Fleming’s silly plot about female assassins being hypnotised comes off as contrived and essentially a feeble way to have Bond mingle with beautiful ladies and he even romances one which could be perceived as taking advantage. On top of that, the core focus of the story should really have been the blossoming romance of Bond and Rigg’s Tracy so it deducts from that love story having him sleep around with other women.
Additionally, Telly Savalas’ Blofeld is physically imposing however the chemistry isn’t quite right between himself and Lazenby and compounded further by an over-the-top third-act action sequence with Bond chasing Blofeld down a bob sled chute.
However, it almost wipes off those flaws with the utterly brilliant final scene in which newlyweds Mr and Mrs Bond are shot at by Blofeld’s assassin and it’s revealed that Tracy was killed. Lazenby is fantastic in this scene and really sells the emotion as Bond cradles his dead wife, tear streaming his face. The silence of the scene is also deafening; no scene in the entire franchise has ever dealt with such a moment of raw sensitivity and it’s easy to see why people could place this film higher.
14. Quantum of Solace (2008)
This is the film I have seen the least. Yet, the way it is spoken of by most critics or Bond fans, my expectations going in were supremely low. So, to my surprise I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed its fast pacing, break-neck action sequences and brutality. It’s a Bond movie that is steeped in our reality and feels the antithesis of the sillier Moore era. The novelty of a film directly connected to the preceding film (Casino Royale) also gives it some emotional heft from the start (although, arguably the reason this entry in the franchise is derided is mostly because of those exact comparisons).
True, director Marc Forster’s film doesn’t match up in that the villain Dominic Green (played by Mathieu Amalric) is forgettable compared to Mads Mikkelson’s Le Chiffre, the character interplay is largely unmemorable and there isn’t the sense of style and confidence that Martin Campbell’s preceding film oozed.
But, the opening pre-title sequence packs a punch with its (at times slightly frenetic) car chase/crash and then the title theme song by Jack White and Alicia Keys kicks in with an absolutely pounding guitar riff that I enjoy more with each listen.
It’s by no means an absolute classic but it’s still a stellar gritty spy adventure and Daniel Craig carries off the vengeful agent absolutely perfectly.
13. Live and Let Die (1973)
First off, the title theme by Paul McCartney and Wings as well as the overall score by George Martin are both supremely good. This is top tier stuff. I have praised the undeniable talents of John Barry many times throughout these write-ups but Martin’s effort for this film really matches if not surpasses some of Barry’s music. To seamlessly blend the world of Bond with the sound of ‘70s soul and funk was an incredible achievement and topped off with an epic remix of the Monty Norman title theme, the overall sound of this film is magnificent.
Roger Moore’s first official outing as the super spy was a success at the time and I do really enjoy his lighter touch. The New Orleans/Harlem setting gives a different vibe to the film and as much as it was part of the Blaxploitation era with its cultural stereotypes and dialogue, it at least gave us the franchise’s first black villains and ‘Bond girl’ (Rosie Carver, played by Gloria Hendry) which is ludicrous – although, not surprising - considering it was the eighth film in the series.
The villains in particular are phenomenal with all sorts of interesting quirks. The henchman trio of Whisper (Earl Jolly Brown), Tee Hee (Julias W. Harris) and the supernatural Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder) are a delight in equally menacing and comedic ways. But Yaphet Kotto’s drug-trafficking boss Kananga/ Mr Big is the stand-out with plenty menace and nearly as much charisma as the film’s leading man. It’s unfortunate though that he is given a preposterously cartoonish death as Bond forces him to swallow a compressed gas pellet which literally inflates his body and blows him up.
The joy of this film is mostly in the first third in which Bond is in ‘detective mode’, scoping out Mr Big’s hideouts. Director Guy Hamilton and writer Tom Mankiewicz delightfully portrays Bond multiple times being fooled by the villains in the Fillet of Soul club as each time he takes a seat he is whisked somewhere else. The costume department also really aided Moore in looking suave as he arguably does look his best in this movie.
However, there are undeniable areas where this film has aged. Hamilton deals with multiple tropes which have become problematic as time has gone on. With a film dealing with a majority cast of black actors (correct choice and very welcomed), there is the issue that nearly all are villains. There are two characters (a Harlem detective and Quarrel Jr) that make very small appearances to negate this otherwise uncomfortable observation. Where this could have been avoided is by casting Gloria Hendry in the part of Solitaire and Jane Seymour for Rosie Carver. It would have been a different dynamic perhaps but would have prevented the next tropes of the ‘white women being held captive from her black oppressors’ and Bond as the ‘White Saviour’.
The treatment of Solitaire is fraught with poor writing choices. In the novel, she is white but with mixed French and Haitian nationality, and writer Mankiewicz did initially switch her to a black character however the United Artists president rejected the idea knowing there were multiple countries at that time that would have an issue with Bond romancing her this way. On top of that, they created the notion that she had to be a virgin for her tarot card reading powers to work and so that explains why Mr Big has not been able to sleep with her (again, this would have been an issue for certain audiences at the time). This change feeds into the well worn trope that women’s virtue is mainly in their innocence and purity, an issue that is never presented for male characters.
We also have a scene in which Moore manipulates Solitaire’s vulnerability by having all Lover cards in a deck symbolising their love-making is inevitable (admittedly, it is comedic with 007 written on the back of every card and the idea that Q Branch would have anticipated this requirement to produce them). So, our lead hero has essentially manipulated a very young and vulnerable woman into bed with him for our entertainment and it does feel like there could have been a more elegant way in which our spy could have gotten information from her.
Aside all of that, the film has a lengthy car/boat chase sequence which really does drag the second act of the film, combined with the first appearance of the redneck cop Sheriff Pepper who may have been hilarious in the ‘70s spluttering and fuming as Bond repeatedly gets the better of him, but nowadays is more groan-worthy.
If you can get past all of that, the film is genuinely entertaining and the repeated use of the Wings title theme is a master stroke of genius.
12. Thunderball (1965)
As a kid growing up, I found this film dull with overly long underwater sequences and sedate action. On my reviewing for this project my opinion has changed dramatically. Yes, second unit director/editor Peter Hunt’s underwater sequences are still a little on the long side but they are absolutely gorgeous to behold.
Having now familiarised myself with the chronology of the series, I can recognise where this film (coupled with Goldfinger) has shaped the legacy of the succeeding movies in the franchise as well as outside. Its mega maniacal ‘bribe the world with nuclear weapons’ plot might be very Austin Powers now but it was novel back in the mid ‘60s. Fiona Volpe is also the series’ first femme fatale character; a deadly delight of sex appeal and cunning which makes her feel like she wouldn’t be out of place in film noir.
Director Terrence Young’s third and final 007 outing is much more bombastic than his previous two and is clearly more in the style of Guy Hamilton’s Goldfinger. The colour palette is exquisite, the locations in the Bahamas breath-taking and the budget clearly on show with Ken Adams’ extravagant set designs.
Connery is still on fine form in this picture, his last of the original run where he looked like he was truly invested. His chemistry with Domino (Claudine Auger) is palpable and there are some great one-liners: ‘think he got the point’. I find Largo is a decent villain (Adolfo Celli) in that he isn’t particularly awful but also not of the highest calibre of Bond nemesis.
There is a section in the first act which doesn’t age well, unfortunately. Bond is saved by the health farm nurse from near death and in repayment he sexually assaults and blackmails her into sleeping with him. It’s almost throw-away stuff in that it is very early on but it’s definitely not a scene we will be seeing in the Bond films going forward.
If my praise for John Barry’s scores is becoming repetitive at this point, then I can only apologise as this title theme (sung by Tom Jones) and soundtrack are absolutely brilliant. The score particularly gives the underwater sections an air of otherworldly menace and mystique and his use of the 007 theme I really enjoy.
All of these elements combined to make a film which was an effortless successor to Goldfinger yet still tied to Fleming’s version of events and when compared to the Kevin McClory film of the same plot Never Say Never Again (caused by the infamous Spectre legal fallout) you can see where it could have been truly awful.
11. - Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
This was the first Bond film I ever saw in a cinema and the first in which I was aware of the franchise to be excited for its release. It followed after a few months of playing GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 and suddenly having the whole Bond world opened up to me through visiting exhibitions and renting the films.
Compared to its predecessor, it’s in many ways an inferior film. The plot about a begrudged media mogul starting World War 3 –although, more prescient now – was ridiculous at the time. It’s also less a film of Bond being a detective spy and more an all-out action hero. As a kid growing up I didn’t mind that, but can now see why it’s not a favourite of most true Bond fans.
However, I really enjoy Brosnan in this title. His sheer charisma makes him so enjoyable in most of the scenes and he even gets a nice dynamic with Teri Hatcher’s Mrs Carver, in that they have a shared history to play off. The scene in which he awaits her arrival in the hotel room as he sits looking livid, whisky glass in hand and shirt button undone, is something we didn’t see in GoldeneEye, let alone most Bond films.
The dynamic with Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin, a Chinese Spy also targeting the main villain, is a slow burn but equally satisfying as they begin to work together. Her character is terrific in that she is a powerful martial artist with as much skills with weapons as Bond and so the two of them are a formidable duo in the second half’s more action-oriented scenes. She also has her own Q-Branch-style lab with hilarious Chinese-centric gadgets and weapons which Bond humbly acknowledges to be equally impressive.
Their character interplay is even evident in the fantastic motorbike/helicopter chase sequence through the shanty village in Vietnam when in the midst of skirting busy roads and rooftops they are competing to take the lead of the bike. There is some great subtle comedy amidst the wonderfully intense action in this scene that is on a par with the tank chase in St. Petersburg in the previous film.
Director Roger Spottiswoode’s film has a more modern, forward-looking feel in set design and colour palette - especially when compared to GoldenEye’s drabber Soviet era aesthetic - which gives it a completely different vibe. Both are suitable for their respective films and TND being a film with a media/tech mogul, it does fit the sleeker vibe.
Though, I have mixed feelings on lead villain Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce). On one hand, he is relatively believable as a singular-focused media baron and is clearly enjoying his chance to portray someone so cartoonishly evil. However, my issue is just that – it’s a little over the top. The ‘There’s no news, like BAD NEWS’ line really evokes Dr. Evil in its delivery.
His henchmen are also middling: Gupta’s really just a glorified IT man and Stamper is clearly a nod to Robert Shaw’s Red Grant in From Russia With Love with his bleach blonde hair and tough physique, but a little forgettable. The assassin and torturer Dr. Kaufman is only in one scene however it is right on the line of farce and parody as the murderer of Mrs Carver apologies to Bond for having to ask him questions whilst on a call to Stamper. It’s a strange scene but actually quite enjoyable for its playful mixture of darkness (death of Bond’s ex) and camp humour.
With the producers unable to secure John Barry for a return score due to a fee dispute, Barry’s own recommendation of David Arnold was then chosen. Arnold’s score is a modern reinvention of the Bond sound and perfectly emphasises the action and intensity of the story, giving it a larger cinematic oomph. I also love Sheryl Crow’s Bond theme and the titles of the film evoking the new modern edge of the series.
Overall, it’s an enjoyable film but let down by some flat on-the-nose humour (M and Moneypenny reminding Bond to ‘pump Mrs Carver for information’) and a villain that doesn’t compete with the personal battle Bond faced in the previous film (Sean Bean’s 006). But, it’s action sequences and relationship build-up with Wai Lin mostly make up for it.
And that brings us to my final top ten which at this rate will be written up and published in 2025. So, look forward to that and in the meantime have a listen to our group podcasts in which we discuss and rank as a collective the middle ten 007 films. Enjoy!