For me, Bond movies equal Comfort Food. I like the fact that they are something you can count on- every Bond movie ends with (the very comforting) words: James Bond Will Return. I like that. I like being able to count on that. There just isn’t a lot you can bank on these days, and until recently, a James Bond adventure of wildly varying quality was one thing that was at the very least dependable.
It should be said that there is room in my heart for pretty much every James Bond movie. I’m not sure why, but even the ones that were clearly, well, awful, were enjoyed by me at one point in my life. If you need an example of how forgiving I am of the James Bond series, the “California Girls” snowboarding sequence in A View to a Kill doesn’t bother me one bit. That’s not true; it does bother me. But then I remember that Roger Moore was at the helm for that one, and like a wacky uncle who can’t help himself from taking off his shirt at your 11th birthday party and dominating your Slip n’Slide, I choose to forgive him.
In any case, for no good reason, I thought I would take a look at the series thus far, ranked from best to worst. But again, keep in mind: I would rather have the worst James Bond movie in my life than no James Bond at all.
1. Goldfinger: I know, a bold choice. But what can I say? It is clearly the best, starring the best James Bond to date, Sean “Zardoz” Connery. This is the template of all the Bond films that followed. It created what we now know as a “Bond” movie. It also had the best henchman ever in Odd Job. I miss the concept of henchmen. They really haven’t been represented well in movies of late. Let’s get some good henchmen back.
2. From Russia With Love: Here is a Bond movie that you have to grow into a bit. It is never your favorite when you first see it, but the more you see it (and the older you get), the richer it grows. Plus, it has the best mano y mano in any Bond movie- Connery vs. Robert Shaw in the closed confines of a train car.
3. Skyfall: One of the best Bonds, docked a half point for being juuuuust a bit derivative. Still, the idea of turning the movie into a sort of Cain/Abel story, with Bond and Silva fighting to protect/destroy their mother in M is something I hadn’t seen in the series before.
4. Casino Royale: Daniel Craig has a shot at the Bond title based on this movie alone. Man, the opening 30 minutes or so of this movie are as good as not just Bond movies get, but action movies in general. This was the reinvention of Bond that we were promised but denied with Pierce Brosnan.
5. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Yeah, the George Lazenby one. Old George isn’t the best Bond- in fact, yeah, he’s probably the worst. But… he happens to be in one of the very best James Bond movies. Bond gets married in this one, after, of course, battling Telly Savalas on a runaway bobsled. Then Telly kills Bond’s wife. Lazenby may have been a disappointment, but he sells the hell out of the death scene.
6. The Spy Who Loved Me: Roger Moore is my James Bond. He was the first Bond I ever saw, and he was the guy at the steering wheel during my formative Bond-viewing years. I can’t tell you how many Roger Moore Bond double features I saw at various sleepovers. I love Roger Moore, and this one is his best movie.
7. Dr. No: As the first of the series, Dr. No finds Bond still finding his legs. But watching Connery try on the tux for the first time makes this one more fun to watch than most of the series.
8. For Your Eyes Only: My first James Bond movie. I loved the ski chase, the inexplicable hockey team vs. Bond fight, and the two Lotuses that James got to drive. Plus, my favorite Bond theme song by Sheena “Sugar Walls” Easton.
9. You Only Live Twice: Have you ever wanted to see Connery get his chest waxed, his bangs combed forward and his eyes pinned back to look more Japanese? Look no further. Donald Pleasance plays the bad guy. This movie was written by Roald Dahl. That’s pretty cool.
10. Thunderball: The only part of this movie that doesn’t work is the part that gets all the press: the underwater battle finale. Watching indistinguishable frogmen shoot spear guns and throw very slow punches makes for a dull closer to what is otherwise a pretty great Bond movie. This is the one that came after Goldfinger, so they could pretty much do whatever they wanted. They did.
11. License To Kill: Full disclosure- I like Timothy Dalton. It’s a shame he only got two at-bats, because he was coming into his own with this one. The first PG-13 Bond movie, we got to see a screaming man fed to sharks, another man’s head explode in a decompression chamber, and Benicio Del Toro fed into an industrial shredder. Oh, and Wayne Newton. And a fantastic oil tanker chase down a mountain road. I like this movie.
12. Goldeneye: The first appearance by a Pierce Brosnan Bond. I know, a lot of people thought his movies were pretty great. Those people are wrong. You see, Brosnan was a pretty decent Bond who was in four of the worst Bond movies they made. Actually, the opening of this movie is pretty good, and the whole movie spawned one of the best video games ever. So… there’s that.
13. Live and Let Die: Blaxploitation Bond! I have seen this one possibly more than any other Bond for some reason. Best scene: Bond escaping a gator pond by hopscotching across the heads of some hungry thunder-lizards.
14. Octopussy: Pretty wacky, Bond ends up dressed like a clown. Also, he does the “Tarzan Yell” while swinging on vines almost 30 years before Shia LeBeouf was taken to task for doing the same thing in Indiana Jones 4. If it’s good enough for Roger Moore, it should be good enough for LeBeouf.
15. A View to a Kill: Not as bad as its made out to be, but certainly not great. Still, a guilty pleasure for me. Yeah, Bond is 76 years old in this one, and it has one of the worst Bond girls of the entire series in Tanya “Sheena Queen of the Jungle” Roberts. But it also has Christopher Walken and Grace Jones as bad guys. I guarantee you’ll never see that again in any movie ever.
16. Tomorrow Never Dies: Another Brosnan. I like Jonathan Pryce as the media-influenced bad guy in this one, but not a great Bond.
17. Quantum of Solace: One of the biggest disappointments in the entire Bond canon. Coming on the heels of Casino Royale, I was hoping for something at least approaching that movie’s energy. Instead… well, I defy anyone to explain what the hell happens in this movie. The best that can be said is that Daniel Craig remains a great Bond; I hope that they can get him back when the time comes to make another one.
18. The Living Daylights: The first of the two Dalton Bonds. I don’t really remember much from this one except for a pretty good fight that takes place on a cargo net hanging from the back of an airplane.
From this point on, the Bond movies become uniformly terrible. I have a difficult time finding anything positive to say about the rest, so I will list my main problem with the remainder of the series as succinctly as possible.
19. The World is Not Enough: Denise Richards as the Bond girl.
20. Moonraker: Turning Jaws, the second best Bond hench-villian ever, into a good guy who makes out with the Swiss Miss Pudding Girl.
21. Die Another Day: Bond gets an invisible car.
22. Diamonds Are Forever: Bloated Connery in a moon buggy chase.
23. The Man With the Golden Gun: Bond vs. Herve Villechaize. Actually, I should give that a second chance. That sounds pretty good.