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James Bond’s Best and Worst: Peter Travers Ranks All 24 Movies

The Best and Worst of the franchise

best worst james bond films

Courtesy Everett Collection; Francois Duhamel

For half a century, James Bond movies have obsessed audiences. It's not hard to see why Ian Fleming's secret agent man is a global phenom. Bond himself, whether he's played by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan or 21st-century model Daniel Craig, is an icon of style, sex and macho. Then there's the stunts, the gadgets, the villains, the Bond girls, the vodka martinis served shaken, not stirred. What people forget is that not all Bond movies are created equal. There are stinkers in there with the goodies. Here, to please myself and provoke arguments, are the best and the worst, rated from Number One to Number 24. Happy 50th, Mr. Bond. 

By Peter Travers

Dr. No

© Everett Collection / Everett Collection

6

‘Dr. No’ (1962)

"Bond, James Bond." With that intro (and Monty Norman's inimitable theme), Sean Connery started the 007 march into film legend. Shot on the cheap, the film spawned a $5 billion franchise. Connery, first seen through a gun barrel, eases into the role, making hash of the evil Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman). He even sings "Underneath the Mango Tree" in the Jamaica scene in which Ursula Andress, as the first and the ultimate Bond girl Honey Ryder, emerges from the water gathering shells in a white bikini. JFK, a Bond fan, requested a private screening at the White House. To some, the tarantula in Bond's bed is the key scene. I'd go with the bikini.

Skyfall

Francois Duhamel

5

‘Skyfall’ (2012)

If, by an act of will, you can forget the putrid followup to Casino Royale that was Quantum of Solace, then Skyfall continues Bond's backstory with staggering style and assurance. Sam Mendes (American Beauty), the first Oscar winner to direct a 007 film, teams with cinematographer Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men) to craft the best-looking Bond movie ever. Mortality lurks in the shadows as Daniel Craig digs deep into Bond's past. Even Javier Bardem's dangerously thrilling villain has real-world concerns. And Judi Dench as M, Bond's boss, lets go with the emotional power she held back in the lightweight Pierce Brosnan films. Bond cries. You might too. This time it really is personal.

Casino Royale

©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

4

‘Casino Royale’ (2006)

The only Bond to rival best-in-show Connery is rugged, jug-eared Daniel Craig, a Brit livewire who reinvigorated the series for a new century. Casino Royale was the first of Fleming's Bond series, making it the ideal place to start the wheel spinning anew. Director Martin Campbell acts like the other Bond movies never existed. We're back at square one, only the time is now, the fantasy is limited and the story is anchored in reality. Q, with his gadgets and invisible cars, is nowhere to be seen. Casino Royale uncovers something unique in the 007 dossier: an unformed secret-agent man, lacking polish, vulnerable to violence and helplessly lost in love with Eva Green's Vesper Lynd. She's a British treasury operative sent to stake Bond at the poker tables against Le Chiffre (a sublimely wicked Mads Mikkelsen), a banker who launders money for terrorists. A train scene in which Bond and Vesper attempt to guess each other's past histories trumps its comic zing with romantic gravity. Craig gives us Bond in the fascinating act of inventing himself.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Courtesy Everett Collection

3

‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (1969)

The One Where James Bond Gets Married. This time O07 was played by one-shot scab George Lazenby while Connery wrangled for more money. He trades in the Bond girls for an Italian contessa, and Diana Rigg plays her with such beauty and wit that you can't blame him. The ski stunts in the Swiss Alps as Bond chases the evil Blofeld (a terrific Telly Savales) are a smashing tribute to the aerial photography of John Jones. Still, the special effects take a backseat to the final moment between Bond and his doomed bride, set against Louis Armstrong's ironic ballad, "We Have All the Time in the World." This film is the most romantically resonant in the series. Its heartbreaker status helped land it the top position as the greatest Bond movie ever in a September 2012 poll from 007 magazine.

from russia with love

Courtesy Everett Collection

2

‘From Russia With Love’ (1963)

The second Bond film is also the most raw of the series. It's far closer to the character Ian Fleming created in his novels than the gadget-fixated mannequin of the later films with Pierce Brosnan. Connery takes on the evil SPECTRE, foils former KGB agent Rosa Kleb (the great Lotte Lenya gets her kicks as a killer lesbian with a poisonous blade in the tip of her shoe), and still has time to make time with a hottie Soviet defector (Daniela Bianchi). Director Terence Young tops himself with a punchfest on the Orient Express between Bond and Red Grant (a bottle-blonde Robert Shaw) which is one of the great fight scenes in any movie. Connery ranks the film as his favorite. Ironically, so does his latest successor, Daniel Craig.

goldfinger

Courtesy Everett Collection

1

‘Goldfinger’ (1964)

This is the time capsule Bond movie, the one that explains to future generations why we've been obsessed for 50 years and counting with British agent 007. In his third go-round in the role, Sean Connery is danger and sexual swagger incarnate, wearing a tux under his wetsuit and ordering a martini "shaken, not stirred." Indelible images include Shirley Eaton's death by gilded body paint, Honor Blackman's innuendo as flygirl Pussy Galore, Harold Sakata's lethal aim as the hat-throwing Oddjob and Gert Frobe's master villainy as Auric Goldfinger (he's out to rob Fort Knox). "Do you expect me to talk?" an anxious Bond asks after Goldfinger straps him to a table with a laser heading right to his crotch. "No, Mr. Bond," comes the classic reply. "I expect you die." And how about the gadget-loaded Aston-Martin, the Shirley Bassey title song, and the stylish way director Guy Hamilton delivers the whole Bond package?

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