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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

Quantum of Solace

©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

24

‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008)

After Daniel Craig created a terrific millennial Bond in Casino Royale, this fiasco of a follow-up damn near left him for dead. Even the new theme song, "Another Way to Die," sung by Jack White and Alicia Keys, sucks. Fans were rightly pissed until Skyfall rode to the rescue. Blame Marc Forster, an indie director (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland) with no flair for action, for absurdly overcompensating. Bond comes down with a serious case of Jason Bourne penis envy, leaping across rooftops from Bolivia to Haiti to shut down an agency of traitorous MI6 agents. Losing itself in incoherent flash, Quantum ignores the poison eating at Bond's insides. Killer mistake.

Licence to Kill

©United Artists/Courtesy Everett Collection

23

‘License to Kill’ (1989)

Drab in the extreme. Timothy Dalton's second and wheezing, final turn as 007 was barely recognizable as a Bond film. Robert Davi was a livewire as drug lord Franz Sanchez, but Dalton's pursuit of him played like a substandard episode of  a TV cop show. License became the lowest grossing Bond movie ever. For six years, Bond disappeared from movie screens.

The Living Daylights

©United Artists/Courtesy Everett Collection

22

‘The Living Daylights’ (1987)

After seven jokey Roger Moore takes on Bond, it came as a relief when Timothy Dalton debuted in the role. Dalton had training in classical theater; he had pedigree, looks, class. But as Bond he was – face it – dull as dirt. The film, with 007 taking down a renegade Russian General (Jeroen Krabbe), is also utterly humorless. Too much spoofing is bad (see Moore), none is deadly (see Dalton).

Tomorrow Never Dies

©United Artists/Courtesy Everett Collection

21

‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ (1997)

There were no more Ian Fleming novels and titles to plunder, so Tomorrow was created from spare parts as Brosnan's Bond tries to stop Jonathan Pryce's media mogul from starting World War III. Oh please. The product placement was egregious. Brosnan sporting a tux by Brioni of Rome ($3,800) and wielding a cell phone by Ericsson ($299). As a 1999 video game, Tomorrow was dissed by Game Revolution as "empty and shallow." The tired-out movie that preceded it was considerably worse.

The World Is Not Enough

Courtesy Everett Collection

20

‘The World Is Not Enough’ (1999)

Yes, this is the Bond film in which Brosnan hooks up with Denise Richards in the role of a nuclear physicist. 'Nuf said.

Goldeneye

©United Artists/Courtesy Everett Collection

19

‘Goldeneye’ (1995)

Pierce Brosnan had all the expressive vigor of a hood ornament in his debut as Bond. But the opening scene is a kick as 007 bungee-jumps into a Russia weapon facility. Sean Bean rocks as duplicitous agent 006. And Famke Janssen crushes it as Xenia Onatopp (really!), the first Bond girl with castrating thighs. It's exciting when Bond runs after a small plane heading straight for a cliff: he leaps, climbs in and steers it to safety in the nick of time. It ain't Shakespeare, but that's some stunt.

Diamonds Are Forever

Courtesy Everett Collection

18

‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971)

After skipping out on On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Connery was tempted back into Bond uniform with a then-record $1.25 million salary. And despite the Bond girl presence of Jill St. John as Tiffany Case and Lana Wood as Plenty O'Toole, he looks bored going through the motions of the diamond-smuggling plot. Connery's lowest point.

A View To A Kill

©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

17

‘A View to a Kill’ (1985)

Roger Moore's farewell to Bond couldn't come soon enough. What's good? A mesmeric, bottle-blond Christopher Walken as Max Zorin, hellbent on global domination as a product of Nazi experiments, Grace Jones' zowie star at his henchman, and Duran Duran's title song. Otherwise, I'm out. Even Moore, then 57, later admitted, "I was only about 400 years too old for the part."

Octopussy

©United Artists/Courtesy Everett Collection

16

‘Octopussy’ (1983)

This is the one where Moore's Bond yells like Tarzan, swings through the trees and ends up in a clown costume. Need I say more?

Moonraker

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15

‘Moonraker’ (1979)

It's James Bond in space. Just what wasn't needed to redeem the Roger Moore films from unforgivable fluffball irrelevance.

The Man With The Golden Gun

Picture AllianceEverett Collection

14

‘The Man With the Golden Gun’ (1974)

Roger Moore already seemed winded in his second outing as Bond. And the film's comedic approach to martial arts justly wrankled true 007 afficionados. Compensation comes in the form of Christopher Lee's delicious take on evil as Scaramanga and Herve Villechaize's verve as Nick Nack, Scaramanga's dwarf manservant.

Never Say Never Again

©Warner Bros/Everett Collection

13

‘Never Say Never Again’ (1983)

I'm told this film is a bastard that shouldn't be counted as a real Bond film since it didn't come from Eon Productions like the others. Bull. If a movie stars Sean Connery as 007, it's a Bond film. End of story. Connery, then 53, hadn't played Bond in 12 years. But he hadn't lost a bit of his flair and physical grace. Even his hairpiece is Oscar caliber. The plot is a direct lift from Thunderball, in which a SPECTRE operative (a superb Klaus Maria Brandeur) snatches two nuclear weapons. Kim Basinger's Domino and Barbara Carrera's Fatima Bush are all you could ask for in decorative distractions. After years of gadgets, Never benefits from the attention director Irvin Kirshner (The Empire Strikes Back) pays to actors over effects.

for your eyes only

©United Artists/courtesy Everett

12

‘For Your Eyes Only’ (1981)

An attempt, only partially successful, to get real with the Bond films again. As Roger Moore's aging Bond tries to locate a missile defense system, director John Glen puts focus on the revenge plot cooked up against a Greek tycoon (Julian Glover) by a woman (Carole Bouquet) out to get even for the murder of her parents. Bouquet deserved the role for her legs only. There's a very high per capita rate of nearly nude females.

Live and Let Die

Courtesy Everett Collection

11

‘Live and Let Die’ (1973)

OK, maybe I'm being generous because the title song by Paul McCartney and Wings  is arguably the hardest-rocking in the series. It was Roger Moore's intro as Bond, and he seems in shape to do more than raise his eyebrow. Shaft and Superfly had made blaxpoitation the hot thing, so Bond is shipped off to the Caribbean where he takes on voodoo and a drug kingpin (Yaphet Kotto) and gets it on with a black CIA agent (Gloria Hendry). There's more heat in Bond's relationship with Solitaire (Jane Seymour), a psychic who always makes the top 10 when Bond girls are rated.

Die Another Day

©MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection

10

‘Die Another Day’ (2002)

The fourth, last and best of the Bond movies with Pierce Brosnan – he looks like he has a stick up his ass in the other three – is full of wild stunts that are no substitute for the Connery cool, but will do in pinch when all you want is a blast of pure escapism. Brosnan shows grit as 007 emerges from a North Korean prison camp. Junkies for FX made Die the biggest box-office hit in the franchise up to that time. As Jinx, an NSA agent and Bond conquest, Oscar winner Halle Berry does wonders for a bikini, just like the one that almost covered Ursula Andress in Dr. No. Madonna wrote and sang the title song and does a cameo as a fencing instructor that won her a well-earned Razzie as Worst Supporting Actress.

Thunderball

Courtesy Everett Collection

9

‘Thunderball’ (1965)

The fourth Bond film benefitted from its biggest budget yet, and the special effects deserved the Oscar they won. Connery again exudes the charm and charisma to rise above the new influx of gimmicks that threatened to weaken the series until the Daniel Craig years. The underwater battles, as 007 races to the Bahamas to snatch a sunken nuclear bomb from the clutches of SPECTRE baddie Largo (Adolfo Celi) and his sizzling mistress, Domino (Claudine Auger), are excitingly staged. Tom Jones thunders through the title song, but  what you can't forget is Bond in Largo's shark pool.

The Spy Who Loved Me

Courtesy Everett Collection

8

‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977)

Of the seven times the limp Roger Moore tried to fill Bond's tux, Spy was his shining two hours. His opening ski jump off a cliff is spectacular. Congrats to the stunt man. Bond battles an evil shipping magnate (Curt Jergens) who steals nuclear submarines and threatens to blow up the world. He also boffs a ravishing Russian agent (Barbara Bach, wife of Ringo Starr). Gadgets abound, especially a Lotus sports car that transforms into a submarine. But the scene-stealer is 7'2" Richard Kiel as Jaws, a shark-eating man with steel teeth. Carly Simon made a hit of the title tune, singing "nobody does it better." Did she never see Connery play the role for keeps?

you only live twice

Courtesy Everett Collection

7

‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967)

From the Eastern flavor of the opening theme, hauntingly sung by Nancy Sinatra, to the Japanese setting, the fifth film is the Bond series just gets better and cooler with age. The tasty script by Roald Dahl junks most of the Fleming novel, spinning its own witty Cold War fantasy. Connery's Bond finally gets to confront SPECTRE's arch-villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, previously unseen but now played to the creepy hilt by Donald Pleasance. Blofeld petting his white pussy while dropping enemies into a piranha pool spawned a trilogy of Austin Powers spoofs. And the chopper with a magnet to pick up assassins is a marvel.

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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