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James Bond Movie Theme Songs, Ranked Worst to Best

From A-Ha to Adele, breaking down the franchise’s legendary (and legendarily bad) opening numbers

Sean Connery; Pierce Brosnan; Daniel Craig

Everett, Keith Hamshere/Getty, Columbia Pictures/Everett

James Bond movie theme songs are the cinematic equivalents of paperback book-series covers — they suggest familiarity and course with the promise of a compelling new adventure for Western culture’s most unkillable pop icon. Bond’s first big screen adventure, 1962’s, Dr. No had no precedent to follow, and therefore no need for the bombastic title treatments that would come to define the franchise (it opted for a gentle calypso medley). By the time the franchise’s third film was released two years later, we already had Shirley Bassey roaring “Goldfinger”over the credits, and audiences knew just what kind of fun 007 had in store for them.

Each Bond gets the themes he deserves, from the smooth and impenetrable tunes of the Connery era to the radio-ready offerings from the Daniel Craig years, as muscular and wounded as his iteration of the legendary spy. You don’t need to have seen Spectre to know that the song Sam Smith wrote for it taps into the unique pathos of the rebranded contemporary version of the character; when it comes to Bond themes, the writing has always been on the wall.

With Spectre looming ominously on the horizon, we look back at more than 50 years of Bond themes, counting down from worst to best.

Sean Connery; Pierce Brosnan; Daniel Craig

Everett, Keith Hamshere/Getty, Columbia Pictures/Everett

14

‘License to Kill’ (Gladys Knight)

Essentially a cover of the Goldfinger theme (royalties had to be paid to the writers of the original), the title track from 1989's License to Kill takes Shirley Bassey's classic and remixes it with the hold music from your favorite cable service provider. Fortunately, Gladys Knight goes a long way, and she's given free reign to flex her vibrato with the same indifference to song structure as James Bond has to the architecture of the buildings he blows up. Bonus points for some of the most homicidally covetous lyrics of any Bond tune: "I've got a license to kill/and you know I'm going straight for your heart/I've got a license to kill/anyone who tries to tear us apart." Given 007's track record, she's going to have her hands full.

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13

‘From Russia With Love’ (John Barry Orchestra)

It's a bit unfair to stack the theme sequence from Bond's second big-screen adventure against all the others, if only because it was sent out into the world before Goldfinger had established that Bond title songs should be kissed with a go-for-broke vocal performance. John Barry's jaunty instrumental number is defined by its seductive funk and half-hearted exoticism (certain stretches sound like they were excerpted from a muzak cover of Maurice Jarre's Lawrence of Arabia score) — and just when it sounds like the tune has run out of steam, it segues into the classic Bond theme. Future franchise installments wouldn’t be allowed to take such an easy way out, but From Russia With Love proved that there's simply no better way to set the stage for 007.

Sean Connery; Pierce Brosnan; Daniel Craig

Everett, Keith Hamshere/Getty, Columbia Pictures/Everett

12

‘A View to Kill’ (Duran Duran)

Allegedly, Duran Duran's bassist drunkenly approaching Bond producer Cubby Broccoli at a party and asking, "When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?" The frustrating thing about "A View to a Kill" is that there were already so many of the band's tunes that would have made better Bond themes ("Girls on Film," "Hungry Like the Wolf," "Union of the Snake" — that one just for the title alone). Nevertheless, the song is catchy in that Duran Duran sort of way, and it became one of the band's biggest hits for good reason. To this day, it's still impressive how the track not only navigated the nonsense of the movie's title, but affectionately embraced it: "Dance into the fire/that fatal kiss is all we feel/Dance into the fire/when all we see is the view to a kill." Who can’t relate to that?

Sean Connery; Pierce Brosnan; Daniel Craig

Everett, Keith Hamshere/Getty, Columbia Pictures/Everett

11

‘The World Is Not Enough’ (Garbage)

If there's one dirty secret that unites all Bond themes from the Nineties, it's that the songs ache to have been performed by Björk. That said, Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson is a perfectly decent substitute for the Icelandic swanstress, and the silky cognac of a song she had to work with is a strong fit for her tone. Co-written by the hit-or-miss Don Black, who had a hand in formative Bond themes like "Thunderball," the last 007 tune before the turn of the millennium roared with more drama than anything in the film to which it was attached. The verses are wishy-washy, but that chorus is a killer earworm, with Manson's elastic voice pulling the rest of her body into each note by sheer force of will.

Sean Connery; Pierce Brosnan; Daniel Craig

Everett, Keith Hamshere/Getty, Columbia Pictures/Everett

10

‘Moonraker’ (Shirley Bassey)

There are no two ways about it: Shirley Bassey is the voice of the Bond themes, and even her weakest contribution ranks among the series' most essential tracks. Stepping in for a frustrated Johnny Mathis mere weeks before the film was due for release, the chanteuse reminded the world that she was one of the only Earthlings who could croon a nonsense word like "Moonraker" and make it sound downright glorious. Listen, you try taking a mess of typically distressed Bond lyrics ("Where are you? When will we meet? Take my unfinished life and make it complete") and imbuing them with sense of life or death. Not so easy, is it?

Sean Connery; Pierce Brosnan; Daniel Craig

Everett, Keith Hamshere/Getty, Columbia Pictures/Everett

9

‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (John Barry Orchestra)

And now for something completely different. The first entry shot after Sean Connery relinquished the role, 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service was also the first Bond film since From Russia With Love to use an instrumental theme. Layering a safe but deliciously brassy melody over a Moog bass line that was a few years ahead of its time, John Barry's reassuring composition helped 007 make the daunting leap from successful series to a bona fide franchise that could exist independent of a single star. Still, it's hard not to wonder what might have happened if the composer had been granted the permission he sought to write the operatic Gilbert and Sullivan-style jam the film's title so clearly demands.

Sean Connery; Pierce Brosnan; Daniel Craig

Everett, Keith Hamshere/Getty, Columbia Pictures/Everett

8

‘For Your Eyes Only’ (Sheena Easton)

Following the cartoon serial theatrics of Moonraker, 1981's For Your Eyes Only was meant to be a return to the grittier Bond movies of yore. Composer Bill Conti had other plans, however — and because the funky, unmistakably Eighties score he wrote for the film demanded a similarly off-brand theme, we got Sheena Easton's shimmering low-key ballad. The first (and last) performer in the series to have her face superimposed over the opening titles, the "Sugar Walls" singer aims this post-coital country jam for the last row in the theater, holding it together on the strength of her conviction (and a killer piano power chord).

Sean Connery; Pierce Brosnan; Daniel Craig

Everett, Keith Hamshere/Getty, Columbia Pictures/Everett

7

‘Thunderball’ (Tom Jones)

Tom Jones! We can't hold it against him that his silky croon now sounds like the stuff of parody, or that Jones and John Barry were forced to rush something out the door after United Artists made a last-minute request that the theme song contain the film's title. Fortunately for them, pretty much every other word in the English language rhymes with "Thunderball." The squelching horn melody may be a little (or a lot) derivative of the music from the first three Bond films, but that Welsh baritone spin on Shirley Bassey's shtick made it sound brand new, and the way he nearly asphyxiates on that final note is a perfect flourish for a spy adventure that sets most of its action underwater.