Home Music Music Lists

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

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. 

Sean Connery; Pierce Brosnan; Daniel Craig

Everett, Keith Hamshere/Getty, Columbia Pictures/Everett

6

‘Nobody Does it Better’ (From ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’) (Carly Simon)

Carly Simon's lust-drunk anthem to a mythic lover — which has since appeared in everything from Lost in Translation and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason to bridal showers across the world — might be a hotel lobby staple if not for the smuttiness of its lyrics. "There's some kind of magic inside you/That keeps me from runnin'/But just keep it comin.'" Hair metal bands who could learn a few things from this. Of all the odes to Bond's sexual prowess (and there were a lot of them), Simon's is the most satisfying.

Sean Connery; Pierce Brosnan; Daniel Craig

Everett, Keith Hamshere/Getty, Columbia Pictures/Everett

5

‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (Shirley Bassey)

Tight, layered, and suitably sharper than most of the franchise's other opening tracks, Shirley Bassey second crack at a Bond theme is perhaps most notable for being the franchise's least horny song ever. On the contrary, the singer rails against the impermanence of a good lover, as even those with stamina for miles can't last as long as a good rock on your finger. ("Men are mere mortals who aren't worth going to your grave for," she belts.) Ironically, producer Harry Saltzman considered the song to be objectionably sexual, presumably blushing at how Bassey's line that diamonds can "Stimulate and tease me" suggested that women were capable of feeling any pleasure that wasn't provided by a man. Right.

Sean Connery; Pierce Brosnan; Daniel Craig

Everett, Keith Hamshere/Getty, Columbia Pictures/Everett

4

‘Skyfall’ (Adele)

The most popular Bond theme of all time (if you go by YouTube play counts), "Skyfall" was money in the bank from the moment Sony decided to hire Adele. Channeling that vintage Bassey sound and flexing it with serious symphonic muscle, this epic tune played no small role in helping make this blockbuster the the first Bond movie to gross more than a billion dollars. As with the other songs written for the Craig-era installments, "Skyfall" eschews the franchise's classic innuendo in favor of bleating emotional abstractions, though some of the words here ("Skyfall is where we start…") tease at crucial third act plot details. In fact, the lyrical nonsense works to the song's advantage, leaving Adele's booming voice free to launch the tidal wave of sonic pathos that will carry this consequential Bond movie all the way to its grim conclusion.