The Oscars are tonight, and I’ve never cared less. There is nothing of interest nominated. This isn’t exactly new. The Oscars are wrong almost every year in almost every way. So, I needed something cinema-related that was about as far form The Oscars as I could go. But I wasn’t prepared for a nunsploitation essay, and I have been re-watching all the Bond films, so, Bond it is. Here are my ranking of the 28 Bond films (updated for No Time To Die, and including the 3 non-Eon productions).
My general view is I like Bond when he is edgy. That is, when he doesn’t fit as a traditional hero, or a traditional Hollywood character. Heroes just do the right thing. That’s not Bond. In Hollywood, if you don’t do the right thing, you suffer for it. If you sleep around, it is to hide your pain. If you murder people, it is heavy on your soul. In recent years, Bond has gone Hollywood, thus losing that edge. But it started very differently, when Connery’s Bond shot down a man in cold blood, and he enjoyed it. That’s my Bond. So, here we go. (I’ve also Ranked the Bond Villains and Ranked the Bond Title Sequences.)
#28 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
The Good: It is technically a film. Diana Rigg is a fine actress.
The Bad: Lazenby cannot act, which is particularly troubling in a film where he needs to show emotion. Even co-star Diana Rigg said he was horrible. The tone is dead serious, but the plot is as silly as they come: psychedelic chicken hypnosis to blackmail Europe into recognizing his hereditary title!! Big emotional relationship depicted by a montage—a montage! Glacial pace. A weirdo with a cat fetish is played seriously.
#27 Quantum of Solace (2008)
The Good: It’s not that long.
The Bad: Wimpy villain. Poorly edited fight scenes. Glum tone. A plot best not to think about, and you won’t. Forgettable. I just watched it and I’m forgetting it. Filmed when there was a writers-strike so they were just making stuff up on set; most of those involved, including Craig, admit that this one doesn’t work.
#26 Spectre (2015)
The Good: The first act is pretty good. Not great, but the action is decent and it’s filmed quite well. Bond following leads and hopping around the globe is always fun and Craig seems reasonably comfortable.
The Bad: BLOFELD IS JAMES BOND’S BROTHER! Really? That’s where they went? OK, the family metaphor can work with Bond. See GoldenEye. But this isn’t a metaphor. This is just lame. Everything in the last few films has been because Blofeld thought his daddy loved James more than him. He drags down not just this film; he drags down four films. Yes, there’s a lot more wrong than just that. The dour Bond world of the Craig reboot doesn’t mesh well with the call-backs to earlier Bond. Plus the plot is stolen, the color pallet is monotonous, and human motivations are questionable to be polite. And really, everything in the last third is junk. But the Blofeld family stuff is the most painful.
#25 Thunderball (1965)
The Good: Connery is in good form. Claudine Auger is attractive.
The Bad: Poor pace. Dull, never-ending, underwater scenes. Silly plot. Drab, dubbed villain. And oh those camera speed-up action scenes. And I’ll repeat: poor pace and dull.
#24 Casino Royale (1954)
The Good: An American Bond is a hoot. Peter Lorre makes a wonderfully evil villain and by yards the best Le Chiffre. This is the only produced version of Casino Royale where the plot makes sense.
The Bad: The American Bond may be fun to watch, but he’s not good in any conventional sense. He’s overly emotional and never seems like a spy. The production values are poor, and even at an hour it drags.
#23 Casino Royale (1967)
The Good: The music is outstanding. The cast is incredible. And it is a lot of fun to see what a train wreck it all is. It’s terrible, but at least it isn’t boring
The Bad: Oh, where to start? Bond against promiscuity? Welles and Sellers refusing to be on set together. Sellers throwing a fit and walking off the picture? A plot that was cobbled together from what film they could save? None of it being the least bit funny? At least ten writers and five directors, none of them working together? Oh what a glorious mess.
#22 A View to a Kill (1985)
The Good: It is less painful than the ones above it.
The Bad: Too old Moore teams with one of the worst Bond girls. Plot from Superman. Villain that should work, but doesn’t.
#21 Skyfall (2012)
The Good: Starts complex and thoughtful—theme of aging. Creepy villain with some nice Bond interaction. Wonderful sacrificial lamb Bond girl.
The Bad: Too long. Glum. Villain does the over-used “I want to be captured” plan. Villain knows where trains will be to the second a year in advance. Magic computers. The film completely abandons its theme in the end, making the whole thing meaningless. Way too easy to connect to Home Alone. Making Miss Moneypenny a failed agent.
#20 Never Say Never Again (1983)
The Good: This is basically a comedy version of Thunderball, and around half of the jokes work. Connery had improved as an actor over the years and was at his most skilled. The Bond girls. The tone is light and it is all old-school Bond.
The Bad: The music—not just in the opening, but everywhere. Connery is looking a bit old. Half of the jokes don’t work, including everything with M. The video game. Still has the horrible Thunderball plot. But if they had the Eon music, I’d move this up a place.
#19 Licence to Kill (1989)
The Good: Dalton looks the part when not scowling. Once we get past the first act, the film starts to flow and feels much less sleazy.
The Bad: Not a Bond film. A sleazy rape & revenge exploitation film that wouldn’t go where it needed to. The first act is just wrong for Bond (you can’t start with Miami Vice and end with a semi-truck wheelie). And why is Leiter happy at the end?
#18 Casino Royale (2006)
The Good: Eva Green. More Eva Green. Also, this film had Eva Green.
The Bad: Impossible action passed off as “gritty realism.” Car accidents that required a “car cannon” to film. Faux parkour. All the edge removed as the franchise adopts Hollywood morality. Laughable poker game (he wins with a straight flush!), which wouldn’t be a big deal if we didn’t spend so much time with it. The evil plan making little sense and the good-guys plan making even less (only the TV movie of Casino Royale gave a passible reason for not just picking up the villain at the beginning of the movie). If a film is going to be this self-serious, it needs some basic relationship to reality, but there’s nothing realistic here.
#17 No Time To Die (2021)
The Good: The action scenes were exciting and well constructed, and while Bond again seemed superhuman, it never reaches the ridiculous extremes of Casino Royale (no superman leaps). The callbacks to pre-Craig Bond films were quite nice. The section in Cuba nails what a Bond film should be, and (brief) Bond-Girl Paloma was the high point of the movie. While long, the pacing is good, which is a first for a Craig film.
The Bad: The tone is too dour for Bond, but less than other Craig-era films. Craig has no chemistry with Seydoux, and as script supplies nothing, the romance just lays there. The child helps making a connection between Bond and Madeleine, but it needed more. This would have been a better film if it was about some spy we never heard of before and a romance we’d have to imagine.
#16 For Your Eyes Only (1981)
The Good: A Bond girl that can suck you in with her eyes. Lovely revenge plot. Good action.
The Bad: Bibi is embarrassing. It’s all a bit middling. The villain is middling. The villain’s plan is middling. It’s all fine but not exciting.
#15 Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
The Good: Bond is still a fine sinner. The Bond girls are enticing. Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint are a lot of fun. As a comic entry in the franchise, it is more often funny than not.
The Bad: All pretty much fluff. A weak version of Blofeld. When it fails to be funny, it is silly, and that happens too often.
#14 You Only Live Twice (1967)
The Good: Aki. Tiger. A film that doesn’t mind going to extremes. The villain is a weirdo with a cat fetish—the one time Blofeld works. It’s dumb, but it’s fun dumb.
The Bad: Racist. Bond in yellow-face. Bond girl couldn’t speak English. Laughable story; makes Moonraker’s look serious and plausible.
#13 The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
The Good: Christopher Lee. Maud Addams is heartbreaking. Moore in control of part.
The Bad: Bond Duality Syndrome: Had a good story about dueling assassins, but had to add a typical world control secret weapon second plot, which also damages the villain’s character. Silly henchman. Weak main Bond girl. Redneck sheriff did not need to return.
#12 Die Another Day (2002)
The Good: The first two acts. Good character “development,” great action, solid story. Plenty of iconic moments and amusing callbacks. Plus a few jabs at the annoying British upper class and American arrogance.
The Bad: The last act (a poor VFX scene, too much action, the exalted Halle Berry can’t pull off a believable agent). It isn’t the first—or second—Bond film to fall apart in the end. It mainly stands out for falling so far—Dr. No was the last to go this extreme—but that’s because both are so good at the beginning.
#11 Moonraker (1979)
The Good: It is just fun. From beginning to end it is a riot. Like all Bond, it is fantasy and silly, but this one knows it and embraces it (and it isn’t nearly as silly as several earlier movies). It’s fast, with great architecture and forest scenes. While not drifting as far into comedy as several others, it has a lot of jokes, and more work than don’t.
The Bad: Primary Bond girl is one of the worst. Acting is beyond her, and that drags the picture down. While a lot of the jokes work, when they don’t, it is cringe-worthy. The villain is another insane old white dude—just a better version of Stromberg.
#10 From Russia with Love (1963)
The Good: A nice, general purpose spy film. I suppose the train fight is above par. And Blofeld makes for a mysterious and fetishy villain. And for a Bond film, the side characters are strongly drawn.
The Bad: A nice, general purpose spy film. And that’s why it rises no further. Bond films can be more than general purpose spy films. By dialing things back, this one doesn’t have the problems of so many Bond films, but in dialing things back, it holds the film back from being something really special. Oh, and the opening music is weak.
#9 The World Is Not Enough (1999)
The Good: Great villain with an emotional justifiable revenge plot. Brosnan in good form. Excellent action. Some deaths that have weight.
The Bad: Bond Duality Syndrome: a fine revenge story diluted by a typical nuclear subplot. Refusal to go where the story should go, that is, that M, M’s friend, and the Brit establishment are scum. An acting-challenged Bond girl.
#8 The Living Daylights (1987)
The Good: Energetic. Well paced. Plenty of tense moments. Believable relationship scenes (face it, those are rare in Bond).
The Bad: Bond a bit grumpy. Arms dealing villain very forgettable. Bond is getting a bit traditional in the age of AIDs.
#7 Dr. No (1962)
The Good: It all starts here. Bond is new, edgy, exciting. The story has some nice twists. The deaths and betrayals are fresh (Bond just murders a guy—gotta love it). An iconic image of the Bond girl rising out of the sea. A frightening villain.
The Bad: The final quarter is a dud. It all ends way to easily and quickly. Dr. No’s plot is never explained. The blonde and the Black man believe in dragons—just a bit too racist and sexist there.
#6 The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
The Good: Great action. Great henchman with jaws. Great Bond girl. The plot is not new, but having a Bond girl who isn’t a damsel is.
The Bad: The villain is yet another of the insane old white dudes who exists because they couldn’t use Blofeld.
#5 Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The Good: One of the all time great Bond villains. For a change, Bond does satire and did it well. Great action. Michelle Yeoh gives us something different in a Bond film. Lots of great secondary characters: Dr. Kaufman, Stamper.
The Bad: Bond’s too grumpy. Yeoh’s style of martial arts doesn’t fit with the Bond universe. One explosion too many.
#4 Live and Let Die (1973)
The Good: Great action. Moore at his charming best. Finally, a villain who wasn’t an insane old white dude. Excellent henchmen in Tee Hee and Baron Samedi. Bond being a bastard. Solitaire—the greatest of the damsel Bond girls who embraces her new world. Great music.
The Bad: The Harlem scenes are a bit awkward (but so much less racist than the book). The heroin plot is underwhelming.
#3 Goldfinger (1964)
The Good: The standard for Bond films. All Bond films after this untill Craig were based on this film. Connery in control of the role. The jokes are good. The henchman is iconic, as is the gold-painted girl. Best song. Best line in the franchise: “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”
The Bad: Some effects are weak. The old style ‘60s fight choreography is hard to take seriously. Even by Bond standards, the lesbian conversion that’s so complete as to make her switch sides and endanger her own life is pushing it.
#2 Octopussy (1983)
The Good: Yeah, I know no one will agree, but I love this film. It is so much fun. Fast paced. The best travelogue in Bond history. The film is so frickin’ beautiful. Great action after great action. The humor works. Fabulous Bond girls with a good back story. More than any other Bond film, this one counts not just as action, but as adventure.
The Bad: A couple of the jokes don’t work, and they don’t work big time, but it’s only a second and easy to ignore.
#1 GoldenEye (1995)
The Good: Top villain. Nice metaphor for brothers and finally the duel we should have gotten in The Man With the Golden Gun. Fantastic action and pace. The best pair of Bond girls ever. Natalya was a new type of Bond girl. She’s strong, but not a spy. She has her strengths and Bond has his, so they both play a part. And Xenia is simply the best hench ever. We get a plot with emotional substance, but without getting maudlin. Also, Boris.
The Bad: Bond isn’t as happy as he used to be.