There has never been a Bond film not worth watching. They’re as reliable as comfort viewing as they are to get your blood pumping, and with Daniel Craig’s final performance in the role of the world’s favorite spy, No Time To Die, now in theatres, what better time to get ahead of the next reboot and rank every film in the series. That series is turning 70 next year, and like many institutions, there are elements to its origins that aggravate modern viewers. The earlier films all suffer from outdated politics, misogyny, massively problematic moments of all kind. If you find yourself unable to look past these elements, no one could blame you.
But, Bond is pure entertainment, and for the purposes of this list, we judge them as entertainments. That also means that though there may be films that have fewer flaws which place lower on the list than those with noticeable issues, what matters most in a Bond film is if it delivers when it counts. They operate in an entirely different critical space. Our countdown will not be including Never Say Never Again or Casino Royale from 1967, as these films don’t form a part of the official series produced by Eon. Without further delay:
25 – Die Another Day
Die Another Day’s laughably over-the-top style, taking Bond escapades to their most ludicrous conclusions (invisible cars, surfing tidal waves), renders it at least “so bad it’s good”, but going back proves more tiresome than you might think.
24 – Quantum of Solace
A Writer’s strike combined with a slavish commitment to its predecessor and late 2000s spy-movie methods leave Quantum of Solace with an uninspired story, unimposing villain and overly frenetic action.
23 – Spectre
Barely edging ahead of its precursor by virtue of competence, introducing a tepid romance and tedious series tie-ins like villain Blofeld, Spectre is as stock standard, cursory and lifeless as Bond has ever gotten.
22 – The World is Not Enough
Pierce Brosnan’s best turn in the role props up this graceful take on the formula, though the scales are beginning to tip towards the ridiculous, with an all-time worst Bond girl and intermittently flat action.
21 – The Man with the Golden Gun
Despite being a flimsy take overall, featuring an oddly brutish Roger Moore and a portrayal of Bond women that’s almost shameful, The Man with the Golden Gun boasts a delectable villain and henchman pair in Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga and Hervé Villechaize as Nick Nack, a uniquely tense final showdown and one of the greatest car stunts ever filmed.
20 – A View to a Kill
By his final outing Moore is looking a little long in the tooth, especially compared to the young and spirited villains played by Grace Jones and Christopher Walken, but some hugely diverting set pieces help lift up Roger’s cozy last hurrah.
19 – The Living Daylights
Halfway between the mischievousness that came before and the more serious take best suited to Timothy Dalton’s Bond, The Living Daylights brought things back down to earth, even if it struggles to take flight as some lethargy sets in.
18 – Octopussy
Though it is sometimes a more stilted and self-deprecating escapade than we’d like, Octopussy is good fun, a humorous mystery with a cavalcade of exceptional side characters (Khan, Gobinda, Vijay, Orlov and Octopussy herself would each be standouts on their own as supporting characters), topped off with an astounding 20-minute rail bound climax.
17 – Tomorrow Never Dies
Leaning more towards ’90s action blockbuster than espionage thriller, Tomorrow Never Dies is a compulsively watchable popcorn movie, featuring great fight choreography performed by Michelle Yeoh and some thrillingly monumental set pieces.
16 – Moonraker
May Bond fans forgive us for placing it so high, but the truth is Moonraker’s sidesplitting camp and out-of-this-world take on the Bond blueprint are irresistible. This is the silliest Bond ever gets, and so long as it stands alone at that peak, we love it all the more for it. Moonraker is gleeful absurdism, augmented by an impressive production.
15 – Diamonds Are Forever
Excluding its larger-than-life title song, Diamonds Are Forever gets a bad rap, since as far as early Bond goes, all urgency is gone and replaced with a thick coat of Las Vegas sleaze. This is a shame, because ‘Diamonds’ is a good time all round, the tone is breezy, the jokes are funny, the villains are sumptuously eccentric, and my God is Connery still polished, if a little beyond being invested at this point.
14 – No Time To Die
No Time To Die is all over the place, being both Craig’s most lively and most emotive outing, taking him to territory he’s never gotten to go to in his tenure. The longest Bond wizzes by at breakneck speed, and in spite of some heavy contrivance, messy writing leaving viewers with plenty of questions, and a bit of perfunctory tidying up in the second half, this is a great adventure and a fitting swansong for Craig’s 007.
13 – Licence to Kill
The definitive Dalton entry, License to Kill is, for its time, a fierce, searing thriller that sends Bond on a revenge mission befitting the more sociopathic tendencies of Fleming’s character. Fights are visceral, the tone can verge on dark, but License to Kill never forgets that it is, indeed, a Bond film, and one with a refreshingly involved Q.
12 – Thunderball
By the fourth installment, Bond films are well-oiled machines, Thunderball being a romp teeming with gizmos and ravishing widescreen photography lapping up the sunny beachside locations, the chilling Spectre and a more waggish Connery. We can forgive some overlong underwater brawls, so long as the reward is as sleek, entertaining, extravagant and escapist as this.
11 – Live and Let Die
A fresh-faced Roger Moore immediately set his Bond apart in a novel take laced with Jamaican voodoo priests, Louisiana crocodile herders and New York gangsters (lead by a threatening Yaphet Koto in a double-role). With excellent pacing, and a standout speedboat chase, Live and Let Die shook things up nicely, an obvious change from the blaring theme song onward which definitively proved that Bond could survive, and thrive, without Sean Connery. Its quirks and rewards make it easy to forgive the missteps of Moore’s debut.
10 – You Only Live Twice
Loaded with gimmicky gadgets, beautiful cars, truly incredible lairs, wonderful girls (both villainous and valiant), and a travelogue slant, all shot by the legendary Freddie Young, You Only Live Twice scutters on along the edges of greatness. It could be overblown, but this magnificent playground was not enough to get Connery excited to reprise his part; he delivers a begrudging performance.
9 – For Your Eyes Only
The most grounded of Moore’s stint dials back the comedy and tries its hand ever so slightly at having a theme. Roger glides in the role, introducing the cocktail of revenge and loss so integral to the character today, and the Bond girl gets an upgrade too, a vengeful young assassin/marine archeologist, whose chemistry with James is surprisingly tender. This more mature take, complete with memorably gritty stunts, doesn’t stop the film from being as endearing as Moore’s lighter fare.
8 – GoldenEye
A perfectly judged debut for Pierce Brosnan, who never had to grow into the role, being especially keen on the suave side of Bond, GoldenEye is unfailing fun. You can tell here that the creators were working to make something really fresh, an attitude appropriate for its post-cold-war subject, tied to a duplicitous villain for a world of increasingly blurred lines. This is the first of the “modern” Bond films, a distinct shift in energy that paved the way for Craig, and while most all of the action sequences are exhilarating, the Saint Petersburg tank chase holds up against the absolute best moments in the series.
7 – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
It is a shame that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is largely remembered for being the one-time-Bond of George Lazenby, when the film is a singular Bond regardless. Former editor for the series, Peter Hunt, introduces propulsive energy into his effort, whilst giving Bond’s vulnerability more attention than it would see for decades to come, letting Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang sincerely fall in love (with the incomparable Dame Diana Rigg, no less). As the series had gotten too big for its own good, the plot was specifically made more down to earth, but consequently the filmmaking came to life, with moving romance, striking direction, electrifying action, top-notch music and a series best plot to boot, this should be far higher on the average Bond Bucket List.
6 – Dr. No
Sean Connery IS James Bond, and the series would never have taken off and most definitely never would have reached the heights it has without his star-making turn in the first 007 film. That introduction, just saying his name with the theme tune playing lightly underneath, was enough to seal the deal. Dr. No can seem a little primordial, but that trenchant style is also what sets it apart in the canon and what makes it so involving.
As these things go, the movie is a relatively stern affair, and takes its time, sending the coldblooded and at the time somehow anonymous agent to do some honest-to-goodness detective work, as more traditional Bond hallmarks (a flame-throwing tank, an acerbic but stunning female co-star, an unfathomably rich baddie, their treacherous and highly impractical base, etc.) trickle in slowly. Outlandish gadgets and larger-than-life bombast are far off on the horizon at this point, so it’s impressive to see Dr. No get by on its dark humour, procedural spy work, all-pervading sense of cool, and a helping handful of the stuff from which iconic movie moments are made of.
5 – Skyfall
To mark the 50th anniversary of their first production, Eon had to up their game, and opted to do so by wrangling prestige filmmakers into bolstering the property; A-list director Sam Mendes, celebrated writer John Logan and premier cinematographer of our time Roger Deakins. The results were explosive; a film that, as a marvel, doesn’t put a foot wrong. Marked by a reverence for the heritage of the series matching that of the fans, Skyfall gave everyone involved the material they needed to do their best work, not in the least the amazing leads (a slippery and deranged Javier Bardem, counter to Dame Judi Dench who brings unreasonable amounts of pathos to the table).
It’s a film in conversation with the status and legacy of the Bond franchise, about whether it’s time to retire the old ways. Casino Royale had changed so much, followed by a dutifully dreary Quantum, what would a contemporary Bond in the classical mode feel like? Incredible, as it turned out. That the massive contrivances of its plot don’t ever rise to the forefront of the audience’s attention whilst watching Skyfall is a testament to the phenomenal piece of entertainment that it is, a crowd-pleaser deserving of being the series’ most popular film.
4 – From Russia With Love
From Russia With Love can be eclipsed in the popular consciousness by the absolutely massive spectacles of later Bond films, but it is just paired down enough to still maintain high espionage intrigue, with a distinctly Hitchcockian flavor. Everyone in the perfectly pitched rogue’s gallery plays it straight, the sociopathic Rosa Klebb is especially unnerving, and Grant, the prowling Irish assassin, is just as ominous. Connery maintains his mesmerizing presence, a consummate international man of mystery, the keyword here being “international”. The allure of the film’s exotic Istanbul setting at the time was see the crossroads of spies, allies, and otherwise.
Nowadays, like many early Bonds, it’s still a pleasure to see the sights but the movie also functions as a phantastic time-capsule. And we do indeed see the sights, From Russia With Love supplies all terrain action, inside the ancient Basilica Cistern and outdoors in raucous Gypsy camps, with helicopters above the countryside and speedboats in the Bosphorus strait, and the best hand-to-hand fight of the series in a compartment on the Orient Express. With it being early days, the plot armour is not quite so thick, and we come pretty close to worrying that Bond is in serious trouble. The pacing is world-class, practically metrical and the film has an urbane quality that enriches an already outstanding storyline.
3 – The Spy Who Loved Me
The Spy Who Loved Me is in every sense a delight, as playful as any of Moore’s tenure, but easily the most giving when it comes to action-adventure bona fides. It has everything you could ask for, including some remarkably captivating new characters; Jaws (the metal toothed henchman menacing enough to have received the rare honor of returning in a later entry), plus a contender for best Bond girl, Soviet agent Anya Amasova, the first of the series’ women portrayed as matching up to Bond. 007 and ‘XXX’, a worthy namesake as substitute for a double-entendre, are forced to team up, foils in ideology and attitude, swept up in some of the most invigorating action of the series (the opening parachute stunt is an all-timer).
The movie gets into the swing of things right away, and just does not stop delivering; even fans who don’t enjoy the tongue-in-cheek gags of Moore’s films are able to admit that the comedy in The Spy Who Loved Me is at the very least germane. As in his other films, Lewis Gilbert improves upon the workmanlike direction of certain entries, aided in no small part by the sublime score, delivering a Bond that is, above all, rousing.
2 – Casino Royale
A Bond film’s ultimate magic trick is in convincing audiences that a coldhearted, obstinate and all-round ruthless killer is a hero you’re supposed to be fond of. Casino Royale took another look at the material, leaning into the realities of life as a hired gun, without ever leaving us at a distance to Bond himself. A shot in the arm, completely reimagining the parameters of a Bond flick, taken on its own the film is the best all-round production of the bunch, being sharply written, and aptly directed like a pistol going off.
Beyond this thoughtfulness, on a gut-level ‘Casino’ passes with flying colours, the chemistry between Daniel Craig and Eva Green is galvanizing, the villain is intelligent, convincingly real and savagely sadistic, and we see Bond as we know him take shape before our eyes. When a great deal of your film series’ appeal lies in the homogeneity of its entries, the question becomes why it matters to keep catching, or indeed, making new additions? Casino Royale is the answer.
1 – Goldfinger
Goldfinger is 24-karat Bond, the perfected formula which all other installments are variations on, and yet which somehow sustains its surprises, and giddy imagination nearly six decades on. This of course means that Sean Connery is on top form, a vision of grace under pressure, except when beads of sweat are called for, running down his face as a laser beam threatens to take out his double-0s, for instance. “Do you expect me to talk?” he asks as he’s being held captive by the fanatically gold obsessed antagonist of the film, who utters that inimitable remark; “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” The best Bond villains are seen having a glorious time being compellingly evil, and here Auric Goldfinger, the best of them all, relishes the genius of his schemes, his ability to outsmart Bond, the excess of his villainy and the lavishness of his spoils. Even Oddjob doesn’t scowl when doing his hench-work, he smirks at the opportunity to decapitate with his steel-brimmed razor hat. The rest of the cast and crew are giving it everything they have as well and seem so genuinely excited to be a part of a film series taking off astronomically; their vitality defines the film.
It’s the progenitor of most every Bond cliché we know and love today, but it’s so much more than that, though we wouldn’t dare reveal its playful wonders. Goldfinger is an absolute joy to watch, as it balances nearly every sort of entertainment you could ask for from a blockbuster. If one heinously challenging scene were cut, this would be flawless; a patchwork of nothing but the sorts of sequences some films in the series would be lucky to have a solitary instance of. If you’re looking to get into Bond, this is the place to start.
No two Bond rankings are the same, which is exactly what makes them so fun to exchange between fans. A love for the series is more often than not the only uniting factor between lists. Dilys Powell once hit the nail on the head; “The cinema was a duller place before 007.” All these years later, in the opinion of this writer, nobody does it better.