Rating the James Bond Movies

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You can’t expect movie critics to be reliable guides, if only because they aren’t truly unbiased, but what a disappointment when you go see some dud on a critic’s recommendation. It’s still irritating to think of some of those stinkers, many years later.

Why do we even have critics, when most of them can’t figure out works like Barton Fink, Eraserhead or November (that suspense movie with Monica from Friends)? Siskel, though, looked like he had November pegged. I didn’t see the follow-up, but he had that look of discovery when he said he’d figured it out, and he’d explain it later.

The best bet is a critic that seems to like the same sort of movies you do. A critic might be right that a movie is objectively good, but if you don’t like the same things he or she likes, it’s pointless. Also, its important to find a critic who isn’t a sell-out, but how can you be sure of that? Tough, indeed.

As far as ratings, a strict rank, number 1, number 2, etc., often doesn’t make sense for categorization of movies, music or art. It happens that there are works of equal quality.

I don’t know if anyone still even listens to radio anymore, but I remember as a young whippersnapper, listening to radio countdowns like, “The Top 1000 Songs of All Time.” I think Hey Jude, American Pie, Stairway to Heaven, Bridge Over Troubled Water and Just the Way You Are were all number ones at one time, which makes the idea of number one, number two… nonsensical. Better, “Most Requested,” “Best Selling,” which are real measurements.

But if you divide an assessment into tiers, you get a little closer to objectivity. Following that principle, I’ve divided the rankings into top tier, second tier, and so on, with multiple films possible per tier.

There’s an element of psychology when considering the Bonds. If you are hoping to see thrilling action, and you get served up humor, slapstick or satire, well, depending on your mood and personality, you may feel cheated, or just annoyed, or disappointed.

The truth is, if it’s a good, original story, most everyone will like it. In general, people have gotten used to to having some humor mixed in the Bond films which helps give them their character and stops them from becoming overly dark. But it’s another simple truth, that a good story isn’t so easy. And the Bond films became progressively more outrageous, and formulaic, to near self-destruction.

The same judgment that couldn’t discern a good story, couldn’t discern when they were pushing it too far with bad quips, unlikely situations and overly stupid and repetitive plots. Not the prescription for an enjoyable spy adventure. It’s no surprise, that the rebound from bad Bonds, Casino Royale, did so well, when it was a kind of a clunker, because at least it changed things up a bit.

There was a sweet spot, before things went off the rails, where you could enjoy both humor and adventure. So these ratings feature a “goofy fun” subcategory for each tier.

We’re not including the 1954 made-for-TV Casino Royale with Barry Nelson, nor the miserable 1967 satire/farce Casino Royale with David Niven, which I don’t know how the hell got made. Based on a perusal of its history, we can only conclude it was an act of spite, perhaps the most costly ever. The holder of the film rights to the book, Charles Feldman, couldn’t make a deal with Eon (maker of the Bond series) to produce it for him. So he sought vengeance by belittling the Bond series with a satire, knowing he couldn’t compete with Eon on quality.

A hundred million of today’s dollars later… he choked up this hairball. It wasn’t intended to be so costly (and he probably could have competed with Eon if he’d known in advance he’d spend double his original budget), but things went wrong and costs added up (because they don’t add down).

Still, it amazingly made three and a half times its budget. It must have had an inspired ad campaign.

The Rankings

Top Tier

From Russia with Love

From Russia with Love

Touches all the bases, and certainly the most credible Bond.

Terrific settings, sustained tension, lower-key, more down-to-earth antics. Bond barely scrapes through some battles with tough opponents. Just for the great story-telling alone, FRWL is a winner.

How Does It Compare to the Book?

Like the movie, no plans to dominate and destroy the world here, except on a slow burner by the Soviet commies of SMERSH, “Death to Spies.” In fact, the movie is a close adaptation of the book, while glossing over the details. In the book, the events of FRWL follow the events of DAF.

The book spends much time with Red Grant, and we learn he is a psychopath, and quite mad. But the Russkies channel his raging bloodlust. Tatiana and Rosa Klebb get a lot of space, and we discover their inner thoughts and secrets, which, like Grant’s, were not explored in the movie.

Grant is asexual. Klebb, villainess head of the Otdyel II, the Department of Torture and Death, thick and dumpy, with “wet, rubbery lips,” is lesbian. Sounds like they’d make a cute couple.

We were introduced here to the first Spectre — well, Spektor — but this is the translating machine that Tatiana uses to bait London into accepting her as a defector.

It is a fun book, and they were smart to stay faithful in the adaptation.

Dr. No

Doctor No

First ever, and a breakthrough in spy films, particularly with those Ken Adam sets and Terence Young direction. It probably changed movies forever, too. Fun how Bond turns the tables throughout. Little bit quirky, a little bit silly, but he knows how to take care of business, just how we like our Bonds.

How Does It Compare to the Book?

The story’s roots were in a 1956 screenplay for a proposed television show entitled Commander Jamaica. The concept failed, so Fleming revised it into a book. The movie is mostly faithful the book’s plot, with a main difference being that Dr. No runs a guano mine, digging up old bird droppings, very valuable as fertilizer. Bond ends up burying No in guano at the end of the book.

In the books, Dr. No follows the events of FRWL.

Top Tier Goofy Fun

Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever

Probably my personal favorite, favorite song, favorite Bond girl, Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole. Best comic henchmen, best fight in an elevator. Good balance of humor and tension.

Sadly, it falls apart at silly climax, the villain inevitably thwarted again. Which is fine, but must he be made to seem like an impotent nitwit? He didn’t get this far in life being a dope. Megalomaniac, yes. Like in SPECTRE, you have to wonder if Blofeld is really a softie, with no appetite for “wet work,” except at a distance, and just mixed up in all of this mischief for the attention it brings!

DAF is “an original,” someone said. Astonishing atmosphere (the score accounts for a lot of this). Also Vegas is enchanting here. Most effortless Bond.

Even the most ardent fan must understand that there are no actual super-spies really running around dispatching super villains and saving the world, and movies like the Bonds (and the other super-spies) are essentially fantasy. What there are, are stoolies, traitors, rabble-rousers and bagmen bringing bribes to corrupt officials, as made plain in a The Register article. (Note: The British secret service is called, Secret Intelligence Service, SIS.)

So far from pistols, chop-socky or irresistible sexual magnetism, a normal SIS officer’s primary tools for motivating foreigners to do what he wants are bribery, bullshit and in certain circumstances blackmail. The only Bond-like quality a normal SIS officer will be required to show is the ability to drink heavily and remain functional, as any diplomat must on the embassy cocktail circuit.

This movie embraces the fantasy, with a purely fanciful and thus entertaining Bond. They screwed up on the last act partly because it wasn’t as originally planned, but at least we have that great final scene where Wint and Kidd are scuttled, and the amusing discovery that Wint likes it rough. We’ll miss those giggling bunglers.

How Does It Compare to the Book?

The movie is far different from the book. The film mixed and matched various ideas, vignettes and characters from the written story, which was a sort of old-time gangster tale, rather than the grandiose attempt of Bloefeld at total control and devastation. The mud baths of the book morph into Bloefeld’s clone-creation chamber (or whatever that is), where Bond drowns the guy in mud (actually colored mashed potatoes).

The movie changes the book into a science fiction tale. In the book, the diamonds are simply the contraband of a smuggling operation, not crucial components for a space laser.

The story follows how Bond eliminates the crooks along the diamond pipeline. Along the way there are crooked jockies, a ghost town and rigged blackjack to pay off an undercover Bond. Bond is found out and badly beaten but manages a long escape on a railway push-car with Tiffany. Bond derails a train that’s chasing them. Somehow he kills Wint and Kidd in the dopiest way imaginable, after crashing his body into their ocean liner cabin from outside, through the porthole, having just been lucky enough to have the cabin directly above them. Overall, readable, but a little bit dull and unmemorable, and it’s easy to see why they revised it for the movie.

Goldfinger

From Russia with Love

Directed by Guy Hamilton. Many believe this to be the most important Bond.

It is iconic, perhaps unqualified top-tier, depending on your mood, but gets somehow draining on re-watches, as you recognize various flaws. Maybe it’s the “hard-boiled gangsters.” (“What the Dickens is going on here, Goldfinger?” “Yeah, Goldfinger, I hope there’s no hanky-panky underway!”)

Maybe it’s Pussy Galore’s unlikely all-girl air squadron. Maybe it’s Goldfinger’s madcap plan to make all the gold in Fort Knox radioactive. He could just steal the gold since he was in there anyway, or, it was pointed out, bomb the fort from an airplane.

Nevertheless, one can imagine how exciting it must have been to see it in the theater at the time of its first release.

Second Tier

Thunderball

Thunderball

One of the best if you’re rating by a points system, but boring in spots, probably due to the hard to track underwater sequences, though technically they were a breakthrough.

But a sheer winner in its day.

The screenplay the book and movie were based on was a collaborative effort between Fleming, Jack Whittingham and Kevin McClory, and some others. The collaboration gave rise to “Bloefeld,” the head of criminal organization SPECTRE. It also gave rise to legal issues when Fleming wrote and marketed the book, based on the screenplay, on his own, and McClory had to sue. This led to McClory winning the rights to make his own version of the story, and hence, NSNA, much later on.

GoldenEye

From Russia with Love

Great debut for Brosnan, whom I didn’t think I’d like in the role. The ending seemed anticlimactic to me, and the Sean Bean character was one that shouldn’t be so callously dispatched. They throw away their own opportunities — he could have been captured and imprisoned to create havoc another time, another movie. What excitement if some of his old goons teamed up to take on Bond.

The worst was the try-hard attempt to make Bond a studly lady’s man from jump. They shouldn’t force these things. I think one of the reasons the Jason Bourne movies were so well-received was the relief of the audience at not having to put up with that. Instead, audiences got fed pure action. Yes, there was a romance, but it wasn’t overplayed.

Goldeneye is the original name of Ian Fleming’s estate on Oracabessa Bay, Jamaica. He never wrote a book called GoldenEye, but there is a novelization of the film by John Gardner.

Second Tier Goofy Fun

SPECTRE

Spectre

Mostly well-paced. Bautista elevated this one, playing a ruthless, soulless thug.

I enjoyed the references to past films, but I don’t like what Bond did to the DB10. Okay, here we go with the Fantasy Football version: He should have used a special driver’s ejection seat and as he blasts off we see, from Hinx’s perspective, a blinding ball of flame shooting out of the rockets of the seat, cracking his windshield to smithereens, while the Aston Martin calmly pulls off to the side and stops itself.

Of course the plot and motivations were dopey, but we’ve come to expect this in Bond films. And, we have the troublesome issue of Bond running around complacently with two holes in his head, without even the benefit of a 00-designated band-aid to salve his wounds. This confirms something many of us have suspected, but dared not say: We thought he was just an impulsive, over-sexed lush, but James Bond is really Fearless Fosdick in disguise.

Fearless Fosdick

And, again, a weak villain. Why can’t one of the Blofelds really give Bond a good thrashing, on his own, to at least make a showing that he’s a worthy adversary? And certainly the big-deal spymasters at MI-6 must’ve known that Blofeld and Bond are foster brothers.

No? Nuh-nuh-no?

No?

Even Bond himself doesn’t seem to be aware of it. Maybe Bond feels he needs a foster brother like he needs a hole in the head, ha ha ha.

You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice

YOLT is also iconic, good gadgets, effects, of course the Adam sets were revolutionary.

But it is slow in parts. No, sleep-inducing in parts. I don’t like when the villain is too helpless under pressure — did I say that already? — Pleasance is a good villain, but Savalas’ Blofeld more of a menace, which is needed to give some suspense.

How Does It Compare to the Book?

Book Bond is sullen and morbid since the murder, by Bloefeld, of his new bride, Tracy, in OHMSS. He is somehow even more drunken and about to be fired by M. He’s given a chance for redemption in Japan, to act as a diplomat to get Tiger Tanaka to provide intelligence information to Britain. When it turns out Bond has nothing to bargain with for the information, he’s offered a mission to kill Dr. Shatterhand who runs a “Garden of Death” in a restored castle that people flock to, to commit suicide. Bond has identified Shatterhand as actually Bloefeld and accepts, hoping for vengeance. Bond infiltrates and is subsequently identified, leading to a battle with Bloefeld, whom he kills.

Bond blows up the castle and escapes, but with an injury that leaves him with amnesia. He is believed dead by the rest of the world, but lives on as a Japanese fisherman with a pregnant Kissy Suzuki. At the end of the book, he gets it in his head to travel to Vladivostok to help restore his memory.

Needless to say, only character names, some sprinkling of details, like Bond’s fake obituary, masquerading as an Asian fisherman, and the setting of Japan survives in the movie

Sci-fi trappings seem a standard go-to when adapting the Bond books for the screen. Science fiction, when disguised, often sells in movies. Books too, when disguised. Stephen King talked about how he would never want to be known as a sci-fi writer, it’s a dead end, though he writes some sci-fi stories.

Since it has a bad name, but often interesting ideas, we have the situation that many films are secret science fiction, where people enjoy the fantasy aspect without even realizing it is sci-fi.

Moonraker

Moonraker

Also known as, 007 Against The Death Rocket (Brazil and Portugal).

I don’t understand the criticism, goofy fun, remember? Maybe the cruelty of how the French helicopter girl, Corrine, is dispatched was a misstep not in keeping with the general tone of the movie.

I do have a geeky confession to make. I remember my excitement after watching the original release, that Bond might be going to Mars next. I don’t know. And don’t ask me what the fiddlesticks he was supposed to do on Mars.

But, someone, please, explain Drax’s logic in attempting to kill Bond, right in his shuttle factory when Bond comes to do some cursory research. At that point no one suspected him of being involved in any wrongdoing, or stealing his own vehicle. Isn’t that just going to bring more attention down on him?

Actually, people have noticed it’s exactly the same plot as TSWLM, the previous movie! Except instead of underwater, it’s in space. This was a huge example of money-grubbing, rushing MOON into production, displacing FYEO, to take advantage of the Star Wars craze. Still, the details were different enough that people didn’t care and it did very well at the box office.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

OHMSS is the one where Bond marries Mrs. Peel, for a million pounds (i.e.: six months’ booze money). OHMSS benefits from repeated viewings, if only to help get accustomed to Lazenby. He was decent as Bond, and I wouldn’t consider him a “bad actor,” as some say. Diana Rigg preferable as Mrs. Peel, but, again, not that bad. She has little sex appeal despite the hype. Well, maybe that one scene in the lingerie. Someone said there was no spark between James and Tracy, but they’re British! — that was passionate fireworks between the two, for Brits.

Quirks and flaws, it has. But there is some solid action and humor in the story. And it’s not all goofy fun, with the romantic/tragic subplot. This one is really outside the usual mold for Bonds. Tracy has to come running to his rescue, while he cowers around like a little byatch!

But how much are people going to tolerate — is it the same Bond, the same Bloefeld? Why is there such studio resistance to having Bond 007 be simply a code name for various agents? Then LazenBond goes and breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience anyway, referring to “The other fellow.”

Why couldn’t this Bloefeld be brother to the one from YOLT? A comic book publisher did this trick to resolve the issue with the similar characters Brutus and Bluto in the Popeye cartoon.

Sure, there is a reason to maintain the continuity. People feel more at home with a continuing character, already established with considerable goodwill. It’s a comfort spot for people, who like a familiar groove.

Don’t really care for a weepy, broken Bond, but they cleverly ended the movie at the point of his breakdown. Through some work of genius or trick of fate, the producers had their cake and ate it too. Bond too sniveling? Out with him and back to unflappable Bond, scooting any baggage neatly out the door!

Third Tier

Casino Royale

Casino Royale

Please, do not say how good CR it is. I think people were told to like it with unrelenting hype, so they did. Unpolished Bond, magical gadget for transparent plot service, but otherwise a lack of gadgets. Gadgets make Bonds fun and are almost expected/required. Too much worship of the Vesper Lynn character, too, with the personality of a wet corn chip.

Liking this flick perhaps depends on what sort of character you want to identify with.

Sometimes one thing can ruin it. The clairvoyant gadget in Casino Royale, the “defibrillator,” qualified. “Oh, by the way Bond, you’re going to have just the opportunity to use this. Just walk back to the car whilst dying, hook up, and give yerself a zap. Easy-peasy!” Oh, you Brits!

Absurd. Unintentionally funny, too, when Bond has to go to hospital for testicular recovery of the old double-Os. Maybe, just in this case, they shouldn’t have stayed true to the book. If they’d used the defibrillator to torture Bond, that would make sense.

Also, an unnecessarily boorish, callous, brutish Bond soured this movie. If it’s the same Bond, he’s not going to suddenly become suave, debonair and sophisticated if he’s previously a lout!

Oh yes, you can’t jerk a steering wheel and make a car flip over sideways multiple times. Or there’d be a lot of jerks upside-down on the side of the road. Just dopey.

How Does It Compare to the Book?

The concept and plot are essentially the same in film and book, with Bond setting out to bankrupt Le Chiffre. In a silly change from the book, Bond plays poker rather than baccarat. There’s no real reason to make the change, except for the producers thinking they could capitalize on the poker craze.

The Living Daylights

The Living Daylights

TLD is not horrible, but I don’t like Dalton’s over-emoting, particularly when the plane he’s in is going to crash, which sticks in my mind. New York Times said he often looks uncomfortable in the role — yes.

How Does It Compare to the Story?

In the story by the same name, Bond has to kill a sniper, who turns out to be a KGB cellist girl he takes a fancy to. He shoots to disable her and his liaison says he should have killed her. Bond defends himself, saying that, having the living daylights scared out of her, she will be out of the snipering business for good. So the movie only sampled bits and pieces of the short story.

Licence to Kill

Licence to Kill

LTK is the second and last Dalton Bond, which descends somewhat into viciousness and sadism. Good for people who want to see a grittier Bond, but you have to wonder if they went this way to “beef up” Dalton with some street cred. Maybe they should have used this story for a non-Bond movie. Wayne Newton may have been the best part of this flick.

This was a first for a Bond movie: the first not to have a title or story line from one of Ian Fleming’s works. But Bond’s friend, CIA man Felix Leiter, tossed to a shark, Bond’s revenge, and the Franz Sanchez drug smuggling operation were borrowed from Live and Let Die.

For Your Eyes Only

For Your Eyes Only

FYEO is too scattershot, inconsistent, with Bond careening from one goofy situation to another. Not consonant with what we expect from Bond. Ruins the atmosphere. And Bibi fits right into the ruination. Contrast this with Diamonds Are Forever, where they maintained a sophisticated, together, Bond, despite the asylum antics around him.

It’s like there were ten different directors, and Bond’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere. Putting flowers on the grave of Lazenby’s dead wife; at the pool, dodging transsexuals and getting into awkward scraps; in the snowy mountains, dodging marksmen’s bullets and hockey pucks; at the beach trying to rescue a woman who came out of nowhere (idea for this scene pulled out of OHMSS?) and is suddenly the love of his life; skidding downhill in a flimsy mini-car; underwater perils (hello, TBALL — also the henchman Vargas from TBALL is very similar to Locque); getting dragged along in the water as shark bait and damaging the coral; kicking cars off of cliffs; scaling a mountain. Henchmen galore, but no Pussy Galore. Bond’s stretched too thin and the screwy plotting and diverse settings contribute to a lack of harmony. Which is strange, because usually a globe-trotting Bond is fun. My impression was, he was not really globe-trotting though, just moving between indeterminate locales.

How Does It Compare to the Story?

A new subplot plus the plots from two of Fleming’s short stories, For Your Eyes Only (Melina’s plot) and Risico (the smugglers plot), along with inspiration from the climax from the novel, Live and Let Die were stirred together to make this movie’s structure. No wonder it’s disjointed.

Third Tier Goofy Fun

The Man with the Golden Gun

The Man with the Golden Gun

I should like TMWTGG, what with the beautiful tropical island setting, good ol’ Nick Nack, many fun parts and good ideas. Perhaps it’s too disjointed, the girl too annoying… Boring in spots. Could be an all-time great with a complete script rework and different Bond girl.

Instead of setting their own path, as the first movies did, Bonds began following the trends of the day. Of course the Craig era tried to emulate the Bourne series. Here, we have Bond borrowing from the popularity of the Kung-Fu movies as Bond takes on a martial arts school.

How Does It Compare to the Book?

Oh, cripes, another old-timey gangster tale. This one is mostly readable as straight farce, because it makes no sense. Scaramanga is the most flamboyant and unlikely hitman ever, and his interactions with Bond are preposterous.

Anyway, Bond has come back from visiting Vladivostok after YOLT. And guess what? He’s been brainwashed by the KGB to kill M. Luckily, M has a Get Smart-style plastic window he drops between himself and Bond to prevent the poison from hitting him.

M reads report that Scaramanga may be impotent and gay because he can’t whistle! M tries to whistle.

Then, after electroshock “therapy” on Bond 24 times, now Bond’s all fine.

M then cruelly sends Bond off to kill the nuisance and number one pistolero Scaramanga, though it’s probably a suicide mission.

The whole thing turns into just a slow slog. There’s another train crash. WTH is this fetish Fleming has with crashing trains, along with his other weird quirks, hmm? Freudian? So, sketchy as the movie is, it considerably surpasses the book.

Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die

Moore’s first Bond. Story is wacky, absurd at times, but somehow LALD is somewhat successful, particularly in its return on investment, despite or because of its off-the-wall lunacy. Interesting as a period-piece farce or spoof. Don’t really care for Jane Seymour’s character, too haughty or something. Rosie was very poorly written.

I don’t agree with another reviewer about, “the fine acting of Yaphet Kotto as main villain Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big.” He hammed it up until he couldn’t ham any more, then he was inflated to death and blew up like a big balloon! But in this farce, hamming it up is good. Another demerit: Bond has to go and say, “He always had an inflated opinion of himself.” No-no-no! You say (if you’re ever in this situation), “I figured he was full of hot air.”

It’s certainly an original. It’s hard to say if it was intentional to have Bond as a “fish out of water,” out of his element dealing with the brothers in the ‘hood. In fact, it’s hard to tell what was going through their minds.

A View to a Kill

A View to a Kill

In AVTAK, Bond takes on a rich megalomaniac industrialist with a sinister plan to blow up Silicon Valley, ho-hum, nothing original there. Grace Jones has to try single-handedly to save this picture. But there are too many missteps along the way. Killing off John Steed (and offscreen!) only one of its sins. It left a bad taste in my mouth when Bond sappily spends a sleepless night watch in a chair defending Tanya Roberts. Weak. (They repeated this in SPECTRE, one of many “homages,” but I didn’t hate it as much, perhaps because Whatshername didn’t play so ditzy a character?)

Weird thing to be bothered by, but the movie unnecessarily clipped off the theme song a couple of notes before the song actually ended (at the end of the opening credits of the movie). Who is the dumb bastich who did the music editing?

bad music editor

The final act with the dirigible was a little too obviously staged. Were they pressed for time, having to rush through the filming of the movie? Because, just a few installments back, they did that spectacular skydiving stunt in Moonraker, so they know how to do perilous scenes.

How Does It Compare to the Story?

The Ian Fleming short story, From a View To a Kill, is a detective tale, where Bond has to solve the murder-theft of some secret government dispatches, set an ambush, and bring glory to the 00 section.

Octopussy

Octopussy

I didn’t like this one at first, probably because it was jarring to see Bond as a pathetic clown looking helpless trying to defuse that bomb, that same pall as when he fought the hockey toughs in FYEO. That circus all-girl army was somewhat annoying, especially the robotic “Bond girl” character. Still, I have warmed to this one somewhat.

How Does It Compare to the Story?

The story has little to do even with Bond, who only appears in a few paragraphs. He is doing some investigating of the main character, an older, retired Royal Marines major. Major Smythe happens to be a murderer who gets his comeuppance at the tentacles of his pet octopus(sy).

Never Say Never Again

Never Say Never Again

NSNA has aged somewhat poorly. It didn’t help that we’d seen that story before somewhere… Oh right, TBALL! They made a decent effort at a rework though, so it wasn’t too obvious a copy.

The chief villain Maximillian Largo, played by Klaus Maria Brandauer, was a great casting choice, but, again, dispatched too easily/stupidly, not used to full advantage. Lots of creepy fun with that druggie putting in his fake retina and the detonation of Fatima Blush’s cartoonishly enormous ego, though.

The debate goes, “Is it James Bond?” Some argue that it isn’t in the “continuity,” and of course it isn’t an Eon Productions effort. But Eon doesn’t follow any sort of continuity, except halfheartedly, so that’s moot. Of course it’s a James Bond story. It has all the official blessings, so it’s an authorized film. It lacks some of the mood and tone and polish of Eon’s work, but it’s not really a disappointment, just a bit other-worldly.

Say it’s a parallel universe Bond, but still Bond, and let it go at that.

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me

TSWLM is that one with “Stromberg.” Most of the lesser Bonds are at least okay, but again, we’re given the weak villain, the dopey concept (Stromberg thinks he’s Aquaman and wants to rule an underwater kingdom). Good opening, fun “underwater car.” It has an aura that a lot of money was spent on the film.

How Does It Compare to the Book?

Only the title remained, because Fleming was so unhappy with the plot of the book, he only gave permission for the title to be used in a movie! The movie was then novelized by Christopher Wood.

Fourth Tier, Worst

Die Another Day

Die Another Day

The start of the movie is maybe the best opening of all Bonds! So why so crappy overall? Because it didn’t continue the story from there. They should have proceeded within the scary setting of North Korea. I can see them brainwashing Bond to work for the N. Koreans and he turns into a prolific assassin for “their side.” The story relates how they get him back into the fold of Perfidious Albion, M having to fight and scheme on his behalf since the higher-ups feel there’s no choice, and send snipers and other assassins to kill him. There — this stuff almost writes itself.

She’s a lousy M who left a trail of destruction, but a good actress, and that would have been a great opportunity for her to do more in a film, and maybe we would have been spared that cringe-worthy scene in Skyfall where she recites poetry to the Brit government.

The invisible car was dumb, though they did the best they could have with it. Wasn’t this the one with the Chinese guy with all the diamonds embedded in his face? Oh yeah, it was bad.

Of course it’s not an original title from Fleming, but it’s a great, evocative title that he would have approved. But just a title alone doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to wonder why they don’t have a panel of people, with all the billions they’ve made off these shows, to tell them straight up when something is terrible.

They should do a show based on Broccoli, the (now deceased) producer, and any time someone tries to tell him his movie idea stinks, he pitches a fit, throws rotting broccoli at them, and tries to blow up the world and corner the broccoli supply. Now that’s a story we all want to see!

Skyfall

Skyfall

Too vicious and contrived. Quite boring, I have no desire to watch it again. Stupid M and stupid Moneypenny, who killed Bond with her trick shot. Stay behind your desk, please, Moneypenny. I guess he came back as a ghost, which is why the later movie is called SPECTRE.

I generally don’t like movies with (non-super) characters that are too obviously superhuman (though we should note that the majority of movies are essentially superhero movies, with the character inevitably doing something superhuman at some point, usually the climax).

Too many scenes dark, monotone or hazy in the cinematography.

I don’t know why M’s death was supposed to be a shocker, she has been a worthless leader since the beginning when she stupidly hobbled Bond from investigating and preventing that spy plane theft in GoldenEye. She was the dinosaur she accused Bond of being. Of course no one’s ever going to replace Bernard Lee as M. Also, Silva should have escaped, to plague Bond another day.

Did M’s death make you at least a little misty-eyed? No, I didn’t think so. That indicates a flaw with the script. If you’re going to kill off an iconic character, at least make it a tear-jerker. This could have been set up by making M more sympathetic in Die Another Day, as explained above.

There was no Fleming Skyfall book or story, this is all newly concocted material.

Tomorrow Never Dies

Tomorrow Never Dies

The villain had potential, and was hilarious when he mocked the Chinese girl’s martial arts moves, but I hated they once again had to dilute him to a weak cuck. Could have been a good story, since it did satirize a real person, the Brit mogul, Robert Maxwell, but it was a piss-poor story too.

Naturally, this was not a Fleming tale.

Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace

Fleming’s completely different story was pretty good, this movie blew chunks.

This is one of the under-performing Bond movies, and the shortest, which is just as well. We, the suffering viewers, are the ones that need a “quantum of solace” due to that mess.

The World Is Not Enough

The World Is Not Enough

Denise Richards as a “Nuklar Fizzicist?” (It’s said “studio pressure” forced her in there, whatever that means [ahem]casting couch[ahem].) I don’t care for Elektra either. Has its moments, but still basement-tier.

A lot of times, these films lose value due to a poorly developed atmosphere that ruins the idea of a light, breezy Bond film, without the payoff that would make such a thing necessary.

Die Another Dame

Actually, all these films have their moments. Unfortunately, moments alone don’t make for a great overall movie. I guess we can’t complain too much, they haven’t reached anywhere near their nadir, yet. In an exciting new “green-lighted” script, it is revealed that Bond has been living a lie. A surgeon is consulted to make “the change” for Bond to finally, triumphantly, embrace his — er, her true inner self identity. He — er, she is titled by the Queen. Now, the gloves are off, and Dame James is revealed as the most effective fighter of the Patriarchy, evah! Only in theaters!

Summary Table

Tier
Name & Year
Budget (2021 USD) 
World Sales (2021 USD) 
Gross Profit (2021 USD) 

1
From Russia with Love (1963)
17,000,000
676,000,000
659,000,000 (39x)

1
Dr. No (1962)
8,570,000
517,000,000
508,000,000 (59x)

1
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
48,100,000
774,000,000
726,000,000 (15x)

1
Goldfinger (1964)
25,400,000
1,060,000,000
1,035,000,000 (41x)

2
Thunderball (1965)
75,000,000
1,180,000,000
1,100,000,000 (15x)

2
GoldenEye (1995)
105,000,000
623,000,000
518,000,000 (5x)

2
SPECTRE (2015)
328,000,000
953,000,000
625,000,000 (<2x)

2
You Only Live Twice (1967)
76,000,000
891,000,000
815,000,000 (11x)

2
Moonraker (1979)
123,000,000
836,000,000
713,000,000 (6x)

2
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
60,000,000
611,000,000
551,000,000 (9x)

3
Casino Royale (2006)
135,000,000
788,000,000
653,000,000 (5x)

3
The Living Daylights (1987)
94,500,000
452,000,000
357,000,000 (4x)

3
Licence to Kill (1989)
92,000,000
342,000,000
250,000,000 (3x)

3
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
88,000,000
614,000,000
526,000,000 (6x)

3
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
41,000,000
570,000,000
529,000,000 (13x)

3
Live and Let Die (1973)
43,000,000
1,000,000,000
957,000,000 (22x)

3
A View to a Kill (1985)
75,000,000
381,000,000
306,000,000 (4x)

3
Octopussy (1983)
73,800,000
503,000,000
430,000,000 (6x)

3
Never Say Never Again (1983)
97,000,000
430,000,000
333,000,000 (3x)

3
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
63,800,000
844,000,000
780,000,000 (12x)

4
Die Another Day (2002)
208,000,000
632,000,000
424,000,000 (2x)

4
Skyfall (2012)
230,000,000
1,280,000,000
1,050,000,000 (5x)

4
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
182,000,000
561,000,000
379,000,000 (2x)

4
Quantum of Solace (2008)
287,000,000
739,000,000
452,000,000 (<2x)

4
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
214,000,000
575,000,000
360,000,000 (<2x)

TOTALS
2,800,000,000
17,800,000,000
15,000,000,000 (5x)

This (figures rounded from thenumbers.com) chart leaves no argument which are the real blockbusters, the earliest Bonds.

With a miserly budget for LALD, it still made 22 times its investment. Nice.

It is difficult to believe that they need to make triple the budget to break even, due to distribution and promotion costs, as I read somewhere. I would think that promotion, etc., is not going to reach or exceed much above one hundred million. That rule must be for films that are low budget.

Don’t tell me they’re going to gripe about 600 million, like SPEC, even though they less than doubled the investment. If they really have to make triple, it must be one of the biggest disasters of all time.

NSNA “lost” against OCTO, costing more and earning less, but it was hardly a failure.

It’s interesting that my assessments pretty much coincided with the way the numbers shook out.

All the Bonds

The Bonds, Rated

Connery (of course, without peer), Moore, (Lazenby, Dalton, Brosnan and Craig) (all about the same). I would have had Craig last, but warmed to him in SPECTRE.

Moore ranks high because he has presence, and was a Bond, not the Bond. He says he deliberately played as differently from Connery’s Bond as possible, by, for example, smoking cigars.

Lazenby is likable enough, and somewhat went his own way, but of course has to be recorded as the only Bond actor to take career guidance from his shoe-shine boy.

I don’t like the way Brosnan says, “Bond, James Bond.” I wonder how many times he practiced it in front of the mirror. Not enough, however many.

The Songs, Rated

Again, we need a tier system. Lots of songs here that are just good songs, period.

You may be interested in the playlist of rejected Bond themes, many of which are excellent. Of particular interest are the Alice Cooper song for TMWTGG, which came in a little too late for consideration, the Radiohead version of the SPECTRE theme, plus several others. Anthony Newley singing Goldfinger, was considered “too creepy.”

Top Tier

Diamonds Are Forever

By the great Shirley Bassey, who also sang the themes to Moonraker and Goldfinger.

It’s said Cubbie Broccoli had to convince him to use the DAF theme because co-producer Saltzman felt the lyrics were “too dirty.” Oh, please. The films are about a guy who is flopping into bed with every perfumed floozy he can latch onto between cocktails, and we get fed a tale of supposed moralizing over a unique, lovely song that is about diamonds? As Daffy Duck says, “Easy, stomach, don’t turn over now. Easy does it.”

Interesting and surprising to read in Harry Saltzman’s bio that he was secretly a spook. He worked for the U.S. Army’s Psychological Warfare Bureau and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA. All this was kept secret until 2002, when it was revealed by James Bond production associate David Giammarco in his book.

View to a Kill

Brilliant, may be Duran Duran’s best song. Should have been the one to set the pattern for future themes, as Goldfinger did 11 movies back.

The James Bond Theme

Inspired. What even comes close except the Mission: Impossible theme and Moby’s Extreme Ways?

Goldfinger

Yes, someone griped about rhyming “Goldfinger” with “cold finger,” and he’s absolutely right, especially when they could have written, “such a cold stinger, poisons you, within his web of sin,” but Shirley sells this song and brings it home so well, it’s pretty much a moot point.

Top Tier Romantic/Soft

You Only Live Twice

Atmosphere. What a great tune to embody that era, and to correspond with what transpired in the opening scene. Of course we know Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang isn’t really dead — or is he? He already died once in the opening scene of FRWL! Gulp! We probably won’t get any more songs like this. The world’s not like that anymore.

Moonraker

Talk about easy and relaxed. It sets the stage for a generally fun movie.

Second Tier

Thunderball

That’s a Bond theme. Tom Jones fainted, holding that final high note. Fun, almost comical lyrics. Have to pace yourself though; like the movie, it doesn’t bear much repetition.

Die Another Day

Nice: original, innovative, fits for a more modernized Bond, great tie-in to the opening of the film. Don’t judge the song by Madonna’s misjudged placement as a fencing instructor.

GoldenEye

A little discordant, with that jarring switch up in the 2nd stanza (“You’ll never know…,” etc.), similar to what Live and Let Die did wrong, otherwise could be top tier.

Tomorrow Never Dies

Nice surprise, good exemplar of how to go contemporary while still being “Bondish.” Too bad the movie didn’t live up to it.

Second Tier Romantic/Soft

From Russia with Love

Some might criticize it, but it complements the movie very well. Smooth little ’60s jingle.

For Your Eyes Only

Why is this a Bond tune, when, say, “All Time High,” or “Writing’s on the Wall,” isn’t? It’s in the title. “For Your Eyes Only,” is an allusion to classified documents, and there’s the double meaning of romantic involvement, and what’s Bond without that?

It didn’t hurt that the song had all the makings of a hit, and Easton looked stunning singing it in the opening. Great theme for a romantic type of Bond movie.

Third Tier

The World Is Not Enough

Nice enough, no real complaints.

Live and Let Die

Didn’t like this at first. McCartney’s singing is weak sauce here, but it’s grown on me over the years. Guns N’ Roses coaxed out a welcome little bit of “Highway Star” in its cover.

Fortunately, LALD qualifies as a “Bond song,” with that driving orchestral arrangement and of course the iconic chord at the end.

License To Kill

Not bad at all. Doesn’t seem to fit with the content of the movie very well, though.

Third Tier Romantic/Soft

The Living Daylights

Catchy pop riff, but needs more power.

Meh

The Man with the Golden Gun

Are they trying to be “sexy” here? “He’s got a powerful weapon…” Lulu shows she’s got a better voice when the song slows down, but otherwise she’s all over the place. No spunk, it’s hard to tell what they were thinking with this dud.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Theme

Has its moments, but uninspiring. Note that We Have All the Time in the World is not the theme song of OHMSS. I think they call that type of thing, “Love Theme from OHMSS.”

Another Way To Die (Quantum of Solace)

Are they trying to imitate Madonna or McCartney with this vanity project? No one seems to forget it’s a Bond tune like Keys and White. Except Rita Coolidge.

Never Say Never Again

The cringe… it burns. Recycled soap opera mood music set up with lyrics.

Decent Song, But Not Really Bond

You Know My Name (Casino Royale)

“Pop/contemporary,” stuff like this needs an strong edge to fit with Bond, which only comes in the closing notes here.

Many of these songs are deceptive, since the title sequence elevates them, particularly noticeable with this film. Best to just listen without the video to evaluate how the song stands on its own.

No Time To Die

This one is similar to Skyfall, but better. Still, I am against these new-style Bond themes, evolving into dirges.

Skyfall

Try-hard attempt at getting artsy.

“And the Skyfall And we tumble And the Skyfall And we fall down We will stand tall Face it all TOGETHER… AT Sky FALL.” What the ever-lovin’…? Most uninspired lyrics ever. This is considered “great” by some? Should be called “Glue,” ’cause they can stick it. Makes, “But if this ever changing world in which we’re living…” sound like the works of Shakespeare.

A little muddy, too. Autotune? Contrast this with the clear notes when Shirley Bassey sings live. What a voice she has.

It would be nice if they would stop using these flash-in-the-pan sensations and cut out the emo. These attempts at “classic,” almost operatic, Bond songs may be trying ineffectually to replace the bombast and quality of the earlier tunes with this overdone, formulaic stuff. But it seems like the musicians just aren’t of the same caliber as in the past. Quite likely the producers are cheaping out on investment, just to milk the Bond franchise for higher profit margins.

They squeeze blood out of a stone and all entertainment is a big-money business. You have to expect that sometimes, they’ll have something on the shelf, “Well, it’s not quite a hit, but we can make it one, with publicity or exposure, let’s slot it into this film or that film.” Maybe tweak the lyrics a little, and you’re done. Sure, sometimes it’s not a good fit, but they know how to promote things beyond their merit. They use all the tricks.

Nobody Does It Better (The Spy Who Loved Me theme)

A Carly Simon song, NDIB loses points for having no effort put in to make this song a “Bond theme,” that is, utilizing some chords or stylings from the original James Bond theme, or adding some dramatic passages, like you’d expect for an adventure movie.

All Time High (Octopussy theme)

Same problem as NDIB: another cute song, not a Bond song. Rita Coolidge sings probably the least Bond-like, to the point of silliness, theme. Yep, one must wonder how long this and the previous had been gathering dust before they decided to stick Bond with them.

Writing’s On The Wall (SPECTRE)

Trying to imitate — or mock? — Skyfall? Did I just hear, “I won’t be afraid…?” Violins? Could be a pretty song with a few tweaks, but altogether too sucky for Bond. It’s what happens when they want to use a currently designated “star” for promotional effect, however unsuited.

WTH this song has to do with Bond, I don’t know. Received an Oscar, and deserved it… an Oscar Mayer, ha ha ha ha ha.

Welles clapping

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