24 James Bond Films, Ranked

Bob Sassone offers his analysis of the worst and best of 007.

James Bond wax figures in Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum

Weekly Newsletter

The best of The Saturday Evening Post in your inbox!

SUPPORT THE POST

No Time to Die, the 25th 007 film, was set to open this month, after two pandemic-induced delays. Well, those plans went out the window, again because of COVID-19, and we won’t see the new adventures of Bond, James Bond, until April 2021. But I thought fans of the movies would still like to celebrate Bond this week — especially in light of the death of the greatest Bond, Sean Connery — so I’ve ranked all of the films from worst to best (not including the original Casino Royale from 1967 or 1983’s Never Say Never Again because they’re not part of the official Bond canon).

24. Spectre (2015)

Uploaded to YouTube by Sony Pictures Entertainment

To be honest, there are worse Bond movies, quality-wise (like the next four on this list), but I give Spectre the nod for worst because it’s illogical, silly, and frustrating, with a needless plot involving arch-nemesis Blofeld that makes no sense (and practically ruins the other Daniel Craig-era Bond films). He’s Bond’s…foster brother? And they give him an alias just because it will trick viewers but in reality means nothing to Bond or anyone else in the film? Sigh.

I don’t know why the most recent Bond movies feel the need to give Bond either an origin story or an “I quit” story almost every time but it’s getting ridiculous. It also has a boring car chase and one of the worst theme songs too.

(They even screw up the film’s title. It should be SPECTRE.)

23. A View to a Kill (1985)

Uploaded to YouTube by YouTube Movies

At this point, Roger Moore could barely walk let alone run or fight bad guys. It was his final Bond film. Christopher Walken is a great villain though. Too bad the movie that surrounds him is one of the worst.

22. Moonraker (1979)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

Because of the success of movies like Star Wars, Bond had to travel to outer space, which tells you all you need to know about Moonraker. It has a good opening scene though, where Bond is pushed out of a plane without a parachute.

21. Live and Let Die (1973)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

Moore’s first 007 outing just isn’t much fun, with a dreary plot involving drugs and voodoo. The best thing about it is the theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings.

20. Die Another Day (2002)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

Pierce Brosnan’s final Bond movie has a great opening sequence, but it also has Madonna as a fencing instructor, CGI action scenes that look more like a video game, and a freakin’ invisible car.

19. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

Christopher Lee could have been the greatest Bond villain of all-time; too bad the rest of the movie is rather lame. The best thing about it is a spectacular car stunt I still don’t know how they pulled off.

18. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

This has one of my favorite opening scenes — Bond has to steal a plane armed with nuclear bombs — but also one of the worst endings. In between there’s an invigorating action scene with a remote-controlled car in a parking garage, but that’s about it. I don’t believe for one second that Teri Hatcher was the love of Bond’s life.

The story goes that the title was supposed to be Tomorrow Never Lies but the fax with the title was smudged and they misread it. It certainly would have made more sense.

17. The World is Not Enough (1999)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

The Brosnan entries all have great opening scenes but then they get worse and worse as the movie goes along. Why is that?

16: The Living Daylights (1987)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

Timothy Dalton’s first outing (of only two) isn’t bad, it’s just a little “meh,” even if he is a solid choice after the Moore years. Great soundtrack.

15. Octopussy (1983)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips

There are a couple of good action sequences, and Louis Jourdan is a fun villain, but you should also be aware that during the film, Bond dresses as a clown and swings on a vine like Tarzan.

14. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

Connery quit the franchise after You Only Live Twice but was convinced to come back when George Lazenby didn’t return for a second film. And it’s…not bad! Not great, but not bad!

13. Quantum of Solace (2008)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

This didn’t get great reviews — maybe people were expecting too much after Casino Royale — but I think it’s the Bond movie that will be looked upon more and more kindly as the years go by, even if the theme song by Jack White and Alicia Keys is horrendous.

12. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

This has a nice balance of the serious and the silly, but I feel it has always been a bit overrated.

11. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

Many consider this Moore’s best, because it takes things a little more seriously after all of the goofiness of the ’70’s films. Except for a truly bizarre opening where Bond drops Blofeld down a smokestack, the villain pleading for his life by promising to buy Bond a delicatessen, “in stainless steel!”

10. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

Many people consider this the best 007 film. It’s not, but it’s quite good, and Lazenby, a model plucked out of nowhere for the role, is underrated. This is the one where Bond gets married.

Trivia: Lazenby was once married to tennis player/commentator Pam Shriver.

9. Thunderball (1965)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

This film is a bit overlong — and there are probably too many underwater scenes — but it’s undeniably fun.

8. You Only Live Twice (1967)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

When you think of big, epic Bond adventures, this is the movie you’re thinking of, with its outrageous villain’s-lair-hidden-in-a-volcano set.

7. Dr. No (1962)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

The first 007 big-screen adventure, more low-key and with no opening theme song but a great introduction to the character and his world. Oh, and it has this iconic scene.

6. From Russia with Love (1963)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

This is also often cited as the best Bond movie, and it’s not a bad choice. It’s a serious spy story with just enough crazy elements (Rosa Klebb and her poison-tipped shoes) to make it classic fun. It includes the first appearance of Blofeld (called Number 1 here) and a great scene on a train where Bond fights henchman Robert Shaw.

5. Licence to Kill (1989)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

The most underrated 007 film. Some people think it’s too action-oriented (?), too gritty (!), too ’80’s. Those people are nuts. It’s actually one of the more satisfying entries in the series, as Bond infiltrates a drug cartel to avenge the murder of a friend’s wife.

4. Goldeneye (1995)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

Brosnan’s first Bond film is his best Bond film, a stylish and fun adventure that feels both ’60’s-ish and ’90’s-ish, a throwback to the Connery era and a new vision for the future. I’ve seen many 007 films in the theater, but this is still the only one where the audience actually applauded after a scene (where Bond flies off the cliff and takes control of a plane).

By the way, this movie inspired one of the greatest video games of all-time.

3. Casino Royale (2006)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips News

Daniel Craig’s first Bond film has not one but two great opening scenes, a black-and-white meeting with another agent that shows how Bond got his 007 status, and a terrific scene where Bond chases a rather athletic bad guy through a construction area. This is a return that makes you forget all about Brosnan’s last film.

2. Skyfall (2012)

Uploaded to YouTube by Sony Pictures Entertainment

I didn’t think the makers of the Bond movies could top Craig’s first film, but they did it with Skyfall. It’s really a tie between the two. If they had decided to end the Bond series for some reason, this would have made for a great send-off. It introduces Moneypenny and Q, gives Bond a “comeback” story and emotional scenes with Judi Dench, and is exquisitely shot and directed.

1. Goldfinger (1964)

Uploaded to YouTube by Movieclips Classic Trailers

This is number one on most lists for a reason, because it really sets up all of the Bond elements for the rest of the series: the big theme song, the evil villain with the master plan, the henchman Bond has to fight, the sexy girl with the crazy name (Pussy Galore!). A film so good you don’t care how ridiculous it is (I’ve seen it 20 times and I still don’t get why Goldfinger kills the mob guys) or how many mistakes there are.

Where will No Time To Die rank? Well, you’ll have to stay tuned for that, because James Bond Will Return (when I update this post next year). If the trailer is any indication, it’s going to be a good one.

Uploaded to YouTube by James Bond 007

Featured image: RichartPhotos / Shutterstock

Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now

Recommended

Comments

  1. A fun read, but too much anti-Moore bias here, with a genuine classic in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ ranked way too low, while ‘Live And Let Die’ should probably also be a bit higher. ‘Quantum Of Solace’ is also generally ranked far lower on most lists, as its hurried production, in the midst of the 2007 writers’ strike, led to a horribly jumbled and unbalanced movie. It’s a game of opinion though, and any ranking of Bond movies is typically a labour of love, so thanks for putting this together!

  2. How can you not mention Duran Duran’s exquisite theme to “A View to a Kill”? The only Bond theme to hit #1 (and DD’s only #1 as well). Talk about syncretism!

  3. You Only Live Twice is so far in last that it’s not even particularly close.

    It is the ultimate patchwork quilt of domineering sexism (“In Japan, men always come first”), the cultural condescension of literally every Japanese stereotype (the ninja warrior training camp with dreadful swordfight choreography is particularly egregious), and an unhealthy fascination with helicopters still can’t distract you from the horrid voice overdubs, the impossibility of no one noticing a metal ‘lake’ in a volcano crater, or the barely-better-than-porn-actress opening assassination scene.
    It’s like the producers hired a bunch of b-movie kung fu stunt actors to make a Bond flick specifically to be lampooned by MST3K, and then MST3K turned them down because it was too bad even for them.

  4. As a lifelong Bond fan from when these movies first came out I have to say “great job” and that this is a very good list but I do have to differ on some choices:

    There is no way that You Only Live Twice is better than Thunderball. There are too many crazy things happening in YOLT (even for a Bond film): A hidden enemy base built into a volcano with a huge electronically controlled opening? Hundreds of ninja joining in the fight? Capturing space capsules with a bigger capsule? Thunderball was a much better story and the Health Spa scenes alone make it a better film.

    Octopussy better than Live and Let Die? Live and Let Die has the best boat chase scene ever filmed (not to mention the best bus chase scene ever filmed) and the dialogue now influenced by Roger Moore’s more low key Bond character is terrific.

    Lastly Die Another Day fails on every level. It stinks just as a movie never mind a Bond film! I have seen all the Bond films a minimum of 5 times and this mess was so horrible that I could only stand seeing it once! There is no way on this good earth that Die Another Day is better than Live and Let Die.

    All in all great job and keep these wonderful insights coming!

  5. This feature took a long time to get through. A lot of trailers to watch with your commentary and observations, and really do have to agree. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. The car stunt in ‘Man With the Golden Arm’ with the AMC Hornet doing an Olympic-style air flip over that bridge is one of my favorite scenes too. How they did it I’m not sure of either, but they did, without anyone being killed!

    It’s too much to discuss them all individually, but collectively they are still the best and classiest ‘action’ films ever made, and came out at the right frequency. About one (roughly) every other year in the ’60s to the ’80s, then 3 each in the ’90s, two in the 2010’s and one (so far) in this dead-on-arrival decade.

    The frequencies of the first 3 decades made sense. They were a big deal. If you wanted to see action and thrills like ‘Bond’ offered, you’d have to wait and anticipate their fairly infrequent appearances. Although they’ve retained the class as the sophisticated gentleman’s action and adventure films from Connery to Craig, they’ve been undermined in many ways since the late ’80s by the never-ending, mind-numbing, classless garbage that have ripped off too many of the elements that made the ‘Bond’ series so special.

    The ‘Mission Impossible’ and ‘Bourne’ series to name two, and those two are superior to just the 10’s of thousands of indistinguishable, disposable crap over the past 30+ years, that there’s not much left FOR a Bond film to be special anymore, and it’s not their fault. Attempted imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but not without a cost and diminishment of the original. Been there, seen that before, Hollywood has seen to that with Bond, and the destruction of everything it touches. Now it’s time for them to meet the same fate, and its happening. One of the few upsides of the on-going pandemic.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *