With the release of Spectre, the James Bond series extends its record as the longest-running film series in history. Since 1962’s Dr. No, the franchise has launched 24 films through Eon Productions, along with a few unofficial entries. Over those 53 years, the James Bond franchise has served as a regular part of pop culture. The films have earned the equivalent of $13 billion when adjusted for inflation. It’s an amount that dwarfs any other franchise. More importantly, the series has served as a marker for different generations. With the character going through multiple recasts over the years, each film manages to capture a version of the character that reflects his time.
Of course, with such a long history, the different versions of James Bond have all developed their own fans. Some entries have managed to stand the test of time. Others have fallen out of favor, or have gained prominence years after release. A few were outright bombs. Over the course of 50+ years, Bond’s womanizing habits have shifted from being seen as something that makes Bond cool to showing the character’s misogyny. And some of the early films in particular have treatments on race that are appalling. Still, there’s something in the series for all different sorts of Bond fans. At this point, with so many films to choose from, it’s nearly impossible to find two people who would rank the films of the James Bond franchise in the same order; even if they did, they likely have different reasons for at least some of the positioning.
With that in mind, the latest installment of Out Ranked takes a look back at cinema’s longest-running series of films. From Dr. No to Spectre, here’s how we rank the 24 films of the James Bond franchise.
The theme song may be called “All Time High,” but Octopussy was anything but that. Roger Moore’s turn as Bond was a lighter take from the beginning, but by 1983, the character and his films seemed increasingly labored. Octopussy dived deep into a multi-armed Cold War-themed plot that included a lengthy stint in India, along with a rush to stop a Soviet-planted nuclear bomb. With the latter plot, Bond has minutes to stop a nuclear bomb from exploding, and he takes the time to disguise himself as a clown (makeup and all!) before defusing it. Seriously. Moore was out of his contract by this point, but producers lured him back in rather than go through recasting when Sean Connery was signed to reprise his performance as Bond in Thunderball remake/unofficial Bond film Never Say Never Again. Octopussy was technically the bigger hit, but it’s definitely the lesser of the two.
Producers originally planned to follow 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me with For Your Eyes Only. While that film would eventually be made, it was pushed back after a little film called Star Wars completely conquered the box office. Instead, Eon captured on public fascination with space by putting Bond himself into space, to take on a villain who wants to destroy civilization in order to repopulate Earth with sexy people. You would think that would be interesting, but the final product is painfully dull. The most memorable part of the film is Jaws, returning from The Spy Who Loved Me, falling in love with a girl. It’s silly, but more interesting than anything Bond does here – including his attempts at reentry.
22. Die Another Day
Pierce Brosnan’s run as Bond initially reinvigorated the series, but by the time Die Another Day landed in theaters, the series was increasingly saddled with incoherent stories. Up until Die Another Day, though, at least the series could rely on Brosnan’s charismatic take on Bond. Not here. The film opens promisingly enough, with Bond captured by North Korea (and his subsequent torture shown over the Madonna-performed title song), but the rest of the film just moves from one ridiculous set piece to another. And there’s the villain’s motivation: he’s a North Korean general who turns himself into a white businessman so he can harness the sun’s rays for a destructive laser. WTF. At least that rumored spinoff for Halle Berry’s Jinx never happened.
21. The Man with the Golden Gun
Christopher Lee as a Bond villain? A great casting choice – in the wrong film. Lee’s Francisco Scaramanga, identifiable by a third nipple (which…huh?), wants to get a device that could convert the sun’s radiation into electricity, then sell it to the highest bidder. Oh, and he also wants to kill Bond, preferably in his odd take on a haunted house, which resembled a set from the Adam West Batman series. Scaramanga isn’t actually a problem for the film, though. Lee makes him an interesting villain. But Scaramanga wants to kill Bond because they have “so much in common.” Which isn’t true – at least not with Moore’s Bond, who doesn’t seem to actually want to kill anyone. The Man with the Golden Gun also featured one of the worst Bond girls, Mary Goodhead, and the inexplicable return of redneck Sheriff J.W. Pepper from Live and Let Die, here amping up his racist comments in a foreign locale. Lee aside, it’s not good.
20. Diamonds Are Forever
Sean Connery was lulled out of retirement for another go-around as 007 (and not for the last time, technically) with then-record payday: £1.25 million. That sum of money couldn’t make Connery seem any more interested than his previous time in the role, though, nor could it cover the fact that in the four years between You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever, Connery looked like he’d aged at least a decade. This Bond doesn’t seem suave – he seems exhausted. It’s hard to blame him, though. Jill St. John’s Tiffany Case is one of the more exhausting Bond girls ever. The film also has some odd queer elements (that in today’s light certainly seem a bit homophobic), between the gay assassins Wint and Kidd, the suggested sapphic connection between bodyguards Bambi and Thumper, and Blofeld’s time in drag, pictured above.
19. A View to a Kill
By the time Roger Moore filmed this, his last James Bond film, he was 58 and nowhere near his physical prime. This shows – repeatedly – throughout A View to a Kill, with plenty of horrible action scenes and a pairing with a Bond girl literally old enough to be his daughter. And yet, the film does have a few things going for it: Christopher Walken as Max Zorin and Grace Jones as May Day. Walken was born to play a Bond villain, and Jones makes her henchwoman pure bliss. There’s also the theme song from Duran Duran, which pushed the series head-first into the 80s. If only Moore had been replaced a film earlier, this might be ranked a bit higher.
18. Live and Let Die
The Bond films have pulled from popular cinematic trends for decades, but the decision to make a Bond blaxploitation film may be one of the flat-out strangest decisions Eon’s ever made. This isn’t the first example of a racist Bond film, but it has an unusually widespread issue with stereotyping its characters: the villains are all black, and the first black Bond girl (Rosie Carver) is an incompetent CIA double agent. The film, largely set in Louisiana, also takes plenty of time to include rednecks for punchlines. Roger Moore makes his debut as Bond here, and to his credit, he seems perfectly at ease with the role (though Bond’s characteristics were modified significantly with his casting). Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” still makes for an amazing Bond theme song, at least.
17. The World is Not Enough
A.K.A. the film where Denise Richards plays a nuclear scientist named Dr. Christmas Jones, in part so Bond can make a cringe-worthy sex joke at the end. In fairness to Richards, she’s not the only problem with The World is Not Enough. At least Sophie Marceau’s Elektra King gets to become the Bond films’ first female top villain, and Marceau’s performance looks even better next to Richards’. It’s not enough to save the film, but it helps make it better than the next film in the series. On the plus side, the film does provide one of the better series theme songs, this time courtesy of Garbage.
16. You Only Live Twice
As mentioned, there’s plenty of racism in the Bond films. Here, for instance, Bond wears yellowface as part of his attempt to disguise himself as a Japanese man. You Only Live Twice marked the first final Bond film for original star Sean Connery, and it’s clear that he’s not interested in the character by this point. Still, the film (which was scripted by Roald Dahl) does finally show Bond confronting the head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Different actors would take on the role in other films, but Donald Pleasance’s creepy take on the character, complete with eye-scar and white cat, make this the definitive version of the character. And the most spoofable one, as the Austin Powers films would prove.
After three films that basically serve as a lengthy origin story, SPECTRE had the chance to show Daniel Craig’s take on Bond in a more conventional Bond story. Instead, SPECTRE extends the Bond origin story for yet another film while making visual allusions to classic Bond films. It also tries to connect the film to all of its predecessors, by saying that SPECTRE (returning to Bond films after last being seen in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever) was behind everything in the previous Craig-era films. For its first two-thirds, SPECTRE is a respectable Bond film, but the film’s final third not only tanks this film, but it threatens to drag down the rest of Craig’s run. (For more specific thoughts on SPECTRE, check out my review starting Nov. 6.)
14. Tomorrow Never Dies
News Corporation head Rupert Murdoch as a Bond villain? Basically, yes. Here, Murdoch is represented as Elliot Carver, and he’s taking William Randolph Hearst’s famous line about wars and giving it a modern twist. It’s not exciting, but it’s not exactly implausible today either. Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin also gives the Bond series a Bond girl who can legitimately kick ass, instead of being a damsel in distress. While it doesn’t match Brosnan’s Bond debut, Tomorrow Never Dies is a solid entry before his run was marred with Dr. Christmas Jones and ice sets.
13. Quantum of Solace
Quantum of Solace is an unusual Bond film. It’s technically the first proper sequel to a Bond film, which makes it the first one that really cannot stand on its own for a potential Bond newbie. The film picks up where Casino Royale left off, but it’s a different type of film. This is a vengeful Bond, and the film is appropriately (and unusually) brutal. It’s also a solidly effective look at this particular incarnation of Bond. Quantum of Solace suffers from following up a film that’s unquestionably better, but it’s an intriguing look at the character that also manages to go off-format for a Bond film more successfully than not.
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