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Sunday, January 24, 2021

A Ranking of the James Bond Movies

In addition to watching all of the Harry Potter (including Fantastic Beasts) and Star Wars films during the pandemic, I've worked my way through all 25 of the James Bond films. Below is a ranking of them (not including the Casino Royale staring David Niven, which is more of a satire than a serious Bond movie), which reflects their average rankings on Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and Meta Critic:
  1. Goldfinger (Sean Connery)
  2. Casino Royale (Daniel Craig)
  3. From Russia with Love (Sean Connery)
  4. Skyfall (Daniel Craig)
  5. Dr. No (Sean Connery)
  6. Thunderball (Sean Connery)
  7. GoldenEye (Pierce Brosnan)
  8. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (George Lazenby)
  9. You Only Live Twice (Sean Connery)
  10. The Spy Who Loved Me (Roger Moore)
  11. Spectre (Daniel Craig)
  12. The Living Daylights (Timothy Dalton)
  13. Never Say Never Again (Sean Connery)
  14. License to Kill (Timothy Dalton)
  15. Live and Let Die (Roger Moore)
  16. For Your Eyes Only (Roger Moore)
  17. Diamonds Are Forever (Sean Connery)
  18. Moonraker (Roger Moore)
  19. Quantum of Solace (Daniel Craig)
  20. Octopussy (Roger Moore)
  21. The Man With the Golden Gun (Roger Moore)
  22. The World Is Not Enough (Pierce Brosnan)
  23. Tomorrow Never Dies (Pierce Brosnan)
  24. Die Another Day (Pierce Brosnan)
  25. A View to a Kill (Roger Moore)
Unsurprisingly, several of the Sean Connery Bond movies rank in the top 10: "Goldfinger," "From Russia with Love," "Dr. No," "Thunderball," and "You Only Live Twice." Only "Never Say Never Again" (13) and "Diamonds Are Forever" (16) do not. The Daniel Craig Bond movies are, on average, the second most popular with two landing in the top 10 ("Casino Royale" and "SkyFall") with "Spectre" (11) not too far behind. Only "Quantum of Solace" ranks relatively low (19). By contrast, only one of the seven Roger Moore Bond movies ranks in the top ten ("The Spy Who Loved Me") and one ranks last ("A View to a Kill"). The first Pierce Brosnan Bond movie ("GoldenEye") ranks in the top ten (7th), but the other three rank among the worst (22nd, 23rd, and 24th). Here are the average rankings of the movies staring Connery, Craig, Moore, and Brosnan (lower is better):
Sean Connery = 7.57
Daniel Craig = 9.00
Roger Moore = 17.86
Pierce Brosnan = 19.00
Two other actors have played Bond: Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby. Dalton played him twice ("The Living Daylights" and "License to Kill") and both films garner respectable rankings (12th and 14th). Dalton was a good Bond. It's a shame he didn't play him for longer.

Lazenby only played Bond once, in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (OHMSS). He was chosen to play Bond after Connery retired from the role after "You Only Live Twice." Connery, of course, changed his mind (twice) and came back to play Bond in "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971) and "Never Say Never Again" (1983). Although OHMSS was a commercial success, its initial reception was mixed. The film's reputation has improved greatly over time, however. The director Christopher Nolan has named it as his favorite Bond movie, and it has slowly moved its way up some of the "all-time Bond film lists" ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service", "50 Years Later, This Bond Film Should Finally Get Its Due"). Why? Because OHMSS contains some of the best action scenes of the series, Lazenby plays a capable Bond, Diana Rigg is excellent as his love interest and future (and only) wife, and Telly Savalas's "Blofeld" is by far the best of the Bond films. It also follows the original novel far more closely than the other Bond films. That is undoubtedly why it is currently ranked 8th, higher than three of Connery's and all of Moore's.

One takeaway from watching the films is that some have stood the test of time, while others have not, and this is reflected in the rankings. I'm willing to watch any of those ranked in the top 10 above, plus "Spectre," "Live and Let Die," and Diamonds Are Forever." Although I was once a huge Moore fan (it helped that he played Simon Templar in "The Saint" before signing on as Bond), Moore's Bond films became increasingly campy over time. After Moore's last movie ("A View to a Kill"), Timothy Dalton's "The Living Daylights," was a breath of fresh air. In fact, beginning with "The Living Daylights," the Bond movies took a more serious turn, such that by time Craig took over the role, the Bond character had returned back to one similar to Connery's. Signing Judi Dench up as "M," the head of British Secret Service, in "GoldenEye" also brought a bit of seriousness back to the films.

Needless to say, Bond girls are a central feature of the Bond movies. They are generally Bond's love interests but not always. Some have names containing double entendres or puns, such as Pussy Galore ("Goldfinger"), Plenty O'Toole ("Diamonds Are Forever"), Xenia Onatopp ("GoldenEye"), and Holly Goodhead ("Moonraker"). Several have regular names, but one of the more intriguing is Vesper Lynd of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming's first novel. Some believe that Fleming intended the name to be a pun on "West Berlin," indicating Vesper's divided loyalties as a Soviet double agent. Bond girls often don't live very long (especially in the movies), but although they're clearly intended as sex objects, they're typically portrayed as having a high degree of independence (especially in the books).

The actresses who've played Bond girls haven't always gotten along. For example, in "Diamonds Are Forever," Jill St. John (Tiffany Case) and Lana Wood (Plenty O'Toole) were both "seeing" Sean Connery at the time and (understandably) didn't get along. Their shared animosity for one another has only grown over time, however. As some readers may know, Lana Wood was the sister of Natalie Wood, who died under mysterious circumstances, and Lana, along with several others, believe that Natalie's husband at the time, Robert Wagner, had something to do with her death. What does this have to do with Jill St. John? She is currently married to Robert Wagner.

Anyone who has watched the Bond movies has probably noticed that some actors turn up as different characters in multiple movies. For instance, Charles Gray plays a British agent in "You Only Live Twice" and then Blofeld in "Diamonds Are Forever." Similarly, Shane Rimmer, who plays a submarine captain in "The Spy Who Loved Me", also appears in two other Bond movies, "You Only Live Twice" and "Diamonds Are Forever," as well as providing the voice for a character in "Live and Let Die." Maud Adams plays a "Bond Girl" in "The Man with the Golden Gun," then reappears in "Octopussy" as a jewel smuggler who in the end teams up with Bond, and finally in an uncredited role in "A View to a Kill." Then there is the actor, Walter Gotell, who first appears as a Spectre agent (Morzeny) in "From Russia with Love" and then as KGB General Anatol Gogol in several Bond films: "The Spy Who Loved Me," "Moonraker," "For Your Eyes Only," "Octopussy," "A View to a Kill," and "The Living Daylights." And Joe Don Baker has appeared in three Bond films. First, as a villain (Brad Whitaker) in "The Living Daylights" and then as (the enjoyable) CIA agent, Jack Wade, in "GoldenEye" and "Tomorrow Never Dies."

The honor for appearing in the most Bond movies goes to Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn. Maxwell played Miss Moneypenny 14 times and Llewelyn played "Q" 17 times. Moneypenny is, of course, M's secretary, and although her character has only a small part in most of the films, there's always a hint of romantic tension between her and Bond (at least in the movies). Moneypenny appears in all of the movies except the first two Daniel Craig movies. The first Craig movie she appears in is Skyfall in which she has an extended part. However, we don't learn who she is until the movie's end. Q is the head of Q-branch, the fictional research and development division of the British Secret Service. Llewelyn doesn't appear in "Dr. No," but he's in 17 of the next 18, all except "Live and Let Die." Interestingly, he filmed scenes for it, but they weren't included in the final cut (Note: If you're wondering, Benard Lee played "M" 11 times).

Bond movies often allude to earlier movies. For example, "Die Another Day," whose release marked the 40th anniversary of the first Bond movie ("Dr. No"), includes references to all of the previous 19 Bond films, sometimes in terms of props (e.g., Rosa Kleb's shoe in Q's shop), at other times in terms of lines in the script (e.g., bad guy, Gustav Graves, claims "Diamonds are for everyone"). Too bad the movie wasn't any better.

Another example occurs in "Quantum of Solace" where one of Bond's paramours is killed by being entirely covered in oil, which, of course, harkens back to how Goldfinger kills his former assistant, Jill Masterson by covering her in gold paint. And when Bond meets Ernst Stavro Blofeld for the first time in "Spectre" (or at least when Daniel Craig's Bond meets Blofeld for the first time), Bond's "welcoming" is remarkably similar to Bond's welcoming by Dr. No to his private island in, well, "Dr. No." Rumor has it that Rami Malek's villainous character in the next Bond movie ("No Time to Die") is very similar to Dr. No.

Here's some additional random facts about the Bond films:
  • Ian Fleming reportedly stands beside a train after Bond and Tatiana Romanova board it in "From Russia With Love"
  • John Cleese plays "R" and then "Q" in "The World Is Not Enough" and "Die Another Day"
  • A very young (and bumbling) Rowan Atkinson appears in "Never Say Never Again"
  • In "Die Another Day" Madonna plays Verity, the fencing instructor of Miranda Frost (played by Rosamund Pike of "Gone Girl" fame) 
  • The sociopathic character Xenia Onatopp of "Golden Eye" is virtually the same as the Fatima Blush character in "Never Say Never Again"
  • Patrick Magee of Avengers fame (along with his co-star Diana Rigg) appears in "A View to a Kill"
  • In "License to Kill" Wayne Newton plays the lecherous Professor Joe Butcher, a televangelist and a front-man for a drug smuggling operation
  • Sammy Davis, Jr. appears in "Diamonds Are Forever" (but only in DVD and Blue Ray releases)
  • Julian Fellowes, Hugh Bonneville, and Brendan Coyle all appear in "Tomorrow Never Dies." Fellowes went on to write and produce "Downton Abbey," while Bonneville and Coyle went on to star in "Downton Abbey" (apparently, Hollywood is also a small world)
In April (hopefully) we'll be treated to the 26th Bond movie, "No Time to Die," which reportedly will be Daniel Craig's last time in the role. As good as Craig has been, it's probably time for him to move on. We wouldn't want him to follow in the footsteps of Roger Moore, who played Bond a little too long. Beginning with "Octopussy" (some might say, with "For Your Eyes Only"), Moore begins to move a bit slow for someone with a license to kill. That was probably also true of Connery in "Diamonds Are Forever," but he redeemed himself in "Never Say Never Again" where he humorously plays an aging secret agent. Perhaps Craig will return one day in a similar vein. Before then, though, enjoy the trailer for "No Time to Die."

1 comment:

  1. great article! well written, brought home a lot of memories and insightful minutiae and the new release looks to be another big one-