Opinion: Top Five Bond Movies

With Skyfall, the 23rd Bond movie fast approaching, Leon Nicholson takes a look at what he considers his five favourite James Bond movies to date.

James Bond is a British institution. Who remembers during the 80s through to the early 90s when a Bond movie would grace every Bank Holiday on terrestrial TV in the UK? You could guarantee Christmas, New Year and Easter, a Bond film would be shown on ITV.

Any doubters that Bond is a British institution surely had their view shattered after Danny Boyle’s brilliant Olympic Opening Ceremony that saw the excellent ‘short film’ with James Bond meeting Her Majesty The Queen at the palace then both subsequently, jumping out of a plane parachuting into the Olympic Stadium. In a word…fantastic.

James Bond films have of course, more or less possessed the same elements for years now; the beautiful girls, the fast cars (sounds like a Michael Bay movie!), plenty of death-defying stunts, a plethora of gadgets and a megalomaniac who wants to rule the world.

Let’s not forget the music composition; taken so seriously and of course very important in Bond, with the iconic Monty Norman written tune arranged by composers including the likes of John Barry and David Arnold. The honour of singing the songs is also important. Again taken very seriously by fanboys (and fangirls) alike; get the song or the singer wrong and you’re in deep trouble. There have been the likes of Madonna, Duran Duran and Tom Jones entertaining us with their three minute plus ditties, but none has bettered the brilliant rousing theme of Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger. Adele, who is now confirmed as the singer for the Skyfall’s theme has a lot to live up to.

Bond himself, like The Doctor, has had many guises, and of course, plenty of movies. Six different actors have played 007 over twenty-three official Bond Films (this includes the upcoming Skyfall). For over 30 years James Bond has been entertaining countless amounts of people – my generation and my parent’s generation, but come October 2012 the only access to Bond movies on TV will be via Sky Movies.
Could this be the end of a British institution and tradition? That remains to be seen.
Anyway here are what I consider to be my five favourite James Bond movies.


From Russia With Love (1963)

Dr. No may have been the first official Bond Film (they say the first is usually the best) but this is the movie that improves on everything the first in the series possessed. Terence Young returns to directorial duties with Sean Connery starring, and Robert Shaw, Miss Universe runner-up (1960) the exquisitely beautiful Daniela Bianchi and Lotte Lenya supporting.
From Russia With Love is not perfect but it’s damn close. It’s a true spy film of it’s time using the Cold War as inspiration.  It’s a classy picture balancing the action with a slither of humour, complete with the chance to ‘escape’ reality. Women wanted to be with Bond; men wanted to be him. Save the world first then get the girl. From Russia With Love is Sean Connery’s second best Bond film and he performs admirably; not as a man of action but as a spy – out to complete a mission.
The excellent pre-opening credit sequence throws a curveball when it seems 007 is defeated, only for it to be revealed it’s a SPECTRE training exercise. The commanding figure of Robert Shaw is unnervingly fantastic as the stone cold robotic assassin and Lotte Lenya’s portrayal of the shoeblade kicking Rosa Klebb is priceless.
The story centres on SPECTRE’S plan to avenge the death of Dr. No by assassinating Bond. Many complexities take the story down a different route… then comes back full circle but it is brilliant piece of 60s cinema and a quality entry into the espionage genre.  The unforgettable showdown between Shaw’s Grant and Connery’s Bond is superb and the face off between Klebb and 007 is also a good touch, finished off with the dulcet tones of Matt Monro’s theme song. But better, it seems was to come….


Goldfinger (1964)

Here, the story centres on Auric Goldfinger where Bond is tasked with investigating his smuggling business and the plan to rob Fort Knox; but all is not what it seems. The Fort Knox robbery is a ruse, covering up his real plan to increase the stash and worth of his bullion. Bond finds this his toughest mission to date as he spends most of this assignment in captivity.
The Ultimate Bond. Guy Hamilton’s Bond. Sean Connery’s Bond. Probably the most popular Bond film ever made. This Bond had it all. There’s Shirley Bassey’s fantastic rendition, Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore, Oddjob’s fatal flying guillotine disguised as a Bowler hat, gadgets aplenty and great one liners. Goldfinger is full of great moments and images, none more so than Shirley Eaton’s Jill Masterson meeting her maker via the Midas touch. This was the Bond that cemented the character into the psyche. This Bond wasn’t just a film; it was an event and more or less became the blueprint for future movies in the franchise.
Of course, Goldfinger is also responsible for those immortal lines –
James Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”
Goldfinger: “No Mr Bond. I expect you to die.”


Live and Let Die (1973)

Every generation claims to have ‘their Bond’. My parents would say Sean Connery is not only ‘their Bond’ but ‘the Bond.’ 007 is personified with the actor you watched playing him as you grew up. ‘My Bond’ is Roger Moore and his debut as 007 is unforgettable.
Who could ask for more in a movie complete with sex, drugs and voodoo featuring one of the most beautiful Bond girls ever in Jane Seymour? Well despite these celluloid whims, Live and Let Die could be classed as racist. Its clichéd, contains a hell of a lot of black stereotypes including jive speaking pimped up drug dealers, and black islanders practising their ‘voodoo’. Let’s not stop there because even Bond himself is subjected to derogatory xenophobic language.
Live and Let Die tried to cash in on the Blaxplotiation genre that was taking the States by storm. Two years previous to this, Shaft was released, and in the same year as Live and Let Die, there were others in the genre including Coffy starring Pam Grier, and the first of the Cleopatra Jones movies. In spite of what some people would consider as the negative racial connotations of the film, Live and Let Die was excellent and saw a quality performance from Roger Moore who struck the perfect balance between humour and seriousness. Yaphet Kotto as Kanaga was an inspired choice as the villain and Jane Seymour was simply there as beautiful eye candy.
Funnily enough, one of the factors that stood out with Live and Let Die wasn’t the Double Decker bus pursuit or the speed boat chase which introduced Sheriff J W Pepper to the Bond universe; but it was the brilliant theme tune by Wings, earning an Academy Award nomination for Paul and Linda McCartney. Under Guy Hamilton’s direction, Live and Let Die was a better movie than it should have been considering some of the one-dimensional characters involved. This, however was to be Roger’s Moore’s best Bond film but it also took our beloved agent down a different route, mainly to the detriment of the series.


Licence to Kill (1989)

Licence to Kill?, I hear you all cry. Why? The reception and harsh criticism Licence to Kill received was reminiscent of how On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was viewed; and yes it was totally undeserved. I accept it’s probably a controversial choice (some would say stupid) being that it stars Timothy Dalton who was not the most celebrated of Bond’s, yet some would say he was probably the closest to Fleming’s vision. Licence to Kill was not perfect. In fact the film possessed many flaws but as a spectacle it was brilliant.

Let’s not forget it was the first 007 movie to have received a 15 certificate. There were sharks biting legs off, blood splattering head explosions, a man being harpooned and another being minced. Gone were the wisecracks and enter a moody darker character. At the time, this Bond movie was the most violent ever released.
Unfortunately Licence to Kill suffered, as did the unlucky Timothy Dalton. The problem was by the time Dalton became 007, audiences were tired and fed up of the formula. He was more than up to the job. In fact (again controversially) he was a pretty good Bond. The Living Daylights tried its best to redress this but the damage was already done and threatened to be irreversible.
You only have to take a look at A View to a Kill to see the depths that our beloved, not so secret agent had sunk to. Roger Moore was way too old and looked tired. For him and all involved, A View to a Kill was a Bond too far. Even though his quick witted quips brought a sense of relief to proceedings earlier in the series, by now it had become plain tedious. Bond had now become a self-parodist, clichéd character that was washed up and he desperately needed to retire. Yet, with the new Bond and a new vision, there was a feeling that in spite of the changes, audiences were not ready for Dalton’s interpretation.

There was however a lot to enjoy in Licence to Kill. Basically it’s a revenge story with Felix left for dead, with his wife murdered on their honeymoon. Like a Ronin, Bond goes it alone. With his 007 licence revoked he goes on a mission to track down Sanchez (Robert Davi), the man responsible for attacking Felix. There is action aplenty, fantastic stunts and of course the aforementioned ferocious violence. John Glen directs his fifth Bond movie on the trot and this is by far his best effort. Robert Davi (Die Hard, Predator 2) excels as drug Lord Sanchez and the beautiful looking Carey Lowell who may not be the most ‘glamorous’ Bond Girl is in keeping with the film as when the time is right she’s a badass too.
So with all these factors in mind and my obvious praise, why did this film not do as well as it should have at the Box Office? Well it was released in 1989, so if you think about the movies that year the answer and reason becomes apparent. The films contributing to Bond’s downfall included the likes of Batman, Back to the Future II, Ghostbusters II and of course, the brilliant Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. These movies were released within a month of each other so unfortunately for the Bond franchise, there was only going to be one loser.
It may have taken a beating at the Box Office but Licence to Kill remains one of the most ambitious and brave James Bond movies ever made taking it towards the darker and more serious route. All this, 17 years before Daniel Craig’s grittier Bond, making Licence to Kill ahead of its time. The fact was that audiences were just not ready for a Bond film like this.


Casino Royale (2006)

When Daniel Craig was announced as Bond there were plenty of people who thought the decision was bad. “Oh, we can’t have a blond Bond” cried most of the 007 fanboys. Well in some movies Roger Moore’s hair was not exactly dark now was it… dyed or otherwise.  Then some of Craig’s previous film choices were criticised. Well Connery and Moore et al did not exactly decorate themselves with faultless roles previous to Bond.  In an era where trolling and free expression was easier than ever, Daniel Craig’s introduction to Bond was not exactly smooth. He did however let his acting do the talking…
Casino Royale was Bond re-invented or ‘re-Bourne’. While Pierce Brosnan’s Bond stabilised the series with Die Another Day beating The Bourne Identity at the Box Office, the critical success of the Bourne movies clearly influenced the studios to reboot the franchise and bring Bond back to his roots. What we got was a more vulnerable, inexperienced agent, yet a violent, brutal depiction, brilliantly performed by Craig.
The action was fantastic from the off ranging from the superb parkour chase to the ferocious fight in the hotel stairwell. This was a different Bond, one that audiences had yearned for years and finally ready to accept. Craig’s portrayal was facilitated by terrific support from the likes of Eva Green and Mads Mikkelsen as well as an excellent script bringing Bond well and truly into the 21st Century. While Quantum of Solace was a disappointment, here’s hoping that Bond’s return to form will come in the shape of Skyfall.
I’m sure it will.

8 Responses to “Opinion: Top Five Bond Movies”
  1. redz says:

    what about Thunderball??

    Casino Royale’s opening spoiled it for me. did bond go back in time?

    other than that great review!!


  2. Leon Nicholson says:

    Thunderball was a big budget disappointment for me. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was far better and harsly reviewed. With regards to Casino Royale, even though the studios did not make it very clear at the time, it is in fact a reboot!

  3. Datdude says:

    Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale was my favorite Bond film no doubt. Eva Green was stunning, and she played her part brilliantly. When I saw Quantum in theaters, I left feeling disappointed in the film, but upon subsequent viewings I rather like the film, though it’s clearly not Casino Royale quality.

  4. Robert Davi says:

    Dear Leon ,this is Robert Davi – spot on with your review -and its a pity that the Bonds will not be available on British Television as regularly as the once were – is it because of some politically correct move or commerce -in either case it was such a tremendous marketing tool in keeping Bond in the public eye for the regular folk -it also was free advertising for future Bond movies — FYI -please check out my music http://www.davisingssinatra.com -i think you will be pleasantly surprised that a Bond Baddie has singing chops -lol but then again i did my first film with Frank Sinatra also check out John Muir’s analysis of the top 5 bond villains !!! Hey let’s do an exclusive interview I’m a great fan of the magazine – warmly Robert Davi

  5. Romeo Garcia says:

    I always defend LICENCE TO KILL!!!…

  6. Tim Wickens says:

    What a great article.While LICENCE TO KILL was not in my top 5 Bond films, your review of it brings the film to a new light.I would have put OHMSS in there, my personal favorite Bond film.

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