In celebration of the release of No Time to Die, which will finally be hitting theatre’s this week after its lengthy postponement, I’ve taken a look back at the Bond franchise and hand picked the five films that best encapsulate the famed fictional character and the stories of Ian Fleming.
From Connery to Craig, from Dr. No to Spectre, Bond has remained one of the most successful, long running franchises to ever grace the big screen. And even with Craig’s reign coming to an end, it doesn’t appear that the series will be ending anytime soon.
Below are five movies that I believe highlight what this franchise can do when it’s at its best. Spanning multiple decades, different eras, and a different actor taking on the titular lead role. As always this is my own personal opinion, with IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes scores, or box office success having no baring over my selection. So without further ado, here is my list of the top 5 best Bond films (subjectively speaking).
It actually took me multiple viewings to really come around to enjoying Craig’s first outing as Bond. Not initially bonding (pun intended) with it wasn’t as a result of the performance by Craig, and certainly not that of Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Le Chiffre (which subjectively gives us one of the strongest villains in the franchise’s history), but more so that I felt the energy displayed in its exhilarating opening sequences was missing throughout much of its runtime.
With a large portion of its runtime being restricted to its casino based setting, there’s less room to cram in flamboyant and overly stylistic set pieces, but with its subtlety offers a far more grounded and raw approach that felt different for a Bond movie of its time. This also allows us to really dive into the character of Bond, and Casino Royale shows us the early days of his tenure under the code name 007.
Reckless, arrogant and still fairly new to the role that he has a desire to carry out his mission however he sees fit. Craig’s Bond is brutal and whenever he’s chasing his target he does so with haste and malice. From the gripping foot chase in its opening segment all the way to its final shootout, set in the fetching streets of Venice.
It may have taken several viewings to finally warm up to Casino Royale, but when I could finally appreciate what it has to offer there was no denying its spot on this list. The first of two entries for both Daniel Craig and director Martin Campbell to appear on this list, and a terrific way to kick start this most recent era of Bond.
License to Kill:
Here is where I’m likely to lose many of you. A box office bomb at the time of release, and was designed to create more of an interest globally (more so the U.S.), License to Kill was once considered a big departure from the franchise that people had adored for so long and appeared to reap the repercussions of its changing format for many years.
The grittiest and darkest entry into the whole saga, and being the first movie in the franchise to receive a 15 rating for its harsh and overly gruesome visuals, License to Kill was certainly made with the older viewers in mind. But that is precisely what I find so endearing about it, even more so after countless rewatches.
Timothy Dalton is the perfect Bond for this style of movie. Far removed from the campiness and overly tiresome quirkiness of the Roger Moore era, his iteration of the character is far more grounded in its realism. The most personal of all the Bond films, his mission is simply revenge. Despite having his license to kill revoked, Bond seeks the man responsible for leaving his C.I.A best friend (Felix Leiter) on the brink of death along with the murder of his new bride.
Robert Davi plays the lead villain, Franz Sanchez. The idea of an American drug lord being the big bad in a Bond film (especially in the 80’s) may seem a little unsubstantial given what the character has come up against over the years. But in the context of this movie and its gripping narrative, it actually plays it out very well. With him comes an industry green Benicio del Toro as the switchblade swiping sidekick, giving us one of the stronger side villains in the franchise.
The good roles don’t just end there though. Desmond Llewelyn reprises his role once again as Q, and Cary Lowell graces us with arguably the most badass Bond girl of the lot, Pam Bouvier.
License to Kill is often considered the dark horse of this long running franchise, but given the forgettable run the series was on (sorry Moore fans), it was the right time to really shake things up, and this outing certainly does that.
From memory, this was my first real introduction to the Bond franchise. Being born in the 90’s this was the era of Bond I remember most fondly and whilst Brosnan’s other entries may not have kept the strong impressions that they once had on me, his first outing as the British spy has still remained at the pinnacle of this long running saga.
A Bond that doubles down on Dalton’s more gritty approach to the role, but balances it out with Connery era charm and charisma. Brosnan’s interpretation of the character was a perfect blend of what made Bond so iconic from previous iterations, and Goldeneye had the right credentials to propel this new era to monumental success.
The first in the film saga to have a story that wasn’t ripped straight from a Fleming novel or short story, but in every way feels like it could have been. A story that could only truly work with the Bond brand slapped on it. Add to it a slew of great characters including a henchmen who kills men with her thighs, a great main villain in Sean Bean as 006, a competent and sharp Bond girl, the introduction of Judi Dench’s ‘M’, and an overly eccentric performance by Alan Cumming as the ‘INVICIBLE’ Boris.
Featuring stunning set pieces at every turn, a modernised electronic soundtrack that compliments its style very well and more memorable moments in one sitting than entire eras could offer before it. Goldeneye’s rewatchability is a testament to its alluring charm and steady but exciting narrative. Long may it live amongst the best this series will ever have to offer.
Coming off of the high of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace was a bitterly disappointing follow up. The first real ‘sequel’ for the series, that sadly failed to build upon the highs of its predecessor. Even with one last film to go, Craig’s run as Bond has been rather hit and miss. For each glimmer of brilliance that his repertoire has to offer, it’s followed up by something that couldn’t really live up to the potential (Spectre is also guilty of this), but Skyfall manages to bring all the best attributes of the Bond saga into one beautifully crafted action spectacle.
Our hero actually feels challenged and is forced to face his troubled past. We get an antagonist worthy of being pitted against the best the British have to offer. A deeper dive into the character of M, and strong supporting roles from Moneypenny and Q. Of course this would all feel unsubstantial without a story that does its writing justice, and thankfully Skyfall also has that.
This is Craig’s best performance in the role. His Bond realises that he’s met his match and doesn’t casually just charm his way out of one scenario to the next. There’s real stakes at play and character losses that are genuinely heart-breaking. These things work as a result of its clever and calculated villain, Raoul Silva. Played brilliantly by Javier Bardem, Silva is a standout villain for the series and one that deserves to be ranked amongst the best the franchise has to offer.
First time Bond director Sam Mendes takes the helm, and delivers some of the most deliciously spectacular scenarios Bond has ever come up against. The rooftop bike chase, the atmospheric sniper showdown, the London Underground foot race, and the Skyfall home invasion sequence in its finale. Everything looks fantastic in this one, and presents a night and day difference in execution when compared to Quantum of Solace.
From Russia with Love:
How could I have a best of Bond list without including the man that started it all off. Connery’s reign as the suave spy will perhaps go down as the most consistent. Sure, like with everybody’s time playing the role there are those films that are easier to pick on than others, but Connery for the most part could deliver what was asked.
And I know what you’re thinking. Why not Goldfinger? It was a close call but it just comes down to little things for me. From Russia with Love has always felt like a more memorable entry for me. It’s one that is more likely to draw my attention when it appears on television, and I think importantly it’s often unfairly swept under the rug in favour of Goldfinger’s monumental fame.
It improves upon what Dr. No offered and expands upon its ideas and executions. Connery now a veteran in the role, doubles down on that charming charisma and sly sophistication. For many he is the one true Bond, and it is hard to argue against that.
Whilst some of my other choices delve more into the action heavy genre, From Russia with Love is a true spy picture through and through. Neat little gadgets, a secret organisation behind its narrative, plenty of stunning set designs and rigorous set pieces that still look fantastic even for today, and of course a lead performer who oozes all the perfect mannerisms to carry the project. A true chefs kiss to classic cinema.