At the heart of every espionage film is politics, and while these films may play host to action, adventure, and fast-paced thrills … they would not exist without the political intrigue that first gave birth to them.
When we view spy films, we are witness to the dangers of political unrest, exotic international destinations, fast cars, unbelievable stunts, high-octane action sequences, and future-tech gadgets and gizmos. If we have spies like Ethan Hunt, Nick Fury, Jack Ryan, Bryan Mills, Agent J, Jason Bourne, Austin Powers, or Susan Cooper on our side – we know that everything will eventually work its way out. But when all the chips are down, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance, there is only one secret agent to top everyone’s favorite film spy list– James Bond.
Dozens of books, 25 movies, numerous graphic novels, and hundreds of fan-created-fiction stories have kept British secret agent 007 (James Bond) alive and well since 1952. Eight actors have portrayed Bond on TV and film since Barry Nelson first brought the character to life on CBS in the television adaptation of Casino Royale in 1954.
Film fans are quick to name their favorite Bond actor, and list some of the best films in the franchise. A 2018 poll of film critics and film fans produced this list.
- – Goldfinger (1964) – It’s the easy choice. The obvious choice. The safe choice. It’s also the best choice, a no-brainer. Everything that’s great about the James Bond collection can be found in this movie. The best 007, hands down (Connery). A superb master villain in Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe). A dangerous henchman in the bowler-chucking Oddjob (Harold Sakata). An alluring and brainy beauty in Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). A knockout theme song (performed by Shirley Bassey). Iconic images (including the sight of a gold-plated Shirley Eaton). And the best snatch of dialogue in all 25 movies: “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” – Matt Brunson
- Casino Royale (2006) – This 007 (Daniel Craig) isn’t a suave playboy quick with the quip and bathed in an air of immortality but rather a rough-hewn bruiser who can still fill out a tux quite nicely. That opening parkour (aka free-running) sequence stands among the all-time best Bond action sequences, with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd similarly making the grade as among the franchise’s most fascinating characters. – Matt Brunson
- The Spy Who Loved Loved Me (1977) – In the official series, Moore portrayed Bond more than any other actor (seven times) — initially too awkward and eventually too old, he was just fine in the middle entries, the best of which is this outstanding effort that employed the tagline, “It’s the BIGGEST. It’s the BEST. It’s BOND. And B-E-Y-O-N-D.” There are too many highlights to rattle off, but among them are Barbara Bach’s luscious turn as Russian spy Anya Amasova (aka Agent XXX); Richard Kiel’s imposing presence as the steel-toothed Jaws; Carly Simon’s series-best theme song, “Nobody Does It Better”; the spectacular underwater lair created by franchise veteran Ken Adam; and an incredible pre-credits sequence involving skis, a cliff and a Union Jack parachute. – Matt Brunson
- From Russia With Love (1963) – Connery’s favorite Bond movie is based on John F. Kennedy’s favorite Bond book, and who are we to argue with their tastes? The second movie in the series slowly introduces more gizmos to the template, but the story still takes precedent, with Bond trying to keep a decoder out of the hands of nefarious SPECTRE spooks. It’s hard to ascertain who’s more lethal: Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), with those poison-tipped shoes, or Red Grant (Robert Shaw), with that hulking frame (and blinding peroxide hair). – Matt Brunson
- License to Kill (1989) – Nobody can deny that the stunt-work in the franchise remains top notch at this point, enhanced by (Timothy) Dalton’s penchant for doing his own stunts. From an insane beginning airborne sequence that would go on to inspire one of Christopher Nolan’s best, to underwater sequences nodding to the Connery era, to a dizzying big rig Mad Max-lite, explosion-heavy chase sequence at the end, there is no bone to pick with the action. This may have been John Glen’s last turn in the 007 director’s chair, but he went out on a high note. – Henry J. Fromage
- Quantum of Solace (2008) – What Quantum of Solace does have is Daniel Craig. No one could deny Craig’s charisma, and the effortless way he has inhabited the role. He has some spectacular action sequences and a fair few close-quarter punch-ups in the manner of Bourne, along with some athletic rooftop-leaping chase scenes that Bonds of an earlier vintage would have rejected as being too much like hard work. – Peter Bradshaw
- Dr. No (1962) – The first movie to feature Ian Fleming’s iconic secret agent seems almost quaint when compared to the pictures that followed, but that’s hardly meant as a knock. While there are no fancy gadgets, souped-up cars or flying jet-packs, there is a gripping thriller in which Bond, James Bond (Connery) investigates the disappearance of a fellow agent and winds up tangling with a scientist (Joseph Wiseman) plotting to take down the U.S. space program. As Honey Ryder, Ursula Andress patented the concept of the Bond babe. – Matt Brunson
- Spectre (2015) – Fantastic music, stunning foreign locations and a few new gadgets, make the action film Spectre feel like a throwback to the classic Bond films. – Jay Forry Daniel Craig’s Bond comes out blazing. He’s a blunt instrument … and the film is a visual triumph for Dutch camera whiz Hoyte van Hoytema (Interstellar, Her) and (the film offers) a new peak in the art of eye-popping (cinema). Spectre is a stirring, way-cool valedictory. Craig does himself proud. – Peter Travers
- View to a Kill (1985) – The set pieces are memorable, including a parachute pursuit from the Eiffel Tower, a fire engine chase around the hilly streets of San Francisco, and an airship crash on the Golden Gate bridge. (Roger Moore) has an easy-going charisma and good comic timing. (Christopher) Walken makes for a good, supremely confident villain, and is well backed by the fearsome Grace Jones. The theme song is offered by Duran Duran and an instrumental score is provided by John Barry. – Jonathan Dabell
- For Your Eyes Only (1981) – The scripting is strong in this Moore episode, complete with a nifty plot twist, stunning action set-pieces and one of the best heroines in the crossbow-wielding Melina (Carole Bouquet). And while many have bristled at the character of the Bond-smitten Bibi (Lynn-Holly Johnson), I love that 007 has finally met a woman he considers too young even for him. – Matt Brunson
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – What makes the film most memorable is Diana Rigg’s performance as Tracy, the daughter of underworld figure Draco and Bond’s short-lived bride, one of the first three-dimensional characters in the Bond series. What’s amazing is that it wasn’t until some three decades and then a dozen entries later (some remarkably good nonetheless) that the Bond films again displayed some semblance of genuine human traits in their protagonist (see “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall“). It’s no coincidence that along with “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, these are the features that have provided the series with its most satisfying conclusions.
Perhaps even more transcendent has been the influence of John Glen’s editing techniques on countless action films to follow (for better, and certainly for worse). “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is the first feature in memory to use quick cut edits in some of its action scenes. – Gerardo Valero
Bradshaw, P. (2008, October 30). Film review: Quantum of solace | Film | The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/oct/31/quantum-of-solace
Brunson, M. (2013, February 14). Taking stock of Bond: Ranking the 007 flicks | Features | Creative Loafing Charlotte. Retrieved from http://clclt.com/charlotte/taking-stock-of-bond-ranking-the-007-flicks/Content?oid=3012331
Dabell, J. (2003, October 3). A view to a kill reviews & ratings – IMDb. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090264/reviews
Fromage, H. J. (2015, September 11). Licence to kill (1989) movie review: Almost got bond’s license revoked – movieBoozer. Retrieved from http://movieboozer.com/movie-review/licence-kill-1989-movie-review
Manning, N. T. (2019, October 30). Who’s your Bond? Facebook poll
Travers, P. (2015, November 4). ‘Spectre’ movie review – Rolling stone. Retrieved from http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/spectre-20151104
Valero, G. (2014, March 5). On her majesty’s secret service | Far Flungers | Roger Ebert. Retrieved from http://www.rogerebert.com/far-flung-correspondents/on-her-majestys-secret-service