Would this have made more sense a couple of weeks ago? Yep! But I think you see I’m playing a bit of catch-up, right? So, you know, be cool, ok?
And yes, I really am in my 30s. I know you figured I was, say, 28. Sorry to shatter that illusion.
Ranking the Bond Films of My Lifetime
12.) The World is Not Enough (1999)- So…ok. This is bad. Terrible even.
But it looked so good on paper.
Robert Carlyle as a villain is smart casting. His villain being a damaged (on multiple levels) man who can’t feel pain was a great idea. I remember I had been studying the phenomenon at the time and was very excited to see this bad guy who is both unstoppable (because he can’t feel what you are doing to him) and incredibly brittle (without pain, we can’t adjust our actions to protect our bodies properly) on the screen.
Add in a seeming victim who turns out to be a criminal mastermind and Denise Richards at a time when, to 18 year old me, she was an actress I wanted to see lot of (yes, I mean that in the male gaze-y sense…I am so sorry) and it all looked so good.
In practice though?
Carlyle turned out to be just ok and the “can’t feel pain” hook was not fully explored. Richards was brutally bad, utterly chemistry-less—and, whether you like her or not, Richards had proved capable of generating sparks in several other movies and it didn’t just have to do with her body—and seemingly sleepwalking through her lines. Moving in fits and starts, World is ultimately only worth anything because of its theme song and so terrible it is kind of incredible final line.
11.) Octopussy (1983)- Maud Adams is pretty good in second Bond “girl” turn. That’s…about it. Roger Moore did totally dress up as a clown though so no one can accuse him of not being game. But it’s all stale and flat, sadly.
10.) License to Kill (1989)- Unfortunately, Dalton’s second effort is a mess. Dalton seems even less pleased with his bon mots (although still good as the meanest Bond before Craig). The plot never seems to quite fit together—makes sense as it was stitched together from two separate short stories—and the movie’s pace is a weird mix of languid and rush. Mostly, it just seems like the franchise knew they had a different kind of Bond but couldn’t seem to find a story to reflect that.
9.) For Your Eyes Only (1981)- Strange is perhaps the best adjective for this Bond offering. Not strange like View to a Kill’s sideways vibe, but strange like…why is this happening?
As the Bond lawsuit ground on, the film opens with a “screw you pal” sequence that sees Blofeld—a large part of said lawsuit, unceremoniously dumped into a chimney, Spider-clone style (ask your comic fan friends, kids). Then there’s the sexy teen ice skater—no this is not something I am making up—and the largely underwhelming cadre of villains. For every great action sequence—the underwater assault—there are disappointingly underwhelming ones.
8.) Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)- Jonathan Price should be a great Bond villain, white shock wig or not. Price as a profiteering Rupert Murdoch type sounds even better. Add in an actually really truly pro-active Bond girl in Michelle Yeoh and, on paper, everything sounds so promising.
So why is the thing so damn inert?
Save some great motorcycle stunts, there is nothing here that gets the blood pumping although the demise of Teri Hatcher’s doomed Bond girl might incite some of your ire.
7.) A View to a Kill (1985)- So… this one isn’t good. To be clear. Roger Moore looks exhausted. He has zero chemistry with Tanya Roberts—apparently a big reason he finally stepped down from being Bond—and every stunt seems slowed waaaaay down. But the Duran Duran tune is a kick of 80’s cheese and the villains—Christopher Walken and Grace Jones—have such a weird vibe that I find the whole thing eminently watchable. Objectively, this should be nearly at the bottom—of this or a full Bond list—but, for me, I’ll take this bad but hypnotic entry over the dirge of License to Kill, the painfully trying to grab ahold of the Moore vibe efforts of The World is Not Enough, or even the bland but not offensive Tomorrow Never Dies.
6.) Die Another Day (2002)- Let’s get this out there first. You are wrong. This isn’t the worst Bond. This isn’t even the worst Brosnan. You are wrong.
In fact, I’d argue it is about 2/3 of a good to great Bond movie. It is definitely Bond pushed to his sci-fi extreme—invisible cars, killer satellites, incredible cosmetic surgery—but Brosnan’s brutalized Bond turns in a strong showing, Toby Stephens is suitably loathsome as the villain who is not what he appears (he’s a North Korean disguised as a Brit, namely), and Rosamund Pike is pretty spot on as a turncoat secret agent.
But then the movie turns into a long homage to the previous films and everyone starts to talk in Bondisms and the whole thing collapses on itself.
Still, way better than the middle two Brosnans.
5.) Quantum of Solace (2008)- This one kind of got away from the filmmakers in the midst of a writer’s strike and every misstep is on-screen. The villain essentially being the CEO of the Nestle Corporation but with less charisma and the slack pace ensure this one can only disappoint after Casino.
That said, there are strong moments. The opening car chase taking place literally moments after the first movie ends is as good a chase as any Bond film has boasted. The opera scene is quiet and almost actionless until the end and yet entirely engrossing and gripping. Olga Kurylenko is also the rare Bond woman who manages to be both sexy and in need of help and still demonstrably competent and dangerous in her own right.
4.) The Living Daylights (1987)- Easily the grimmest Bond film ever when it was released, Dalton is a nasty Bond who delivers his one-liners like they are acidic to give voice to. Still, as an antidote the increasingly silly and creaky later Moore era films, Dalton’s athletic Bond is a surprise that works.
Also worth noting is how charming and yet significantly less womanizing Dalton’s Bond is. Unlike the Brosnan Bonds that would put his outdated approach to love and sex in the age of AIDS on front street, this one subtly nods to it by seeing Bond greatly rein in his bed jumping tendencies.
3.) GoldenEye (1995)- My first Bond in theatres, the sweet taste of nostalgia may sand down the rough edges for me. Nonetheless, for me, with the exception of a not great Bond song, this movie is a delight. From the skydive cold open, to the USSR symbol crushing credits sequence, to Brosnan’s combo Bond—he feels like someone selected different elements from each previous iteration and mixed them together under the actor’s skin—to an opposite-Bond villain that largely works to the scariest Bond girl ever, I just…I just love the damn thing.
2.) Skyfall (2012)- Gorgeous. Utterly gorgeous. Casino Royale is the best of the Craig era, but this one is definitely the prettiest. It also brings the best supporting cast of the Craig Bonds—Whishaw, Dench, Fiennes, Harris, and Finney—and an excellent scenario chewing villain in Bardem’s Silva. Far more focused on emotion that sex—which is good and bad as it renders Berenice Marlohe’s Severine as a walking, talking after thought and allows for Bond to connect with M and Moneypenny in interest and affecting ways.
1.) Casino Royale (2006)- A fully realized reboot that did not render Bond unrecognizable and still turned the franchise on its ear. Craig’s Bond is cold to the touch but lets enough out to make it clear he is a volcano of hurt. Eva Green as Vesper Lind is the best Bond girl of all time, convincingly playing the traitor and, still, the first true love of Bond’s life. Mikkelson as a villain who is ultimately just another pawn is both effective and pathetic and the movie nicely lets you see that both make him very dangerous. Best of my life and, for my money, best Bond film ever.