Considering we’re still none the wiser about the true release date of Bond #25, No Time To Die, there’s surely no better moment to do an all time, best-of-Bond top 5. Granted, there may be 24 films in the series to date, but once you dispense of the spoofy Roger Moore years, the Daniel Craig misfires and the ones where Sean Connery had clearly given up caring, there really is only a dozen or so to choose from.
As a minor disclaimer, before creating this list, I didn’t go back and re-watch every film in the franchise – a single viewing of Moonraker is more than sufficient for one lifetime. With that being said, let’s jump into the definitive list of the top 5 films starring everyone’s favourite sociopathic secret service agent.
#5 Casino Royale
Casino Royale really set the tone for Bond in the 21st Century. Prior to Daniel Craig’s first outing, we’d seen only Die Another Day hit the cinemas post-year 2000, and in the words of M herself, that film made Bond look like a sexist, misogynist dinosaur.
The 2006 soft reboot was truly the upgrade Bond needed. In place of the cheesy dialogue, wacky gadgets and predictable action, we got a gritty, more human Bond. Sure, he still gets all the girls and survives some heart racing action sequences against all the odds, but the tonal shift really helped reinvigorate the series.
With a great soundtrack, some encapsulating performances and a myriad of phenomenal fight scenes that would give Jason Bourne a run for his money, Casino Royale is more than deserving of the number 5 slot in 007’s all-time top 5.
Before Daniel Craig’s gritty reboot in 2006, we had another 007 reboot of sorts. However, Pierce Brosnan’s first appearance as Bond in Goldeneye was more of a general course correction as opposed to the complete reboot that we got with Casino Royale.
Following the largely unsuccessful release of License to Kill in 1989, Goldeneye provided a renewed focus on the core Bond tropes when it hit cinemas in 1995. Despite not being a terrible film, many had found Timothy Dalton’s final outing too dark and sinister; audiences were just not ready for it.
Pierce Brosnan and Goldeneye provided the perfect antidote to this. Sure, it ticks off the usual Bond checklist – ludicrous gadgets, humorously named villains, creative death scenes, wincingly bad one-liners – but it also modernised the franchise for the post-Cold War era; Bond was cool again!
The opening scene remains one of the greatest the franchise has ever committed to film, Sean Bean is fantastic as uber-villain Alec Trevelyan – his double agent/fake death twist is an inspired subversion of the usual Bond villain set up – and the overall general tone and pacing of the movie is spot on.
#3 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
OHMSS is probably one of the most underrated Bond films since the franchise launched back in 1962. This is partially due to the fact that it was the first of the series not to feature Sean Connery as Bond, it was also likely due to the fact that George Lazenby isn’t a very good actor.
Before working on OHMSS, Lazenby had only really appeared in coffee adverts in his native Australia. Having managed to somehow bag an audition with long-time Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli for the role of 007, he famously arrived dressed in full tuxedo in a bid to outdo his fellow auditionees.
The casting team were so impressed with Lazenby’s physical appearance and commitment to the Bond aesthetic that he was given the role. Unfortunately, they probably should have appraised his acting ability a bit more thoroughly before hiring him; he’s stiff and wooden throughout and almost half of his dialogue needed to be re-dubbed by another actor prior to the release of the film.
Despite this, OHMSS remains one of the best in the series. There are some truly exceptional action scenes on the ski slopes of the Swiss Alps, Diana Rigg makes a compelling Bond girl and the film has a surprisingly poignant and emotional ending.
For many, Goldfinger is the archetypal Bond film. Following the massive critical and commercial success of 007’s first two outings, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, the pressure was on to solidify the Bond legacy…. and solidify it they did.
Goldfinger expertly builds on the foundations of the first two films and sees the now tried and tested Bond formula really establish itself. In Auric Goldfinger we get our first charismatic villain, in Oddjob we get our first spoofy henchman, we get to see Bond in an Aston Martin and, for the first time, we get to hear him utter the now tiresomely overused catchphrase, “vodka martini, shaken not stirred”.
There is loads to love about Goldfinger; it flows exceptionally well, it boasts great actions scenes, the characterisation is brilliant, it has a killer original soundtrack, a wonderful original title song by Shirley Bassey, more than a dozen memorable lines and a fantastic finale.
Funnily enough, Skyfall makes the top of the list not just because it’s the best bond film, but because it’s much, much more than that. Sure, it’s recognisably Bond, but Skyfall flies in the face of many of the traditional 007 tropes. Sam Mendes’ 2012 film sees a different kind of James Bond, one with a history, one where there are personal stakes in play.
Now I’m not saying this break from the normal routine would work every time, but it really does in the case of Skyfall. Not only is it the best Bond film, it’s a great film in its own right. In terms of strengths, the list is endless, Bond #23 has almost everything going for it.
What works best about the film for me though is how effortlessly the narrative flits between locales; the pacing is perfect and the development of both Bond as protagonist and Silva as antagonist along the way is thrilling. Adding the personal stakes element to film really ups the ante, however this in no way lessens the impact of the heart-racing, jaw-dropping finale.
Overall, Skyfall is as near as perfect as Bond has been in a long time and, as the disappointing Spectre found out, No Time To Die has got to do a hell of a lot to live up to it.
While we wait desperately for the release of No Time To Die, be sure to check out one of its trailers below: