Six actors. 25 films. A countless number of martinis.
For more than 50 years, the James Bond movies have been load-bearing columns in our collective pop culture, and their popularity isn’t going away anytime soon. (Fans were heartbroken — but understanding — when No Time to Die bumped its release date from April to November in response to the current health crisis.)
The franchise is a popular addition to many a watchlist whenever they land on streaming services, too. As the Bond catalog has arrived on Amazon Prime, we’ve done the rank-and-file thing on every canonical James Bond movie — from worst to best. (Sorry, Never Say Never Again fans — that Warner Bros. movie was produced outside the core MGM/UA series, so we aren’t counting it here.)
Die Another Day (2002)
Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond movie was both his biggest hit and his worst. Starting with a ridiculous day-for-night surfing scene and ending with Bond fighting a villain sporting a Power Glove with a computer mouse tracking ball, Die Another Day is full of ideas, awful CG, and over-the-top set pieces (like that infamous invisible car) that struggle to find anything resembling a fun or worthwhile time for both Bond and audiences.
Ironically, the most successful parts of the movie are the quieter, grittier scenes — like Bond being tortured and held prisoner during the opening titles or talking with M (Judi Dench) about potentially being compromised during his captivity. It’s a tragic irony that Brosnan’s most comfortable and effortless performance in the role would be his last.
A View to a Kill (1985)
Roger Moore’s last Bond movie was supposed to be For Your Eyes Only, which would have been a more fitting career capper than this uneven slog that pits Bond against a former KGB operative-turned-psychopathic tech giant hellbent on flooding Silicon Valley.
At 57, Moore had significantly aged in the two years since his last outing — and even the actor knew he was too long in the tooth to be running and gunning his way through another mission. Sadly, that realization comes through in Moore’s most “on autopilot” performance in the role. Other than the titular Duran Duran theme song (it’s still a bop), the only highlight of Moore’s final movie is the fistfight he has with Bond villain and Silicon Valley psychopath Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) atop the Golden Gate Bridge.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
After George Lazenby’s one-and-done box office misfire, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the Bond producers were in need of a hit, so they recruited Sean Connery out of retirement for one last “official” Bond movie. Sadly, Diamonds Are Forever proves he should have stayed retired.
Campy and excessive to the point of being at times offensive — especially in its tonally off portrayal of hitmen Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith) and Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) — Diamonds is a clunky, plot-heavy money grab for Connery. The movie barely addresses the loss of Bond’s wife from the previous film, outside of the low-fi pre-titles action sequence, in an obvious effort to hit the reset button and bring audiences the Bond they knew and loved. The attempt is an embarrassing blemish on the series, save for Connery’s brutal, close-quarters fight with a baddie in an elevator.
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
The climactic showdown and elaborate shootout between the assassin Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) and Roger Moore’s Bond makes sitting through this uneven and cliched Bond movie almost worth it.
Moore’s second Bond movie puts the superspy in the crosshairs of the titular hitman, as 007 races through Hong Kong and Macau to stop Scaramanga from using a solar-powered laser to do evil things. Its most iconic stunt, a sports car leaping a chasm while doing a barrel roll, is robbed of its intended impact thanks to the use of a slide whistle (facepalm). And don’t get us started on the logic-defying return of Live and Let Die’s stereotypical Louisiana sheriff, J.W. Pepper.
The end of Skyfall promised a Bond ready to finally become James Bond. One capable of being the gritty assassin born in Casino Royale and also the spy we love from the Connery and Moore era. Instead, the Bond of Spectre surprisingly, sadly, literally, turns his back on that promise — saddled with a crisis of conscience never established in the previous Daniel Craig entries. It also features a classic villain that's wasted due to soap opera-level plot twists and bad monologuing. Spectre would have you believe that 007 somehow found his way on the path to being a super spy because the father of his adopted brother/future arch-nemesis (Christoph Waltz) liked Bond better.
Yup, Franz Oberhauer (aka Blofeld) became the leader of a super terrorist organization because, well, daddy issues. And then became Bond's secret adversary for years and years, implausibly sending disparate threats to attack Bond in movie after movie — with Bond never once realizing he is in the center of the longest long con ever. Say what you will about Quantum of Solace, but at least it didn't put a bullet in the heart of all the goodwill earned by previous outings.
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Seeds of Skyfall’s plot — Bond recovering from a shoulder injury and M’s past coming back to haunt her — are planted here in Brosnan’s third outing, which features the longest (and one of the most exciting) pre-titles action sequence in the franchise’s history. Traditionally, the third time was the charm for previous Bond actors in terms of making their best movie. Unfortunately, that was not the case for Brosnan. While he gives his best and most compelling performance here, TWINE’s over-complicated plot and by-the-numbers set pieces fail to service it.
The franchise’s first major female villain, the heiress to her dead father’s oil fortune, Elektra King (Braveheart’s Sophie Marceau), is an effective and tragic foil for Brosnan’s Bond. She gives the movie its best scene, where Bond is forced to shoot her in cold blood and then cooly deliver the line “I never miss” after calling her bluff that her former lover would not kill her. It’s an all-time moment for Brosnan’s too-brief tenure in the role. (Another all-timer, but in the negative column? Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist named Christmas Jones.)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Outside of an inspired idea for a timely villain — a media baron (Jonathan Price) hellbent on starting wars if it sells newspapers — Tomorrow Never Dies is a shoulder shrug of a movie. It has all the anamorphic scope audiences expect from a Bond movie, but its undercooked script and uneven tone conspire to form a “just okay” movie ideal for watching on a plane or playing in the background while you fold laundry. But make sure to pay attention whenever Chinese agent Wai Lin (the a-mah-zing Michelle Yeoh) is on-screen.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
If Casino Royale was Bond's Batman Begins, then Quantum of Solace could have been his The Dark Knight. Instead, it's a rushed, and at times, soulless affair — despite Bond’s revenge plot over the death of Vesper servicing as a direct sequel (a franchise first) to Royale and having director Marc Forrester inject the film with some artistic visual flair (love the fonts each new location gets!) The shaky-cam action scenes feel like Bourne's leftovers, and Bond should never copy from a franchise that it had a hand in inspiring.
Surprisingly, 007's revenge storyline takes a backseat to that of a supporting character (an underrated Olga Kurylenko), with our favorite spy failing to drive the main narrative of his own movie. (The parallel plots eventually intersect, but never in a way that resonates emotionally). Bond is just there to shoot and punch and blow stuff up before clunkily moving on to the next scene as if previous ones didn't really matter. More like "Quantum of Disappointment."
Moonraker has one of the best Bond pre-title sequences: Bond getting thrown out of a plane with no parachute as metal-mouth Jaws (Richard Kiel) skydives after him. And this is after we see a space shuttle hijacked mid-air off the back of a 747. It’s largely downhill from there, as Moonraker capitalizes on then-Star Wars hysteria and puts Bond in space and up against Drax (Michael Lonsdale), the Bond villain equivalent of a coma. The third act special effects as Bond goes to the Final Frontier are impressive (if not cheesy) — and that title song by Bond staple Shirley Bassey is vastly underrated.
AKA “The One With the Circus.”
Octopussy seemed poised to be a great swan song for Moore’s Bond, especially after that riveting opening sequence where 007 flies a micro-jet through a hangar while trying to dodge a missile. Instead, the end result is an uneven, convoluted blockbuster with a villain you love to hate (Richard Jordan) and Maud Adams (The Man With the Golden Gun) being the first “Bond Girl” to appear in two Bond movies but in two different roles. And don’t get us started on 007 literally dressing up as a clown as he tries to defuse a bomb under a circus tent. John Barry’s score is an all-timer for the series, and the practical stunts are exceptional — especially Bond’s fight atop a moving train.
Live and Let Die (1973)
Roger Moore’s first James Bond movie is one of the franchise’s worst. It’s a tone-deaf mess, trying to be a Bond movie and a sort of “blaxploitation” action flick — complete with a redneck sheriff chasing Bond through Louisiana — and failing to succeed at either.
The voodoo-centric plot, which kicks off with a funeral in New Orleans and takes Bond to Harlem, is full of racist innuendos. The only standouts are Paul McCartney and Wings’ title song (a classic), Jane Seymour as Bond’s love interest, and the fierce Yaphet Koto as the main villain.
License to Kill (1989)
License to Kill was 17 years too early. Released in the crowded summer of 1989, home to four-quadrant blockbusters like Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, audiences did not want a “dark and brooding” Bond out for revenge and taking on ripped-from-the-headlines drug lords. They were already less-than-sold on Timothy Dalton’s dour Bond portrayal, and License to Kill double-downed on it.
But rewatching it now, it serves as a preview of the Daniel Craig era audiences and fans have embraced. Dalton’s Bond in Kill is the then-most accurate take on the character from Ian Flemming’s novels, and the movie’s more grounded approach to the action scenes still retain some of that classic Bond flare — especially when Bond water skis barefoot while hanging off a plane or engages in a riveting tanker truck car chase that is one of the series’ best third act finales.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
How Bond got away with the whitewashing on display here, with Connery’s 007 being made to look Japanese, is truly one of the franchise’s worst decisions. You Only Live Twice is well regarded among fans despite that problematic plot point and its slow-burn story involving Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) and a large spacecraft which can swallow up smaller ones that threatens to light the fuse on WWIII. (The plot would be repurposed from space to on water in The Spy Who Loved Me.)
Ken Adams’s iconic hollowed-out volcanic lair set is the real MVP of the movie, which finally gives a face to Connery’s long-time nemesis. Without You Only Live Twice, we would never have the Austin Powers films.
The Living Daylights (1987)
Dalton’s first Bond movie gets a bum rap; it’s an engaging thriller with significant tension that lets Bond show off his boots-on-the-ground detective skills. Neither a huge box office hit or critical disappointment, The Living Daylights had the unenviable task of taking over for the most popular Bond, Roger Moore, and his signature brand of tongue-in-cheek exploits. Tonally, Timothy Dalton proved to be too sudden and sharp of a departure for audiences hooked on Moore’s 007, and the box office reflected that. But in the 30-plus years since the film’s release, fans have given the movie and its impressive stunt sequences (Bond fights a guy on a cargo net while dangling out of a plane!) the respect now that they didn’t get then.
“Bond’s valet.” That is how the late Gene Siskel described Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye, his blockbuster debut as the super spy after 007’s six-year absence from the big screen. The wait was worth it, as Brosnan finally got his chance to play Bond* and update the character for the ‘90s. The “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” that Judi Dench’s M sizes him up to be serves as a meta-commentary on the character’s past as Goldeneye charts a new future that isn’t all martinis, girls, and guns.
Martin Campbell’s assured direction — the movie is largely powered by expert editing and Brosnan’s charisma — elevates the shoulder-shrug of a plot involving 006 (Sean Bean) coming back from the dead to steal a helicopter and an EMP-delivering satellite in space. It’s not a great movie, but it is a great time at the movies — and easily the best of Brosnan’s four movies. (Fun fact: Brosnan was set to play Bond in The Living Daylights back in 1986, but a last-minute contract renewal for his NBC show, Remington Steele, got in the way.)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Moore’s most underrated outing feels like a John Le Carre novel hiding out in Bond movie. Moore’s Bond has a darker edge here — he kills a man practically in cold blood — as 007 is on a mission to track down a top-secret decoder before the Russians get their hands on it. Sporting some of the most exotic locales in the series, along with some of the most eye-roll worthy visual gags, For Your Eyes Only is an occasionally uneven but consistently entertaining entry in the series.
Once Bond takes off in a jet pack, you can easily lose roughly the next 40 minutes and not miss anything of substance. Still, Thunderball is a stone-cold classic, despite its padded script and threadbare plot. Its overlong but epic underwater battle is among the best action sequences ever, but the movie confuses bigger with better and struggles to be anything more than pure-polished eye candy. It furthers the template established by its predecessor, Goldfinger, and capitalizes on that film’s impressive success by letting Connery do what he does best: Swagger, drop one-liners, and fight bad guys.
Dr. No (1962)
The one that started it all. Lacking the spectacle and scope that would become a signature component of the series, Dr. No makes up for it with an extremely charming and dangerous lead performance from Sean Connery, as he encounters the evil organization, SPECTRE, for the first time. The classic film also makes cinematic history with Honey Ryder (Ursula Andreas) and her iconic walk out of the ocean in that white bikini.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Bond editor-turned-director Peter Hunt executes a Bond movie unlike any other, as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service tries to move on from Connery’s landmark tenure and prove that the franchise is more than whoever puts on Bond’s tux and Walther PPK. The latter proved less-than-true, as one-and-done George Lazenby, a model who lucked out in the role, was unable to resonate with audiences as Connery did.
OHMSS was neither a box office failure nor a blockbuster success, but that didn’t stop fans from thinking it was a flop. But the years have been kind on the film and its gritty, staccato action scenes and romantic subplot involving Bond falling in love and getting married — only to have his wife gunned down by Blofeld (Telly Savalas) on his wedding day. The first and only time we would see Bond cry until 2006’s Casino Royale.
From Russia With Love (1963)
Connery’s second Bond movie is a gripping (if convoluted) Cold War thriller that gives the spy more gadgets that would become a staple of the franchise while expanding further on the core tenements Flemming invested in the character. Connery’s run arguably features most of the series' most iconic moments, with Bond’s violent and messy train fight with Russian operative Red Grant (Robert Shaw) still ranking high on that list. (SPECTRE would try to do an homage to it in a scene pitting Daniel Craig against baddie Dave Bautista aboard a speeding train.)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
The Spy Who Loved Me did for Roger Moore what Goldfinger did for Connery: It solidified his Bond as the Bond for this era of moviegoers. From the iconic ski jump opening sequence, Moore definitively proved that the franchise can survive despite rotating actors in and out of the lead role.
Moore finds a perfect balance between his double-take sense of humor and Bond’s lethal operative ways as Bond takes on a villain obsessed with the oceans and wanting to turn the Earth into his own personal Atlantis — with the help of the two nuclear submarines he has stolen. Barbara Bach’s Triple X is the Russian equivalent of 007, oftentimes besting the over-confident secret agent as they embark on a globe-trotting mission full of inventive action scenes (a car than turn into a submarine, for example) and amazing sets, thanks again to Ken Adams’ production design. (Bond trivia: This movie first introduces audiences to the metal-mouthed thug, Jaws.)
The template of the franchise is established here: The Aston Martin, the elaborate pre-titles action sequence, the Bond Girls, the always-monologuing Bond villains — all of them mix together to make a somewhat bloated but effortlessly entertaining blockbuster that still holds up today.
Skyfall takes big and bold creative swings, investing the series with its most emotionally-driven plot ever as Daniel Craig’s Bond must literally battle both his and M’s past as a former MI6 operative, the unpredictable Silva (a never-better Javier Bardem) upends 007’s entire existence.
Craig’s second-best performance as Bond, thanks to director Sam Mendes and John Logan’s script, elevated both the series and the action film genre — just in time for the series 50th anniversary. It’s also the best shot Bond movie, thanks to Roger Deakins’ flawless cinematography. All of this, along with Adele’s Oscar-winning theme song, make Skyfall the Goldfinger of Craig’s tenure — further proving that the third time’s the charm for most Bond actors.
Casino Royale (2006)
It’s hard to imagine how irrational and pissed off fans were at Daniel Craig’s casting. No one wanted him in the role, especially on the heels of Brosnan’s unceremonious dismissal from the series.
But Craig, director Martin Campbell, and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson proved them wrong. Casino Royale reboots the franchise and the character, giving us a broken-not-sprained Bond who bleeds and needs a drink to settle his adrenaline shakes after killing a man in a drag-out stairwell brawl. For the first time, Bond truly feels dangerous — and scary. Craig invests him with a threat level and vulnerability we hadn’t seen before, as 007 finds himself playing poker in order to win back hundreds of millions of dollars before they fall into the hands of terrorist Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). In between the impressive action scenes and brutal fistfights, Bond endures a tragic love story that sees him cry over the death of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green).
Casino Royale is the Batman Begins of Bond movies — and the best, most complete-feeling, of the franchise.