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Credit: Sony / MGM and MGM / UA

10 times the James Bond movies scared the living daylights out of us

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Jul 12, 2021, 2:14 PM EDT

James Bond has seen and done some truly messed-up things.

Which makes sense, given that the superspy has spent the better part of the last 60 years saving the world from an endless supply of bad guys wanting to destroy it. One of Bond’s darkest assignments recently celebrated its 40th anniversary in June, For Your Eyes Only. This grounded spy caper was the Bond producers’ response to Roger Moore’s previous outing, 1979’s Moonraker, which took him into space. To course-correct the franchise after that very over-the-top entry, the Bond producers made a conscious effort to firmly root For Your Eyes Only’s espionage less in high-tech gadgetry and more in Cold War thrills. In the movie, Bond crosses paths with a crossbow-slinging woman’s vendetta and the KGB-linked villain responsible for her parents’ assassination. Those high stakes put our favorite spy into some truly unsettling, and at times scary, situations.

In revisiting the movie, it got us thinking about all the other times in Bond’s iconic career where he encountered more threats that left him more shaken than his signature martini. Here are 10 times the James Bond movies left us quaking in our knife-tipped boots. 

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Spider Assassin in ‘Dr. No’ (1962)

Dr. No, James Bond’s gritty and (relatively) grounded first big-screen adventure feels like an indie film compared to the subsequent, big-budget blockbusters the franchise has churned out in recent years. The low-fi approach to Sean Connery’s first Bond outing gives scenes like the one here an extra heightened sense of tension, as Bond is surprised by a venomous spider sneaking into his bed on a mission to kill him. 

Is it the most efficient or logical way for the baddie to take out his sleeping adversary? Of course not. But it is a highly effective delivery system of old-fashioned, white-knuckle suspense. Bond has yet to become the virtually indestructible hero fans would know him as, and this memorable scene from Dr. No succeeds largely because we don’t know exactly how Bond will get out of this one. Also, James Bond has never been more relatable than when he is reduced to a sweaty, clenched-jaw mess when encountering eight-legged nightmare fuel. 

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Baron Samedi vs. Bond in ‘Live and Let Die’ (1973)

Live and Let Die is the closest a James Bond movie has come to being in a horror movie. 

Roger Moore’s debut as 007 centers on a convoluted plot involving three assassinations with ties to voodoo, heroin, and crime lord Kananga's (the late Yaphet Kotto)’s master plan to upend the world order. In the course of Bond’s investigation, he encounters Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder) — Kananga’s primary enforcer with an almost supernatural expertise in practicing the darker and deadlier side of voodoo. Samedi is the most enigmatic and frightening baddie in the Bond franchise; he is ambiguity incarnate, in that it is unclear if he is the real Baron — the “man who cannot die,” according to the film — or a mortal who happens be masquerading as the Baron to strike fear in his boss’ enemies. Live and Let Die makes a strong case for the former, when Samedi — sporting his now-iconic skull face paint — forces a trapped Bond to participate in a deadly ritual. The super spy barely escapes this trap by seemingly sending Samedi into a coffin full of poisonous snakes and killing him. But Live and Let Die strongly implies that Baron has cheated death, as he appears in the final scene of the film, alive, like a killer in a slasher movie, looking into camera with a menacing laugh. While Samedi would never appear in a Bond movie again, the character’s final moments have haunted the franchise for the better part of 50 years. 

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Jaws kills Max Kalba in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977)

[Image credit: MGM/UA]

Richard Kiel’s metal-toothed assassin, Jaws, was largely played for laughs in subsequent Bond movies, but in his first, The Spy Who Loved Me, the character enters the franchise as a menacing, cold-blooded figure. His scariest scene occurs at an Egyptian nightclub where Bond joins his rival, Russian spy Triple X (Barbara Bach), in acquiring a top-secret microfilm. The shady owner of the nightclub, Max Kalba, has the microfilm in his possession, but Jaws assassinates him before the competing spies can bid on his intel. 

The way Kalba’s murder unfolds is full of suspense, as the movie cross cuts from club dancers performing to Kalba as Jaws corners him in a phone booth. As the performance reaches its crescendo, Jaws takes a fatal bite out of his prey and exits the crime scene just as coldly as he entered it. 

For Your Eyes Only - No Head For Heights (1981) HD

Bond kills in cold blood in ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (1981)

The way Bond dispatches the Belgian assassin Locque in the underrated For Your Eyes Only became a chilling, and iconic, moment from Moore’s tenure as 007. It was also a scene the actor was initially opposed to filming

At the time, Moore was keenly aware of his “Bond-lite” take on the character; a spy more comfortable with dishing out tongue-in-cheek puns than jaw-smashing punches. On the film’s Blu-ray commentary, Moore reveals that he was unsure how Bond fans would react to seeing his 007 in such a dark light by killing an unarmed man — even a murderer as psychotic as Locque, who finds himself trapped in a car that dangles precariously off the edge of a cliff. Bond was originally supposed to approach the vehicle and coldly kick it and Locque over the edge. As a compromise, the filmmakers set it up so that the car was teetering more into oblivion and Bond basically gives the inevitable a push. This scene marks the first time Moore’s Bond mirrored the brutal killer Ian Fleming envisioned when he first created the character, and it remains one of the most unsettling moments ever in the series — for audiences are just as visibly uneasy about Bond as his target is. 

For Your Eyes Only (9/10) Movie CLIP - Keel-Hauled (1981) HD

The Keel-hauled scene in ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (1981)

A popular sequence in Fleming’s Live and Let Die novel, Bond being keel-hauled through shark-infested waters by the bad guy, was finally brought to life in For Your Eyes Only. Bond is tied up and tied to his love interest, the very capable Melina (Carole Havelock), as the villain uses his boat to drag them to certain death. Up to this point, Moore’s Bond movies lacked the sense of danger that radiates off this chilling scene. The mostly score-less set piece forces your knuckles to grip their armrests as Bond’s inky blood swirls in the water as the spy risks being shredded by either the jagged coral reef before or the sharks swimming amongst it. 

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Clown-hunting twins from ‘Octopussy’ (1983)

[Image credit: MGM/UA]

Octopussy is a weird Bond movie. Its twisty plot involves jewel thieves, jewel forgers, a power-mad Russian general, aaaaand a traveling circus home to creepy AF clowns and even creepier knife-throwing twins. The duo is among the first things we see after the opening titles sequence, when 009 — disguised as a circus clown and on the run in East Berlin — flees identical twins Mischka and Grischka and their knives. The chase ends with 009 being mortally wounded and scaring the hell out of party guests when his corpse literally crashes an event at the residence of a British ambassador. On paper, starting a movie in the middle of a chase involving a clown and his twin killers is an effective way to hook audiences. It’s also an easy way to trigger their fear of clowns and leave them feeling uneasy and scared for the rest of the run time — and for the rest of their lives.

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Felix Leiter gets eaten in ‘License to Kill’ (1989)

At the time of its release in the Summer of 1989, License to Kill was met with indifference by fans and general audiences for its “too dark” tone and violence. Especially the scene where Bond’s best friend is turned into beef jerky for sharks. 

Bond’s long-time CIA pal, Felix Leiter (David Hedison), is a recent newlywed who, on his wedding day, teamed up with Bond to capture the infamous drug dealer and murderer, Sanchez (Robert Davi). Leiter’s honeymoon is cut short before it even begins when Sanchez breaks out of jail and seeks revenge on Felix and his new bride. After killing her, Sanchez and his goons slowly lower a beaten Leiter into a watery tank home to a Great White shark. Leiter’s wet screams and the gnashing of the shark’s teeth are all we hear and it chills us bone-deep. 

The bloody and disgusting sequence would have made Daniel Craig’s Bond blush, as it feels more in line with an R-rated ‘80s action movie written by Shane Black than a movie starring a spy who dines out on martinis, girls, and guns. But Timothy Dalton’s last outing as 007 went there, without flinching, as License to Kill delivered one of the franchise’s most graphic and menacing scenes. 

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Bond’s post-kill face in 'The World Is Not Enough' (1999)

“Bond’s valet.” That’s how the late critic Gene Siskel described Pierce Brosnan’s take on Bond in his review for 1995’s GoldenEye. Brosnan’s other critics slighted the actor’s performance in his first two outings for lacking the physical presence or menace of Connery in the role. The filmmakers (and, to a degree, the actor) tried to address this criticism with The World Is Not Enough, especially in the 1999 film’s climactic, action-packed finale. This very uneven Bond entry features one hell of a mano-a-mano battle between Bond and his nemesis, Renard — a terrorist who can’t feel pain thanks to a slow-moving bullet lodged in his brain. Moments after Bond fatally launches a submarine reactor’s carbon rod into Renard’s chest, the look on Brosnan’s face is the creepiest expression the spy has ever made in battle. Dripping with water and trembling with adrenaline, a very pissed Bond stares down his kill with a macabre sense of victory. The moment is such an unusual but refreshing choice on Brosnan’s part, as audiences had not really seen the actor give Bond that type of edge before. While The World Is Not Enough is a mostly forgotten entry in the canon, this chilling moment still lingers with you. 

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Bond’s first 00 kill in ‘Casino Royale’ (2006)

Daniel Craig’s first Bond movie takes the character to places none of the previous Bond movies ever did, at least not with the level of success achieved here. For the first time since Connery’s early days and Dalton, Bond feels scary and deadly. As a blunt instrument, everything about the future suave spy screams “get away” — especially when the movie flashes back to Bond’s first kill on his way to 00 status. 

Filmed in a grainy, shaky-cam black and white, Craig’s Bond violently beats and drowns his first target in an all-white restroom. There is nothing sophisticated or particularly cool about this kill — it’s a straight-up murder that, as Bond’s second 00 target remarks before dying, made the spy “feel it.” And audiences felt it too, as they experienced from the jump a more haunting (and haunted) take on 007 — one that eliminated any doubt that Craig had the chops to pull off Bond in a way that made the character someone we simultaneously rooted for and, at times, were scared of.

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Silva's interrogation in 'Skyfall' (2012)

[Image credit: Sony/MGM]

The mega successful Skyfall pits Daniel Craig’s Bond against the sins of M’s past, in the form of Silva (Javier Bardem), the Bond series’ most disturbing and unpredictable villain. 

A former 00 left for dead in China under M’s command, Silva’s slow-burn need for revenge brings him out of hiding and forces 007 into his crosshairs when the disgraced spy-turned-sinister hacker allows himself to be captured and taken to an MI-6 stronghold. There, the almost tragic tale of what set him on his vengeful path is disclosed to M and Bond in horrifying detail: The cyanide capsule in his left rear molar malfunctioned and left him disfigured both inside and out. “Life clung to me like a disease,” a mournful Silva recalls, before removing an elaborate mouth piece that lets his cheek and jaw sag reveal his grotesque visage. Bardem commits fully to this haunting moment, and invests the villain with the exact amount of sympathy before he lets out a sad, but worrisome, laugh.