Each generation has its James Bond. For fans of a certain age, that was Roger Moore.
Sean Connery and George Lazenby may have played the role of James Bond before him on the big screen, but while Connery set the template (a melding of the character from Ian Fleming's books with early director Terence Young's personal tastes) and Lazenby attempted to re-create that to some extent, Moore was the first actor to deliberately shape Bond to his own strengths.
His 007 was debonair, smooth, effortlessly erudite and always ready with a quip; not as physically imposing as his predecessors, Moore often got by on sheer charm and panache. His interpretation became the iconic one for an era of fans whose introduction to the character was through his movies (the first Bond this fan saw in a movie theater was Moore's The Man With the Golden Gun). Of the later Bonds -- Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig -- only Brosnan seemed to be directly inspired by Moore's take.
Moore may not have been the best or most faithful Bond (that's an argument for a different feature), but he was the longest-serving (seven films in the canon; Connery did seven too, but Never Say Never Again is not part of the official franchise) and did as much to imprint 007 into pop culture as Connery did. Of his seven efforts, two are among the best of the overall series, while many of the others have their strengths.
Ranked from bottom to top, here are Roger Moore's movies as James Bond.
Moore's sixth entry followed in the footsteps of its predecessor, For Your Eyes Only (1981), with a more serious tone, less gadgets and a story that focused more on Cold War machinations than crazed egomaniacs trying to destroy the world. But while many find Octopussy worthy in that regard, it's got one of the more uninteresting plots in the series (a plan to force Europe to disarm ... by detonating a nuclear weapon?), two of its more forgettable bad guys (a Russian general and an exiled Afghan prince) and no especially memorable action scenes. As for the title character, a businesswoman and smuggler who ends up working with Bond, she might have been more compelling if she wasn't played by the elegant Maud Adams, who we saw just four movies earlier in a different role in The Man with the Golden Gun. And of course, this is the one in which Bond dresses as a clown -- an unwitting invitation for comment if there ever was one.
Live and Let Die (1973)
Moore made his debut in this eighth Bond entry, which was adapted loosely from Fleming's second novel and followed 007 as he pursues both a Harlem drug lord named Mr. Big and a Caribbean dictator named Kananga -- only to find out they're the same person (played by Yaphet Kotto, later of Alien fame). The film came along at a time of instability for the franchise, with Moore becoming the third different actor to play Bond over the course of three movies. Moore at least brought some consistency back to the series, although he struggles to find his own tone for Bond in this film. The movie itself is an uneasy mix of adventure and broad humor, and despite featuring Bond's first on-screen romp with a woman of color, its black cultural stereotypes (the producers were trying to glom onto the blaxploitation movie craze at the time) are often risible. But hey, we get to see Bond's London flat for the first time, the title song is one of the series' very best and Jane Seymour is easily one of the most beautiful Bond girls of all time.
A View to a Kill (1985)
The 14th official Bond movie was also Moore's last. 57 years old at the time of its release, Moore looked haggard and far too old for the role, and his performance seemed to reflect that: while nothing less than professional, you can tell he's going through the motions. The movie itself is usually ranked among the series' worst overall, but it's not as bad as some critics make out: it's got a deliciously quirky villain in Christopher Walken's Max Zorin (the movie borrows a title but nothing else from an Ian Fleming short story), a hook that could be relevant today (a plot to destroy Silicon Valley) and one or two inspired action sequences. But it also relies too heavily on slapstick and features one of the weakest Bond girls in Tanya Roberts. I enjoyed this one at the time it came out -- more than a lot of folks -- but it has not aged very well.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1973)
Moore's second outing as Bond (based on Fleming's 12th and final novel before his death) is notable for perhaps the actor's cruelest, most foul-tempered turn in the role. That performance is at odds with a lot of the film's cringe-worthy humor, which includes a car that rotates in mid-jump, one of the franchise's more brainless Bond girls (Britt Ekland's Mary Goodnight) and the unforgivable return of walking Southern stereotype Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) from Live and Let Die. But the movie does have something that no other Bond adventure has: Christopher Lee. As the title character, a ruthless assassin who's set his sights on Bond for the pleasure of it, Lee lights up every scene he's in, creates a fascinating mirror image of the hero himself and is easily one of the series' best foes. A little bit of Lee goes a long way.
Following the success of The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), the first Moore outing to really hit it big at the box office, the producers stuck to more or less the same formula for Moore's fourth appearance as Bond in Moonraker. Taking almost nothing from the Fleming novel save the title and the villain's name (which is too bad, because it's a great book), Moonraker plays as a largely straightforward, solid thriller until the third act -- when the story moves to outer space and goes completely off the rails. "Bond in Space" is just not a good look for this series, and things get even more ridiculous as uber-henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel returning from The Spy Who Loved Me) turns into a lovestruck good guy. Silly ending aside, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) is one of Bond's creepiest adversaries and the movie is thoroughly entertaining -- one just wishes that the producers didn't make an obvious grab for that post-Star Wars money.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Incredibly, Roger Moore almost didn't star in For Your Eyes Only. After making Moonraker, Moore apparently wanted to exit the series -- indeed, the producers screen tested several other British actors, including five-time almost-Bond Michael Billington (UFO) -- but decided in the end to come back. He was probably glad he did, because For Your Eyes Only returned the series to its roots. Less gadgets, less slapstick, a harder-edged Bond and a plot of revenge, Cold War one-upmanship and shifting loyalties made this a thrilling and refreshing tonic after the sci-fi spectacle of Moonraker. Moore gives perhaps his best performance in the role, coldly kicking a bad guy's car off a cliff (with the man still in it) and later hurling the device everyone's been chasing off a mountaintop instead of fighting over it ("That's detente, comrade; you don't have it, I don't have it"). Only the embarrassing opening helicopter sequence and the teen ice skater's crush on 007 mar an otherwise gripping Bond outing.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
After two uneven entries in the series (both marked by declining box office as well), the Bond machine and Roger Moore found their groove with this classic, one of the best-loved 007 films of the franchise. Essentially remaking You Only Live Twice (with the villain capturing submarines instead of space capsules to trigger World War III), The Spy Who Loved Me found the perfect balance of humor, thrills, gritty adventure and gadgets. Moore found his sweet spot and appears at ease in the part for the first time, also getting to play off one of his best female leads (the smoldering Barbara Bach as a Russian agent) and one of his most formidable henchman (Richard Kiel as the man with the steel mouth, Jaws). The movie is an exciting rollercoaster ride from start to finish, with incredible locations like Egypt and Sardinia, extraordinary stunts like the stunning opening ski jump, massive sets like the oil tanker and underwater city, and over-the-top villains like the megalomaniacal Stromberg (Curt Jurgens). It may not be textbook Fleming, but The Spy Who Loved Me is Bond -- and Roger Moore -- at his most iconic.