As we await the opening of the latest entry in the James Bond franchise “Spectre”, we recognize that 23 James Bond films have come before it, making Bond one of film’s longest running characters.
Throughout the generations, James Bond films have changed with the times and tastes of the worldwide audience, but there are several things that everyone expects to happen, such as the mission briefing with M, meeting at least one good-looking girl, a lot of action sequences, a lot of driving sequences, and at least one martini….shaken not stirred.
Whether a result of the clichés or the changing times, the Bond Films have had a history of ups and downs as far as film quality, acting quality, and believability in stunt work. I also have a bit of history when it comes to the Bond films by trying to pull of a bit of a quirky stunt.
When the 20th Bond film “Die Another Day” was announced, I started to watch every single Bond film, renting them through a popular red-envelope DVD rental company while I was at college. I nearly made it, having gone through about 2/3rds of the films prior to “Die Another Day” opening in theaters.
But by now, I have watched every single Bond Film, and feel qualified to name my top 5 Bond films.
#5-“You Only Live Twice” (1967) Starring Sean Connery as 007 In this film, Bond goes to Japan to investigate some thefts of both Russian and United States space capsules in outer space, with one side blaming the other for the thefts. While it isn’t Japan’s government, it’s got the fingerprints of SPECTRE all over it, so it is up to Bond to stop SPECTRE, and their evil #1, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, from starting World War 3 and helping Japan take over.
If one watches this film carefully, you can see how much “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” owes this film, as many of the pistaches that Mike Myers takes from comes from this film. Everything from the monorail transportation system, to the outer-space villainous plot to the large set pieces to the use of karate and judo in the fight sequences, to the villain with a scar near his eye and a Nehru suit, all can be traced back to the fifth film of the Bond franchise.
By the time filming started in Japan, Connery had announced that this film would be his last (but he would return for “Diamonds are Forever” and the unrecognized Bond feature “Never Say Never Again”), so there was a lot on him to make this film one of the best Bond films. The Japan settings and landscapes are beautiful, and a reflection of 1960’s East meets West culture.
One of the best Bond Gadgets is in this film, and that is “Little Nellie”, the gyrocopter brought to Japan by Q. The gyrocopter itself is an actual working prop, albeit with several lethal additions like air mines and air-to-air missiles.
One of the production staffers had heard an interview with the maker of gyrocopters on a BBC radio show and asked him if he could create a copter for the film. Not only did he come through for the film, but he is also the stunt pilot in the film. The film also featured several Japanese Actors including Tetsuro Tamba as “Tiger” Tanaka, head of Japan’s Secret Service, and Akiko Wakabayashi as Aki, one of Japan’s agents. This was due to Japan wanting a promise to feature some Japanese actors in the film. In return, Japan was very welcoming to the Bond film crew.
Didn’t know this: The screenplay for “You Only Live Twice” was written by Roald Dahl, who also wrote “James and the Giant Peach”, and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
#4—“Casino Royale” (2006) Starring Daniel Craig as 007 James Bond has just earned his “Double-0”, the license to kill, but botches things up in Madagascar, about a bomb-maker, he is sent to the Bahamas, and then Miami to stop a terrorist attack on an airplane put in play by evil financier Le Chiffre to sink stock prices and make a lot of money for the people who invest money with him. After LeChiffre loses a good chunk of the money, he organizes a high-stakes Texas Hold ‘em poker tournament in Montenegro at the Casino Royale to win back his losses.
Bond is the best card player in the service, and he is ably assisted by Vesper Lynd of the British Treasury, but at the end of the film, there are more cards to be played, and not by the ones at the poker table. This film was supposed to break the mold of the 20 other earlier Bond films, and did so by not starting with the traditional gun barrel opening, no “Q-Branch” gadgets and taking Bond back to the day he got his Licence to Kill.
Bond here is vulnerable, apt to make mistakes, and doesn’t think clearly. His reckless behavior angers everyone, even M (Dame Judy Dench) who mutters “In the old days, if an agent did something THAT embarrassing, he’d have the good sense to defect!” You also see the “indestructible” Bond get hurt, and hurt badly.
In one instance, he is stripped down, and pummeled with a weight on a rope in the worst place. He tries to pass it off by laughing, but you can tell the man is in pain and near his breaking point. The final twists will blind side many first time viewers, but the quality of the script and storytelling is first-rate, and is a successful reboot of the franchise, with some nods to the past, and a bold step to the future.
Didn’t know this: Bond creates his signature Martini, “The Vesper” in this film. It takes “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, Shake very well until Ice Cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”
#3—“Licence to Kill”(1989) starring Timothy Dalton as 007 The start is much like many other Bond films, with a light-hearted quip or two and a fight between bad guys and the good guys, Bond and former CIA turned DEA agent Felix Leiter.
But what changes is the bad guys stick around, and the film gets darker from there. After the wedding in the pre-credits sequence is held for Felix and his wife, drug kingpin Franz Sanchez and his crew kill his new wife, and maim Felix by making him shark bait…literally.
Bond’s vendetta becomes personal as he is willing to sacrifice his life and his job to avenge what happened to Felix and his wife. The film shows off one of Timothy Dalton’s best acting traits: his dark side.
We see it later in films like “The Rocketeer” and on the TV show “Penny Dreadful”, but we also see that Bond’s loyalties run deeper than just Queen and Country, and in essence that gives the character further dimension. It also plays off of events seen in another Bond film, where Bond faces a similar tragedy in his life. The harder edge and more brutal violence in this film does turn off some of the purists, but it also was a product of the 80’s, when films like “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon” with lots of explosions and gun play were the norm.
It would also mark the last time that Dalton would take on the role, playing it only two times in his career (still more than George Lazenby, who quit after one Bond film), as legal battles erupted after MGM/United Artists was sold. It would be six years before James Bond returned with Pierce Brosnan in “Goldeneye”.
Didn’t know this: This is the first Bond film where the title does not come from a Bond novel.
Several book names were considered, but the film was originally written as “Licence Revoked”, and was later changed to the oft-used expression of “Licence to Kill”.
#2—“Doctor No” (1962) starting Sean Connery as 007 One of the best of the franchise has to be the first film of the franchise produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Gentleman agent James Bond is introduced to us as he undertakes a mission in Jamaica to find out who killed fellow British agent Strangways and his assistant. It leads to the Island of Crab Key, and the lair of Doctor No, who is plotting to interrupt an unmanned space launch by the United States with a nuclear powered radio-beam weapon.
Along the way, we meet Felix Leiter, Quarrel, and Honey Rider, who each become a part of the world of espionage that James lives in. This film introduces many of the elements that would define the Bond movies for many years: The Gunbarrel sequence, Monty Norman’s theme song, the long opening credits, the suave and sophisticated “gentleman agent” with a knack for a handy line in both the bedroom and for a post-mortem after a fight, and of course the catchphrase of “Bond….James Bond.” One of the best lines of the film is when Bond is chased by some enemies and forces their hearse off a cliff.
When someone asks who they were, Bond’s response? “I think they were on their way to a funeral.” The film also kick started a craze: The secret agent fad. Very soon, everything was labeled “James Bond”, “Secret Agent”, “007” and things went flying off the shelves. The success of this one film lead to the building of a franchise that 23 films and over 50 years later is still with us.
The film, low-budget as it may seem, holds up to repeated viewings.
#1—“Skyfall” (2012) starring Daniel Craig as 007 MI-6, and M herself, are under attack from someone who knows them like the back of their hand. The attacks rattle M, who is now under pressure from Her Majesty’s Government in the form of Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee Gareth Mallory to resign her position.
Refusing to back down, she sends 007, who is rattled himself from a mission in the pre-credit sequence where he is nearly killed. It turns out the one who has caused the chaos is a man with intimate knowledge of all of MI-6. He uses electronics to turn MI-6 and Bond’s world upside down but it’s up to him to save M and destroy the threat to national and world security. This to me is the perfect mix of the old Bond films and the current state of the Bond franchise.
It restores some of the old traditions of the Bond franchise, such as Q, the sets toward the end of the movie, and the return of a key Bond prop. I’m not going to say what prop, but when I saw it unveiled, it was one of the few times that I let out an audible “Ahhh!” in the movie theater. It was a geek-out moment for me, and I think directors know that there are those who are the causal Bond viewer, and others that have paid attention to every detail and know each line and prop, and you have to be able to please everyone.
This movie does just that. Plus the two Bond Women, Eve and Severine, are different dynamics of what a Bond Woman is. Eve is athletic and strong, and she’s her own woman. She’s more of the cut of Jinx, Halle Berry’s character in Die Another Day, while Severine is definitely mysterious and sexy, reminiscent of Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) from “The Man with the Golden Gun”
My honorable mentions include “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”—Probably one of the best twists in all of film, and the best old-school Bond Girl in the form of Diana Rigg as “Tracy”.
This film was George Lazenby’s only appearance as Bond. “Die Another Day”—A very cheeky Bond Film with tons of references to the films before it to keep the fanboys happy. Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as Bond, and John Cleese as “Q”. “Goldfinger”—Another film that Austin Powers pulled a lot from.
Sean Connery’s third turn as Bond. “Octopussy”—While I never really liked the way that some of the films starring Roger Moore as James Bond turned out (Too cartoonish and comedic), this one was the best of his era.
Louis Jordan’s turn as a Bond villain was a tour de force. A little over the top, but for Moore’s era, it was not so over the top to be chewing scenery. Your top five may differ from my top five. You’re entitled to your opinion. And you can voice it below. But if you want to introduce someone to the Bond franchise, any of these films will be a great way to do it.
As far as the best Bonds of the franchise? Let the debate begin!