This Friday, James Bond returns to movie theaters in Spectre, starring Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming’s secret agent 007, license to kill. In this installment, Bond will do battle with the forces of SPECTRE, a criminal organization hellbent on world domination. He’ll also have to do battle with a different sort of ghost: The audience’s accumulated memories from 23 previous movies, stretching back more than half a century.

So how does Spectre rate with all those other James Bond movies? The staff of ScreenCrush decided this was the perfect time to figure that out. And, in keeping with our subject, we had to do it big, by ranking every movie in the series from worst to first. We took everything into account; the gadgets, the titles, the song, the stars, the action, the women, even the fashion. We also provided a handy at-a-glance guide to all the villains, the best moments, and every weird skill James Bond inexplicably exhibits over the course of his many outings, just in case you ever need to know when 007 suddenly became an authority on butterflies. (For the record, that’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.)

You’ll note we didn’t include Never Say Never Again, since that doesn’t belong to the official Eon Productions canon. But we rewatched and reconsidered everything else — up to and including Spectre, which you’ll find below — to bring you this ultimate James Bond ranking. Some choices may leave you shaken; others will no doubt stir you into a commenting frenzy. And just like Bond himself, these rankings are likely to change over time. But as of November 2015, here’s the best and worst of Bond.

24. Die Another Day

Year: 2002
Director: Lee Tamahori
Writers:
Neal Purvis and Robert Wade
James Bond Is Played By: Pierce Brosnan (Fourth time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Hovercraft driver; fencer.
The Villain Is: Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), a North Korean colonel who uses gene therapy to become a British diamond merchant. (NOTE: This movie is really stupid.)
Best Sequence: Honestly, there aren’t too many highlights if you’re not a fan of invisible cars and tsunami parasailing. Bond does get one legitimately cool gadget: A ring that doubles as a “ultra-high frequency single-digit sonic agitator unit” that can shatter even the most unbreakable glass with ear-piercing sound. Bond uses it to clever effect a few times in the movie, including breaking his own car’s windshield to rescue NSA agent Jinx (Halle Berry) from drowning.

Why It’s #24: This movie’s a mess. When Halle Berry and Pierce Brosnan flirt together it’s a hot mess, but it’s still a mess. Things start to fall apart when Bond tracks shady diamond dealer (and also satellite inventor and also aspiring Olympic fencer) Gustav Graves to his Icelandic ice palace, where guests party in chilly luxury, and marvel at a giant space laser, drawing unflattering comparisons to the overblown kitsch of Batman and Robin. Hadn’t Austin Powers made fun of lasers several times at this point? When Mike Myers is spoofing something, it’s time to retire it.

The whole movie feels informed by the worst mega-blockbusters of the early 2000s, with tons of overly complicated set-pieces and bad CGI completely divorced from character or story. Also the main villain’s primary motivation is revenge against James Bond for almost murdering him, but that sorta-killing is precisely what allows him to become a wealthy British playboy, so if anything he should thank Bond, not try to drown him in a melting ice castle. By the end, Graves winds up dressed like North Korean Iron Man and has electricity powers like Emperor Palpatine. On his silliest day, Roger Moore never got this silly.


23. The World Is Not Enough

Year: 1999
Director: Michael Apted
Writers:
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Bruce Feirstein
James Bond Is Played By: Pierce Brosnan (Third time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Experimental boat captain.
The Villain Is: Renard (Robert Carlyle), deranged former KGB agent and current terrorist who cannot feel pain, thanks to a bullet that is permanently lodged in his brain. Because that’s how bullets work.
Best Sequence: The World Is Not Enough was Desmond Llewelyn’s final appearance as Q, James Bond’s gadget supplier. Though Llewelyn claimed he wanted to keep playing the character, Q’s standard briefing scene introduces his replacement, jokingly referred to as “R” (John Cleese), which turned out to be prophetic; Llewelyn died in a car crash a few weeks after The World Is Not Enough’s premiere. Most actors in this series get replaced in unceremonious fashion, and rarely receive any kind of acknowledgement or curtain call upon their departure. It was nice that Llewelyn got to go out in classy and surprisingly poignant style. (Watch the scene on YouTube here.)

Why It’s #23: Denise Richards gets a lot of flack for her performance as Dr. Christmas Jones, nuclear scientist and short shorts enthusiasts. In her defense, it ain’t like the rest of the movie is Citizen Kane. Even the crummiest Bonds usually have a great line or a really impressive chase to remember them by; The World Is Not Enough has almost nothing going for it. Robert Carlyle’s Renard could have been a terrific Bond villain, but he doesn’t even appear for the first hour, and is barely a factor in the story. The luckiest person in this whole thing is Sophie Marceau, who tends to get forgotten among rankings of bad Bond girls because she’s standing next to Richards when, in fact, they’re both pretty crummy. The world may not be enough, but I’ve had my fill; let’s move on.


22. Octopussy

Year: 1983
Director: John Glen
Writers: George MacDonald Fraser, Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
James Bond Is Played By: Roger Moore (Sixth time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Backgammon player; circus clown.
The Villain Is: Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), who’s engaged in a baffling scheme to smuggle priceless jewels out of Russia with a deranged Soviet general who wants to heat up the Cold War.
Best Sequence: In a race to prevent a nuclear explosion, Bond gets into a chase with a bunch of Russians. The soldiers shoot out his tires, so he takes his car and its now empty rims onto the train tracks and pursues the bomb that way. Even by James Bond standards, this is a pretty baller move. (The YouTube clip of this scene can’t be embedded, so watch it here.)
Why It’s #22: What do Fabergé eggs, octopus cults, deadly yo-yos, nuclear bombs, backgammon, and robotic crocodiles have to do with one another? Absolutely nothing, but Octopussy throws them together into an incoherent slog with too many villains and not enough reasons to care about any of them. Its not much crazier or more outlandish than the better Moore installments; what’s lacking for most of the film is a clear sense of stakes. Most of it really is Bond just wandering through India, playing board games and screwing with a snoody guy who wants a fancy tchotchke. With mere minutes to prevent a nuclear explosion that could start a world war, Bond actually wastes precious time disguising himself as a clown, and even puts on all the makeup (see above). That’s a pretty good symbol of everything wrong with 007 by this point in the series. Sorry, Rita Coolidge; this is anything but an all-time high.


21. Quantum of Solace

Year: 2008
Director: Marc Forster
Writers:
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis
James Bond Is Played By: Daniel Craig (Second time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Parachute-free skydiver.
The Villain Is: Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), an environmentalist who wants to control the Bolivian water supply.
Best Sequence: James Bond goes searching for the men behind his troubles in Casino Royale, and discovers a shadowy organization known as Quantum (rendering the title of this film amusingly literal). In this scene, Bond listens in as Quantum bigwigs discuss their business in plain sight, and then interrupts as only 007 can.

Why It’s #21: A writers’ strike sent this Casino Royale sequel into production without a finished script, dooming it right from the start (According to Daniel Craig, he and director Marc Forster were rewriting the screenplay on the fly on set.) Forster compounded his problems by pushing Bond too far into Jason Bourne territory, with an overly dour hero and overly choppy chase and fight sequences. (The film sorely misses the steady hand of editor Stuart Baird, the unsung hero of the Daniel Craig Bonds who cut Casino Royale and Skyfall.) Adding depth and dimension to James Bond is a noble goal, but without a fully realized screenplay, Quantum of Solace’s never give 007 a valid license to sulk.


20. Moonraker

Year: 1979
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Writers:
Christopher Wood
James Bond Is Played By: Roger Moore (Fourth time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Astronaut.
The Villain Is: Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), a deranged industrialist who wants to destroy the human race from space and then repopulate the planet with a genetically superior version.
Best Sequence: “You missed, Mr. Bond.” “Did I?” James Bond does not miss, bro.

Why It’s #20: This space-set Bond has very little to do with its Fleming source material and everything to do with Star Wars becoming the biggest movie in the galaxy just a few years prior. The setup’s stale, with yet another crazy businessman who wants to blow up civilization so he recreate it in his own image, and the scale is way overblown; by the end, Bond’s literally involved in a laser battle in outer space (this comes a few scenes after a pigeon does a double take as he drives by in a convertible Venetian gondola). At least Ken Adam returned to design the incredible sets; I find it’s best to ignore the dozens of indistinguishable jumpsuited thugs blasting at each other in zero-gravity slo-mo, and just bask in Hugo Drax’s amazing space station.


19. Live and Let Die

Year: 1973
Director: Guy Hamilton
Writer:
Tom Mankiewicz
James Bond Is Played By: Roger Moore (First time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Crocodile jumper.
The Villain Is: Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), a deranged dictator of a Caribbean island who wants to flood the America with cheap drugs to gain a stranglehold over the market for heroin.
Best Sequence: Macca himself showed up to welcome Roger Moore to the world of 007. Almost everything about Live and Let Die looks pretty dated in 2015, but Paul McCartney’s operatic theme song still holds up. Plus, every time the song swells, flaming skulls explode from Maurice Binder’s opening titles. Bond goes heavy metal! (Watch the scene on YouTube here.)

Why It’s #19: It’s an exaggeration to say that Live and Let Die portrays every black man in America as part of a vast criminal conspiracy — but only slightly (Bond does get a brief assist from an African American CIA agent). Roger Moore’s Bond debut was heavily inspired by the blaxploitation movement, but in all the wrong ways, with 007 surrounded by heroin dealers, voodoo ceremonies, and dialogue about honkies and pimpmobiles (their words, not mine). Questionable racial politics aside, the story and action are tepid at best, although the sequence where Bond escapes from a crocodile pen and then leads Kanaga’s henchmen on a boat chase through the Louisiana swamps is aces (at least the parts that don’t involve the single most loathsome character in all of Bonddom, Clifton James’ bumbling redneck sheriff J.W. Pepper).

To his credit, Roger Moore looked instantly comfortable in the role of James Bond, and the filmmakers quickly began to exploit his gift for for making even the dirtiest double entendres sound innocent. (When Jane Seymour’s Solitaire asks Bond to return to bed rather than venturing back out into danger, he dryly replies “Of course. There’s no sense going out half-cocked.”) Ironically, that’s exactly how much of Live and Let Die feels; a Bond theme this good deserved a better movie.


18. For Your Eyes Only

Year: 1981
Director: John Glen
Writers:
Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson
James Bond Is Played By: Roger Moore (Fifth time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Ocean cartographer; rock climber.
The Villain Is: Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover), a smuggler who wants to retrieve a lost British ATAC unit (a fancy targeting computer, basically) and sell it to the Soviet Union.
Best Sequence: Surrounded by bad guys, Bond makes a cunning escape by performing a ski jump and then leading his enemies on a mad chase through the slopes, and even onto a bobsled track in the middle of a race.

Why It’s #18:  It says something about the tenor of Roger Moore’s Bond outings that this film — where he gets into ski chase with a motorcycle on a bobsled track and Margaret Thatcher carries on a phone conversation with a parrot — is considered his “serious” one. “Perfunctory” would be more accurate; For Your Eyes Only lacks both the intensity of a great Connery or Craig Bond and the gonzo gusto of Moore’s really outrageous installments. The villain, gadgets, sidekicks, and female co-stars are all forgettable, as is the storyline. (Something about a stolen missile launcher? Who cares.) At least the ski chase through the bobsled track, absurd as it is, is terrific (and very well-shot by John Glen’s action team). Also, if I can be indulged in some absolute and uncritical superficiality for a moment: James Bond’s never dressed more poorly than he does in this movie. A puffy belted snowsuit? A quilted gilet? #notmyBond.


17. Licence to Kill

Year: 1989
Director: John Glen
Writers:
Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson
James Bond Is Played By: Timothy Dalton (Second time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Big rig driver.
The Villain Is: Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), a deranged drug dealer who’s invented a new technology to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
Best Sequence: Even Licence to Kill haters have to admit the final truck chase, where Bond pops a freaking wheelie in a gas tanker, is pretty impressive. (Watch the scene on YouTube here.)

Why It’s #17: Timothy Dalton’s second Bond adventure was an atypical one; for most of the movie Bond is a free agent rather than a secret one — he resigns his post in MI6 and goes rogue on a mission of revenge after a Latin American drug lord maims his buddy Felix Leiter (David Hedison). The plot owes more to Yojimbo than any of Fleming’s novels; Bond cons his way into Sanchez’s organization, then slowly destroys it from within. What’s missing is Kurosawa’s (or most Bond movies’) sense of malevolent fun. The big action finale is the clear highlight; otherwise it’s just a bunch of people fighting over some cocaine hidden inside a couple of gasoline tankers. Licence to Kill was the last Bond film for six years (legal disputes over rights held up production on its sequel), and it came to represent a changing of the guard; it was not only Dalton’s final film, but also the last movie featuring contributions from title designer Maurice Binder, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, and director John Glen. Though this entry’s unusually nasty spirit has its defenders, I think the franchise’s old stalwarts were clearly running out of gas.


16. Tomorrow Never Dies

Year: 1997
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Writer:
Bruce Feirstein
James Bond Is Played By: Pierce Brosnan (Second time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Fighter pilot.
The Villain Is: Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a deranged media mogul who wants to start a world war to boost ratings to gain a stranglehold over the market for news in China.
Best Sequence: Bond’s car in Tomorrow Never Dies is a BMW he can drive from the backseat with a remote control, which serves as the basis for this cool chase.

Why It’s #16: 007 versus Rupert Murdoch, basically, and about as exciting as it sounds — but at least its vision of a world of consolidated mass media controlled by the whims of a handful of wealthy elites wasn’t entirely off-base. This is a pretty standard Bond right down the line; not bad but not exceptional either. The car chase above is a standout, as is Michelle Yeoh as one of the first Bond girls capable of kicking a little ass herself (she plays a Chinese secret agent who teams up with Bond to stop Elliot Carver in his attempt to destabilize her country). Tomorrow Never Dies is fairly representative of the Brosnan Bonds as a whole: Handsome, noisy, overblown, and lacking a distinctive personality.


15. You Only Live Twice

Year: 1967
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Writer:
Roald Dahl
James Bond Is Played By: Sean Connery (Fifth time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Ninja.
The Villain Is: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence), deranged leader of the terrorist organization SPECTRE, who’s stealing rockets from both the U.S. and Russia in the hopes of provoking a world war.
Best Sequence: It’s never a good idea to disappoint Blofeld, especially in the vicinity of his man-eating piranha. (Watch the scene on YouTube here.)

Why It’s #15: Maybe the single most iconic Bond movie — and definitely the most racist. James Bond goes to Japan to foil a SPECTRE plot to jumpstart World War III, and for some reason he winds up “disguised” as a Japanese peasant. (Connery looks more like a hunchback cosplaying as Mr. Spock). If the whole thing contributed something meaningful to the story, maybe you could find some way to justify it, but it doesn’t; the movie stalls for 20 minutes while 007 trains to be a ninja (because I guess the world’s greatest secret agent wasn’t qualified enough to raid a bad guy’s secret base?) and then participates in an elaborate Japanese marriage ceremony. It’s too bad because Ken Adam’s production design is off-the-charts gorgeous. Every interior is magnificent, culminating in the justly famous volcano lair that was 150 feet tall and included a working monorail.


14. Spectre

Year: 2015
Director: Sam Mendes
Writers:
John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth
James Bond Is Played By: Daniel Craig (Fourth time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Orphan.
The Villain Is: Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), deranged leader of the terrorist organization SPECTRE (or just Spectre now, because Caps Lock is so 1962), who loves to ruin James Bond’s life.
Best Sequence: The opening sequence, a massive chase and fight in and around a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico, is a franchise highlight. You can see parts of it in the film’s trailer.

Why It’s #14: For that, see my full Spectre review.


13. Diamonds Are Forever

Year: 1971
Director: Guy Hamilton
Writers:
Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz
James Bond Is Played By: Sean Connery (Sixth time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Sommelier.
The Villain Is: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray), deranged leader of the terrorist organization SPECTRE, who needs diamonds to fuel a space laser (say it like this).
Best Sequence: My favorite example of the sort of thing that prompted me to include a section for James Bond’s surprising skills in each movie. Here James Bond’s served a glass of sherry and he can tell the year it was made by the taste. That’s not the year the sherry was made (sherry has no year), that’s the vintage of the original wine that was then turned into sherry. James Bond, master spy and exceptional palate. (Watch the scene on YouTube here.)

Why It’s #13: Diamonds are forever, but the actors who play Bond tend to have a much shorter shelf life. Sean Connery hung up his Walther PPK after You Only Live Twice, but was coaxed out of retirement for one final (official) Bond film after the tepid response to his replacement, George Lazenby, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. His motive was very simple: Money, specifically a salary of £1.25 million, which was a record in its day. How fitting that he returned for a story about the pursuit of diamonds through Las Vegas, which the film captures in all its sleazy early ’70s glory. Connery’s past his prime, and even less engaged than in You Only Live Twice, but his slightly disinterested quality kind of suits the Bond of this movie, who’s lost his wife, killed her murderer (or so he thinks), and generally doesn’t care much about his job.


12. A View to a Kill

Year: 1985
Director: John Glen
Writers:
Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson
James Bond Is Played By: Roger Moore (Seventh time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Show jumper; snowboarder; quiche baker.
The Villain Is: Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), a deranged industrialist who wants to destroy Silicon Valley to gain a stranglehold over the market for computer chips.
Best Sequence: I’m very partial to the scene where Bond escapes certain drowning by sucking the air out a car’s tires, but since I can’t find a clip of that online, here’s some top-shelf Christopher Walken crazy. Just after this scene he and Grace Jones actually say the title of the movie onscreen as they fly over the Golden Gate Bridge. (“What a view…” “To a kill!”)

Why It’s #12: A lot of the complaints about this underrated picture, which routinely ranks at the bottom of most Bond lists, strike me as ageist — as if dudes in their 50s aren’t allowed to have boners and lust after Grace Jones. Give me a break. Was Roger Moore too old to the world’s greatest secret agent at 57? Maybe, if A View to a Kill was intended as a realistic depiction of international espionage. But it’s not; at this point in the series, Bond had about as much to do with real spy work as Danger Mouse.

Duran Duran supply a killer theme song (John Barry’s orchestral score of it is really lovely as well), and every moment shared by Christopher Walken as Zorin and Jones as his henchwoman May Day is a small treasure. And even in late middle age, Moore looks like he’s still having a fabulous time saving the world and baking quiches for beautiful young women. (He’s certainly more invested than Connery was in his last couple movies.) Moore was the perfect man for this Bond, a lightly comic adventure about a globe-trotting action grandfather. Where most Bond films appeal to boys’ desires, A View to a Kill feels like an old man’s fantasy, and a pretty good one. That’s probably why I like it more every time I watch it.


11. Thunderball

Year: 1965
Director: Terence Young
Writers:
Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins
James Bond Is Played By: Sean Connery (Fourth time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Scuba diver.
The Villain Is: Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), deranged second-in-command of the terrorist organization SPECTRE, who are holding the globe ransom for £100 million in diamonds.
Best Sequence: There may not be a more succinct summation of James Bond’s attitude and style as this brief exchange with a gorgeous woman (secretly a member of SPECTRE) who wants him to hand her something to wear as she climbs out of the bathtub (seen here in a YouTube video named, appropriately, “Best James Bond Moment Ever”).

Why It’s #11: Legal disputes around this novel dragged on for years; producer Kevin McClory sued Ian Fleming for turning the unmade screenplay they’d written together into the original Thunderball book, and a court case eventually gave McClory the film rights to the story, which enabled him to remake it with Sean Connery in the off-brand Bond, Never Say Never Again. But you’d never know the production was rocky from the film itself, which moves with the smooth precision of Bond’s Rolex Submariner. In addition to the scene above there’s at least one more all-time classic Bond moment in Thunderball; when Bond goes to visit the widow of a SPECTRE operative, offers her his condolences, and then punches her square in the mouth. (The operative’s alive, disguised as his wife.) The only thing really keeping this from being a top-flight 007 film is the extensive (and excessive) underwater footage; SPECTRE’s hiding several nuclear bombs at the bottom of a coral reef off the Bahamas, and the scenes of them pilfering, retrieving, moving, and then fighting over these bombs go on and on and on. While some of these sequences are pretty spectacular, one slow-motion underwater sequence after another almost sinks the entire movie.


10. The Spy Who Loved Me

Year: 1977
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Writers:
Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood
James Bond Is Played By: Roger Moore (Third time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: BASE jumper.
The Villain Is: Karl Stromberg (Curd Jürgens), a deranged shipping tycoon who wants to start a world war to wipe out civilization so he can begin his own society underwater.
Best Sequence: No compilation of great Bond moments is complete without the opening sequence to The Spy Who Loved Me, where Bond is pursued down a ski slope, and then escapes by making a daring leap from a cliff, followed by a last-second deployment of … a Union Jack parachute. (Watch the scene on YouTube here.)

Why It’s #10: It’s widely regarded as Roger Moore’s best Bond — and with good reason. What the franchise had lost in ferocity by this point it made up for with sheer, imaginative spectacle, including that mind-boggling ski jump stunt, and Bond’s famous Lotus Esprit, which could transform into a submarine. The film has nothing to do with the Fleming novel of the same name, which could explain the somewhat cookie-cutter quality of its story, which is largely recycled from You Only Live Twice (madman in a gorgeous but precarious lair tries to pit world superpowers against one another so that he can rule over the remains of a cataclysmic nuclear war). The Spy Who Loved Me may be formulaic, but it’s pleasantly familiar; like a beloved dish cooked from a treasured recipe.


9. The Man with the Golden Gun

Year: 1974
Director: Guy Hamilton
Writers:
Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz
James Bond Is Played By: Roger Moore (Second time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Solar energy expert.
The Villain Is: Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), a deranged assassin for hire who wants a “Solex agitator” to gain a stranglehold over the market for solar power.
Best Sequence: Roger Moore gets a lot of flack for the heightened campiness of his Bond, but in the movies where the filmmakers found the right balance between comedy and action, he’s second-to-none. Check out his solid stunt work in this fight scene, and then his top-notch kiss-off line to the belly dancer whose lucky “charm” (actually a golden bullet) he’s accidentally swallowed. (Watch the scene on YouTube here.)

Why It’s #9: Bond pictures are only as good as their villains, and The Man with the Golden Gun features one of the series’ best: Francisco Scaramanga, a mythic hit man who is essentially James Bond’s evil double. His plan’s mercifully simple (seize control of the market for solar energy at the height of the ’70s energy crisis) and his island home is a classic piece of Bond production design (by Peter Murton, Ken Adam’s former art director). There’s an agreeably and unusually nightmarish streak running through the movie, most of it around Scaramanga and his preferred method of killing his victims by letting them wander through his private haunted house, and even the increasingly obligatory pop-culture pandering works this time around. (Kung-fu movies were on the ascendance in the mid-1970s, so Bond naturally gets dropped into the middle of a karate school for a demonstration.) The only major knocks against it: A disappointing Bond girl (Britt Eklund as the bumbling Mary Goodnight), a returning appearance by dreadful redneck Sheriff J.W. Pepper, and the fact that Scaramanga’s golden gun doesn’t have magic auto-kill powers, the way it does in the GoldenEye Nintendo 64 game.


8. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Year: 1969
Director: Peter R. Hunt
Writer: Richard Maibaum
James Bond Is Played By: George Lazenby (First time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Lepidopterist; genealogist.
The Villain Is: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas), deranged leader of the terrorist organization SPECTRE, who’s holding the globe’s food supply ransom for amnesty and the title “Count de Bleuchamp.”
Best Sequence: Lazenby does occasionally seem ill at ease trying to fill Sean Connery’s enormous shoes. But when the movie leans into his discomfort, as in this hilarious scene at Blofeld’s allergy clinic, it really works. (Watch the scene on YouTube here.)

Why It’s #8: It’s eternally frustrating that Blofeld doesn’t seem to recognize James Bond when he arrives at his Swiss compound, even though they’d met face-to-face just one film earlier in You Only Live Twice. (As the legend goes, an early draft of the OHMSS screenplay included a scene where Bond gets plastic surgery to trick his enemies — and explain the change of actors from Sean Connery to George Lazenby — but later drafts removed that plot point without revising the later details.) If you can get past that none-too-tiny nitpick, this is a very solid picture, one with far more soul than the average 007 outing. (Note the motif of time slipping away, present in the opening titles, the lovely Louis Armstrong-sung theme song, and the repeated images of ticking clocks.) Director Peter R. Hunt served as the editor on all the previous Bond movies, and the fight scenes and chases in this one are particularly crisp. Some Bond fanatics overvalue its love story (which bookends the main plot, where Bond beds several gorgeous women at Blofeld’s clinic), but not by much.


7. GoldenEye

Year: 1995
Director: Martin Campbell
Writers:
Michael France, Jeffrey Caine, and Bruce Feirstein
James Bond Is Played By: Pierce Brosnan (First time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Bungee jumper; tank driver.
The Villain Is: Alec Trevelyan/Janus (Sean Bean), a deranged former MI6 agent turned criminal mastermind who plans to rob the Bank of England with the help of an advanced space laser in order to destroy Britain’s economy as revenge for his parents’ deaths.
Best Sequence: From the Wikipedia description of Famke Janssen’s Xena Onatopp: “A Georgian lust murderer and Trevelyan’s henchwoman. A sadist, she enjoys torturing her enemies by crushing them between her thighs.” In other words, she’s the perfect Bond character. Here, she sex-fights James Bond in a sauna.

Why It’s #7: Everyone loves the first Bond movie they saw as a kid, and this one is mine; my dad took me to see it when I was 14 years old and it made me an instant Bond fan (a month later for my birthday I received several Bond movies on VHS, which sealed the deal). But GoldenEye has more than nostalgia going for it; it’s a really fun movie from (ona)top(p) to bottom, with a great opening sequence that includes two cool stunts (a bungee jump from the top of a bridge and a leap off a clip into a falling plane), a sultry Tina Turner theme song, a worthy adversary for 007 in the form of Sean Bean, a spectacular tank chase, and Famke Jannsen’s star-making turn as a henchwoman with thighs of steel. Brosnan may not have been much of an innovator as James Bond, but when I was 14 and he said “No more foreplay” to Xena Onatopp, I thought he was the coolest human being who ever walked the face of the earth.


6. Dr. No

Year: 1962
Director: Terence Young
Writers:
Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, and Berkely Mather
James Bond Is Played By: Sean Connery (First time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Hat tosser.
The Villain Is: Doctor No (Joseph Wiseman), a deranged nuclear scientist disrupting American rocket launches, partly for the terrorist organization SPECTRE, but mostly for s—s and giggles.
Best Sequence: Connery’s very first scene as James Bond, at a London club’s baccarat table. Still probably the greatest character introduction in movie history:

Why It’s #6: There were still a few kinks to work out — no cold open, a poorly edited mix of songs in the opening titles, no Q or gadgets— but it’s kind of remarkable just how much of the James Bond formula was already in place in the very first film, from the character’s classic introduction, his penchant for dry martinis, and even his habit of winding up at a fancy dinner table with his evil nemesis (In this movie, though, that actually makes sense, because Dr. No is trying to recruit him into the ranks of SPECTRE). That’s a credit to the strength of Ian Fleming’s source material (there were already nine Bond novels in print by 1962) and to the vision of producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli and director Terence Young, who helmed three of the first four Connery movies. And while Bond would quickly transform into a superhero, this guy is still recognizable as a secret agent who spies on people and investigates cases, and Dr. No pays more attention to tradecraft than any of the 23 movies that followed. Bond movies got much bigger than this, but they were rarely much better.


5. The Living Daylights

Year: 1987
Director: John Glen
Writers:
Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson
James Bond Is Played By: Timothy Dalton (First time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Cello-case tobogganer.
The Villain Is: General Koskov (Joe Don Baker), a deranged arms dealer who partners with a Russian general on an elaborate arms for opium deal.
Best Sequence: The Living Daylights’ big action climax boasts maybe the most spectacular stunt in the 50 year history of the franchise: With Bond and an evil secret agent named Necros (!!!) clinging to a cargo net full of opium that’s dangling off the back of a plane. This scene is not for the acrophobic.

Why It’s #5: Twenty years before Daniel Craig, here’s the unheralded prototype for his angsty, lovelorn Bond. For Connery and Moore, sex was a weapon; for Dalton’s Bond, it’s his Achilles’ heel. Assigned to protect a Russian defector (Jeroen Krabbé) he finds himself incapable of killing a rival assassin because it’s … a beautiful woman (Maryam d’Abo). Sent to Tangiers to retrieve the defector after the KGB retrieves him, he instead travels to Bratislava to hunt down the assassin, for whom he’s quickly developed a deep obsession. The plot involving the defector and a crazy black market arms dealer is hilariously convoluted, but it’s still fairly easy to follow at each step of the way. Dalton himself is an underrated Bond, who combined the smoldering intensity of Craig with the preening arrogance of Connery. It’s just a shame he only got one more (flawed) film before he was retired; with better material, Dalton could have been fans’ favorite Bond. Instead, he became the forgotten one.


4. Casino Royale

Year: 2006
Director: Martin Campbell
Writers:
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis
James Bond Is Played By: Daniel Craig (First time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Freerunner; Texas Hold ’Em player.
The Villain Is: Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a math genius, poker lover, and banker who’s gotten rich shorting the stocks of targets of a ring of international terrorists.
Best Sequence: Two words: Parkour chase. (Watch the scene on YouTube here.)

Why It’s #4: The first Daniel Craig Bond might have been overrated on its initial release because its ample strengths (and ample seriousness) seemed even greater in comparison to the final Pierce Brosnan Bond, the abysmal (and cartoonish) Die Another Day. But nearly a decade later, it’s clear this is a first-rate 007 film, and easily one of the great reboots in movie history. Director Martin Campbell (returning for his second Bond picture) stages one magnificent action scene after another (including the opening parkour romp through Madagascar, maybe the single best chase in all 24 Bond films), but even more impressively, he restores James Bond to a recognizable, flesh and blood human being. It’s hard to think of a single scene in any of the 20 previous Bond film where James Bond was physically hurt, but Craig’s Bond is repeatedly beaten nearly to death. His face gets mangled and bloodied, he nearly dies after being poisoned, and his nemesis Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, radiating calm menace) tortures him by mashing his testicles into pulp with a bullrope. Le Chiffre and Bond’s Texas Hold ‘Em games are mostly a bust (even in reboot mode, the franchise couldn’t resist glomming onto “cool” cultural trends) but Bond’s relationship with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green, simply radiant) builds to an ending that’s genuinely heartbreaking.


3. Skyfall

Year: 2012
Director: Sam Mendes
Writers:
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan
James Bond Is Played By: Daniel Craig (Third time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Backhoe driver.
The Villain Is: Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a deranged former spy orchestrating a series of attacks against England and MI6.
Best Sequence: There’s a couple of legitimate contenders here, but it’s tough to top the fight choreography and stunning imagery in this battle between Bond and an assassin in an empty skyscraper high above Shanghai.

Why It’s #3: Casino Royale rebooted Bond, but it never considered whether that was a good or idea or not; it simply took the character’s continuing relevance as a given. It took two more films until the series re-evaluate what Bond meant in the 21st century — and even reckoned with the possibility that he might not mean anything to modern audiences. The bad guy’s plan — and particularly its impeccable, impossible timing — might not make a lick of sense, but casting a former spy (Javier Bardem) on a quest for revenge on his old boss M (Judi Dench, for the seventh and final time) allows Skyfall to dig deeper into what Bond represents than any movie that had come before. Its repeated references to death and aging would have worked better with an older lead actor (Daniel Craig was 43 at the time of shooting; Roger Moore didn’t make his first Bond film until he was 45), but it’s unquestionably the most thoughtful Bond and, thanks to the immaculate cinematography of Roger Deakins, the most beautiful.


2. From Russia with Love

Year: 1963
Director: Terence Young
Writer:
Richard Maibaum
James Bond Is Played By: Sean Connery (Second time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Yachtsman.
The Villain Is: Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), a deranged agent of SPECTRE sent by deranged terrorist Ernst Stavro Blofeld to steal and then ransom a Lektor device that can decode secret messages.
Best Sequence: It’s got to be the fight between Bond and SPECTRE assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw) in the train compartment. Attentive viewers will notice an homage to this scene in Spectre. (Watch the video on YouTube here.)

Why It’s #2: It finished laying the foundation started by Dr. No. It’s got the first cold open, the first opening titles adorned with scantily-clad women, the first appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as quartermaster Q, and the first appearance of Bond’s arch-nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Beyond its importance to the overall franchise, From Russia with Love is an atmospheric and suave spy film, full of 1960s Cold War intrigue and sensuality. Even as it introduces Bond’s full compliment of gadgets and thrusts him deep into a SPECTRE plot for the first time it still maintains a semblance of reality, and Connery is at his swaggering best. It all adds up to a Bond movie that’s hard not to love.


1. Goldfinger

Year: 1964
Director: Guy Hamilton
Writers:
Richard Maibaum, Paul Dehn
James Bond Is Played By: Sean Connery (Third time)
James Bond Is a Surprisingly Skilled: Golfer.
The Villain Is: Auric Goldfinger (Gerte Frobe), a deranged metallurgist and gold dealer planning an elaborate heist of Fort Knox.
Best Sequence: Goldfinger captures Bond and, rather than simply killing him with a bullet to the head, straps 007 to a table made of solid gold below a high-powered laser aimed squarely at his crotch. “Do you expect me to talk?” Bond asks. “No Mr. Bond,” Goldfinger replies, “I expect you to die!” (Spoiler Alert: He doesn’t.)

Why It’s #1: Because Goldfinger is the ultimate Bond; the source from which springs not just every Bond film that followed, but many action movies of all shapes and sizes. It’s one of the most influential movies of the 20th century. Anytime a dapper hero peels off a scuba suit to reveal a freshly-pressed tuxedo, or fells his opponents with a gadget-heavy sportscar, Goldfinger’s impact lingers on.

In spite of literally hundreds of imitators, the movie still holds up as a superb and surprisingly fresh entertainment. At just 110 minutes, it’s one of the shortest Bond movies, and one of the leanest; almost every scene has a moment or character or line that’s passed into cinematic legend: Judo-throwing Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman); Oddjob (Harold Sakata) and his deadly bowler hat; the silver Aston Martin DB5 and its ejector seat; and Bond’s wry quips after each kill. (Note that he electrocutes two different people and delivers two totally different one-liners — “Shocking. Positively shocking.” and “He blew a fuse.”)

Bond’s casual sexism gets excessive at times, and if you want to get nitpick-y, it probably would have made more sense for Goldfinger to murder Bond than to play golf with him (and then fly him to Kentucky on a mini-vacation [and then to convince his private pilot to seduce him]). But the good in Goldfinger so far outweighs the bad that it hardly matters. In almost every category that Bond fans rate — love interest, villain, gadgets, car, title sequence, Sean Connery’s toupee — Goldfinger comes out as the clear number one choice. Thrilling, funny, and surprising, the whole movie hits you like a laser to the crotch (but, like, the good kind of laser to the crotch).

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