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(For Part 1 of this series, click here)
(For Part 2 of this series, click here)
You would think watching at least one James Bond movie every day for weeks would get old, but I can tell you from personal experience that it does not. The last few weeks of my life were spent plowing through all twenty-three 007 movies in the Eon Productions canon, and I had an absolute blast. From Goldfinger to Jaws, from XXX to Tracy Bond, I rebonded with every character, and like any obsessive, I immediately sat down and ranked every single one.
After a few dozen tweaks, I wrote paragraphs for each entry, and this week, I’ve been presenting my choices a handful of films at a time. On Tuesday, I unleashed 23-16. Yesterday, I presented 15-11, and without further ado, here is 10-6…
10) 1989’s License To Kill
If The Living Daylights was an intentional hop toward realism, License To Kill is an execution-style hit to the temple of the entire Roger Moore era. Not only do drug dealers feed Felix Leiter’s leg to a shark and attach a note to his body saying “He disagreed with something that ate him”, they rape and murder his lovely wife Della for good measure. When Bond vows to seek revenge against the monsters who did it, M fires his ass and tries to take away his gun.
It’s hands down the most intense and disturbing plot to be found anywhere in the Bond canon, and looking back, it’s not really a surprise this ended the Timothy Dalton era. People typically like their Bond flicks to offer a few more smiles and at least the occasional bout of whismy. License To Kill has neither of those things, but even if it is unbalanced, it’s still strangely good.
There’s something refreshing about how straightforward everything is about this movie. When Bencio del Toro’s henchman Dario spots Bond in disguise after they had a run-in weeks earlier, he immediately takes out his gun and deals with it. When one of the DEA agents betrays his buddies, it’s about nothing more than money. There aren’t many wrinkles, but there is a sweet manta ray disguise and a well-executed intro that features a plane being tied upside down.
I’m not sure Bond could have survived a third time around the track with Dalton, but his second trip is riveting.
9) 1995’s Goldeneye
Words like “watchable” and “decent” might often be used to describe Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as James Bond, but Goldeneye deserves some better adjectives than that, especially considering it may have saved the franchise. License To Kill was far from a smash hit at the box office, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union and longtime producer Albert R Broccoli’s declining health, many experts thought continuing the series was a dumb decision. Goldeneye needed to be a hit. It needed to appeal to a new generation of fans, and it certainly did.
From the toilet punch to the ludicrous airplane stunt, the introduction purposefully strikes a far lighter tone than previous efforts, and much about the rest of the film’s runtime is spent reminding us to have a little fun. We’re given a promiscuous, sadistic supervillain named Xenia Onatopp, a belligerent Russian computer programmer, creepy statues, a rogue general, stolen helicopters, satellite weapons and Robbie Coltrane’s seriously underrated Valentine Zukovsky. It’s a grandiose and goofy good time.
It should also be noted that Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan is a top-notch villain. He really sells the introduction at the beginning with the scream of “For England, James” and proves his goals quite effectively when he tells one of his henchman to shoot Boris if he moves from the chair while trying to break the codes. He’s the right balance of imposing and intelligent, and he and the tone are the main reasons why Goldeneye remains so damn likeable almost two decades later.
8) 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me
Bond always works best when he has someone to really push back, and no woman has ever pushed back at him as effectively as Barbara Bach’s XXX. Introduced via an effective early curveball, she’s General Gogol’s top Soviet operative, and throughout The Spy Who Loved Me, she and 007 selfishly team up and selfishly betray each other while working to defeat the nefarious Karl Stromberg, who laughably wants to create a civilization under the water.
Apart from a sweet trap door elevator he maneuvers via a button on his desk, Stromberg pretty much blends in with the other white, rich supervillains of the era. His main henchman Jaws, however, does not. Arguably the single most loved bad guy in the history of the franchise, the gigantic bastard has metal teeth, and in The Spy Who Loves Me, he rips apart Bond and XXX’s van piece by piece. He’s also apparently incapable of dying and improbably survives on numerous occasions in both this film and Moonraker.
With all apologies to McCartney’s “Live And Let Die” and Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger”, the Carly Simon-sung, Marvin Hamlisch-penned “Nobody Does It Better” is the single greatest Bond theme in history. It spent more weeks on the chart than “You’re So Vain”, and it is just as brilliant today as it was in 1977. This film probably moved up an entire spot or two thanks to that track, as well as its inclusion of a hookah gun and a sidecar bomb.
Yes, The Spy Who Loved Me also contains a few horrible skiing shots and groan-worthy one-liners, but it wouldn’t really be the Roger Moore era without both.
7) 1962’s Dr. No
Dr. No is easily the most important film on this list. Had director Terrence Young and star Sean Connery failed, there would have been no point in making any more movies. Eon Productions would have pulled the plug immediately, and 007 would be remembered as a decently popular literary character. Luckily, that didn’t happen. Not only did Dr. No work, it worked so well that many of its better elements have stuck. From Monty Norman’s ”James Bond Theme” to the “Bond…James Bond” line to the elaborate credits to the gun barrel view, many of the features most associated with James Bond’s legacy were created right here.
All of those reasons make Dr. No a fascinating watch in retrospect, but even without its historic legacy, the nuts and the bolts of the film hold up pretty well too. The basic plot follows 007 in Jamaica as he investigates radio interference during rocket launches and mysterious deaths. There’s also dragons, gambling, magnetized fish, Honey Ryder’s A+ bathing suit and my personal favorite Bond quip of all-time: “That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.”
Cases could be made that Ryder should be introduced far sooner and that rock samples shouldn’t play a central role in the plot, but on the whole, any problems are of the stupidly picky variety.
6) 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was supposed to be the fifth Bond movie, but thanks to an unusually warm winter in Switzerland, You Only Live Twice had to be shot first. Following production, Sean Connery decided to leave the series, and producers stupidly chose not to fix the continuity problems created by swapping the two films. These two reasons are commonly bitched about by fans who see OHMSS as a missed opportunity, but even with George Lazenby and the Blofeld-not-recognizing-Bond error, it’s pretty damn awesome.
In fact, a case could actually be made that this movie benefits from having Lazenby. I’m not sure I believe it, but let me play devil’s advocate for a minute. First, Lazenby is better at the action sequences than Connery. Second, the material requires Bond to be genuinely terrified of Blofeld and Blofeld’s assassins, and Connery’s 007 was way too smug for that ever to have worked. Third, Diamonds Are Forever is not very good; so, maybe Connery was all Bond-ed out.
Besides, what’s the point in complaining when this movie should make anyone’s top ten? The conclusion is easily the most surprising and ballsiest of any in the entire series. The Angels of Death are completely in Bond’s wheelhouse, and some of the chase sequences actually make you feel bad for the lead. It’s 007 at his most frail, from an angle we’ve never seen before, and it’s a goddamn awesome change-up.