Since 1962, the premiere name for spy action and adventure has always been Bond, James Bond. Though his face has changed, and the approach to the character along with it, the Bond series has always been known to excite audiences in a way that few long lasting franchises have been able to maintain. Across 24 movies, through six different actors, and in the span of 55 years, the legacy of Ian Fleming's literary agent of action and intrigue has had ups and downs, but still remains a vital part of modern Hollywood's franchise machine.
But say you're completely new to all of this. It's a pretty daunting history to try and attempt as a newbie to the series, so you're going to want to have options as to how you should bring yourself current. Well, that's why we've created this brand new guide to lay out the entire history of the James Bond franchise, starting with a rundown of each film's plot. After which, we'll give you some background into the different phases of the Bond series, courtesy of the various actors that have played the role, and then wrap up with what we think are the best in the series. Let's get started!
James Bond travels to Jamaica, in order to stop a deadly foe from foiling the Apollo space program. This is the film that started it all.
From Russia With Love
A top secret encryption device is being offered as bait to trap Bond and ensnare MI:6 in a blackmail plot. With SPECTRE sending their top agent, Red Grant, to try and stop him, it'll take all of 007's strength and wits to win the day.
Fort Knox is for the taking, at least it is if you ask Auric Goldfinger. His plot to irradiate the gold reserves of America is clever, but MI:6's top agent is going to give it his all to be a couple steps ahead of the competition.
A nuclear bomb is held hostage by SPECTRE, who is trying to blackmail the British government into paying for its safe return. And yet again, James Bond is on the case to put a thorn into the shadowy organization's side.
You Only Live Twice
At last! James Bond and the infamous Ernst "Number 1" Blofeld go head to head. The Cold War heats up, as these nemeses will be on either side of the space race, with a plot to disrupt tensions between American and Asian forces in play.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
There's only two reasons James Bond would quit MI:6 - love and vengeance. Both come into play as he'll face off against the man that will become his greatest nemesis: Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Diamonds Are Forever
Bond's on the hunt for Blofeld, and his trail takes him to Las Vegas in the 1970s. With a diamond smuggling plot, a weaponized laser in space, and some interesting shenanigans, 007 is about to tear up the strip with an adventure only he could undertake.
Live and Let Die
A Harlem kingpin with connections to a U.N. representative is trying to flood the streets with his own brand of heroin. With the help of a clairvoyant, James Bond is about to take these two head on, in a voodoo fueled mystery.
The Man with the Golden Gun
An assassin has his sights set on the most dangerous target of all: James Bond himself! With a golden weapon that allows for an instant kill, and some further eccentricities on his side, he just might get his man.
The Spy Who Loved Me
England and Russia are joining forces to stop an evil shipping magnate from bending the world to his will, thanks to an undersea colony of his own design. If Bond and his Russian cohort can trust each other, they just might save the world.
Space is the place for this Bond caper, as an industrialist is looking to remake the Earth in his own image. With the return of famed baddie Jaws, 007 is about to blast off into an adventure that's out of this world.
For Your Eyes Only
A weapons system goes missing in the Ionian Sea, and the race is on to take command of this weapon of war. Enter James Bond, who'll not only go head to head with a foreign agent trying to beat him to the punch, but will also assist a woman who seeks vengeance after her parents are killed by the very same man.
Nuclear weapons, Faberge eggs, and European disarmament talks are all part of this Soviet mystery, as 007 goes above and beyond to stop a Middle Eastern prince from wrecking international havoc. Also, see James Bond dressed as a clown.
A View to a Kill
Silicon Valley magnate Max Zorin may or may not be involved with a plot to disrupt the tech market, as well as global affairs. It's up to James Bond to save the day, as the clock is ticking, and California is in the crosshairs.
The Living Daylights
A defection attempt turns into a maze of mystery, as MI:6 not only has to investigate a recent mass assassination of its agents, but also that of the man they helped escape to the West. The key may be a beautiful would-be killer that Bond believes is innocent.
License To Kill
After the attempted assassination of a CIA agent and friend, James goes against orders to track down the Latin American drug lord behind the hit. If his cover isn't blown, he just might succeed.
Bond finally makes his way to the 90s, though while the Cold War may be over, the tensions still remain. So, naturally, the super spy faces his toughest opponent yet: an old friend, with taste for revenge.
Tomorrow Never Dies
World War III is just a headline away, as Commander Bond investigates a supposed act of war. Though all signs point to a media magnate with his finger on the pulse, and his eyes on the target.
The World Is Not Enough
What started as a simple retrieval of a businessman's money spins into a protection gig for Bond. But his charge has an adversary with a hidden agenda, and an inability to feel pain.
Die Another Day
After being released from capture by North Korea, James Bond engages in a game of personal stakes. Going rogue, he'll attempt to unmask an evil businessman for the true evil that he represents.
Casino Royale (2006)
A reboot of the Bond canon, we see James gaining 00-agent status. His first perilous mission on the job sees a green, but still lethal James try to make it out alive, with his heart in tact.
Quantum of Solace
Directly continuing from Casino Royale's conclusion, Quantum of Solace sees 007 unraveling a criminal organization with the power to undermine the world's governments. Vengeance is in the air, and danger is in the water.
A disavowed MI:6 agent is targeting M, and he's threatening to take the entire organization with him. The only trouble is, the one man that could stop him needs to be brought back from the figurative dead.
Dealing with the fallout of Skyfall, James Bond digs more into his own past. What he finds ties into the past of the franchise, both modern and classic.
Now that we've delved into the James Bond series' entire canon, let's take a look at the various ways you can enjoy the series, starting with each of the major actors who played the part.
The Sean Connery Run
After a casting hunt that considered everyone from Cary Grant to Rex Harrison, and even David Niven, Sean Connery was chosen as the first cinematic James Bond to grace the screen, starting with his appearance in 1962's Dr. No. His original run went uninterrupted to 1967's You Only Live Twice, at which time Connery felt it was time to move on from the role. Of course, Connery would reprise the role twice more after that point: in the official Bond film Diamonds Are Forever in 1971, and in the unofficial remake of Thunderball, Never Say Never Again, in 1983. The official chronological-order run of Connery's films are as follows:
Now, if you're looking for the cream of the crop when it comes to Connery's time in the role, then you want to keep your viewing strictly within the trio of From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball. These three films are taut thrillers, and in the case of From Russia With Love, it's a Bond film that is probably the most hardcore of the original Connery run, before gadgets and over the top world domination ruled the day. But if you run through each entry, we can't blame you, as Connery has been labeled the Bond to end all Bonds. If you're going to start with the classics, start here.
The Roger Moore Run
With Sean Connery finally out of the picture, there were some interesting candidates considered for the role of 007. The '70s saw faces like Clint Eastwood, Michael Gambon, and, infamously, Burt Reynolds all considered for the role of James Bond. But a previous actor who turned down the lead in On Her Majesty's Secret Service would eventually come back into the fold to do what he fully intended not to do: he became the man that replaced Sean Connery. Enter, Roger Moore, whose run included the following films:
The Moore era of Bond is one of the most maligned periods of the franchise. Between the advancing age of Roger Moore in a role that requires a certain amount of physicality, and his more joke-laden approach to the character, most of these films are sillier than the rest of the series. That being said, Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me are two of the best entries, as they limit the silliness to easily watchable levels, and keep the action going. Though if you want to see the most grounded Roger Moore film in the canon, throw For Your Eyes Only onto your shortlist.
The Pierce Brosnan Run
After Roger Moore finally retired from the role of James Bond, after a, still record, seven films, the role would temporarily go to Timothy Dalton. But after two films, and middling success, delays had drawn out Dalton's contractual obligation, and no further 007 films were made in his tenure. With the Berlin Wall falling, and Cold War tensions with Russia cooling, a new era of Bond was about begin, and Pierce Brosnan would finally be able to accept the role he was forced to turn down in the '80s. Here are his films in the canon:
Brosnan was a candidate for Bond back in the days of The Living Daylights, and sadly had to pass the role up because of his obligation to the NBC show Remington Steele. Knowing his role from the successful TV show he was a part of, you can see why Pierce Brosnan was chosen for the role of James Bond, as his charm was probably the biggest asset to his portrayal as the character. If you're looking to cut to the chase, stick to Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough, as those are the quality films of the Brosnan run. However, there is a certain charm to Goldeneye, especially with Pierce Brosnan's patter with both Sean Bean and Famke Janssen, and it's invaluable to his legacy. Just watch yourself with Die Another Day, as that really is a rough sit.
The Daniel Craig Run
While Pierce Brosnan was the man who brought 007 into the 21st century, the fallout of Die Another Day lead to his unceremonious dismissal in the interim. Candidates like Henry Cavill and Goran Visnjic were in the mix, but ultimately the role went to a man who was once teased as "James Blonde" when he landed the role: current Bond, Daniel Craig. His legacy as the character has included the following run, which rebooted the James Bond legacy with a more hard edged portrayal, courtesy of the following films:
Seeing as Craig has a short run, you could very easily run through all of these films in one or two days. But if you're pressed for time, and really just want a taste of the character, then you can trim the list down to the 2006 reboot Casino Royale and its 2012 follow-up Skyfall. Despite its more controversial nature, particularly with how it handles the personal legacy of Bond and his past, Spectre is a pretty good tie-in that helped bring the legendary organization back into the fold. While we don't know if Craig will be returning for another adventure as 007, his four films thusfar are probably the most solid run an actor has ever had as Bond.
The George Lazenby / Timothy Dalton Run
While Daniel Craig was heralded as the most serious James Bond, two men paved the way for his more modern take. Strangely enough, George Lazenby took the role in On Her Majesty's Secret Service when Timothy Dalton passed it up for the first time, in 1969. While these films didn't set the world on fire upon release, they did manage to win the hearts of hardcore Bond fans over the years. In particular, those fans who felt that the tone of Ian Fleming's original works were being misrepresented by the films, felt the books were best represented by these three movies.
Lazenby, an Australian model with no previous acting experience, was actually a pretty good Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Of course, part of the reason he did so well was because those involved with the film allowed the character of James Bond to go in directions that hadn't previously been mined, as he gets to fall in love, and eventually have his heart broken, on top of kicking all sorts of SPECTRE ass at the same time. Meanwhile, Timothy Dalton's two films, The Living Daylights and License To Kill, are the results of both trying to recapture the Fleming edge, while keeping Bond relevant in the late '80s action world. All three films are stellar examples of what Daniel Craig would later get to do in the role, and serve as underrated trailblazers in the long running franchise.
The SPECTRE Run
Ask any Bond fan, and they'll tell you that out of all of the villains to have crossed his path, no one person has been more influential to who he's become as Ernst Stavro Blofeld - head of the criminal organization know as SPECTRE. For a while, the evil organization was the glue that held the James Bond series together, as it was ripped from the pages of the Ian Fleming novels. At least, they were, until a legal dispute with producer/collaborator Kevin McClory would leave the organization, as well as the story to Thunderball, under McClory's control. Thanks to both a reboot, and some retroactive continuity on MGM's end, the SPECTRE run is as follows:
Here's the tricky part: the SPECTRE legacy runs between the classic and the modern series, since the organization and Blofeld himself were pretty much banned from being used outright after Diamonds Are Forever. However, thanks to a thinly veiled reference to Blofeld as the villain in the pre-credits sequence that starts For Your Eyes Only, the organization was given a "proper" send off. Up until MGM acquired McClory's stake in the Bond series in 2013, the organization was absent from that point on, and eventually replaced by Quantum in Casino Royale (2006.) However, the acquisition allowed MGM to fold Quantum into SPECTRE's org chart, a plot point that reigns in 2015's Spectre. So while this running order may feel a bit disjointed, it makes sense when you consider the reboot aspect of the last couple of films.
Unofficial Bond Movies
These two films are constantly thrown into the lists of official James Bond movies by mistake, when in fact they're non-canon competitors that had some rights issues on their side. In the case of Casino Royale (1969,) Columbia still owned the rights to the novel when MGM was first embarking on their Bond crusade. So, to compete, they made a completely silly comedy that caused Peter Sellers to abandon it midstream, and eventually took five directors to nail it down into a somewhat coherent comedy. It's a goofy film, but if you're into the wild and wacky sort of comedy that only the '60s could bring, this is still a hoot.
Never Say Never Again was made with a bit more of a bitter intent. With writer/producer Kevin McClory successfully winning the rights to the film Thunderball, he went on to try and remake the film several times, with Liam Neeson once being courted to be part of his final attempt, Warhead 2000 AD, in the late '90s. But the one time he did succeed was with Sean Connery's return to the role, which depicted an aging James Bond taking on a mission we'd already seen him complete in his younger years. Your mileage may vary on this one, but at the very least, it's an interesting time capsule, while also serving as a peculiar alternate spin on 007.
The Best Of The Best
So say you're really crunched for time, or you just want to narrow the entire James Bond series into a 10 film sampler pack. It's not hard to condense the whole franchise into a time capsule that covers everything awesome about the history of James Bond. Well, you've got that covered now, as we've provided our list of the best of the best in the 007 canon. If you want the bare bones world tour of what Commander Bond can do, the following route is right for you:
While it doesn't exactly create a cohesive storyline, this top tier line-up represents the best days of the 007 franchise. The wit, ferocity, and, ultimately, enduring qualities of the character are represented by these ten films. Each actor gets their finest moments in this series, and if you ever wanted to trim down your Bond collection to the essentials, these are the films you could protect with a golden plated vault. Most importantly, these movies are a true testament to the legacy that the James Bond movies have cultivated in the history of Hollywood. There's no doubt that with the right material, and the perfect actors in the role, James Bond could go on for another 55 years. Because in the end, nobody does it better.