When I was introduced to the world of James Bond, it was Pierce Brosnan’s incarnation who really put me on the road to becoming a fan of Ian Fleming’s prestigious super spy. Both through the world of video games, as well as the sheer coincidence of becoming a teenager during the Remington Steele actor’s time in the tux, I became enamored by the 007 legacy through Brosnan’s steady, and at times understated, hand. This crucial piece of background made my eventual ranking of the movies from the Brosnan era all the more exciting, especially after following the recently revisited legacies of the major Bonds that came before him.
I wasn’t sure if my feelings were going to change towards the series, and it was kind of scary after seeing a recent hot take stating that Pierce Brosnan had never made a good James Bond movie. After all, memories don’t always hold up, especially when taking into account the huge cultural shifts and cinematic competitors that the franchise would have to compete with in the ‘90s. Taking a pretty deep look into my heart, as well as the history books, I have a pretty definitive opinion the Brosnan era. And it starts, like all of our other rankings do, with Brosnan’s 007, by the numbers.
Pierce Brosnan’s 007 By The Numbers
After a six-year gap that saw Timothy Dalton slip out the stage door after License To Kill due to an expired license he wasn’t keen to renew, the James Bond saga saw itself head back to theaters in 1995 with director Martin Campbell’s Goldeneye. This was the first of four films that Pierce Brosnan would star in as James Bond, a role he seemed born to play after finally nabbing the honors his second time offered. Once Brosnan was on board, the train would keep rolling for some time.
Moving past the obstacles that saw the 007 franchise stalled out, Pierce Brosnan’s first three films would arrive at a steady clip of two-year intervals. The only outlier would be his final film in the role, Die Another Day, which was released three years after 1999’s The World Is Not Enough. The Moore and Dalton eras had that clockwork running smoothly, and for the most part, the Brosnan era was no exception. 2002 marked the definitive end of the classic continuity of James Bond, and one can kind of see why when looking at the films that came about at this time. So without further delay, here’s how I rank the Pierce Brosnan era of James Bond films.
4. Die Another Day (2002)
This is probably the easiest ranking I could have ever laid down in the Brosnan era standings, as Die Another Day is, for better or for worse, a product of its time. With xXx and The Bourne Identity both hitting earlier in the year, and Mission: Impossible starting to make its own footprint in the world of cinematic espionage, James Bond continued to need that spark to modernize for contemporary audiences. Out of an entire run of films that was saddled with that duty, Pierce Brosnan’s swan song was absolutely the worst example of such an enterprise.
But for every bad decision, such as the various “edgy” editing choices, the abysmal Madonna theme tune or even the inclusion of the bullet shooting towards the screen in the gun barrel, there’s still some decent material present. We see James Bond fail a mission that leads to his capture and torture by foreign government, and that’s just the opening of Die Another Day’s spin on the “Bond’s gone rogue” style of mission. Pierce Brosnan’s chemistry with both Rosamund Pike and Halle Berry goes a long way from keeping this movie interesting, as does his repartee with Toby Stephens’ villain, Gustav Graves. There’s a fantastic kernel of an idea at the center of it all, but director Lee Tamahori’s entry goes off the rails early and barely hangs on the rest of the way. If only the proposed return of Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin came to be, we might have seen a better movie.
3. Goldeneye (1995)
Here comes the trademark Reyes Decision that causes the room to gasp as if the air was sucked out all at once. I think that director Martin Campbell’s Goldeneye, the one that inspired one of the best video games in the world and introduced the world to Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond, is the third best film out of his four-movie run. I’ll wait a moment for the usual questions of sanity and mental well-being to be spouted before moving on; though I will caveat that I still very much like Goldeneye as a 007 adventure.
While Goldeneye is a pretty good revival of the Bond mystique for the ’90s, that’s also a big part of what does and doesn’t work about this movie. The uber-modern sensibilities are very much a part of that decade, but they keep the film rooted as more of a period piece than an evergreen spy caper. Still, the current era of Bond still owes a huge debt to Pierce Brosnan’s first time out, and the devilish duo of Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) and Alec Trevalyan (Sean Bean) are still as slick as they were when they debuted. Overall, Goldeneye is not grounded enough to get into the gritty territory that we’d seen in the franchise, but it’s also not silly enough to be the fun, over-the-top Bond experience some might have expected.
2. The World Is Not Enough (1999)
What if I told you that a James Bond movie took what Goldeneye tried to do and re-engineered it in such a manner that it worked even better? You’re probably laughing right now, but let me assure you that 1999’s The World Is Not Enough took that very path to greatness, and delivered a movie that only helped move the 007 series to the end point it was working towards with the Daniel Craig series. At the heart of director Michael Apted’s film, one big question makes it all possible: what if the villain of a James Bond movie turned out to be a Bond woman?
In The World Is Not Enough, we’re set up to believe that Robert Carlyle’s Renard is the real force behind the evil plot of the moment. Which only makes the reveal that Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), the supposedly sheltered daughter to a big time millionaire, was actually holding a grudge against M all the more shocking when she makes her big heel turn. Even the final Christmas-related pun dropped at the end of The World Is Not Enough wasn’t enough of a deal breaker to crush what this film had done, especially when it came to exploring the ever-expanding personal dynamic between Bond and M. With a “better than you remember” Denise Richards performance that keeps up with the Brosnan smirks and snarks like nobody’s business, and probably the best David Arnold score of his Brosnan era music, The World Is Not Enough is waiting for you to revisit your opinions on its quality.
1. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Time and again, the James Bond franchise seems to take stories of the past and remake them in a more modern light. Tomorrow Never Dies is definitely a Bond film that does just that, as if you took The Spy Who Loved Me and tweaked some key ingredients, you get this top notch Pierce Brosnan adventure. Forget submarines being captured by a megalomaniacal shipping magnate; we have a media baron who wants to start World War III with technology! Even in an era that seemed like it was always just keeping up with the times, Tomorrow Never Dies invokes elements from some of the best 007 films of the past, making an altogether enjoyable product.
Jonathan Pryce’s Rupert Murdoch surrogate, Elliot Carver, makes for a beautifully over-the-top villain, with a confidence that only sells the gag all the better. In fact, there’s a really good blend of Roger Moore-style comedy and Sean Connery-era intrigue, which has always been the crossroads that Pierce Brosnan’s Bond aimed for in his tenure. Neither half is betrayed by the other, as we can accept the tragedy of James mourning an old flame coming so quickly after some banter with memorable torture specialist Dr. Kaufman.
But the best part about Tomorrow Never Dies is the fact that Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin is still one of the best accomplices that 007 has ever teamed up with. Sure, she succumbs to Bond’s charms by the end of the film, but it doesn’t feel as unbelievable or cheap as some of his other “conquests” have been. Yeoh’s Chinese intelligence officer is an equal match to James Bond, and she even gets to best him in a couple of scenarios. The failure to bring this character back in any way, shape or form is truly sad, as Wai Lin would even fit perfectly in the world of the gritty Daniel Craig reboot era.
The unfortunate truth is that Pierce Brosnan’s run as James Bond came at a pretty unfortunate point in the run of 007 films. Our world changed so fast, both politically and in the world of entertainment, that it felt like each subsequent Bond film had to be another reinvention exercise. And yet, Brosnan was able to glide through each film, good or bad, with a degree of charm that helped make those changes easier to fathom. But at this point in the history of the franchise, the traditional formula needed to make way for a fresh start.
As unfortunate as it was for Pierce Brosnan to be dropped from the James Bond saga as suddenly as he was, it needed to happen. Die Another Day, whether anyone knew it or not, was the final nail in the coffin of the first epoch of 007 action. A new start was on the horizon, and it was going to be a deadly wake up call for the competition. It may sound like we’re winding up to our rundown of Daniel Craig films, and if the world worked out as it was scheduled to, we’d have already ranked the Craig era, including No Time To Die, in the recent weeks past.
However, that task will have to wait until we get closer to the April 2021 release date of the 25th James Bond movie. Though we’re not showing up to December empty handed, as there was a special film we’d already set aside to cover as a seasonal offering. Did you know that the Bond series does technically have a Christmas movie? It also happens to be one of those classics that is gaining steam with 007 fans over time. Ho ho ho, December means we’re finally covering On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; a film that just might be the most important Bond adventure ever. So hang your stockings, and settle your affairs of state, because Santa Bond is coming to town!