The best, and worst, Bond films -- We rank three decades of the 007 oeuvre, from the enthralling to the galling
1 GOLDFINGER (1964) There may not be such a thing as the perfect Bond movie — but with so many now-classic components, this one comes close. The mute henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata) with his killer bowler hat. The Aston Martin with optional ejector seat. The beautiful blond (Shirley Eaton) who gets tinted to death with lethal gold paint. And that finale, deep in the Fort Knox vault, with the time bomb (defused at 007 seconds). All this plus Sean Connery in peak form. What’s not to love?
2 THUNDERBALL (1965) Still peaking, Bond kicks off this splashy adventure with a daring jet-pack escape, then heads for the Bahamas, where he gets trapped in a shark-infested swimming pool, zaps a would-be assassin with a speargun (delivering the quintessential Bond mot, ”I think he got the point”), and leads an army of scubamen in the best Bond battle ever. The first of the truly big-budgeted Bonds, it still holds water.
3 FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) A low-key outing that introduces the first Bond gadget (that clunky gas-spewing briefcase), then gets down to business. Escorting a sexy Soviet defector (Daniela Bianchi), 007 books passage on the Orient Express, where he goes mano-à-mano with S.P.E.C.T.R.E. assassin Robert Shaw in one of the greatest fistfights in movie history. Best of all, though, is Lotte Lenya’s sinister Rosa Klebb, with those poisoned-spike shoes.
4 THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) The essential Roger Moore movie, in which his lighter, more cartoonish Bond coolly navigates among high-tech props, spectacular sets, and truly larger-than-life villains. From the pre-credit ski chase (in which Bond falls hundreds of feet before pulling the rip cord of his Union Jack chute) to the metal-mouthed monster Jaws (Richard Kiel), this one goes way over the top, but with panache.
5 YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967) 007 (Connery) goes to Japan, where he bonds with Kissy (Mie Hama) and has his first encounter with Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) — who will be a recurring baddie for years to come. Blofeld’s secret fortress, hidden in that hollow volcano, set the art-direction standard for all future Bond films.
6 DR. NO (1962) The one that started it all. Suave, sardonic, savage, Connery’s Bond gave the Cold War a new kind of hero. Archvillain Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), with his steel-grip artificial hands, was prototypical too. Then there was Ursula Andress rising out of the sea as the perfect Bond babe. Not all the elements were in place yet — no gadgets, no pre-credit sequence, no Top 40 song — but the formula was already cooking.
7 ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969) George Lazenby wasn’t really that bad. He just had the poor timing to be the first post-Connery Bond. Set mostly at the Swiss Alps stronghold of old nemesis Blofeld (Telly Savalas), this one features the original Bondian ski chase, an even better battle on a bobsled, and the best leading lady of all: Diana Rigg, who briefly becomes Mrs. Bond.
8 DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) Persuaded to return to the series that made him famous, Connery brings a new spirit of self-parody to the role (setting the tone for the Roger Moore era). But in the clinches he’s still the classic Bond. He confronts old enemy Blofeld (Charles Gray) in the pre-credit sequence, escapes death in a crematorium, and battles tag-team karate cuties Bambi and Thumper. Still, Connery’s toupee is not one of Q’s better gadgets.
9 NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983) Twelve years after his last assignment, Sean Connery returns as 007 — now middle-aged, semi-retired, and no longer invincible. Competing with the same year’s Octopussy, this watered-down remake of Thunderball is successful only as a portrait of an over-the-hill superhero. Still, even past his prime, Connery proves that nobody does it better.
10 FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) A return to low-tech, low-key Bond, in which 007 must retrieve a top secret coding device. Some of the best stunts since the early days, including another whip-crack ski chase. Moore’s smartest, if least ambitious, effort.
11 LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) Moore’s first outing as Bond. Lighter and fluffier than Connery, he may have been the best man for the escapist ’70s. Still, a story about drug lords in Harlem and voodoo in the Caribbean does have some uncomfortable racial overtones.
12 MOONRAKER (1979) Also known as ”James Bond in space” — which is another way of saying this Moore effort is out there. Attempting to outdo its immediate predecessor, The Spy Who Loved Me (not to mention Star Wars), this F/X extravaganza literally ends up in orbit, with an all-out laser battle finale. Too kooky for true Bondophiles, but a kick for kids.
13 THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974) Christopher Lee as a world-class hitman. Herve Villechaize as his diabolical mini-henchman. A final shoot-out in a psychedelic maze of mirrors. Sounds like classic Bond. But Moore’s too-light touch takes the fun out of the cat-and-mouse suspense.
14 THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) Timothy Dalton makes Bond scowlingly serious and shockingly monogamous in his first assignment as 007. Once he decides to romance a Red cellist (Maryam d’Abo) instead of shooting her, his eyes are only for her. Yawn.
15 LICENCE TO KILL (1989) Dalton’s second outing, and he’s still playing the role too straight. Bond goes AWOL on a personal vendetta to kill a ruthless Latino drug lord (Robert Davi). A not-so-bold departure that didn’t hit its marks.
16 OCTOPUSSY (1983) Moore was starting to crash in his sixth adventure. Maud Adams is an exotic lady smuggler, Louis Jourdan a villainous Afghan prince, and Steven Berkoff a mad Russian general who hides a stolen A-bomb in a traveling circus. Makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
17 A VIEW TO A KILL (1985) The worst Bond villain (Christopher Walken, underplaying for a change). One of the worst Bond girls (Tanya Roberts, making like Barbie). And the worst job by Moore, who should have quit two movies earlier. At this point, the only thing more tired than his performance was the Bond formula itself.