James Bond - The series (*1962)

The James Bond film series was initiated in 1962, when DR. NO was released to great acclaim. All in all there have been 23 Bond movies. Until THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS all scripts were based on novels by Ian Fleming. Six different actors have played James Bond: Sean Connery (1962-1967, 1971), George Lazenby (1969), Roger Moore (1973-1985), Timothy Dalton (1987-1989), Pierce Brosnan (1995-2002) and Daniel Craig (2006-). Connery made a comeback as 007 in 1983 when he starred in an unofficial Bond film, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. He is often considered the 'best' James Bond.

Here is what I consider the best James Bond films: ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and OCTOPUSSY. The Bond film series is certainly the best-loved contemporary action film series.



Dr. No (1962; dir by Terence Young) ***½
From Russia With Love (1963; dir by Terence Young) ***
Goldfinger (1964; dir by Guy Hamilton) ***
Thunderball (1965; dir by Terence Young) **½
You Only Live Twice (1967; dir by Lewis Gilbert) ***
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969; dir by Peter R. Hunt) ***½
Diamonds Are Forever (1971; dir by Guy Hamilton) ***
Live and Let Die (1973; dir by Guy Hamilton) ***
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974; dir by Guy Hamilton) ***
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977; dir by Lewis Gilbert) ***½
Moonraker (1979; dir by Lewis Gilbert) ***
For Your Eyes Only (1981; dir by John Glen) **½
Octopussy (1983; dir by John Glen) ***½
A View to a Kill (1985; dir by John Glen) **½
The Living Daylights (1987; dir by John Glen) ***
Licence to Kill (1989; dir by John Glen) ***
GoldenEye (1995; dir by Martin Campbell) **½
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997; dir by Roger Spottiswoode) ***
The World Is Not Enough (1999; dir by Michael Apted) **
Die Another Day (2002; dir by Lee Tamahori) ***
Casino Royale (2006; dir by Martin Campbell) ***
Quantum of Solace (2008; dir by Marc Forster) ***
Skyfall (2006; dir by Sam Mendes) ***


The Bond movies reviewed in chronological order:

Dr. No (1962, GBR) C-110m. ***½ D: Terence Young. Starring Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, Anthony Dawson, Lois Maxwell, Peter Burton, Martine Beswick. The film that started it all: The first James Bond movie holds up today as fine, colorful entertainment. Ian Fleming's Secret Agent 007, convincingly portrayed by Sean Connery, is called to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a government official. It may have something to do with an encoding device that an evil crime lord is trying to bring to his fortress island. Exciting action adventure contains all of the classic Bond ingredients: An exotic setting, a suspenseful plot, a potent villain (Wiseman) and a beautiful Bond girl (Andress). This is one of the best films in the series, topped only, perhaps, by ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969). Classic score by John Barry and Monty Norman, fine production design by Ken Adam. Followed by FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963).

From Russia With Love (1963, GBR) C-115m. *** D: Terence Young. Starring Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendáriz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Martine Beswick, Ian Fleming, Terence Young. Worthy sequel to DR. NO (1962) with James Bond (Connery) assigned to steal Russian encryption device, which turns out to be a set-up by arch-enemy SPECTRE. Bianchi plays a Russian spy, who falls for 007. Less pretentious, more serious than other Bond films, but also less entertaining, this is more spy drama than action adventure. Director Young and editor Peter R. Hunt (director of the sixth Bond film) make the fight between Shaw and Connery (aboard the train) the highlight of the picture. Lenya gives her most famous performance. Armendáriz' last film, Llewelyn's first film as Q. Good score by John Barry. Followed by GOLDFINGER (1964).

Goldfinger (1964, GBR) C-111m. SCOPE *** D: Guy Hamilton. Starring Sean Connery, Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Burt Kwouk, Harold Sakata, Desmond Llewelyn. Third James Bond adventure pits the secret agent against Auric Goldfinger, a wealthy businessman with a faible for gold - especially that inside high-security Fort Knox. Classic formula still fresh at that time, Fröbe is a menacing villain. Lacks the dynamite action and exotic locations that made other films of the series to hits but compensates this drawback with suspense. Usually considered to be one of the best James Bond films. Good variations of the title tune and the James Bond theme.

Thunderball (1965, GBR) C-129m. SCOPE **½ D: Terence Young. Starring Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Martine Beswick, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn. Big James Bond production (the fourth) suffers from comparison to its (better) predecessors. Bond investigates the theft of two atom bombs. The responsible crime syndicate, headed by Largo (Celi), demands 100 million British Pounds from the world or else a major city will be destroyed. Less action, less suspense and a less potent villain (although Celi is fine). Still, one of the classic 60s Bond movies that always manage to delight (if only intermittently in this case). Fine, dramatic variations of the Bond theme are a major asset. First and last three minutes and best parts, kudos to editor Peter Hunt.

You Only Live Twice ... coming up

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969, GBR) C-142m. SCOPE ***½ D: Peter R. Hunt. Starring George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Gabriele Ferzetti, Telly Savalas, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Catharina von Schell, Bessie Love, Joanna Lumley. Stylish, sophisticated James Bond film with Lazenby replacing Sean Connery as secret agent 007, who picks up the trace of arch-enemy Blofeld (Savalas) by promising to marry Spanish comtessa Rigg. The villain intends to sterilize the world if his demands are not met. Lazenby, in his only appearance as the super spy, is acceptable, but film itself is superbly paced, yet not fast-paced. At times it even achieves a kind of poetic, melancholy quality, which is unique for a Bond movie. Superb, colorful sets by Peter Lamont; it's too bad only one film of this series was made in the late 1960s. Fine score by John Barry, Louis Armstrong's We Have All the Time in the World is especially lovely. While all action scenes are good, the final sequence is particularly stunning. Film is remarkably well edited by John Glen, who directed five Bond films himself in the 1980s. Director Hunt edited all five previous Bond movies, ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, his first film as a director, is very probably the best of the whole series. That ending will chill you to the bone. Beware of shorter (European) prints.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971, GBR) C-120m. SCOPE *** D: Guy Hamilton. Starring Sean Connery, Jill St.John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Cabot, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Leonard Barr, Laurence Naismith. Loosely plotted, episodic James Bond adventure about the secret agent's continuing battle against Ernst Blofeld, played this time by Charles Gray. The villain is gathering diamonds from South Africa for an evil plan. Certainly not as good as its predecessor ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE but sparked by good ideas and the presence of Connery, who plays 007 for the (officially) last time. Most of the action is set in Las Vegas. Title song by Shirley Bassey. This was the seventh Bond film, followed by LIVE AND LET DIE.

Live and Let Die (1973, GBR) C-121m. *** D: Guy Hamilton. Starring Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Clifton James, Julius Harris, Geoffrey Holder, David Heddison, Gloria Hendry, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell. Unusual Bond production concerns the secret agent's attempts to stop unscrupulous narcotics producer Kotto. Episodic adventure makes good use of locations, though the plot line disappears at times and there is comparatively little action. Roger Moore is a little stiff in his first appearance as James Bond. Still, very interesting as an homage to Blaxploitation cinema and the only Bond film to (hesitantly) include supernatural elements. Title song by Paul McCartney. Trivia notes: Shot in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, unlike most other Bond pictures, which were filmed in widescreen. Fans demanded a return of Desmond Llewelyn ('Q') in the next series entry, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.

Man with the Golden Gun, The (1974, GBR) C-125m. *** D: Guy Hamilton. Starring Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Brit Eklund, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaize, Clifton James, Richard Loo, Marc Lawrence, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn. Exotic, lavish 007 adventure, Moore's second outing as the super-spy. Bond is led to believe that Scaramanga, the world's best assassin, is out to kill him, but it turns out he wants to acquire a device that produces solar power. Occasionally silly, and not airtight, this is not one of the best Bond films, but still good because of the cast, the action and overall Bond flair. Certainly an answer to the Kung Fu boom of the 70s and, more accurately, to Bruce Lee's ENTER THE DRAGON (see opening scene).

Spy Who Loved Me, The (1977, GBR) C-125m. SCOPE ***½ D: Lewis Gilbert. Starring Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn. James Bond goes against villain Jürgens, who has abducted nuclear weapons - planning to destroy the world! 007 must join forces with beautiful Russian agent Bach in order to stop the madman's evil scheme. Exceptional globetrotting adventure, loaded with gimmicks, more serious than other Bond films, but not without the trademark humor. Excellent production values make this the best 70s Bond. Marvelous photography by Claude Renoir. Followed by MOONRAKER.

Moonraker (1979, GBR/FRA/USA) C-126m. SCOPE *** D: Lewis Gilbert. Starring Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Corinne Clery, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Alfie Bass, Albert R. Broccoli, Lewis Gilbert. Amusing James Bond adventure pits the superspy against industrial mogul Drax (Lonsdale), who is about to conquer space with sophisticated spaceships. Episodic like most films of the series, but delivers enough cliffhanger stunts and chases to make this a fine entry. Good production values, incredible sets, a lot of fun. Some did not like this; judge for yourself if you can enjoy Moore's sardonic performance. Followed by FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.

For Your Eyes Only (1981, USA) C-127m. SCOPE **½ D: John Glen. Starring Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet, Topol, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Julian Glover, Cassandra Harris, Desmond Llwelyn, Lois Maxwell. Change of pace for 007 sees his return to the minimalism of the 1960s. Modest plot about spying device lying under water just off the Greek coast, punctuated by some nice action sequences with good stunt work.

Octopussy (1983, USA) C-130m. SCOPE ***½ D: John Glen. Starring Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jourdan, Kristina Wayborn, Steven Berkoff, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell. James Bond's last great adventure pits 007 against Russian army general who is threatening to blow up a stolen atom bomb. Incredible over-the-top action outdoes plot easily. Possibly Moore's best performance as 007, and the decade's best Bond film.

View to a Kill, A (1985, GBR) C-131m. SCOPE **½ D: John Glen. Starring Roger Moore, Christopher Walken, Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones, Patrick Macnee, Alison Doody, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Dolph Lundgren, Maud Adams. With this film, the Bond franchise lapsed into a crisis (critically speaking). Moore's last film as 007 pits him against villain Walken, who intends to flood Silicon Valley and thereby control the micro chip market all by himself. Pointless vignettes, unmotivated sex scenes and a rather tired special agent. Some good action sequences keep it afloat. Timothy Dalton took over from Moore to star in two 80s Bonds and was himself replaced by Pierce Brosnan in 1995's GOLDENEYE (the first Bond film in six years). From A VIEW TO A KILL onwards, no Bond movie really lived up to its predecessors. Dolph Lundgren's first film role.

Living Daylights, The (1987, GBR) C-130m. SCOPE *** D: John Glen. Starring Timmothy Dalton, Maryam D'Abo, Jeroen Krabbé, Joe Don Baker, John Rhys-Davies, Art Malik, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss. Dalton's debut as James Bond after the departure of Roger Moore is hard-hitting, well-made adventure about 007's involvement in helping Russian general Krabbé switch sides. Ultimately, the Russian turns out to be the ally of ruthless weapons dealer Baker. Technically well-made (especially well-edited) thriller has good production values and features a refreshingly serious performance by Dalton. Unfortunately, the villain is less potent than usual and film peters out without a suitable climax. Good location work. Dalton returned in LICENCE TO KILL (1989).

Licence to Kill (1989, GBR) C-133m. SCOPE *** D: John Glen. Starring Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Benicio Del Toro, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss, Don Stroud. Sixteenth Bond adventure was Dalton's second (and last) appearance as the British secret agent. Bond goes against South American druglord Davi and even risks his famous licence to kill, because he wants to avenge the killing of a colleague's wife. Vicious, rather violent (probably the most violent in the whole series) but overlong, with the only really effective action set-piece coming at the very end. Dalton can't be blamed, his performance is good. Still, the Bond movie series made a break after this film for six long years.

GoldenEye (1995, GBR/USA) C-130m. SCOPE **½ D: Michael Campbell. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench, Robbie Coltrane, Tchéky Karyo, Gottfried John, Alan Cumming, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Minnie Driver, Martin Campbell. Disappointing return of the Bond franchise after a six-year hiatus. Brosnan gets a superbly directed introduction in his first Bond movie, but plot - circling around a Russian general's attempt to use super-weapon in space - is derivative and hardly memorable. Some explosive action stunts and humor involving Q make it worthwhile, but the Bond feeling is almost completely gone. Monty Norman's legendary theme appears once during the film, for little more than a minute. Followed by TOMORROW NEVER DIES.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997, USA) C-119m. SCOPE *** D: Roger Spottiswoode. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Joe Don Baker, Götz Otto, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewellyn. James Bond's 18th adventure pits him against media czar Pryce, who wants to achieve world domination by installing a satellite system that will reach the farthest corners of the globe. Secret agent 007, teaming up with Asian martial arts expert Yeoh, gives him a hard time. Nice premise, OK plot and some exciting chase scenes is what this action film has to offer. An improvement over GOLDENEYE, but still nowhere near the classic originals. And who let Sheryl Crow sing the title tune?

World Is Not Enough, The (1999, GBR/USA) C-128m. SCOPE ** D: Michael Apted. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, John Cleese, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Samantha Bond. Her Majesty's secret agent is at it again, this time investigating the kidnapping of an oil magnate's daughter (Marceau) by a terrorist (Carlyle) who is insensible to pain. Bond soon finds himself trying to avoid the theft of an atom bomb by the villain. The opening speed boat sequence is so over-the-top that the film's return to realism later deprives it of any credibility. A certain lack of flair and exotic locales (unless you count the Caspic Sea) will make you wonder if you are watching a James Bond film. This entry is among the weakest of the series. The script is not enough.

Die Another Day (2002, USA/GBR) C-132m. SCOPE **½ D: Lee Tamahori. Starring Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosmund Pike, Rick Yune, Judi Dench, John Cleese, Michael Madsen, Will Yun Lee, Kenneth Tsang, Samantha Bond, Madonna. An aging Bond (Brosnan) finds a tough enemy in the son of a North Korean general. Ultimately, he threatens to use a powerful ray gun in space to scorch the Earth. A sexy NFA agent (Berry) lends Bond a hand in the operation. Fairly well-directed and edited thriller is good in the first half, but (somewhat muddled, complicated) story is drowned out by gigantic action set-pieces. Still, one of the better later Bonds, with fine art direction and production design. This was the 20th film in the series (and a little reminiscent of the 7th, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER).

Casino Royale (2006, USA/GBR/GER/CZE) C-144m. SCOPE *** D: Martin Campbell. Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Jesper Christensen, Ivana Milicevic, Veruschka (von Lehndorf), Urbano Barberini, Richard Branson, Martin Campbell. Valiant attempt at renewing the James Bond franchise with a new face (Craig). Title is lifted off Ian Fleming's first novel, with which this has fairly little in common, though. James Bond, at the outset of his career as a secret agent, goes after evil guy Mikkelsen, who is taking care of financial business for terrorists worldwide. It all climaxes in a game of poker with millions at stake, including Bond's new girlfriend Green. 21st Bond film features the 6th Bond actor in Craig, who is a tense and determined agent. The movie is long and the script unusually talky, even sentimental, but highlighted by several big action set-pieces (kudos to editor Stuart Baird). Good title song by Chris Cornell (Soundgarden). Followed by QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008).

Quantum of Solace (2008, USA/GBR) C-106m. SCOPE *** D: Marc Forster. Starring Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Judi Dench, Giancarlo Giannini, Gemma Arterton, Jeffrey Wright, David Harbour, Jesper Christensen, Anatole Taubman, Rory Kinnear, Tim Pigott-Smith, voices of Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón. The Bond franchise revs it up in this sequel to CASINO ROYALE (2006), in which 007 goes after pseudo-environmentalist Amalric and his organisation, which is buying land in Bolivia. Bond's driving force is revenge, however, as he still mourns the death of his lover Vesper Lynd. Craig is good (again), and director Forster tries to keep things at a lightning pace with staccato editing, though even at this speed, the plot holes and coincidences don't all disappear. Some spectacular stunt work and globe-spanning settings put this above-average. At 106m., this is the shortest Bond movie of all time. Followed by SKYFALL (2012).

Skyfall (2012, GBR/USA) C-143m. SCOPE *** D: Sam Mendes. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear. Four years after QUANTUM OF SOLACE, Bond shows up in Turkey, chasing after stolen harddisk that contains the identities of undercover agents. After being officially declared dead, he returns just in time to help M (Dench), who is being targeted by former spy Bardem. The investigations take him to Shanghai and Macao. Slam-bang opening sequence is never topped, but rest of film offers enough action set-pieces and settings to make up for lacklustre plot. Craig is focused as usual, Bardem a fine villain. Good title song by Adele.

© Ron Altman (last update 2/11/2012)