Since Ursula Andress strutted out of the ocean in Dr. No (1962), the 24 James Bond films made by Eon Productions have amassed an inflation-adjusted £13.8 billion. Having earned such an eye-watering amount of box office cash, the 007 films are currently the most financially successful film franchise of all time, even if a certain space opera series may try to Force the issue this Christmas.
Despite the success, Bond has his detractors off-screen and on it. Real-life critics tend to balk at Bond’s misogyny and in GoldenEye (1995) M herself describes Bond as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur”. In terms of narrative, there is a formula to every Bond film, even if it’s proven to be a popular one for more than five decades. Once Monty Norman’s deathless theme tune kicks off, viewers know what to expect: a heady brew of gadgets, girls, despotic villains bent on world domination, fast cars and government-approved murder.
When it comes to the Bond films critics and fans adore, there are a few obvious favourites: the early Connery films, the Bond-goes-blaxploitation riot of Live and Let Die (1973) and Sam Mendes’s mighty Skyfall (2012). But below we take a look at the unsung Bonds, all certain to leave viewers shaken and definitely stirred.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Director Guy Hamilton
Purists who insist Sean Connery is the one true Bond tend to rhapsodise over Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964). But Diamonds Are Forever brought Connery back to the fold for a then-record fee of $1.25m after George Lazenby’s brief stint as everyone’s favourite state-sponsored assassin, and may just trump the inaugural 007 triumvirate. There’s solid direction from Bond regular Guy Hamilton and Connery is on icily ruthless form. Diamonds also offers us Charles Gray’s take on Blofeld and the greatest, oddest henchmen of the series, contract killers Mr Wint and Mr Kidd. If that isn’t enough, key scenes take place in Amsterdam and Las Vegas, confirming what we all guessed: Bond loves to party.
Director Lewis Gilbert
Fun fact: before Goldeneye (1995), Moonraker was the highest grossing Bond film, undoubtedly helped by its release at a time when blockbuster sci-fi was all the rage. Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind – a film referenced directly in Moonraker in a throwaway gag – had both been released two years previously. It was also by far the most expensive, the budget enabling some cutting-edge visual effects which were nominated for an Oscar (losing to Alien).
Lois Chiles is an above-par Bond girl, there’s plenty of Jaws, the special effects make for some great action sequences, and the set pieces in the Sugar Loaf Mountain cable car and at Iguaçu Falls are super. It’s also, sadly, the last Bond film appearance of Bernard Lee, still the best ever M (sorry Judi). If you can forgive Jaws turning good and the double-taking pigeon, Moonraker has loads to recommend it. It’s silly, but it’s fun.
Director John Glen
Green eggs and ham typify Bond’s thirteenth odyssey, whose plot turns on a fake Fabergé and some overripe performances. But that’s the joy, as Stephen Berkoff’s Orlov – oh how that name would later resonate – joins a princely ne’er-do-well toying with a loose nuke. Escapism reigns, and the story, from Flashman’s reviver, jams the throttle at full pelt. A weaponised tennis racket lands in the hands of the franchise’s first tennis pro, Vijay Amritraj, at least until Andy Murray debuts in On Her Majesty’s Second Service. Full marks to Wikipedia for their U-rated description of the finale (“Bond recuperates with Octopussy aboard her private boat”).
A View to a Kill (1985)
Director John Glen
A View to a Kill is, for many, the worst Bond, (although 2002’s Die Another Day rivals it in some fans’ eyes), and it’s certainly flawed. Roger Moore is too old for the role, it has a rubbish Bond girl, the script is messy and the scene where Bond seduces the female lead by baking her a quiche is just bizarre.
But it has many interesting things going for it, even if they’re not fully realised. The villains are great – Grace Jones is a cracking henchman (alas, she turns good at the end) and the most interesting woman ever to sleep with Bond, while Christopher Walken’s old-school evildoer is a blast. The set pieces are strong, such as Jones’ dive from the Eiffel Tower and the explosive finale. Duran Duran’s theme song is 80s camp at its most bombastic. And it’s the Bond swansong of both Roger Moore and the original Miss Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell.
Licence to Kill (1989)
Director John Glen
Timothy Dalton’s brief tenure brought in a more serious and sexy Bond, and paved the way for the darker reign of Daniel Craig. Licence to Kill is the first Bond film to gain a 15 certificate (most are PG) and is surprisingly violent – Felix Leiter is mauled by a shark, his wife is raped and killed, and the death by decompression chamber is particularly grisly. It received mixed reviews upon its release, but it now stands out as one of the most daring and dangerous Bond films.
Robert Davi’s villain is genuinely loathsome, the stunt work is jaw-dropping, and it has a fabulous title song belted out by Gladys Knight (sans Pips). For my money, it also has the best Bond girl since Pussy Galore, with Carey Lowell’s Pam Bouvier given a lot more agency than previous romantic leads – she’s a hero in her own right.
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Director Michael Apted
It takes guts to set a film in Turkey with a Garbage theme tune, but Brosnan’s third outing merits the hubris. They don’t stop there. Bond slides down the Millennium Dome (white elephant metaphor, anyone?) to close out a pre-credits sequence up there with the best. Begbie commands the screen as a villain immune to pain, and Michael Apted ensures the rhythm seldom drops. And who knew Denise Richards was a method actor? Well, here she plays a nuclear physicist, and she bombs.
Die Another Day (2002)
Director Lee Tamahori
Easily one of the most ridiculous entries of the 24 Bond films to date, Die Another Day is more fun than eating tapas on a bouncy castle. Madonna supplies both the theme tune and a delightfully camp cameo as a fencing instructor. Pierce Brosnan enjoys himself in his fourth and final outing as 007, while there’s reliable support from Halle Berry as his opposite number in the NSA and Rosamund Pike as double agent Miranda Frost. The plot is mostly nonsense but crucially involves Bond leaping into his invisible Aston Martin to race around and into an ice palace owned by an eccentric billionaire who is really a rogue North Korean army colonel. All this and the best lasers since Goldfinger. It’s a win-win.