With Skyfall, the 23rd Bond film, being released on the film franchise’s 50th anniversary, it seems appropriate to take a look back on the James Bond franchise as a whole including the novels by Ian Fleming that started the whole craze back in the 1950s when the series were escapist fantasies.
Here is a look at some of the highs and lows from the franchise as well as a few movies that have been forgotten by the general public as time goes on. If nothing else, these picks may well provide a trip through memory lane.
Best Bond Novel:
From Russia With Love. It’s close, but the book President John F. Kennedy declared as one of his 10 favorite novels gets the edge. What’s interesting about the book is how the first third of the novel deals with the Russian conspirators in SMERSH and their plan to discredit Bond as revenge for his interference in past plots. Bond is also far less observant and aware of his surroundings this time around, which increases the tension and the stakes. The ending, while not shocking now, was quite surprising at the time and was originally intended to be the end of the series. Strong book sales and reviews curtailed that.
Honorable mentions (in order): On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Dr. No, Casino Royale
Worst Bond Novel:
The Spy Who Loved Me. This novel is a lame attempt to try something different. The main character is a woman who manages a hotel in Canada and is terrorized by two thugs. Bond is absent until the final third of the novel. Even Ian Fleming disowned it not long after it was published. The only good thing about this book is the title and one of the villains, Horror, would eventually be adapted into the film version as Jaws.
Honorable mentions: The Man with the Golden Gun, Diamonds are Forever
Best Bond Villain:
Auric Goldfinger, Goldfinger. Goldfinger was larger than life in both his personality and in his scheme, which is to irradiate Fort Knox with a nuclear bomb so his gold will increase in value. His obsession with the substance carries over to women (which leads to an iconic scene). Gert Frobe personifies the character throughout the film and delivers such a masterful performance that most people don’t realize his voice was actually dubbed (because he couldn’t speak English).
Honorable mentions: Raoul Silva (Skyfall), Dr. Julius No (Dr. No), Francisco Scaramanga, (The Man With the Golden Gun), Donald “Red” Grant (From Russia With Love)
Best Bond Henchman/woman:
Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me). Oddjob comes close, but a character who is both indestructible, kills people with his teeth, and has a funny side to him is too good to resist. He probably shouldn’t have returned for Moonraker, but it is always interesting to see how Bond outwits a foe he can’t hurt.
Honorable mentions: Oddjob (Goldfinger), Fiona Volpe (Thunderball).
Best Bond Girl:
Tracy Di Vicenzo, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Ursula Andress set the initial standard, but Diana Rigg was convincing as the woman who married James Bond. She is headstrong, independent, and a fully realized character. She more than holds her own throughout the picture and isn’t just someone to be rescued by Bond (though he does that in the climax). The surprising ending works because of how well Rigg portrayed the character.
Honorable mentions: Honey Ryder (Dr. No), Pussy Galore (Goldfinger), Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale).
Best Bond Song:
“Live and Let Die,” Paul McCartney and Wings. Go figure this is the only thing that would be remembered from the film, which is the most dated because of its U.S. setting in 1973 and its references to blaxploitation.
Honorable mentions: “Goldfinger,” Shirley Bassey; “Nobody Does it Better,” Carly Simon; “A View to a Kill,” Duran Duran, “Skyfall,” Adele.
Worst Bond Movie:
The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974. The trendy pick is Moonraker, which sends Bond into outer space. It has its low points, true, but also a fair number of high ones. Golden Gun has very few, if any. The Bond girl (Britt Ekland) is the dumbest out of all of them, the scheme (something to do with solar energy) is poorly developed and the sight gags (especially the ones involving hick J.W. Pepper, who for some reason is in the middle of Thailand) are painful to watch. Worst of all: Gun wastes a terrific performance by Christopher Lee as villain Scaramanga, who thinks of himself as the dark side of 007.
Honorable mentions: Live and Let Die, The Living Daylights, Die Another Day.
Most underrated Bond movie:
Licence to Kill, 1989. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is, again, the trendy pick, but I’m going with the one that is unfairly blamed for having almost “killed” the franchise. Timothy Dalton was the victim of bad timing. After 12 years of Roger Moore having fun with the audience, the series went in the opposite direction. This is the darkest film in the series, yes, but also exciting, with a series of spectacular action sequences, including a jaw-dropping chase sequence involving tanker trucks on a winding road. It slows down too much in the middle, but there’s a lot to like and should be given another look, especially now that Daniel Craig’s gritty performance has been so praised.
Honorable mentions: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only.
Best Bond Films (5-1):
5. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969. It’s a shame George Lazenby wasn’t much of an actor. This would be the best Bond film ever if he were. Diana Rigg is the best Bond girl as future wife Tracy and Telly Savalas is an imposing Blofeld. The action sequences directed by Peter Hunt and John Glen are amazing and the romantic score by John Barry is the best in the series.
4. Casino Royale, 2006. Craig’s debut is nothing short of amazing. He brings us a harder, colder, more taciturn Bond, and the material matches his performance every step of the way. Eva Green melts Bond’s heart and is the best Bond girl in ages and Mads Mikkelsen oozes blood and creepiness as Le Chiffre. The action ditches CGI and gives us some of the best sequences in any action film (especially the free running sequence).
3. Goldfinger, 1964. The most iconic 007 film. Shirley Bassey’s classic song, Gert Frobe’s unforgettable performance as Goldfinger, Shirley Eaton painted gold, Harold Sakata as silent menace Oddjob, the Aston Martin, the Ken Adam sets and iconic John Barry score… it’s first-rate. If not for a few major story lapses and some lame visual effects it would be the best ever, hands down.
2. From Russia with Love, 1963. Bond heads into a real Cold War story filled with intrigue and suspense. Bond is sent to Istanbul to recover a Soviet cipher machine and a beautiful girl, which is really a sinister trap. Connery is more assured in his second turn as 007 and Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya are two sinister, believable villains. The fight on the Orient Express is an all-time classic.
1. Skyfall, 2012. Craig comes out guns blazing in a darker, more somber Bond as he hunts down a cyber-terrorist with ties to M’s past. Javier Bardem is the best villain since Goldfinger and Dame Judi Dench has her finest hour as M. Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomie Harris deliver interesting takes on familiar roles. There are some great in-jokes for longtime fans of the series, too. Virtually every element from the music to the acting to the action is in top form, which is why it is the new champion.