The James Bond Movies, Ranked

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I wrote a version of this list six years ago, shortly after the release of Skyfall, but recent news, and the commentary surrounding it, have had me feeling nostalgia for the series of films that, more than any other, got me interested in and thus writing about film.

While Danny Boyle’s exit from “Bond 25” is a public relations blow, I’m not sure why so many are so quick to write this franchise off when infinitely less interesting ones keep churning along with critical rubber stamps just waiting to be used. Yes, I think the franchise’s stops and starts have hurt it. This is the third time this young century that Bond will have gone four or more years without a new entry. It hasn’t strung together two very good consecutive entries in my lifetime. And it doesn’t have the audience-pleasing continuity that defines so many franchises today—from Mission: Impossible to Fast & Furious to the MCU.

That said, we’re only six years removed from Skyfall, which was nearly a Best Picture nominee, and Casino Royale, one of the best action movies of the last decade, still lingers in my memory. I don’t think it will take much for Bond to be back and better than ever, and Danny Boyle? Forgive me if I’m not too heartbroken over his departure. Good, if inconsistent director. Not right for 007.

So with all that said, I’ve revisited some of these titles very recently and nearly all of them since I last put together a proper Bond ranking. I’ll note where something moved up or down significantly. Here goes…

24.) Die Another Day
Was a disaster in 2002, 2012, and 2018. It’s hard to imagine the series ever bottoming out like this again. If it does, that might actually be it.

23.) The Man With the Golden Gun
Probably the most notable trend on this updated list is my new appreciation of the Roger Moore era. But that doesn’t extend to Golden Gun, which is still way too hokey to put it any higher on this list. Scaramanga deserved better!

22.) You Only Live Twice
A lot of Bond fans love this one. It’s the first time we saw Blofeld. The volcano lair is iconic. But Bond gets married (for the first time) and turns Japanese?!?! It’s all so stupid and more than a little racist.

21.) Thunderball
Hyped as the biggest Bond ever, Thunderball has some inspired sequences (specifically the parade chase, which I always enjoy getting to) but the underwater stuff is all so sleepy. What might have been groundbreaking in the 60s, in this case, doesn’t remotely hold up today.

20.) Quantum of Solace
This was the closest Bond ever got to Bourne. Its production was seriously hampered by the writer’s strike, and it ended up being the low point of the Craig era. Too choppy. Too humorless. Weak villain. Lame story. (Stealing the water supply of Bolivia? Really?) But the opera sequence was inspired, so there’s something.

19.) Live and Let Die
Another super racist Bond film—every black person in the Western hemisphere is seemingly implicated in a criminal conspiracy. It’s hard to get past that.

18.) Tomorrow Never Dies
There’s nothing particularly exciting about Brosnan’s second outing—Jonathan Pryce’s hilariously over-the-top performance is probably the highlight—but there’s nothing exceptionally bad about it either. Probably the most generic Bond film of all.

17.) Diamonds Are Forever
A very mixed bag that constantly straddles the line between fun campy and really, really stupid.

16.) Octopussy
Formerly one of my least favorite Bond titles for its utterly indecipherable plot, I’ve come around quite a bit on Octopussy. It’s still indecipherable, but I care a lot less about that now. It’s still a little too silly to move it any higher—the Tarzan yell is a low point—but the tuk-tuk chase and the climactic plane fight are both very enjoyable.

15.) Moonraker
I know a lot of people really hate this one. Bond in space is really quite stupid, but what comes before that—from the return of Jaws to the great boat chase in Brazil—isn’t half bad.

14.) Spectre
The most recent Bond film is the definition of middle of the road. It’s the fourth film in a row that attempts to reboot the series—this time for the titular syndicate—and it’s exhausting. That said, I think it looks great, thanks to Hoyte Van Hoytema’s underrated cinematography, and the pre-credits scene is probably the best of the series.

13.) A View to a Kill
More self-aware than any of the campy Moore films. I love Zorin and May Day. I love “James St-John-Smythe” lurking around the horse farm. I love the mine chase … to a point. If the plot wasn’t such a Goldfinger retread, it might be even higher.

12.) The World Is Not Enough
I know Dr. Christmas Jones is probably the most ridiculous character of the entire series, but the rest of the film is quite strong. Elektra King is a top five villain. The boat chase to open the film is outstanding. And there’s a menace that’s otherwise completely absent from the Brosnan films.

11.) The Living Daylights
It’s really tough to know what to do with this film. I’ve always really liked it, but the plot is totally impossible. (I had a dream once that I understood it, but then I woke up.) The last wisps of the Cold War lend some gravitas to it, but that also means putting up with some really groan-worthy stuff in Afghanistan. Overall, I think it’s quite good, and I like Dalton’s turn as 007 a lot. I can’t in good conscience put it in the top ten, however.

10.) For Your Eyes Only
Moore’s most serious turn as Bond is as underrated as anything else in the series. We spend most of the film in beautiful Greece, with the excellent Carole Bouquet, and the give and take between Topol’s Columbo and Julian Glover’s Kristatos is a delight.

9.) Dr. No
It’s definitely rough around the edges, but there are so many firsts that they get right out of the gate: Ursula Andress’ entrance, Joseph Wise’s menace, Felix Leiter, Quarrel, Connery. Any time the film deals with nuclear activity in the early days feels dumb now, but that doesn’t ruin what’s otherwise a great first effort. If it wasn’t good, we wouldn’t still be talking about these films, would we?

8.) License to Kill
It almost killed the series, but it’s tough to understand why. Maybe people weren’t ready to see the formula busted up (Bond goes rogue for the first real time ever). Or maybe they really didn’t connect with Dalton. I think his performance here, facing a personal crisis, is exceptional, and seeing him operate outside of M’s authority is exciting. Plus, Wayne Newton!

7.) Goldfinger
Probably the most iconic film in the series. It starts out so strongly, comes up fairly lame in its middle act, but once Goldfinger points his (comically slow-moving) laser beam at Bond’s wiener, it’s all … pun intended … gold.

6.) Goldeneye
Not as iconic as the video game that carried its name, Goldeneye nonetheless remains the best film of the Brosnan era but some margin. The prologue, and Bond’s bungee, is outstanding. I love the tank chase, Xenia, Robbie Coltrane. It’s a practically flawless 007 adventure.

5.) From Russia With Love
This rather relentless film doesn’t have the grandeur of a Moonraker or You Only Live Twice. But the “smallness” that defines the fight over a decoder allows a really delicious cat and mouse game to first play in the background and then jump out and grab you with a train fight that’s as tense and exciting as anything that comes before or after it.

4.) Skyfall
Skyfall isn’t my favorite Bond movie, but it might be the best. It’s certainly the best looking with Roger Deakins’ genuinely iconic cinematography stealing the show. It’s also easy to forget that this film had actual Best Picture buzz, and both Javier Bardem and Judi Dench nearly snagged Best Supporting Actor and Actress Oscar nominations respectively.

3.) The Spy Who Loved Me
If I could show someone who was totally unfamiliar with this series one film to explain to them what James Bond is all about, it would be this. It’s got everything—maniacal plot and villain, brutal henchman, kick-ass leading lady, incredible locations, action, humor, excitement. I can watch this one again and again and again.

2.) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
George Lazenby is sort of perfect here. While the continuity issues raised in the film’s opening could have derailed the entire franchise, it ends up being helpful that a new face steps into the role of 007 for this particular film. Lazenby’s Bond gets married to Tracy (Diana Rigg), and by the time the credits role, both actors would have made their final appearances in a Bond film. Between these two poles are some dynamic ski sequences and the best interpretation of Blofeld by Telly Savalas. I didn’t always get the appeal of this one, but now I think it’s close to perfection.

1.) Casino Royale
Was the best 12 years ago, six years ago, and still today. Bond’s origin could have gone wrong in all kinds of ways, but Martin Campbell made it work splendidly. (Eon would be nuts to not bring him back for 25.) I’ve said this a bunch, but the parkour chase really truly is the franchise’s best action scene. Vesper Lynd is the most wonderful lead female character. And Daniel Craig is the best James Bond.

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