The James Bond film franchise is one like no other. With an amazing 22 films to date, the series has been a pop culture phenomenon for 5 decades now. It's also one of my personal favorites.
My aim here is'nt to over-analize every aspect of every plot or repeat third-hand facts as if they're my own - because thats been done a million times, but rather to discuss my own (hopefully interesting) personal opinions on the films, and the franchise as a whole.
Enjoy the iconic "James Bond Theme", as you read on
The films are based on the wildly popular novels by Ian Fleming, which were a hit in print for almost a decade before they made it to the big screen. Writing from his Jamaican retreat he'd dubbed Goldeneye, Fleming poured a lot of his own past and personality into the Bond stories. Fleming himself, had been a British spy during World War II. He was also known by friends as a "jet-setting womaniser", with a taste for the same things in life as Bond. Although the stories in the films differ greatly from their source material, they still maintain a lot of what made them so great.
Casino Royal; the very first Bond novel, released in 1953
The fist big screen Bond adventure debuted in 1962, with the release of Dr. No. Depictions of Bond had been attempted already in the past on the small screen, but with mostly forgettable results.
Barry Nelson as Agent "Jimmy" Bond, from the 1954 US TV adaption of Casino Royale
Dr. No (1962)
The original big screen Bond outing differs slightly from it's later counterparts in both style and tone, but it debuted many of the distinctive trademarks people still associate with the series today - like the opening gun barrel sequence,very stylized musical opening credits, and the famous phrase - "Bond...James Bond". Having a relatively small buget even for the time, this has arguably the smallest scale in the series - although there's still no shortage of beautiful imagery. The title villian Dr. No is also an interesting and intense character.
Dr. Julius No
From Russia With love (1963)
The second film in the series is considered the best by many fans. It's also one of the only real direct sequels in the series, revolving around criminal super-organization SPECTRE seeking revenge for the killing of Dr. No. Although we don't see his face for another three films, FRWL marks the introduction of Bond's early arch nemesis - Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who would be a mainstay for many years to come. It also features one of Bond's only female "companions" to be featured in more than one film, as well as the first appearance of one of my favorite characters -Q. Technically, he had been in Dr. No under a different name (Major Boothroyd), and been played by a different actor, but FRWL marks the introduction of the more well-known version of the character. Robert Shaw, of later Jaws fame, also gives a similarly hypnotic preformance as Red Grant. While slightly dated and slowly-paced for most of todays audiences, most Bond fans would still enjoy this film.
Q (short for Quartermaster), of MI6
This is where the series really began to take the turn towards the grand, sweeping spectacles we associate with it today. I've always thought Auric Golfinger was a bit of an over-rated and bland lead villain, but the film has so many twists and turns that it's always managed to easily hold my attention regardless. Ironically, Auric does have the services of one of my favorite Bond henchmen though, in Oddjob. It also features one of the most infamously named characters in film history - Pussy Galore!!
One of my personal favorites - and the film that officially launched the world-wide Bond phenomenon. James Bond had officially entered pretty much every aspect of pop culture by the time of this films' release - TV specials, toys and collectibles, cologne, clothing and much more. Thunderball showcases some of the most striking imagery of the entire series, from the beautiful locations in Nassau, to the spectacular underwater fight sequence. It also has two of the most striking Bond girls of the era - Domino and Fiona Volpe.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
While I enjoy the Asian setting of YOLT, it's one of my least favorites in the series. On the positive side - the arial battle scene is pretty exciting, and Donald Pleseance gave the definitive performance of Blofeld.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
I can understand why after 4 sequels, the producers of the series wanted to try and take it in a slightly different direction, but this movie has just never really worked for me. While "odd Bond out" George Lazenby does manage to hold his own as 007 in my opinion, and the ending is pretty surprising, the plot is just too strange and, quite frankly boring. It also utilizes too many unusual editing techniques, making it literally hard to watch.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Sean Connery returned to don the the tuxedo once again, but that doesn't save this colossal stinker. This is easily the worst film in the series in my opinion. As much as I dislike OHMSS, I'd still rather watch that than Diamonds Are Forever. The plot is bloated and just plain ridiculous. The producers tried to steer the series in a different direction once again, but this time towards a much campier tone which just didn't work with Connery's portrayal of Bond.
Live and Let Die (1973)
This is another one of my personal favorites. After the disappointing Diamond Are Forever, the producers once again took a different approach, but this time in the right direction. The longest tenured Bond - Roger Moore, took on the 007 moniker for the first time and slipped seamlessly into the role, while also making it his own. The movie tones down the scope slighly from previous films, but manages to successfully blend a lot of the elements that made the earlier films so successful, while at the same time incorporating a new style for a new generation of Bond fans. It also features a very young, and stunningly beautiful Jane Seymour as Solitaire.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
This one's a bit strange, but I've always considered it a bit of a guilty pleasure. While why I don't understand why after the success of Live and Let Die the producers once again decided to go back to a campier style, it's still a pretty fun movie. It would best be described as the Batman TV series of the 60's meets James Bond. Plus, how can you not love any film with the immortal Christopher Lee as the lead antagonist? Not to mention, it features one of the funniest scenes of any of the films when Bond makes one woman hide/sleep in a closet all night, while he makes love to another.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
The tenth big screen James Bond adventure saw the producers pull out all the stops. A globe-crossing story jam-packed with all the Bond action, cars, memorable villains, elaborate sets, gadgets, and women one fan can take. We meet perhaps the most memorable henchmen of the series - Jaws, and perhaps the sexiest women - Anya Amasova (code named: Agent Triple X). It's definitely not the best of the series, but easily one of the most fun.
I understand why the producers wanted to cash in the amazing success of Star Wars two years earlier, but James Bond in space is just too much for even a hard-core fan like myself to stomach. The only really note-worthy things here really is the return of Jaws from the previous film, and the comical scene with Bond literally driving half a car.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Another one of my least favorite films in the series. The plot is just plain boring. It also has probably the most forgettable of all Bond girls, Melina Havlock. As well as one of the strangest female characters, teenage Bibi Dahl - who tries to seduce a Bond who's old enough to be her father. But being the true english gentleman he his, he turns her down instantly, telling her "you get your clothes on, and I'll buy you an ice cream". FYEO also has probably the worst score of any of the films. Regardless, it was still one of the most financially successful of the series.
Octopussy has always been pretty over-rated in my opinion. There's just nothing particularly memorable about it besides the confused, convoluted ending that still always manages to leave me scratching my head.
A View to a Kill (1985)
This one's always been one of the bigger targets for criticism in the series, mostly because of Moore's age - but I've always really enjoyed it. Sure, the plot isn't the greatest, but the great cast makes up for it.
The Living Daylights (1987)
This marks Timothy Dalton's first turn as Bond during his short tenure. He's always seemed a bit uncomfortable in the role of Bond to me here. It wasn't until the next film that he really seemed to slip into the role. Sadly, that would also be his last time playing 007. The Living Daylights does have one of the better climaxes of the series, though.
Licence to Kill (1989)
The definitive Bond of the 80's in my opinion. This was a much more hard-edged approach all around, from Bond's attitude to the plotline about selling and smuggling cocaine. Although I've always felt the tanker chase during the climax was hurt by the lack of scoring throughout most of the scene, it's still exciting.
Bond closes in on Sanchez
My favorite film in the series, GoldenEye is everything a Bond adventure should be. A beautiful, stylish, tightly paced, action-packed thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. The tank chase is also not only one of the greatest action scenes in the Bond series - but in film history in my opinion.
A little wall wont stop James Bond
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Tomorrow Never Dies is a good movie, but again not one of the best. While the idea of 24/7 media coverage was a bit prophetic, I've just never really found the story that interesting. Call me sexist, but I've always also never liked the idea of Bond's female couterpart in the film acting more as a sidekick than love interest. It just doesn't work with Bond's character.
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Another one of my personal favorites. While I don't enjoy the idea of a female sidekick, ironically I've always loved the idea of a female authority figure (Judy Dench as M), or villain within the Bond universe - especially one as beautiful and cunning as Elektra King. Not to mention, she has the backing of one of the most intriguing of all Bond villains, the psycotic Renard - who feels no pain, and who will do anything for her. Bond films are notable for their elaborate pre-credit action sequences, and this one is probably the best of them all with the Q Boat chase. It also features one of the more emotionally raw climaxes in the series.
Elektra torchures Bond
Die Another Day (2002)
I get why the producers wanted the 20th edition of the Bond series to be a huge spectacle, that would act as a tribute to it's predecessors - but DAD was just way too over the top for modern audiences. A considerable let down especially, considering how much I enjoyed the previous movie. It's crammed with scenes and dialouge that just seem far too forced - and despite popular opinion to the contrary I've always felt Hale Berry was one of the wost Bond girls ever. My attention is always more drawn to Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost. Not to mention, Toby Stephens is painfully annoying as Gustav Graves.
**For the purposes of this article, I won't cover the two Daniel Graig Bond films.**
Few franchises have had the longevity of the Bond series, or have successful reinvented themselves as many times.
One of the interesting things about this series, is that almost every film has come from the minds of mostly the same core group of people - from producers, to directors, editors, music composers, set designers and more - which is a stunning rarity in the movie business.
There was one big screen Bond adventure however, produced by a company other that EON Productions.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
Although under a different production umbrella, this film was notable for having Sean Connery step back into the role of Bond. It's basically a remake of Connery's earlier Thunderball, although not nearly as good in my opinion.
Another notable aspect of the Bond films is that they're mostly all stand-alone stories - meaning you don't need to start from the beginning of the series to be able to enjoy one.
The series contains many unique and iconic features, like the opening gun barrel sequences, and the beautiful opening credit musical sequences which I've always particularly enjoyed.
The series also has some of the more memorable themes of any films, my personal favorites being:
- Goldfinger - Thunderball - Live and Let Die - A View to a Kill - Licence to Kill - GoldenEye
They've also showcased some of the most impressive vehicles and gadgetry in cinema history - from Bond's iconic Aston Martin's and BMW's, to the Q Boat, to the "mini re-breather", to projectile-firing cigarettes, to all his assorted watches.
Many actors have taken on the role of 007 over the past 50 years, but picking a clear favorite is a near impossible task for me. Each actor brought their own unique spin to the character, and I've enjoyed each different approach.
Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan
The Bond movies have spawned countless parodies, and in true Bond fashion have infiltrated pretty much every single aspect of pop culture - from comic books and video games, to clothing, to our cultural lexicon.
Dr. No comic circa 1963
Sadly, Bond creator Ian Fleming passed away in 1964, never really getting to see the amazing phenomenon his character would create.
There will probably never be another film franchise with as much longevity and infuence as the James Bond series. It's a timeless character that's as relatable to one generation as it is the next. So as the classic films always reassured us at the end of each adventure - never fear, "James Bond Will Return!"