In a few days, James Bond will make his way into movie theaters for the 24th time officially in Spectre (he’s been there twice in less official capacities). The character, based on the series of novels by Ian Fleming first published in 1953, is the centerpiece of the longest continually-running film series in history. From his first appearance, played by Sean Connery, in 1962’s Dr. No to his three most recent films featuring Daniel Craig, Agent 007 has been a pop-culture mainstay and a titan of the silver screen. If you adjust for inflation and add them all up, the James Bond franchise has grossed the equivalent of $13 billion dollars, which far outpaces any other franchise in cinematic history. It doesn’t hurt that there are 24 movies, many of which were the highest grossing films of their respective years.
There’s more to it than widespread success at the box office, though. The Bond franchise is one of those properties by which you can set your cultural watch. Every generation since the 1960s has grown up with Bond, many of whom have been vastly different than the others. Each Bond era is a product of its own time, but with only a few exceptions, they all have loads of connective tissue. Personally, I’m glad that I grew up in the 1990s, when Pierce Brosnan’s turn as Fleming’s international man of mystery reinvigorated the franchise and brought it back into the mainstream consciousness. I’m also thankful that it went downhill so quickly for the Brosnan era, which prompted my rediscovery of the Sean Connery and Roger Moore eras. It was after being re-immersed in the classics that I found myself ready for a new, modern James Bond just in time for Daniel Craig to emerge as the new face of the franchise.
Just as there are film fanatics who can chart their formative years by the chronology of the Star Wars franchise and young Millennials who will be someday wistful of their early Harry Potter years, there are several generations of human beings who are connected through the James Bond franchise. While your mileage may vary from film to film (rightfully so in a few cases), there’s no denying that Bond is essential to the landscape of 20th century cinema.
With the legacy of James Bond in mind and in honor of his next adventure, I’ve asked some of our resident Bond experts to join me in ranking the franchise from worst to best. With the assistance of Rob Hunter, Jack Giroux and Matthew Monagle, we’ve compiled our most definitive (and undoubtedly divisive) list in order of preference. Gauged on a scale of individual quality, cultural significance and simple entertainment value, these are The James Bond Movies ranked from worst to best.
23. Die Another Day (2002)
Pierce Brosnan was a good James Bond. The problem was, after Goldeneye, he was left adrift by pretty stiff scripts. Brosnan’s charisma elevated most of his Bond movies, but no amount of charm could make Die Another Day work ‐ an utter cartoon of a movie. Following the rather cool opening sequence in North Korea, everything goes downhill after the Saved by the Bell joke. Missing a strong villain, a memorable Bond girl, and genuine stakes, Die Another Day is a middle-of-the-road Bond pic. The film isn’t as bad as its reputation [It’s actually worse.], but there’s a reason why this series needed a serious, more modern reboot after Die Another Day. Casino Royale basically did the exact opposite of Die Another Day ‐ one of the many reasons why it’s so good. (Jack Giroux)
22. Moonraker (1979)
A lot of what’s wrong with Moonraker can be blamed on Star Wars and the craze of space adventures that followed it. Though in fairness, on paper there’s something interesting about sending James Bond, Roger Moore in his fourth film, to space to battle an industrialist who is trying to bring about the apocalypse and repopulate. It wasn’t enough to build extravagant, almost (but not quite) Kubrickian sets. It wasn’t enough to bring back Richard Kiel as Jaws. It wasn’t enough to create one of the most offensive Bond girl names of them all (Holly Goodhead), nor did any of the high-wire stunts help. Moonraker ended up being something extravagantly, stylishly, viciously uninteresting. Also it had laser guns. And not the cool kind, either. (Neil Miller)
21. Octopussy (1983)
As we just explored with the last entry, Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond really took a turn as the 70s gave way to the 80s. In what probably should have been his final turn, even though it wasn’t, Moore went down the rabbit hole of Cold War narrative and ended up defusing a bomb dressed as a circus clown. The theme song, performed by Rita Coolidge, would have you believe that Octopussy would be an “All Time High,” but it was anything but. Diversions to India, the aforementioned clowning around with the Soviets, and the car on rails gag should have signalled the beginning of the end for Moore. That, and historians cite the fact that the producers also tested both Timothy Dalton and James Brolin for the role before convincing Moore to return. They should’ve went with their guts. (Neil Miller)
20. Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Diamonds has easily one of the most iconic theme songs of the franchise, a second turn for Shirley Bassey after Goldfinger. This one was also the return of Sean Connery following Eon’s turn handing the franchise over to George Lazenby in 1969. While there’s a lot to really love in Diamonds Are Forever, including Connery hamming it up, that one really great car chase through Las Vegas and a commitment to silliness (thanks, Blofeld), a lot of this one feels phoned in. From the oddball henchmen played by Putter Smith and Bruce Glover, to the slew of just plain disinterested performances from Bond’s feminine accomplices, played by Jill St. John and Lana Wood. It was weird and complex and at times exciting, but Diamonds are Forever never quite lived up to its endurance-insinuating namesake. (Neil Miller)