With Bond 25 now filming at Pinewood Studios, we take a look back at the essential films of a series that re-defined the spy on screen. Adapting and changing over the decades to reflect a world that has moved from cold war, to global terrorism and tech based espionage, Bond has become an icon of cinema and British culture. Enhancing the soft power of the U.K abroad alongside our music industry, BBC, theatre and recent newer additions such Harry Potter.
Ian Flemings character has outlived the authors books, a rare feat for any fictional hero, and one that has at times had a rocky road, as views on masculinity, misogyny and world power have shifted. All of this mirroring a United Kingdom that has dramatically changed in a post Empire world, its history becoming one of both positive and deeply negative global impact.
Within film history James Bond has created some of the most memorable movie moments, alongside some of the most ridiculous, its 24 films often mirroring the time they were released in the choice of lead actor, adaptation and visual style. But despite the ups and downs of quality and innovation versus formulaic and bland, Bond has lived on. Bringing us some truly amazing cinematic moments, that will live forever in film history.
So grab a vodka martini, dust off the tuxedo and join us for our essential collection of the best Bond has to offer.
The film that launched the on screen journey of James Bond. Dr No captivated its early 60’s audience with beautiful locations, iconic music, Ursula Andress collecting shells and maniacal villains. Dr No is the template for Ian Flemings on screen character, brought to life by a largely unknown actor (Sean Connery) who alongside Broccoli, Saltzman and Young moulded Flemings Bond into a cinematic icon.
Connery’s second outing as 007 builds on the success of Dr No, further developing the character against a backdrop of espionage and evil, as SPECTRE and Blofeld make their early introduction. From Russia with Love is a beautiful film to watch, slower in pace than many of the films that followed, it takes its time in building characters, while introducing a darker tone to its predecessor. This is undoubtedly one of the best Bond films of the Connery era, playing with new ideas, new locations and cold war themes to full advantage.
After the luxurious locations of Dr No and the darkness of From Russia with Love, Bonds third outing finds a mix of the two in delivering the template for nearly every other Bond film to come. Goldfinger is mad, brash, exciting and damn right glorious to watch. This is Bond turned up to maximum, larger than life in every way. Connery hitting his stride in character alongside some of the best villains in Bond history. Goldfinger is the gleaming gem of the Connery era.
Lazenby’s first and only outing as James Bond is one of the most underrated Bond films ever made. With the departure of Connery, producers had a tough job in replacing a man who had become the face of the character. Opting for the largely unknown and untested Lazenby, they gained a man who looks every part the hero the public expected. However, unfortunately for Lazenby the public simply didn’t warm to his nuanced portrayal of a character they had come to associate with only one actor.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is undoubtedly Flemings finest book, and the on screen adaptation is one of the best Bond films ever made. Building the character, his motivations, anger and hurt. Coupled stunning locations, action and performances, this Bond at its best. Only recently gaining the praise it should have had on its release.
The only entry on our list from the amazing Roger Moore, The Spy who Loved Me is Moores more cynical and humorous Bond at his very best. Moores third outing sees his confidence in Bond increase, the ghost of Connery and Lazenby firmly behind him, this is Bond at his most entertaining, without straying into the self parody of the later Moore years. Taking a leaf from Bonds third outing, this is 007 on maximum setting, with sets, locations and action that stand the test of time in their sheer audacity and vision.
Timothee Dalton had a tough job to do in his first outing as the iconic spy, refreshing a franchise that had become a stale parody of itself. The Living Daylights takes a middle road in trying to appease the fans who grew up with Moore, while stripping Bond back to Flemings original vision and style. The end result is a debut feature that feels fresh and ahead of its time. Daltons darker edged Bond, bringing back the espionage thriller, while delivering the formula action the audience had grown to expect.
Taking a huge gamble in audience reaction, License to Kill dispenses with the age old formula of Bond films, taking the franchise into adult territory. This is a film that understood the need to re-invent Bond in a modern world where cold war themes were dying. Taking the global drugs trade as its theme, License to Kill was far ahead of its time and its audience, providing a root and branch re-interpetation that was truly brave and stunning. Dalton’s Bond providing the early building blocks for Daniel Craigs character in 2006. Read our full retrospective here
Following a six year hiatus due to legal wrangling over the film rights, Brosnan’s first film returns to the tried and tested Bond formula, while attempting small tweaks to Bonds character in bringing him into the nineties. Less a re-birth of Bond and more a return to the Moore era with a modern twist. Goldeneye does its job amicably in relaunching the franchise, but unfortunately remains the only film of Brosnan’s to make our essential list.
Daniel Craig’s debut feature as James Bond strips back the franchise to its original literary roots while enabling a more modern Bond to emerge in a very different world to that of Ian Fleming’s first book. Despite all the negativity on Craig’s initial casting, he owns the role for the outset, learning from Dalton’s resurrection of the literary character while injecting his own hard edge and style. Any thoughts and memories of the later highly disappointing Brosnan years are quickly forgotten as Bond once again changes form to fit the society and themes of the world surrounding him. Ian Flemings debut book finally getting the film attention and adaptation it truly deserved, after years of legal battles.
Bonds 50th Anniversary outing is a spectacular and emotional journey into both Bond and M (Judi Dench) as we explore a more human version of both characters in Craig’s third film.
Skyfall centres on the security concerns of world where networks and terror have replaced nation state threats, while remaining bedded in classic Bond territory. From the cars to the global locations and beautifully realised finale, this is Bond at its best. Pushing the franchise into new territory while never forgetting the past. Skyfall provides a human Bond cloaked in secrets and past events, tantalising the audience with a backstory while never allowing the character to slip far from Fleming’s vision.
Thunderball 1965 🍸🍸🍸
You Only Live Twice 1967 🍸🍸🍸1/2
Live and Let Die 1973 🍸🍸🍸
For Your Eyes Only 1981 🍸🍸🍸
Spectre 2015 🍸🍸🍸1/2