DR NO (1962)
Daring, bold, sexy and violent, Dr No gave birth to a cinematic icon and a voice to Fleming’s complex super spy. But it was the inspired casting of Connery that cemented Bond’s place in cinematic history. Here Connery makes Bond his own and provides us with a characterisation that would be difficult to replace. While it may seem dated now, Dr No still packs a mighty punch and remains a masterclass in filmmaking. But it’s Dr No’s visual style that makes it genuinely groundbreaking in film history. Here Terrance Young, Monty Norman and Ted Moore would create a movie unlike anything seen or heard before. Lighting a fire that continues to burn bright sixty years later.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)
A movie franchise lives or dies based on its second outing. From Russia with Love not only had the future of Bond on its shoulders but the expectations of an audience keen for a bigger, better and more spectacular outing following Dr No. Thankfully From Russia with Love was not about to disappoint. Dr No is a mere tasty starter when viewed alongside From Russia with Love. This is Connery at his best in a gritty, dark Bond outing that redefined the action film with fight scenes in tight places, a woman with deadly spiked shoes and the arrival of Spectre.
By the time Bond reached his third outing, many of the ingredients that made the James Bond franchise tick were already in place. However, Goldfinger cemented them together in what remains one of the most fun, creative and engaging films of the entire series. Goldfinger is the movie where the Bond franchise was born, and the template was set in stone for everything to come, from the Aston Martin to the big opening song and the machiavellian villain.
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)
By the late 1960s, Connery’s love of Bond had turned sour, as had his relationship with the production team. As Connery announced his departure, Bond would face its most significant challenge in recasting the spy for a new generation. But were audiences ready to move on from Connery? George Lazenby may have been a surprise casting choice, but he made Bond his own in one of the best Bond films of all time. However, Lazenby suffered a backlash in 1969, and his movie was unfairly criticised for years after its release. Thankfully, over time On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has rightfully earned its place as one of the best Bond movies, from its style to its action sequences and its sublime score.
LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)
Roger Moore’s Bond debut has never received the praise it deserved. After all, following Connery’s costly return in Diamonds are Forever, it was clear that Bond desperately needed a new sense of direction as the 70s came into view. While it may not be perfect, Live and Let Die pushes the reset button, and Moore reinvents the character for a new generation. Live and Let Die would embrace the Blaxploitation movement in 70s cinema while adopting a far more American tone. But it’s Moore’s suave, humorous and sharply dressed 007 who transforms the movie into something unique as James Bond steps out of the 1960s and into the 1970s.
THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)
Let’s face it while Moore’s tenure as Bond was largely paved in box office gold, the quality of his outings was patchy. However, one film stands head and shoulders above the rest, The Spy Who Loved Me. The 1977 Bond outing promised audiences an unparalleled action epic, and my god, did it deliver. One word summarises this mash-up of Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice. Fun! This is Bond off the leash in an action-packed rollercoaster ride that is addictive viewing. From a Lotus that turns into a submarine to a henchman who rivals Oddjob, The Spy Who Loved Me is Moore at his best, and it’s a wonder to behold.
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987)
By the time Moore bowed out in A View to a Kill, Bond desperately needed a makeover. Many argued the films had become parodies of themselves and others felt Bond was firmly stuck in the 1970s. We needed a return to the gritty, action-packed spy drama, and that’s precisely what Dalton would offer. Dalton stripped Bond’s character back to its literary roots. However, was the audience ready for a more serious Bond? The audience didn’t warm to Dalton straight away, and due to legal wrangling over the rights to Bond, they would never have the time to embrace the new 007 fully before the franchise went into a lengthy hiatus. Now viewed as one of the most underrated Bond outings, The Living Daylights is a sharp, action-packed spy thriller that deserves far more attention.
LICENSE TO KILL (1989)
The Living Daylights tentatively allowed Bond to tread new ground but also sat firmly in Bond’s classical past. However, License to Kill would shed that past with glee, allowing Dalton to entirely reinvent 007 while embracing a far darker world. Licence to Kill would tear up the Bond we all knew and offer us something delightfully different. Here Dalton would fully embrace the darker Bond he longed to play, and the result is nothing short of transformative in the history of 007. We will never know where Dalton would have taken Bond next, but one thing is for sure, License to Kill is one of the best Bond outings and the template for the Craig era.
By the time Bond came out of hiatus, the world had changed. The Cold War was over, and many of the sexist attitudes held in Bond’s earlier outings felt deeply problematic. Meanwhile, Dalton thought he was too old to continue in the role, and the Bond production team were scratching their heads on the right direction of travel. The solution was to turn to a Moore-style action adventure in the hands of Pierce Brosnan, who had previously lost out on the role to Dalton. GoldenEye essentially works by pressing the reset button; it talks about the end of the Cold War and allows strong women to take centre stage. However, it also returns to a more tongue-in-cheek style that forgoes the transformation led by Dalton, a mistake that would not be rectified until Daniel Craig took the reigns.
CASINO ROYALE (2006)
Casino Royale is far more than a reset of Bond; it’s a love letter to Ian Fleming’s character and the first novel to carry his name. Craig’s bond completes the metamorphosis Dalton started by stripping Bond’s character back to his literary roots. However, Craig also takes this opportunity to modernise. As a result, we are offered a 21st Century Bond that pays homage to Fleming’s creation. As a first outing, Casino Royale is as close to perfection as you can get; it’s audacious, stunning and full of heart-pounding action, but it’s also classical in construct. Casino Royale is new and old, a reinvention and celebration that understands Bond’s important place in cinematic history.
Skyfall marked the 50th Anniversary of Bond onscreen and is undoubtedly one of the best movies of the modern era. Following the slightly lacklustre Quantum of Solace, this is the movie where Craig hits his stride as a world-weary agent who sleeps with one eye open. In its golden jubilee year, Sam Mendes would take the directorial reigns and offer us a far more introspective exploration of 007’s character while equally celebrating fifty years of Bond in style. There is so much to love in Skyfall that it’s difficult to know where to start, so let’s just say this. Mendes, Craig, Fiennes, Whishaw and Dench are a match made in heaven, and when you add to the mix Roger Deakin’s cinematography and Thomas Newman’s score, Skyfall becomes something truly special.
NO TIME TO DIE (2021)
The Bond franchise is full of hello’s and goodbyes, but Craig’s final outing as Bond felt different to all those before him. After all, this was the man who reinvented Bond for the modern era, defied the critics and brought the character back to life; therefore, saying goodbye was never going to be easy. But little did we know that this was to be a Bond exit like no other! An emotional rollercoaster that would leave us feeling numb. No Time to Die has much in common with Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the result is an emotional powerhouse of a film that bravely and boldly does the unthinkable. I never thought I would leave a Bond movie in stunned silence until No Time to Die; the question now is where next?