As long as I’m making claims about what I want to see in a James Bond movie, I should list the double-naught seven entries that I think pull it off the best. I should probably acknowledge that I’m not a big enough fan of the franchise to be familiar with all the lore and such, and people who are lifelong Bond fans will be either bored, outraged, or both, to see a list that includes the most often-cited entries plus one that’s not even officially in the series.
007. For Your Eyes Only
I don’t like any of the Roger Moore movies that much, so I’m really only including this one because it’s the first Bond movie I ever saw. I don’t remember much about the movie apart from Greece and mountain climbing, but I definitely remember having the title song by Sheena Easton on a 45 record that I played constantly.
006. The Living Daylights
This one mainly coasts on Timothy Dalton’s charisma, but I think it works in terms of giving the series a much-needed late-1980s update. It did set the precedent for trying to over-correct the franchise’s silliness, but at the same time draining it of anything that made it stand out from other stunt-heavy action movies. I think the saving grace is using a cello case as a sled, which is exactly the kind of entertainingly dumb stunt a Bond movie needs.
005. Diamonds are Forever
This one is almost inexcusably goofy, and Las Vegas is way too mundane to be an interesting setting for a Bond movie. But you have to award points for the name Plenty O’Toole, and for having the villains be a pair of creepy homosexual sadistic assassins. Mr Wint and Mr Kidd are brilliantly awful, two of the most memorable characters in the entire series. I can’t give Fleming, or really anybody involved with the series in the early 1970s, the benefit of the doubt to assume the characters were intended as a sardonic comment on James Bond’s habit of making self-satisfied quips after subjecting people to gruesome or violent deaths.
I wish I could be too cool for school and say that Goldfinger didn’t do anything for me, and pick a more obscure Bond movie that you’ve probably never heard of in its place. But come on, this had everything you want from 1960s Bond and a gang of lesbian burglars led by a woman named Pussy Galore. When I first saw it, I didn’t know that Ian Fleming was always making up bullshit like the idea of sumo wrestlers pulling their testicles up into their body, so “skin suffocation” seemed fascinating and dangerous instead of nonsensical.
003. Never Say Never Again
This early 1980s remake of Thunderball wasn’t the first Bond movie I ever saw, but it was the first one that got me interested. I understand now that it’s not a great movie, but as a 12 year old, I was shook. It seemed like such a grown-up movie, except the grown-ups were doing things I liked, like playing video games and making juvenile jokes about piss. I was fascinated by Barbara Carerra’s scenery-chewing villain and Sean Connery’s toupee. I’d forgotten about the overalls, which threatens to be the most embarrassing thing in a franchise in which the lead character is “disguised” to look Japanese.
002. Casino Royale
Until all the hype around the new movie being finally released, I’d forgotten just how good Casino Royale actually is, and especially how good Daniel Craig is. I think what sets his version of the character apart is that he acts like he doesn’t give a damn about looking cool. He plays Bond as an assassin, not a suave action hero. What’s funny is that ever since this movie was released, I’ve been complaining (ad nauseam) that they didn’t reboot the Bond franchise by making it a period piece set in the Cold War. Thinking back on how much of it is distinctly of its time — with parkour and Texas Hold ‘Em and a theme by Chris Cornell — it seems like they managed to make a period piece after all.
The underwater sequences go on way too long, and while I don’t doubt they were remarkable for their time, they just don’t read well. It’s the 1960s fight choreography that already seems impossibly slow and clumsy to modern audiences, but slowed down even more because it’s underwater. Everything up to that point, though, is classic Bond movie. An exotic location, beach adventure and casino intrigue, S.P.E.C.T.R.E., and a really stupid jetpack.