Simon Moore selects his Five Essential James Bond Films…
Picture this. It’s Saturday night. The TV schedule has failed you, yet again, on a Bank Holiday weekend, no less. Then a title jumps out at you from the onscreen menu. Ah… there’s a Bond film on…
It doesn’t matter what title, it doesn’t matter when it was made, a Bond title just clicks with everyone. It’s the ultimate shorthand for runaway thrills, face-melting puns and a consistently entertaining hour and a half. By now, we ought to know them by heart. And yet…they never get old. We forgive Moonraker’s dodgy sci-fi ambitions; we can time Roger Moore’s eyebrow twitches to the second; and every man on earth, without exception, automatically affects that pose when they put on a tuxedo.
007 is a tradition, a stalwart, and an icon. He’s survived nearly 50 years, 6 actors and 22 films. No, Never Say Toupée Again doesn’t count. Nobody’s saying they were all good, but by great Connery’s ghost, we’re gonna count down the best of the bunch…
5. Licence To Kill (1989, dir. John Glen)
Nope, Casino Royale is not on this list. Great story, but Daniel Craig’s screen presence utterly fails to capture the audience’s imagination the way Timothy Dalton does here. By far the best Bond of the ‘80s, Licence To Kill sees Bond seeking revenge on Sanchez (Robert Davi), a vicious drug lord who feeds his friends to sharks on their wedding day.
Dalton’s second outing as 007 is stark, savvy and brutal; a young Benicio Del Toro is torn to pieces in a heroin processing plant, shrieking for mercy. Licence To Kill brought the Bond series back to the forefront of innovation, after an embarrassing decade of puffing and wheezing behind the rest like a chubby autograph hunter. The show-stopping Gladys Knight song doesn’t hurt its reputation, either.
4. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977, dir. Lewis Gilbert)
This is Roger Moore in his prime, partnered with sassy Soviet agent Anya (Barbara Bach), better known as Agent Triple X. He’s a flamboyant, chauvinistic improviser; she’s a cold, methodical romantic. Will they see past their differences, save the world from a fish-loving fop and get it together in a velvet-lined escape pod? That’s a lot of confusing questions. Best to let the film answer them.
The cheeky parachuting and the submarine dock set pieces speak for themselves; the true centre of this Bond is the constant one-upmanship between Bond and Triple X. At times hilarious, at others disastrously misguided, their quirky, chaotic relationship lies at the heart of what makes The Spy Who Loved Me Roger Moore’s best Bond film.
3. Goldfinger (1964, dir. Guy Hamilton)
“Do you expect me to talk, Goldfinger?”
“No, Mr Bond. I expect you to die.”
One of the series’ greatest strengths lies in its delightfully quotable scripts, and Goldfinger is bursting at the seams with Bond’s trademark banter, his wry punchlines, and of course that priceless set-up for Goldfinger.
Auric Goldfinger loves gold. He loves it so much he wants to irradiate Fort Knox’s reserves, so his own will skyrocket in value. Goldfinger is a masterpiece in pure entertainment, effortlessly switching between inspired comedy, exhilarating escapes and tense, breathtaking action sequences. What other film can you think of that involves deadly cross-dressing, a razor-tipped bowler hat and killing somebody with a bucket of gold paint?
2. Goldeneye (1995, dir. Martin Campbell)
Pierce Brosnan’s first and finest outing in the tux, Goldeneye is rife with strange, potent imagery. He’s practically haunted by the arrogance and excesses of his long career, especially in the form of Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean). Once a brother in arms, now the deadly enemy who knows Bond better than himself. Everyone around him remarks that he’s outdated, outgunned, or, as M puts it, “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur.” Oof.
Amply motivated, Her Majesty’s Loyal Terrier spends the next two hours avoiding asphyxiation by sweaty thighs, demolishing St Petersburg and still finding time to straighten his tie when he’s done. Indispensible.
1. From Russia With Love (1963, dir. Terence Young)
The quintessential spy thriller, Bond’s first sequel is fast, fresh and not short of a laugh or two to ease high tensions and sly twists. Sean Connery dominates the screen, whether slinking around like a panther through the catacombs of Istanbul or throwing a beefy Robert Shaw around a train cabin. Like no other actor has before or since, Connery’s performance embodies Bond’s effortless charm, his natural athleticism and his characteristic sang-froid.
Young delivers on the breathless action, but he doesn’t skimp on the stakes either. Wisely, he sticks close to Ian Fleming’s original best-selling plot, ensuring that From Russia With Love is never less than brimming with cruel betrayals, gypsy shoot-outs and the deadliest shoe in the world.
Dr. No (1962) – of course, for starting it all.
You Only Live Twice (1967) – perhaps the battiest Bond story ever put on film, with ninjas, man-eating piranhas, rockets that eat other rockets, and Donald Pleasance stroking a big white pussy.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – without this film’s climactic siege on a mountain-top fortress, Inception would never have been the same.
The World Is Not Enough (1999) – not as comedic as other outing, but it boasts solid performances from Sophie Marceau and Robert Carlyle. Just pretend Denise Richards isn’t in it. It’s not hard.
…and Dishonourable Discharges
Octopussy (1983) – as bad as it sounds. Turns the stomach at its mere mention.
Die Another Day (2002) – Madonna’s in it. Sums it all up, really.
Quantum of Shoelace (2008) – there’s a whole set of Jason Bourne films already made, Marc Forster.
Casino Royale (2006) – nah, just winding you up.
Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your comments on the list…
Simon Moore is a budding screenwriter, passionate about films both current and classic. He has a strong comedy leaning with an inexplicable affection for 80s montages and movies that you can’t quite work out on the first viewing.