Chris Gelderd on the top 10 James Bond stunts…
From a complicated fight arrangement in 1962s Dr. No that saw stuntman Bob Simmons double Sean Connery, to a set explosion that became a Guinness World Record Breaker in 2015s Spectre, the James Bond films have had one thread running through them that thrills audience as much as the man himself – the stunts.
With most of the pre-title sequences featuring a bold action sequence capped by a memorable stunt (before the film has even officially begun!), the 007 films have been written and produced to thrill audiences worldwide. To help them escape reality for two hours. How best to do that? Throw the world’s greatest secret agent headlong into danger and watch him come out the other side mostly unscathed.
In doing this, the Bond franchise helped introduce and retain stunt men and women into the Hollywood machine for nearly 60 years. As stunt fighters, pilots, drivers, swimmers, climbers, body-doubles, skaters, shooters…anything you can think of in the films, a stunt performer probably had a hand in bringing to the big screen.
It’s not just about the performance though, it’s about the planning and coordination of a practical stunt that wows audiences more than ever, and for audiences to expect when watching 007. While visual effects are present at times to reduce some of the risk, the stunt is mostly practical which means there is ALWAYS risk, but always something so much more worthwhile in watching on the big screen.
While we wait and see what stunt work awaits us in No Time To Die due in November 2020, let’s countdown the top ten most death-defying, nerve-shredding, adrenalin-pumping, grin-inducing, fist-pumping, bone-crunching stunts across the current 24 films.
00-10: Bond in Japan (‘You Only Live Twice’ 1967)
Setup: Whilst investigating a stolen Russian space shuttle in Japan, James Bond encounters many SPECTRE thugs at the Kobe docks and has to fight to stay alive and escape.
Performer: Bob Simmons, stunt coordinator and action director. Known for being the first “James Bond” in the movies as he doubled Sean Connery in the Dr.No gunbarrel sequence, and also in all his films. Worked on all 11 Bond films up to and including A View To A Kill in 1985.
Stunt: Bob Simmons created and performs the body switch. He swan dives off a roof onto a large pallet and jumps off behind; a split second later Connery emerges from behind the pallet and straightens his jacket. A perfectly timed, one-take simple switch where the illusion of Connery performing the stunt is retained.
00-9: Tanker truck 9-wheeler (‘Licence To Kill’ 1989)
Setup: James Bond begins a deadly chase with four 18 wheel Kenworth tanker trucks carrying a mix of gasoline and drugs ready for deportation. With winding mountain roads, rockets and planes on hand, Bond needs to stop all four trucks before they get away.
Performer: Chick Bernhard, an American actor and stunt driver.
Stunt: With specially modified 18 wheel tanker trucks shifting 1,000hp, a makeshift ramp was set up disguised as a pile of masonry by the road side. Manuel drove full throttle up the ramp, taking the tanker truck onto 9 wheels for a drive down the road. Manuel drives the truck effortlessly for some 1000 yards before landing back on 18 wheels atop the bad guys jeep, crushing it instantly and carrying on with the chase.
00-8: Q-Boat chase (‘The World Is Not Enough’ 1999)
Setup: After an assassin attacks MI6 headquarters in London, James Bond takes off in a high-powered jet boat down the River Thames to chase them. The pursuit goes through docks, narrow waterways and even up across busy city streets.
Performer: Wade Eastwood, once a volunteer lifeguard and South African lifesaving’s air/sea rescue division, now part of the current Bond family of stunt performers and coordinators.
Stunt: The majority of the entire chase is one big stunt. From racing down the River Thames in a jet boat, carrying out a 360 corkscrew jump, taking sharp turns and avoiding explosions and bridges, not to mention jumps up riverbanks and driving across a street. The coordination and logistics of such a chase – including being the first film production to shoot an action sequence by the Houses of Parliament on the Thames – is something only the powers behind 007 could pull off. And Pierce Brosnan himself even got to do some of the lesser risk driving.
00-7: St. Cyril’s ascension (‘For Your Eyes Only’ 1981)
Setup: James Bond and his allies launch a covert assault on the mountain monastery hideout of Aris Kristatos and his men, attempting to sell British military hardware to the KGB.
Performer: Rick Sylvester, an American multi-skilled mountaineer and skier and part of the Bond family from 1977 to 1981.
Stunt: Rick, doubling as Roger Moore as 007, was tasked to carry out a 150 foot climb up a rocky cliff in the Greek Meteora Mountains. As this wasn’t dangerous enough, Rick also had to drop 100 feet from the top of the cliff, held only by his climbing rope. A heart-stopping, stomach wrenching stunt that relied on Rick’s professionalism, and faith that the rope (or rocks) wouldn’t give way during the fall.
00-6: Speedboat jump (‘Live And Let Die’ 1973)
Setup: After escaping the New Orleans drug factory of Dr.Kananga, Bond steals a Glastron speedboat and races away. However, Kananga’s henchmen follow suit in their own boats and even the bayou police join the chase on land.
Performer: Jerry Comeaux, American stunt driver.
Stunt: At a section of the Louisiana Irish Bayou where the main road cuts across, the producers wanted Bond to hit the bank at full speed and jump the road, back into the Bayou opposite. Stunt driver Comeaux carried out two dummy runs and then one take – the boat hit the launch and jumped over 40ft in the air, over two actors and cars. Comeaux landed in the water across the way without a scratch to him or the boat. The stunt was complete thanks to careful planning and coordination.
00-5: Hercules fight (‘The Living Daylights’ 1987)
Setup: James Bond and Kara Milovy flee the Russian army in Afghanistan aboard a Transall C-160 plane, but stowaway assassin Necros is going to try and kill Bond once and for all.
Performers: Jake Lombard and B.J Worth, sky-diving and aerial stunt professionals.
Stunt: Thousands of feet in the air, stunt performers Lombard and Worth, doubling as Bond and Necros, had parachutes hidden on their backs and nothing more. Holding onto a cargo net trailing from the back of the Transall C-160, the two had to stage a brutal fight sequence. Contending with the high altitude, wind and unpredictable net, the two men gave it their all and it resulted in Lombard taking the plunge as Necros fell to his death. No green screen, no projection – just practical, death-defying stunt work.
00-4: Bungee jump (‘GoldenEye’ 1995)
Setup: James Bond is tasked with rendezvousing with fellow 00 agent Alec Trevelyan at the base of the Arkhangelsk Chemical Weapons Facility in the Soviet Union. The quickest and quietest way for Bond to infiltrate the complex is to bungee jump down the facility dam.
Performer: Wayne Michaels, a British stunt performer and bungee specialist.
Stunt: The Contra Dam in Switzerland doubled up for the Soviet weapons facility to launch James Bond returning to cinemas for the first time in 6 years. So, a stunt that had never been seen before took place. Michaels bungee jumped of the top of the dam, over 700ft from the canyon ground, facing a concrete wall. One take and multiple camera setups got the shot. The hair-raising jump kickstarted Pierce Brosnan’s tenure as 007 and proved once more that practical stunt work, however simple on paper, was break-taking on screen.
00-3: Corkscrew car jump (‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ 1975)
Setup: James Bond, in an AMC Hornet car, chases down assassin Francisco Scaramanga in Thailand, only to end up separated by a wide river. Seeing a broken bridge, Bond decides to push gravity to the limit and get to the other side as quickly as possible.
Performer: Loren “Bumps” Williard, a dangerous stunt driver specialist, with Jay W. Milligan Jr coordinating.
Stunt: To get across a wide river in a matter of seconds to continue a car chase, most people would use a bridge. Well, so does 007 but he uses a bridge with no middle section and only twisted ends. So, thanks to the first ever use of computers to plan and calculate the speed and angle required, driver “Bumps” Williard drove the AMC up one ramp for a 270 degree twist before landing perfectly on the other. A full 360 degree start to finish stunt, planned and carried out in just 1 take.
00-2: Building site chase (‘Casino Royale’ 2006)
Setup: Newly promoted 00 agent James Bond tracks down a terrorist bomber in Madagascar, and soon has to give chase to apprehend him when his cover his blown.
Performers: Ben Cooke and Sebastian Foucan
Stunt: One of the first major stunts in the debut for Daniel Craig went back to basics. Gone went the heavy CGI, and back came practical effects, wire-work and stunt doubles risking life and limb for the perfect shot. Cooke and professional free runner / actor Foucan defy gravity as they thunder across a building site. They climb cranes, fist-fight hundreds of feet in the air, jump between buildings, navigate dangerous scaffolds… it sounds simple, but the breakneck pace of these stuntmen in a relentless, expertly choreographed stunt sequence was a way to make it clear this new era of Bond films were going to be something special.
Parachute escape (‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ 1977)
Setup: In the snowy Austrian mountains, James Bond flees a group of hitmen out to kill him following the completion of a mission. His skiing takes him down the mountain, taking out the bad guy’s one at a time.
Performer: Rick Sylvester, an American multi-skilled mountaineer and skier and part of the Bond family from 1977 to 1981.
Stunt: Rick used his BASE jumping skill to ski from the top of Mount Asgard in Canada, doubling for Austria, in a stunt that would come to encapsulate everything we love about James Bond; his daring do, his skill and his love for Queen and country. In one take captured by one camera, Rick skis off the summit and falls over 6,000ft. At the last minute, he rips the cord and deploys the Union Jack parachute to a full burst of the James Bond theme in the soundtrack. Factoring in the weather and wind (not wanting to be blown into the cliff face), and the falling skis (one can be seen passing dangerously close to the chute), the EON team and Rick produced a stunt that proved when it comes to original action, nobody does it better.
James Bond stunt and special effects veteran Chris Corbould, working on Bond films since 1985 and many more Hollywood blockbusters, returns on No Time To Die to oversee the action. Through trailers, we have seen impressive stunt work across Italy, Scotland and Cuba. On foot, in the air, in cars and bikes and planes, the action is going to be thick and fast, and pushing gravity and safety to the edge once more.
Daniel Craig also returns to co-produce his second Bond film after SPECTRE, and is known for getting hands on as much as he can with the stunts. Training to fight, climb, drive, shoot and swim in the most dangerous conditions is all part of the job for those portraying agent 007, but it’s kudos to the crew around him that really bring the magic to life.
Will any more records be broken in No Time To Die for the stunts on show? Will the stunts go down in history as some of the most spectacular ever featured in a Bond film? We’ll have to wait until November to find out.
Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter from the CIA turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.
No Time To Die stars Daniel Craig (James Bond), Ralph Fiennes (M), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), Rory Kinnear (Tanner), Léa Seydoux (Madeleine Swann), Ben Whishaw (Q), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter) and Christoph Waltz (Blofeld), while new additions include Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049), Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel), Billy Magnussen (Velvet Buzzsaw), Dali Benssalah (A Faithful Man) and David Dencik (Top of the Lake).