As the longest running franchise in film history, the Bond pictures have had their fair share of ups and downs. Below you’ll find my ranking of all 24 James Bond films in the official Eon Productions series, from Dr No (1962) to Spectre (2015). Enjoy, and feel free to leave a comment with your own thoughts.
1. From Russia With Love (1963)
From Russia with Love isn’t just the quintessential Bond film, it’s the perfect spy thriller. Only the second film in the series, From Russia With Love pinned down Bond’s signature style without finding itself bogged down in formula, focussed on a complex and believable cold-war plot. The 115-minute runtime is littered with iconic dialogue and action sequences, while the best Bond, Sean Connery, provides a relaxed and charismatic performance. Highlights include Bond’s fisticuffs with the psychopathic Red Grant and a visceral shoot-out in a Turkish gypsy camp. It simply doesn’t get better than this.
2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Perhaps the most sorely overlooked Bond adventure, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service treats the spy with a maturity and a depth otherwise unseen until the turn of Daniel Craig almost 40 years later. The non-actor George Lazenby flounders somewhat in the central role, but he is elevated by arguably the best supporting cast in Bond history, as Telly Savalas provides the finest on-screen portrayal of Blofeld and Diana Rigg shines as the enigmatic Tracy di Vicenzo. With a water-tight script lifted directly from the pages of Fleming, director Peter Hunt delivers some of the most exciting action sequences of the franchise. In its final moments, the film packs an emotional punch that’s not to be missed.
3. Casino Royale (2006)
After a decade of mediocrity, Casino Royale breathed new life into the world’s most famous spy. Re-invigorating the character for the 21st century, Casino Royale restored the series’ reputation for a post-Bourne, post-Austin Powers world. Daniel Craig gives a nuanced and fearsome portrayal of a young, reckless 007, taking Bond back to his roots with a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Fleming’s first Bond novel. More than forty years since the beginning, Casino Royale proved that Bond still reigns supreme.
4. Goldfinger (1964)
Probably the most iconic and influential of all the Bond films, Goldfinger nailed the character and formula of the series as we know it today. Released at the height of Bond-mania, Connery had fully relaxed into the role by this point and gives a performance that is equal in parts deadly and charming. While director Guy Hamilton struggles to deliver truly exciting action sequences, he imbues the film with an irresistible sense of style and wit, resulting in a picture that has resonated with audiences for decades.
5. Skyfall (2012)
Released to mark the 50th anniversary of the Bond franchise, Skyfall asserted the enduring relevance of the Bond character. Although the plot is often contrived, Skyfall makes up for it with an emphasis on character. Classic figures such as Q and Moneypenny were reintroduced and updated for modern audiences, while Javier Bardem appears as Roaul Silva, a villain hell-bent on a personal vendetta. Shot by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, Skyfall is probably the most beautiful entry in the Bond canon, with a sense of artfulness not typically found within 007.
6. The Living Daylights (1987)
The first episode in Timothy Dalton’s all-too brief stint as 007, The Living Daylights brought Bond back to basics following Roger Moore’s departure. Dalton instils the character with a humanity and brutality rarely seen outside of Fleming’s writing. Meanwhile, the narrative is rooted in topical concerns of the day, placing Bond within the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The villains of the piece are somewhat lacking in personality, Bond’s eclectic mix of allies, both reluctant and otherwise, help to add warmth. Often overlooked, The Living Daylights is essential viewing.
7. Thunderball (1966)
Following in the footsteps of the wildly popular Goldfinger, Thunderball went on to become the most successful Bond film, accounting for inflation, until 2012’s Skyfall. Dispatched to the Bahamas to locate two stolen nuclear warheads, Connery’s Bond continues to delight, alongside another first rate cast of supporting characters. Thunderball was an ambitious project, at times too ambitious. The action set-pieces take on an unprecedented scale, but lengthy underwater sequences often outstay their welcome. Nevertheless, Thunderball remains an exciting entry in the Connery era, with a high-stakes plot that remains relevant today.
8. Goldeneye (1995)
Arriving six years after the previous film, Goldeneye was the first Bond to emerge into a world without the Soviet Union. Pierce Brosnan faced weighty expectations, as many doubted that the new 007 could compete against modern action blockbusters. Thankfully, Goldeneye delivered with aplomb, much thanks to the slick direction of Martin Campbell and Sean Bean’s performance as the vengeful villain Alec Trevelyan. Judi Dench makes her first appearance as M, and her censure of Bond as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” remains a classic moment.
9. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
The highest rated Roger Moore adventure on the list, For Your Eyes Only was also the actor’s most down-to-earth effort. Dispensing of the gadgets and absurdity that plagued Moonraker, this film saw Bond on the trail of heroin smugglers rather than a maniacal billionaire. The serious tone also allows Moore to deliver his most mature performance, pitted against a compelling female lead, Melina Havelock. Perhaps a little slow-moving at times, but nevertheless the closest Moore came to Fleming’s original hero.
10. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Alan Partridge called it “the best film ever made”, and The Spy Who Loved Me certainly has some stand-out moments. The pre-titles ski chase has a strong claim to being the finest opening of the series, and Carly Simon’s title song, ‘Nobody Does It Better’, remains a timeless classic. But while it’s a fun ride from beginning to end, I struggle to really invest in a film that refuses to take itself seriously. Some excellent sequences are occasionally denigrated by misplaced comic relief, often playing for laughs rather than tension. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to resist the larger than life charm of the film, particularly as events pick up during the action-packed finale. For fans of Roger Moore’s distinctive interpretation of Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me has everything you’re looking for – for everyone else, it’s well worth a watch.
11. Dr No (1962)
It feels somewhat unfair to put the first Bond film below the top ten – after all, it did an admirable job of setting the template for the next fifty years of 007 and introduced the world to the talents of Sean Connery. It’s also full of some absurdly iconic moments; the first “Bond, James Bond”, Honey Rider emerging from the sea, and Bond’s icy exchange with Dr No over dinner. But the film itself simply isn’t as watchable as many of its descendants, limited by a miniscule budget and an unseasoned production team. Filmmakers and cinema lovers everywhere all owe a great debt to Dr No, but it’s most profound legacy lies in the greatness which would follow.
12. Licence to Kill (1989)
Arguably the darkest entry in the franchise, Licence to Kill was a notable break from the Bond formula. Dalton’s second and last appearance as the spy is a personal story of revenge. The usual MI6 proceedings are dispensed with as Bond goes rogue, and therein lies both the film’s major strength and its weakness; while Licence to Kill works as an effective crime thriller, it feels distinctly generic, akin to a Die Hard or Lethal Weapon sequel. Although the gritty, sadistic edge of Licence to Kill is often welcome, Bond is most successful when he distinguishes himself from his peers.
13. Spectre (2015)
The most recent Bond film saw the return of Bond’s nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and his eponymous criminal organisation, the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. The second directorial effort of Sam Mendes, Spectre features some outstanding action and another superb performance from Daniel Craig. Unfortunately, the plot crumbles under its own weight during the final act, including the frankly embarrassing revelation that Blofeld is, actually, James Bond’s foster brother. There’s a pervading sense that a much better film lies beneath the surface, but Spectre has enough Bondian thrills to be worth the entry price.
15. Octopussy (1983)
One of the more forgettable Bond adventures, Octopussy nonetheless has some excellent episodes – the second act, which sees Bond dispatched to East Germany, hits all the right notes of tension and excitement. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is somewhat less consistent and the action is often let down by some miss-timed comedy. Again, Octopussy saw the Bond producers reacting to change rather than provoking it, and many of the film’s India sequences feel reminiscent of Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Octopussy is an enjoyable romp with a few stand-out chapters, but as a whole the film is a bit of a jumble.
16. Quantum of Solace (2008)
Quantum of Solace has been increasingly derided since its release, with some going as far as to rank it among the worst entries of the series. Admittedly, the whole film does feel somewhat rushed; action scenes are frenetic and choppily edited, and the dialogue in between has little room to breathe. However, there are clear flashes of brilliance throughout Quantum of Solace – with additional time to flesh out the script and a more competent director, it could have been a stellar entry in the series. I suspect that history will look more favourably upon Quantum; a flawed but unapologetic attempt to continue what Casino Royale had started.
17. You Only Live Twice (1967)
The first Bond film to properly deviate from its source material, You Only Live Twice was filmed from a script by children’s author Roald Dahl, and the result is more or less what you would expect. It’s an impressive, larger than life spectacle, with some terrific action and stunning use of Japanese locations. Unfortunately, this grandeur comes at the expense of plot, which is a mess of idiocy, inconsistency, and contrivance. Connery also delivers a less than enthusiastic performance, clearly tiring of the role that had launched him into stardom. It’s undeniably fun to watch a team of ninjas storm a secret volcano base, just try not to think about it too much.
18. Live and Let Die (1973)
Once a favourite of mine, Live and Let Die has slipped down the rankings as years have passed. There are scenes which still elicit a smile, such as Bond’s ingenious escape from a crocodile farm, and Moore does a good job in establishing his own, distinctive version of the character. However, the film feels bloated, and some peculiar dialogue and character developments leave many scenes feeling more awkward than tense (particularly the villain’s baffling demise). Clearly in his infancy, Moore’s Bond was yet to find a place in the world after Connery’s final departure.
19. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
More or less the definition of mediocrity, Tomorrow Never Dies was the Bond franchise on autopilot. Much of the film is an exercise in Bondian box ticking, with some overly explosive action sequences thrown in. There’s nothing here to really offend – Michelle Yeoh and Teri Hatcher are competent female leads, and I’ll always have a soft spot for Jonathon Price as the media-mogul Elliot Carver. But Brosnan’s portrayal of Bond, and the film’s script as a whole, seems like a regurgitated amalgamation of what has come before, leaving little chance for the film to discern itself. Tomorrow Never Dies feels like greatest hits album, just with all the number ones left out.
20. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
The Man with the Golden Gun is a picture with so much potential – Christopher Lee creates a classic villain in the form of Francisco Scaramanga, the world’s deadliest hitman, and his intense confrontation with Moore’s Bond hints at a far more interesting story. However, what should be an exciting cat-and-mouse plot is buried within nonsense about solar power and the real-world energy crisis. The dull narrative isn’t helped by action scenes that are devoid of tension and comic relief characters who evoke more cringes than chuckles. A few excellent scenes arise during the final act as Bond and Scaramanga finally come face to face, but it’s too late to save the slog that is the first hour and a half.
21. A View to a Kill (1985)
Roger Moore’s stunt double has a good claim to being the star of A View to a Kill, as the 57 year old Bond looked just about ready to trade in his licence to kill for a free bus pass. In another bizarre bit of casting, Christopher Walken plays the villain of the film, Max Zorin (a performance which partially inspired Heath Ledger’s Joker), while pop star Grace Jones features as his henchwoman May Day. Both actors seem to have walked in from the set of another film, and no one really seems to know or care what’s going on. Even John Barry’s superb soundtrack feels like it belongs to something much more exciting. A mystifying experience all-round.
22. The World is Not Enough (1999)
One of the most boring films ever made. Action is shot with all the deft and exhilaration of a Toyota advertisement, while the drama is about as well executed as an episode of Hollyoaks. The film actually takes some interesting risks with the Bond formula, personally implicating Judi Dench’s M within the plot, but the execution is so poor that it’s a chore to sit through. Robert Carlyle’s Renard must go down as Bond’s most ineffectual foil, while Denise Richards is laughably miscast as a nuclear physicist.
23. Moonraker (1979)
I can understand why this film exists. The Bond producers clearly watched Star Wars take the world by storm and thought ‘we’ll have some of that’. But Moonraker represents the Roger Moore era at its absolute worst. The “comedy”, for lack of a better word, is incessant, and robs every scene of all possible intensity. Henchman Jaws returns from The Spy Who Loved Me and is more bumbling than ever, whilst Moore swaggers through the film with an eyebrow cocked and a quip for every scenario. The most insulting thing about Moonraker, however, is that some truly spectacular stunt work and music is wasted on this embarrassment of a film. By the time Bond gets into space you’ll wonder how it ever got this bad.
24. Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Sean Connery demanded a record breaking amount of money for this, his last official Bond film, and made no secret of being in it for the cash. Badly aged and wearing the world’s worst wig, Connery looks more like your mate’s sleazy Dad than a suave superspy. With most of the budget having gone to the star, Diamonds Are Forever skimps on pretty much everything else, from the preposterous script to the pitiful special effects. Worst of all, Diamonds isn’t just a boring, uninvolving, gruelling state of a film, it’s actually quite offensive. The henchmen Mr Wint and Mr Kidd are two dated homosexual stereotypes, more suited to a Carry On film than a James Bond thriller. Most shockingly, this is the better Bond film to feature a diamond encrusted space laser.
24. Die Another Day (2002)
An absolute car crash of a film. Watching Die Another Day is a bewildering, depressing experience, like walking in on your parents mid-coitus. I’ve struggled to pin down the exact moment that the film jumps the shark; is it the start of the Madonna title track, or when Bond stops his own heart in order to escape a hospital? Perhaps it’s John Cleese introducing an invisible car? What’s clear is that by the time Bond para-surfs a tsunami and flies a helicopter out of an exploding plane, you’ll have lost all sense of who you are or what you’re watching. There’s also a worryingly long sex scene between Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry, in which we appear to see Brosnan actually climax. Harrowing stuff.