From Connery to Craig

by Robert Pagán

With the upcoming release of the 25th installment of the Bond series Spectre a look back at where and what the character has become could be interesting. The character has gone through several actors (Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Rodger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig). Each has brought us a different take on Bond. Some have been the more suave and charismatic Bond. Others have portrayed him as more gritty and ruthless. Each brings something different to the table, but who is the best? The ranking of each film cannot solely be based on the performance of the actor, but on the film as a whole.

I have ranked each of the Bond films from what I think is worst to best. I should note that am looking at each film to two lights: personal favorites and overall critical reception. Each of these have factored into the list and the top 5 being explained in greater detail.

  • Casino Royale (1967)
  • Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
  • Quantum of Solace (2008)
  • A View to Kill (1985)
  • The World Is Not Enough (1999)
  • Die Another Day (2002)
  • Octopussy (1983)
  • Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
  • Never Say Never Again (1983)
  • Moonraker (1979)
  • The Living Daylights (1987)
  • Thunderball (1965)
  • You Only Live Twice (1967)
  • License to Kill (1989)
  • The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
  • Goldeneye (1995)
  • Live and Let Die (1973)
  • For Your Eyes Only (1981)
  • Skyfall (2012)
  • The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

5. Dr. No (1962)

This is where it all began. Sean Connery’s debut as the immortal 007 agent set up the character we know as Bond…James Bond. The film quickly establishes the ground rules on what a James Bond film should be. It had the first of every iconic aspect of a Bond film. The seminal intro of a Bond is created with Sean Connery seen through a gun barrel. We saw the first 007 villain Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), who’s scary and intimidating long before we see him in the flesh with his weird deformity. There was the first Bond girl Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) with her iconic entrance, emerging from the surf with a knife tucked into her bikini bottom. Also the first appearance by Miss Moneypenny played by Lois Maxwell, who would continue to play the part 13 more times over the next 23 years.

Featuring plenty of the humor, action, and escapist thrills the series would become known for, Dr. No kicks off the Bond franchise in style. The slow pace and lack of flash does take a little getting used to, admittedly, yet it’s impossible to deny that Dr. No remains closer to Ian Fleming’s original vision than most of the entries within this ongoing series. Dr. No is a solid start to what would become the most successful and longest-lasting film franchise in film history.

    1. From Russia With Love (1963)

Sean Connery’s second outing as Bond brought up the series a few notches. Building on the aesthetics and iconic characteristics established by the first film From Russia With Love add a few more. The idea of a megavillain as an antagonist is used in the film. Blofeld is very unique; so much so that he could easily be compared to a cartoon villain although we never see his face. Another addition to the villainy is one of the most colorful and ruthless of villains, switchblade-shoe-wielding Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya). Something stands out about both of these villains. The introduction of Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and his gadgets are also new contributions to the series. The action is at a new level for this film.  The film includes one of the best hand-to-hand combat fights in any Bond film between Bond and Red Grant (Robert Shaw).

The film is briskly paced and cleverly plotted. It’s far closer to the character Ian Fleming created in his novels than the gadget-fixated mannequin of the later films with Pierce Brosnan. The film has a unique connection to the upcoming 25th installment of the Bond series Spectre. The organization Bond goes against is also named SPECTRE. How the two films will be connected remains to be seen.

    1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

This is the one and only outing for George Lazenby as Bond. One would think since he did not play Bond again that this would be ranked much lower. Lazenby is actually quite good at being 007. He performed many of Bond’s stunts himself, lends a raw physicality to Bond that wouldn’t resurface until Daniel Craig took the role on decades later. In that final scene alone, Lazenby does more emotional heavy lifting than any Bond actor did until the Craig era.

The film is one of the most underrated of any Bond film. The film is unique as it changes the formula of what a Bond film is.  He trades in the Bond girls for an Italian bride Tracy di Vincenzo. This is a departure for Bond seeing that he is always considered a suave “ladies-man”. However, Diana Rigg plays her with such beauty and wit that you can’t blame him for marrying her. Yet it was not meant to be. The final scene is the most romantically resonant in the series and heartbreaker status puts in the top 5 of this list.

    1. Goldfinger (1964)

Sean Connery’s Bond is all over this list and for good reason. He is often seen as the iconic Bond actor. As they say “Third time’s a charm” and Goldfinger does so. That is not to say the first two films were not. This is the one where everything is firing on all cylinders, from the pre-credits action sequence, to the theme song by Shirley Bassey. The baroque villain Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) has the most outrageous evil scheme a plot to raid the gold depository at Fort Knox. Also Goldfinger has the best line of dialogue in a Bond film, when Connery, with a laser beam aiming at his privates, asks if Goldfinger expects him to talk, and the villain replies, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”

Everything about this film is iconic and is remembered by fans. The lethal henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata) with his killer-frisbee Homburg is the best henchman ever. What would become a staple car maker used in Bond films the pimped-out Aston-Martin DB5 is also one of the best spy-cars seen. Also how could anyone forget the stunt-flying, karate-chopping best Bond girl with the best name, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). The unforgettable death of Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) by gilded body paint is ingrained in our minds and encapsulates this film.

    1. Casino Royale (2006)

The recent series of Bond films starring Daniel Craig have created a different Bond. Bond was reinvented. The misogyny, eye-rolling humor and general wackiness typical of Bond films is ditched in favor of a Bourne-like realism. The character is much more grounded. He is a more caustic, haunted, and intense reinvention of 007. The stoic and rugged look of Daniel Craig’s Bond creates a wall of privacy not seen in a Bond before. This plays well with the storyline of this and subsequent films in learning about Bond’s past. The knowledge of how he became who and what he is makes the film all the more personal. This connection that can be made with Bond on a personal level invites non-Bond fans to enjoy the film than ever before.

To start anew staple characteristics are absent from this film. Q, with his gadgets and invisible cars, is nowhere to be seen. Ditching the gadgets eliminates the fantasy of the spy world, but in turn makes the world all the more real to understand. There are two Bond girls in the film. This is not the first time there have been two Bond girls. However, this is the only film where both of them are tragically killed and Bond is left without one. The realism of the life Bond lives is what makes this ranked 1st of all Bond films.