After reading my take on the latest James Bond feature, Skyfall (which I said was "one of the best"), I was asked "Well, if this wasn't THE best... which movie IS your favorite?"
The easy answer is to toss out Goldfinger or From Russia with Love... maybe Dr. No... but the truth is that I didn't know. And since your favorite James Bond films probably says a lot more about you than what toothpaste you use, I wanted to think on it.
And so I did. My ranking of all twenty-four films follows.
- Goldfinger. It's quintessential Bond in every possible way. You've got the famous original (Sean Connery) battling one of the best villains in the franchise (Auric Goldfinger!) with the most famous henchmen (Oddjob!) and the perfect Bond girls (Pussy Galore! Jill Masterson!) and a Bond-worthy plot (attack Fort Knox!) and a Shirley Bassey power theme song (HE LOVES ONLY GOLD! HE LOVES GOLD!). This is everything James Bond is in a single film, which is why it tops a lot of "Best of Bond" lists... including this one.
- Casino Royale. After years of fumbling, the entire franchise is rebooted with Daniel Craig finally bringing back James Bond as a force to be reckoned with. I am the first to admit that the film does drag a bit... with too much emphasis being put on a card game that is more like a rulebook for Texas Hold'em Poker than a vital story element... but just about everything else is exactly what you want in a 007 film. The contemporary plot was driven by money manipulation, but didn't end up as boring as it would seem. On the contrary, the action was gritty and real in a way that the franchise needed to stay relevant in today's more brutal, less elegant world. I know it's probably heresy to say so, but Craig became my favorite James Bond after just this one outing. The theme song You Know My Name by Soundgarden's Chris Cornell was a rockin' kick to the head, and exactly what was needed for the first film in a new James Bond series.
- From Russia with Love. It's been said that this film is the closest to the original James Bond novels. Having never read them, I don't know if that's true, but I do see the film as a much grittier take on the character than we're used to. The plot is Cold War relevant, with 007 having to assist with the defection of a Soviet asset. Unfortunately for Bond, he also has to deal with SPECTRE, who is hell-bent on revenge because he killed Dr. No. The result is a movie that predates the gimmick-laden films that would follow, and relies on smarts and action to tell one of the best 007 stories (indeed, many people name this as their favorite). It also has some of the most memorable moments, including Rosa Klebb with her deadly shoes and that classic slugfest on top the Orient Express. A part of me wants to give the theme song a break because it's from a different era, but Matt Monro's efforts here seem painfully boring to me here in 2013.
- For Your Eyes Only. Yes. Yes I know. Most people consider this to be another Roger Moore flop that strayed from the original Bond formula too far (even though it was designed to be just the opposite). But I think that's the reason I like it so much. It's an entirely different take on classic James Bond that's done really, really well. And it was the first Bond I saw in a movie theater, so it kind of rings nostalgic to me in that respect. The location shooting in such locations as Greece, Spain, and Italy featured some really cool visuals and epic stunts that define the series, and that formed a base for a good story to be told. Basically, 007 is trying to recover a computer with deadly security consequences for the entire world. Along the way Bond hooks up with a revenge-minded Melina Havelock, whose deadly mission both helps and hurts his own. Couple all that with a flawless performance by Topol, not to mention one of my favorite theme songs (Sheena Easton!), and this movie deserves a lot more respect in the Bond universe than it gets.
- Skyfall. A much smaller, more personal kind of Bond film... but not in a bad way. I've already talked about it here.
- Dr. No. As the first "real" James Bond film to come out of Ian Fleming's novels, all the visual stylings of the character were invented here. Including the iconic intro sequence looking at Bond through the barrel of a gun. The plot revolves around Dr. No and his ties to SPECTRE (which would propel the entire film franchise for decades to come) and his plot to sabotage an American Project Mercury human spaceflight launch. Along the way we are treated to many of the things that would become staples of the character, including the original "Bond Girl," Honey Ryder, as played by Ursula Andress. Honey emerging from the ocean in a white bikini is probably one of the most famous Bond moments in history, and that scene alone would put the movie in my top ten. Fortunately, there was a lot more going for it, pushing Dr. No up to #6. The theme song here was THE James Bond theme song, which is timeless and flawless in a way that most movie tracks can only dream about. A pity it ran short and they filled the remainder of the opening with a bunch of crap, including Three Blind Mice.
- The Spy Who Loved Me. Okay, I admit that part of my nostalgia for this Bond installment is due to the masterful opening credits with Carly Simon belting out Nobody Does it Better, but that was only the beginning. The insane story involved villain Karl Stromberg wanting to destroy the planet so he could start an entirely new civilization under the ocean. As Bond investigates, he runs across a Russian agent working to stop Stromberg's mad plan. But... uh oh... she's also the wife of a Russian spy that Bond killed in the movie opening. Drama! Probably the thing most people remember from this film (other than the theme song) was an appearance by classic Bond villain Jaws, a ruthless killer with a mouth full of metal. Overall, this was a really good Bond film that cemented my love for the character... even though I saw it after both Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only.
- Die Another Day. When Pierce Brosnan took over the role of James Bond, I was ecstatic because I had long thought he was perfect for it. Much to my shock and horror, I ended up thinking he was ill-fit for the role. He over-intensified absolutely everything, and could never capture the casual cool that is a trademark of the character. Every line was delivered not with the winning confidence of the world's foremost super-spy, but as a desperate life-and-death gambit. Like he was wound too tight or something. Ironically, it was Brosnan's final film, Die Another Day, where he finally seemed to calm down and inhabit the character. Or maybe I was just transfixed with Halle Berry being the best "James Bond" in years... talk about casual, cool, and confident! The plot was a good one and revolved around a power-mad North Korean general wanting to eradicate South Korean defenses so he could invade. The theme song was an auto-tune mess by Madonna, but it had a throbbing electronica feel and I still liked it (much more than Madonna's terrible cameo in the film).
- Moonraker. This film has one thing going for it that ranks it a bit higher than it probably should be... the world-domination plot is about as Bond as it gets. Yes, injecting the Space Shuttle into the story was an obvious attempt to get a jump on the actual missions that were coming up two years later and to cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon, but I didn't think it was done badly at all. Bond girl Dr. Holly Goodhead was a beautiful, refreshingly competent update from the usual eye-c