Now that I’ve finished looking at all the films in the first 50 years of James Bond’s cinematic history, I think it’s time I shared with you my top 7 films. No, this isn’t a list of what I would call the “best” films by as objective a standard as possible (which is pretty close to impossible, anyway). This is as subjective a list as there is. It’s based on things like my favorite sidearm, my favorite Scotch, how old I was when I saw a particular movie for the first time, etc. Film pacing, acting, plot, screenplay. . . none of those things will play as big a role in deciding my favorites; though they’ll play a small role, they won’t be the deciding factor.
So, without further ado, here’s my top 7 James Bond films.
The World Is Not Enough makes this list because it has all of the elements of a classic Bond movie. Sweeping camera shots of beautiful, exotic locales. Lots of action. A decent amount of gadgets. Several jokes sprinkled throughout. It’s basically the Goldfinger of the modern Bond films. While not breaking any James Bond movie rules, The World Is Not Enough touches on some unusual topics for a Bond film, not the least of which being Stockholm Syndrome. I enjoyed this movie because it features Pierce Brosnan as Bond, who happens to be my personal favorite Bond actor.
Also, I had a pretty big crush on Denise Richards when I was in high school, despite how bad an actress she was. But really, what 15-year-old boy didn’t back then?
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated of the Bond films. It has some of the most convincing action of that era of filmmaking, it has one of the best love stories of the Bond series (and features one of the only two times in the series that Bond falls in love), and it has one of the most—if not the most—heart wrenching scenes in the whole Bond franchise to date. M’s departure in Skyfall doesn’t even come close.
Do your best to watch this Bond movie, even if you watch no other Bond movie from that era.
Goldfinger is the first quintessentially “Bond-like” Bond film. It’s the first true action movie of the series (the first two were spy movies that contained action; this one placed action front-and-center). It introduces a number of the elements that would become staples of the Bond series for the next 38 years (many of which wouldn’t be removed until 2006, only to be reinstated in 2012). It gave the series that fast pace it desperately needed. And it gave us more iconic Bond moments than any movie before and any movie for a long time after.
If you’re looking for the movie that truly started it all, look no further than Goldfinger.
For Your Eyes Only is that film that represents everything that I love about James Bond. It’s witty, but not kitschy. It’s dark, but not brooding. And it features the actor I associate most with classic Bond. Roger Moore was the second actor I saw portray the character, and I still remember going to the library in the summers as a kid and, after picking up my summer reading material, getting to choose a James Bond VHS to watch later that night when my dad would get home from work. It was always a Roger Moore Bond movie. The only two Bonds that existed in my mind were Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore, and at the time Brosnan only had one movie, so Roger Moore it was.
Cinematically speaking, For Your Eyes Only is Moore’s finest outing as Bond. It’s a must-see from that era of Bond films.
Licence to Kill got maligned when it first came out, but I think that’s because it was way ahead of its time. To this day it’s one of my favorites because it presents a story that tosses the character into some pretty dark territory and goes where I wish Die Another Day had gone: into the messed-up mind of a rogue agent out for revenge.
That, and Q gets to go on assignment with Bond!
Casino Royale is probably the best Bond film to date. It just works on so many levels. I included it because I was so worried that this movie wouldn’t work, and I was so frustrated that Pierce Brosnan was replaced that I became one of the movie’s detractors. During my senior year of college, the Internet started to gain a lot of traction as a pop culture news source, and between then (which was the year Die Another Day came out) and the release of the movie I began reading all the Bond-related websites I could, and everywhere I looked there was talk of Brosnan finally doing Casino Royale. Then the news dropped that Brosnan was getting replaced. My expectations for the movie fell through the floor and down into the basement. Imagine my surprise when the movie turned out to be what it was.
If you’ve never seen a Bond movie, and you have no desire to bother with 23 movies, at least see this one. This is the Bond movie that sets the new Bond movie standard.
1. GoldenEye (1995).
GoldenEye was the first Bond movie I ever saw. I was just 11 years old when it came out, so it was the perfect time for me to experience my first James Bond adventure. I’ll never forget the rush of adrenaline I felt as I watched Bond drive a motorcycle off a cliff to catch a diving plane. Or the way I laughed hysterically when Bond’s countryside race with Xenia Onatopp knocked over a group of cyclists along the side of the road. Or the shock that ran through me when I discovered who Janus really was (I was 11; there was no such thing as “predictable” at that age).
Even now, GoldenEye holds up rather well. It’s not a timeless movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still an enjoyable movie to watch by today’s standards.