We’ve been delinquent on our list-making. Our apologies. I blame Spectre for anything that’s gone haywire at #Bond_age_. I’m sure Waltzfeld had something to do with the fact that we started making this list more than a year ago and it’s just now seeing the light of day. Or at least he’d like to tell you he thought of it first.
James Bond pre-title sequences hold a special place in the hearts of Bond fans. They often stand out as distinct short films, going as far as to enhance the memory of lesser Bond entries. How often does The World is Not Enough immediately inspire a comment that’s something like, “That movie, I dunno, but the pre-title sequence, though!” It’s a rough estimation of a conversation that is probably happening right now out there on the Interwebs.
As always, we compile the rankings by soliciting a list from each of the #Bond_age_ contributors. Joining Krissy, Greg and myself for this list is Eric on his maiden Licence to List voyage. We took the average of all four of our rankings to come up with the list below. So if you take issue, with something, remember… we’re all Spartacus. But if you take *great* issue, it was the newbie’s fault.
If you have a suggestion for a future List, leave a comment at the bottom of this list and we’ll tackle it in a future episode of Licence to List.
#Bond_age_ Licence to List: Pre-Title Sequences
24. Diamonds Are Forever
Highest Rank: Greg, Krissy, Jay (23)
Lowest Rank: Eric (24)
Jay:We’re pretty much united in our agreement that this is the worst James Bond pre-title sequence. It’s just so frustrating to watch the way that the Bond producers immediately rebelled against the relative failure of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with this as the reaction to dead Mrs. Bond. Tracking down the most notorious and secretive criminal mastermind only requires a gruff demeanor and a bikini top. IT’S JUST SO DUMB. ALL OF IT. SO. DUMB.
23. A View to a Kill
Highest Rank: Greg (19)
Lowest Rank: Eric (23)
Greg:By the time AVTAK came out, I had been a Bond fan for several years. I’d watched a lot of the previous movies a number of times, but I’d never seen a Bond movie first-run until AVTAK (I did see Never Say Never Again two years earlier, but that’s only because I thought there was no way in hell I’d be allowed to see a movie called Octopussy at my age then). So when I speak of the pre-titles sequence of AVTAK, I speak of it fondly. It is by no means the best pre-titles sequence out there, but it was my first experience of Bond on the big screen, so it has a sentimental placing on my list.
22. You Only Live Twice
Highest Rank: Eric (18)
Lowest Rank: Krissy (22)
Eric:The capture of the space shuttle is probably better than all of Moonraker combined and then Bond gets shot. What’s the connection? Who cares? It’s the birth of the absurd Bond film!
Highest Rank: Jay (16)
Lowest Rank: Greg (22)
Jay:I drew the short straw on this one. Let’s just call it a spectacular skydiving stunt buoyed by some brassy Barry-tones and move on with the countdown. Can I just ask how and why it ends with a sort of circus net and drum roll? The gimmick is the return of Jaws. And we settle for that and a stunt rather than actually executing something remotely memorable. Kudos to those skydivers, though.
20. Dr. No
Highest Rank: Greg (5)
Lowest Rank: Krissy, Jay (24)
Greg:In my blurb for FRWL, I mentioned how Dr. No has no pre-titles sequence. How then, you may ask, can I write a blurb about Dr. No’s pre-titles sequence? The answer is quite simple: Dr. No did have a pre-titles sequence; just not where you expected it to be. By going with Dr. No as the first Bond film (after their attempts to do Thunderball initially fell through), the producers made it clear that the villains were going to play as important a part in the series as Bond. To that end, we come out of the credits into a chilling scene where two MI-6 operatives are brutally murdered, and as the music swells, we’re introduced to both the main villiain and his lair (but only as file names). This is a perfect example of what a great Bond pre-titles sequence can be; it’s just no one thought of the idea of actually putting it before the credits.
Highest Rank: Jay (9)
Lowest Rank: Eric (22)
Jay:Easily the best thing about Octopussy. I’m appalled that it ranked this low on our countdown. I blame Eric. Hell, I should have ranked it more highly, myself. A Party Moore special loaded with humor and ridiculous action spectacle. It begins with a so so good-bad Toro “Load of bull” pun followed by the application of a porn star mustache. This introduces the beautiful setup of the “So you’re a Toro, too” gag when he meets the real General Toro. A captured Bond gets carted away, which allows us to ogle some lovely lady stems and witness a horse’s ass fall away to reveal an Acrostar Minijet! BEHIND THE FAKE HORSE BUTT! The best aerial Bond action this side of Little Nellie. I KID. The Acrojet makes Little Nellie look like a Cracker Jack toy.
18. For Your Eyes Only
Highest Rank: Eric (8)
Lowest Rank: Jay (19)
Eric:Moore is in top form here. A solemn cold open featuring a visitation to Tracy’s grave. The measure of solace achieved through (one might say a quantum…) vengeance on a Blofeldian man in a wheelchair with a white cat. Party Moore actually looks pretty athletic in this late-era Moore. I’m relieved he didn’t drop the cat down the smokestack.
Counterpoint Jay: Conceptually I love the reason this scene exists. As a piece of the movie it’s so disjointed that I had to dock it a few points.
17. The Man with the Golden Gun
Highest Rank: Greg (7)
Lowest Rank: Eric (20)
Greg:While Bond is usually the focus of the pre-titles sequence, when your Bond villain is being played by Christopher Lee, you make damn sure he gets as much screentime as possible. To that end, the pre-titles sequence to MWTGG does a fantastic job of establishing Scaramanga’s world. His relationship with Nick Nack is made clear immediately, and all the credit has to go to Lee and Herve Villechaize, who do a phenomenal job of showing the menace inherent in both characters. A fantastic opening.
Highest Rank: Greg (12)
Lowest Rank: Eric (17)
Greg:If I were to compile a list of the best opening shots on a Bond film, I would be hard pressed to think of any better than the opening shot of Thunderball, where we see a coffin draped in a cloth with the initials JB on it. No Bond fan would seriously expect the JB to stand for James Bond, but then you never can tell sometimes. This great opening shot then leads us into a great pre-titles sequence in which Bond, very much alive, takes out one of the operatives of SPECTRE, introducing us to another key (if controversial) creation in the Bond mythos.
Agreeable Jay:Plus it inspired a classic and quotable Austin Powers gag.
15. Die Another Day
Highest Rank: Krissy, Eric (13)
Lowest Rank: Greg, Jay (14)
Jay: I ranked this 14th, but the distaste for the whole film might have docked it a few points in any tossup choices. The pre-title teases some of the silliness that would come later, but by no means is this any more absurd than the opening of The World is Not Enough. Any movie that utilizes hovercrafts and land mines deserves some respect bringing out the B-team of military-grade weaponry.
14. Licence to Kill
Highest Rank: Krissy (6)
Lowest Rank: Jay (17)
Jay:While I love Licence to Kill unironically, I really only enjoy the Smolder bridegroom slo-mo ironically. All of this feels like a bad mismatch of the A-Team and Miami Vice and Magnum, P.I. My point being that it feels like a cool finale to a 1980’s TV cop drama, not the pre-titles to a James Bond movie.
13. Live and Let Die
Highest Rank: Eric (4)
Lowest Rank: Jay, Krissy (20)
Eric:A solid opening sans Bond that catalyzes a mystery and causes some creative kills. It lends the film some gravitas that it doesn’t actually earn, but it’s cool to see the world of MI6 without Bond.
Counterpoint Jay:When I can’t immediately recall the pre-title attached to a movie that’s generally a bad sign. There’s something about this particular pre-title that doesn’t stick. It does seem like the trend with these first two Moore movies was to remove Bond from the pre-title in order to establish malice. That’s a nice concept, but The Man with the Golden Gun offered me something memorable about the villain. This? This is just a scene. Fun. But just a scene.
Greg:QoS is an anomaly among Bond films. It’s the first Bond film to carry the action directly from the previous Bond film into the next. A long establishing shot zooming across a lake, we have no idea where director Marc Forster is taking us. As we zoom in, we’re then moved straight into the action as we find Bond in the middle of a frantic car chase as he is bringing the wounded Mr. White, shot by Bond at the end of CR, to an interrogation session with M. It’s a great sequence, but one wonders how Mr. White managed to survive all the bullet holes they shot into Bond’s car.
Highest Rank: Jay (6)
Lowest Rank: Greg (16)
Jay:There’s something about this opening that feels more off-the-rails than other Bond movies. Call it an air of danger, of unpredictability. Moneypenny becomes part of that equation because we’re seeing her for the first time in the Craig era — and out from behind the desk. Despite the shirt cuff swagger that Craig serves up as he leaps onto the train, we never really feel like he’s in control. There’s a blissful thrill of seeing Bond in complete control during the pre-title — see Tomorrow Never Dies, but there’s also something visceral and shattering about the pre-titles in which he’s been kicked in the teeth. As a viewer, you’re put off balance, dying to know what the hell happens next and the movie cuts to the title credits, like self-enforced “to be continued…” This imbalance is something that Skyfall nails. Die Another Day nailed it too, mind you, so it’s not exactly quality proof-positive.
Counterpoint Greg:I’m used to finding good things to say about the Bond pre-titles sequences, but for Skyfall I’ve been tasked with critiquing it. It’s hard to fault it for its action, because it’s got lots of lovely moments in it. It features one of the most brutal fights Bond’s ever had, and we witness a mission go very bad very quickly. If I have to find fault with it, then I think the fault lies in the fact that the reason the mission goes bad is because of Moneypenny. Up to this point, Moneypenny had been the one character missing from Craig’s run as Bond, and for the producers to attempt to give her a backstory is commendable. However, having her backstory be “accidentally shot Bond on a mission and retired from field duty to work as M’s secretary” does the character a great disservice, I think.
10. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Highest Rank: Greg (6)
Lowest Rank: Eric (16)
Greg:OHMSS marks the first time that a new Bond would be introduced in the pre-titles sequence (Connery didn’t get a pre-titles sequence until FRWL, and Moore wasn’t introduced until after the credits in LALD). Given the uncertainty after Connery’s departure, I believe a decision was made to remind people that Connery or no, Bond was still Bond. To that end, the pre-titles of OHMSS serves us well, giving us views of M and Moneypenny and the world Bond left behind. Then it adds to the mix the lovely Diana Rigg, some fighting, and then the introduction of George Lazenby as Bond. Connery is still very much on their minds, however, as Lazenby’s “This never happened to the other fellow” aside to the camera shows.
Agreeable Jay: Breaking the fourth wall straight out of the gate in the post-Connery era announced they’d changed the game. Inventive and boldly creative tactic.
9. From Russia With Love
Highest Rank: Greg (9)
Lowest Rank: Jay (12)
Greg:The pre-titles sequence that started it all. When Dr. No came out, there was no pre-titles sequence. So where the idea came from to begin the second film with a brief taste of the action, I have no idea. Whoever came up with it, though, have to be congratulated on adding a key element to the Bond formula. And they did it with such style, too; it helped set up the film’s enemies quite nicely in a tense set-piece that really plays with the viewer’s expectations.
Highest Rank: Eric (5)
Lowest Rank: Greg (17)
Eric: Just watch this pre-title sequence. Seriously, just the opening only. Maybe the song portion if you’re into tentacle erotica, but this is really all you need. It’s well shot. Craig is at his best when he swaggers. Don’t worry about the rest of movie.
7. The World is Not Enough
Highest Rank: Eric (7)
Lowest Rank: Jay (11)
Eric: This Brosnan pre-title sequence feels most classic. This pre-title mini-movie sets the stage for Brosnan’s best performance. He runs the gamut of emotions from swagger to despair. What’s also cool about this one is that Bond actually loses.
6. Tomorrow Never Dies
Highest Rank: Jay (5)
Lowest Rank: Greg (11)
Jay: For me this opening is all about the debut of David Arnold’s sonic palette. “White Knight” is a damn fine introduction that escalates the intensity of this second Brosnan open. Brosnan at his cocky best with a terrific action beat to open Bond’s best pure action film. The TND pre-title sets the tone for the entire movie and Arnold paves the way.
Highest Rank: Krissy (2)
Lowest Rank: Greg (13)
Jay:Welcome to the certifiable classics of James Bond pre-titles. The Top 5. And somehow Goldfinger barely sneaks in. SHOCKING. POSITIVELY, SHOCKING. From Russia With Love initiated the pre-title. Goldfinger made it permanent. Iconic images, timeless one-liners and Bond doing actual spy work made this the Gold-standard. Every Bond that came later had at least attempt to match this. And apparently a few managed…
Highest Rank: Jay (1)
Lowest Rank: Eric (12)
Jay: Second best Bond reveal? Feel free to argue this at home. Brosnan arrives in 1995 with a cocky swagger and just inhabits Bond like he’s been the model all along. Say what you will about the films themselves, but Brosnan understood the character and Bond tenuous place in the 1990’s pop culture landscape. Goldeneye nailed it. But even more so than that, Goldeneye nailed the pre-title sequence with a mind-melting bungee jump and a heavy dose of character.
Counterpoint Eric: Fluffy’s slambang debut. He’s partnered with Sean Bean (in one of his many cinematic reincarnations). He shoots up a factory and drives a motorcycle off a cliff and gets in a plane. How much power is in that hair? Is he channeling his Remington Steele Days?
3. The Spy Who Loved Me
Highest Rank: Krissy (1)
Lowest Rank: Greg (10)
Krissy: [orgasmic squeals]
Jay: I’ll have what she’s having.
2. The Living Daylights
Highest Rank: Greg (1)
Lowest Rank: Jay (7)
Greg:TLD may have been the second Bond I saw in theatres, but it had the first pre-titles sequence to blow me away. Dalton was the first Bond I saw first run, and his introduction could not have been staged any better. Tense, atmospheric, and downright cool.
Jay: The best Bond reveal in the series.
1. Casino Royale
Highest Rank: Eric (1)
Lowest Rank: Krissy (5)
Eric: There’s no Bond here. Just a blunt tool of the British government. A stark black-and-white sequence introduced us to a pre-00 Bond who only sees his assignment in black and white. See the job. Do the job. It’s visceral and rough and ragged and you can feel the impact of this scene in your loins — both the method of delivery and the cocksure assertion that Bond was f’ing back.
I’ve always resisted widely publicizing my full James Bond Movie Rankings. I’ve resisted because a simple ranking system of all 24 films seemed to undermine the spirit of James Bond enjoyment. Fans of 007 find entertainment in even the diciest Bonds.
Maybe I’ve had a change of heart. Maybe I wanted to inspire more complaints on Twitter regarding my highly conflicted feelings about Skyfall. I’ve mitigated a down-the-line ranking system by adding some highs and lows from each Bond movie. These notes are not meant to be complete. Everyone could argue the finer points of the lists; I’ve merely spouted some of the aspects that immediately come to mind about each film. Share yours below. Share your rankings. Feel free to disagree. That’s what I’m here for.
If you’d like to read my thoughts about each film in depth, I’ve included links to my full #Bond_age_ essays. You’ll also find links to our Title Credit Remixes. Just because they’re fun. And can provide some list reading music should you be so inclined.
Hot take: Before Halle Berry backdives quite literally into a sea of CGI, Brosnan’s final Bond has the makings of a potentially great Bond film.
Pros: Pierce gives his all. Unique pre-title. Jesus Bond. Cuban cigars and the 1957 Ford Fairlane. Rosamund Pike. Ejector-seat Aston Martin flip.
Cons: XxX-inspired James Bond. Interminable finale. Script. Specifically, the words that come out of Halle Berry’s mouth. Kitesurfing. Excessive CGI. Evoking Bond films of old does not make the Bond film in front of you any better.
Hot take: Despite classic Ken Adam spectacle, You Only Live Twice resides at the intersection of racism, misogyny and storytelling laziness.
Pros: Mie Hama. John Berry score. Comically dated sexism and misrepresentations of Japanese culture.
Cons: Pleasancefeld. Comical dated sexism and misrepresentations of Japanese culture. Sean Connery checks out in act of self-preservation. Japanese Bond (aka Slouchy Bond). Huge swaths of this movie are just forgettable. Emasculation by toy helicopter.
Hot take: The search for a more classically-styled Bond meets that old oppressive foe, narrative stupidity.
Pros: Mexico pre-title. Craig swagger. M from Beyond narrative catalyst. Christoph Waltz, Dave Bautista and Lea Seydoux casting. Most everything pre-“Cuckoo.” Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema is a repeated savior.
Cons: Everything post-“Cuckoo.” Lazy script leaves nothing to imagination and offers no surprises. Multiple anti-climaxes. Wasted Bautista. Undermined Lea Seydoux. Waltz failed to make Blofeld his own. Personal Blofeld vendetta and “everything must be connected” philosophy. Sam Smith.
Hot take: Snarky, ill-tempered Leisure-suit Bond adventure that breeds stupidity with offense and comes out perversely entertaining, for the wrong reasons.
Pros: One-liners. Shirley Bassey’s best theme. Top notch John Barry score. The supreme evil of Wint and Kidd. An offbeat sense of humor that begat scenes like the moonbuggy chase. “BAJA!”
Cons: Even by James Bond standards this narrative makes little sense. Toothless pre-title “revenge.” Intentional disavowal of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Dour, ugly look of the film. It’s a wee bit racist and sexist and probably some other -ist adjectives. “BAJA!”
Hot take: A mix of ironic and sincere 007 as comic book hero entertainment mingle with plenty of groan-worthiness, yet fail to offend or stand out.
Pros: Maud Adams. James Bond clown costume as performance art responding to criticism of the Moore Bond. Moore’s peak confidence in the role. Louis Jourdan’s suave villainy. Q in the wild. Acrostar pre-title.
Cons: Forgettable villain in Steven Berkhoff (Orlov). Racial insensitivities. Tarzan yell. Uneasy mixture of silliness and seriousness.
Hot take: Arthouse James Bond cribbed Bourne films, fell victim to expedited production, lived to tell the tale.
Pros: Bregenz Opera House sequence. Gemma Arterton and Olga Kurylenko. Expanded role for Judi Dench. Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) eats the peppers. David Harbour’s mustache. Daniel Craig establishes his interpretation of Bond.
Cons: Bond has been fully stripped of humor. Dispatching of Mathis. Excessively rapid cutting detracts from impressive action sequences. Pencil-pusher villainy.
Hot take: Dalton delivers in his first outing, but the franchise wasn’t quite calibrated to his strengths.
Pros: Cello-case sledding. Dalton’s smoldering reinterpretation of Movie Bond. Barry’s innovative score, using electronic rhythm tracks overdubbed with orchestra. Return of the Aston Martin. Maybe the best pre-title Bond reveal. John Rhys-Davies.
Cons: Overlong finale. Clumsy rebranding of the Cold War. Joe Don Baker’s villain fails to distinguish himself until final reel. Kara Milovy becomes a helpless dolt.
Hot take: Late 90’s Bond becomes an action hero yet reverts to some overly-familiar series tropes.
Pros: Backseat-driving BMW chase. Platonic eroticism between Brosnan and Yeoh. Helicopter/motorcycle action spectacle. Pre-title sequence. David Arnold revives John Barry. Vincent Schiavelli’s Dr. Kaufman.
Cons: Teri Hatcher was picked to play Paris Carver over Monica Bellucci. Sheryl Crow theme. Slow-motion action effects. Regurgitates The Spy Who Loved Me finale.
Hot take: Visually stunning action-thriller that forgets, at times, to be a James Bond film.
Pros: Best looking Bond film since the 1960’s. Javier Bardem’s vicious villain. Emotional climax of Bond’s relationship with M. Nostalgic tugs. Pre-titles. Train-jump cuff adjustment. Bond on a bender.
Cons: Overlong. Unwelcome deconstruction of Bond’s past. The Batman-ization of James Bond. Newman’s ineffective score. Bond’s suddenly “too old for this spit.”
Hot take: The most polarizing Bond movie trades in half-hearted Kung Fu tropes, mild racism, rampant sexism and more WTF? moments than you can shake a Nick Nack at.
Pros: Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga. The dozens of truly bonkers creative decisions. Fun house maze. Maud Adams Part 1. Stunts. The obscene humor that is J.W. Pepper. Ruthless Bond moments. Sunken ship HQ.
Cons: Slide whistle. Lulu’s theme (albeit fitting). Above-mentioned mild racism and rampant sexism. Series struggling to pinpoint Roger Moore’s Bond character. J.W. Pepper returns.
Hot take: An inspired narrative and impressive action set pieces resurrect James Bond for the 1990’s.
Pros: Brosnan finally gets his shot. Pre-title bungee jump/infiltration. Real espionage! Tank scene. 006 vs. 007 face off. The inexplicable Joe Don Baker. Trio of fantastic villains in Sean Bean, Alan Cumming, and Famke Janssen. The “Goldeneye Overture” from Eric Serra’s score. Introduction of Judi Dench as M.
Cons: Most everything else from Eric Serra’s score, especially “Ladies First.” Anticlimactic offing of Xenia Onatopp. At times the film tries too hard to be accepted by critics who, like Judi Dench, condemn Bond as a “relic.” That I can’t have 6 films in my Top 5.
Hot take: The series’ greatest balance of action, humor, and the Bond formula finally gets Roger Moore right and introduces the series most beloved henchman.
Pros: Iconic Union Jack pre-titles. Roger Moore’s hinged eyebrow comes into its own. Lotus Espirit submarine. Ken Adams’ brilliant set design. Jaws. Globe-trotting. Use of rival and competent female agent. Caroline Munro. Rising series self-awareness.
Cons: Slightly bloated finale. Barry’s score is missed despite Marvin Hamlisch’s competent, but not especially timeless score.
Hot take: Underrated spiritual successor to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service finally gives Bond the opportunity seek bloody revenge.
Pros: Fully-formed T-Dalt Bond gets his day. Bond’s personal vendetta mingles with global concerns. Tanker-truck stuntwork. Shotgun-wielding Carey Lowell. Q in the wild. Robert Davi’s ruthless Sanchez. Striking, graphic violence. Wayne Newton mingles a welcome touch of absurdity. LTK stands as the closest proximation of Ian Fleming’s creation since OHMSS.
Cons: Overemphasis on story minimizes the film’s ability to showcase any real Bond swagger. Grim, very very grim. All the naysayers trying to damper my enthusiasm.
Hot take: Martin Campbell once again resurrects James Bond from the depths and creates a pitch-perfect Bond film that would have made Ian Fleming proud.
Pros: Stylized B&W pre-title. Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd becomes a classic Bond lady. Screenwriting — especially interplay between Vesper and Bond. Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. Layers of villainy. Mads Mikkelson. Reboot of SPECTRE with Quantum. Focus on card play, drinking. Action set pieces – Madagascar chase, Sinking house finale, Miami. David Arnold’s brilliant score. “Scratching my balls.”
Hot take: The most complete Bond film taps thrills, feels, frills, technical achievement and an attention to textual detail unmatched anywhere else in the Bond series.
Pros: Diana Rigg. Telly Savalas is the best Blofeld. Skiing! Curling! Bobsledding! Bond as unadultered man-whore. Some of Barry’s most iconic Bond music. Lair assault. THE ENDING, YOU GUYS. And goddammit George Lazenby isn’t bad because whatever he did sells the emotion of the final scene. Did I say Diana Rigg yet? Wacky hypnosis Blofeld “Angels of Death” plot. Peter Hunt showcases the series’ best filmmaking. It’s a beautiful looking film.
Cons: Bond in ruffles. Even though I don’t think Lazenby detracts (and occasionally enhances), I do wonder if this film could have been the absolute tops with an engaged Sean Connery.
Hot take: After the many first-draft successes of Dr. No, Terence Young kept what worked and improved upon everything else. FRWL is a sexy, brutal and thrilling adventure.
Pros: Sean Connery. Daniela Bianchi. Blue neglige. Robert Shaw/Red Grant. Train car fisticuffs — one of the best fistfights ever captured on film. Bond doing actual spy work. Gypsies. Pedro Armendariz. Rosa Klebb. Raw, rambling and novel-based narrative allows James Bond time and space to be 007. Filming on location in Turkey.
What do you think, sirs and madams? Where do you think I’ve erred egregiously? Post your lists in the comments. Unless you’re one of those You Only Live Twice apologists. I don’t need to hear any more nonsense from you.
For this newest Licence to List, #Bond_age_ HQ has compiled and ranked a list of the best Bond directors. As always, we’ve used highly specific and wholly arbitrary methods for ranking. We each have our favorite films and our favorite directors and our favorite films filmed by our favorite directors. What was I saying? Oh yeah, I was saying this is highly scientific.
If you have a suggestion for a future List, send us a suggestion and we’ll tackle it next on Licence to List.
1. Terence Young
Movies: Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball
Highest Rank: Greg, Jay (1)
Lowest Rank: Krissy (2)
Without Terence Young, James Bond might not have been James Bond. Young groomed Connery and molded the future of the franchise. Lois Maxwell said of Young: “Terence took Sean under his wing. He took him to dinner, showed him how to walk, how to talk, even how to eat.” While Young boasts a prolific directorial resume, only a select few of his films come close to his achievement and success with Bond. He’s the best Bond director. His influence on the entire series cannot be understated.
Most notable non-Bond movie: Wait Until Dark (1967)
2. Martin Campbell
Movies: GoldenEye, Casino Royale
Highest Rank: Jay (2)
Lowest Rank: Greg (4)
The only director to twice resurrect the James Bond franchise from the brink of irrelevance. Campbell ushered in the Brosnan era after six years of Bondless inactivity and the Craig era after Die Another Day tried to destroy us all. Campbell has a firm grasp on the notion that the best 007 movies are the ones that give James Bond time and space to be James Bond. He’s also a meticulous helmsman when it comes to action. Action in a Campbell film is concise, clear and has a real-world weight. Campbell slides seamlessly from genre to genre, never leaving distinct tracks. In Bond, that meant foregrounding the character and stepping back to admire the coolness. Nothing in Bond is ever bigger than the character. And in that way he perfectly understands the requirements of a James Bond director.
Most notable non-Bond movie: Mask of Zorro (1998)
3. Peter Hunt
Movies: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Highest Rank: Krissy (1)
Lowest Rank: Greg (7)
Peter R. Hunt worked as an editor on the first five Bond films and a 2nd unit director on Thunderball and You Only Live Twice until summoned to the helm for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. As an editor, Hunt was a pioneer of action editing. And as an editor, he knew every seam and every crevice in these Bond films. His directorial debut on OHMSS oozes confidence and puts his experience with action editing and photography on display. Peter R. Hunt also got the rawest deal in all of Bond directorial history. Upon release, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was considered a bust. Hunt’s relationship with Cubby and Saltzman had eroded during the filming and Hunt decided to cut ties with Eon. Hunt’s lone effort in the chair, provides the fuel for so many “what ifs.” What if Hunt had stayed on to director Diamonds Are Forever and beyond? What if we’d gotten a series of Peter Hunt Bonds instead of Guy Hamiltons?
Most notable non-Bond movie: Death Hunt (1981)
4. John Glen
Movies: For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill
Highest Rank: Greg (3)
Lowest Rank: Krissy (5)
John Glen drops in at #4 for his volume of Bond work and his intermittent highs (despite the lows… the very very lows). Like Hunt, Glen cut his teeth in the editing room and as 2nd unit director on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. With the right material at his disposal Glen proved more than proficient. Operating in the post-Moonraker era of Bond, Glen saw his budgets cut to help pay off that debt. He directed two of the grittiest and underrated Bonds in For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill. But within each of his films, Glen knew how have a good time; he fostered a spirit of fun that has been lost in more recent efforts.
Most notable non-Bond film: Uh…. Iron Eagle III?
5. Guy Hamilton
Movies: Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun
Highest Rank: Greg (2)
Lowest Rank: Krissy (7)
Oh Guy Hamilton, you enigmatic buffoon/genius. Trained under Carol Reed on films like The Third Man and Fallen Idol. He went on to direct military pictures and got his first big budget picture in 1959 — the Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas vehicle The Devil’s Disciple. In 1962, Hamilton turned down the opportunity to direct Dr. No, but remained tied to the Bond production in a consulting role. He accepted his first official Bond gig with Goldfinger (1964). He’s credited with perfecting Bond’s action, comedy and innuendo. Considering the Bond efforts that would follow, one can’t help but consider that Goldfinger success to be a bit of an anomaly. (*cough*Diamonds Are Forever*cough*) And though we generally enjoy LaLD and TMwGG, they’re not the most cohesive or structurally sound pictures. Hamilton looms large in the Bond-verse, but he’s a bit of a divisive figure.
Most notable non-Bond film: Funeral in Berlin (1966)
6. Michael Apted
Movies: The World Is Not Enough
Highest Rank: Greg, Jay (5)
Lowest Rank: Krissy (10)
Hey, Michael Apted. If only you’d put the kibosh on that “Christmas only comes once a year line.” If only. The World is Not Enough is stuffed full of good ideas and competent action, but Christmas Jones just drags the whole enterprise down with her. Apted also fostered, arguably, Pierce Brosnan’s best Bond performance. Apted has curated a legendary career in British TV and, unlike many of these directors featured in our countdown, many notable films outside James Bond. The man’s a proven talent in the dramatic arts, he just needed to keep a closer eye on that casting director.
Most notable non-Bond film: Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)? Gorky Park (1983)?
7. Roger Spottiswoode
Movies: Tomorrow Never Dies
Highest Rank: Greg (6)
Lowest Rank: Krissy (9)
Spottiswoode made a name for himself by being Sam Peckinpah’s go-to editor during the early 1970’s. That in itself is a badge of cinema honor. Among other films, he edited Straw Dogs and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. He made his directorial debut with 1980’s Terror Train. His sole contribution to James Bond is the oft-maligned Tomorrow Never Dies. So his villain doesn’t stand out. And there are some comically bad slo-mos… but Spottiswoode shows a deft touch with the action set pieces. It’s unclear how or why Spottiswoode was tabbed to direct this film as his prior commercial success was… uhhh…. Stop or My Mom Will Shoot!
Most notable non-Bond film: Under Fire (1983). It’s either that or Turner & Hooch (1989).
8a. Marc Forster
Movies: Quantum of Solace
Highest Rank: Greg, Jay, Krissy (8)
Lowest Rank: Greg, Jay, Krissy (8)
The #Bond_age_ powers were united in the 8th placeness of Marc Forster. James Bond from the director of a bunch of years of Hollywood Oscar bait! Predictably, perhaps, Marc Forster tried to spin Bond in a direction with a little more artistic merit. The Bregenz Opera sequence stands as a testament to avant Bondness. As a result, the Bond purists hated it and the broader public audience thought they were watching another Bourne movie. I’m convinced time and tide will be kinder to Quantum of Solace, but for the moment Forster remains a punching bag. Forster rightfully defends his work on QoS, but regrets not having more time to work on the third act as the writer’s strike put a damper on his creative process.
Most notable non-Bond film: Monster’s Ball (2001)
8b. Sam Mendes
Movies: Skyfall, Spectre
Highest Rank: Krissy (4)
Lowest Rank: Greg, Jay (10)
The most divisive name on this list. We’re still unclear about Mendes’ lasting legacy as a Bond director. Skyfall thrilled, but detractors would argue that the film lacked necessary Bondness, that the movie had some structural problems that were obscured behind fine cinematic craftsmanship. This then leads to the conversation about whether or not “Bondness” matters. Pub conversation of the first order. After Spectre, Greg and Jay have fallen on the side with the detractors. Krissy offers more Mendes optimism due to her positive takeaway from Spectre.
Most notable non-Bond film: American Beauty (1999)
8c. Lewis Gilbert
Movies: You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker
Highest Rank: Krissy (6)
Lowest Rank: Greg, Jay (9)
Sandwiched between two stinkers lies The Spy Who Loved Me. How does one come to terms with these bipolar tendencies? Lewis Gilbert began his career just after World War II as a documentary filmmaker for Gaumont British. His first feature-length films based on true stories from the war. And then he directed Alfie (1966) starring Michael Caine and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director. The film also received five Academy Award nominations. After Alfie, Lewis directed You Only Live Twice. Because that’s what you do after you direct a low budget British comedy based on a stage play.
Most notable non-Bond movie: Alfie (1966)
11. Lee Tamahori
Movies: Die Another Day
Highest Rank: Greg, Jay, Krissy (11)
Lowest Rank: Greg, Jay, Krissy (11)
WE ARE UNITED.
What kills me is that this was the guy that directed Once Were Warriors (1994), which is an amazing goddamn film. And then Hollywood got hold of him and he directed Along Came a Spider and XxX: State of the Union. There’s not much to say about Die Another Day‘s place in the Bond canon. Fever dream of the first worst order.
Most notable non-Bond film: Once Were Warriors (1994).
As an introduction to the next series of Bond posts leading up to the release of SPECTRE, the #Bond_age_ powers have come together with a cumulative rank of their favorite Bond theme songs. And yes we’re piggybacking on the release today of Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall.” This list includes vocal tracks only. So while Matt Munro’s “From Russia With Love” did not open From Russia With Love, it was still the title track. Meanwhile, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” does not count (because it is an instrumental) and likewise for Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in the World” because it is not the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service theme. That leaves 21 vocal theme tracks. We will not dare to rank the new Sam Smith track until we’ve heard it the context of the film. We don’t want to jump to any conclusions (Jay, excepted perhaps. He’s planning pickets and gathering pitchforks).
For our next list, you, the reader/Twatterer/#Bond_age_ junkie can suggest a topic and submit your own list. You will then choose your opponent (either Jay, Krissy or Greg) to a List Off, Iron Chef style (Iron #Bond_age_, eh?). Everyone else will choose a winner, mock our choices or cause general havoc down there in the comments of the page. With all that logistical nonsense out of the way (where’s Moneypenny?), here’s our ranking of the 21 Bond themes, highest ranked to lowest because we don’t believe in that delayed gratification anyway. Hand out the big awards first and then hang around for the snark about Sheryl Crow.
Ready? Let’s take a sonic journey through 50 years of Bond. (more…)