Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Bond Films: Worst to Best

My teenaged daughter and I share a love of movies. And we spend a lot of time talking about them, especially with regards to the ideas of "classic" films, "cult classics," and "must-watch" films. And she often comes to me to talk about such things after becoming exasperated by the opinions (or lack of opinions) of her friends or becoming intrigued by articles she's read on the 'net. Most recently, she discovered this piece--from 2012--by Peter Travers at Rolling Stone. In it, Travers does what I'm about to do: rank the Bond movies from worst to best. My daughter enjoyed the piece very much, as it has a number of funny takes on some of the lamer parts of the various films. Still, she didn't agree with it and was pretty sure that I wouldn't either. And she suggested that I should do my own list, since she knew I'd get it right.

Travers lists Quantum of Solace at the bottom and Goldfinger as the top, choices which I can understand and are defensible, but are quite wrong. There's another list at Rotten Tomatoes, as well, based on some formula using the "Tomatometer," the number of reviews available, and the year of release. It comes off okay, spitting out the 1967 Casino Royale at the bottom (which Travers didn't include in his list), followed by A View to a Kill (which Travers has at number seventeen). At the top, Rotten Tomatoes has Dr. No (which Travers has at number six). Again, these are defensible choices; I understand how one could make them. And they're still wrong.

Incidentally, Rotten Tomatoes has Goldfinger--Travers' number one--at number three, and Quantum of Solace--Travers' number twenty-four--at number sixteen. So the two lists are obviously quite different. Both tend to put some of the same movies near the top or bottom, as the case may be, but there are a few that receive vastly different places in the lists. Read them both through, See which one you agree with the most. See where your favorites Bond films are in each.

Done? Okay, now here's my list, the quintessential one. But first, a few housekeeping items. Like Travers, I'm not including 1967's David Niven farce, Casino Royale. It's not a Bond Film. It just isn't. Also, I'm including both the Travers ranking (PT #) and Rotten tomatoes (RT #) ranking for comparison purposes. The methodology of my list is simple: I've watched them all, multiple times (and I've read all of the original books), and I've determined the rankings based on how good each movie is as a Bond movie. So...Here. We. Go.

24. Octopussy (PT #16, RT #23)
Look, the problem with this movie is that it's stupid. Also, both the villain and the love interest are weak. It's overly campy as well, but then tries to switch to overly serious. Moore should have called it quits before going here. And even worse, the title of the movie is from an Ian Fleming short story on Bond, but the movie itself has nothing to do with that story. Ridiculous. For the life of me, I can't see how Travers rates this movie higher than eight others.

23. Quantum of Solace (PT #24, RT #14)
Travers is right on this one. The problem with this move is that it's not a Bond movie. Not even close. As he says, it's more of a Jason Borne movie, but not a good one. It's hard to watch, it doesn't flow at all, and there just isn't any Bond in it.

22. Tomorrow Never Dies (PT #21, RT #20)
Everyone is close to the same place on this one. While the exact ranking may be in dispute, there's agreement that this is one of the worst Bond films. Once again, there's a weak villain, Even worse, Michelle Yeoh is wasted in this movie. She could have done so much more.

21. License To Kill (PT #23, RT #11)
Tough call here. There are some serious positives in this movie, from Robert Davi to Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto. And of course Wayne Newton. But like Octopussy, this one tries too hard to flip from serious to silly and it fails, largely because Timothy Dalton's Bond can't exist in such a world.

20. A View To A Kill (PT #17, RT #24)
The flaws of this entry into the franchise have been heavily explored. Moore himself thought he was too old for the role, given what he had to do. Plus, there's the psychotic rage of Walken's character, out of place in a Bond film. But I have to admit, I find it watchable, which is why I have it at the top of the bottom five.

19. The Man With The Golden Gun (PT #14, RT #22)
There's just not enough here. Not enough of anything. Yes, Christopher Lee is awesome, but Britt Eckland is completly forgettable. Ask me to name all the Bond girls and I will almost always forget her. Plus, the fight scenes really are lame. It tries to evoke an Enter the Dragon feel and fails miserably. Still, it is Bond.

18. Die Another Day (PT #10, RT #19)
For the life of me, I don't know how Travers gets this one in the top ten. He complains about product placement in Tomorrow Never Dies, but it's worse in this one. Yes, that's partially offset by Halle Berry and by some great action sequences, but the plot is all over the place.

17. Diamonds Are Forever (PT #18, RT #16)
Once again, general agreement. Connery's last Eon film as James Bond and also his worst. But remember, that's relative. The movie is completely watchable, even with a rather predictable plot and rather typical (for a Bond film) characters.

16. For Your Eyes Only (PT #12, RT #12)
This movie and the ones that follow indicate why I am right and the other lists are wrong. We're getting into completely acceptable Bond movies now, movies that are fun and have what we expect in a Bond move. This one fits that bill, but just barely. The ending is not satisfactory at all and Lynn-Holly Johnson as apparent jailbait is just wrong for a Bond film. Still, not a bad flick.

15. Never Say Never Again (PT #13, RT #18)
Travers has this one a little too high, Rotten Tomatoes has it a little too low. Connery returns as Bond in a non-Eon film, a little older but still very much Bond. The villain is strong, as are the Bond girls (Kim Basinger and Barbara Carrera).

14. The Living Daylights (PT #22, RT #10)
This is not a top ten Bond movie. But it's also not from the bottom of the barrel. Dalton's first appearance as Bond is strong, evoking the original, more serious archetype. The plot is fine here, as are the actors, especially Art Malik. If Dalton is the worst Bond, this movie is not evidence of that.

13. You Only Live Twice (PT #7, RT #13)
Once again, Travers is out in left field. While this is most definitely a decent Bond film, it's nowhere near one of the best. The plot is full of pointless elements, like Bond's surgery to look Asian, and the movie itself is exceedingly loose. But again, it's Bond.

12. The World Is Not Enough (PT #20, RT #21)
Sorry, but no way is this one of the worst. It's most certainly better than what's above. The plot is outrageous (in a good way), the women are memorable, and Brosnan plays Bond the right way. Okay, yes, having Denise Richards play a nuclear physicist is beyond the pale and the villain's inability to feel pain is overdone, but beyond that the movie works. It's easy on the eyes, has great action sequences and some truly Bond moments.

11. Goldeneye (PT #19, RT #8)
Like The World Is Not Enough. this one works. And it works especially because of Famke Janssen and Sean Bean. Brosnan's first and best Bond film, hands down. Also, the best video game based on a Bond film, hands down.

10. Moonraker (PT #15, RT #17)
"This is in the top ten? Are you crazy?" I can hear people saying that as they read this. Yes, it has some campy moments. Yes, it has a weak--though still memorable--lead Bond girl. But be honest. This is, without a doubt, one of the easiest Bond films to watch and enjoy. It's never slow and Moore is in great form, never missing a beat, as he moves effortlessly around the world and into space. When this film came out, many critics actually thought it ranked right near the top. In today's world, it's over-the-top-ness is muted, but that's no less true of some of the older Bond films, like Goldfinger. This one needs to be better appreciated for what it is.

9. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (PT #3, RT #7)
Number three? Are you kidding me? Regardless, George Lazenby's lone role as Bond is a good one. The movie itself is full-bore Bond and doesn't disappoint. The only quibble I have is with some of the fight scenes, obviously sped up to make them look more impressive. They don't.

8. Skyfall (PT #5, RT #5)
It's a helluva flick, made for a helluva lot of money (though a helluva lot less than was its failure of a predecessor, Quantum of Solace). I don't have any complaints. It's just not as good as the ones that follow.

7. Thunderball (PT #9, RT #6)
More vintage Bond. Again, a movie without any real problems. The villain here--Emilio Largo, played by Adolfo Celi--is one of the best in the franchise. And Claudine Auger as Domino is just about perfect.

6. The Spy Who Loved Me (PT #8, RT #9)
Okay, we all have this one in the top ten. I have it higher. Why? Well, compare it to the three above. It's villain is right there with the others, Barbara Bach leaves a trail of smoke across the screen (come on, you know it, be honest), the locales are great, it has the best car of the franchise (the Lotus that turns into a submarine), and it has the first appearance of Richard Kiehl's Jaws. This is where it belongs.

5. From Russia With Love (PT #2, RT #4)
The second Bond movie is undoubtedly one of the best. In it, Connery really developed the Bond character, not only for purposes of the movie, but as a starting point for the franchise. Bond was just a one-off hero after Dr. No. In this film he was defined as an archetype.

4. Casino Royale (PT #4, RT #2)
Daniel Craig's first Bond film was a masterstroke, insofar as it brought the franchise back to it's roots. It tries hard to follow the original novel, with spectacular results. The opening sequences are frenetic and fun, but the casino sequences are vintage Bond to the nth degree.

3. Goldfinger (PT #1, RT #3)
Sorry Pete. I know you know your stuff, but you're just wrong here. This is not the best Bond film...but it's close! Hey, Pussy Galore, naked women painted gold, and a plot to rob Fort Knox. There's nothing missing here and Connery is never better.

2. Dr. No (PT #6, RT #1)
It was the first and I know some would say the best. There is no doubt, Ursula Andress set a standard for all future Bond girls, a standard that only Honor Blackman and Barbara Bach can even approach. Then there's the villain himself, Dr. No, and his lair. These are the stars all Bond villains try to reach. Few succeed.

1. Live And Let Die (PT #11, RT #15)
Let me very clear about this. I don't want any misunderstandings. Live And Let Die is the best Bond film of all time, it's top-o-the-heap, cream of the crop, end of story. Is Roger Moore the best Bond? No. He's probably number three, if not number four. Is Jane Seymour--as Solitaire--the best Bond girl? No. She's in the top five, though. Is Yaphet Kotto the best Bond villain? No. He's in the middle of the list, no doubt. None of that matters. Live And Let Die is the best because it perfectly encapsulates all the things that make Bond films so great. The attitude, the action. the villains, the unexpected twists, it's all there. And it's never done better, across the board. Plus, there is no Bond film that is more entertaining from start to finish than this one. That's why it's number one. Oh, and it also has the best title song of the franchise...


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