The Worst Bond Films Ever

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by Matt Singer
November 1, 2012 11:30 AM
21 Comments
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"Die Another Day"

Even a hardcore Bond nerd like myself has to admit that 007 has had his share of bad days. When a franchise lasts for 50 years, there are inevitably going to be some valleys along with the peaks -- and then probably some kind of pun about how lovely the peaks look in the moonlight. With one week to go before "Skyfall" -- and with lots of pieces to come celebrating the fun of Bond -- it's only fair to pause and reflect on 007's worst moments. These five Bond films are almost as excruciating as a laser beam to the crotch.

5. Quantum of Solace (2008)
Directed by Marc Forster

With the exception of the first few Sean Connery pictures, Bond has never been a trendsetter. He's more of a trendfollower; glomming on to whatever's popular and riding its wake to coolness by association. When parkour became a thing, he learned parkour; when "Star Wars" was hot, Bond went to space (more on that later). In the case of "Quantum of Solace" you see the original spy franchise trying to imitate one of its spiritual offspring -- the Jason Bourne series -- with plenty of hand-held cinematography and chaotic editing. Sadly, the screenplay is even shakier than the camerawork; "Quantum"'s unfinished script was rushed into production just before a writers' strike, and it shows: the shortest film in the franchise, it mostly runs on the plot fumes of the previous installment, putting Bond in a scenario eerily reminiscent of "The Bourne Supremacy," on the hunt for the shadowy organization that killed the woman he loved. The chase builds to the moment we've all been waiting for: when the ultra-muscular Daniel Craig finally squares off against the paralyzed guy from "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." Oh, the suspense.

4. Licence to Kill (1989)
Directed by John Glen

James Bond can do just about anything -- except, apparently, make revenge entertaining. In this installment 007 hunts down the drug dealer (Robert Davi) who crippled his buddy, and the dreary results often feel more like a high concept combination of "Death Wish" and "Scarface" than a spy movie. In place of the usual cocktail of gadgets, quips and actual cocktails, there's a Wayne Newton cameo, and a lot of Timothy Dalton sulking around South America in a Members Only jacket. Midway through Bond's quest for vengeance, his boss M (Robert Brown) shows up to demand he stop ignoring his duties to settle a petty score. Bond is, of course, just being a loyal friend, but M kind of has a point: a guy relied upon to keep the world safe from crazy evildoers probably has more important things to do. That scene also has one of the funniest bad moments in any Bond film. When M revokes 007's licence to kill, Bond creates a diversion and escapes to carry on his crusade. As he leaps off a balcony to make his getaway, M's guards open fire on him. "No! Too many people!" M screams. Cut to this:

Uh, yeah. Don't want to hit all those people in that completely empty thicket of heavy brush. Oh well; at least the theme song by Gladys Knight is fun.

3. The World is Not Enough (1999)
Directed by Michael Apted

Pierce Brosnan's first Bond, "GoldenEye," was a relatively stripped down reconsideration of 007 in the post-Cold War era, but by "The World is Not Enough" four years later, the series had already begun to slip back into cartoonish lunacy. There's a mini-speedboat chase on the River Thames, a bad guy with a bullet in his head who's impervious to pain (science!), and Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones (SCIENCE!!!). "The World is Not Enough" is no sillier than the Roger Moore Bond movies, but Moore had something Brosnan lacked: a sense of cheeky self-awareness. Brosnan was best in less outlandish adventures where he could swagger and smirk; Moore was more comfortable playing the role of ringleader at a circus of the insane -- even dressing like a clown in "Octopussy" just to make it clear he was in on the joke. Brosnan's a bit too intense for this sort of Bond, and he doesn't look like he's having any fun driving inside an oil pipeline or pursuing an assassin in a hot air balloon. He doesn't even seem particularly amused when he's ogling women at a party with x-ray specs -- and neither are we. Clearly, the world actually was enough.

2. Die Another Day (2002)
Directed by Lee Tamahori

It's a pretty good rule, if only useful in retrospect: the last movie made by each Bond actor is generally terrible. It makes sense; if that film turned out well, the star would have returned to make another one. Connery's last Bond, "Diamonds Are Forever" was his weakest; Moore's last, "A View to a Kill" is routinely considered one of the worst in the franchise (although I'd argue Christopher Walken and Grace Jones as two of the batshit craziest Bond villains ever elevate it from the bottom of the barrel to, I don't know, mid-barrel). Brosnan's last Bond, "Die Another Day," boasts a fun and surprisingly elaborate fencing scene between 007 and the bad guy, British diamond magnate Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), but even by the standards of Bond villainy, this guy's plan makes no sense: why go to the trouble of wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on an elaborate PR campaign in Iceland to introduce your amazing new Icarus satellite if you're just going to immediately turn it into a death laser? Do death lasers really need their own publicity teams? Other lowlights include a car chase on a glacier, a hotel built entirely and illogically out of ice, and Bond trying his hand at Arctic windsurfing... and that's just one scene. Not to be outdone, in the climactic fight Graves puts on this thing, which gives him the power to zap people with the dark side of the Force. 

Just awful. But not as awful as...

1. Moonraker (1979)
Directed by Lewis Gilbert

The undeniable nadir of Bond's career, wherein 007 faces his deadliest enemies: lunkheaded screenwriting and cheesy "Star Wars" knockoffs. Investigating a space shuttle hijacking (I hate it when that happens), Bond discovers a plot by evil billionaire industrialist Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) to kill all life on earth and replace it with his own master race of white people in hideous jumpsuits. All Bond movies have a bit of the absurd, but "Moonraker" is just bonkers: there are laser battles in space (on an admittedly spectacular Ken Adam set) and a love subplot for Jaws (Richard Kiel), a giant henchman with big metal teeth who never speaks. And so much for being a "secret" agent: Drax knows exactly who Bond is from the beginning of the movie, but he lets him hang around anyway because otherwise there would be no movie ("Mr. Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you!"). Not to be outdone or upstaged, 007 gives Drax a run for his money in the stupidity department, willingly taking a near-death spin in his anti-gravity centrifuge, and wandering out onto the roof of a cable car suspended hundreds of feet above the earth because, he insists, he's "better off" dangling up there than inside. Oh, and then there was that time when a pigeon saw James Bond driving a gondola and did a double take:

Even pigeons are embarrassed by "Moonraker."

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21 Comments

  • John A. | November 9, 2012 3:24 PMReply

    I don't know, "Diamonds Are Forever" is easily worse than any and all of these. I actually like "Quantum of Solace," "Licence to Kill," and "The World Is Not Enough" - but they're definitely all very flawed. They're mid-range Bonds to me, not bad Bonds

  • Joe Z | November 6, 2012 10:32 AMReply

    License to Kill rules as far as I'm concerned. It's a hyperviolent, R-rated Bond film with Bond fighting a Latin American cocaine lord in the late 80s, whose grand plan involves communicating through a televangelist and disolving cocaine in gasoline. It features death by shark, electric eel, paper shredder, and cigarette lighter. What a recipe for AWESOMENESS, in short. Give me this over most of the boring, cheesey, and/or bloated post-Connery Bonds any day.

  • Bede Jermyn | November 4, 2012 6:01 PMReply

    How the hell isn't "Octopussy" on this list?! It's the Bond film of them all. When you have a scene that has Bond dressed as a circus clown and then have a scene of him swinging from vine to vine while letting out a Tarzan cry, it's automatically the worst film in the franchise.

  • Dan Heaton | November 2, 2012 11:34 AMReply

    No! License to Kill should not be on this list! If you put Diamonds are Forever in there, it would be nearly right. I just don't get why there's so much hate for this movie. It has one of the best villains in Robert Davi's Sanchez and is an interesting departure from the norm. That one example of an awkward moment with M isn't enough to kill the movie. There's so much to like that at worst License to Kill should be in the middle of any Bond rankings. With clunkers like The Man with the Golden Gun and Octupussy not on this list, I just don't see how License to Kill belongs in here.

  • Gerardo Valero | November 1, 2012 9:48 PMReply

    I love "The World is not Enough" because Nuclear Scientists in Bond movie shold look and dress like a Denisse Richards, that's the whole point. The fact that her character came out in the internet age made her suffer the same maligned faith of a Jar Jar Binks but right of the hat, I put her above Tanya Roberts, Jill St. John, both Japanese girls from YOLT, Lois Chiles, and perhaps Rosamund Pike (you'll have to agree that if you put Richards besides Lynn Holly Johnson, she tends to sound like a like Meryl Streep). Besides, I love Desmond Llewelyn's farewell scene and the boat chase on the river Thames. In contrast, "A View to a Kill" is boring throughout and it creeps me out to see Roger Moore kissing girls half his age (if that). Regarding "Diamonds", if you want to torture me all you have to do is play me the voice of the guy in the oil-platform's loudspeaker with the never-ending countdown ("five minutes and coooounting!, three minutes and coooounting!"). This was perhaps the last movie with a male countdown voice (no surprise there). Ernst Stavro Blofeld in drag also doesn't help.

  • Derek J | November 1, 2012 6:35 PMReply

    Great list, but I have to join the disagreement over The World Is Not Enough. That movie would've been horrible as a Roger Moore joint. Aside from Christmas Jones--probably the worst Bond girl ever, and why is she dressed like Lara Croft?--there wasn't much in TWINE for Moore to wink, nudge, or smirk at. The basic story, with Elektra as the surprise bad guy and Bond diminished by injury, is solid, and at least as down-to-Earth as GoldenEye. When I saw this on your list, I thought you must've transposed the title with Tomorrow Never Dies--a far worse, far campier film that would have fit in perfectly in the late Moore era. That movie is only saved from a place at the bottom of the barrel by Michelle Yeoh, and the kind of action scenes you can pull off when Yeoh is your leading lady.

  • Salty Bill | November 1, 2012 4:42 PMReply

    I think Diamonds Are Forever is one of the most entertaining Bond films. And Pauline Kael liked it too, so THERE! ;-) A View To A Kill was lame and tired, and all the Pierce Brosnans were underwhelming with the sole exception of Goldeneye.

  • Max | November 1, 2012 12:57 PMReply

    The Man with the Golden Gun is worse than all of these.

  • Salty Bill | November 1, 2012 4:38 PM

    Agreed, TMWTGG is pretty lame.

  • Matt Singer | November 1, 2012 1:47 PM

    Max, beauty is in the eye of the beholder (of the golden gun), but I actually like TMWTGG. Might be my favorite Moore Bond. Christopher Lee! Hervé Villechaize! Britt Ekland in a bikini! A gun made out of solid gold that can be broken into pieces like a cigarette case and a lighter! A pistol duel on a beach! It's fun.

  • Gerardo Valero | November 1, 2012 12:28 PMReply

    At least "Moonraker" was fun in its own stupid way,
    "A View to a Kill" is by far, the worst, by then Roger Moore needed stunt doubles even for showing Bond walking-up the stairs. "Diamonds are Forever"would be a close second to last.
    I love "The World is not Enough", by the way.

  • Matt Singer | November 1, 2012 1:49 PM

    Gerardo, as I said below, I rewatched A VIEW TO A KILL this week, and found it a surprisingly pleasant experience. We're in relative agreement on DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, although it'd rank it just outside the bottom five. Why do you love TWINE so much?

  • Aaron | November 1, 2012 11:55 AMReply

    I think I'm right with you with your 1-4. QUANTUM OF SOLACE is OK, I can see why you'd put it on your list, but I would set my number five at probably YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.

  • Aaron | November 1, 2012 2:11 PM

    I kind of liked DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER - I realize it's not a good piece of cinema, but I liked it's comedic sensibilities. I sort of read it as a screwball comedy.

  • Matt Singer | November 1, 2012 12:08 PM

    Aaron, I'd pick DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER as the worst Connery Bond, and will tell you it didn't miss this list by much.

  • Bob Cashill | November 1, 2012 11:49 AMReply

    I know you're straining to keep away from A VIEW TO A KILL, but any bottom-barrel Bond list without it is missing the obvious: http://www.slantmagazine.com/house/2010/06/summer-of-’85-a-view-to-a-kill/

    All of the Brosnan Bonds are mediocre. LIVE AND LET DIE is a chore after its opening sequence and title tune. Not as big a fan of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY as I'm supposed to be; underwater sequences, yawn.

    Funny, the only thing I don't like about LICENCE is the tedious title track. Still in my Top 007.

    And seeing MOONRAKER first run, in a 70mm blowup, was ravishing. I know it's hoary, and not a patch on THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, but, wow.

  • Matt Singer | November 1, 2012 12:05 PM

    Bob, the first time I saw A VIEW TO A KILL maybe 15 years ago I hated it. I rewatched it before I wrote this piece expecting it to still be the #1 -- and I wound up kind of liking it, or at least not hating it. I may write a piece on it as I think it gets a bit of an unfair reputation (in some respects -- Moore is obviously waaaaay too old for the part).

  • Steve | November 1, 2012 11:46 AMReply

    Agree with all, except Quantum (which is far from great). But nothing from Quantum is as cringe-worthy as this "Live and let die" scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tf8_WiSSsAU (the first one) :)

  • Josh | November 1, 2012 11:40 AMReply

    I think that Die Another Day narrowly ekes out Moonraker for the "Worst" title, if only for that vomitously abysmal Madonna song in the opening credits. It's too bad, because I think that Die Another Day had one of the coolest-looking opening credits sequences of the franchise. It was just let down by a terrible theme song.

  • Salty Bill | November 1, 2012 4:45 PM

    Moonraker is a lovely ballad, sung well by Shirley Bassey. Better than the silly film itself.

  • Matt Singer | November 1, 2012 12:07 PM

    Josh, I would say amongst Bond theme songs, MOONRAKER and DIE ANOTHER DAY are both near the bottom of the pack. Of the movies on this list, I mentioned my favorite theme song: LICENCE TO KILL.

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