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Nobody Does It Better: The 5 Best James Bond Films

by Oliver Lyttelton
November 8, 2012 3:03 PM
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It's been a long week of Bond here at The Playlist, and the release of "Skyfall" is only a few hours away. We've looked at the best villains, the best action scenes and the worst of the franchise, so what better place to end up than with the very best of the series?

As we said yesterday, the Bond franchise doesn't have the best hit rate, even if fans can find something to embrace in most entries. But there's still a few crackers out there -- most of Roger Moore's era is pretty poor, most of Connery's is decent, and Daniel Craig is 2 for 3 at this stage, putting him one better than Pierce Brosnan. We've picked out our five favorites from the last 50 years of the franchise below, but you can argue the cause of your own favorites in the comments section.

"From Russia With Love" (1963)
The first Bond film, "Dr. No," has its charms, but feels constrained by its budget, with the franchise still finding its feet. But consider those feet found in the second film, "From Russia With Love," which even more so than its predecessor manages to both establish and virtually perfect the formula that would serve the series so well over the years. The plot is fairly down to earth: as revenge for the death of Dr. No, SPECTRE plan to steal an Enigma machine-type cryptography device from the Soviets using the unwitting cipher clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) as the means through which to obtain it. Bond is sent to Istanbul to meet with her, but swiftly discovers that he's being set up. Fairly faithful to Fleming's novel (as many of the early Bonds were), it's gritty, down-to-earth stuff decades before it was fashionable, with the plot leaning closer to John Le Carre or Len Deighton than the more out-there stuff that was to come; gripping, but not convoluted. And the bigger budget really shows, with a number of top set-pieces that remain strong today including the attack on the gypsy settlement, the train fight, and the final boat chase and its explosive climax. The use of Istanbul (returned to in "Skyfall"), the Orient Express and Venice as locations give it a real '60s glamour too, while Connery is at the peak of his depiction of the character -- charming, but legitimately scary when he has to be. For all the good Bonds that have come since, this one might remain our favorite.

"Goldfinger" (1964)
Not that Eon Productions dropped the ball next time out. "Goldfinger" sees a marked difference in tone a year on, with a sly humor often absent from its predecessors and fantastical elements, including lasers, razor-tipped bowler hats and a team of aviatrixes led by a woman called Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). And despite all that, the film's a winner, establishing that 007 could be a lot of fun and appeal to a wider audience, while still maintaining a degree of integrity. The film starts with Bond in Miami, asked to observe questionable gold dealer Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe). The mission sees Bond's latest ladyfriend memorably murdered by being covered in gold paint, and 007 heads to Switzerland to investigate further, eventually ending up back in the U.S where Goldfinger intends to irradiate the gold in Fort Knox. It's the first of the three films so far to really, truly flirt with absurdity, but it just stops short of full-on camp, with Connery maintaining some grit, but having a little more fun (and no wonder he's enjoying himself; he struck a deal during filming to get 5% of the gross on the film). The villains are cracking, the girls are kick-ass, and much of the classic 007 iconography, including Ken Adams' stunning production design and the Aston Martin DB7, is here. And while it might be somewhat lacking in jaw-dropping stuntwork, the fights are pretty strong. Finally, this sees the real establishment of another tradition, the Bond song, with Shirley Bassey contributing one of the real classics of the franchise. The Roger Moore era would take some of the sillier aspects of this one and build on them, but here, they feel entirely refreshing.

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  • JazzKO | March 30, 2014 3:48 PMReply

    I can live with this list. Glad to see Lazenby's version in there. Skyfall sucked.

  • SirG | March 3, 2014 3:44 PMReply

    It would be wonderful to see another James Bond film directed by Martin Campbell

  • MJ | November 12, 2012 11:21 PMReply

    No order: On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Goldfinger, Skyfall, Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace, Licence to Kill.

  • nightgoat72 | November 12, 2012 12:44 AMReply

    A refreshingly good top 5, but no one will ever convince me Casino Royale is a good movie.

    My top 5:
    1. Dr. No
    2. Goldfinger
    3. The Spy Who Loved Me
    4. GoldenEye
    5. The World is Not Enough

    ...and my bottom 5:
    5. Licence to Kill
    4. Quantum of Solace
    3. For Your Eyes Only
    2. Die Another Day
    1. Skyfall

  • Stevo the Magnificent | November 12, 2012 12:34 AMReply

    A pity both Peter Hunt and George Lazenby didn't return for 'Diamonds Are Forever'...

  • PROSPERITY | November 11, 2012 9:27 PMReply

    Nice work.

  • Alan E. Smith | November 9, 2012 11:21 AMReply

    This is my top 5 exactly. 'From Russia With Love' and 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' are at the top: the former for its epitome of cool '60s, Cold War-era style; the latter for its eclectic direction, visuals and layered story.

  • James | November 8, 2012 6:14 PMReply

    Nice list. My Top 5:
    1.) Goldfinger
    2.) On Her Majesty's Secret Service
    3.) For Your Eyes Only
    4.) The Living Daylights
    5.) Quantum of Solace

  • dryer | November 8, 2012 5:58 PMReply

    No particular order-
    Casino Royale
    On Her Majesty's Service
    A View To Kill
    A License To Kill (My first Bond film)

  • iche | November 8, 2012 10:42 PM

    no particular punctuation.

  • Dan Ashcroft | November 8, 2012 3:44 PMReply

    'Skyfall' isn't just the best Bond film, I think it's in a class of its own. From the opening shot where a few bars of the Bond theme introduces us to an out of focus shot of Bond holding a gun, every scene is superbly directed, shot and acted. The plot is actually very similar to 'The World is Not Enough' - a villain with a vendetta against M and MI6, the bombing of the MI6 HQ in London and M having a much more central role. It's set largely in a very real looking modern Britain and that gives a less glamorous but more believable feel. Ben Whishaw steals every scene as Q.

    As runners up for best Bond film, I'd have 'Casino Royale', 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' and 'The Spy Who Loved Me', the last being the most inventive of the series.

  • MJ | November 12, 2012 11:20 PM

    You conspicuously didn't call out the screnwriting of Skyfall, which outside of its setpieces & the emotional payoff scenes was weak (the connective material is just that, and has no other purpose but to set the next thing up, the villain & his group are poorly set up and the old school quippy dialog while entertaining because of the cast sort of betrays the grittiness of the Craig series), and keeps it from being 'in a class all its own' for me, but the reveals about Bond's past & his relationship with M certainly set it apart.

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