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The 5 Best James Bond Action Sequences

by Oliver Lyttelton
November 6, 2012 1:02 PM
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The James Bond franchise is known for many things: the girls, the martinis, the cars, the shifting lead roles. But most of all, perhaps, it's known for the spectacular action sequences. Over the 23 films to date, 007 has punched, kicked, shot, set on fire, exploded, thrown off high things, blown out of airplanes, eviscerated, fed to sharks and come up with countless other inventive ways of dispatching the villains, while using virtually every form of transport known to man, from motorbikes to hovercrafts to spaceships in a variety of pulse-pounding chase sequences.

With the latest film "Skyfall," hitting theaters in the U.S. this Friday, we're continuing James Bond week at The Playlist (we looked at the the best villains yesterday) by picking out five of our favorite Bond action sequences. We were, frankly, spoiled for choices when it came to making our picks, and we're heartbroken at the ones we had to leave out, but we've tried to get a bit of a spread across the history of the franchise. But if we missed your own personal favorite, you can fight in its corner in the comments section below.

"From Russia With Love" - The Orient Express fight
Bond has duked it out over the years with hundreds of villains, but no fights have been as thrilling or as brutal as the one that Sean Connery's Bond had on board the Orient Express with Robert Shaw's SPECTRE agent Red Grant. Bond, Soviet cypher clerk Tatiana Romanova and Istanbul station head Ali Kermi Bey are on board the train with a Lektro cryptography device when Grant, posing as another agent, kills Bey, and gets the upper hand on Bond. But fortunately, Q branch have booby-trapped 007's briefcase, setting off tear gas in Grant's face, and what follows is a brutal three-minute bit of mano-a-mano combat, the two agents kicking, strangling and gouging at each other. It's still a little shocking in the extent of its violence, and for all the best efforts of the following 21 films, hasn't yet been bested in the series.

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" - Ski chase
The Bond movies have always done well by skiing sequences. Among others, "The Spy Who Loved Me" (with the spectacular Union Jack parachute jump), "The Living Daylights" (with the cello escape) and "For Your Eyes Only" (with Roger Moore being chased down by motorcyclists, and a detour down a bobsled run -- this one in particular is a cracker, and nearly made the list) have all featured memorable action scenes on the slopes. But the original, and the best, remains the one in George Lazenby's sole entry, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." A professed inspiration for the snowbound action sequence in the third act of Christopher Nolan's "Inception" (Nolan's a big fan of Bond, and of this film in particular), the scene comes when Lazenby's Bond makes his escape from Blofeld's allergy-research clinic headquarters on Piz Gloria in the Swiss Alps. Skiing down the mountain, he's pursued by Blofeld's men, leading to a thrilling chase (and later, a bobsled chase after 007 blows the base up). It doesn't have the bells and whistles of some of the other Alpine sequences, but there's a visceral thrill that's unmatched elsewhere, aided by camerawork captured by Swiss Winter Olympians bombing down the mountain backwards holding cameras. Some dodgy back-projection aside, the sequence feels like it could fit into any modern-day Bond scene. The death-defying sled chase/fight is almost as good -- watch both below.

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  • Simon Paiva | November 14, 2012 4:59 PMReply

    Three reasons why "The World is not Enough" was the Bond of my adolescence and my favorite Bond of the Brosnam era to this day: The amazing pre-opening credits sequence, the Garbage theme song ( second only to McCartney's live and let die, in my opinion of course) and the most beautiful, sexy and exquisite bond girl ever: Sophie Marceau.

  • Alan | November 7, 2012 7:51 PMReply

    Oh God, the boat chase. You mean the one that goes on forever? That would have been a nifty action sequence, but Apted lets it drag on for too long until you forget why exactly Bond is chasing this girl in the first place.

  • Fulmer | November 12, 2012 4:12 PM

    I agree, what was a riveting scene, becomes drawn out with the silliness of the stunts at the end of it. I would rank the boat chase in Live & Let Die ahead of it. It definitely has humor, but ends with intensity and dramatic (and somewhat more believable) fashion.

  • JD V | November 6, 2012 6:29 PMReply

    Okay, hold on. Wait a sec. WHERE is the great "Living Daylights" tanker truck chase? We're talking 18-wheelers doin' stuff that NEVER fails to astonish an audience--and it's all real, without even model or optical effects of the pre-digital 1980s. That deserves a place on ANY list of great Bond action scenes.

  • TheoC | November 6, 2012 3:38 PMReply

    I guess you can't have two Brosnan's on a list but I loved the helicopter VS motor bike chase in Tomorrow Never Dies, an awful movie, but it had this chase and Michelle Yeoh.

  • James | November 6, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    Loving these Bond-themed lists you guys are doing. And very happy to see that OHMSS ski scene made the cut. I agree -- pound for pound the ski sequence in FYEO is probably the best of the bunch (not to mention the campy Bill Conti track), but Lazenby's ski scenes are more classic and edgy. While skilled on the slopes, you still get a sense of 'Bond might not make it.' I think the more contemporary Bonds could use that.

    I'm still undecided about Skyfall. Greatly enjoyed it but felt that something was off. Perhaps it was (mild spoiler alert) the lack of a large set piece in the second act. I'll have to see it again soon. And I hope they bring back another ski scene in Bond 24 (TWINE's ski chase was terrible).

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