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007’s Greatest Hits: A Look at 50 Years of Bondage

This week sees the release of the highly anticipated Skyfall, the 23rd screen outing of James Bond, released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the character’s film career. It’s a track record matched only by Godzilla, who’s just as popular with audiences but doesn’t land nearly as many babes as 007. As with many of you, we here at Movie Ink are lifelong fans of the enduring super-spy, and it is in his honor that we take a risk, step out on the ledge, and court controversy by presenting our list of the Ten Best Bond Movies Ever:

Dr. No (1962).
Bond’s feature film debut, with some enjoyably rough edges, introduced so many of the classic elements associated with the franchise: the larger-than-life super-villain (played by John Wiseman), voluptuous Bond girl (in the form of stunning Ursula Andress), John Barry’s iconic theme music, and a unique flavor of spy-fi that’s been often imitated but never quite duplicated. The role lifted Sean Connery, 31 years old at the time, to international stardom and defined his career. (Ironically, he never enjoyed the role.)

From Russia With Love (1963).
This first Bond sequel successfully expanded 007’s cinematic universe and upped the ante for the series, as Q and his seemingly endless array of gadgets are introduced and the first truly Bond-esque action sequences (notably the gypsy camp raid and the train fight) appear. This one also benefits from a host of villains: long-time nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld debuts (sort of: he’s played mostly off-camera, voiced by Eric Pohlmann), sadistic shoe-knife wielding Rosa Klebb (Lotta Lenya), SPECTRE assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw), and chess grandmaster/SPECTRE agent Kronsteen (Vladek Shaybel).

Goldfinger (1964).
The quintessential Bond movie, in which all the ingredients crystallized into the classic 007 movie formula. It’s packed top to bottom with iconic elements: a classic pre-title sequence leading into Shirley Bassey’s sultry theme song, Bond’s tricked out Aston Martin DB5, Gert Frobe as the first great Bond baddie Auric Goldfinger, the unforgettable henchman Oddjob and his killer bowler, Honor Blackman as the provocatively named Pussy Galore, a naked Shirley Eaton covered in gold paint, the attack on Fort Knox, the threat of vasectomy via laser — need we say more?

Thunderball (1965).
Adjusted for inflation, this ranks as the highest-grossing film in the franchise ($1 billion in todays US dollars). All of the classic elements are in play (exotic locales, exotic villains with exotic plans, and exotic babes), and from the pre-title sequence (featuring Bond and a real-life jet-pack) to the epic underwater final battle, the pace never lets up. Adolfi Celi gives a fantastic turn as one of the series’ best bad guys, one-eyed Emilio Largo, and the impressive cinematography during the deep-sea battle sequence still packs a punch.

You Only Live Twice (1967).
He would play the super spy again in Diamonds are Forever (1971) and the unofficial entry Never Say Never Again (1984), but this would be Connery’s last great appearance as Bond. Granted, it sometimes tips toward the absurdity that would hobble the Roger Moore era, but when you have a script written by the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that features ninjas, geishas, Donald Pleasance as Blofeld, a theme song by Nancy Sinatra, and a commando assault on a secret base hidden inside a defunct volcano, who really gives a shit?

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).
Arguably the most-underrated Bond of all time, George Lazenby is often raked over the coals for his only outing as 007; but let’s face it, he challenged expectations by humanizing the character while appearing in the first serious and cynical Bond movie, and he had the misfortune of being the first bloke to follow in Connery’s footsteps. Telly Savalas is an odd but menacing choice as a re-cast Blofeld, and Diana Rigg was an ideal Bond girl, the only one to join 007 in tragically brief wedded bliss. This also introduced the Bond ski chase sequence, recycled throughout and the series and by numerous imitators (Christopher Nolan even borrowed the trope for Inception).

For Your Eyes Only (1981).
Roger Moore’s fifth appearance in the role marked a much-needed but sadly short-lived change of direction for the series, which had become mired in low-brow camp and self-parody that reached a series nadir with (shudder) Moonraker. Here, we get an engaging and realistic storyline that fueled a grim, harder-edged, vengeance-driven Bond that would prefigure License to Kill and Quantum of Solace, and the movie relies more on story and less on gimmicks and formula.

The Living Daylights (1987).
The last Bond movie to feature him in the environment that spawned him: the Cold War. Timothy Dalton’s short stint as Bond was marked by much upheaval: Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) and Bernard Lee (M) made their last appearances after decades in their iconic roles, and John Barry’s tenure as composer for the series concluded with this entry. Often dismissed as a the second choice behind a then-unavailable Pierce Brosnan, Dalton nevertheless found the middle ground between the uglier aspects of Bond’s duty and his natural charisma, and his harder, more brutal 007 tears through the movie like a runaway freight train.

GoldenEye (1995).
After beyond dormant for six long years, Bond was revived and rebooted again, defying the conventional wisdom that the character was a dated anachronism who without a place in the high-tech ’90s. Arguably the most anticipated Bond-player ever, Brosnan was now free of his Remington Steele contract and proved worthy of the role, finding the perfect mix of edginess and charisma. That, along with Sean Bean’s turn as a 00-agent gone rogue, the post-Soviet fall title sequence with a theme song written by Bono and the Edge and sung by Tina Turner, Judi Dench’s debut as M, and several high-octane action sequences, gave the series the recharge it needed. More importantly, it proves that for this spy, there was life after the Cold War.

Casino Royale (2006).
Initially dismissed as too short, too blonde, too non-Connery, Daniel Craig quickly proved himself worthy of the role in the best Bond movie to date. The producers take the character back to his roots, adapting the last of the original novels remaining in the wild (which was filmed twice before: in 1954 as an episode of the live TV series Climax! with Barry Nelson as Jimmy Bond of the CIA, and as a campy spy spoof starring Peter Sellers in 1969), giving Bond a long-awaited origin story and recasting him as a ruthless and flawed agent who’s shaped into the spy we all know and love. It re-invigorates the character, smartly adapts a dated story, and features some truly spectacular stunts.

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About Gary Dowell

Professional film critic, journalist, Byronic hero.

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  1. Pingback: Movie review: ‘Skyfall’ « movie ink™ - November 8, 2012

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