Anthony Volpe

Top Ten


A Look at Ten James Bond Films on the Character’s 50th Anniversary in the Cinema

By Anthony Volpe

Fall 2012

10. Live and Let Die (1973): Bond meets Blaxploitation. The voodoo imagery and racial overtones are perhaps a bit dicey, but they also give Roger Moore’s debut as 007 a strangeness and edge not found in some of the newer Bond movies. Although I find it hard to believe there ever was a time when Bond truly believed in “live and let live,” contrary to what Paul McCartney and Wings sing in the title credits.

9. For Your Eyes Only (1981): Sandwiched between the bloated Moonraker, the fun but silly Octopussy, and the embarrassing swan song A View to a Kill, FYEO is one of the more “serious” and straightforward Moore-era Bond films (not if you count the wacky yet very satisfying Blofeld pre-title action sequence and a gag featuring Margaret Thatcher and a parrot in the finale) because it has 007 acting like a spy again. A novel concept, I know.

8. Casino Royale (2006): It was inevitable that the Bond series would be rebooted. Some have complained that “new guy” Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond is too radical: He’s blond. “Shaken, not stirred” means nothing to him. He plays “Texas hold ‘em” (how American!). But the film does restore the raw charm of the early 60s films. Seeing how Bond became “Bond, James Bond” is part of the fun. And it boasts one of the best title sequences (something Bond purists take seriously).

7. You Only Live Twice (1967): The best of Sean Connery’s post-Goldfinger Bond films, YOLT is a psychedelic romp through 1960s Japan. Some critics accused the series of being self-parody by this point. Perhaps they were right, but I’m not complaining. The over-the-top ninja raid on the secret volcano lair in the finale is worth the price of admission. And without Donald Pleasence’s portrayal of Blofeld, we’d never have Dr. Evil–for that we’re grateful.

6. Licence to Kill (1989): Audiences never really took to Timothy Dalton’s portrayal of Bond which is a shame. His deadly seriousness was a nice antidote to the fluffy Moore years. Licence is unusually dark and gory for a Bond film (somebody’s head literally explodes in one scene) and for this reason it’s one of the most hated in the series. But I’m actually quite fond of it because it’s refreshing to see an unhinged 007 off the leash and disobeying orders for a change. Another curiosity: Q has the most screen time than any other Bond film.

5. GoldenEye (1995): Perhaps the most self-aware and introspective Bond film, Goldeneye has 007 coming out of the cold. The Russians are capitalists now? What’s next? M being a woman? But the “fish out water” element is what makes Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as Bond so compelling. Everything about the character seemed outdated in the 1990s, from his casual sexism to his indifference to computers. Even Eric Serra’s synth-heavy score seems out of place. The most powerful image of post-Cold War disorder: Bond clumsily driving a tank through old St. Petersburg. But even in that scene we see him pause to fix his tie. Some things never change.

4. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Emblematic of the détente era, Spy has 007 and KGB agent Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), codenamed XXX (No, really), put aside their ideological differences to stop the film’s villain du jour. This is Roger Moore’s best Bond film largely because his light-hearted portrayal finally pays off. How can you not crack a smile when you see his Union Jack parachute in the pre-title sequence? It’s also nice to see a Bond girl serve a bigger purpose than just arm candy. The chemistry between Bond and his Soviet counterpart is a pleasure to watch. Plus, it has one of the more memorable henchmen (the steely toothed Jaws) and arguably the best Bond song (Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better”).

3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): There are many people out there who’d like to pretend that George Lazenby never existed. But if Connery had starred in OHMSS instead of the one-time Australian would the film have been as maligned? The wooden Lazenby is the major flaw in this otherwise beautifully directed film. For once 007 is shown to have aspirations beyond Queen and country. There’s more to the man with the martini glass, you know? He falls in love with the lovely Countess Tracy (played by Avengers actress Diana Rigg) and this time it’s going to last. We already know that can’t be, which is what makes the finale all the crueler. The film isn’t without humor though. While breaking the fourth wall, Lazenby quips, “This never happened to the other fellow,” no doubt acknowledging the massive shadow cast by Connery.

2. From Russia with Love (1963): Recent Bond top tens have Connery’s second outing listed as the best Bond film. Yet Russia, the most faithful adaptation of Ian Fleming’s books, never has the literary Bond leaping off the page and onto the big screen. The film’s pacing is slow, which is fine, but the major elements of the Bond formula are not quite there. Nonetheless, Russia is still pretty remarkable. It has some of the series’ most beautiful locations, a plausible storyline, really great fight scenes (with a clean shaven Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya’s deadly footwear), and Connery’s toupée still looks credible. Bond’s chummy banter with Turkish head of intelligence, Kerim Bay (played by Pedro Armendáriz), is also a highlight.

1. Goldfinger (1964): Fifty years and 22 films later (23 if you count the pointless and non-canonical Never Say Never Again), Goldfinger remains the best and quintessential James Bond film. Sean Connery was in top form and never again would 007 seem so hip and cutting edge; so symbolic of the so-called “Swinging Sixties.” While the hardboiled Dr. No and cloak and dagger noir of From Russia with Love established the character on the screen, Goldfinger went further and perfected the Bond formula: pre-title action sequences, ego-boosting theme songs, women with absurdly sexual names, larger-than-life villains, Q’s gadgets, flirting with Moneypenny, exotic locales, etc. What more do you want from a Bond film?

Anthony Volpe is a writer, student of history, and amateur Bond enthusiast.

Because of the James Bond’s 50th anniversary at the movies, MOMA is playing all 22 Bond films this month. Check ‘em out!

And check out the trailer for Bond 23: Skyfall.


Bond Films at MOMA

Skyfall on IMDB

Compiled by Anthony Volpe

Photography Courtesy of Anthony Volpe

Design by Jillian Mercado


Photography Courtesy of Anthony Volpe

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