The Definitive James Bond Film Ranking

60 years ago marked the beginning of what is the greatest movie franchise of all time as far as I’m concerned. Musicians consider it a high honor to record a Bond theme, playing him is enough to grant you knighthood, men want to be him, and women want to be with him. Across its 25 films, you’ll find action, suspense, and charm. It is the reason I first fell in love with movies as a kid. I’ve seen each film multiple times. Seeing a Bond title credits sequence in a theater for the first time is a magical moment few films can match. Indiana Jones exists partly because Steven Spielberg wanted to make Bond. Christopher Nolan has made multiple action movies because he wanted to make Bond. Tom Cruise tries to kill himself on camera for our entertainment because he could never be James Bond and it’s the next best thing. Bond is what all action blockbusters aspire to be. While it’s definitely a series of ups and downs, James Bond is like pizza. Even when it’s not good, it’s still pretty good. I just finished my most recent marathon of the whole series and since it will most likely be a while before we get a new one off the back of Daniel Craig’s departure, I felt this was as good a time as any to finally offer the definitive James Bond film ranking. What makes this definitive you ask, simple, this is my website. Fair warning, there may be some spoilers.

Note that the 1967 Casino Royale nor Never Say Never Again are ranked as they are not considered official Bond movies. Anyway, on to the list.

25: Octopussy

I have seen this film multiple times and I still don’t know what the plot was. Bond villains aren’t usually known for simple evil plans but whatever the villains here were doing was needlessly obtuse. I know there was a Fabergé Egg involved, that’s about it. I don’t even remember the villain. In fact, the only piece of information I could retain from multiple viewings of this is that the titular Octopussy says that she’s called that because it’s the pet name her father gave her and that’s really weird. There’s just really nothing here of note other than the opening song. Moore is still good but the action in this is nothing to write home about and it doesn’t offer the goofy fun of some of the other Moore films. There are worse things to watch if there’s nothing else on TV or to have on in the background while you do work or other more explicit things but I certainly wouldn’t really voluntarily watch this outside of a marathon.

24: Spectre

There are a lot of great ideas and sequences in Spectre. The opening Day of the Dead sequence is spectacular, there’s a wonderful car chase through the streets of Rome and Dave Bautista makes for a great classic Bond henchman even though he’s woefully underutilized. Unfortunately, so much of this is just a whole lot of nothing. It’s too long, the MI6 subplot is just a lesser, more drawn-out rehash of things that happened in Skyfall, the attempt to retroactively connect all the other Craig movies to this one as some master plan by Blofeld to ruin Bond’s life is laughably bad. Blofeld himself, who should be Bond’s ultimate villain falls completely flat even with a performer as capable as Christoph Waltz. I don’t know if it’s the writing, Waltz, or a combination but he just doesn’t work here. Turning a character who should just be an agent of world chaos into nothing more than a jealous foster sibling was a terrible move. the movie’s worst crime is that it never makes a compelling case as to why Madeline Swan is the one who finally makes Bond walk away.

23: A View to a Kill

If this was a ranking of the Bond theme songs then this would easily be in the top 5. Duran Duran recorded an incredible track. It’s a shame it’s attached to this movie. Roger Moore is not only visibly too old but you can tell they had to work a lot of the action around his age leaving us with either tepid action or obvious stunt doubles. What puts it above the bottom 2 is the plot revolving around Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin attempts to wipe Silicon Valley off the map for his own profit which is actually pretty interesting and the performances of both Walken and Grace Jones as May Day who make for entertaining villains with an interesting and unique dynamic in the pantheon of Bond villain/henchman pairings.

22: Die Another Day

For a movie that features a North Korean man undergoing genetic alteration to turn himself into a white British man with a giant space laser, Die Another Day starts off surprisingly grounded. If this had stayed the course on how it opens then this could have ranked much higher but alas it all goes slowly downhill afterward. This is full of shoddy early 2000s CGI, and a ridiculous plot that is almost a parody of a Bond movie. Despite that, I still think there’s an entertaining movie here. It isn’t good and never gives you the movie that the opening sequence of Bond being captured by North Korea & spit out by MI6 promises but there’s just enough goofy nonsense to be a fun time. It also features a legitimately fantastic sword fight.

21: Diamonds Are Forever

Much like Die Another DayDiamonds Are Forever isn’t necessarily what I would call a good movie. But it is an entertaining one. Coincidentally it also features a villain who changes their appearance but here it’s to explain a change in actor. This is a very silly movie where very silly things happen and sometimes that’s really all you need to have a good time. Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are ridiculous Bond henchmen. They look like the type of guys that Chris Hansen offers some lemonade to as he tells them they weren’t really talking to children in those chat rooms but I’ll be dammed if I didn’t enjoy all of their scenes. There’s a car chase that ends with Bond getting his car on its two side wheels to fit it through an alley. Is it purposely silly? Probably not but either way, sometimes silly is good.

20: Moonraker

This features a billionaire using his wealth to go to space for what he sees as the betterment of the human race and it was made decades before Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos could even conceive of space travel. All kidding aside, a lot of Bond fans really dislike this one and I can see why. It’s corny and a shameless attempt to capitalize on Star Wars but if you look past that you have an evergreen plot about billionaires abusing their power and privilege, the return of Jaws who gets a nice little side story, and a James Bond laser shoot-out in space. I can’t really in good conscious rank it above the next 19 entries but I also can’t say it’s bad.

19: You Only Live Twice

The last of Connery’s original run before he was replaced by George Lazenby and then brought back for Diamonds are Forever, this is the first Bond movie to really start getting silly. The jetpack in Thunderball was one thing but this whole thing borders on ridiculous. It still plays it all straight unlike the goofier of the Moore films and because of that isn’t as memorable as some of those. Despite that, what works here really works excellently and Donald Pleasence is wonderful as Bond’s nemesis Blofeld. It moves at a nice pace and culminates with an evil lair inside a volcano. At this point, the Bond formula was well established and Connery was ready to move on so it doesn’t offer anything beyond a fun romp but sometimes that’s all you need.

18: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

There are a lot of elements of OHMSS that should make it a top-tier Bond film. It goes back to the basics of the early Connery films with mostly espionage sprinkled with moments of action. It has a terrific villain in Telly Savalas’ version of Blofeld and lots of snowy areas for Bond to be in winter attire and ski. All recipes for success. Unfortunately, it falters in a couple of major areas that bring it way down. The first is Bond himself. George Lazenby just isn’t very good. He doesn’t bring anything distinct to the role like the others have, he’s stiffer than he should be and just doesn’t carry himself like Bond. The other big problem is the romance central to the story. Much like Spectre it just never develops the relationship between Bond and Tracy enough. There’s never a good argument made for why Bond loves this woman enough to marry her and as such, it makes the heartbreak of the ending not as effective as it should be.

17: Quantum of Solace

I realize that this might be a controversial placement considering many Bond fans rank this as one of the very worst but in all honesty, this is a perfectly solid Bond film. Its undoing is the fact that the villain is one of if not the weakest in the entire franchise. He’s just some guy. He doesn’t even look like that much of a villain. But apart from that, it’s decent. It works very well as a direct sequel to Casino Royale and while it falters a bit if watched as a stand-alone it’s still decent. Daniel Craig is excellent as always and he has a good dynamic with Bond girl Camille. She is actually one of the more interesting Bond girls as unlike most she isn’t helping Bond for a heroic reason or because she’s an asset. She just wants revenge and so does he and some of the people overlap so they decide to might as well do it together. Yeah some of the plotting is a bit scattered thanks to the writer’s strike that was happening but all things considered, this is perfectly enjoyable. Bonus points for starting with a terrific car chase. Bonus controversial opinion: I think the theme song is good.

16: The Man with the Golden Gun

A film much better than its reputation would have you believe but it’s still brought down considerably by the elements that gave it that reputation. That’s a shame because there’s some really great stuff in here and a lot of it works very well. Roger Moore is great here. He always had a different style than Connery but it works. He’s effortlessly charming. The premise of the greatest assassin trying to kill the greatest spy is a nice spin on the usual Bond plots and Christopher Lee is magnificent as a dark mirror of Bond. Scaramanga has a great evil lair and it provides a fun ending sequence. Unfortunately, this film also includes a Bond girl whose only trait is being an idiot, having a third nipple as a plot device and for some reason, it randomly becomes a bad kung-fu movie for 15 minutes. It also features the return of the stupid sheriff character from Live and Let Die and ruins an excellent corkscrew car stunt by playing a dumb sound effect. Those issues really drag this down from what it had the potential to be but what works here really works and it’s ultimately a fun time.

15: Thunderball

Thunderball is the first Bond film after Goldfinger finalized the formula. The success of that film gave them the budget and space to go even bigger and they did. There’s a jetpack and lots of underwater sequences to get your adrenaline pumping and the return of Spectre. It’s a mostly fun affair with another excellent performance by Connery, a pretty good villain plot and the underwater stuff was pretty novel for the time. It can feel uneven and bloated as they spend more time on the villain and his evil plot than usual which wouldn’t be a problem if the villain was more interesting. Emil Largo isn’t necessarily a bad villain but he’s not exactly the most charismatic presence. His plan might be solid but he’s just kind of a guy with an eye patch. The other thing really holding this one back is that while the underwater stuff is neat at first, they do it so much here with little variation. There are only so many times in one movie you can watch faceless stuntmen in scuba suits slowly swim at each other. Despite those problems, it’s still a relatively fun adventure but there’s more fun to be had elsewhere in the franchise.

14: The World is Not Enough

Of all the Bond films with less than positive reception, The World is Not Enough to me is the most underappreciated. Yes, Denise Richards as nuclear physicist Christmas Jones is absolutely ridiculous but beyond that, this is a quality Bond. Brosnan is as great as ever, he’s still the perfect mix of suave, charming, and cold. The action sequences are fun and this time have a hint of stakes for Bond both physical and personal. Renard and Elektra are both quality memorable villains whose double act not only predates The Dark Knight Rises by thirteen years but pulls off the twist that the main villain is actually just the henchman of the love interest better than that film does. There’s real intrigue here that many Bond films lack. People get betrayed, and the villains are always a step ahead here, and that leaves Bond vulnerable and fighting from underneath which is a position he doesn’t always have but it makes things more meaningful when he wins.

13: The Living Daylights

Timothy Dalton gets a bad rap. He often gets ranked at the bottom of Bond actors, usually because he only got two films and a lot of people just don’t like his portrayal. I can see where those people are coming from, he was a stark departure from all three previous Bond actors. Less suave and charming, more cold and deliberate but I would argue that’s what makes his portrayal great. Dalton provides Bond with a coldness that Daniel Craig later perfected and the reminder that this man was the world’s greatest assassin is exactly the shot in the arm the franchise needed at the time. This is a great back-to-basics Bond film. While it has the action spectacle one would expect it’s surprisingly restrained, focusing a lot of its run time on the actual spy work and political machinations of the villains. It gets bogged down by a third act that goes on way too long and a villain that isn’t quite up to the level that he should be.

12: Tomorrow Never Dies

Featuring an evergreen storyline of a media mogul who is manipulating a war into existence to obtain higher ratings and an all-timer Bond girl in Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin, Tomorrow Never Dies is one of the most Bond James Bond films to ever James Bond. Everything here is quintessential Bond with a standard mix of Bond being cool, suave, funny, and then mowing down a small army’s worth of goons. While it never quite matches the quality of Brosnan’s first outing , it still offers a fun, breezy film that’s a blast to watch thanks to the chemistry between Brosnan and Yeoh, a great ham performance by Jonathan Pryce as the villain, a standout motorcycle chase and an exceptionally fun cameo by Vincent Schiavelli as the most incompetent hitman of all time. The fact that it’s plot becomes more painfully relevant with age is both a mark for it as a film and a mark against us as a society.

11: Licence to Kill

The reason Bond movies stay relevant is that they adapt to the times. Whatever the style of action film at the time, that’s what Bond will do. The Living Daylights brought the series into the 80s with a back-to-basics Bond film with 80s action set pieces but Licence to Kill went all the way. This is an 80s revenge action film starring James Bond and it works wonders. Dalton is colder here than he was in Daylights, there Bond was more of a killer but still the Bond we recognized, here Bond is simply just a killer with a singular focus of vengeance. Licence to Kill presented Bond as a blunt object decades before Judi Dench ever told Daniel Craig that’s all he was to Her Majesty. Robert Davi provides a Bod villain that works so well because he isn’t a Bond villain, he’s a violent drug lord, one you could pull from any decent 80s action film but here he’s going up against Bond. The stakes are lower than world-saving but they’re more personal and that makes them higher. Enough of the Bond DNA is here to stop it from becoming a non-Bond film that somehow became one but it’s in how it differs from the rest that it comes to stand tall above so many of them.

10: For Your Eyes Only

The Top 10 begins with For Your Eyes Only, a quality Bond film that features a back-to-basics grounded espionage after some of the sillier Moore films. It still features its fair share of silly moments but here they offer levity instead of turning the affair towards camp. This is Bond doing what he does best, engaging in real spy work with a healthy dose of action. Featuring a villain who tricks Bond into thinking he’s an ally and a Bond without his usual MacGuffin gadgets. Here we’re treated to a film where Bond isn’t just shooting his way to the goal the whole time like some lesser entries end up being. He has to investigate, he has to team up with the enemy of his enemy, anything to get the job done. With a good backstory for the Bond girl, great action sequences, a ski chase, and a fun supporting performance by Topol, this is one of the most rewatchable films in the series.

9: Live and Let Die

Roger Moore started his run as Bond in one of the most unique films in the series. He started off strong. With a performance that’s distinct from what came before, Moore’s Bond is as charming as the others, just as deadly but he’s lighter and seems more approachable. While much of Moore’s tenure was marked by camp and silliness that went a little too far, Live and Let Die gets him off on the right foot with a film that takes Bond on an investigation through the world of voodoo and Harlem drug trafficking. There is some silliness here, particularly the hillbilly sheriff but it is by and large a simple Bond film where he simply follows clues to stop the bad guy. It’s all the better for it. This is the backbone of all of Bond. He is a government agent engaging in espionage to stop bad guys except here it’s wrapped up in the fun setting and world of a Blaxploitation film. It also features not one but two classic Bond henchmen in voodoo master Baron Samedi and hook-handed Tee Hee.

8: Dr. No

The perfect introduction to the greatest movie franchise in history. As the first film, there was no template or formula for what a Bond film was and while Goldfinger is what established that formula, you can see the blueprints laid here. Sean Connery establishes himself as a legend from the second he appears on screen, the now iconic Bond theme not only makes its grand debut here but forever attaches itself to the character as soon as it plays once he says “Bond…James Bond”. The most iconic spy in all of fiction gets one of the greatest character introductions ever put to film and the movie continues from there. Unlike most of the series, Dr. No isn’t really an action movie, there are a couple of action beats but this is by and large a detective film and it’s a damn good one. Sean Connery carries the whole thing as the coolest man on the planet along with his chemistry with Ursula Andress. Beyond that, the eponymous Dr. No is an excellent villain, the plot moves at a steady pace and despite being relatively small in scope and budget, it feels like a grand adventure that builds.

7: No Time to Die

The final film of the Daniel Craig era and as of this writing, the last Bond film in general. It’s messy and has a lot of baggage from Spectre that it needs to hold onto but this is not only a fitting farewell to Craig’s version of Bond but it’s a perfect tribute to the Bond character and series as a whole. It’s full of wonderful character moments that you would expect from a Craig Bond, spectacular action, and two standout Bond Girls. Craig is terrific as always. His Bond has always been a broken man but a perfect weapon and it’s here that his 5 movies of character development coalesce into a man who’s finally ready to be repaired while never losing what makes him James Bond. The Cuba sequence is an all-time great Bond action set piece that is a perfect distillation of everything great about this franchise. It’s cool, it’s exciting, it’s charming and it’s sexy. The villain might be a little undercooked but his plan is as grandiose as his evil lair and it sends Bond on a globetrotting journey of international intrigue, double-crosses, car chases, and shootouts. There are gadgets, there are quips, and there’s the spectacle. James Bond will return but if he never did, I can’t think of a better way to go out.

6: The Spy Who Loved Me

The best film of the Roger Moore era. The Spy Who Loved Me is everything you want in a Bond movie. Moore is in top form as Bond, Anya is a great Bond Girl who holds her own against Bond, Jaws is an all-timer of a henchman, there’s a perfect mix of real espionage and action with silly gadgets and the villain has a ridiculously extravagant lair. Having one of the best Bond songs in the franchise is icing on the cake. The only real downside here is that the villain himself is a bit of a damp squib who can’t match up to the heights of his henchman and underwater lair. Other than that, this is not just quintessential Bond, it’s quintessential secret agent cinema. A globe-trotting adventure that’s full of intrigue, great action choreography, a ski chase, and fun. He has a bloody Union Jack parachute for goodness sake. It’s the classic action movie formula through and through but nobody does it better.

5: From Russia With Love

The second film in the series From Russia With Love had a bit of a blueprint to follow but without a fully formed formula yet to limit what it could do. Dr. No functioned more like a detective film, this is a fully formed espionage thriller, more so than any other film in the series. There is no central villain like in other Bond films, instead, there are a couple of players enacting the nefarious machinations of Spectre as Bond tries to unravel their plans and bring back a device useful to England in the Cold War. You can see parts of the formula start to develop, especially as some big action sequences garnish the slow-burn intrigue. While Robert Shaw’s Red Grant is more of a henchman in the grand scheme of things, he’s the closest the film gets to having a main villain and he’s one of Bond’s best. One step ahead of 007 throughout most of the film, he’s an equal match for him in every way. He’s the anti-Bond and the train car sequence between the two is still one of the best in Bond history. Bond in this film is in a place where he doesn’t know how things operate and there are multiple groups of people who don’t trust each other. He’s vulnerable here in a way he isn’t in most of the films, not physically but in that he’s a few steps behind everyone and needs to get in front. Watching him get there is an absolute treat.

4: Goldeneye

Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as Bond was an absolute banger. Following a six-year series hiatus, Goldeneye didn’t just bring Bond into the nineties, it smashed into the nineties on a tank. Everything you want in a James Bond film is here but it’s been modernized. Judi Dench makes her debut as M here and she wastes no time in telling Bond exactly what he is. Brosnan’s portrayal of Bond is one that simultaneously proves her right and wrong. Brosnan’s Bond apes the best elements of all the Bonds that came before without copying any of them. He’s cold, suave, tough, and charming all at once, he was all the best parts of Bond before Daniel Craig reinvented who Bond was. Sean Bean provides one of Bond’s best and most personal villains in the former 006 Alec Trevelyan. There are not one but two of the best Bond henchmen in Xenia Onatopp and Boris and a great Bond Girl in Natalya. All the action is magnificent with a standout tank chase and an opening sequence that has a legitimate claim to being the series’ best. While it isn’t quite the best of the series, it’s the most rewatchable.

3: Skyfall

Skyfall falls just shy of being the best Bond movie but does everything in its power to be number one. Beautifully directed, it’s the best-looking Bond film visually. Craig is at his best as a Bond who no longer believes in his own skills. Javier Bardem turns in a performance as a Top 3 Bond villain. He’s charismatic, dangerous, and full of conviction for what he’s doing. Much of the Craig era was based around subverting our expectations of Bond films, Skyfall is a perfect merger of the classic Bond formula and the Craig era subversion. Having the crux of the film be the relationship between Bond and M provides an emotional center that heightens the stakes in a way few Bond films do. It’s a perfect Bond film only let down by a story of an aging Bond that came too early in its run and a villain plot that has the same problem The Dark Knight suffered from. Silva’s plan only works because it needs to for the plot and not because it follows any in-film logic. That keeps this a step below the two films ranked above it but it’s still an absolute achievement of Bond filmmaking.

2: Goldfinger

This is the film that established the official Bond formula and there’s a reason for it. Everything about Goldfinger just works perfectly, from the opening sequence to the title song to the villain to the action to the Bond girl. It’s an hour and fifty minutes of sheer thrills. It’s a perfectly paced adventure. With its exciting opening, quipful Q briefing, charming Bond zingers, larger-than-life villain, and fun action, this is the film that made Bond the super spy we all love and it’s still the king of the formula it created. Auric Goldfinger remains the best Bond villain of them all with his simple but devious motivations and pure dangerous charismatic presence. Many Bond villains have done nasty things, but none have done anything as ironically dastardly as the murdered girl painted gold. Almost every Bond villain has captured the spy at some point, but few have the good sense to reject elongated interrogation and plan revealing monologues in favor of just expecting him to die. Oddjob is the blueprint for all Bond henchmen and few have reached his standard. Pussy Galore as well remains the quintessential Bond girl. She’s an equal match for Bond in both wits and toughness. And of course, Connery is at his absolute best here. He’s so charming, so witty, so sure of himself. If the first two films presented a government agent who was very good at his job, this is the film that firmly presented and cemented him as someone who absolutely could save the free world single-handedly twenty-plus times. This is the Bond film that created the formula and it’s the one that perfected it.

1: Casino Royale

If Goldfinger was the one that invented the formula, Casino Royale is the one that tore it down to build something new. Taking Bond back to the beginning of his career, this is a Bond who’s just become a 00 agent, he’s not yet the super spy we know him to be. Daniel Craig’s Bond is a blunt instrument who knows what he needs to be while still learning how to be it. He isn’t the flashy 007 who always knows how to maneuver his way through his situations. Craig’s Bond is a man who barrels himself through a wall during a chase and blows up a building and kills his target when he’s surrounded instead of making a dazzling escape. Director Martin Campbell brought Bond into the nineties with aplomb in Goldeneye and did the same by bringing him into the modern era here. In a world where the Bourne films redefined the action spy film, many wondered whether Bond fit in anymore.

Casino Royale proved that not only does Bond still have a place, but he’s also still the master. Bond films always reflect where we are as a society at the time they’re made, both in general and in terms of action filmmaking. Casino Royale not only utilizes a similar action style to the Bourne films but it improves upon it. It has the same visceral, high-intensity combat with smoother, more visually pleasing camera work. The Madagascar chase sequence in particular is still the best foot chase ever put on film. The fact that the action peaks so early would be negative in any other film but here it allows the rest of the film to fully commit to the drama of the poker game and the relationship between Bond and Vesper. That relationship is the deepest and most well-rounded one Bond has ever had. Vesper’s role and connection to Bond make her the best Bond Girl of all time and make the later events of the film all the more tragic. Rounding out the perfection is Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre. A Bond villain much less grandiose than most but he’s the most human of them all. Still a vile villain but one with grounded human emotions and motivation. Also, the only villain to truly torture Bond, and all he needed was a rope and a seatless chair. Also, this has the best gun barrel sequence ever and the title song slaps.

Published by Matt Fresh

30% Water, 70% James Bond movies. Matt is a writer, gamer, film enthusiast & silly person. The winner of various fictitious awards, he's fluent in English & pop culture references.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: