It’s always hard to decide on the best James Bond movie (as those squabbling nerds from late-season Buffy can testify). These films are so hard to compare with one another, especially because their production has spanned six decades and many technological (and, ahem, social) innovations have arisen during that time. They swing from hardcore action to camp to downright parody. They play fast and loose with their source material, the novels and stories by Ian Fleming. It’s not an easy job, ranking them. But we’re going to do our level best, today.
There have been seven actors to play 007 so far, and they’ve all got their unique takes on the role. Sean Connery is bemused and hairy, David Niven is a daffy blowhard, George Lazenby is self-effacing and casual, Roger Moore is a blithe playboy, Timothy Dalton is one hair-trigger from going postal, Pierce Brosnan is a Shakespearean tragedian trapped a lesser series, and Daniel Craig is a stony, angry, semi-sociopathic loose cannon.
The movies circle back on themselves and re-tell the stories of Bond’s archenemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, his relationship with his boss M, his friendships with gadget-man Q and American CIA Agent Felix Leiter, and his weird dynamic with his right-hand woman Miss Moneypenny. Time and time again, he defeats agents from the organization SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), rides off with an attractive woman named after a body part, and drinks his way across the globe. Some of the surrounding actors (Lois Maxwell, my beloved Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown, Barnard Lee, and Judi Dench) have outlasted Bonds, while some others (the Blofelds, the Felix Leiters) change mid-Bond. We’re going to be there for all of it, ranking all twenty-seven accessible Bond films from Worst to Best. And YOU thought Christmas only comes once a year, right?
Now, the placement of some of these films might be a bit controversial, but we’re hoping that this ranking will, overall, leave you stirred and not shaken.
Now, there are some non-canon James Bond movies: the first Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again. Are we going to exclude them? As our dear Sean Connery has said, “there are some things that just aren’t done; such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit.” So, there you go. There are 25 official films on here, and two extras. (He also adds “That’s as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs” but I’m a Beatles fan, so. Although how FUNNY is it that ’60s Bond doesn’t like the Beatles?! Do you think he’d prefer WINGS?)
[This list has been updated to include 2021’s release, No Time to Die]
So… pop your popcorn, mix your martini (that’ll be Gordon’s gin), and grab your broccoli: it’s time to rank every James Bond film to date, or my name isn’t….. >Revs engine and speeds away.<
27. Moonraker (1979)
Oof, Moonraker. I’ll say that if a James Bond film involves “going to space,” it automatically jumps the shark for me. I don’t know why this particular detail is a dealbreaker, but it is. And Moonraker, in which Roger Moore’s James Bond goes to space to destroy Hugo Drax’s moon-base-for-the-master-race, doesn’t have its feet on the ground enough for me. And that’s before the-zero gravity sex.
26. Octopussy (1983)
Okay, I do think it’s really awesome to feature a lady criminal mastermind, not just a sexy double-agent-henchwoman to a male bad guy. Villainy (especially in the Bond franchise) is a real boy’s club, and I appreciate evil genius Octopussy’s breaking the glass ceiling for independent bad girls everywhere. That being said….
25. Casino Royale (1967)
I never know quite what to do with this spoofy, confusing standalone film, which is the favorite of CrimeReads editor Molly Odintz, for some reason. David Niven plays James Bond, but so does everybody else! I mean this literally. Six others (Peter Sellers’s Evelyn Tremble, Ursula Andress’s Vesper Lynd, Barbara Bouchet’s Miss Moneypenny, Joanna Pettet’s Mata Bond [his daughter with Mata Hari, evidently?] and two others, are also pretending to be “James Bond.”) Orson Welles is Le Chiffre, Woody Allen is Bond’s nephew Jimmy Bond (who is also a bad guy), and it’s also got Charles Boyer, Deborah Kerr, Jean-Paul Belmondo, William Holden, George Raft, Jacqueline Bisset, and John Huston. What it is, really, is a large party rather than a movie. Try fashioning an ensemble spy story out of the last rager you went to, and you’ll see why this movie isn’t so hot.
24. Live and Let Die (1973)
Besides that one of its chase scenes will forever terrify you of riding in double-decker buses, let me remind you that Live and Let Die is actually a bit racist! Maybe you thought this would be one of the good Roger Moore Bond movies because it’s got that killer theme song from Wings, but actually the movie is about a local Harlem Drug lord who is also a corrupt Caribbean dictator (played by the Great Yaphet Kotto) who uses the Islanders’ fear of the occult to gain control of the island. He teams up with a voodoo priest to scare them while he harvests the local poppy fields. And the white, male, English intelligence operative is going to save the day in the Colonial setting? Excuse me, I’ll just be over here, banging my head against the wall.
23. Die Another Day (2002)
Why is Die Another Day, the final Pierce Brosnan Bond film, so low on this list? Well, let’s ask the INVISIBLE CAR, why don’t we?
22. Quantum of Solace (2008)
This second-installment in the Daniel Craig era is generally uninspired, unimaginative, and derivative, weighed down by its boring, sniveling villain Dominic Green. Look, I think it’s a GREAT idea to have a faux-environmentalist as the Bond villain, but he’s way too understated. He’s like your creepy accountant cousin, not a flamboyant maniac hellbent on revenge or world domination.
21. Diamonds are Forever (1971)
In the post-Lazenby Connery reboot Diamonds Are Forever, our hero impersonates a diamond smuggler and winds up discovering a plot by his erstwhile nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld to build some sort of space laser. He’s also creating a bunch of surgically-modified Blofeld lookalikes, which makes it a bit difficult to properly capture him. It’s one of the cheesier Connery-Bonds for sure, and I feel bad saying this because I was really rooting for it. I wish that moon-buggy-chase-scene-through-the-dessert looked even the tiniest bit cooler. Or if the main Bond Girl weren’t named Tiffany Case. Diamonds might be forever, but my patience is not.
20. Never Say Never Again (1983)
Here’s where things get confusing. Never Say Never Again is a non-canon James Bond film, produced outside the EON company that officially made all the Bond films. It’s based on Ian Fleming’s novel Thunderball, the official adaptation of which Sean Connery already starred in, many years before. Released the same year as Octopussy, and fomenting a long copyright battle, it stars a fifty-two-year-old Sean Connery as Bond and Max von Sydow as Blofeld, which is a waste of Max von Sydow. At the end, he and Kim Basinger run away together and he quits the spy life. I admire the bravado that caused this film to be made in the first place, but that’s about it.
19. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
If you’ve never seen it, you might be surprised to learn that the eponymous man with the golden gun is not 007, but his new nemesis Francisco Scaramanga, played by the great Christopher Lee. He is the only reason you should watch this movie, because everything Christopher Lee does is great, but also because his character models a successful freelancing career. As an assassin, he charges $1 million per hit. Now that’s a word count rate I can get behind.
18. A View to a Kill (1985)
A View to A Kill is fun for a while, but it really runs out of steam halfway through, which is a shame because that’s when the most interesting character decision gets made. There’s a whole introductory plot about Christopher Walken’s evil industry of injecting steroids into racehorses and okay, “animal cruelty” is a good reason to take this guy down, plus Grace Jones is in it as his love-interest/henchwoman, and so for a while it chugs along, even though Roger More looks way too old to play Bond anymore. But once Walken reveals his plot to destroy Silicon Valley or something, and the whole story moves to San Francisco, you’ll feel foggier than Cupertino in the morning.
17. You Only Live Twice (1967)
AGAIN with Blofeld’s space plots! This rocketship-heavy narrative is counterbalanced somewhat by its compelling villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (a bald Donald Pleasance, wearing a white suit and stroking a cat/gee, who does THAT remind you of?) but its generally poor handling of its Japanese setting (and, uh, its naming its Bond Girl “Kissy Suzuki”) really knocks it from contention. You might live twice, but that’s double the amount of times you should ever watch it.
16. The World is Not Enough (1999)
To be fair, it isn’t!!!! I know this well as a graduate student. Some days you just wake up and you’re like, what in God’s name could be worth all this hell? The WORLD… is not ENOUGH. I always feel bad for Pierce Brosnan when I watch his era of James Bond movies, because his vibe is so erudite and sensitive. He delivers a performance far deeper, far wearier, far gentler, even, than these movies deserve. He is TIRED. The world is TERRIBLE. And when you see Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, in this film, playing opposite a sexy lady nuclear scientist named Dr. Christmas Jones, you kind of don’t know how to react. Everything around him is wrong. He’s standing there, simmering in gravitas, and what he’s up against is a solar ray? (Not in this movie, but I’m yelling now.) A shame, because I quite like a lot of it, including the banter between Desmond Llewelyn and John Cleese, and the villain: Robert Carlyle’s Smeagol-looking Renard, who has a bullet lodged in his brain and thus cannot feel any pain. That’s all great stuff. It just doesn’t fully come together.
15. Spectre (2015)
As its name might suggest, Spectre loops back through Bond lore and presents Bond’s nemesis Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) to us only now, in installment four of Daniel Craig’s series. The evil organization SPECTRE has had its tendrils in his previous adventures, starting with Casino Royale, but this movie is all about the puppetmaster behind all of Bond’s sorrows. I do love Sam Mendes’s direction here (and am continually awed by the opening scene, a chase through Mexico City during the Día de los Muertos parade). But it also might be the most oedipal Bond movie I had seen? Idk, although Léa Seydoux tries hard as Dr. Madeline Swann (and she survives to make it to the next installment!!!), I find her romance with Bond kind of… blah and ick. Added later, upon further reflection: I do love, though, how they gave Blofeld his face scar back. And his cat. And they nodded to all his space plots with the meteor thing. And it’s one of the best Bond films in terms of TEAMWORK, that I will say. Look, I don’t hate it.
14. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
I appreciate Tomorrow Never Dies‘s conniving media mogul villain who wants to start a global war so he can make billions broadcasting exclusive coverage; you kind of think that if Jonathan Pryce’s Elliot Carver lived past this installment, he’d go on to produce Fox News (where he’d learn that you don’t have to incite war, you can just make stuff up with impunity). Anyway, watch this movie for Michelle Yeoh, a badass goddess among us.
13. No Time to Die (2021)
No Time to Die, the finale of Daniel Craig’s run as James Bond, is sentimental and definitely too-invested in the previous installment, Spectre, but it’s really got style, particularly thanks to the fantastic skill of director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who keeps the film popping with funky visuals and meticulous action sequences. Without saying too much, I’ll note that this is a film that also makes good use of its capable supporting cast—the usual suspects Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Ralph Fiennes, and Rory Kinnear—plus newcomers Ana de Armas (who carries one of the film’s best scenes) and Lashana Lynch. If you’re like me and your favorite narrative element of Spectre was the teamworky stuff and your least favorite element was the dumb Blofeld backstory stuff, you’ll probably feel the same way about this last ride.
12. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
I keep forgetting that this film exists and that’s probably because it’s pretty basic, all things considered. It’s definitely the least offensive of the Roger Moore movies. We’ve got a bad-news Greek tycoon on our tail, and a missile command system to disable, folks! Tallyho! The Broccoli’s are playing it safe after Moonraker, and that’s fine with me. I love an underwater car!
11. License to Kill (1989)
License to Kill is really fun because it’s about BOND going off the rails for revenge, after his buddy Felix Leiter’s family is attacked. That’s not the fun part. That’s sad. But Timothy Dalton has a very enjoyable, dangerous glint in his eye that makes this revenge story super watchable.
10. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
This is the best of the Roger Moore James Bonds, and it’s all about submarines! A bunch of underwater nuclear warheads have gone missing, so Bond and this woman whose boyfriend he killed go on a sub-aqueous adventure to find them. Also, the villain has webbed hands. (Look, I said it was the best Roger Moore Bond movie, not the best BOND movie.)
9. The Living Daylights (1987)
I think Timothy Dalton has a really nice edge to his 007; many have said that he bears the closest resemblance of all the actors to the Bond in the novels. Anyway, Dalton’s Bond is helping an ex-KGB officer defect to the West, and he attempts to sneak him off while he’s attending the symphony in Czechoslovakia. But one of the cellists onstage is an assassin (who said her music degree would not pay off!?) and so, after thwarting her and smuggling his guy, he loops back to track her down. It’s all very Cold War.
8. Goldeneye (1995)
There is so much to love about Goldeneye, like its making Judi Dench “M,” or the continued appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as “Q” (I am obsessed with him). This is Barbara Broccoli’s first solo outing as producer (her father, Albert R., would soon pass away), and it’s pretty good. Well done, Barbara. Rogue MI6 agent Sean Bean devises a plan to take control of a Soviet-era space satellite that can shoot an electromagnetic pulse. Somehow, this will cause a financial meltdown in the UK! I find GoldenEye interesting because the plot isn’t so much about upholding the British empire abroad, it’s about literally preventing the crumbling of the British empire, domestically. Why is this interesting? Because it’s so, so upfront about that which we already know, which is that Bond exists for the good of his mother country, not the greater good. I know we’re not supposed to, and god knows I love British accents, but half the time I can’t help wish that England would just lose for a change.
7. Thunderball (1965)
This is a very solid movie, despite its silly title. Sean Connery plays Bond’s in the Bahamas, where he teams up with a girl named Domino (is that a sugar reference…?), in this film which feels especially colonial to me. I mean, they all do, but this one especially. Sean Connery’s casting always intrigues me because you ever wonder what’s up with *a Scottish dude* working for the Crown to maintain the empire? Like, is he a TRAITOR? POSSIBLY.
6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
There’s a lot of great stuff in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: a glittering Diana Rigg as the tricky love interest (turned WIFE!), Telly Savalas as a brown-suited Blofeld, a smashing opening fight scene on the beach, a fantastic ski-slope chase scene. And you know what? The svelte, toothy, cravat-wearing George Lazenby, who appeared as Bond only this one time, is strangely compelling in the role. Plus, you can’t beat his ad-lib: “This never happened to the other fellow” when a beautiful woman steals his car and flees the scene. Tons of fun.
5. Dr. No (1962)
Dr. No is a great franchise opener. It introduced elements and iconography that would become signature to the whole Bond empire: Maurice Binder’s gun-barrel opener, the Caribbean beach location, Ursula Andress in her white bikini-with-knife-holster, Bond’s friendship with Felix Leiter. Plus, you gotta love Dr. No’s metal prosthetic hands. I love a villain with hardware instead of metacarpal appendages. This is in all likelihood because I grew up with a crush on Captain Hook.
4. From Russia with Love (1963)
This one’s the favorite of CrimeReads Editor-in-Chief Dwyer Murphy, and why not? It’s pitch-perfect adventure story, plus it has the wonderful bonus of bringing back a Bond Girl in the same role. Eunice Gayson’s Sylvia Trench, who first appears in Dr. No, comes back, and when she does, she’s represented as Bond’s friend (I mean, with benefits, but she seems to want it that way, so good for her).
3. Skyfall (2012)
Of all the films on this list, Skyfall is my personal favorite. Truly, there are few things in this world I love more than a Sam Mendes-directed crime movie. And I love everything about Skyfall: Roger Deakins’s glowing cinematography, the first appearance of Ben Whishaw’s nerdy Q, the sneaky introduction of Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny, the platonic love story between Bond and Judi Dench’s M, the climax in the gothic estate. The sky might be falling, but it’s me who’s crumbling.
2. Casino Royale (2006)
I didn’t see Casino Royale in theaters, but my grandparents did, and when I asked my grandfather why he was raving about it so much, he said simply “this time, he falls in love for real.” He does. He falls in love and gets ready to throw away his MI6 career for good. (I mean, Lazenby’s Bond also does this in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but it wound up being a one-off and its genuine feminist streaks were painted over with the Moore years.) Indeed, Casino Royale manages to negotiate extraordinary depth while also providing the most impressive caliber of action sequences we’ve seen in a long time. There’s no downplaying how much this film was a game-changer. Aces, Broccolis.
1. Goldfinger (1964)
It’s the gold standard. Larger-than-life megalomaniacal villain? Menacing henchman with exciting gadgets? Duplicitous love interest with a ridiculous name? Powerhouse theme song? Unforgettable assassination technique? Ambitious doomsday plot? Random golf competition scene? I COULD GO ON, for Goldfinger has it all. It’s the film, the film with the Midas touch.