How original, eh?
Now every top five list is subjective. Each person has their own criteria for what qualifies as “best” or “favorite”. They’ll probably justify it quantitatively and also mix in personal whims like “This was the one that introduced me to…” or “Despite its flaws, I’ll always have a soft spot for…”. And all that’s fair. That’s because it’s not your top five favorite list. It’s theirs.
And this one is mine.
But before I present my list, some disclaimers.
I’d like to point out that I’ve only read one Ian Fleming book, Dr. No. That was a looooong time ago, and all I remember from it is that through the book, I learned what guano is and also that the ending is quite different from the movie. I think I also read License Renewed, the first Bond adventure not written by Ian Fleming and intended to extend the publishing arm of the franchise. I don’t really remember much about it either. So for this list, I’m definitely not gonna be comparing books to movies in this list.
And finally, for this list I also considered the non-EON Productions films Casino Royale (the 1960’s parody with David Nivel and Woody Allen) and Never Say Never Again (the 1980’s Thunderball remake starring Sean Connery). A lot of Bond fans consider them non-canon. But a film’s a film. So I considered them. Well, I considered Never since I actually watched that. I’ve chosen to avoid the Casino Royale parody so far.
So, in no particular order...
Let’s get this one out of the way first. It was awesome! So awesome that it’s pretty much ruined my enjoyment of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond that I was a great fan of. In fact, Tomorrow Never Dies was my favorite Brosnan Bond until I watched it again recently, about a year after Craig's introduction into the Bond role. Craig’s straight, non-cheeky version of Bond completely screwed up my appreciation of all the cheeky lines in TND. I mean, cheeky lines were a part of James Bond as far as I was concerned, and Brosnan had played them off well. Once upon a time anyway.
And remember when there was a huge to do about Craig’s do? How the media and fans made such a brouhaha that Bond would now be a blonde. Remember that? Thank you, Mr. Craig, for blowing that issue out of the water.
This one makes the list because (a) I didn’t expect much when I first watched it and (b) I love underdogs. George Lazenby was obviously an underdog when he took over the Bond role from Sean Connery. Now I only started watching Bond films in the 70’s, so Roger Moore was my favorite Bond as a kid growing up. And I enjoyed my first Moore Bond films not in theatres but as movies of the week on television.
When I finally got around to seeing OHMSS on television, I didn’t really know the history of Connery’s legacy playing Bond in the first five films of the series, and I probably had a tangential awareness that this was Lazenby’s only Bond film. But the script was solid, and Lazenby didn’t stand out as terrible to me. And the tragic ending earned big thumbs for me too. So I guess I’m saying for as bad as it could’ve been, it just wasn’t. Plussed out with The Avengers star Diana Rigg, Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in the World” and John Barry’s amazing new title theme, and it just couldn’t go wrong.
It was quite a while before I sat down and really watched Dr. No for what it is, the movie that introduced the character of James Bond to moviegoers. It was definitely after I graduated high school, maybe even after I graduated college. Like I said, Moore was the Bond I grew up with, so it took a while for Connery’s Bond to grow on me. Connery was more serious, more ruthless, less cheeky with the one liners. But as I got older, I ultimately outgrew Moore and started appreciating Connery. I eventually watched all of Connery’s Bond films, in chronological order, to see the development of Connery’s Bond character as well as the development of the Bond film series overall. And I got it. I got why Connery has legions of Bond fans. For me, Dr. No is a very raw Bond film, which makes sense as it was the filmmaker’s first pass at creating a cinematic James Bond. That’s why Connery’s second Bond film, From Russia with Love, is a bigger win for me and on this list. You can clearly see the filmmakers’ confidence in presenting the cinematic James Bond. Plus, this script was a solid action spy film. Throw in Desmond Llewelyn’s first appearance as Q and the formula (for me anyway) was set.
As an adult, I’ve grown to really dislike Moore’s Bond films as too campy to overcome. All of them except this one. The script for For Your Eyes Only was a complete change in tone from Moore’s previous five Bond films. It took a serious, decidedly less campy tone, and it completely works for me. Well, maybe not completely. There was the teenage ice skater character with the crush on obviously ancient Roger Moore that could’ve looked much creepier than it did if Moore hadn’t played it as well as he did. I also didn’t mind Bill Conti’s score. It’s decidedly got a rather dated 80’s vibe to it, so if it ain't for you, I’ll claim the “Despite its flaws, I’ll always have a soft spot for…” alibi on this one.
Plus, the beautiful Sheena Easton shown in the main title sequence singing the title song is a significant plus.
Like I said, I loved Pierce Bronsan as Bond when his series of Bond films debuted. The first two, GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, were the better films of his oeuvre, with the Tomorrow being the better one for me. But damn, Daniel Craig, and your cool but ruthless seriousness! If I had watched TND since watching Craig's Casino Royale, a Brosnan Bond would’ve made this list. (And sorry, Timothy Dalton, but your Bond just never clicked for me.) So alas, I round out my top five Bond movies list with another Connery adventure.
The film after From Russia with Love was Goldfinger. And for some reason that I cannot clearly identify, Goldfinger just didn’t do it for me. I think maybe it’s that Bond had become less tough-as-nails from his previous adventure and too self-assured during Goldfinger. On the other hand, the fourth Bond film Thunderball plays better for me. It’s less over-the-top than Goldfinger was. And I love the Bond Girls in this one more. Almost 20 years later, Connery starred in Never Say Never Again, essentially a remake of Thunderball, a film produced by parties other then EON Productions due to movie rights ownership. It’s a flawed film, but good. If it had just taken the character seriously more often and had a much better soundtrack, it might’ve had a chance to make it on this list.