The top 10 best Pierce Brosnan films

Top 10 Duncan Bowles 25 Mar 2014 - 05:31

Duncan salutes the mighty Pierce Brosnan, with a countdown of the one-time James Bond's best ten films...

Over the years here at Den Of Geek, I’ve written countless times about the nature of hero worship. It’s a subject that utterly fascinates me, especially in the context of action movies. The reason I’m telling you this now is because in the rather lengthy article that follows, there’s a distinctly personal stance on the films that I hold to be Pierce Brosnan’s best as, for me, he’s one of the greatest screen heroes of all time. It’s fair to say that it’s taken years for me to finish this list - not because of the length, but because of how important the films are to me. I’m more than aware of how strange that sounds, but hopefully by the end of the article this introduction will make more sense.

In short, Brosnan managed to embody the best of all the James Bonds, using Connery’s brutality, Moore’s charm and Dalton’s coolness to make arguably the finest rendition of the super spy to date. During his time as Bond, Brosnan had some of the most emotional and downright incredible moments, many of which are listed below, but when GoldenEye burst on the screen it was the first time I remember feeling like there was finally a modern Bond that connected on a personal and relevant level, while remaining faithful to Bond’s rich history.

A love of Bond aside, the choices below reflect a diverse career that saw him take multiple chances at the height of his career, with some fine results. The most curious thing that presented itself when looking at Brosnan’s career as a whole were the themes that seem to have remained constant in most of his work.

He has a fine track record for starring in literary adaptations, with Ian Fleming, John Le Carré, Alistair MacLean, Stephen King and Frederick Forsythe all making contributions. Then there’s the drinking, smoking, spying and shagging – at one point I even considered making the screencaps just out of those shots – though it should also be noted that most of his leading ladies have all been age appropriate too, a theme especially relevant in The Thomas Crown Affair. That said, most of his onscreen relationships with women have remained difficult to say the least, with everything from good old fashioned divorce, to death by volcanic rock causing upset for his characters.

This being a DOG list, there will obviously be a sway towards his more geek oriented roles, though as with any top ten I usually refrain from putting more than one movie from a franchise on the list, although having said that…

10. Tomorrow Never Dies

“You made your bed.”

To hell with it, let’s make an exception for once and apply the playground rules of ‘my bat, my ball.’ I love Tomorrow Never Dies, so it would be totally remiss of me not to mention it in slightly more detail, especially as it never quite seems to have received the same level of praise as GoldenEye. For the record, Tomorrow Never Dies would rank near the top of this list, but since it shouldn’t really be here, in at number ten it goes. Plus it also knocks out After The Sunset, which means I don’t have to confess that there’s a Brett Ratner film I like.

The strengths of Tomorrow Never Dies are manifold. It marked the debut of David Arnold’s terrific run as the Bond composer, and for my money the Tomorrow Never Dies soundtrack is the most exciting, especially as it reintroduced the classic Bond theme that many had missed in Eric Serra’s experimental score for GoldenEye. The sublime mix of techno with the classically orchestral added to its individuality, with Arnold even tapping The Propellerheads for a contribution to the track Backseat Driver, as he’d been working with them for his album Shaken And Stirred, which covered and reworked the classic Bond opening songs. Frustratingly, though, Mr Arnold had also concocted a belter of an opener with k.d. lang entitled Surrender, but was overruled in favour of the more ‘populist’ choice of Sheryl Crow by the producers.

Tomorrow Never Dies also contains what I hold to be the best of Brosnan’s James Bond performances, as he seems to have utterly relaxed into the role after his superb, but high pressure debut in GoldenEye. There’s a sense of complete ease to his portrayal, like Bond had become a second skin, and the story allows for a much more powerful emotional core with a rare connection to a female character in Teri Hatcher’s Paris Carver - adding an element of tragic revenge gave a greater motivation to Bond’s often basic ‘For Queen, country and a good shag’ trajectory. The “You made your bed” seduction scene still holds up as one of the franchises most believably passionate too, as well as being the most bitey.

Talking of strong scenes, the action set pieces are uniformly superb throughout, even if the final shootout feels a little dry compared to the vast spectacle that’s preceded it, with two moments in particular ranking among the greatest – the backseat driver chase is thrilling, but its Brosnan’s joyous smile and silent performance that makes it work, especially when the tyres re-inflate. Silence is a theme that’s also employed to comic effect during the music room interrogation, which sees larger and more preposterous impromptu weapons deployed in the background, with the final weighing of the ashtray a perfect coup de grace. Cracking little moments, but ones that contribute towards an entirely rounded and solid Bond film.

9. Live Wire

“Boom.”

After the cruel Remington Steele contract stopped Pierce from taking the Bond role before Dalton, the years between saw him make several Bond-esque action movies of which Live Wire is one of the best. When I say best, of course mean in the context of alcohol as Live Wire is prime beer-and-movies fodder that is so ludicrously over the top that it’s impossible not to love it – I cherished it so much upon finding it at my local rental shop in Coventry that I convinced the owner to sell me his copy and then bought a second one several years later, just in case.

The film centres on Brosnan’s bomb disposal expert (who strangely enough has a troubled relationship with his wife) and the sinister threat he faces from a series of bizarre explosions that are leaving no trace of a mechanism. So far, so CSI, but the script's genius is in making human beings the bombs. Oh yes, there’s explodey chemicals being ingested in water that mean the victims suffer from a severe case of pink eye before violently combusting – four stars for the concept alone, surely?

If that hasn’t sold you, then there’s a scene involving Pierce punching a clown, then pushing him in a wheelchair into a tent where he blows up - something you don’t see every day. There’s also some fine dressing gown adorning, a beardless Ron Silver, bathtub sexing and a lot of shouting. A warning, though: I had to get my DVD imported from China, such are its rare and wondrous delights.

8. The Lawnmower Man

“Man may be able to evolve a thousand-fold through this technology, but the rush must be tempered with wisdom.”

It would appear that the omnipotent powers of Jobe, the Lawnmower Man himself, saw fit to make two of the writers here at Den Of Geek re-watch the titular film within about a week of each other, as no sooner had I scribbled out some crayon notes about the magnificent hair-off between Brosnan and Jeff Fahey, than Ryan Lambie had put finger to keyboard and written this piece looking at 10 remarkable things about the movie.

Ryan’s take on the ten craziest elements in The Lawnmower Man is, for me, all you’ll ever need to read on the film, as it affectionately singles out what an insane and entertaining film it is, though be sure to avoid the article if graphic images of bunny love are too much for you. There’s little to be added, though I have always found it strange that despite being in my teens at the time of the cinema release, I somehow missed it and only caught it some years later post GoldenEye.

Considering the hype and publicity that The Lawnmower Man received at the time, combined with my video game addiction and the fact that VR was the big, exciting ‘future of technology’ focus, I can’t imagine how it slipped past. Still, Brosnan was ahead of the curve as when GoldenEye was released three years later in 1995, that same year saw similarly themed movies with Strange Days and Virtuosity warning us of the dangers of virtual worlds.

For those who don’t know, Lawnmower Man also saw a heavily extended director’s cut release, which my VHS cover proudly states has ‘an extra 38 minutes of previously unreleased footage’. My recollections of the extra footage are hazy, though there is additional VR monkey footage, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a bonus. Full details of the director’s cut can be found here though.

Curiously the VHS cover also features three press quotes that all discuss the ‘mind blowing effects’ rather than the film itself, my favourite of which is “Dazzling special effects, even better than Terminator 2” courtesy of The Sun, though I’m sure J-Cam didn’t lose any sleep over that rather wild claim.

Still, The Lawnmower Man does feature some fine performances, especially from Jeff Fahey who seemed set for big time stardom at the time that unfortunately never quite happened for him. It was a good chance for Pierce to shine though, especially with his devotion to keeping a straight face in the presence of lunacy. The film also ties nicely into his recurring theme for playing drinking, smoking men with women troubles, it could even be argued that since his work is governmental that there’s a tie to espionage as well. They really don’t make them like The Lawnmower Man anymore.

7. Seraphim Falls

“He teaches my fingers to fight and my hands to war.”

Happening on the existence of Seraphim Falls one day, while browsing for any missing Brosnan films in my collection, was a glorious moment. My love for Liam Neeson has been well documented on Den Of Geek over the years, so imagine the delight at finding a film which not only promised to star two of my biggest cinematic heroes, but that it would all happen in that most rare and desirable genre – the western.

However, I tempered any expectations with the usual straight to video mentality which consists of an initial ‘Wow this film looks amazing and has a great cast, I’m sure I’ll appreciate this film even if no one else does’ and is then swiftly followed by a crushing ‘Oh dear, to the recycler with you.’ (I’m looking at you, The Contract). But Seraphim Falls proved to an absolute gem of a find, so if you’ve yet to give the film a watch, I really can’t recommend it enough - something I’ll be saying a lot over the course of this article.

The centre of the film revolves around a cat and mouse dynamic, with Neeson, posse in tow, hell-bent on inflicting his own brutal justice (which he does so love doing) on the sympathetically hounded Brosnan. The chase itself takes place over a variety of hostile and contrasting landscapes and isn’t afraid to show, in graphic detail, what it took to survive in such circumstances and has more than a few wince inducing moments and violent outbursts. In fact watching it again, I realised it would make a fine double bill with First Blood, as the two share a lot in common – falling through trees, a reliance on a mean looking knife and the long lasting scars of war being just a few.

There’s a lot to love in Seraphim Falls, with its Spartan dialogue, fine supporting cast of character actors who always make for fine miscreants (the ever untrustworthy Xander Berkeley and Michael Wincott to name two), beautiful cinematography and punchy DTS soundtrack, but the film is driven by the two leads. Both Neeson and Brosnan are able to carry audience sympathy at the drop of a hat and their casting is key in carrying the films’ statement on the corruption and futility of war, making for an immaculate two hander.

6. The Tailor Of Panama

“Oooh look at those tits. Oh yum, yum!”

If The Matador marked the end of Brosnan’s time as James Bond with a two fingered salute, then The Tailor of Panama was a much braver role to take in between Bond movies, as it simultaneously cashed in on the spy’s success, while shocking audiences with Pierce’s repugnant performance as Andrew Osnard, a character truly bereft of sympathy and best described as a truly magnificent bastard.

As the film starts we learn of Osnard’s various indiscretions that have led to his banishment to Panama, where he immediately sets about blackmailing the titular tailor, played with the delightfully supressed mania that Geoffrey Rush so excels at. The film that follows is part black comedy, part political statement and all mischief – there’s even a cheeky Sean Connery reference in the first ten minutes.

I remember at the time of the film's release there were more than a few jaws dropped by hearing the seemingly wholesome Brosnan’s utterances of such lines as “Don’t be a c**t, Harry,” though I suspect those people weren’t so familiar with his earlier, more villainous roles, merely his turn as Bond. There’s also a raw sexuality running throughout, with Osnard sharing Bond’s affinity for aggressive seduction, with no sense of responsibility or respect for the women he encounters – his comments about Leonor Varela’s character Marta’s disfigurement being especially grim.

Directed by the rather great John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance and Excalibur to name a few that come highly recommended) there’s also a slight feel of the Coen Brothers at times, with surreal additions to the narrative that see Rush’s tailor talking to his deceased work colleague as a moral conscience and there’s also the matter of his later turn in Intolerable Cruelty that suggests the Coen’s saw him in Tailor and realised he was a good fit for their style. Elsewhere there’s the larger than life Brendan Gleeson as a Latin activist turned alcoholic and a very young Daniel Radcliffe.

As a little aside, it’s also based on the book by John le Carré and the author ranked it in his own top four best novels, alongside Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Constant Gardener and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, so that should be recommendation enough.

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Wow, Goldeneye wasn't even Brosnan's best Bond film, let alone his best ever movie!

A very odd list indeed.
And wasn't 'Love is All You Need' supposed to be one of his career-best performances? Not a mention.
Really, a *very* odd list.
There was some interesting stuff in TWINE, much moreso than DIe.

Goldeneye = Awesomeness!!!!!

Don't touch that! That's my lunch!

TV mystery thriller "Murder 101" would fit well into the "also recommended" category. Thanks for the article!

One of my all time least favourite actors. On saying that Goldeneye is a great film - nearly ruined by Brosnan's smugness as Bond (worst Bond actor by a country mile).

I think I'm the only person in the world who prefers Tomorrow Never Dies to Goldeneye. Self driving cars, two Bond girls, Sea Drills and stealth boats....Its just soooooo Bondy.

I'm curious - what's your best Brosnan Bond? Plus without Goldeneye there might not have been the movies that followed...

As I said at the start, the list is tailored towards his more Geek friendly roles with an emphasis on action and sci-fi above the dramatic. You're right though, I think 'Love' was missed as I'd taken so long to finish the list!

Ah yes, I still have VHS copy of that from when it was on TV! I decided to try and miss out a lot of TV movie work, though that's a good shout!

I'm always torn as to which I prefer, which is why I squeezed them both in - maybe I should have put then as joint number one! Nice to see some TND love though.

My favourite would be Tomorrow Never Dies, Goldeneye isn't bad, just not the best. While Die Another Day was awful, I liked the sword fight more than I should!

"The World's End" doesn't even merit a mention apparently? And at DoG of all places!

You forgot The Long Good Friday. Brosnan was an absolute badass in that film!

I actually wrote the end of year piece for TWE, but keep refraining from mentioning him as it was such a great and unexpected appearance - it's a little late for spoilers now though I guess!

It does get a mention, but only very briefly for not wanting to discuss the context in case people still haven't seen it!

"for England James"
"for England"
Golden Eye was just phenomnal for its time, it gave Bond that boot up the butt it needed

THEN MAYBE YOU SHOULDN'T BE LIVING HERE!

"Well, maybe you shouldn't be living heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere!!!!"

"What goes on in this town is none of your concern."

My list would be, including NO Bond movies, as that's a cheat:

1. The Thomas Crown Affair
2. Murder 101
3. After the Sunset
4. The Heist
5. Don't Talk to Strangers
6. Dante's Peak
7. The Fourth Protocol
8. Butterfly On a Wheel
9. Death Train
10. Victim of Love

Great piece. Very happy to see some love for the criminally underrated Mars Attacks! too. Might well go and dig out Goldeneye for a re-watch now... that final fistfight (knees! headbutts!) is one of my all-time favourites.

I feel the total opposite about Brosnan
For me he was the worst Bond because he combined all the worst traits of his predecessors.
He has the arrogance of Connery but lacks the sheer animal magnetism and screen presence to make it appealing or the physicality to make the brutality convincing. He has the smarm of Moore but lacks the charm and self deprecation to temper it and just comes over as smug. He has the coolness of Dalton but lacking his depth it comes across as a poseurs affectation. He does have something of the fluid litheness of Lazenby, but again, he lacks the charm and affability.

I would sum up the demeanour of his Bond as a smug pretty boy. I think he could have been better but was poorly served by appalling scripts which probably made it a struggle for him to find the right tone. He was also let down by bizarrely pedestrian jobs from the directors.

Take the back seat driving from Tomorrow Never Dies mentioned in the article for instance. I utterly disagree that this is a thrilling scene or that Brosnan's joyous smile elevates the scene. It should have been thrilling but the staging and shooting of the scene is utterly lifeless and Brosnan is at his lame worst here with his smug 'boy with a toy' mugging.

I'd put his tenure down as the low point of the series. The films veer between ok (GoldenEye), bland (Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough) and obnoxiously bad (Die Another Day). Funnily enough, this is mirrored in the title songs for each of his films respectively, which are, by the standards of Bond songs, Ok (GoldenEye), bland (TND, TWiNE) and obnoxiously bad (DAD)

"Alright it's coffee time! Coffeecoffeecoffeecoffeecoffee! Cappuccino! Java, yes!"

Love Dante's Peak.

That reminds me: will DoG be doing a review of A Long Way Down?
I've been looking forward to it and thought Brosnan was a good casting choice for Martin, but I'm hearing worrying noises from the internet that it's not all it could have been.

I agree with most of the films choices but I must take exception to the use of the term 'age-appropriate' and your seeming disgust for age gaps in relationships. Who are you to say what the 'appropriate' age is for a man that a woman chooses to date? The appropriateness depends on the individual woman and man.

Also, "due to Hollywood’s long term fad of always casting younger with a relaunch."
Well they were hardly going to cast someone over 50 with a relaunch were they? Not a fad in this case. Just common sense.

Also, Russo is in fact younger than Brosnan, not older

I do so love TND...That sword is great though, so don't feel guilty - definitely the highlight in an otherwise wonky film!

I didn't even know Pierce Brosnan was in 10 movies. Hurray for him...

We can all agree that Die Another Day is The Very Worst Bond Film Of All Time, yes?

The Deceivers?

I'd almost forgotten about Nomads!

Goldeneye was the first movie i ever saw back in December 95 with my Dad. As much as i love TND & TWISE, Goldeneye will always be my favourite Brosnan Bond movie. Always loved the scene when he asks Zukovsky "Whos strangling the cat":-)
Always liked Taffin as well, but that was mainly for Allison Doody:-)

I did wonder about The World's End but thought you had left it out because his is only a brief, albeit important, role.

Lawnmower Man catches a lot of crap, but certainly it is one of the pop-culture nuggets most-responsible for bringing the term "virtual reality" into common vernacular, and I know of a LOT of people that got into computer graphics based on what it promised (chrome mannequin cybersex being just one of those promises)

agreed - 4th protocol brilliant. especially the bad things he does to the female spy sent out with bomb parts. he treats he like a real nice lady.... bwahahahahah

what goes on in this article is none of your business

Watched Goldeneye for teh first time a couple of months ago. It came across a a b movie with a few famous people in it. Maybe I watched it too late.

The Rocketeer.....not even mentioned?

That was Timothy Dalton...

Best Bond in my book, too. Although besides GoldenEye he didn't get the best Bond movies. Actually Die Another Day is ridiculously bad. Such a shame.
Loved Mars Attacks, too. As a German critic once wrote: Roland Emmerich hissing the American Flag with Independence Day while Tim Burton pisses on it with Mars Attacks. Loved the weirdness of it.
The Matador was hilarious. The DVD is included in my GoldenEye Bluray for double feature purpose. Highly recommended!
The Tailor of Panama is a damn fine movie.
Live Wire is called Hydrotoxin here in Germany. You can easily find it on the German Amazon for small money. Not bad, that one. Good double feature with Blown Away (Jeff Bridges against Tommy Lee Jones!).
The Lawnmower Man has aged very badly...
Dante's Peak was good fun, too. But too much by the numbers.
I have to check Seraphim Falls now as I am a sucker for Western. Thanks for that.

Brilliantly geeky article. Love Brosnan since the early Remington Steele days. Still one of the best romantic crime comedy TV series ever. And so many references to old movies. He might have been the first big time movie nerd on TV.
Keep up the good work. Best geek site in the whole wide web!

The World is Not Enough would have been my favourite Bronsan Bond film if Denise Richards hadn't been cast in it. Every time she opens her mouth is a facepalm moment. But on the opposite end, I loved Sophie Marceau as Elektra, she would have to be my favourite Bond girl during that era, closely followed by Natalya.

Goldeneye is one of the best Bond films by far. Shame that Brosnan's Bond films went progressively downhill from there.

Goldeneye has not aged well, where as Tomorrow Never Dies has. That alone makes TND better than GE. So I disagree on #10 and #1.

Sorry for the late reply - just to clarify (as someone whose wife is nearly a decade younger) I have absolutely no judgement on real life relationships, my point was merely aimed at Hollywood as they have a tendency to always make leading men seduce much younger women as a trend, rather than as a story issue (in say, LA Story with Steve Martin, it's addressed and works).

It was mostly in the context of his fellow Bonds, especially in the likes of A View to a Kill with Moore/Tanya Roberts which just seemed forced and a little creepy. The same thing with Eastwood and Russo (my mistake on her age) in In the Fire - it just didn't click in the film.

Casting younger for action stars makes sense, but Brosnan was ditched without warning just to cash in on Bourne's success. I understand not wanting to take risks with established characters, but it all becomes a tad predictable, for me anyway.

Putting Dante's Peak at #5 is criminal. I would have left it off the list altogether, as I would have with Tomorrow Never Dies. The World is Not Enough and The Ghost should both be in there

"I have no problem with the invisible car"

... Seriously?

Nope, I prefer Tomorrow Never Dies too. Goldeneye is good and all, but for whatever reason it was never able to hook teenage me in as effectively the former.

I think what also made Goldeneye such an iconic movie at the time was the release of Goldeneye on Nintendo 64. it seemed to be the only game at that time that really used the movie as it's basis and follow the storyline (plus the Goldeneye score setting the modd in the game, as it was in the movie..GOLD), plus not forgetting to mention the multiplayer showdowns with mates, with my little TV being split into 4 sections!. I could remember being at school, and anticipating getting home and playing it as soon as I got there. The chicken and the egg, the game complimented the movie, the movie complemented the game. I miss those days....

I think The World Is Not Enough was a great bond film.

Brosnan basically saved Bond. After the commercial failure of Dalton films (which I think were great) and the legal issues the franchise was in serious trouble. His portrayal of Bond was a great mixture of seriousness and humor which is the movie bond. It is a shame his last Bond film was such a mess.

Outside of bond I liked him in The Thomas Crown Affair.

Love Is All You Need is, in my opinion, the best performance of his career and deserves a mention. The World's End is also the best film, as far as I'm concerned, starring him, but I understand why you chose to exclude it.

Yeh it was pretty bad and a big shame Brosnan went out from Bond on a bad note. The film made some terrible use of CGI (The surfing scene) and Matrix like speed ups.

In terms of the worst Bond? I think some of Roger's films would be higher on the list.

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