Since 1962, the James Bond franchise has come to define the spy genre, for good or ill. More broadly, every thriller and action film that comes out now either uses them as inspiration, or attempts to ignore or re-work the tropes that have come to be associated with the series.
Coming off the release of Kingsman: The Secret Service, and with the release of a new Bond film this year, now seems like the perfect time to take a look at a sample of the films which have been inspired by James Bond — either as homages, parodies or reactions.
The Ipcress File (1965)
Produced by James Bond producer Harry Saltzman as a more grounded alternative to the largesse of Bond, The Ipcress File is more concerned with the intricacies of real spy-work — the endless paperwork, the unhelpful superiors, the departmental frictions — as opposed to gadgets, super-villains and exotic locations.
Short sighted and working class, Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer is just a small cog in the machine, trying to figure out both the mystery to which he has been assigned, and the inner workings of his own service. In this world, the line between good and evil is non-existent: Allies are just as unpredictable as enemies, villains are bought off rather than killed, and Palmer’s notion of a luxury is a new appliance for his kitchen.
Downbeat and paranoid, The Ipcress File (and, to varying degrees, its sequels) is the first (and arguably best) of the ‘Anti-Bond’ thrillers to spring up since the Sixties.
Most Bondian moment: Few and far between, but Palmer does share an eye for the ladies.
This never happened to the other fella: Palmer cooks his own meals, and enjoys listening to classical music.
Bond connection: Aside from Saltzman, the crew includes composer John Barry, production designer Ken Adam and editor Peter Hunt. Guy Doleman (Colonel Ross) was in Thunderball. Guy Hamilton, the director of Goldfinger, would go on to direct the sequel Funeral In Berlin.
Our Man Flint (1966)
Putting the SUPER in super-spy, Derek Flint is the best at everything he does — disguises, gadgets, martial arts, seducing ladies, talking to dolphins, ballet… the list is endless.
The movie itself is pretty spectacular, combining great visual gags with super-dry one liners. Both Flintpictures manage the difficult task of matching the visual palette and exotic mise-en-scene of the ’60s Bond movies without directly imitating them. That description extends to the title character — James Coburn is effortlessly cool in the title role, can handle himself in the action scenes and also convinces as a super-sleuth who is always 50 steps ahead of everyone else.
Coburn’s turn as an American Bond was a big influence on Austin Powers — In Like Flint even gets name checked as Powers’ favourite movie. Still hip and still cool, the Flint movies have a wit and style that more Bond parodies should take note of.
Most Bondian moment: In a darkened strip club, Flint comes face to face with a British agent bearing an uncanny resemblance to you-know-who.
This never happened to the other fella: The extent of Flint’s talents is truly impressive, but none more so than the fact that he invents his own gadgets.
Murderer’s Row (1966)
The Silencers came out first, but you’re better off checking out this, the second and best of the Matt Helm series starring Dean Martin as fashion photographer/super spy Matt Helm. With their sci-fi trappings, witty villains and focus on the comedic skills of its leading man, the Matt Helm series proved popular counter-weights to the Bond films in their heyday.
Murderer’s Row is the best of the series — Martin is more than convincing as a lethal comedian, Ann Margaret is a feisty companion and Karl Malden has a ball as the diabolical villain intent on destroying Washington DC with a super laser. The action, aside from an anaemic car chase, is solid. The locations, including Cannes and an island fortress, provide exotic backdrops, and Lao Schifrin’s jazzy score zips along.
While it lacks Ken Adam’s production design and the continental sophistication of Bond, taken on its own modest terms, Murderer’s Row is good fun. Martin’s easy going, wise-cracking performance and the series’ spoofing of the Bond formula would later serve as a template for the more fantastical and camp direction the Bond films would take in the seventies.
Most Bondian moment: Helm escapes the villain’s island on a hovercraft, which he proceeds to ride onto the beach and into town past slack jawed tourists. A scene later referenced in Moonraker, when Bond drives his ‘Bondola’ out of the Venice canals and through Saint Mark’s Square past slack jawed tourists, dogs and a pigeon. Address your hate mail to Matt Helm.
This never happened to the other fella: Helm has an inner monologue sung by Dean Martin. If he sees a pretty girl, gets out of a jam or is just having a good time driving around, we’ll hear about it.
Deadlier Than The Male (1967)
In coming up with the character of James Bond, Ian Fleming drew inspiration from the character of Bulldog Drummund, a two-fisted adventurer created by H C McNeile. The lead of a series of popular novels, the character had quickly made the transition to films where he was played by the likes of Ronald Coleman, Ralph Richardson and Walter Pidgeon.
Ironically, when the character was re-launched in 1967, Drummund was re-imagined in a mould closer to Bond. Played by Richard Johnson, Drummund is now a high-flying insurance investigator with an eye for the ladies and the good life. The plot involves Drummond hunting down a pair of female assassins who have killed a group of business tycoons and made the deaths look like accidents.
Directed by Ralph Thomas and co-written by Hammer’s in-house scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster, the film is a slightly underwhelming knockoff of the Bond formula with little of its own personality. Johnson is fine in the lead, although he is dressed to heighten the resemblance to Sean Connery (even down to the hairstyle), which proves somewhat distracting. The late, great Nigel Green is also good as Drummund’s nemesis, Carl Petersen (also taken from the novels), but does not get anything particularly interesting to do. The one liners fall flat, the fight choreography is unimaginative and poorly staged, and a potentially exciting finale involving Petersen’s imposing henchman Chang (perenial heavy Milton Reid) stalking Drummund through a life size chess set is wasted.
Taken as a whole, Deadlier Than The Male is not a complete waste of time, but does not make enough changes to the Bond formula to stand on its own.
Most Bondian moment: Ambushed by thugs, Drummund beats them up, chases down the survivor and then interrogates him after pinning him between his car grille and the garage wall.
This never happened to the other fella: Drummund has a nephew who tags along and provides no help whatsoever. I wish I could say more, but that really sums up his contribution.
Bond connection: The cast is a who’s who of minor players. Milton Reid played one of Dr. No’s henchmen, was in the running to play Oddjob, appeared in the non-Eon spoof Casino Royale and then played Jaws’s unlucky compatriot Shandor in The Spy Who Loved Me. Featured in a minor role, ex-model Virginia North later played Olympe in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, while Yasuo Nagazumi, who plays Petersen’s gun-toting geisha girl Mitsouko, also turns up in You Only Live Twice. Laurence Naismith, playing the man who puts Drummund on the case, performs a similar task with Sean Connery as a diamond expert who sets out Bond’s mission in Diamonds Are Forever.
On a side note, star Richard Johnson was director Terence Young’s original choice for Bond when casting the role for Dr. No.
Danger Diabolik (1968)
A unique idea that remains rather unexplored — what if James Bond was an out and out villain, more concerned with enriching himself than saving the world?
Directed by Italian horror master Mario Bava, Danger Diabolik is a gorgeous comic book of a movie. Blending his backgrounds in special effects and cinematography, Bava creates a fantasy world in which Mafia dons hold meetings in private planes with convenient trapdoors, jewels can be fired like bullets, and Terry-Thomas is the head of the Treasury.
At the centre of all this is master criminal Diabolik. Hiding out in his cavernous underground base, he spends his time concocting schemes to steal impressive hauls — regardless of whether it is money, jewels or priceless heirlooms, Diabolik will want it. If there is a danger of being caught or killed, so much the better. Like Bond, he treats his profession as a game, an excuse for excitement, high living and a lot of uninhibited sex. He is completely materialistic, and thinks nothing of tanking the national economy when the police put a bounty on his head.
Most Bondian moment: After their first successful caper, Diabolik and his girlfriend immediately make love in the front seat of his sports car.
This never happened to the other fella: Cornered by the police in his hideout, Diabolik ends up covered in melted gold when a massive ingot explodes in front of him.
James Bond in the Old West — and it’s just as much fun as it sounds. Featuring a plethora of acrobatic stunts, oddball henchmen and a diabolical villain with his own private army, the movie manages to balance western tropes and Bond-style trappings without diluting either.
Lee Van Cleef is in his element as the quipping, gadget-laden gunslinger of the title and director Gianfranco Parolini displays a combination of carnivalesque derring do and visual humour that makes Sabata stand out from the post-Leone slow burn approach to western action. Followed by two sequels, Sabata is one of the most unlikely and successful offshoots of Bondmania.
Most Bondian moment: Sabata sits down for dinner with the film’s villain, Stengel, who is in possession of a gun cane. While they verbally spar, Stengel tries to aim the cane at Sabata. In turn, the wily gunslinger moves his wine glass and other props to disrupt his aim. Tense, but with touches of dark wit, this bizarre version of chess is as effective in delineating the battle lines between hero and villain as the golf match in Goldfinger.
This never happened to the other fella: This is the Italian west, so there are plenty of heaving bosoms, but Sabata is more concerned with nailing the bad guys.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
Do we need to go over this? From the iconic pre-credits stunt to the globe-trotting plot, on paper there is much about the Indiana Jones series that we have seen before — but never has it been done with such a sense of originality, pace and humour. Stripping the Bond archetype of the gadgets and the other fat that had clogged up the series by 1981, Raiders is the bridge between the post-Bond adventure films of the ’60s and the hi-octane ethos of eighties action movies.
With his air of ruffled incredulity and vulnerability, Harrison Ford gave us the first everyman hero of the blockbuster era, while Karen Allen obliterated the image of the Bond girl with her ballsy, take-charge performance as Marion Ravenwood. There really is no need to go on. Sure, there are elements of homage to Bond and old time serials, but ultimately Raiders Of The Lost Ark stands on its own as simply one of the best movies of all time.
Most Bondian moment: The pre-credit sequence is an effective introduction to Indy and is the rare example of a homage rising above its inspiration to become iconic in its own right.
This never happened to the other fella: The gloriously abbreviated showdown with the swordsman.
Bond connection: Vic Armstrong, Ford’s stunt man across the first three films, was a longtime member of the Bond team, having performed stunt work on the series since You Only Live Twice. He would go on to act as second unit director on three of the Brosnan movies. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe would go on to shoot Connery’s unofficial return to Bondage, Never Say Never Again.
Armor of God (1986)
Starring Jackie Chan, Armor of God mixes Chan’s penchant for insane stunts with gadgets and plenty of globe-trotting. Playing Asian Hawk, Chan takes a stab at the role of international adventurer. A treasure hunter who is also a pop star (or a pop star who is also a treasure hunter?), he is in the position of being able to afford his own gadgets.
In this, the first of two adventures, he goes against an evil cult of monks to hunt down an ancient set of armour. Like a Bond movie, the movie is just a series of increasingly elaborate set pieces — and that is the point. Besides, with Chan in the lead, the action is the thing that elevates this far above most Bond movies, not to mention most Hollywood movies of the same period.
Most Bondian moment: The final showdown with the cult leader takes the Bond finale to the extreme, with Asian Hawk facing off against the villain’s cadre of leather-clad female bodyguards, soul sisters to Rosa Klebb and Kingsman’s Gazelle.
This never happened to the other fella: The bloopers during the credits, in which Chan proves that, contrary to what Carly Simon says, some people can do it better.
Le Femme Nikita (1990)
A delinquent junkie is captured and trained by a secret organisation to become a world-class assassin. After she has completed an unorthodox and deadly training programme, she becomes disillusioned with her new life and tries to escape. Things don’t work out.
One of Luc Besson’s best movies, La Femme Nikita’s premise has served as the basis for two TV series. While not nearly to the standard of his later masterpiece Leon, Nikita is a fine inversion of spy movie tropes — flipping the genders, making the central character a criminal (although The Ipcress File had already done this, in milder fashion), and having the secretive agency turn out to be more malignant in its intentions.
If one thing sticks out, it’s Anne Parillaud’s performance as the heroine — although a tad dour, her waif-like frame and nervous energy work for her role as an unlikely action heroine. It’s a pity she did not get more opportunities to kick ass.
Most Bondian moment: After completing her training, Nikita’s boss invites her to a fancy dinner at a high-class restaurant. This turns out to be her final training mission — shooting another diner in front of his bodyguards. While her boss abandons her, Nikita has to shoot her way out through the kitchen. Combining an elegant setting with danger and a certain level of black humour, it is the film’s signature sequence.
This never happened to the other fella: Though he uses Benzedrine in the books, in his cinematic incarnation Bond has never been shown using anything other than booze and cigarettes.
Bond connection: Composer Eric Serra provided the distinctive electronic score for GoldenEye.
If Looks Could Kill AKA Teen Agent (1991)
A teenager gets mistaken for a secret agent and ends up on a secret mission for reasons he does not understand with gadgets he cannot use and a car he can barely drive.
The closest to Kingsman in terms of its premise, If Looks Could Kill is a rather bizarre attempt at mixing an eighties teen comedy with the conventions and characters of a Bond movie. Although star Richard Grieco (Booker) is a little too smarmy in the lead role, the movie itself is a lot of fun, indulging in making the world around him as colourful and exotic as the genuine article. Air hostesses turn out to be killers, drinks are spiked, eye glasses act as x-rays, and sex with a beautiful woman involves poisonous scorpions and a rocket launcher. You almost expect Sean Connery or Roger Moore to step into frame to take over.
Linda Hunt has great fun channeling Rosa Klebb as the villain’s muscle, Roger Daltrey plays a doomed secret agent, and a very young Gabrielle Anwar turns up as Grieco’s love interest. Aside from a great running gag involving the ever-changing bus drivers of Grieco’s French class, the humour is a little hit-and-miss, but there is a charm to the filmmakers’ deployment of genre cliches that keeps it from going off the rails. If Looks Could Kill is not the best movie on this list, but it is worth a look.
Most Bondian moment: Henchwoman Ilsa Grunt unleashes her signature weapon, a gold necklace which doubles as a whip.
This never happened to the other fella: Please, James Bond never failed French.
Patriot Games (1992)
Trumpeted as a Bond for the ’90s, the Jack Ryan series came into its own with this, the second of Tom Clancy’s series to be adapted, and the first to star Harrison Ford. Directed by Philip Noyce, Patriot Games is a sophisticated mix of thriller tropes and human drama. It is a rare film that can juggle complex geopolitical issues while also granting the viewer enough intelligence to understand them without simplification.
The cast are all excellent, and Noyce does some very interesting things with spy movie conventions — in the crucial jail break scene, he keeps the focus inside the prison van while conveying the action outside through clever use of sound design, while a later set piece, an assault on a terrorist camp, plays out on infra red footage on a monitor in a US control centre. One of the most underrated thrillers of the 90s (along with its sequel Clear And Present Danger), Patriot Games is the kind of serious adult entertainment that they do not make any more.
Most Bondian moment: If only for how it feels unnecessarily formulaic, the final battle between Ryan and villain Sean Miller (Sean Bean) feels the most like formula Bond. Miller’s protracted death and impalement feels like something out of a cruder, less nuanced film.
This never happened to the other fella: The focus on Ryan as a working family man is one of the best aspects of the film, and the series as a whole.
Bond connection: After making the shortlist for Bond after Timothy Dalton quit, Sean Bean would go on to play the villain in GoldenEye, where he winds up impaled again.
True Lies (1994)
Considering the influence of the Bond series on 80s action movies, it was only a matter of time before one of the genre’s leading lights took a stab at the real thing. The result? A big hit which forced a massive overhaul of the in-production GoldenEye. Marrying the over-the-top nature of Bond to the over-the-top nature of Ah-nuld, True Lies is the last great movie of the Austrian’s career, and the most unapologetically entertaining movie James Cameron has ever made.
Most Bondian moment: While Schwarzenegger’s entrance echoes Goldfinger, the opening flirtation with Tia Carrere’s femme fatale seals the deal, with the ex-Mr Universe proving he can be as good at seducing the ladies as he is at shooting the bad guys.
This never happened to the other fella: Marriage, kid, white picket fence, Tom Arnold as your best friend — this is Bond’s nightmare after an all night bender.
Bond connection: Production designer Peter Lamont performed the same duties on every Bond movie bar one, from For Your Eyes Only to Casino Royale.
Austin Powers – International Man of Mystery (1997)
A parody of ’60s Bondmania as well as of the films themselves, the original Austin Powers is one of the best comedies of the nineties and the definitive skewering of the Bond formula.
While there are references to Matt Helm and Derek Flint, the main target of parody is, of course, Bond himself. And the main main focal point of this ribbing is Dr Evil. Modelled on Donald Pleasance’s Blofeld from You Only Live Twice, Dr Evil is a sublime comic creation who eclipses the title hero from the moment he turns up on screen. Whether it is his yearning for a pool of sharks with laser beams on their heads, or his vaguely dis-interested attempts to develop a rapport with his son, Dr Evil is not only Mike Myers’ greatest achievement, it has basically destroyed the megalo-manical super-villain archetype as a viable nemesis in the James Bond series.
Most Bondian moment: Too many to choose from, so I’ll go for something obscure. The deadpan henchman who continues the countdown while the base around him blows up is based on a similarly dedicated simpleton working in Blofeld’s oil rig base in Diamonds Are Forever.
This never happened to the other fella: Austin stuck in a small vehicle in a tight space. Gold.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
Like Raiders Of The Lost Ark, this film and its sequels caused a seismic shift in the action genre, helping to instigate the gritty aesthetic of the last decade. Like the Harry Palmer movies, the Bourneseries represents an attempt to strip away the cliches and conventions of spy movies to create a more immediate, unpredictable and visceral experience.
It also made exploring the central character’s psychology the driving force of the film — Jason Bourne’s search for his identity, and his quest to make amends for his past, is the heart of the franchise, and gave the films a weight and depth the genre had not seen in a long time. The success of the Bournefilms was so seismic it would lead to a major re-think of the Bond franchise, a shift which echoes to this day.
Most Bondian moment: At the climax, Bourne jumps down a stairwell, nailing every bad guy on the way down while using a dead man’s body to break his fall.
This never happened to the other fella: Before the climax, Bourne makes his girlfriend leave. Unlike Bond, he has no interest in collateral damage.
Bond connection: Second unit director Alexander Witt, who is responsible for the vehicular mayhem here, has gone on to perform similar duties for Casino Royale, Skyfall, and Spectre.
This attempt at a nu-age Bond was heralded as a long-needed shake-up of the Bond series’ hold on the spy action genre. In the end it had its thunder stolen by the Bourne series.
For all the hoopla, this re-invention is pretty cosmetic — the plot has been done before (mad man threatens to unleash killer plague), the gadgets have been seen before (X-ray specs again? Really?), and the action scenes feel like they could be in any other movie. All the nu-metal and extreme sports trappings are now very dated, and the Prague locations are too mundane to spark interest. There is a germ of a good idea here — forcing an anarchic thrill-seeker to work for the government — but the character of Xander Cage is not developed enough to make that proposition interesting.
However, this is not the fault of Vin Diesel, who takes this movie on his massive shoulders and makes it far more involving than it otherwise would be. He works as a Schwarzenegger-style muscleman, and his out-size presence maintains interest when other aspects of the movie do not.
Most Bondian moment: X uses a heat-seeking missile to take out a smoking sniper, then follows it up with a one-liner about the dangers of smoking. Roger Moore would cock an eyebrow in appreciation.
This never happened to the other fella: More of a broad observation — for a risk-taker, X spends an awful lot of time being rescued by other people. It really diminishes his worth as a character.
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006)
Like his later film The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius’ OSS 117: Nest of Spies is all about homage. This divine French entry is a loving tribute to the Connery Bond films, from our hero’s powder blue suit to the obvious back-projection, relentless sexism and condescension to the Egyptian supporting players.
Jean Dujardin is terrifically oblivious as OSS 117, a secret agent dropped into the middle of Egypt in 1955. The movie works on several levels — not just at the level of Bond parody, but also as a satirical takedown of that era’s attitudes toward race and gender. There are also several jokes which reference the coming Suez Crisis, the collapse of the Fourth Republic and the never-ending quagmire which is Western involvement in the Middle East.
While more esoteric than Austin Powers, OSS 117: Nest of Spies is the funniest send-up of Bond to come along in the last two decades.
Most Bondian moment: A subtle joke, but watch the way Dujardin looks and reacts every time someone knocks him out from behind — it is strange that, of all the things that Sean Connery did as Bond, his reactions to being knocked out would be the thing they would make an impression of.
This never happened to the other fella: OSS 117 is obsessed with light switches for some reason.
Like xXx, this long-awaited adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s popular young adult series was expected to hit big. Sadly, it did not.
In the wake of the release of Kingsman, its flaws become readily apparent. Though not without its charms, Stormbreakersuffers from a lack of real excitement and tension. It does not help that Alex Pettyfer is a tad stoic in the lead, and the character as written is constantly being rescued by other characters.
The lack of real peril is a major problem, since other aspects of the film hint at something much more interesting — Andy Serkis has a great minor bit as scarred henchman Mr Grin, Missi Pyle gets in a few dry barbs and Stephen Fry is great as this movie’s version of Q.
While no disaster (check out The Silencers if you want to see that), Stormbreaker is not the heavyweight contender it could have been.
Most Bondian moment: Alex Rider’s first meeting with Mickey Rourke’s villainous Darrius Sayle. Like Bond whenever he goes undercover, Rider is a little too eager to tip his hand early, insulting the villain and insinuating that he knows he’s up to no good.
This never happened to the other fella: The way Alex’s uncle (Ewan McGregor) is killed is way too convenient. He can’t hear the helicopter coming because he chooses that moment to turn his radio up.
Bond connection: Robbie Coltrane, who cameos as a bumbling PM, played Russian mobster Valentin Zukovsky in GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
There is an argument to be made that this film captures the tone of old-school Bond better than the genuine article. Directed with a breezy sense of fun by Brad Bird (The Incredibles), this fourth installment in Tom Cruise’s Starpower Insurance Scheme has an energy, imagination and a sense of humour missing from its rather po-faced prequels.
With its focus on set pieces, exotic locations, futuristic gadgets and beautiful people doing terrible and awesome things to each other, the movie has all the ingredients of classic Bond, but more crucially, knows exactly how to mix them together. Like most Bond movies, the plot makes no real sense, character development is… non-existent, and the excitement flags a bit in the third act, but when it is this much fun, who cares?
Most Bondian moment: …apart from the gloriously gratuitous, bizarrely eroticised fight between Paula Patton’s Jane Carter and a female assassin which ends with said baddie plummeting out the window. Great stuff.
This never happened to the other fella: With its focus on teamwork and role-play, the ridiculously tense, ridiculously intricate multi-part operation in Dubai is pure Mission: Impossible…
Bond connection: Cinematographer Robert Elswit lensed Tomorrow Never Dies. Lea Seydoux, who plays Paula Patton’s sparring partner in Dubai, has been cast as the new Bond girl in the upcoming Spectre.