In times of great stress it’s natural for us to all find some sort of escapism – and movies are the perfect way to forget about your problems (or the world’s) for a couple of hours. Personally, we’ve found the James Bond franchise to be among the best forms of such entertainment: the movies are pure adventure and fantasy, they have a comforting template that they mostly follow, and you can dive into the series — or even an individual film — without having to catch up on anything that came before.
That’s why it’s so heartening to learn that — even though the new Bond film, No Time to Die, has been delayed due to the COVID-19 crisis — Amazon is making some 20 films in the series available for streaming, all in newly restored 4K UHD editions. Of course, you can also watch a lot of them (with commercials) on the free Pluto TV app’s dedicated Bond channel, or on demand there as well.
Wherever you get your Bond, the exploits of 007 remain a sure bet to whisk you away for a while; it’s only a shame that we couldn’t send Bond to defeat the coronavirus as easily as he takes out his enemies.
Dr. No (1962)
The first Bond movie and still one of the best, Dr. No introduced so many elements of what became the series template for decades to come. Unsettling megalomaniac villain, world-spanning evil plan, drop-dead beautiful women, pulse-pounding chases and cold-blooded killings…they’re all here. And then of course there was Sean Connery, rugged, smoldering and deadly as the definitive screen Bond.
From Russia with Love (1963)
Connery’s second outing as 007 is probably the closest to Fleming’s books in terms of overall tone and style. This is a lean, thrilling adventure that puts Bond up against one of his most fearsome enemies: the cold-blooded assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw). Their train fight is one of the best scenes in the franchise.
Bond’s third outing was the Avengers: Endgame of its time, a cultural event not to be missed. Director Guy Hamilton introduced more humor into the proceedings, while Connery tweaked the character accordingly. Add to that more action, a larger than life villain and an epic scope, and you have the movie that many still consider the best of the series.
After three straight winners, Thunderball is where the 007 series first started to wobble. Although it features one of the best Bond villains and some of the most beautiful Bond women, the movie is overlong and bogged down with too many underwater sequences. Thunderball is still fun in many ways — the first 40 minutes or so are marvelous — but it spends way too much time in the water.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
The final entry of Connery’s initial run as 007 proves that bigger isn’t always better. Although the movie finally introduces long-lurking nemesis Blofeld and takes Bond to a massive secret lair disguised as a volcano in Japan, the series started to feel flabby and the star seemed visibly bored. It was also the first Bond movie to stray wildly from the source novel, a decision that in this case didn’t work.
Casino Royale (1967)
Producer Charles K. Feldman acquired the rights to the first Bond novel before the official series from Eon Productions was launched. He subsequently produced this spoof of the 007 series, which bears only the title of the book and the name of the Bond character (who is played by David Niven). Six credited directors, a bevy of screenwriters and a boatload of international stars couldn’t salvage this infamous mess of a movie.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Australian model-turned-actor George Lazenby made his sole appearance as Bond in this sixth film, an exceptionally faithful adaptation of the emotionally devastating Fleming book it’s based on. Lazenby manages to acquit himself nicely despite being the first actor to follow Connery, while Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas are outstanding as, respectively, the love of Bond’s life and the instrument of her death. Once considered a misfire, OHMSS ranks among the very best of the series.
Diamonds are Forever (1971)
A pale echo of the earlier Goldfinger (from the same director, Guy Hamilton), Diamonds are Forever is remembered as the movie that lured Sean Connery back for one more turn in the tuxedo (until 12 years later, that is). The sober, character-driven style of OHMSS is jettisoned for a cartoonish romp that has its fun moments but is largely disposable.
Live and Let Die (1973)
Roger Moore’s debut in the role — after Connery exited for a second time — is, sadly, a largely cringeworthy affair. Based on Fleming’s second 007 novel, the movie’s attempt to fuse blaxploitation with Bond is awkward and, nowadays, borderline racist. Moore doesn’t quite find his footing either. The upside? The title song by Paul McCartney and Wings is a stone cold classic.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Based on Fleming’s final Bond novel and considered one of the worst of the Roger Moore era, The Man with the Golden Gun has two things going for it: a relatively tough Moore performance and one of the best Bond villains of all time in Christopher Lee’s title baddie, Scaramanga. Lee’s presence literally saves whole stretches of the film, which is often undone by juvenile humor and lame supporting characters.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Third time was the charm for Roger Moore, as The Spy Who Loved Me gambles on going for all-out spectacle and delivers handsomely. Moore strikes the right balance of grit and humor, the action is thrilling throughout and the villain’s henchman, Jaws (Richard Kiel), is a slam dunk. This is rightly considered the high point of Moore’s run as well as one of the series’ finest entries.
Although remembered with some derision as “Bond in space,” Moonraker really only takes 007 to the stars in the final act for a wacked-out battle that looks too much like a cheap grab at some of that then-lucrative Star Wars money. Until then, however — and barring some bad comedy starring the encoring Jaws — Moonraker is a fairly straightforward thriller with a deliciously droll villain (Michael Lonsdale).
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Moore gives perhaps the best performance of his seven Bond films in a taut thriller that scales back the gimmickry and comes closer to the feel of the original Fleming than any other film in the Moore era. There are some cringeworthy elements (such as an awful Lynn Holly Johnson as a 007-infatuated pro ice skater), but this also features Moore at his most cold-blooded and cynical.
An aging Moore and director John Glen (back for the second of five films — the most of any 007 director) keep the For Your Eyes Only vibe going with less spectacle and more practical spy film action. Maud Adams is good as the title femme fatale, but the film gets snarled in a convoluted, uninteresting plot that features some especially flat humor and one of the weakest Bond villains.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
Sean Connery was coaxed back to play an appropriately aged Bond in this non-canon 007 adventure. A remake of Thunderball that was legally made possible due to certain rights owned by a solitary producer, Never Say Never Again benefits from the Connery charisma, a distinctive villain and some stylish sequences. But it can’t help feeling like a strange mirror universe cash grab at the same time.
A View to a Kill (1985)
Moore bows out with a rather silly Silicon Valley adventure in which the actor’s 57 years (at the time) are clearly visible throughout. Christopher Walken is an excellent, quirky villain and henchwoman Grace Jones is also an impressive presence, but it was clear that the Moore formula of suave bonhomie and locker room humor was long worn out.
The Living Daylights (1987)
Timothy Dalton’s debut as 007 was billed as a return to the feel and texture of the Fleming stories, and it even borrows elements from the short story it’s based on. Dalton is a much harder-edged Bond than his predecessor Moore, but the movie is overplotted and its action mostly unremarkable.
License to Kill (1989)
Dalton settles into the role in his second (and as it turns out, final) appearance as Bond, this time in a tale that puts Bond on a personal mission of revenge against a powerful South American drug lord. Somewhat maligned for its rather sadistic violence, License to Kill is an underrated entry in the series that occasionally pushes the envelope for 007 in ways that hadn’t been done for a while.
After nearly winning the role years earlier, Pierce Brosnan makes his long-expected debut as 007 in a rather thoughtful thriller that questions both Bond’s relationships and his place in a post-Cold War world. Brosnan is assured in the role, if a little bland, but GoldenEye still manages to feel a little like both the earlier Connery classics and some of the better Moore romps.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Jonathan Pryce is excellent as the movie’s Rupert Murdoch-like media mogul villain — who intends to start a major war to bolster his news network’s ratings — and Michelle Yeoh makes a solid foil to Bond as a tough Chinese agent named Wai Lin. Brosnan’s sophomore Bond outing has a subtle satirical edge to it and some exciting scenes, but stretches of it seem more impersonal and functional than stylish.
The World is Not Enough (1999)
Despite strong work from Sophie Marceau as a 007 first — a principal villain who’s also a woman — and Robert Carlyle as her damaged terrorist henchman, Brosnan’s third film is marred by another incomprehensible story and Denise Richards as one of the most embarrassing Bond women ever. The humor and serious moments clash awkwardly, harming what could have been a much better entry.
Die Another Day (2002)
Just like Connery and Moore, Brosnan goes out on a low note with this ridiculously overstuffed mess that features both an invisible car and a high-tech lair made out of ice. The plot is even more incomprehensible than usual for the lesser outings, and the presence of Halle Berry as a sort of female version of Bond doesn’t generate much excitement either.
Casino Royale (2006)
Four years after Pierce Brosnan exited in one of the silliest Bond films, Daniel Craig took up the mantle in an instant classic that returned the series literally to its roots. This largely faithful version of Fleming’s first book features Craig as a relatively new but deeply haunted 007, who gets one last chance to turn back before becoming the ruthless assassin of legend.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Widely derided at the time, and deservedly so, for Marc Forster’s nearly unwatchable direction — the movie’s editing is absolutely atrocious — Quantum of Solace was also hurt by a writer’s strike that left the script somewhat undercooked. But Craig is excellent again, and the movie works a little better if you watch it right after Casino Royale, as an extended epilogue.
Craig’s second finest outing as Bond has impressively stylish direction by Sam Mendes and is one of the most beautiful-looking 007 films of all time thanks to DP Roger Deakins. Javier Bardem is marvelously ghoulish as the villain, and Judi Dench gets an emotional send-off in her seventh and final appearance as Bond’s boss M. Skyfall finds the right, gripping mix of characterization and epic action.
Bond arch-nemesis Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and the title crime organization appear for the first time since 1971’s Diamonds are Forever in one of 007’s most polarizing entries. The action is great and some of the series callbacks are fun, but Craig seems bored and tying everything from the last four films back to Bond’s childhood is a contrived, unnecessary mistake. Spectre is better than you might have heard, but not as good as it could be.