Just what is the greatest Bond film ever?

Mark begins his mission to discover the finest 007 to date, based on very specific criteria...

Mr Bond has been busy...

My university experience was many things. A chance to experience the sights and sounds of Newcastle, to learn about the intricacies of the business world, to wax lyrical with my fellow neighbours about the burning issues of the day.

Mostly however it was an opportunity to watch an awful lot of films with my flatmates, one of whom was, like me, a big Bond fan.

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We’d often be heard arguing over who was the best Bond, which was the best theme and which of us looked the most suave in a dinner suit – him as it happened.

Then, in the Spring of our final year (2000), we decided to settle it once and for all. And so, over the course of a single week, we watched videos of every Bond film we had (everything up to and including Tomorrow Never Dies) to decide upon which really was the best Bond film of all time.

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The Criteria

We had to come up with a fair means of comparing all the Bond films on a level playing field, taking into account aspects that were present in each of the films. Thus the criteria was born:

  • Best theme tune/Pre-title sequence

Every truly great Bond film has a cracking theme tune and pre-title sequence – it’s part of the whole experience. A Bond film can be very good without these factors but to be considered great it has to pay attention these elements.

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  • Best Bond actor

This is purely based on the actor’s performance in the film in question. Sean Connery was a superb Bond but he wasn’t always on top of his game or suitable for the role. Roger Moore played Bond very differently; sometimes it paid off, other times it failed. Each individual performance would be taken into account.

  • Bond girls

As red-blooded males, this was predominantly based on the girls’ attractiveness rather than their acting ability – let’s be honest, that’s how most Bond girls get the gig. However, acting talent was taken into account in the event of any close calls.

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  • Best Bond villain

The final criteria centered upon what every great Bond film needs; a formidable nemesis. This was based on the villain himself and his grand plan to take over the world

The Examination

Criteria decided upon, we inserted Dr. No into the VHS player and began our Bond-a-thon. By the time we got to Tomorrow Never Dies, we narrowed it down to four films that could compete for the title – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, Goldfinger, and Dr. No.

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Here’s why the others were dismissed:

From Russia With Love – The one that nearly made it. Cracking villains, Connery on top form and, in Daniela Bianchi, a frighteningly attractive Bond girl. However, up against some strong competition it just missed out.

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Thunderball – Tom Jones’ title theme is just OK and Claudine Auger fails to stir the ardour sufficiently. Largo’s one-eyed villain is pretty unmemorable.

You Only Live Twice – Despite Nancy Sinatra’s strong theme tune and a great pre-title sequence where Bond fakes his own death, Connery’s Bond takes a dive along with the silly plot. Sure you get to see Blofeld for the first time but he’s not around for anywhere near long enough.

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Diamonds Are Forever – Sean is just dreadful here, too old for the part and looking very uncomfortable with it. Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are cartoonish villains and does anybody still remember Jill St. John? Didn’t think so. A low point in the Bond universe.

Live and Let Die – Actually one of my favourite Bond films and it would have made the list but we ruled that Kananga wasn’t as interesting a villain as others featured in the series, and Paul McCartney’s theme tune really isn’t the best. Jane Seymour is stunning though.

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The Man With The Golden Gun – Lulu’s poor theme tune and Britt Ekland’s highly annoying Bond girl offset the great pre-title sequence and a fine performance from Moore. Christopher Lee’s villain was one that I liked but my friend couldn’t stand.

Moonraker – Shirley Bassey proves that lightning can’t strike twice by singing one of the dullest Bond themes ever recorded. Hugo Drax is an unexceptional villain, presumably why they brought Jaws in to pick up the pieces. However, while he is an undoubted highlight he’s just a henchman and not the guy running the show. Lois Chiles as Holly Goodhead isn’t one of the better Bond girls either.

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For Your Eyes Only – High on many people’s favourites list for its return to a more realistic Bond setting, it still features a ponderous Bond theme and a slightly annoying Bond girl in Melina Havelock. For me, it’s just a rather average watch.

OctopussyAll Time High as the theme is actually quite good and Maud Adams was a great Bond girl. However, Roger looks far too old for the part by this time and villains Khan and Orlov are a little dull frankly.

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A View To A Kill – The first Bond I ever saw in the cinema and one I’ve already thrown in the DVD Dungeon. Tanya Roberts was stunning, but easily the most annoying Bond girl in the history of the franchise, the theme tune is rubbish (I know many disagree of this but I’m sticking to my guns) and Moore was ancient by the time this came out. Oh, and the pre-title sequence is dreadful. Just a bad, bad Bond film.

The Living Daylights – I really like Dalton’s take on Bond and this is the better of the pair for me. AHA’s theme tune is rubbish though and Miriam D’Abo is an underwhelming Bond girl.

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Licence to Kill – As much as I like Robert Davi as an actor, his role as lead protagonist Sanchez doesn’t work as he fits the henchman role rather than the main villain. Awful theme song too.

Goldeneye – I championed this to make it to the top four as Brosnan arrived in fine style in a film that boasts a rip-roaring pre-title sequence, two very fit Bond girls and a great performance from Pierce. My friend was absolutely right though in pointing out to me that Sean Bean does not a villain make. Tina Turner’s wailing on the theme tune sealed the deal.

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Tomorrow Never Dies – It’s got a truly awful theme tune for starters. Teri Hatcher is unbelievably annoying whenever she’s on screen and we’ve got the worst villain in Bond film history. Pierce is ace though.

The Final Four

So, four films left we re-watched the opening sequences on each of them to finally make our minds up as to what the finest Bond film made was. Here’s what we decided.

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Dr. No – The first Bond film has an awful lot going for it based on the selection criteria. Ursula Andress is arguably the best Bond girl ever, Sean Connery’s performance is right from the top drawer and Dr. No is surely one of the best, most absorbing villains in the franchise. His plan for world domination is genuinely gripping and he is well portrayal by Joseph Wiseman. Taken from arguably the best source material, the plot is extremely solid and the pre-title sequence (‘Three Blind Mice’) is expertly executed. A strong contender then.

Goldfinger – One of the best Bond songs, Connery’s best performance as 007 and feisty Pussy Galore in the main Bond girl role, plus a huge shout must go out to Shirley Eaton for her iconic role as the gold-painted Jill Masterson. The pre-title sequence was a big-budget, highly absorbing action set piece as Bond blows up a huge tanker and kills off a would-be assassin. ‘Shocking’ comes the quip. Indeed. The only thing to really argue against Goldfinger is the villain himself, or rather his grand plan. Auric Goldfinger is a good villain (‘No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die’) but his get-rich quick scheme could be argued as not quite evil enough.

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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – George Lazenby’s Bond still divides people today. I think he’s great, as does my friend. A more dramatic Bond film, more in line with the books, it nevertheless has its fair share of action. As a Bond girl, Diana Rigg is fascinating, more the English rose than the typically sexy Bond girl we’re often introduced to and all the better for it in this film. John Barry’s instrumental theme tune is immense, a rip-roaring introduction for what’s to come. The one problem we had with the film though is Telly Savalas. Kojak playing a villain? Do me a favour. Other than that though, a high scorer on the criteria.

The Spy Who Loved Me – The one with the best theme tune and pre-title sequence. Carly Simon scored a hit with the song and quite right too, a wonderful ode to the British secret agent who can do no wrong. The pre-title sequence, following Bond being chased down a ski slope and ending with the iconic image of the Union Jack on his parachute, has me leaping up from my seat every time. It really is a proud-to-be-British moment and encapsulates everything that’s great about the Bond franchise. Moore was in the form of his life here too, pulling off his most memorable performance as 007, and teaming him up with the gorgeous Barbara Bach was a wise move. The villain too is one of the better ones to face Bond, Karl Stromberg’s plan to trigger World War III and re-house survivors in his underwater world is quite mad and singles him out as one of Bond’s maddest and baddest megalomaniac villains.

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The Result

The decision-making was tough as each of the final four films were judged to be truly great Bond films. In the end though, there had to be a winner so it was time to look for minute faults. Goldfinger’s rather small-thinking villain meant that had to go (Auric just isn’t mad enough I’m afraid) and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had a similar villain problem in that we would forever associate Telly with Kojak (despite his time on Kojak coming after his Bond experience) so that was out.

That left a two-horse race. Would it be the first ever Bond film or Roger’s third outing as 007 that would be crowned the winner?

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Both have mad-as-a-hatter villains, stunning Bond girls and cracking performances from the lead actors. Inseparable, it came down to the opening song and sequence and the answer became clear.

The Spy Who Loved Me’s opening gambit is so powerful, it sets you up eager to spend two hours with Britain’s ultimate spy.

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The title song had the answer all along. Nobody Does It Better.

As an addendum to this, I have put the more recent Bond films to the test and here’s how they square up

The World Is Not Enough – Brosnan’s third 007 film is something of a guilty pleasure of mine, but it doesn’t fare so well when measured against the criteria. The theme song is the third worst ever written and the pre-credit sequence is far too long. Sophie Marceau is very sexy as Bond girl number one but Denise Richards makes a highly successful play for most unlikeable character in any Bond film with her stunningly bad turn as Dr. Christmas Jones. Robert Carlisle plays on paper an interesting villain and I’ve got a lot of time for him as an actor but his Renard gets far too little screen time to really pass solid judgement. Still, at least it’s no…

Die Another Day – The worst Bond film ever made? Certainly according to the criteria. Madonna somehow manages to make The World Is Not Enough theme sound like Mozart by churning out the second worst Bond theme ever. She then trumps that by turning in a laughable performance that thankfully lasts no longer than ten minutes. Halle Berry is very, very attractive but I’ve yet to be convinced that she can act and her performance here does nothing to change that. Rosamund Pike on the other hand is exactly the kind of posh Brit that I instantly adore and she is the one saving grace among this shitstorm of a Bond film. Pierce looks bored throughout, Toby Stephens is a pansy of a villain and while Will Yung Lee adds some intrigue as Colonel Moon, it’s lost among the mess of a plot. I bloody hate Die Another Day and I’m pleased that my criteria stood firm in passing judgement on it.

Casino Royale – While Casino Royale is one my favourite Bond films, when it comes to the criteria it has one major issue: that theme song by Chris Cornell. For that problem alone, it could never get close to being a truly great Bond film and that’s a massive shame as Daniel Craig’s 007 is a refreshing take on a familiar character and Eva Green exudes sex in her portrayal as Vespa. Le Chiffre too is a great villain, his anguish at wanting to pay off his debts all too clear throughout the captivating poker scenes. No matter. Give a film a crap theme song and you’ll never be up there with the greats.

Quantum of Solace – Naturally I haven’t seen this to pass full judgement but already this is going to fall way short of being the best Bond ever. Have you heard Jack Black and Alicia Keys theme? Still, it will win one prize. Ladies and gentleman, I bring you the worst Bond theme of all time. Well done guys.

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