Ranking the Bond Movies: Part 004 (Popcorn Thrills)

(Screencap courtesy of MGM.)

With this year marking the 60th anniversary of the James Bond movie franchise, I’m ranking all 26 Bond movies (and the Bonds!).

These lists aren’t meant to be definitive — how could they be? — but to be a fun look back at an iconic series… and maybe engage in some not-too-heated discussion over my worst picks.

Welcome to Part 004: Popcorn Thrills.

It’s been almost 40 years, but I remember leaving the movie theater with Dad and his current girlfriend after seeing Octopussy, and the three of us were basically silent on the way back to the car.

“Nobody ever recaps a Bond movie,” Dad said, breaking the silence.

Maybe not nobody and certainly not never, but it’s true that an adequate popcorn-quality Bond movie doesn’t exactly generate an engaging conversation afterward.

They keep you entertained for a couple of hours, but the popcorn calories don’t stick.

Still, who doesn’t love a perfectly adequate Bond flick?

Here are six.

Shall we begin?

Never Say Never Again (1983)
Bond Movies
He’s still Bond. (Screencap courtesy of Orion Pictures.)

Honestly, this one might belong with the “Neither Shaken Nor Stirred” lesser Bond efforts in Part 003. But it was so nice seeing Sean Connery back in the role that made him famous, and I can be a sentimental guy.

The plot is a retread of the far-superior Thunderball, which due to some legal kerfuffle, the story ended up in the hands of a different production company. As a result, NSNA is missing the iconic James Bond theme music.

You’ll miss it. A lot.

There’s also an embarrassing sequence where the aging Bond has to prove how 1983-hip he can be by besting the bad guy (Klaus Maria Brandauer as Maximilian Largo) at a videogame.


The film is redeemed in large part by giving Connery the chance to have some fun with his advancing years, getting back into shape and good health for one last mission involving a couple of stolen nuclear warheads.

“Too many free radicals,” warns M, after seeing Bond’s health report.

Bond, looking confused, asks, “Free radicals, sir?”

M explains, “They’re toxins that destroy the body and the brain, caused by eating too much red meat and white bread. Too many dry martinis!”

“Then I shall cut out the white bread, sir.”

And then:

“Have you got an assignment, James?” asks Moneypenny.

“Yes, Moneypenny,” says Bond with a hint of danger. “I’m to eliminate all free radicals.”

“Oh, do be careful.”

Watching those scenes in my 50s is probably a lot more entertaining than they were in my teens.

Entertaining for most men at any age: Bond girls Kim Bassinger and Barbara Carrera.

Never Say Never Again was released in ’83, the same year as EON’s “official” Octopussy with Roger Moore. Moore, at 56 was actually three years older than Connery, but that film tried its best to ignore the age issue.

Wisely, at age 53, Connery’s last take as Bond relies more on stealth, skill, and charm than on fisticuffs.

BONUS: A baby-faced Rowan Atkinson as an in-over-his-head MI6 flunky.

DOUBLE BONUS: Max von Sydow as Blofeld. The Moore era pretty much ruined the character, but von Sydow (naturally) lent Blofeld all the menace you could hope for.

The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Because at this point, why not? (Screencap courtesy of MGM.)

I have six words for you: Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist.

That bit of ridiculousness aside, TWINE is a solid-if-not-spectacular entry in the series — not an easy feat after 18 previous movies setting, resetting, and sometimes disappointing expectations. It’s Brosnan’s third outing and his last good one.

There’s a bit of a convoluted plot involving Bond investigating the assassination of an MI6 agent (yes, again) leading to his discovery of an elaborate plot to jack up oil prices because… I honestly can’t remember who was supposed to benefit. The point is, Bond has to stop a nuclear meltdown in Istanbul, requiring the help of the world’s least-likely (but most attractive) nuclear scientist.

Three things make this movie work, despite the silliness.

The first is that Brosnan has his Bond written with (just enough) depth and seriousness.

The reason for that is the second great element, French actress Sophie Marceau as oil heiress — and doomed love interest, naturally — Elektra King. She and Brosnan have some spicy chemistry together but, more importantly, a nicely-scripted and well-acted romance. Her loss is Bond’s loss is our loss.

Finally, there’s Robert Carlyle as a former KGB agent and now terrorist-for-hire named Renard Zokas. Even Zokas has a tragic element to him. A failed assassination attempt left him with no ability to feel pain, while also slowly killing off his other senses. Carlyle has a lot more emotional heft than the typical Bond villain.

Honestly, with a tighter plot and a better actress in Richards’ role, TWINE might have been one of the great Bond flicks.

BONUS: Robbie Coltrane as Russian mobster-turned-casino-owner, Zukovsky. Just the right balance of good nature and menace.

DOUBLE BONUS: Desmond Llewelyn’s aged Q was given a lovely send-off and replaced by the always irritated John Cleese.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Bye, bye Blofeld (NOT!) (Screencap courtesy MGM.)

After the laser-studded disaster of Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only was one of the more grounded Roger Moore outings.

Eventually. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

The film’s MacGuffin is a stolen “ATAC” device that could be used to control Britain’s nuclear submarines. Why such a device exists… well, it exists to move the plot along.

And the plot does move fairly briskly. The Soviets learn that the device is lost, so Bond must rush to beat them to it. There’s the patented Bond Skiing Dangerously, an underwater sequence, and the whole thing ends with an exciting mountaintop fortress assault.

So why is FYEO only an average Bond movie?

It’s the opening action sequence — which must be the worst of the entire series.

A madman distinctly NOT named Blofeld — due to the same legal kerfuffle that made Thunderball available to get remade for Connery as a non-EON production — is trying to kill Bond by seizing remote control of his helicopter or some such BS. The wheelchair-bound NOT BLOFELD character is bald, wears gray, has a white cat, and a comically weird voice.

But he’s still NOT BLOFELD.

Bond eventually gets control back of the helicopter and then scoops up NOT BLOFELD and his wheelchair on one of the copter’s landing skids. Then, I swear to you, with a smirk on his face, Bond pats NOT BLOFELD on his bald head and tilts the copter forward to send NOT BLOFELD to his presumed death down a factory chimney.

They played the death of Blofeld, one of the great spy villains, for cheap laughs.

The Austin Freakin’ Powers movies treated their villains with more respect.

NOT BLOFELD wasn’t enough to ruin the whole movie, but certainly enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth long after the popcorn is done.

BONUS: Lynn-Holly Johnson has a nice comic turn as a figure skater much too young for 58-year-old Bond, who does what he can to politely turn down the girl with the crush.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
East meets West and, man, the twain do meet. (Screencap courtesy MGM.)

While not quite as special-effects dependent as Pierce Brosnan’s final Bond appearance in Die Another Day, you could see the trend developing.

It opens with a British warship firing a missile at an illegal arms bazaar, while Bond makes his narrow escape in a nuclear-armed fighter jet. Lots of action, not a whole lot of charm. A shame, really, since that’s one of Brosnan’s strengths.

Also unwanted: Joe Don Baker reprising his Goldeneye role as CIA agent Jack Wade, mostly around to show how buffoonish we Yanks can be. Give us Felix Leiter back — stat!

Still, I like it.

Jonathan Pryce plays Elliot Carver, a Rupert Murdoch-type media mogul. He’s going to use some stolen MacGuffin to gin up a war between China and the West — just to goose his network’s ratings.

You’ve also got Chinese action star Michelle Yeoh as a Chinese spy who must team up with Bond, and she’s just as tough and as good in a fight as he is. There’s a motorcycle chase sequence where they’re handcuffed together, trying to ride and fight as one.

It’s one of the better Bond chase scenes, and that’s saying something.

Teri Hatcher is Bond’s ex and now Carver’s wife. The sexy Teri Hatcher is, as always, terrific playing the sexy Teri Hatcher part.

A weak point is Carver’s henchman, some big German dude. Can’t honestly remember a thing about him except Bond kills him. I think. The last act has a lot of shooting and explosions on board Carver’s giant yacht/headquarters. Again, lots of generic action, not enough charm.

But you’re still eating popcorn and enjoying your Coke the whole time, so it’s two hours well spent. Just don’t expect me to ever recap it again.

BONUS: I’m a huge fan of actor/prestidigitationist Ricky Jay, used here to slimy good effect as Caver’s conscienceless tech guru.

Live and Let Die (1973)
It’s a white thing. (Screencap courtesy of MGM.)

This was Moore’s first turn as Bond, and the producers must have known it was going to be something of a letdown.

The posters for the Connery movies always boasted “Sean Connery IS James Bond.”

[Emphasis in the original.]

The poster for Live and Let Die read, “Roger Moore as James Bond.”

[Sad little lowercase “as” in the original.]


Still, this one is Moore’s second-best effort, and not a bad Bond at all.

LALD certainly gets points for originality, putting Bond in the middle of a Caribbean-US drug war as “Mr. Big” (the alias of a Caribbean dictator played by Yaphet Kotto) tries to monopolize the international heroin trade.

There are plenty of then-current blaxploitation details, and one of the best henchmen in Bond history. Played by Julius Harris, Tee Hee might have a funny name, but nobody laughs when he crushes them with his steel hand.

The best part might be that Bond is not played for laughs or anything else as a whitefish-out-of-water. Moore is the consummate spy and totally ignores the whole race thing while he coolly goes about getting the job done.

We could use more of that in our supposedly more modern entertainment today.

LALD has almost none of the camp that would almost come to define the Moore era, and it never winks at or acknowledges the Connery or Lazenby films. We just see Moore step into the role of a British spy, and tackle the dangerous assignment given him without ever losing his cool.

For me, the only sour note — as previously mentioned — is the annoyingly stereotypical Sheriff Pepper character who we see again in, for reasons unknown to man or God, in The Man With the Golden Gun.

BONUS: My friend and colleague Chris Queen is ranking the Bond songs, but you can’t talk about Live and Let Die the movie without paying tribute to “Live and Let Die,” the song. It wasn’t just the first pure rock song to grace a Bond flick, it’s one of Paul McCartney’s two or three-best post-Beatles pieces.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
They’re real and they’re spectacular. (Screencap courtesy of MGM.)

Just because I’m a partisan for Sean Connery doesn’t mean I can’t recognize when a Connery movie is just treading water. Of course, that means Diamonds Are Forever is still better than all but one Moore movie.

But I digress.

Bond goes undercover as an assassin (some cover!) and diamond smuggler in order to bust a diamond-smuggling ring. If that seems like small stakes, the diamonds are being used to build a giant space laser.

Yes, another one.

But this space laser is being built by Blofeld, and this Blofeld is played with slick charm by Charles Gray.

So all’s well.

Even better: “Fellow” diamond smuggler Tiffany Case (really) played by Jill St. John, and the most scene-stealing Bond girl ever, Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood).

“Hi, I’m Plenty.”

“Of course you are.”

Her near-death scene is a classic in movie history.

Holding the movie back a bit is action sequences lacking oomph, and pair of assassins played for comic relief. The fact that killers Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd are obviously gay isn’t the problem, it’s that it’s difficult for the audiences to take assassins seriously when the movie doesn’t. That said, their banter is genuinely charming.

If Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd had been in almost any other movie, they would have been terrific. What a shame they didn’t get a spin-off.

While it was nice to see Connery back after the wooden George Lazenby, he’d quit in 1967 because he was tired of the role. In DAF it’s pretty obvious he’s still bored, and in some ways so was the director, Guy Hamilton.

BONUS: If your action scenes don’t add up to much, at least put Jill St. John in a bikini. Hamilton made this happen, so all is forgiven.

Up Next? Part 005: Shaken and Stirring.

Also: Ranking the Bond Movies: Part 001 (The Bonds, James Bonds)

Also: Ranking the Bond Movies: Part 002 (The Ones That Really Blofeld)

Also: Ranking the Bond Movies: Part 003 (Neither Shaken Nor Stirred)

Also: Ranking the Bond Movies: Part 005 (Shaken and Stirring)

Also: Ranking the Bond Movies: Part 006 (Bond, Essential Bond)

Also: Ranking the Bond Movies: Part 007 (The Best of Bond)


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