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10 Essential James Bond Movies To Watch Before 'No Time To Die'

With the release of James Bond’s new adventure ‘No Time To Die’ we have to put together a list of essential Bond viewing. So whether you have already seen it or are gearing up for No Time To Die there is definitely a bond movie in here for you.

SPECTRE © 2015 Metro-Goldwyn-Ma

Trailer | IMDB 6.8/10 | Rotten Tomatoes 63%

 
 

10. SPECTRE (2015) - Sam Mendes

Kicking off this list is SPECTRE. It may be a flawed James Bond film but it’s not the huge mess people like to claim it is. For all it’s faults, there’s actually a lot to like about SPECTRE. Daniel Craig gives his most confident performance in the role yet, channeling Sean Connery in Goldfinger, he’s given more room to crack a few one-liners and this more “relaxed” performance leads to some of  Daniel Craig’s greatest Bond moments yet. His one-take, nonchalant walk across rooftops in Mexico City while adjusting his cufflinks is pure, classic Bond. As is ejecting from his Aston Martin, parachuting flawlessly down to the ground and giving a sly “good evening” to a stunned onlooker. 

The bloated fourth act can make the film feel overlong, the Sam Smith theme song did not go down too well, (even more so when you read that the producers turned down a fantastic song from Radiohead) and Christoph Waltz’s portrayal of Ernst Stavro Blofeld had huge potential but wasn’t developed as well as it could have been.

However, I applaud SPECTRE for bringing a lot of classic Bond elements back to the franchise, such as the wisecracks, the globetrotting, a gadget laden car chase, a fantastical villain’s lair and a hulking, giant henchman. The upcoming “No Time To Die” is also a straight-up chronological sequel to SPECTRE so that’s why it’s 100% essential viewing.

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY © 1981 Metro-Goldwyn-Ma

Trailer | IMDB 6.7/10 | Rotten Tomatoes 73%

9. For Your Eyes Only (1981) - John Glen

Roger Moore’s fifth Bond film is something of an underrated gem amongst the Bond community and especially with mainstream audiences. It’s not completely immune from the Roger Moore goofiness, but I’d argue it’s Moore’s most grounded, serious film of his whole tenure. A legitimate Cold War thriller with a more “back to basics” approach after the science-fiction, fantasy leanings of Moore’s previous outing, “Moonraker”. 

To name some flaws, Julian Glover’s villain ‘Aristotle Kristatos’ has an unmemorable presence, Lynn Holly Johnson as ‘Bibi Dahl’ has one legitimately funny moment with Moore and then all the rest of her scenes are dreadful. The ending sequence featuring Margaret Thatcher (played by Janet Brown) calling Bond to congratulate him is also a comedic misstep in a film like this.

However Roger Moore gives a solid performance, managing to balance being serious and comedic very well. Carole Bouquet’s  ‘Melina Havelock’ is a refreshing change from the “damsel in distress” type and she actually has a great motivation for joining Bond rather than just to fall in bed with him at the film’s end. Kristatos’ mute henchman Emile Locque is also probably the most memorable antagonist of the film, most likely due to **SPOILER ALERT** his fantastic death scene of Bond viciously kicking his car off a cliff with him still in it, a shockingly dark departure from Moore’s usually jollier type of Bond. The soundtrack by Bill Conti is suitably 80s but in my opinion it works very well and Sheena Easton’s theme song is a classic Bond ballad.

DIE ANOTHER DAY © 2002 UNITED ARTISTS CORPORATION & DANJAQ

Trailer | IMDB 6.1/10 | Rotten Tomatoes 56%

8. Die Another Day (2002) - Lee Tamahori

Often labelled by fans as “the worst Bond film of all time”, I honestly don’t think they could be more wrong. Die Another Day isn’t boring, it isn’t badly paced, and it isn’t poorly cast. Of all the more fantastical, over-the-top type Bond films, I’d strongly argue Die Another Day is one of the very best. Pierce Brosnan oozes charisma and confidence as Bond, Halle Berry’s portrayal of ‘Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson’ admittedly has some cringeworthy dialogue but she’s an effective “female equivalent” to Bond which is what they were trying to do. Toby Stephens’ ‘Gustav Graves’ is a great, slimy villain and his henchman Zao (Rick Yune) has half his face impaled with diamonds (caused by Bond via an explosion in the pre-title sequence). 

Yes, the film has ridiculous moments, but it’s such an entertaining, fun ride that the film’s obvious problems don’t bother me much at all. Bond’s Aston Martin V12 Vanquish has a device that can render it invisible which was considered by many to be jumping the shark with the gadgetry. One of this film’s flaws are the over-reliance on CGI and green-screen. Some effects haven’t aged well in comparison to modern CGI although some scenes even looked hokey even back in 2002. 

For all the film’s over-the-top ridiculousness though, there are moments which are top-shelf Bond. The pre-title sequence is one of the best in the series, the locations ranging from Korea, Hong Kong, Cuba, England and Iceland are all fantastic. The car chase between Bond’s Aston Martin and Zao’s Jaguar XKR on a frozen ice lake is still one of the greatest action scenes in the entire series, David Arnold’s score is incredible, as is Daniel Kleinman’s title sequence (which is to be expected). 

No Time To Die, as seen from the trailers and confirmed by Daniel Craig in interviews himself, is going for the more fantastical approach with more gadgetry and a villain bent on global genocide. A far cry from the card games and shady bankers of Craig’s debut film, Casino Royale, and more in-line with the films of the Pierce Brosnan era. With this in mind, I’d recommend giving Die Another Day a second chance, especially if you’re one of the people that still dismiss it as a ridiculous romp gone too far. Just accept the film for what it is, a gloriously entertaining good time and I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

LICENSE TO KILL © 1989 Metro-Goldwyn-Ma

Trailer | IMDB 6.6/10 | Rotten Tomatoes 78%

7. Licence To Kill (1989) - John Glen

Bond fans are usually split down the middle on what type of Bond film they prefer. Fantastical and escapist adventures, or darker, grounded, more serious affairs. Personally I fall right in the middle of loving both and Licence To Kill is definitely on the latter side. The film remains controversial even today for it’s graphic violence (it’s still the only Bond film with a 15+ BBFC certificate) and plot ripped straight from the action thrillers of the 1980s.

Licence To Kill stars Timothy Dalton as James Bond and he’s my favourite actor to play the role. He’s got the suave charm and ruggedness of Connery, the emotional vulnerability of Lazenby, the comedic timing of Moore, and I’d even argue he’s a better at playing “serious” Bond even more so than Daniel Craig. He’s also the very embodiment of Ian Fleming’s character from the books.

Dalton’s performance of a man close to losing it with revenge, complements the darker territory of this film perfectly. This is a Bond who is completely human. There’s also a deep psychological aspect to this film that hasn’t been seen in any other Bond film since. The motivation for Bond’s revenge being his personal friend ‘Felix Leiter’s maiming and his wife’s murder is only the half of it. In reality, it’s more Bond’s personal demons over his own wife Tracy’s death in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

Film critic Roger Ebert once said that a Bond film is only as great as it’s villain, and ‘Franz Sanchez’ portrayed by Robert Davi is unquestionably the greatest forgotten villain of the franchise. A psychologically credible Bond villain is a rare and welcome change, and you can understand why people would work for him. Sanchez won’t electrocute employees on a whim. He won’t feed you to sharks if you ask to visit your sick mother. He’d probably pay her medical bills. He knows how to come across as a warm and generous man. He probably knows all his guards by name. Yet if you cross him, you die. 

‘Pam Bouvier’ played by Carey Lowell is a great ‘Bond girl’. She’s a CIA agent and has a very believable romance with Dalton. The soundtrack is another huge highlight. Michael Kamen provides a fantastic, high-octane soundtrack featuring a lot of Latin American and Mexican sounding influences that suit the film perfectly. Gladys Knight’s incredible theme song is also my pick for the most underrated Bond song of all time. Knight has an incredible voice and the chorus of the song is downright euphoric.

One of this film’s flaws is the inconsistency in tone. One minute it’s a hard edged revenge thriller then next thing Bond is in a comedic bar fight or being attacked by “Chinese ninjas” with an awful slide whistle sound effect. However, at the film’s climax, Dalton brings it all back down to Earth with a touching moment in which we almost see James Bond cry. Without a word, Dalton conveys Bond’s exhausted relief by nearly breaking down in tears at the thought of everything he’s been through. It’s one of my favourite scenes in the whole franchise and that minute and a half encapsulates everything about Timothy Dalton’s performance that you need to know.

TOMORROW NEVER DIES © 1997 UNITED ARTISTS CORPORATION & DANJAQ

Trailer | IMDB 6.5/10 | Rotten Tomatoes 56%

 

6. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) - Roger Spottiswoode

Another underrated gem in the series often forgotten by mainstream audiences. Tomorrow Never Dies is a film that’s aged very well. The plot about a ‘Rupert Murdoch type’ media mogul Eliiot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) who attempts to provoke a war between the United Kingdom and China in order to destroy the Chinese government and use the new government to obtain exclusive broadcasting rights in China is one of the most apt and probably believable villain plans in the whole series, especially in the age of “fake news” being plastered all over social media. 

Pierce Brosnan returns and does a fantastic job too. Among the hardcore fans Brosnan is definitely one of the most underrated Bond actors. Michelle Yeoh plays ‘Wai Lin’ and she does a very respectable job too. I wouldn’t say she had the best chemistry with Brosnan but Yeoh is a fantastic actress and one of the best female leads of the Brosnan era. 

Jonathan Pryce is a great villain, he reminds me a lot of Charles Gray’s Blofeld from “Diamonds Are Forever” but a bit more grounded. This film follows the trope of the villain having a giant, hulking blonde henchman and here we have ‘Stamper’ played by Götz Otto. He’s a lot more memorable than some of the other henchmen in the franchise. Stamper’s mentor ‘Dr. Kaufman’, played by the late Vincent Schiavelli, is one of the greatest parts in Bond movie history. 

David Arnold provides the soundtrack in his Bond debut and he does a fantastic job. The scenes in Germany featuring very electronic sounds and then the scenes in Hong Kong using more traditional locally authentic instruments really helps the film’s atmosphere and sounds brilliant.

Having a villain whose words are his weapons and uses satellites as his artillery, where prior Bond villains wanted all the gold in Fort Knox, nuclear weapons, control of the oceans, eugenics etc. ‘Carver’ just wants bigger ratings, and he’ll secretly provoke WWIII just to get them. 

SPECTRE © 2012 Metro-Goldwyn-Ma

Trailer | IMDB 7.7/10 | Rotten Tomatoes 92%

5. Skyfall (2012) - Sam Mendes

The highest grossing Bond film of all time and I can see why. Everything about Skyfall is a triumph, from Daniel Craig’s performance, Javier Bardem’s villain, Judi Dench is incredible and basically the “Bond girl” of the film which I thought was a genius move. Plus Roger Deakins’ cinematography is awe-inspiring, capturing the Shanghai cityscape and Scottish countryside beautifully. Easily the best cinematography in the series to date.

Skyfall takes a page from the unfairly maligned, unofficial Bond film, “Never Say Never Again” and focuses heavily on Bond’s advancing age and relevance in the modern world. Skyfall definitely handles it in a more serious way than that film and I really enjoy Bond going in this particular direction.

There are a few plot holes in Silva’s (Javier Bardem) plan but other than that, Skyfall is basically a perfect Bond film. It follows the classic formula while still doing something new and keeping its own identity. The soundtrack by Thomas Newman is great and the Adele theme song is another certified classic Bond ballad. 

The climax of the film is also one of the series’ very best. With the villain raiding Bond’s childhood home of Skyfall Lodge and his only backup is M and the estate’s groundskeeper Kincaid played by Albert Finney. A role originally considered for original Bond actor Sean Connery (Connery opted to stay retired and the producers wisely thought this decision would distract viewers from the film). In another unique turn of events, Bond’s signature Aston Martin DB5 is destroyed and Craig’s reaction, combined with the huge swell of Monty Norman’s original James Bond theme is another of the series’ greatest moments. I love the DB5, it’s one of the series’ most recognisable staples but I miss Bond being given a unique car in certain films rather than constantly relying on the nostalgia of past films. No Time To Die bringing back Timothy Dalton’s Aston Martin V8 Vantage complete with the same number plate and all is something I really love though. It is a nostalgia trip but it’s something new at the same time, something Skyfall as a whole pulled off remarkably well. 

In the lead up to No Time To Die, this is essential viewing for understanding the skilful roots of Daniel Craig’s Bond.

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS © 1987 UNITED ARTISTS CORPORATION

Trailer | IMDB 6.7/10 | Rotten Tomatoes 74%

4. The Living Daylights (1987) - John Glen

This film is a standout due to Timothy Dalton’s fantastic performance, the incredible stunt work, the relationships being much more romantic and real, not to mention the globetrotting plot featuring elegant old world Europe and the breathtaking vistas of Africa.

The villains are somewhat unmemorable but they suit the strong Cold War setting of the film very well. It’s a very complex plot which can be confusing for first time viewers but again, it does work well for a Cold War spy thriller.

One of the biggest credits I can give it though, is that this film balances the tone of being a dark, espionage spy thriller with some lighter moments sprinkled in perfectly. This film is the best instance of forming a compromise between old-school Bond and a more contemporary vision, by establishing Bond as a man capable of great violence, but also focusing on making the action fun yet never too goofy for its own good. Tonally, The Living Daylights is THE perfect Bond film.

Since the 1960s the facade of the Bond character has been “martinis, girls, guns and cars”. It makes for entertaining viewing…but at his core, Bond is a contract killer with a cold demeanour, living a dangerous, transient life with no permanent ties. This film reflects his real emptiness and sadness. John Barry’s beautiful soundtrack did this too as it’s majestic, haunting, nostalgic and melancholy. This is also the only Bond film to have THREE official theme songs (that’s right, three), “The Living Daylights” by a-ha, “If There Was A Man”  and “Where Has Everybody Gone?” by The Pretenders. The end credits featuring Chrissie Hynde’s vocal is emotional and compelling, it’s lyrics relating the inner sadness of the character. In under 3 minutes, the song sums up the real James Bond and was the perfect note to end this film on.

Dalton’s Bond always looked like a candidate for the psychiatrist’s couch, a burned-out killer who may have just enough energy left for one final mission.

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE © 1967 UNITED ARTISTS CORPORATION

Trailer | IMDB 6.9/10 | Rotten Tomatoes 73%

3. You Only Live Twice (1967) - Lewis Gilbert

You Only Live Twice isn’t Sean Connery’s best Bond film, but it’s definitely my personal favourite. I’d argue it’s the best of all the more outlandish, bombastic type Bond films and it was the first to go for that style.

Sean Connery is most people’s favourite Bond and it’s easy to see why, he’s suave, charming, great in the action scenes, looks good in a tuxedo, and a great actor in general. He really does tick all the boxes, however, by the time You Only Live Twice rolled around, Connery was somewhat mentally checked out. I always used to see it as Connery portraying more of a seasoned, experienced agent, maybe even to the point of being jaded. This type of Bond is a lot more in line with how he is portrayed in the original You Only Live Twice novel too so I like to look at it from that perspective.

Practically the whole film takes place in Japan (par the pre-title sequence in Hong Kong) and I love how much it’s utilised. Everything in this film has such a luscious, Japanese flavour from the production design all the way to John Barry’s incredible score. The theme song by Nancy Sinatra is one of the franchise’s best too, complete with a title sequence of volcanoes, flowing lava and Japanese iconography. 

Donald Pleasance plays the villain ‘Ernst Stavro Blofeld’ and he’s… fine. He’s definitely memorable with his nehru suit, eye scar and white cat but the Blofeld character himself, was just played a lot better in the next film by Telly Savalas. 

You Only Live Twice isn’t a perfect film but it’s positives far outweigh the negatives, Freddie Young’s cinematography is fantastic, capturing the neon lights of Tokyo and mountainous ranges of Himeji perfectly. Ken Adam’s incredible set design still holds up even today, Blofeld’s volcano lair in particular is one of the most memorable Bond sets of all time. Bond’s ally in the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka (Tetsurō Tamba) is one of my favourite supporting characters in the series. 

Just from my own personal speculation, No Time To Die is borrowing some influence from the original You Only Live Twice novel too. As the film’s villain Safin (Rami Malek) seems to have a lair adorned with Asian plants and a garden. Reminiscent of Blofeld’s “garden of death” from the book which unfortunately didn’t make it into the official film adaptation.

So if you’re gearing up for a Bond marathon, this is a must watch!

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE © 1969 UNITED ARTISTS CORPORATION

Trailer | IMDB 6.7/10 | Rotten Tomatoes 81%

2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Maligned and forgotten upon its initial release in 1969, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service represents this series at it’s very best and has only gotten better and better with each passing year. Christopher Nolan and Steven Soderbergh even credit this as their favourite Bond film of them all. This is the only Bond film to star George Lazenby and in my opinion, he did a pretty incredible job. Lazenby was the first to show Bond’s more human, emotional and vulnerable side that I guess audiences just weren’t ready for back then. People like to claim this film would have been better with Connery in the role but I don’t think he would have sold the more youthful, romantic, and vulnerable Bond that this film portrays him as.

This film is unique too in that it follows the original novel very closely. A decision made by the filmmakers based on the strength of the source material even if this caused plot holes in the continuity of the series. Lazenby himself, frequently drew inspiration from the book for his portrayal of Bond which is probably why his performance is as good as it is. Telly Savalas plays Ernst Stavro Blofeld this time around and he’s a big improvement over Pleasance. He’s a lot more physical, menacing and has more screen time to show it off. 

Diana Rigg takes on the role of ‘Theresa Di Vincenzo’ and she’s probably the best ‘Bond girl’ of the series behind Eva Green. never depicted in the film as purely a sexual conquest. Rigg and Lazenby have great chemistry too.

John Barry returns to compose the score and again, it ranks as one of his best. This is the “Christmas” Bond film so Barry uses a lot of instruments and sounds you’d typically associate with the holiday season. For the theme song Barry uses an instrumental track this time around and it works fantastically well, although the real highlight is the “love theme” of the film, Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All The Time In The World”. Easily the most beautiful song ever composed for a Bond film and it suits the film’s central romance perfectly. 

The ending is what makes this such a significant film in the series though, with a tragic ending, Lazenby sells the moment beautifully. It’s a real gut punch of an ending, and there are no quips, no raised eyebrows; just the stark image of a bullethole in a cracked windscreen as the credits roll. Bond had allowed himself to be human, and he paid the price. Something the filmmakers would re-visit with a future instalment. Speaking of… 

CASINO ROYALE © Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group

Trailer | IMDB 8/10 | Rotten Tomatoes 94%

1. Casino Royale (2006) - Martin Campbell

Casino Royale is in my opinion, objectively the greatest Bond film of all time. Daniel Craig received a ton of unwarranted backlash when he was cast, people calling him childish names such as “James Bland” and even criticising him for wearing a life-jacket while on a boat arriving at the press conference. All of these ridiculous criticisms though were silenced once the film was released, with a lot of media outlets calling him “the best Bond ever” and I can understand why. 

As much as I enjoyed the practically science-fiction leaning “Die Another Day”, Casino Royale took Bond to his most grounded and realistic territory yet. A brilliant, yet simple plot, far removed from the excess of the last film. Mikkelsen and Green are both fantastic and have great chemistry with Craig. The majority of scenes between Craig and Mikkelsen are set at a poker table and you can tell what’s going on just by the pair’s outstanding performance. You can tell who’s got the better hand and who’s bluffing without even knowing the rules of poker. I have to give credit to director Martin Campbell and editors Stuart Baird and Christian Wagner for this too.

Eva Green’s ‘Vesper Lynd’ is the heart of the film and arguably the best ‘Bond Girl’ of the whole series. At the beginning of Casino Royale we are introduced to a rather immature and naive Bond. Throughout the film see him acquire his 00 status and he grows into his role.  Vesper is one of Bond’s cornerstones, practically the reason he is the Bond we know today. 

Even with the great plot and character performances, Casino Royale is an incredible action film too. The foot chase in Madagascar is a contender for the best action scene in the entire series, other highlights include a high-octane chase all over Miami airport, a brutal fist fight in a hotel stairwell that really pushed the boundaries of how far a Bond film can go, and a fight scene inside a crumbling building sinking into the waters of Venice. These jaw-dropping moments are all done practically too, all in-camera stunt work which just makes this film all the more special.

David Arnold returns to compose his best Bond score of all. Full of tension, unease and anxiety which suits the film beautifully, not to mention his music during the action scenes heighten everything too. 

The events of Casino Royale are constantly referenced in the Craig era and I’m sure No Time To Die won’t be any different. The film itself is the ending to what Casino Royale set up 15 years ago. If I could only recommend ONE Bond film for someone to watch, it would be Casino Royale. As a lifelong Bond fan I can honestly say it’s the best film in the series and one of the best action films of all time. I’d even go so far as to say it’s a modern masterpiece. 

Honourable Mentions

I hope you were able to find some gems on this list that you might have not already seen. It was very difficult to choose ten films out of so many greats, however, these are some of the movies that we think are definitely worthy of your time. What’s your favourite Bond film? Who is the best Bond? Tell us in the comments below.

No Time To Die is now screening in Cinemas across the UK

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Joe Doyle

Joe Doyle

Writer

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