The argument over which Bond film is best is a hotly contested one that will never end. It’s almost as angrily debated as the question of which Bond film is the worst – but don’t worry as I’ve got a definitive answer to that one: it’s Die Another Day. Soon, these arguments will rage even louder, as all of the official James Bond films start streaming on Amazon Prime Video from today in the UK.
There's an episode of I'm Alan Partridge, Steve Coogan's sitcom about a hapless Norfolk-based radio DJ, in which he attempts to watch every James Bond film in one Bank Holiday weekend. With disastrous consequences, it must be said. With the complete James Bond Collection hitting Amazon Prime Video on April 15 – the start of Easter weekend, you could now attempt the same feat as Alan. However, if you are a newcomer to Bond films, you could end up in similarly dire straits if you pick the wrong ones to watch first.
• View to a kill: see all the Bond movies streaming at Amazon (opens in new tab) – Prime membership required.
The recent Daniel Craig quintilogy – that's a series of five films, as you probably know – is doubtless where most people will start, but even that contains some stinkers. The earlier Bond films, starring Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, are even more of a mixed bag. Many of the films are undermined by preposterous plots, lightweight villains, obvious wigs, ill-advised safari-inspired tailoring and songs by Lulu. Oh and a pigeon doing a double-take as Roger Moore sweeps from a Venetian canal into a packed piazza, driving a hovercraft disguised as a gondola. No, really. Ian Fleming’s Bond books were once derided as ‘sex, sadism and snobbery’ but some of the films added ‘stupidity’ to that list.
Since practically everyone on the Internet has already listed all the Bond films from best to worst, I am going to simplify matters – both for you and myself – by listing the best film from each of the six actors to play Bond. Particularly if you're a Bond newbie this should be helpful, as you can decide which version of 007 you like most and least, and plan your future Bond viewing accordingly. Then you'll have a license to thrill, and be in 00-heaven!
Sean Connery: From Russia With Love
Choosing which of the Connery Bonds is best is no easy task, let me tell you. Dr No was the first, Thunderball the most successful financially, Goldfinger arguably the most acclaimed. You Only Live Twice and even Diamonds Are Forever rightly have their fans too, despite the latter seeing Connery don a wig so obvious, it might as well have been levitating above his head.
I don't think anyone has a good word to say about Never Say Never Again, which saw Connery return to the 007 role as a paunchy 50-something in a 1983 film that is not even an 'official' Bond movie. Sadly, while movie technology had moved on, wig technology seemingly had not, and Sean's hair was again about as convincing as his Irish accent in The Untouchables.
But never mind that. Back when his barnet looked at least somewhat organic, Connery starred in From Russia With Love. A tough, taut thriller that pits Bond against the genuinely menacing Robert Shaw, the amassed forces of SPECTRE, and a scary closet lesbian named Rosa Klebb, From Russia With Love is not a typical Bond film by any means. The flashiest gadget is a briefcase with some throwing knives and a tear gas grenade secreted in it, and what humour there is, is decidedly dark. However, From Russia established Connery as the only Bond who you could imagine in a real-life fight and is a proper, old-school espionage romp, more reminiscent of Hitchcock, cinematically speaking, than what came later. It has a coherent plot, a proper 1st, 2nd and 3rd act and characters who are big and bold, but still at least somewhat recognisable as human beings.
George Lazenby: On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Choosing the best Lazenby Bond film is very easy indeed: he only made this one. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was for many years unfairly derided, with much criticism of Lazenby's performance in particular. However, in recent times, it has undergone a critical reappraisal that has seen some Bond aficionados actually proclaim the film as the best Bond ever.
That seems a bit of a stretch to me. Lazenby spends an interminably long part of the movie disguised as a kilt-wearing professor called 'Sir Hilary' and much of the rest of the film getting his ass handed to him, which is not really what most of us want from our James Bonds. There's also a car/bobsleigh chase that seems to go on longer than the average Winter Olympics. While the film has been applauded for its relative realism, it's also worth noting that the plot concerns an attempt to blackmail the world via a harem of sexy ladies who have been brought to a ski resort to be brainwashed into killing people with biological weapons. Yes, that old chestnut.
OHMSS is nonetheless an interesting attempt to reboot Bond as a less omnipotent, more vulnerable character, and Lazenby – who was also significantly younger than all the other Bonds – really isn't bad at all in that role. Sadly, OHMSS ended very badly indeed for both Bond and Lazenby, and Sean Connery was speed-dialled back into the fold to once again do battle with some rather unusual gay characters, in Diamonds Are Forever. Connery then bailed again, so Roger Moore was brought in to play 007 as a public school twit in a series of absolutely ballistic flared, safari-suit-style outfits. I think that's what people wanted at the time, really.
Roger Moore: The Spy Who Loved Me
Choosing the best Roger Moore Bond is also difficult, but thankfully several of his films are absolute crap, so the pool of potential winners is substantially slimmed down from the seven that he made, to the three that are any good. Moore's performances throughout his tenure were so charming, and the films so good-natured, that slagging them off feels like kicking a puppy, so let's stick to the good stuff.
Moore's first, Live And Let Die sees Bond going Blaxploitation, with an absolutely ludicrous plot involving drugs smuggling, voodoo and one particular car/boat chase that goes on for what feels like 17 hours. Roger's arthritic 'karate' moves are hilarious but he manages to get through even the most preposterous moments without snickering, which can't be said for many of his later Bond ventures.
However, Moore really reached his peak with The Spy Who Loved Me. This features arguably the best Bond theme in Carly Simon's swoonsome Nobody Does It Better, perhaps the ultimate villainous henchman in Richard Kiel's dopey-yet-psychotic, metal-toothed Jaws and perhaps the best ever Bond car gimmick: a Lotus Esprit that turns into a bloody submarine. The plot is something to do with Bond and Russia's top agent reluctantly joining forces to prevent a man who lives under the sea from killing everyone on Earth, then re-populating it with an ocean-dwelling master race, or something.
If you like this film, you should also like the next Bond film: Moonraker. That's because it is exactly the same film, only this time the villain is based in space rather than under the sea.
You want my short verdicts on the other Moore movies? Okay, The Man With the Golden Gun, For Your Eyes Only, View to a Kill and Octopussy are, respectively, crap, passable, crap and crap. And speaking of which…
Timothy Dalton: The Living Daylights
Dalton, who was absolutely sensational in Flash Gordon and would subsequently find his defining role as a villainous supermarket proprietor in Hot Fuzz was only given two movies in which to strut his stuff as Bond. He never quite felt like the right man for the job. The Welsh thespian was brought in to give Bond a rawer, rougher edge, after Moore's later Bonds had ridden deep into the desert of winking self-parody and increasingly inappropriate age gaps between the star and his love interests. However, with the best will in the world, the ideal choice of actor to make Bond into a darker, more thuggish figure was probably not a RADA-educated, posh-voiced actor named Timothy.
Following on from Moore's escalatingly dreadful wardrobe misfires, Dalton was further undermined by being given some absolutely terrible blouson jackets and tight jeans to wear. However, Dalton was much younger than Moore at the end of his tenure and a far better actor, although admittedly that is not saying much. Both of his films are serviceable.
The Living Daylights has a globe-trotting plot, some excellent fights and action sequences, and the slightly darker tone is a bit of a relief after ol' man Moore. However, its main villain, a fat man who sells weapons, is possibly the least threatening in 007 history – yes, even worse than Rami Malek. Some may also question the wisdom, with hindsight, of making The Taliban Bond's main allies in the film.
Dalton's second stab – pun intended – License to Kill was considerably more dark and violent, and consequently somewhat less entertaining. It did allow Dalton to contort his matinee-idol-handsome face into flashing-eyed rage on a regular basis, thereby showing his range. Sadly, he was soon to be replaced by an even more handsome man in considerably less shitty outfits.
Pierce Brosnan: GoldenEye
Brosnan's first excursion as Bond felt like a return to the glory days. His 007 seemed to combine the darker edge of Connery and Dalton at their best with some of the easy charm of Moore – but without the self-parodic element. Brosnan's relatively nuanced performance, some incredible stunts and the arrival of Judi Dench as M gave GoldenEye a much more modern feel than Moore and Dalton's efforts, although the villains – Sean Bean at his most anonymous and Alan Cumming playing a hacker with a comedy Russian accent – let it down a bit.
It's also essential at this point to give mad props to Tina Turner's theme song – written by U2's Bono and The Edge, no less. Tina had the pipes and the attitude to recapture Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones' truly hysterical, full-throttle Bond-theme peak years, after years of rather more ironic, lightweight ditties during the Dalton and late-period Moore epoch.
Subsequent Brosnan Bond films feel like a betrayal of this very promising start. They continued to suffer from having unmemorable baddies, while the theme songs got gradually worse. What really killed Brosnan-Bond off was that The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day, Tomorrow Never Dies and Die My Dear Doctor? That Is The Last Thing I Intend to Do, gradually gave up on trying to do a more serious Bond. Instead, they came to rely on absolutely terrible CGI, and plots that seemed to have been scratched out on the back of a packet of cigarettes by someone suffering a particularly feverish head cold.
Brosnan's later films all blur into one a bit, but surely everyone's least favourite is the one where a North Korean agent – played by a British Caucasian, naturally enough – is attempting to destroy the world from a lair at the North Pole, assisted by a man with diamonds in his face and a fencing instructress played by Madonna, who also supplies the abysmal theme tune. Luckily Bond is able to fight back using an invisible car, and the rest is history, just like Pierce Brosnan's career in Bond movies.
Daniel Craig: Casino Royale
My colleague Matthew Forde has a full rundown of all the Daniel Craig Bond films, but I will just briefly state that Casino Royale is narrowly my favourite of his entries in the series. Craig's debut came hot on the heels of the aforementioned Brosnan disaster and as a result of that comparison, it felt like possibly the greatest film ever made. Certainly from the parkour chase scene at the start, through the most exciting and eventful poker game of all time, to the bit where Mads Mikkelsen is whipping Craig's genitals with a length of knotted rope, this is a gritty, adrenaline-pumping thrill ride.
Admittedly there's then about another hour of the film still to go and all that momentum falls away to be replaced with mild ennui, but it's still a superb action movie overall, where the stakes feel lower – the world is not threatened and the field of battle is a poker table – and yet more real.