In 1952, English author and onetime naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming introduced the world to the steely-cold MI6 secret agent James Bond, number 007 with a license to kill and a fondness for vodka martinis (shaken, not stirred). Since then, Bond has become a global pop culture phenomenon on the big screen, television, the music charts, radio, and just about everywhere else you can imagine.
To date, six actors have played Bond in the official film series from Eon Productions, and his ongoing adventures have served as a fascinating illustration of our changing times from the Cold War to the present including shifting attitudes about politics, gender, and even comedy relief. You could watch the Bond series in any number of ways, with fans frequently opting for chronological release (from 1962 onward) or, perhaps in an act of madness, the order in which they were written by Fleming, with all the original stories coming afterwards. With the recent passing of Oscar-winning actor Sean Connery (the first actor to play Bond on the big screen), some of you may be planning a 007 festival of your own … and may we humbly suggest the following order for maximum appreciation and entertainment value.
Fleming’s first Bond novel has been adapted several times including the first filmed appearance of 007 ever, as a 1954 live TV production with Barry Nelson as an American Bond (!) facing off in a high-stakes card game against the villainous Le Chiffre. You might as well start your Bond voyage with this, the powerhouse inaugural film for Daniel Craig and one of the essential films that introduced the concept of the “reboot” by presenting a young Bond only two kills into his career as he tangles with Le Chiffre (a magnificent Mads Mikkelsen) and the mysterious Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). The action may be amped up and the pivotal game may have changed from baccarat to poker, but the basics of the story are the same, right down to the shattering finale in this rousing entry directed by Martin Campbell, who was instrumental in another Bond debut you’ll run into a bit later.
In many respects the quintessential Bond film, this was the third outing for Scottish actor and future Oscar winner Sean Connery as well as the phenomenon that truly triggered Bond mania around the globe. A raid on Fort Knox by the gold-obsessed title character (played by Gert Fröbe) is the motivation for dozens of classic scenes including a tense golf game, a close encounter with a laser, and a climactic fight with the most iconic henchman in movie history, Harold Sakata’s Oddjob. The title song belted by Shirley Bassey has become synonymous with the series, not to mention the shimmering score by John Barry (complete with a powerhouse song by Shirley Bassey) who remained the series’ composer of choice on and off for over two decades.
The Spy Who Loved Me
The third time must be the charm. If Goldfinger is the prototypical Bond film, adventure number three for Roger Moore is very close behind it with a glittering, splashy, globe-hopping classic that ensured 007 would continue to thrive long after his first cinematic decade. Here Bond is teamed up, after much resistance, with Soviet agent Barbara Bach to stop a marine-obsessed villain from annihilating the planet. This also introduced Richard Kiel’s towering, steel-toothed henchman Jaws, who became an instant fan favorite, and Carly Simon’s Oscar-nominated theme song, “Nobody Does It Better,” has become synonymous with the entire series.
The Living Daylights
Often (and unfairly) overlooked in the run of big screen Bonds, Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton went back to Ian Fleming after the more outlandish Roger Moore era and delivered an exciting debut with this tale of espionage, a staged defection, and a beautiful cello player, which sends our hero leaping from Vienna to Afghanistan. The final Bond film to truly reflect the Cold War, this one also veered 007 away from his trademark bed-hopping thanks to a strong romantic subplot.
The longest gap between Bond films in the series’ history (mainly due to complex studio and ownership changes) had fans wondering whether they would ever see the superspy up on the screen again, but those fears were put to rest when Pierce Brosnan (who had been named as a likely candidate nearly a decade before) made his bow with this action-packed spectacle featuring Sean Bean as a 00 agent gone very, very bad. Famke Janssen nearly steals the entire film as the evil Xenia Onatopp, one of the greatest in the series’ gallery of female villains.
A View to Kill
Though GoldenEye made prominent use of computer hacking as a central plot device, it wasn’t the first; that honor goes to Roger Moore’s last Bond film, one that still divides fans with its blend of broad comedy and sometimes outrageously violent action scenes. A bleach-blond Christopher Walken is something to behold as the microchip megalomaniac intent on destroying Silicon Valley, though he’s given a run for his money by the imposing Grace Jones as his lithe assassin, May Day. The unforgettable theme song by Duran Duran became one of the band’s biggest hits and is still the sole 007 theme to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Now, back to basics. Here’s the one that started it all, the very first appearance by Sean Connery in the first big-screen Bond film. Based on Fleming’s sixth book in the series, this one dials down the pulpy sadism and sexuality of its source material but still delivers some wicked thrills with 007 heading to Jamaica to stop the title character from toppling rockets after they launch. Ursula Andress’ bikini-clad entrance from the sea remains one of the most iconic moments of the entire series, setting an imposing standard to match for future Bond heroines.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
For a debut of a different kind, this was the first Bond film without Connery, here replaced for one time only by Australian model George Lazenby. The result sticks closer to Fleming than any other film in the series and, thanks to director Peter Hunt (who had edited the previous films), still packs a punch with its exhilarating action scenes, many involving winter sports like skiing and a toboggan run. Many fans justifiably consider the best film of them all, due in no small part to a pair of jolting plot twists involving the remarkable Diana Rigg as Bond’s love interest, the headstrong Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo.
Diamonds Are Forever
After the shocking ending of Lazenby’s film, you have no choice but to go to the next chronological film which brought back Connery for one last official entry. This eccentric caper involving diamond smuggling, a gay hitman team, Las Vegas hoods, and nefarious SPECTRE leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld isn’t for all tastes, but its quirky humor and a winning turn by Jill St. John as the larcenous but likeable Tiffany Case deliver plenty of entertainment value.
Quantum of Solace
Here’s another direct sequel in the series, this one picking up shortly after the end of Casino Royale with Daniel Craig’s 007 dealing with emotional anguish and a desire for vengeance. Very heavily influenced by the Jason Bourne adventures that were wildly popular at the time, this is one of the shortest films in the entire series and features such frenetic editing many viewers had trouble following the action sequences at all. However, it’s a key film in the progression of Craig’s character and has an endearing performance by Gemma Arterton as MI6 agent Strawberry Fields.
Live and Let Die
Starting in the 1970s, the Bond films began reflecting other cinematic trends that were popular at the time. In this case, the wildly popular demand for black action films inaugurated by hits like Shaft inspired this premiere appearance by Roger Moore as he matches wits with Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), an international heroin dealer with designs on conquering the market. The fiery theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings deservedly earned an Oscar nomination, and this remains the only Bond film with undeniable supernatural elements including Jane Seymour’s tarot-reading Solitaire and the death-defying lord of the dead, Baron Samedi, played by the outrageously entertaining Geoffrey Holder.
From Russia with Love
By this point you might be forgiven for losing track of the pure espionage origins of the series, so let’s have a reminder with this, arguably Sean Connery’s finest hour in the series. The source novel, one of Fleming’s best and a famous favorite of President John F. Kennedy, translates well to the screen with only a few big changes as SPECTRE plots a vicious fate for Bond involving seduction, a coveted code-breaking device, and a fateful trip on the Orient Express that features one of the screen’s all-time greatest fight scenes against Robert Shaw.
For Your Eyes Only
The grittier side of Bond can also be found in Roger Moore’s most serious outing, with another key piece of machinery valuable to English interests at the center of a twisty tale involving a revenge-seeking young woman (Carole Bouquet), ice skating, scuba diving, and a grisly coral reef sequence pulled from Fleming’s Live and Let Die novel but not used in that film. The classic theme song by Sheena Easton nabbed an Oscar nomination and, for the first and only time thanks to the dawn of the MTV era, featured the actual singer appearing during the main titles along with the usual silhouetted women and guns.
License to Kill
Timothy Dalton’s second and last 007 film is easily the most violent of the bunch, so approach with caution if you’re squeamish as this one features intense gun violence, a high-pressure exploding body, and a nasty shark attack scene (also lifted from the Live and Let Die novel). Here Dalton goes undercover by resigning his job to seek justice for his American buddy, Felix Leiter, and working his way into the graces of vicious drug lord Sanchez (Robert Davi). Watch for future Oscar winner Benicio del Toro, looking impossibly young here as Sanchez’s ruthless right-hand man.
The most infamous title in the entire Bond canon has been the subject of countless jokes over the years, though the actual film is a far more straightforward Cold War thriller than you might expect as the U.S.S.R. works with the nasty Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) to destabilize the West with a plan involving Faberge eggs and an all-female criminal squad. If you put any preconceptions aside, this one delivers some very suspenseful moments including a stunt-filled train sequence and a circus sequence that definitely isn’t played for laughs.
The World Is Not Enough
Pair that one up with this other misunderstood Bond film, which features a highly unusual scenario for its villain(s) that won’t be spoiled here. Pierce Brosnan gives a very solid performance here as he works with the once kidnapped heiress Elektra King (Sophie Marceau) to thwart a plan to undermine MI6 including his boss, M (Oscar winner Judi Dench), that leads to the most divisive ingredient here, a nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones played by Denise Richards. If you can get past that amusing casting choice, the film is much better than its current reputation with a number of worthwhile twists to the usual Bond formula.
The only Bond film to win multiple Academy Awards (for Original Song and Sound Editing), this third film for Daniel Craig marked Bond’s 50th anniversary in movies in high style with some of the series’ most remarkable cinematography (courtesy of the formidable Roger Deakins) and an imposing villain played by a vivid Javier Bardem. Director Sam Mendes proved to be an unexpected but canny choice here, balancing character depth and frenetic action in just the right amounts.
Bond’s popularity was at its global zenith by the time Sean Connery’s fourth film rolled around, an eye-filling epic involving the theft of nuclear weapons in Nassau and an eyepatch-wearing villain named Largo (Adolfo Celi). This was also the first Bond film shot in scope, using every inch of the screen to deliver colorful action scenes and flamboyant visuals including a memorable, often-imitated carnival sequence.
Another ambitious and lavishly mounted film in the series, this one marked Roger Moore’s fourth time out and split fans with its heavy emphasis on wild comedy and a more prominent role for the lethal Jaws, who gets a change of heart here late in the game. Obviously intended to ride the popularity of Star Wars at the time, the film still has much to appreciate including some of the loveliest cinematography of any 007 film and a swirling John Barry score that’s one of the composer’s best.
Die Another Day
Pierce Brosnan’s last time out as Bond also piles on the humor and absurdity to such an intense degree that this one has also become synonymous with going way over the top, thanks to elements like an invisible car (!), an ice hotel, a rowdy fencing duel (with an instructor played by none other than Madonna, who also provides the contentious theme song), and feisty female agent, Jinx, played by Halle Berry just after her Oscar win.
You Only Live Twice
Ian Fleming’s darkest and most disturbing novel was given a major overhaul for this fifth Sean Connery film, which finds him faking his death and jetting to Japan to stop Blofeld (showing his face on screen for the first time thanks to Donald Pleasence) from snatching rockets in the middle of outer space. Ninjas, a nocturnal poisoning from above, and a sham marriage for 007 are a few of the thrills you’ll find here in one of the most opulent films in the entire series.
The Man with the Golden Gun
Bond goes East again with Roger Moore hitting Thailand and a remote South Seas island to match wits with Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), an internationally famous assassin who sends a golden bullet to his prospective targets. The post-Bruce Lee martial arts wave dominates a big section of this film, which also sports one of the series’ most famous car stunts and a memorable henchman courtesy of Fantasy Island’s Hervé Villechaize.
Tomorrow Never Dies
Here’s the other 007 martial arts film, with Pierce Brosnan joining forces with the mighty Michelle Yeoh for a dramatic demonstration of how much the Hong Kong cinema explosion of the ’80s and early ’90s shook up action movie expectations around the world in ways that are still felt today. Though it starts off slowly, this one delivers in its final hour with a string of set pieces guaranteed to get your heart racing.
The last released Bond film as of this writing is the natural end point for your 007 festival, with Daniel Craig finding closure for the ongoing pursuit through shadowy organizations of the past films and ending up face to face with SPECTRE and a new incarnation of Blofeld played by Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. This also marked a return for director Sam Mendes, as well as a repeat at the Oscars with Sam Smith’s theme song earning an Academy Award. The tense pre-credits action sequence set during the Day of the Dead remains a high point with its innovative single-take technique paving the way for Mendes’ next film, 1917.
If you’re still eager for more Bond adventures, your journey doesn’t have to end there. Here are a couple of extra credit titles you might want to add on for one more night of 007 fun, even though these are not part of the official Eon series.
Never Say Never Again
Thanks to a lengthy and complex legal battle over the authorship of Thunderball, writer Kevin McClory was allowed to produce his own rival Bond film and managed to bring back Sean Connery for what amounts to a loose remake of his own earlier film. Any chance to see Connery back in the holster again is worth a look, and this time he’s matched by a deliciously wicked performance by Barbara Carrera as the preening and perilous Fatima Blush.
The rights to Ian Fleming’s first novel originally left open the door for this extravagant, all-star comedy that ended up roping in five credited directors and the majority of the cast taking on the name of James Bond at various points including Peter Sellers, David Niven, Woody Allen, and Ursula Andress. An unrestrained three-ring circus of a film, it has very little to do with Fleming but now stands as a fascinating intersection of the world’s most famous secret agent and the plotless, celebrity-laden comedies that were pulling in audiences at the time. On top of that, it features one of the catchiest soundtracks of all time thanks to the likes of Burt Bacharach, Hal David, Dusty Springfield, and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.