It’s hard to imagine a world without the James Bond films, which have been with us since Dr No hit the big screen in 1962.
The impact of Dr No on cinema audiences of the time was dramatic. There had never been anything like it before. It catapulted Sean Connery to fame and introduced us to an exciting and, for many, unimaginably sophisticated world.
It took James Bond from being a successful series of books to an unprecedented worldwide phenomenon, hitting its peak in the mid-1960s.
The actor may change. The style of each film reflects the time in which it was made. But more than 50 years later we still eagerly await each new instalment in the series.
In 1961 Albert R “Cubby” Broccoli found that Harry Saltzman had a six-month option to film the James Bond novels and tried to buy him out. But when Saltzman refused they teamed up instead and created Eon Productions to put 007 on the big screen.
Dr No remains a fairly faithful adaptation of the novel but the screenwriters added a number of scenes. They also added Felix Leiter, who did not appear in the book. But while many of the classic Bond elements were introduced, the first Bond film lacks a John Barry score. Apart from the James Bond Theme the music is largely unmemorable.
From Russia With Love (1963)
When Dr No proved to be a hit Eon Productions quickly followed it up with From Russia With Love, considered by Fleming to be his best work. However, rather than the Cold War plot pitting the Russians and SMERSH against 007 the screenplay features SPECTRE play the Russians against MI6 in order to assassinate 007 and get hold of the Lektor code machine.
The second Bond film makes great use of the location work in Istanbul, as well as the scenes on board the Orient Express as Bond, Tania and Kerim flee with the Lektor. Bond’s claustrophobic fight with Red Grant, highlighted by Peter Hunt’s groundbreaking editing, has rarely been equalled in the series.
In many ways the quintessential James Bond movie, in introducing the gadget-packed Aston Martin DB5 Goldfinger began to shift the series away from Ian Fleming’s vision of James Bond. It also turned generations of boys that followed into avid collectors.
The film improves on the book substantially by making a small but important change to the villain’s scheme. It also features one of the most memorable Bond girls in the shape of Pussy Galore and a pre-title sequence to which few of the films that followed have even come close in equalling. Whether or not Goldfinger is the best film in the series is a moot point. Without a doubt though, it is the most iconic Bond film.
Where Goldfinger went big, Thunderball went bigger. Back came the DB5 for the pre-title sequence as well as a Bell-Textron jet pack in this story of SPECTRE holding the West to ransom after hijacking a Vulcan bomber loaded with two atomic bombs; again the series taps into the threat of vaporisation by nuclear weapons.
Filmed largely in The Bahamas, the underwater scenes are sometimes criticised for slowing the film down and making it difficult to follow, but it has a great John Barry score and Sean Connery is in fine form as 007.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
After the success of Thunderball, Eon radically shifted the series in a new direction with You Only Live Twice, dropping Ian Fleming’s story completely and retaining the Japanese locations and the character names. Instead the producers brought in Roald Dahl to write the screenplay.
The film sees SPECTRE meddling in the space race between the United States and USSR going on at the time. It was released 18 months before Apollo 8 became the first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon and a two full years before the Apollo 11 Moon landing.
With Sean Connery announcing the film as his last appearance as 007 the pressure was really on the producers; Sean Connery WAS James Bond. How could the series continue without him?
Although it may have been inconceivable for many that the James Bond films could continue without Sean Connery, the producers had every intention of ploughing on regardless. George Lazenby had huge shoes to fill after Connery and his lack of acting experience shows. However, offsetting that are some great action sequences in Swiss Alps, the terrific Piz Gloria and what many fans consider to be the best John Barry score.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is also notable for returning the films to Ian Fleming’s work and is a faithful adaptation of the novel. Lazenby quit after just one film following bad advice from his manager, but if he had remained no doubt he would have grown into the role and had the physicality required of Bond.
His determination in landing the role is a lesson to us all that if there is something you want badly enough you should just keep going and make it happen. That much he achieved absolutely.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
In the four years since his last outing as 007 Connery had put on weight and with the 1970s came a new fashion sense for Bond. In many ways Diamonds Are Forever is the first film of what we typically think of as Roger Moore era, with an excessive use of comedy that verges on slapstick and further distances the series from Ian Fleming.
The film has its moments, such as the first fight in the lift in Amsterdam and Connery, although not at his prime, sometimes delivers some good one-liners. But that car chase seems more Dukes of Hazard than James Bond and prefigures Sheriff JW Pepper, introduced with Roger Moore’s debut as 007.
Roger Moore played Bond as very different character to Connery, playing up the charm and humour while downplaying the physicality. The Roger Moore era became known for the double entendres and girls falling into bed with him at the mere hint of an eyebrow raise.
Live And Let Die has little to do with Ian Fleming, even dropping Jamaica as a setting. Although partly filmed in Jamaica it was set on the fictional Caribbean island of San Monique and much of the action takes place in Louisiana. Borrowing heavily on the Blaxploitation movies popular at the time, Live And Let Die was a world away from the films made just a decade before.
The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
Quickly following on from Live And Let Die came Roger Moore’s second Bond film. While it is dismissed by many Bond fans as one of the weakest in the series it does at least have the benefit of a great villain in the shape of Scaramanga, played by Christopher Lee, and one of the most collectible items in the shape of the Golden Gun.
While hardly a classic, it does at least have a John Barry score, but the film sees the return of JW Pepper and Mary Goodnight, played by Britt Ekland, appears to be in the film only so she can be rescued from whatever trouble she gets herself into.On the other hand it does have one of the great Bond villain lairs, an island northeast of Phuket now known as James Bond Island.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Three years after The Man With The Golden Gun and the first with Cubby Broccoli as sole producer, The Spy Who Loved Me is the film in which Roger Moore found his feet as Bond; perhaps the reason he cites it as his favourite Bond.
The film has what have become classic moments from the Bond films. There is the sickening leap into the abyss after the pre-titles ski chase, ending with a Union Jack parachute; there is Jaws; and of course there is the submersible Lotus Esprit. While many Bond fans would not want this style of gadget to return to the series they do recognise them as being as iconic to the Roger Moore era as the DB5 and vodka martini were to Sean Connery.
After the success of The Spy Who Loved Me, the next James Bond film was planned to be For Your Eyes Only. However, after the huge success of Star Wars in 1977 Broccoli decided to ride the science fiction boom that followed. Moonraker was the one Ian Fleming title that suggested space.
It has little to do with Ian Fleming’s book and instead of Hugo Drax designing and building an independent nuclear capable ICBM for Britain, he finances a fleet of space shuttles out of his own pocket. The film is again directed by Lewis Gilbert who essentially remakes his previous film, The Spy Who Loved Me.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
After the excesses of Moonraker, 007 was brought back to earth with a film that revisits the Cold War and successfully combines two of Ian Fleming’s short stories (the title story and Risico). John Glen’s directorial debut tones down the gadgets and instead relies more on action sequences.
These include the scene from the novel Live And Let Die in which Bond and the girl are towed by a boat over razor-sharp coral. It hadn’t been used in the film of the same name. Other memorable moments include the assault on the Monastery in Greece and the moment Bond flips Locke over the side of the cliff in his car. Moore didn’t want to do that scene as he wanted to portray Bond as a reluctant killer, but here was Bond back with the same kind of ruthlessness that shot Professor Dent all those years previously in Dr No.
After several years of legal wrangling, Octopussy was in the unusual position of having a rival James Bond film to contend with. Never Say Never Again was released later the same year. Taking the title of a short story by Ian Fleming, the story uses elements of The Property of a Lady.
Little else of Fleming is retained in the film, although the back-story of the title character’s father, completely thrown away in the film, is based on Fleming’s story. And the game of backgammon in which Bond exposes Kamal Khan as a cheat is clearly inspired by Bond’s card game against Sir Hugo Drax in Moonraker.
A View To A Kill (1985)
Roger Moore’s swansong is one of the more forgettable of the series, with the actor too old to be credible as either action hero or eyebrow raising seducer. The film’s title comes from the short story From A View To A Kill, although for some reason it was felt necessary to shorten it. The only tenuous connection the film has with Ian Fleming’s original though is Paris, with neither characters nor plot being used in any form.
Instead the story is contemporary, with villain Max Zorin planning to destroy Silicon Valley in order to monopolise the production of microchips. While 007 is at least spared dressing as a clown, there is just too much wrong with the film; the car stunts in Paris are pure slapstick and Bond’s escape on a fire engine in San Francisco seems tired.
The next actor to land the role of 007 was Timothy Dalton, who had first been offered the role for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. A much more serious actor that Roger Moore, Dalton had performed on stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the early 1970s and, as a fan of Ian Fleming, reread the original books to prepare for the role.
The film uses the Fleming story from which it takes its title, although it is stripped right to its core and lacks the drama of the original short. And because this was the era in which AIDS first came to prominence, with doomsayers predicting the end of humanity, the producers decided that Bond wouldn’t sleep with any women in the film. There are some good action scenes, particularly the fight on the cargo plane, and the film marks a welcome return towards taking themselves more seriously again.
Licence To Kill (1989)
Although not everyone was convinced by Dalton’s take on James Bond, his first film beat Roger Moore’s last two Bond films in box office takings. His second Bond film though, Licence To Kill, was not so successful and saw a considerable drop in box office revenue; in fact, when adjusted for inflation it is the least successful Bond film of all.
Although it is the first Bond film not to use a Fleming title, Licence To Kill was once again partly based on Ian Fleming; part of the story, including Felix Leiter being fed to the sharks, is taken from Live And let Die. The film sees Bond go rogue after being suspended from MI6, a plot device overused in the recent films, and was more violent than any previous entry in the series.
Pierce Brosnan was finally announced as 007 in June 1994 after Remington Steele had derailed him previously. Originally Cubby Broccoli had picked Brosnan for The Living Daylights. He became a massively popular choice over his four films.
Goldeneye not only introduced a new James Bond, but was the first film of the series to be released after the fall of the Berlin Wall and many wondered if James Bond was still relevant in a post-Cold War world. Apart from a new 007, the series brought in a female M for the first time in the series, played by Judi Dench, while Samantha Bond was brought in as the new Miss Moneypenny; and the real life MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall Cross was used for the first time.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Pierce Brosnan’s second Bond film starts out well but suffers from a largely bland villain, Elliot Carver, although he was modelled on larger than life media mogul Robert Maxwell. The story is inventive enough and brings 007 right up to date, something done frequently in the series, but somehow just isn’t sufficiently Bondian.
This is also the first attempt at featuring a female counterpart of Bond who is his equal in the shape of Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin. While Elliot Carver makes for a pretty uninteresting villain, there are some good characters. Terry Hatcher appears as his wife, Paris, eventually becoming the sacrificial lamb. A previous girlfriend of Bond, Paris Carver provides a glimpse into Bond’s past and, for him, some soul searching.
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Pierce Brosnan’s third 007 movie opens with what could have been the almost the perfect pre-title sequence but it goes on for much too long, underlining that less is more when it comes to pre-titles. Interestingly, the pre-title sequence was originally planned to end just after he escapes from the office in Bilbao, with the London scenes following the titles.
The film is the first to be written by the much-maligned Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Bruce Feirstein also received a credit) and is notable for using some elements of Ian Fleming’s books, however small; Valentin Zukovsky’s gun stick is borrowed directly from Casino Royale, for example. The World Is Not Enough also appears to borrow from Colonel Sun, which also features M being captured and held by the villain. No acknowledgement of this is made, although it seems unlikely that Eon could have been unaware of this similarity.
Die Another Day (2002)
Die Another Day is one of the films held in least regard by Bond fans, which is curious since it is partly based on Moonraker, the film version of which is also reviled. More than anything though it is an uneven film, with the first half provising a solid start.
The film coincided with the fortieth anniversary of Dr No and so it was decided to include a number of nods to previous films. While this may have seemed like a good idea, rather than take a subtle approach most were glaringly obvious. Perhaps the best was the inclusion of the book A Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies by the ornithologist James Bond while Bond is in Cuba.
While Cubby Broccoli had rejected Wilson’s idea to reboot the series in 1987 with The Living Daylights, that is exactly what he and Barbara Broccoli decided to do with Casino Royale. And by bringing back the grittiness first seen in Timothy Dalton’s films it underlined that the back to basics approach could work as long as the timing was right.
Casino Royale was the Bond film many of the older fans had been waiting for decades. Returning to the first Ian Fleming novel as its basis and then enlarging the plot to allow much more action, it was the best Bond film for years and clear that James Bond could continue to remain popular for twenty-first century audiences. Daniel Craig had not been an obvious choice and was unpopular with some. But his portrayal of James Bond proved to be exactly what was needed.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
As well as being the first direct sequel in the entire James Bond series, Quantum of Solace is also the shortest Bond film, coming in at 106 minutes, and stylistically very different. On the whole fans were disappointed by the new film after the success of Casino Royale.
Sequences such as the car chase in the pre-title sequence were rendered less successful than might have been expected because of extremely fast cuts and shaky camera work. This technique had been used in the Jason Bourne films and designed to add a sense of urgency to the action, but was widely criticised for use in a James Bond film.
Much of Skyfall is set in London and Scotland. But while London is an essential location to James Bond it should never be the main one. Ian Fleming made a similar mistake when he wrote Moonraker, which largely took place in London and Kent and led a number of readers to complain to Fleming.
The good news is that the film picks up again as soon as James Bond turns on the engine of his Aston Martin DB5 and heads for Scotland. The success of Skyfall – it was the first Bond film to exceed $1 billion worldwide at the box office – ensured that the producers went out of their way to entice Sam Mendes back for the next film.
With Eon gaining the rights to use SPECTRE and Blofeld after reaching an agreement with the heirs of Kevin McClory in 2013, they not only decided to use the villainous organisation in the 24th film in the series but name the film after it. While not as well received as Skyfall, SPECTRE did provide a great opening sequence set in Mexico City as well as locations in Rome and Tangier. It is also notable for having the Aston Martin DB10 designed specifically for filming.
Although Ernst Stavro Blofeld was reintroduced, along with SPECTRE, many fans considered it a stretch too far for him to be Bond’s foster brother. And while Mr Hinx was a good henchman he was killed off too soon. The main issue though is the last act, which remains a mess despite the rewrites.
Currently we don’t know if Bond 25 will be part of the Daniel Craig era or if it will be the start of a new one. Watch this space.