The James Bond Theme: has it had its day?

James Bond Theme 45 RPM

One thing that disappointed me in Skyfall was the absence of the James Bond theme at the start of the film and I think we can safely say it’s not going to return there any time soon now the precedent has been set. But to me it makes no sense having it at the end of the film as it was always at the start to build adrenaline.

At the end of a film that job has (hopefully) already been done.

With Sam Mendes now confirmed as director for Bond 24 no doubt we can expect Thomas Newman on board for the score, which to me is a shame as I think David Arnold is a much better job in both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

One evening during the summer while walking in my garden I came to the end of a podcast and decided on some music to follow it. I flipped though my iPhone and, for whatever reason, picked David Arnold’s arrangement of the James Bond theme (Casino Royale), written by Monty Norman for Dr No and arranged by John Barry for his orchestra.

I remember being introduced to the original by my dad, who owned a vinyl 45 of it (now in my collection) that I always loved, as I think many people do and it is certainly a contender for the most successful example of audio branding ever; in my mind only Star Wars gets close.

The James Bond Theme is exciting; it’s brash, bold and it’s brassy with the fusion of jazz and rock creating pure excitement at the beginning of the James Bond films for so many years. And, even when just a few notes are played, it has the power to instantly conjure up the 007 genie.

However, listening to the Bond Theme blasting over my headphones on that summer evening and coming to the realisation of how oldfashioned and outdated it really is – clearly a product of the 1960s – I began wondering if, however much I love it, perhaps the producers were right to remove it from the start of the recent films as they owe little in style to the early movies.

That isn’t something I’d really like to see happen and was simply the result of my mind wandering off on a tangent on a pleasant summer evening – I don’t necessarily agree with everything I think. But with the James Bond Theme relegated to the end of the films now, would it make any difference at all?

So is it time to ditch the James Bond theme, or should it perhaps be modernised and updated? Does it deserve still to open the films, or is it better at the end? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

David Leigh founded The James Bond Dossier in 2002. A fan of 007 since the age of 8, he is also author of The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond. You can order a copy here if you don't own it already.

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8 Responses to “The James Bond Theme: has it had its day?”

  • claudio

    I always found ANY arrangement of the theme… THRILLING and EXCITING! And the climax scenes in Bond movies should contain some reference (maybe only few notes) to it.
    It’s a classic (like the 5 notes on opening of 5th Symphony that brings you directly to Beethoven)… so it would have made Skyfall even better

  • Joe Stefanelli

    There are certain things that make up a James Bond picture. Certain kinds of music and most certainly the James Bond theme. That NEVER goes out of style. This music is intrinsic to what IS a James Bond film. Yes…you should rework, update and modernize the theme..but it MUST remain. Otherwise it’s just an ordinary film….not a James Bond film. I believe Mendes got the message after getting an earful regarding the utter lack of “James Bond” music in Casino Royale …He really made up for it in Skyfall. However, I would like to see a return of the JB theme incorporated into the title tracks as they used to do. That would be a small yet very effective thing they could do. Off the top of my head Shirley Bassy’s Goldfinger and Tom Jones’s Thunderball come to mind as having the James Bond theme incorporated into their songs. I think there were more…but they should definitely think about doing that again.

  • Guy Mac

    Are you kidding? Of course, you have to keep the James Bond theme just as you have to keep the gun barrel opening. These are the only things that keep the continuity of the films..that make it James Bond. Without them, Daniel Craig might as well be Jason Bourne.

  • David Leigh

    That’s the point Guy – there is no gunbarrel opening any more.

  • John

    I believe Sam Mendes originally intended to have the gun barrel opening with Skyfall but dropped it because it clashed a bit with the opening scene (which is still pretty cool). I’m guessing the gun barrel sequence will be reinstated at the beginning of Bond 24. Also, Mendes had nothing to do with Casino Royale. That was Martin Campbell.

  • Dennis Smith

    For me, the inclusion of the Bond theme and the gun barrel sequence at the start of the movie, heralded the start of a bond movie. With out this, then you’re sitting down to an above average thriller. Even when Bond introduced himself, the theme added a touch of menace to the moment. In conclusion, please bring it back for the next movie and the gun barrel sequence too.

  • Rhett

    The James Bond theme is a key part of the EON trademark. Without it, you have Never Say Never Again.

    Putting aside the theme’s value to the brand, I think if they were to omit it from any edition to the franchise, they’d risk losing control of it (as the U.K. Police lost control of the blue police call box to the BBC).

    Also, because it is so tightly associated with the brand, they could risk being sued by their many partners who rely on the franchise to deliver a specific kind of lifestyle message and certain minimum number of eyes in the theater to see the products they pay to place in the films.

    As to the use in the films, I think it’s most powerful when used sparingly and woven into the musical tapestry as David Arnold did in his brilliant score for Quantum of Solace.

    Used in the full, Dr. No-esque brass arrangement, the theme screams “James Bond is awesome!!!”, over and over again while the brass triggers our own nostalgia for a seemingly more stylish and innocent time. Used throughout the film, over and over, it begins to feel strident, as if the producers themselves are not certain this is James Bond, as in the Brosnan years. Woven in as Arnold did in QoS, it feels organic.

    For the first 20 films, I think opening the film with some version of the theme (and gun barrel sequence) served to signal the audience that we, much like the product placement partners, were going to get a certain brand of entertainment that would be exciting, stylish and relatively light fare. Given the current mood of the films, which, thus far, end on a down note, I think putting the theme at the end works well to remind us, the audience, that it’s all okay; however dark this ending may be, James Bond is, and will continue to be, awesome. Putting the theme at the beginning could jeopardize (or at least contradict) the gravitas that follows.

    I agree that David Arnold is the better composer for the series. He pulls off the magic trick that John Barry did brilliantly which was write a score that made us think the films were more emotionally rich and, perhaps, more dangerous than they really were. Newman is a fine composer but I don’t think he really undetands the malaise at the heart of Bond. He writes a much more emotionally detached score. And he relies on taiko drums to build excitement which makes the film feel ever so slightly like a Michael Bay production.

  • Edgar

    Insightful comment, Rhett. I will review the what I found a bore, QoS, just for the music.