This month, Daniel Craig, 53, steps into the role of James Bond for the last time in the much-delayed No Time to Die, which finally hits theaters on Oct. 8. But how will his fifth outing rank among the franchise’s best? Over the decades, the films have swung wildly between gritty realism and campy indulgence, often reflecting outdated attitudes toward women and reacting to the cinematic trends of the day — from Cold War intrigue to kung-fu fighting to CGI spectacles. Everyone has a favorite Bond actor and era, but here are our choices for the best and worst of the bunch. If our ranking leaves you shaken or stirred, sound off in the comments with your picks!
THE BEST BOND MOVIE COUNTDOWN
5: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
The Bond: George Lazenby, 82
The plot: Lazenby was an Australian model with no acting experience when he was hired to replace Sean Connery, but he acquitted himself rather nicely in his one and only turn as Bond. He’s helped along by a deliciously devious plot by supervillain Blofeld (Telly Savalas), who has brainwashed 12 beautiful “Angels of Death” from around the globe to contaminate the world’s food supply and thus sterilize all livestock and agricultural plants.
The best part: Hot off her star-making turn in The Avengers, Diana Rigg stars as Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo, the only Bond girl to ever really marry James — not counting undercover schemes.
Watch it: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, on Pluto TV (free)
4: Skyfall (2012)
The Bond: Daniel Craig
The plot: Craig’s third go-round as Bond had prestige written all over it: It was directed by American Beauty Oscar winner Sam Mendes (56) and costarred two other Academy Award honorees, Judi Dench (86) as M, the head of MI6, and Javier Bardem (52) as Raoul Silva, an ex-MI6 agent–turned–cyberterrorist. The film is best remembered for its show-stopping set piece at Skyfall, the Bond family estate in the Scottish Highlands, where Bond, M and gamekeeper Kincade (Albert Finney) lure Silva and set up a series of elaborate booby traps.
The best part: Amazingly, Adele’s title tune was the first Bond theme to win an Academy Award for best original song; it also picked up a Grammy.
Watch it: Skyfall, on Hulu
3: From Russia with Love (1963)
The Bond: Sean Connery
The plot: Connery himself cited this second Bond film as his favorite in the series, and it’s not hard to see the appeal: It’s a stripped-down affair, without any of the campy contrivances that would come to define the next few decades of 007 films, and it feels more like a realistic Cold War thriller. (Perhaps it’s no coincidence that JFK listed the Ian Fleming source novel as one of his top 10 books!) In the film, Bond sets off to Istanbul to retrieve a decoding device and assist Soviet consulate clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi, 79) in her defection, but he soon realizes he’s part of a cat-and-mouse game with the evil SPECTRE organization.
The best part: One of the best fight sequences in the entire franchise is Bond’s bruising brawl with suave SPECTRE assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw) in a cramped train compartment aboard the Orient Express.
Watch it: From Russia with Love, on Pluto TV (free)
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2: Casino Royale (2006)
The Bond: Daniel Craig
The plot: After a decade or two of lighthearted fare, the franchise got back to basics with this gritty reboot that does away with the gadgetry, hokey humor and sexual puns. A steely-eyed Craig stars as James Bond at the beginning of his career as Agent 007, and his mission involves a high-stakes poker game opposite criminal financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen, 55) at the title casino in Montenegro. The filming locations are glamorous (especially swoon-worthy Venice), the stakes are real (Bond is brutally tortured), and Chris Cornell’s theme song, “You Know My Name,” was a hard-rocking hit.
The best part: Whip smart and sophisticated, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) redefined Bond girls for a modern era, with a complexity that moved well beyond the sexist tropes of the past.
1: Goldfinger (1964)
The Bond: Sean Connery
The plot: The third Bond film and undoubtedly the first blockbuster in the series, Goldfinger would set the template for all 007 films that followed. It’s blessed with among the franchise’s most memorable supervillains (Auric Goldfinger, played by Gert Fröbe), henchmen (Oddjob, played by Harold Sakata), Bond girls (Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman), theme songs (see below!), cars (it marks the first appearance of his Aston Martin DB5) and grisly deaths — remember Bond girl Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton, 84) suffocating from being covered in gold paint?
The best part: The title song by Welsh vocal powerhouse Shirley Bassey, 84, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and ranked number 53 on AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Songs list.
Watch it: Goldfinger, on Amazon Prime
THE WORST BOND MOVIE COUNTDOWN
5: The World Is Not Enough (1999)
The Bond: Pierce Brosnan, 68
The plot: The third Brosnan Bond outing was not without its fans: Roger Ebert, for instance, called it “a splendid comic thriller, exciting and graceful, endlessly inventive.” When an ex-KGB agent (Robert Carlyle, 60) assassinates a British oil tycoon, Bond is tasked with protecting his daughter, Elektra (Sophie Marceau, 54), and he later uncovers a nuclear plot hatched by an unexpected foe. The movie is not as ludicrous as some other entries on this list, but it all just feels a bit lackluster, with goofy gadgets that include paraglider/snowmobile hybrids and an inflatable ski jacket that turns into a hamster ball/igloo.
The worst part: In a 2008 fan poll, nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards, 50) was ranked the worst Bond girl of all time, and Richards won worst supporting actress at the 1999 Golden Raspberry Awards — sort of like the Oscars in reverse.
Watch it: The World Is Not Enough, on Pluto TV (free)
4: The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
The Bond: Roger Moore
The plot: To capitalize on the 1970s kung fu craze, producers infused this Roger Moore entry with martial arts, leading to a silly fight scene in which two teenage girls beat up an entire dojo and then high-five. Christopher Lee — Ian Fleming’s step-cousin! — steals the show as the assassin Francisco Scaramanga, who comes with a memorable sidekick played by Fantasy Island’s Hervé Villechaize. But even Lee can’t escape the wackiness unscathed: Nobody knows what Scaramanga looks like, so he’s only identifiable by his third nipple. Yes, really.
The worst part: Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland, 78), known for her dimwittedness and naivete, marks another regrettable instance of Bond-girl misogyny; at one point, she even finds herself accidentally locked inside Bond’s hotel closet. Cringe.
3: Die Another Day (2002)
The Bond: Pierce Brosnan
The plot: Halle Berry, 55, kicks major butt as NSA agent Jinx Johnson, but the rest of the film is an over-the-top slog, involving superweapons that concentrate sunlight, Bond surfing on an iceberg-filled tsunami, and a North Korean plot to reunify the peninsula. Worst of all, the movie represents the excesses that would come to define 21st-century blockbusters: too much CGI, absurd gadgets (an invisible car!), and so much product placement that some critics called it “Buy Another Day.” Even Roger Moore weighed in: “I thought it just went too far — and that's from me, the first Bond in space! Invisible cars and dodgy CGI footage? Please!”
The worst part: Critics were divided over the dance-heavy Madonna-sung theme song. It was nominated for a Golden Globe and two Grammys but also for worst original song at the Golden Raspberry Awards, where Madonna won worst supporting actress for her cameo as a fencing instructor.
Watch it: Die Another Day, on Pluto TV (free)
2: A View to a Kill (1985)
The Bond: Roger Moore
The plot: The Duran Duran title track is a knockout (the only Bond theme to hit No. 1 on the charts), and Christopher Walken, 78, and Grace Jones, 73, are clearly having a blast as a Boris-and-Natasha-like dastardly duo. But the plot is a total mess: Walken plays Max Zorin, a psychopathic businessman (the result of Nazi genetic experimentation) who plans to corner the microchip market by destroying Silicon Valley.
The worst part: Moore was 57 at the time of filming, and he had little chemistry with geologist Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts), who was 28 years his junior (cue more cringe). He reportedly decided to leave the franchise when he found out he was older than Roberts’ mother.
Watch it: A View to a Kill, on Pluto TV (free)
1: Casino Royale (1967)
The Bond: David Niven!
The plot: There’s much debate about whether this spy spoof even counts as an official Bond film, but it was loosely based on an Ian Fleming novel, it features many of the franchise’s most beloved characters and it even boasts a solid theme song, the Oscar-nominated “The Look of Love.” Just don’t try to follow the confounding plot, which was helmed by five different directors! When SMERSH begins assassinating secret agents, Bond comes out of retirement and recruits a team of six other “James Bonds,” including baccarat master Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers) and ex-spy Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress, 85). There’s a flying saucer, an atomic bomb hidden inside a pill, and a biological weapon to kill all men taller than 4 feet 6 inches. Austin Powers did it better.
The worst part: The most unforgivable thing about the movie is how it wastes an all-star cast that includes Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, William Holden, Jacqueline Bisset and John Huston.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.