Got some time on your hands right? Well now is a perfect time to sit down and enjoy all that the longest-running movie franchise in history has to offer. That would be the 24 James Bond movies, but if you don’t want to sit through all of them, here are the ones that deserve a second chance.
I’ve reviewed my opinion of the best 10 Bond movies exist on Jalopnik already, so this exploration is taking you to the next level of the Bond canon. You’ve probably seen the most popular movies, and that’s for a reason. They all tend to align to fundamentals of the franchise, all tend to be at the midpoint of their Bond actor’s careers at the height of their popularity, and they’ve all been on repeat since they came out.
Now let’s look at how those surface-level details of fashion, travel, sex and violence refract stranger and stranger in the franchise’s outliers. To me, these are the Bond movies that strayed from the beaten path, either by scaling down the stakes, pushing Bond as a character, or abandoning tradition to reflect the contemporary styles and stories. These are my picks to watch right now, since you’ve seen the other ones way too many times.
From Russia With Love
Indiana Jones had the Nazis, James Bond had S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and the Russians.
Though, perhaps one of the most fascinating political implications of a huge swatch of the Bond films is how often the Soviet Union actually wasn’t the bad guy. Instead, the plots more often ending up showing a sort-of friendly game of who could out-spy the other.
That’s most apparent in Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Cold War truly began to go cold and the movies reflected that with Bond teaming up with a Russian spy in The Spy Who Loved Me, or the fantastic ending of For Your Eyes Only (another movie on this list, stay tuned), or Bond stopping a nuke from going off in East Germany in Octopussy.
But that theme of enemy-of-my-enemy first cropped up all the way back in 1963’s From Russia With Love, the followup to the first Bond movie, Dr. No. They already had the flashy title sequence after an early cliffhanger tease. You had a plot involving a Russian consulate agent allegedly falling in love with a file photo of the British spy, James Bond (of course)—a cover for a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. plot to steal a piece of Soviet technology using a turned Soviet field operative. There’s Q., there’s gadgets, and there’s the great Pedro Armendáriz as Kerim Bey.
This is truly a James Bond epic, modelled intentionally after Hitchcock’s North By Northwest. A cat-and-mouse across Europe featuring boat chases, train fights, and helicopter bombings—this blockbuster does more than just hold up for its age.
From Russia With Love is available to stream on Stan and Foxtel Now.
Quantum Of Solace
The hardcore James Bond that almost was.
Quantum Of Solace is the first “direct sequel” in the Bond franchise, with the story taking place just a few beats after the ending of 2006’s Casino Royale.
That had been Daniel Craig’s first as James Bond. Where it established him as a suave, ego-driven wrecking-ball with a capacity to love, the sequel was meant to cement Craig as a new kind of James Bond.
This movie’s production was plagued by the writer’s strike of 2007 messing up the scripting process, with stories of rewrites on set as they were filming, and injuries to Craig during shooting. The result is the shortest Bond movie ever—a revenge thriller propped up by a plot to steal water from South America.
Moulded after the Bourne franchise that had become popular in the new millennium, Quantum Of Solace was meant to be a harder-edged Bond who got bloody, tore his suit, and stopped at nothing—a far cry from the course-correcting cufflink-correcting Bond who Craig would portray just four years later in Skyfall.
And, oh god, the cars.
It’s available to stream on Stan and Foxtel Now.
For Your Eyes Only
This one we mentioned earlier as another movie where Bond is after the Soviets so much as he’s working against them toward something else. That something else is a decoder again, which tends to be the MacGuffin of choice for Bond movies.
But that’s the subplot to a story set in Greece, with Bond teaming up with the daughter of two slain archaeologists. It has some really cringy stuff in the middle featuring a very young actress that has not aged well and can’t be justified. I usually skip those parts. The rest of the movie is great.
Do you want to see a car chase featuring a bright yellow Citroen 2CV or not?
For Your Eyes Only is currently available to stream on Foxtel Now.
Licence To Kill
Think Miami Vice with a British accent. It’s the 1980s baby, and James Bond is going for the drugs.
This is the most brutal fucking James Bond movie you will ever see. And yeah, I know about the one where he gets his balls bashed. I won’t tell you why it’s so brutal, but it involves a lot of people getting turned into a lot of pieces, multiple times. Not necessarily gory. Just brutal.
If that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will. Licence To Kill is currently available to stream on Foxtel Now.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
This is the big one for me. I get very frustrated when people haven’t seen the sixth James Bond movie because it’s the only one with actor George Lazenby as James Bond, the first replacement for Sean Connery.
This movie is great! The cinematography is stunning, it stars Diana Rigg, she drives a car in a car chase, Bond gets married, there’s a plot to take over the world with mind-controlled women, and there’s Diana Rigg!
I previously ranked this one of the best Bond movies ever, and it still is to this day. It will surprise you, so get to it during quarantine. There’s a lot of Bond movies to catch up on for the 25th movie coming out later this year, No Time To Die.
You can catch it on Stan and Foxtel Now.