It's that time of year once again: the leaves turn, there's a chill in the air, the house fills with the smells of Thanksgiving dinner, and from another room you hear the distinct sound of your dad snoozing through a James Bond marathon.
In the year since we last ranked the Bond films, the world lost Roger Moore and learned that Daniel Craig would be returning for Bond 25. In pouring one out for Sir Roger, do we find ourselves more accepting of his sillier entries? Does knowing that Spectre isn't Craig's final Bond change its aftertaste? Our love for the franchise is an organic, evolving thing, and as such we're taking this opportunity to revisit our rankings and see what's remained constant, and what's changed from last year.
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Previous ranking: 25 What we said last year: "The worst Bond films are the unremarkable ones, and almost nothing in Pierce Brosnan's third at-bat is remarkable. Despite some great ideas on paper -- a slowly-dying adversary who can't feel pain! The gorgeous, damsel-in-distress Bond girl is secretly the villain! -- the execution is bored and boring, delivered like a tepid tray of beige leftovers by a drowsy lunch lady. Points for a rousing pre-title sequence on the Thames, and a decent title song by Garbage." What we think now: Some Spectre viewers might disagree, but the worst Bond film has yet to be outdone. You can see Pierce Brosnan aiming for something more, but he's shackled to a clunky machine that, as of 1999, wasn't receptive to any attempts at an upgrade.
24. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Previous ranking: 24 What we said last year: "It's telling that Pierce Brosnan admits to being unable to differentiate his last three Bond gigs in his memory. His second 007 adventure, against a media tycoon who wants to start World War III for...reasons, is an absolute miasma of blandness. Reviewed in close proximity to one another, Brosnan's run is marred by the stale delivery of warmed over Roger Moore-era puns, a legitimately gross dynamic between Bond and Moneypenny, and a plastic 90s aesthetic that leaves one cold; this film is a prime example. Silver lining: buried in here is a wonderful turn by the late Vincent Schiavelli as a persnickety assassin." What we think now: Tomorrow Never Dies was in danger of swapping with The World Is Not Enough for last place, but the Vincent Schiavelli scene, kd lang's end credits banger "Surrender," and the remixed Bond theme by Moby (it's...on the Blu-ray menu -- that counts, right?) raise it above that film. Barely.
23. Die Another Day (2002)
Previous ranking: 22 What we said last year: "Popularly decried as the 'worst Bond film ever,' Pierce Brosnan's swan song is actually ripening into an enjoyably silly outing. Boasting an invisible car, a henchman with diamonds in his face, and a plot that's quietly lifting from Fleming's Moonraker (one of the best of the original novels), Eon's 20th installment at least goes for it -- unlike Brozzer's tepid middle two entries. It's a mess, but time has given it a camp watchability. (Madonna's theme song? Still an aural crime.)" What we think now: This one is always going to circle the bottom of the bowl, but we stand by the assertion that if a Bond movie has to be bad, it should at least be ridiculous. Mission accomplished here, via an invisible car and a villain who changes his race via gene therapy. Really.
22. Spectre (2015)
Previous ranking: 19 What we said last year: "Bond films are often judged not on quality, but on a ratio of expectation vs. delivery. It's not that Spectre is so terrible; it's just that the return of Blofeld needed to be great, and boy was it not. Spectre half-asses the iconic villain and his eponymous Evildoers Club in an ill-advised bid for trendy (and narratively stifling) continuity, and many Bond fans were (rightly) left aghast. When those wounds heal over, Spectre will take its place where it belongs: comfortably in the bottom half of a list that's got no shortage of snoozers on it. 007's train fight opposite Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) is still a legitimately great Bond Moment." What we think now: Time is kind to bad Bond films (see A View To A Kill and Die Another Day); their problems tend to be forgiven as they ripen into enjoyably dated entertainments. We're not there yet with Spectre. Still love that train fight, though!
Previous ranking: 20 What we said last year: "Known today as 'a movie that managed to be released theatrically while being called Octopussy,' Roger Moore's penultimate go-round is a fairly generic affair, with notable moments that include a legitimately thrilling, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation-esque plane stunt, using Indian street beggars as obstacles during a chase, and having 007 defuse a bomb in full clown makeup." What we think now: There's nothing inherently wrong with Octopussy; it's game and does its level best to provide a solid entertainment. It's just that the whole thing is at this point settling into a sleepy routine, and if you come to Bond films for cozy comfort, odds are this will rank much more highly for you.
20. A View To a Kill (1985)
Previous ranking: 23 What we said last year: "It's a long-standing Bond tradition to end your run on a stinker. Connery did, Brosnan did, Craig maybe just did, and Roger Moore certainly did in this, his 7th Bond film. Moore affably ambles through a movie clearly designed for a younger 007 -- Bond invents snowboarding, gets a dope Duran Duran theme song, and faces off against a young Christopher Walken's genetically engineered Aryan Übermensch. But the 57 year-old actor (and the rest of MI6, looking like they're out on a day pass from an assisted living facility) had by now outstayed his welcome for two films, and it shows." What we think now: The passing of Sir Roger might have softened us somewhat on his final outing, but we've also come around on the old-school ridiculousness of Walken as possibly the first self-aware Bond villain performance, ably assisted by the incomparable Grace Jones. Together they brought a weirdo quality to the franchise that remained absent until Silva made his entrance in Skyfall.
19. Quantum Of Solace (2008)
Previous ranking: 15 What we said last year: "The victim of both the 2007 writers' strike and an ill-advised attempt to mimic Paul Greengrass' shooting style on the Bourne films, this entry's rejection of the formula is today a welcome oasis in any marathon viewing. Doubt if you must, but after watching Bond save the world in a string of overlong epics, a 106-minute adventure in which 007 rescues Bolivia from having a water bill increase might be just what the doctor ordered." What we think now: A recent rewatch of Daniel Craig's sophomore effort has not been kind. The nightmarish, mid-'00s trend of orange-teal color grading is in full effect, and blame Hollywood labor issues all day, but the script is riddled with "trailer speak," those pithy lines which sound great out of context but just don't add up to much as a whole. Craig's dark energy was still fresh in 2008, but if we're being honest there's a little too much Zoolander-esque "Blue Steel" going on here.
18. Never Say Never Again (1983)
Previous ranking: 18 What we said last year: "I know, I know, this one isn't canon, you're screaming, spittle foaming in the corners of your mouth as you pull tufts of hair from your head. But when Connery plays James Bond, it counts. End of story. This remake of Thunderball has a zippy energy the original doesn't (courtesy of Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner), a decent Blofeld in Max Von Sydow, and Bernie Casey as Felix Leiter. To top it off, Sean Connery is more engaged here than he was in at least two of his 'official' entries." What we think now: The unofficial Bond still sits in the middle of the pack, refusing to be dismissed. Out of Africa actor Klaus Maria Brandauer is one of the best actors to essay a Bond villain, and the film boasts the only instance you'll ever find of 007 dancing a waltz. Or playing a video game.
Previous ranking: 17 What we said last year: "Another popular punching bag, Timothy Dalton's second and last appearance as Bond suffered from a clipped budget and a grim tone (the latter a result of the franchise's attempt to "get serious" and compete with the R-rated 80s antics of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis). Bond going rogue on a personal mission of revenge has kind of become de rigueur today, and in retrospect it makes Licence To Kill feel a bit ahead of its time. But released in the summer of 1989 against Batman, the film was roundly rejected, and took such a beating at the box office that no Bond film has ever been released in the summer since.") What we think now: This outlier, in which Bond goes on a personal mission of revenge, is garishly filmed, cheaply produced, and scored like a horror movie. These jarring departures make it stand out -- but sometimes you don't want a Bond film that stands out.
16. Moonraker (1979)
Previous ranking: 14 What we said last year: "The dirty little secret of Moonraker is that it's in many ways the same movie as its predecessor, The Spy Who Loved Me. But the marketing leaned so hard on that final half-hour in space, people forget it contains 90 minutes of what might be the most generic Bond film ever made -- globetrotting, henchmen fighting, lady-seducing. Rinse and repeat." What we think now: If this were a list ranking the "Most James Bond" James Bond movies, Moonraker would hover near the top. It's not that it's a bad Bond film; there's just SO much of it. Plugged into a marathon scenario, and this movie's endless running time (126 minutes that feels like forever) is even more acutely felt.
15. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
Previous ranking: 16 What we said last year: "Roger Moore's sophomore outing leaves a lot to be desired. But it's got an ugly tone that, while not suiting Moore at all, makes the film its own strange beast. Christopher Lee gives a creepily cheerful performance as Francisco Scaramanga, and Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) is one of the most beautiful Bond Girls in the series. But everyone is so absolutely hateful to one another -- Bond to Mary, M To Bond, M to Q, Bond to a hillbilly sheriff, Bond to a small Thai boy -- you can sort of see why reviews at the time claimed this film was the end of the line for the series." What we think now: The Man With The Golden Gun almost killed the franchise. But, while it's true that the formula is running out of steam here, the way it has one foot in cheesy ridiculousness -- Scaramanga's third nipple, a flying car, the pre-title sequence of actors made up as animatronic dummies -- makes it kind of precious today. And then there's Nick Nack. The movie is short on thrills but oozes personality.
14. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Previous ranking: 21 What we said last year: "Speaking of 'camp watchability,' that's about all Connery's sixth 007 outing has going for it (give or take a Lana Wood). Some fans will tell you that's enough, but we dare you to press play on this tired, grimy-looking entry and keep your eyes open all the way through. After skipping On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Connery returned to the role for a record paycheck (which he donated to charity) and sleepily strolls through a warmed over plot in full DGAF mode." What we think now: In many ways, Connery's one-and-done return to the role is as singular as the franchise's previous entry, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bearing little resemblance to the sexy cool of Connery's initial adventures, here the suave spy has aged into an accurate reflection of his male audience -- a little pudgy, too old and sloppy to either look cool in a casino or convincingly take Lana Wood to bed. You might think these things would drop the film further down the list, but we've grown rather affectionate toward this ugly little entry.
Previous ranking: 7 What we said last year: "Opening at Tracy Bond's grave (sorry, 'James Bond is a code name' gang), this back-to-basics entry was meant to do two things: reground the series after Moonraker; and usher in a new actor in the role of 007. Instead, Moore returned for his most grounded, mature adventure, the perfect note on which to exit the role. Then he did two more." What we think now: Serious Bond nuts will point to this film as Moore's most "mature" at-bat, and they're right. But is that really what we go to 007 for? The grounded plot and toned-down antics were certainly called for after Moonraker, but a fair amount of the heightened world of 007 was thrown out with the over-the-top bathwater.
12. You Only Live Twice (1967)
Previous ranking: 12 What we said last year: "There's lots of classic Bond iconography in this one: a volcano lair, a bald-and-scarred Blofeld (Donald Pleasence), a siege involving color-coordinated henchmen. And the plot involving hijacked space rockets and pitting world powers against each other is everything you expect from a 007 adventure. But there's also a moment in this film where you can actually see an exhausted Sean Connery deciding to quit. (Hint: he's buried in yellowface, looking seasick on a boat.) Highlight: 007 beats up The Rock's grandfather (Peter Maivia) with a sofa." What we think now: As the years go by, Connery's earlier performances as Bond emerge as the iconic ones; it will surprise no one to discover this is the film where Connery gave on-set interviews saying he was done with the role. But bored Connery still tops many other action heroes, and he ably carries this one all the way to Blofeld's volcano lair.
11. Thunderball (1965)
Previous ranking: 11 What we said last year: "There's an unofficial rule about a Bond actor's fourth film: it's epic, overstuffed, overlong, and kind of a mess. That rule was established here in Thunderball, and depending on your fondness for the Connery era you might be more or less forgiving in your ranking of this one. But give yourself over to the interminable underwater sequences and in-no-hurry pacing, and Sean Connery's victory lap after Goldfinger offers much in which to sit back and luxuriate. Bond in the Bahamas just feels correct, a proper SPECTRE blackmail plot is always more satisfying than the world domination stuff that followed, and the most beautiful array of co-stars with whom any Bond has ever shared the screen is nothing to sneeze at." What we think now: People hate Thunderball... but we can't. It's too perfectly cast, the direction's too dazzling, and John Barry's score is too beautiful for us to be objective. Everyone has a favorite Bond movie to doze off to; this is ours.
10. The Living Daylights (1987)
Previous ranking: 10 What we said last year: "Timothy Dalton is the best Bond who never got a great Bond movie. During the Dalton years Eon was trying to find its footing after more than a decade of complacency, and audiences were caught somewhat off-guard by Dalton's "back to Fleming" approach. Look at this film today, though -- somber, physical, beautifully shot -- and you'll see the seeds of what would eventually blossom during the Daniel Craig years." What we think now: The Living Daylights is The Deadly Serious 007, 19 years ahead of schedule. As big of a shock to the Roger Moore crowd as Daniel Craig was to the Brosnan fans, Timothy Dalton fearlessly reinvented the role -- but no one was having it. That's too bad. He's note-perfect as Fleming's steely-eyed assassin. The seeds for the 2006 reboot were sown in Dalton's grounded, moody debut.
Previous ranking: 5 What we said last year: "Bouncing back from an ill-fitting cruel streak that ran through his first two outings as 007, Roger Moore found his groove in his third shot at the role -- and by all accounts, saved the franchise. If Roger Moore is your Bond -- kinder, gentler, arch and smirking -- this is where he's at his most iconic. Add a megalomaniac villain (Curt Jurgens) with webbed hands, Richard Kiel's metal-mouthed Jaws, Carly Simon's smooth grooves on the opening credits and that amazing ski jump in the film's open, and you've got an all-timer." What we think now: The accepted classic of the Moore era, it has to be said that the film's legacy has been carried on some amazing stunts, an all-timer of a theme song, and a relaxed central performance. But the movie that houses these elements overstays its welcome, and did not prove to be the breeziest of rewatches.
8. GoldenEye (1995)
Previous ranking: 8 What we said last year: "After a six-year hiatus, the series returned for a new generation -- one whose '90s nostalgia frequently conflates this film with the immensely popular N64 video game of the same name. A shame, because Pierce Brosnan and director Martin Campbell delivered a largely outstanding Bond adventure, with a classic villain in former agent 006 (Sean Bean) and an iconic henchwoman in Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen). Judi Dench's no-nonsense, postmodern take on M was so indelible that a franchise reboot 11 years later couldn't resist carrying her over." What we think now: Pierce Brosnan, having had the role yanked away eight years earlier due to other contractual obligations, shows up here raring to go, and indeed the whole creative team -- stymied by legal problems that kept the series off the screen for six years -- let loose in Bond's return to the screen. They'd soon be worn down by the "every two years" cycle, but their enthusiasm and creativity are firing on all cylinders here.
7. Dr. No (1962)
Previous ranking: 9 What we said last year: "It's slow, it's low-budget, and it often feels like a Hammer film set in Jamaica, but 'the first James Bond movie!' (as it was billed in 1962) contains the crucial kernel of the entire franchise: Sean Connery's debut performance as James Bond. Tanned, sexy, more than a little cruel - movie audiences had never seen a Brit like this on screen, and they wanted more. Trigger warnings for days (racism, misogyny, multiple counts of yellowface) but without Connery's presence here, you simply don't have a franchise. It's simply one of the most iconic performances of the 20th century.") What we think now: Plainly stated, Dr. No is the first example of the modern action genre. It's a completely unprecedented piece of cinema, and it changed everything. Echoes of Connery's Bond would be felt in every action hero to follow, and it remains the touchstone for a 55-year franchise.
6. Live And Let Die (1973)
Previous ranking: 13 What we said last year: "One glance at this entry's source novel, and you realize that the Bond franchise's first black villain (Yaphet Kotto) could have been way more problematic. Reshaped and softened by screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, Roger Moore's first film as 007 is still a bit problematic but a whole lot weirder, with voodoo, a virgin clairvoyant, blaxploitation and Paul McCartney colliding in a colorful one-off that's maybe the last time the series went after the kinky travelogue vibe of the Fleming novels." What we think now: Roger Moore's James Bond took a couple movies to settle into place -- but settling and stagnation are next-door neighbors. That makes his first outing -- set in the Caribbean, Harlem, and New Orleans -- fresher, livelier, and just plain weirder than Moore's six subsequent Bond films. When binging the Bonds, you end up grateful for the outliers.
Previous ranking: 6 What we said last year: "At the end of this, Daniel Craig's third film as 007, Bond fans sighed, "Finally, we can have a proper Bond adventure next time!" The brilliance of Skyfall is that it had secretly just given them one. Though nearly every staple of the franchise has a post-modern bent to it here -- Moneypenny is a field agent, Bond and Q's young/old dynamic is reversed, M (Judi Dench) is the "Bond Girl" of the piece, the climax takes place at Bond's lair instead of a villain's -- Skyfall is in fact a stealthy celebration of the formula, with a classic Fleming grotesque as its villain and a killer title song (the first one in the franchise to win an Oscar). It's also perhaps the only Bond film with a thematic through line, using its opening sequence, its plot, and every one of its characters to examine the effects and consequences of sending individuals to kill and die for their country." What we think now: On its 5th anniversary, Skyfall has emerged as a stone classic of the franchise, a delivery on the implied promise of reimagining the hallmarks of the series for the 21st century. It's the perfect Bond film for the Daniel Craig era, with enough callbacks (and fun twists on those callbacks) to serve as a model for what Bond 25 needs to be.
4. Goldfinger (1964)
Previous ranking: 4 What we said last year: "The third 007 adventure sat at the top of best-of lists for years, and there's much to warrant its claim to the crown: Connery's most relaxed, unflappable take on the role before boredom began to creep in; a fun, outlandish plan by the titular villain (Gert Frobe) to break into Fort Knox; the first appearance of the iconic Aston Martin DB5; delicious set design by Ken Adam and the unquestionably all-time best Bond theme, belted out by Dame Shirley Bassey. But it's also the film that contains as a set piece a high stakes golf game, and a literal one-hour stretch in which the only thing the world's greatest secret agent does to stop the villain's plot is...well, he forces himself onto Goldfinger's lesbian henchwoman Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) to get her to change sides. All this and a terrycloth romper. It's a fine third outing for 007 -- just maybe not the gold standard its reputation suggests." What we think now: Still the perfect "hangout Bond movie," and its introduction of lighthearted adventure to the previously intense world of 007 is what gave the franchise its longevity. It's frankly a balance we're ready to revisit in 2019.
3. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Previous ranking: 3 What we said last year: "Boy, has this one come a long way. For years it was widely accepted as the unmitigated disaster of the series: it's a goofy story about hypnotism, food allergies and biological warfare, featuring a subplot in which James Bond falls in love, gets married, and is widowed. At its center was a male model (George Lazenby) with the misfortune of being the first 'new Bond', taking the bullet for all new Bonds to follow. Today On Her Majesty's Secret Service is rightfully recognized as one of the best, most faithful adaptations of Fleming's bonkers source material (and the last one until 2006). It's got an incredible score from John Barry that stops just short of giving this new 007 his own theme. And editor Peter Hunt takes over directing duties, turning the film into a kaleidoscopic swan song for 007's first decade. It's also got, in Telly Savalas, the best incarnation of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. And Lazenby? He's really not so bad -- and try as you might, you can't successfully picture Connery in the role as it exists in this film." What we think now: For four decades this was the only film in which Bond suffered a personal loss. Viewed as a failure, On Her Majesty's Secret Service has been the go-to blueprint for most of the 21s century: Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall all had loved ones dying in Bond's arms. Spectre pit Bond vs. Blofeld for the first time in decades, and its script originally ended with Bond telling Madeline, "we have all the time in the world." When the franchise wants pathos, they seem to always go back to the palette of the one-time misfire. That counts for something.
2. From Russia with Love (1963)
Previous ranking: 2 What we said last year: "If you came of age in the stepped-on schwag of the Brosnan era, the pharmaceutical grade Ian Fleming found in Eon's second Bond film might be a shock. But From Russia With Love is the real deal: SPECTRE assembles a group of bloodthirsty weirdos to trap 007 into thinking he must seduce a beautiful Russian defector for the good of England. The franchise's trademark silliness had yet to supplant Fleming's signature kink, and the end result is arch, colorful, problematic as hell, and maybe the truest vision of the author's creation. Editor Peter Hunt's groundbreaking work here births a climactic train fight between Bond (Sean Connery) and Donald 'Red' Grant (Robert Shaw) that the series has been trying to top for 53 years." What we think now: How dare a movie call itself Spectre when From Russia With Love -- the greatest cinematic appearance of the organization -- exists? Thunderball felt like a one-villain show, and both On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever focused on Blofeld as opposed to the organization. But here we see the whole crazy-quilt collection of cartoonish sadists who comprise SPECTRE's upper ranks. Christoph Waltz and Andrew Scott never had a chance.
Previous ranking: 1 What we said last year: "Ten years after its release, and in the context of reviewing the entire franchise, it becomes crystal clear that Casino Royale is the best film in the franchise. Viewed alongside two dozen other installments, there's a palpable sense here that the keepers of the property are stepping up to make something special. This one had to count, and Eon's extended creative family, led by Goldeneye helmer Martin Campbell, made sure it did. Nearly every trace of the franchise's formula is removed, not the least of which is the series' winking superhuman in a dinner jacket. Daniel Craig gives us the 007 from Fleming's early novels, a blunt instrument filled with morose purpose and self-doubt. When the death of a Bond girl makes an audience weep, it's clear that something special is happening, and we know from experience that it'll be a good long while before it happens again." What we think now: Time has not lessened the impact of Casino Royaleor rendered it cliche; it resists being too of the moment, and as a result still feels vital. Craig's reinvention of Bond pulled off the impossible, defining the role for a new generation. This is a debut Bond actors will be trying to measure up to for decades. One could argue the poker scenes didn't age well, but everything else did: Eva Green has gone on to do amazing work in Penny Dreadful, and the villain here is Mads Mikkelsen, for God's sake.
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