A Starter Kit for 60 Years of James Bond Movies
If you've always wanted to get into James Bond but had no idea where to begin.
The entertainment world is full of franchises, from superheroes who come from other planets to regular dudes who drive cars really fast, and it seems like every single one is already filled with a ton of material. For a newbie, it can be hard to know where to start. And so, consider the Starter Kit: our picks of whatever movies or books or episodes from whatever important part of the Culture you've been meaning to get into but have no idea where to start. These can be jumping-off points, or as simple as a selection of things to watch or read or listen to in order to see if you vibe with the thing or not.
Keyed to the release of No Time to Die, we've picked the seven 007 films from its roster of 25 in the canon to check out if you've never watched a James Bond movie in your life but have always been dying to "get" why people love them so much. We've picked a wide variety of plots, and made sure to include at least one movie for each of the actors who have played Bond in Eon Productions' main series of films—Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. Below is a list of what we consider the most representative movies of the franchise, a great place to start dipping your toes in.
Dr. No (1962)
If you want to start something, start at the beginning. The very first James Bond movie adapts the Ian Fleming novel Dr. No (notably NOT the first James Bond book), and introduces Sean Connery as the character, whose influence on the series can be felt even half a century later. James Bond journeys to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of another British agent, and along the way uncovers a plot by a dastardly villain to destroy a rocket launch. The movie was made for a laughably low budget and launched a whole franchise, as well as provided the format for the new genre of "spy cinema" that persists to this day.
As one of the most beloved Bond films, if not the most beloved, period, Goldfinger pretty much cemented our notion of who James Bond is, and what to expect from a James Bond movie. The third in the series, it was the first Bond "blockbuster" with a considerable budget, and introduced Bond's penchant for handy little gadgets and quips that have stayed with the character all these years. It also (arguably, I GUESS) has the best opening theme song, sung by Shirley Bassey, the only artist to sing three Bond songs, all of which slap. If you've heard of any classic Bond movie, it's probably this one—it was massively influential: Austin Powers: Goldmember is obviously a reference to this movie's title, and a particularly gruesome death is referenced in the second Craig film Quantum of Solace.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
When Sean Connery retired from Bond duty after five films (he'd do two more, but he didn't know that then), Eon hired George Lazenby, an actor with no acting credits, to play the character. Considering the time and money spent on selecting The Perfect Actor for franchise roles such as this today, a non-actor being hired to play such a famous character seems unheard of. Lazenby only played the character once, but On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of the strongest movies in the series, silly and convoluted, but with a skiing action sequence so good, Christopher Nolan had to put an homage to it in Inception.
There was a sort of mania for space movies that took over the culture after Star Wars was released, and Moonraker was made at the very height, fully entrenched in the subgenre of "spy-fi" and genuinely sending James Bond to space. When a bad guy steals an entire space shuttle somehow, Bond (this time played by Roger Moore) is sent on a globetrotting adventure to find the guy who did it, and eventually ends up in space itself, fending off thugs in an astronaut suit. It's very silly, as these movies tend to be, but its influence on film has been lasting, as it's been referenced in anything from Kim Possible to the Fast and Furious series.
License to Kill (1989)
License to Kill is one of a few significantly darker toned entries into the generally silly and upbeat franchise, focused as it is around Timothy Dalton's James Bond and his suspension from MI6 after he tries to help out his CIA friend Felix Leiter and avenge Felix's wife's murder. Certain elements of the plot are drawn from Fleming's books and short stories, but the rest is largely original, and it's the first movie with a completely original title not based around any of Fleming's titles—though it is a reference to Bond's 00 status, which grants him his legal "license to kill."
Where License to Kill took plenty of liberties with Fleming's work, GoldenEye is a completely original plot, and the first to star Pierce Brosnan as the fifth iteration of the character. The Brosnan era heralded a marked return to the somewhat silly tone of humor and outrageously convoluted plots—this one involves Bond hunting down a rogue MI6 agent bent on using a satellite (the titular GoldenEye) to send the world into financial collapse. It was the first to star Judi Dench as MI6 head M, a role she continued to play well into Craig's Bond era, and it was also the first Bond film to utilize CGI in its action sequences, which haven't aged terribly well, but, look, the '90s were tough on even the world's top secret agents.
Casino Royale (2006)
If you were to say that Casino Royale is the best Bond movie, only the most hardcore Bond scholars, and probably not even all of them, would disagree with you. Casino Royale is a perfect modern blockbuster on all counts, with a tight, witty script, a bunch of entrancing action sequences, and the type of Bond villain (Mads Mikkelsen's Le Chiffre) whose face other Bond villains print out and attach to a wall and lob darts at because they'll never be as good as him. It was the perfect introduction to Daniel Craig as the new version of the character, dispelling any doubts that he was up to the job (and there were plenty!), and an effortlessly cool reboot of a franchise that proved it could hold its own with a new generation of audiences.