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The Most Underrated James Bond Films
Of the franchise’s 25 films, which are the most overlooked?
The James Bond franchise has been around for nearly 70 years. Those years have consisted of dozens of books, 25 films, comic book and video game adaptations, and countless spinoffs and parodies.
The highlights of the franchise are bound to float to the top while the stinkers sink. However, a few overlooked gems have gotten lost along the way. Here are my suggestions for Bond films you may have missed the first time around:
Licence to Kill (1989)
After capturing the notorious drug lord Franz Sanchez, Bond’s close friend and former CIA agent Felix Leiter is left for dead and his wife is murdered. Bond goes rogue and seeks vengeance on those responsible, as he infiltrates Sanchez’s organization from the inside.
Timothy Dalton’s tenure as Bond is often overlooked. With only two films nudged between the bloated run of Roger Moore and the cherished Brosnan films, they’re easy to miss. Dalton himself was suave, tough, and serious as 007 — and his films followed. Especially after the absurd Moore films, Dalton’s were a breath of fresh air, albeit a brief one — the nonsense returned in the 90s.
His first film, The Living Daylights, wasn’t written with him in mind as he wasn’t cast yet. As a result, Licence to Kill is much grittier and grounded than any Bond film before as Dalton took the lead on bringing Bond back to his book roots.
But I think the film stands out for one real reason: It’s the first time Bond gets to put morals above the mission, (I’m not so sure about the Connery Bond’s morals, for example). When MI6 tries forcing him to move on from the death of his friend, Bond refuses. He turns in his licence to kill and becomes a rogue agent hellbent on revenge. So now you have two suspenseful storylines going on simultaneously — will Bond get his revenge and will he be brought in by the very organization that put him here in the first place? Both plotlines are intense and uncertain and some of the darkest we get in the franchise. For that alone, it deserves another look — especially from those that aren’t the biggest fans of Bond’s craziest capers.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Quantum of Solace continues the adventures of James Bond after Casino Royale. Betrayed by Vesper, the woman he loved, 007 fights the urge to make his latest mission personal. Pursuing his determination to uncover the truth, Bond and M interrogate Mr. White, who reveals that the organization that blackmailed Vesper is far more complex and dangerous than anyone had imagined.
Casino Royale is often considered to be one of the best Bond films. It’s my personal favorite. Expectations were high for the follow-up film.
And then the 2007/2008 Writer’s Guild strike hit.
The folks working on Quantum received the final draft of the script two hours before the strike deadline and were then forced to work without writers while making the movie. Director Marc Forster and Daniel Craig himself took charge of polishing the shooting script and making it work. In a 2011 interview, Craig went as far to say:
“On ‘Quantum,’ we were fucked. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. There was me trying to rewrite scenes — and a writer I am not.”
As a result, the movie is a bit chaotic. It’s clearly without a stable script and many moments feel made on the fly. Also, action scenes don’t need traditional scripting, so they opted for action over anything else in the film. But those set pieces are fun, Craig is great as always, and I think that Mathieu Amalric gives it all as his villain Dominic Greene, despite not getting much to do thanks to the crazy script.
It has a tumultuous reputation, but the output was fun regardless.
However, I would like to take the time here to highlight the importance of unions and picket lines in Hollywood. Studios have relied on back-breaking working conditions for decades and face a new strike as of this Monday, October 18, 2021. The IATSE, or the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the labor union representing over 150,000 technicians, artisans, and craftspersons in the entertainment industry, including live theatre, motion picture and television production, is promising a strike if conditions don’t improve. Read the statement below from their website and support those fighting to improve their working conditions:
International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees International President Matthew Loeb announced today that unless an agreement is reached, union members will begin a nationwide strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on Monday, October 18 at 12:01 a.m., PDT.
Loeb said the union will continue bargaining with the producers this week in the hopes of reaching an agreement that addresses core issues, such as reasonable rest periods, meal breaks, and a living wage for those on the bottom of the wage scale.
“However, the pace of bargaining doesn’t reflect any sense of urgency,” Loeb said. “Without an end date, we could keep talking forever. Our members deserve to have their basic needs addressed now.”
Last week, IATSE members who work in television and film production at 36 IATSE local unions across the country voted to authorize the union’s international president to call a strike if contract talks didn’t result in a new contract for 60,000 film and television workers. Voter turnout was 90 percent, with 98.6 percent of those voting in support of authorizing a strike.
After Drax Industries’ Moonraker space shuttle is hijacked, secret agent James Bond is assigned to investigate, traveling to California to meet the company’s owner, the mysterious Hugo Drax. With the help of scientist Dr. Holly Goodhead, Bond soon uncovers Drax’s nefarious plans for humanity, all the while fending off an old nemesis, Jaws, and venturing to Venice, Rio, the Amazon…and outer space.
I don’t really like Roger Moore as Bond. I could never get over his age (he holds the record for the four oldest Bond performances), which he was never really able to hide. His costars always seemed so much younger, he couldn’t really do anything physically (even jogging seemed like a challenge), and just never seemed like the super-spy specialist Bond is supposed to be.
I thought it was very apropos when Moore was disguised as a clown in Octopussy. Just a little too on the nose. The big red nose.
But none of that matters, when you’re in space.
That’s the exact thing this movie gets crap for and I won’t take it.
Inspired by the unbelievable success of Star Wars, the producers scratched the plans for For Your Eyes Only as the next installment and decided to adapt Moonraker instead. The international Space Race had been over for a decade but they didn’t care about the geopolitical storyline entrenched in the original novel; they cared about space.
Is the movie a little dry until the space climax? Maybe. But the eclectic cast of characters keeps up the pace regardless of Moore until we can get to the fun stuff: space. Indelible henchman Jaws (who was a fan favorite in The Spy Who Loved Me for his 7 ft 2 in frame and sharp metal teeth), the classically devilish looking Hugo Drax as our main villain, and the elegant Lois Chiles as Bond Girl Holly Goodhead (talk about apropos) keep the beginning fun and light-hearted enough to make us want that climax that we bought a ticket for.
Now, why does the space adventure get so much slander? Well, it’s dumb. Obviously. But all Bond movies are dumb! Everything about it is silly! There’s a reason the Austin Powers parody works so well. And this film leans into the dumb, leans into the insanity. They know it’s Bond in space — so might as well have fun with it! Boredom can really be the death of more than a few Bond films, but boring this is not. I mean come on, it’s Bond in space!
In the last Fast and Furious installment, F9, Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris go to space and I didn’t hear anything about that!
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
A deranged media mogul is staging international incidents to pit the world’s superpowers against each other. Now 007 must take on this evil mastermind in an adrenaline-charged battle to end his reign of terror and prevent global pandemonium.
Brosnan’s run as Bond is what it is. He was clearly comfortable in the role, especially after a five year run in Remington Steele (which ultimately delayed his Bond debut). His first film, GoldenEye, was a home run and smashing success and he was feeling good heading into the next chapter.
However, I think this film is truly elevated by those around him.
Bond villains can be disposable and Bond girls are almost always disposable. Tomorrow Never Dies delivers some of the best of both sides of the 007 equation.
Jonathan Pryce plays Elliot Carver, an international media mogul who plans to provoke World War III just so he can broadcast it worldwide and rake in the dough. It was the 90s — 24-hour news cycles were all the rage. In terms of Bond, it’s the first time capitalism, not communism, was the real enemy. Not only is Pryce really fun in the role, chewing up all that he can, but a money-hungry media empire, the damage of cable news and soon-to-be social media, and international distress being used for profit are all much more real and apparent to us today.
On the flip side, Brosnan is joined by Michelle Yeoh as Colonel Wai Lin, a Chinese spy who assists Bond in bringing down Carver. Terri Hatcher splits Bond girl duties with Yeoh as a Bond ex now with Carver, but it’s really Yeoh that steals the show. She really holds her own against Bond as professional ass-kicker Yeoh was a great choice for the role. She’s much more than just Bond’s companion — in fact, she’s often smarter and stronger than him in this movie. Mix in the fact that Brosnan was never known for his stunt-work while Yeoh had been doing her own stunts in martial arts films for years and she really upstages Bond in all of her scenes.
Not only is the movie a good time, Pryce and Yeoh boost the film from good to great.
A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.
There’s this consensus that exists online: The odd-numbered Craig films (Casino, Skyfall, No Time to Die) are strong while the even-numbered films (Quantum and Spectre) fall short.
As you can see, I disagree. I feel as though Craig had the strongest run of any actor in the series and even his “lesser” movies have strong moments. There’s a lot to like here. Director Sam Mendes (who also directed Skyfall) really is a master of this vibe, it’s a great homage (mostly in subtle ways) to the franchise, and for the first real time it takes one actor’s tenure in the role from an anthology to a narrative.
It loses some of that power when they deliver the twist that Blofeld is Bond’s brother. None of the other films needed that for Blofeld to be menacing! It’s just totally unnecessary and undermines Christoph Waltz’s fun performance. As a result, he’s really underutilized, which is a shame. But the movie, in general, I believe, manages to pick itself up when it trips after decisions like that. It’s still a damn good time, especially the Día de Los Muertos cold open. And it shows just how strong the Craig run really was.
Interested in more of my Bond thoughts? Check out my ranking of every entry in the franchise below:
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.