A Grown Up’s Guide to ‘James Bond’

Here at Wealth of Geeks, we love to help you find the perfect movie to watch, whether it's a popcorn flick or a horror film like Midsommar. But sometimes you want to go back to something you once loved—or maybe even revisit a franchise you never quite completed. Our  Grown  Up's Guides are designed to help you get reacquainted with some of the most popular franchises in the world.

A Grown Up's Guide to James Bond

James Bond

Perhaps the most famous spy in history, James Bond first made his debut in 1953 with writer Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale. Since then, 007 has appeared in numerous novels, short stories, and movies spanning several decades, with multiple actors taking up the tuxedo and Walther PPK over the years.

With so many films in the James Bond franchise (25 in total), it can be hard knowing where to start, what to know about each movie, and whether it’s even worth watching.

Here is a grown-up’s complete guide to the James Bond film series and everything you need to know about each movie.

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Dr. No

Dr. No

The first James Bond movie ever, Dr. No was loosely adapted from Ian Fleming’s sixth James Bond novel. In it, 007 travels to Jamaica, on the trail to find a mysterious mad scientist named Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), who plans on using a radio beam to disrupt an American space launch.

The movie isn't very memorable aside from gifting audiences with that iconic Bond theme music and 007’s signature introductory line, “Bond, James Bond.” The initial reception was mixed, but given it was the first movie to showcase the suave, tuxedo-clad Sean Connery in the role, it remains famous to this day.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

From Russia with Love

From Russia with Love

The far better second entry in the James Bond series, From Russia with Love is the movie Dr. No wished it could be. The plot sees Bond joining a defecting Soviet agent (Daniela Bianchi, the romantic interest) in Turkey while dodging assassination attempts from some of the top assassins sent by SPECTRE—a shadowy terrorist organization Bond first encountered in Dr. No.

A more Hitchcockian spy thriller in the same vein as North by Northwest or Notorious, From Russia with Love is a vast improvement from the earlier Dr. No. Connery’s Bond managed to ditch the colder, bullying persona taken from the original Bond novels, instead portraying 007 as far more likable and engaging a protagonist that audiences can actually root for.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Goldfinger

Goldfinger

This is the perfect James Bond movie, still one of the best nearly 60 years later.

In this now iconic Bond flick, 007 trails eccentric millionaire Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), uncovering a plot to radiate Fort Knox’s gold, increasing the value of his own gold supply.

Simply put, this movie has everything you’d expect in a James Bond movie. There is the over-the-top villain, his outrageous evil plan, his physically imposing henchman (Oddjob), the humorously named love interest (Pussy Galore), clever gadgets, various international locales, and that killer 007 score.

Dr. No may have introduced the world to Bond, and From Russia with Love might have established many of the cliches we all expect to see in a Bond movie. Still, Goldfinger is the film that established the series itself as a global phenomenon, earning various awards (including an Oscar for Best Sound Editing) and winning huge numbers at the box office.

If there’s any movie worth seeing from the early James Bond years, it’s this one.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Thunderball

Thunderball

Following the groundbreaking success of Goldfinger was never going to be easy, but you have to admire Thunderball for trying.

Returning once again to the SPECTRE storyline from Dr. No, Bond is assigned to find two missing atomic bombs captured by SPECTRE, who plan on using them to hold the world ransom.

Like the previous movie, it has everything you’d come to expect from a James Bond movie: an interesting villain (the eyepatch-wearing SPECTRE Number Two, Emilio Largo) with a dastardly plan for world domination, an idyllic setting, and an exciting finale. For some reason, however, it never fully matched the success of the earlier Goldfinger.

There are a few exciting sequences here and there (the shark-filled pool, the underwater climactic battle, or the final boat chase), and the movie is far from disappointing, but its lengthy runtime may be a turnoff for the casual Bond viewer.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice

One of the weaker movies during Connery’s Bond years, You Only Live Twice the film marked the on-screen debut of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the Bond equivalent to the Joker, Voldemort, or Darth Vader, brilliantly and menacingly played here by Donald Pleasence.

However, the movie itself fails to live up to the earlier heights of From Russia with Love or Goldfinger, with a messy, meandering premise.

In Connery’s fifth outing as 007, the gentleman spy investigates the disappearance of American and Soviet spacecraft, with each side believing the other responsible, threatening global war.

Searching for the party responsible for the spacecrafts' disappearance, Bond ventures to Japan, eventually coming face to face with the head of SPECTRE himself, Blofeld.

The chemistry between Connery’s Bond and Pleasence’s Blofeld may be superb, and the character itself may make this movie worth seeing, but aside from Blofeld’s appearance, this movie is hardly worth your time. (Although it is an interesting hypothetical to wonder what might’ve been if Pleasence had returned to the role in subsequent films.)

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

On Her Majestys Secret Service scaled

The first Bond film to feature a new actor in the leading role, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a very different, nearly satirical version of the Bond spy film. All the essentials are there (the evil villain, his insane plot, the memorably-named female love interest). Still, it seemingly calls attention to the ridiculousness of the spy elements and general plotline.

In the first and only Bond movie to feature George Lazenby, James Bond heads to the snow-covered Swiss Alps on the hunt for Blofeld, who plans to use an army of women to carry biological diseases around the globe.

One of the more faithful adaptations of a Fleming Bond novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service may be campy, but it delivers in every respect, never devolving into full, over-the-top parody, but instead presenting its narrative remarkably well.

The now-famous ending sees Bond actually lose his would-be wife, Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), one of the best Bond girls out there, to a vengeful Blofeld. Such a tragic ending was the first instance of a Bond movie ending on a bittersweet note: even though 007 thwarted the villain’s plans, he still lost in the long run.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever

After his first departure from the role following You Only Live Twice, a noticeably older-looking Connery returned to the Bond series with Diamonds Are Forever, commonly regarded as the worst Bond movie of the Connery years.

In it, Bond infiltrates a mysterious diamond smuggling ring, eventually encountering his old rival, Blofeld (Charles Gray), who uses the diamonds for a space laser that he plans to use to destroy Washington, D.C.

All in all, Diamonds Are Forever isn’t a horrible movie. Does it pale in comparison to Goldfinger or From Russia with Love? Yes. Does the central premise and tone seem more akin to Austin Powers than James Bond? Absolutely. But there’s certainly an element of enjoyment watching such a cheesy movie that goes all-in on the cartoonishness of James Bond.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die

After Diamonds Are Forever’s release, Sean Connery once again stepped down from the role of James Bond (although he’d eventually return for a second and last time in the non-Eon produced Never Say Never Again), with the signature tuxedo handed over to Roger Moore.

Live and Let Die sees Bond taking on an international drug syndicate run by a corrupt Caribbean dictator (Yaphet Kotto), leading Bond to battle various gangsters, drug dealers, and voodoo practitioners in and around the Bahamas and the Southern US.

One of the stranger movies in Bond’s history, Live and Let Die was made to cash in directly on the success of the popular blaxploitation films of its day (Coffy, Shaft, Dolemite), containing many of the same cliches associated with the genre.

Though the movie gifted us with that famous Wings song of the same name and likely featured Moore’s best performance in his Bond tenure, it’s one of the weaker Bond movies in general, largely due to a lackluster villain and a so-so central plot.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

The Man with the Golden Gun

The Man with the Golden Gun

The Bond movie to feature what is likely 007’s best villain also happens to be the worst James Bond movie.

Commonly seen as a low point in the character’s cinematic history, James Bond battles the world’s deadliest assassin (Christopher Lee). Though the premise is simple and sounds promising enough, The Man with the Golden Gun is probably the messiest, most difficult to watch entry in the entire Bond franchise.

Add in a few unnecessary plotlines about harnessing the world’s solar energy and a bumbling, comedic romantic interest, and you have one of the most disappointing Bond movies there is. Even hardcore Bond fanatics who can watch Diamonds Are Forever skip this one.

Not currently streaming, but available to rent online

Image Credit: United Artists. 

The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me

A return to form of sorts for Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me is perhaps the most memorable movie during Moore’s run as the character. Not too dark, not too silly, and possessing just enough of the good old-fashioned balance of comedy, thrills, and action, it’s the kind of high-quality Bond movie last seen during Lazenby and Connery’s years as Bond, and it continually ranks as one of the best in the franchise.

The film's action revolves around an eccentric, Captain Nemo-like millionaire (Curt Jürgens) who plans on destroying the world and beginning a new, undersea civilization. Bond races against time to stop him, joined by a KGB agent (Barbara Bach, the eventual romantic interest) and fighting off the persistent and seemingly unstoppable assassin, Jaws (Richard Kiel).

The main villain may be somewhat forgettable, but The Spy Who Loved Me is anything but.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Moonraker

Moonraker

A deliberate cash-in on the Star Wars phenomenon around the same time, Moonraker feels like two separate movies stitched together in the middle.

The start of the movie begins promisingly enough, with Bond investigating the disappearance of a Space Shuttle, leading him to Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), a wealthy, Elon Musk-type billionaire who plans on destroying the world and repopulating it with his own master race.

Moonraker may have some worthy elements (such as the return of the fan-favorite villain Jaws), but it's easily one of the silliest, cartoonish Bond movies of Moore’s run, ending with a flashy, out-of-nowhere final battle in space (complete with zero gravity and laser guns) that may have been cool to look at, but narratively made no sense.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

For Your Eyes Only

For Your Eyes Only

After the ridiculousness of Moonraker, Bond’s producers pushed for a return to the more grounded stories of the character’s earlier history. For Your Eyes Only offered a darker, more realistic kind of Bond film that audiences last witnessed during the Connery years.

A more espionage-heavy thriller than the genre-based adventures of the earlier Moonraker or Live and Let Die, For Your Eyes Only follows Bond trying to locate a missing nuclear command system stolen by a wealthy smuggler (Julian Glover). Along the way, Bond is joined by a young woman (Carole Bouquet) seeking to avenge her parents' death, with the veteran spy offering advice about the difference between justice and revenge.

For Your Eyes Only may be a tad too gritty or dark for some. However, its relatively simple plot and realistic characters and situations make it enjoyable for those opposed to the more unrealistic plotlines of certain James Bond movies from the Connery or early Moore years.

Not currently streaming, but available to rent online

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Octopussy

Octopussy

A return to the ridiculousness the Bond series tried to leave behind with For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy pretty much undid everything the latter movie tried to do, returning Bond to the sillier style and tone of Moonraker and The Man with the Golden Gun.

Uncovering a Soviet plot to disarm Western forces, Bond becomes entangled with a power-hungry Russian general (Steven Berkoff), an exiled Middle Eastern prince (Louis Jourdan), and a wealthy jewel smuggler named Octopussy (Maud Adams) in one of the messiest Bond plots there is.

As weird as it is poorly plotted, Octopussy continues to earn eyebrow-raising mixed reviews, aimed largely at its ludicrous plotline, stale action, and cheesy humor. There are some strong points—the character of Octopussy herself being seen as one of the better Bond girls in the character’s filmography—but it remains a bizarre movie to see.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

A View to a Kill

A View to a Kill

In what would be Roger Moore’s final outing as the character, A View to a Kill is, in many ways, the end of an era.

One of the most poorly received Bond movies there is, the film sees an incredibly elderly-looking Bond (Moore was 57 at the time) battling the Nazi genetic experiment turned rogue KGB agent turned wealthy industrialist Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), who plans on triggering an earthquake in Silicon Valley to gain a monopoly on computer chips.

It’s a plot that makes no sense in a largely unremarkable Bond film that tends (rightfully) to get glossed over. A movie that earned negative reviews from virtually every critic who watched it, A View to a Kill may have some strong villains (Walken’s Zorin and Grace Jones’ Olympian May Day), but they’re ultimately wasted on an underwhelming, all-over-the-place romp that ended Moore’s tenure on the worst possible note.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

The Living Daylights

The Living Daylights

The first of two James Bond movies featuring Timothy Dalton in the lead role, The Living Daylights marked the beginning of a new direction in the franchise. No longer would Bond films be populated by zany villains with over-the-top plans for world domination. Moving forward, James Bond would be battling new, grittier villains with more realistic plans, as seen with The Living Daylights.

In this film, Bond assists a KGB general (Jeroen Krabbé) in defecting to the West, only to get drawn into a worldwide arms operation.

Admittedly, the movie's plot may be a bit boring compared to the flashier Connery films or the far more grounded movies of the Daniel Craig era, feeling like a weird cross between the two. Though Dalton himself won considerable praise for his role as Bond, the movie was criticized for its somewhat slower nature, as well as its unremarkable villains and anti-climatic ending.

Still, The Living Daylights remains a satisfying enough late Cold War-era spy thriller, full of plot twists and betrayals. If you like the Daniel Craig movies or even the Mission: Impossible films, this (along with the next two films on this list) is essential viewing.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

License to Kill

License to Kill scaled

The darkest James Bond there is, License to Kill makes The Living Daylights seem as campy and lighthearted as an old episode of Star Trek. 

Going all-in on a more realistic story, License to Kill again returns to the roots of the Fleming James Bond stories, basing its narrative on the idea of out-and-out revenge.

In License to Kill, Dalton returns as James Bond as we’ve never seen him before, with 007 going rogue, tracking down a vicious South American drug lord (Robert Davi) responsible for maiming his close friend, Felix Leiter (David Hedison).

A far cry from the lighter movies of the Connery and Moore years, License to Kill earned generally positive reviews, although some criticism was directed at the significantly dark tone.

Dalton’s last film as Bond: if you ever wanted to see Bond at his most gruesome, humorless, and downright terrifying, this is the movie for you.

Streaming on Pluto TV

Image Credit: United Artists. 

GoldenEye

GoldenEye

The first film in Pierce Brosnan’s run as the character—and also his best—GoldenEye improved the new age kind of spy story introduced in The Living Daylights, balancing a tight, modern thriller with elements of the campier Connery and Moore Bond films.

In GoldenEye, Bond encounters his best friend (Sean Bean), a former MI6 agent, out for revenge against Britain and who plans on using a weaponized satellite to destroy the country’s economy.

Up there with Goldfinger, Casino Royale, Skyfall in terms of the best Bond movies, GoldenEye was easily one of the better films the franchise had released in a while. Complete with a strong villain, an intriguing love interest, and a generally fascinating plot, it was the breath of fresh air the series needed after a period of what was considered a long stagnation.

Streaming on Prime Video

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Tomorrow Never Dies

Tomorrow Never Dies

Throughout most of James Bond’s history, there was a trend where the movies got a bit too cartoonish, with the subsequent films shifting in tone to take on a more serious, realistic premise. After the sci-fi zaniness of Moonraker came For Your Eyes Only. From A View to a Kill came The Living Daylights, establishing a more serious tone the series maintained until GoldenEye.

Tomorrow Never Dies, however, set the series back in many ways, possessing a far less serious tone than all other Bond movies of the late 1980s and 90s, recalling the campier plotlines of the early Bond films.

With war looming between Britain and China, Bond is tasked with investigating the destruction of British and Chinese military personnel, leading him to a megalomaniac media mogul (Jonathan Pryce) trying to ignite a war between the two countries to boost his news ratings.

The plot admittedly doesn’t make much sense, and it may set the series back a bit, but some may see Tomorrow Never Dies as a welcome return to the more light-hearted Bond movies of the 1960s and 70s.

Streaming on Prime Video

Image Credit: United Artists. 

The World Is Not Enough

The World Is Not Enough

After the mixed reception of Tomorrow Never Dies, the Bond series tried to return once again to the more realistic kind of story it had established with GoldenEye. However, the audience response to the resulting film—The World is Not Enough—remained just as divided as it had to Tomorrow Never Dies.

In the film, Bond is assigned to protect a wealthy heiress (Sophie Marceau) targeted by a ruthless terrorist (Robert Carlyle), who plans on triggering a nuclear meltdown in Istanbul.

The World is Not Enough remains a movie with perhaps the most mixed response among moviegoers. The good elements are great, but the poorer aspects of the movie are deplorable.

Critics panned Denise Richards’ love interest character (commonly seen as one of the worst Bond girls there) and the film's general plot.

However, the film does boast two amazing villains, and the onscreen chemistry between Marceau’s heiress and Brosnan’s Bond, who presents a more emotional, human side to the character than audiences had ever seen before, was a fascinating turn for the character to take.

Streaming on Prime Video

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Die Another Day

Worst James Bond Movies

It’s sad to say that after the highs of GoldenEye, Brosnan’s next few outings as Bond were middling at best, with none more underwhelming than Brosnan’s final appearance as the character in Die Another Day.

After Bond is captured by North Korean forces and returned to MI6, he is accused of defecting to the enemy, prompting him to go on the run to prove his innocence and find the real mole inside the agency.

Unlike the three previous Brosnan movies, Die Another Day possesses virtually nothing of merit that makes it worth watching (except for the appearance of a fan-favorite Bond girl, NSA Agent Jinx Johnson, charismatically played by Halle Berry).

Complete with a lackadaisical plot and villain, and some of the worst and most blatant over-reliance on CGI you’ll see, Die Another Day was so horrible, it nearly derailed the entirely James Bond franchise, prompting a much-needed reboot four years later to wash away the memories of this unbelievably poor movie.

Streaming on Prime Video

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Casino Royale

Casino Royale

The first Bond of the modern era, Casino Royale was the Batman Begins of James Bond: a critically praised, urgently-needed reboot that redeemed 007 in the audience’s eyes after the disappointing reception of Die Another Day.

Returning to the Fleming novel in which the character debuted, Casino Royale follows Bond early in his career, taking on an assignment to compete in a high-stakes poker game against the terrorist financier, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), to bankrupt him of his funds.

Featuring Daniel Craig’s first appearance as Bond, Casino Royale helped transition the character over to a more modern era, reinvigorating him in audiences’ eyes and presenting him in a more nuanced, human way rather than as the larger-than-life spy he’d been decades prior.

Coupled with a fascinating story, a great villain, an electrifying score, and fantastic performances from the main cast, Casino Royale would be seen as one of the best Bond movies in years, ranking up there with Goldfinger and GoldenEye.

Streaming on Prime Video

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace

As previously mentioned under Thunderball, following the success of any groundbreaking, critically praised James Bond movie is never easy. On its own, Quantum of Solace is an outstanding film, but many found it somewhat slower and, well, just generally more boring than the earlier Casino Royale.

Continuing off the main plot introduced in Casino Royale, Bond searches the globe for individuals tied to the mysterious criminal organization “Quantum,” leading him to confront a wealthy businessman (Mathieu Amalric) who plans on staging a coup in Bolivia to privatize the nation’s water supply.

It may be a tad slow for some, but Quantum of Solace is far from horrible, brilliantly building off a narrative arc around the Quantum organization that would culminate with Spectre years later.

Streaming on Prime Video

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Skyfall

Skyfall

The fourth of the extremely well-received “big four” Bond movies, Skyfall is essentially The Empire Strikes Back/Wrath of Khan of James Bond.

The movie sees Craig’s Bond battling former agent turned criminal mastermind and cyberterrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Silva, who was left for dead years ago by M (Judi Dench), is now out to kill her and discredit her entire legacy as the head of MI6.

Bond himself may not figure in as heavily as some of his fellow cast members in the film, but the movie does a great job developing Dench’s M further, as well as illustrating the strained, sometimes maternal, sometimes cruel relationship she has with her agents (as seen through her interactions with Bond and Silva).

Released around the 50th anniversary of Dr. No and containing a huge number of references to earlier Bond films, Skyfall earned significant praise upon release, particularly for its intelligent script, simple but effective story, memorable villain, fantastic score (including Adele’s titular theme song, which won the singer an Oscar), and incredible performances.

Streaming on Hulu and Paramount+

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Spectre

Spectre

The newer Bond movies had long been building towards a narrative arc first introduced in Casino Royale. The movie first introduced the mysterious criminal organization “Quantum” with a storyline that would carry over into Quantum of Solace before finally reaching its boiling point with 2015’s Spectre.

In this film, Bond finally uncovers the truth behind Quantum—that they are, in actuality, the terrorist group known as SPECTRE, led by an old childhood friend of Bond’s, known referring to himself as Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz).

Bond and Waltz may make a promising duo to see paired together, but Spectre was a less than stellar entry in the Bond franchise, full of needless plot points (namely the unnecessary backstory that Bond and Blofeld are adopted brothers) and an achingly slow-paced story.

Though it marked the long-awaited return of Blofeld and SPECTRE in the rebooted Craig films, the movie is commonly seen as the weakest of the modern Bond era.

Not currently streaming, but available to rent online

Image Credit: United Artists. 

No Time to Die

No Time to Die

In the 25th and most recent James Bond movie, a retired 007 is roped back into service after being recruited by the CIA to find a missing scientist. Eventually reinstated at MI6, Bond joins his ex-lover, Madeline (Léa Seydoux, introduced in the previous film), who believes betrayed him to SPECTRE, to take on a new antagonist (Rami Malek) who is targeting SPECTRE and the world itself through nanorobotic technology.

With Craig having decided ahead of time not to sign on for another film after the release of this movie, No Time to Die takes numerous creative liberties in crafting what can be seen as the first official send-off to a James Bond actor.

As such, the movie explores numerous elements outside the traditional Bond film. For example, for the first time, Bond is shown having a family—including a young daughter—showing a more human side to his character rather than the martini-sipping, womanizing Bond of old.

It’s also the first movie to show another agent in the 007 role (Lashana Lynch’s Nomi) and the first to show the official canonical death of Bond and Blofeld.

Positively received upon release, it’s a movie that ends Craig’s run on an incredibly high note.

Not currently streaming, but available to rent online

Image Credit: United Artists. 

Final Thoughts

Best James Bond Movies

James Bond has been the face of the spy genre for nearly 60 years, spanning 25 films and six different actors in the lead role. There’s a lot to learn about the gentleman spy, and we hope this list gives you all the essentials when it comes to 007, including where each movie is currently streaming.

Image Credit: United Artists. 

More Articles by Wealth of Geeks

Book of Boba Fett

Image Credit: Lucasfilm.

This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured Image Credit: United Artists. 


+ posts

Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).