Perhaps the most famous spy in cinematic history, James Bond first debuted 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.
The first James Bond movie ever, Dr. No adapted Ian Fleming’s sixth James Bond novel. In it, 007 travels to Jamaica to locate 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 line, “Bond, James Bond.” An impressive enough first outing for the hit spy series, it introduced the world to the suave, tuxedo-line Seaon Connery to the gentleman super-agent.
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 vein of North by Northwest, From Russia with Love is a vast improvement from the earlier Dr. No. Connery’s Bond ditched the colder, bullying persona taken from the original Bond novels, portraying 007 as far more likable and engaging a protagonist that audiences could root for.
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.
Containing everything you’d expect in a James Bond movie, Goldfinger features an over-the-top villain, his outrageous evil plan, his imposing henchman, the humorously-named love interest, clever gadgets, international locales, and that killer 007 score.
From Russia with Love might have established many of the series' most prominent, but Goldfinger established the franchise itself as a global phenomenon, earning various awards (including an Oscar for Best Sound Editing) and winning huge numbers at the box office.
Returning once again to the SPECTRE storyline from Dr. No, Bond tracks down missing atomic bombs captured by SPECTRE before they're used to hold the world ransom.
Like the previous movie, Thunderball includes everything you’d come to expect from a James Bond movie: an interesting villain with a plot for world domination, an idyllic setting, and a climactic finale. For some reason, however, it never 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.
You Only Live Twice
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, facing with the head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence).
The chemistry between Connery’s Bond and Pleasence’s Blofeld may be superb, but aside from Blofeld’s appearance, this movie isn't worth your time.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The first Bond film to feature a new actor in the lead role, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is an almost satirical version of the Bond spy film.
In the first and only Bond movie to feature George Lazenby, James Bond heads to the snow-covered Swiss Alps to 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 an over-the-top parody.
Diamonds Are Forever
After his first departure from the role following You Only Live Twice, Sean Connery returned to the Bond series with Diamonds Are Forever, often regarded as the worst Bond movie of the Connery years.
In it, Bond infiltrates a mysterious diamond smuggling ring, encountering his old rival, Blofeld (Charles Gray), who is using the diamonds for a space laser 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? Again, yes. But there’s an element of enjoyment watching such a cheesy movie that goes all-in on the cartoonish elements of James Bond.
Live and Let Die
After Diamonds Are Forever’s release, Sean Connery once again stepped down from the role of James Bond, 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 U.S.
One of the stranger movies in Bond’s history, Live and Let Die strived to cash in on the success of the popular blaxploitation films of its day (Coffy, Shaft, Dolemite). Though the movie gifted us with that famous Wings song of the same name, it’s one of the weaker Bond movies in general, owing to its lackluster villain and so-so plot.
The Man With the Golden Gun
Often seen as a low point in the character’s cinematic history, James Bond battles the world’s deadliest assassin (Christopher Lee) in 1974's The Man With the Golden Gun. Though the idea of seeing Lee clash with Moore is promising enough, The Man with the Golden Gun is 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 can skip this one.
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 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 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 unstoppable assassin, Jaws (Richard Kiel).
The main villain may be somewhat forgettable, but The Spy Who Loved Me is anything but.
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 first act of the film is promising enough, featuring Bond investigating the disappearance of a space shuttle. As he closes in on the mystery, he encounters 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 one of the silliest, cartoonish Bond movies of Moore’s tenure, ending with a flashy, out-of-nowhere final battle in space (complete with zero gravity and laser guns).
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 joins a young woman (Carole Bouquet) seeking to avenge her parents' death, 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 simple plot and realistic characters make it enjoyable for everyone opposed to the more unrealistic plot lines of earlier James Bond movies.
A return to the zany Bond series of old, Octopussy undid everything For Your Eyes Only movie tried to accomplish, 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.
Strange and poorly-plotted, Octopussy continues to earn eyebrow-raising mixed reviews, aimed at its ludicrous premise, stale action, and cheesy humor. There are some strong points—Octopussy is without a doubt one of the better Bond girls in the character’s filmography—but it remains a bizarre movie to see.
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 worst received Bond movies there is, the film sees an aged 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 an unremarkable Bond film that tends to get glossed over by most fans. A movie that earned negative reviews from almost every critic who watched it, A View to a Kill may have some strong villains (Walken’s Zorin and Grace Jones’ Olympian May Day), yet they’re wasted on an underwhelming, all-over-the-place romp that ended Moore’s tenure on the worst possible note.
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. Ditching the zany villains with over-the-top plans for world domination, James Bond battled new, grittier villains with more realistic plans in the years ahead, starting 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.
Living Daylight's plot may be a bit boring compared to the flashier Connery films or the far more grounded movies of the Daniel Craig era, but Dalton himself won considerable praise for his charismatic performance as Bond.
License To Kill
The darkest James Bond there is, License to Kill makes The Living Daylights seem as campy and light-hearted as an old episode of Star Trek. Going all-in on a more realistic story, License to Kill returns to the series' roots to the original Fleming 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).
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.
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 who plans on using a weaponized satellite to destroy Britain's economy.
Up there with Goldfinger, Casino Royale, Skyfall in terms of the best Bond movies, GoldenEye is among the finest entries in the Bond saga to date, complete with a strong villain, an intriguing love interest, and a fascinating plot.
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 doesn’t make much sense, but some may see Tomorrow Never Dies as a welcome return to the more light-hearted Bond movies of the 1960s and '70s.
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 protects a wealthy heiress (Sophie Marceau) from a ruthless terrorist (Robert Carlyle).
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. In particular, critics panned Denise Richards’ love interest character 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 side to the character than audiences had ever seen before, is a fascinating direction for the character to take.
Die Another Day
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.
Captured by North Korean forces and returned to MI6, Bond faces accusations of defection, prompting him to go on the run to prove his innocence and find the mole who framed him.
Unlike the three previous Brosnan movies, Die Another Day possesses almost nothing of merit that makes it worth watching (except for the appearance of a fan-favorite Bond girl, NSA Agent Jinx Johnson, played by a dazzling 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 almost derailed the entire James Bond franchise, prompting a much-needed reboot four years later to wash away the memories of this poor movie.
The first Bond of the modern era, Casino Royale can be viewed as the Batman Begins of James Bond: an urgently-needed reboot that redeemed 007 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.
Quantum of Solace
As mentioned under Thunderball, following the success of any groundbreaking James Bond movie is never easy. On its own, Quantum of Solace is an outstanding film, but many found it somewhat slower and, well, far 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, building off a narrative arc around the Quantum organization that would culminate with Spectre years later.
The fourth of the extremely well-received “big four” Bond movies, Skyfall can be described as The Empire Strikes Back 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.
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 for its intelligent script, simple but effective story, memorable villain, fantastic score (including Adele’s titular theme song), and extraordinary performances.
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 reaching its boiling point with 2015’s Spectre.
In this film, Bond 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 (the unnecessary backstory that Bond and Blofeld are adopted brothers) and a slow-paced story.
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. 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 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. Well-received upon release, it’s a movie that ends Craig’s run on a high note.