The Bond series has several unique aspects that differentiate it from almost every other franchise in history. First, with 25 films over nearly 60 years, it has a kind of longevity that none have replicated. Sure, there’s the, but they involve far more characters and a far different filmmaking model. There have been Sherlock Holmes movies for longer, but several different people and companies made those.
With that many films guided by a single entity—the Broccoli Family—signatures develop. Every Bond film has a song. Every Bond film has a martini shaken, not stirred. Every Bond film has its titular hero introduce himself as “Bond. James Bond.” And so on.
The most visually compelling of these signatures is the opening credits sequence. Typically, a mix of impressionistic images, bodies in motion, and explosions, they set the stage for the film to come. Some recall past events. Others foreshadow the movie’s events to come. The truly great ones capture the tone of the film.
The latest, No Time to Die, doesn’t make our top ten, but it isn’t at the bottom either. Briefly recalling the playing card imagery from Casino Royale’s titles—Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007 — it nicely brings the era full circle. Alas, besides that, only the bullet trails creating images of the characters and DNA make an impression.
As not all Bond credits sequences are created equal, we wanted to take a bit to point you towards the ones that we think will knock your socks off. We also warn you away from the least of them as a bonus.
The Worst James Bond Title Sequence
You Only Live Twice
The most important job of the opening credits is to get viewers hyped for the film to come. Besides that, everything it does—let you enjoy the song, give you hints about what to expect, and provide you with time to notice contributors you might otherwise miss—is gravy. But you must accomplish that first task.
The reason You Only Live Twice—a 007 film consistently ranked amongst the series’ best—comes out the worst is how narcoleptic it is. Women’s faces fade in and out of view over screensaver-worthy depictions of erupting volcanos and lava flows. By the time it ends, you feel more ready to lay back in the recliner than sit perched on the edge of your seat.
The Best James Bond Title Sequences
License to Kill
While this one will come in for a bit of criticism below, it gets points for one of the more unique visual motifs. While it mixes in other elements, License to Kill is mostly arranged around photography and components therein. It’s a bit of a thinker, but when you realize the proliferation of red light isn’t just a “wouldn’t this look cool” choice but rather designed to evoke a dark room, the whole thing comes together.
The conflation of the camera lens and a sniper scope is another strong touch, as is the fact that it never tips its hand about which is which. Less successful but still interesting is how the sequence uses the classic gun barrel interior to suggest a light reflector. Making it the background for nearly the whole of the credits sequence is a grace note.
The Spy Who Loved Me
Think of this as a sort of opposite number to You Only Live Twice. While that one offered a visual consistency blandly realized, this one is delightfully all over the map.
The kids at gymnastics class given free time feel of the figures springing as if off a trampoline, flipping on gun barrels like they’re uneven parallel bars, and cartwheeling and tumbling with abandonment don’t reflect the events of the film in the least, but it creates lots of joyful motion.
What does reflect the film’s themes are the repeated moments of near shootings between male and female silhouettes that quickly give way to kissing. There is one, in particular, featuring a woman with a grin so wide it even shows up in shadow that, again, conveys a sense of fun amidst all this spycraft.
007 opening sequences, especially during the Moore era, could be pretty cheesy. However, this one embraces that feeling to have a good time. That puts it above many of its more serious despite the cheese brethren.
Diamonds Are Forever
Another that embraces the idea that these sequences can be a burst of fun is Diamonds Are Forever’s opening credits.
First off, it is super cheeky and suggestive. However, it does that with one of the least physically objectifying sequences of the early era. Women are there, certainly, but not many. Those that are present are usually posed instead of writhing and with less suggestion of nudity than typical.
The real highlight, though, is the cat. The sequence implies the cat is either the film’s Bond girl or villain or, perhaps, both. It’s an undeniably fun bit of business. Plus, for a movie that has been rather, obvious shall we say, regarding puns about women’s bodies, this has a visual one that is easy enough to ignore or shake your head at with a smirk, depending on your valence.
The true originator of the form.
The prior 007 films did have the long Classic Hollywood opening sequences. It also employed some of the tropes—silhouettes, dancing, the gun barrel, the objectification—but Goldfinger truly puts it all together and adds what might be the biggest Bond signifier, the song, to the mix.
It’s also the first 007 sequence that carries a retroactive weight as you realize who the golden woman you were watching was and why she seemed that still.
A View to A Kill
The Bond films, before and after this, would repeatedly try to utilize lasers and/or neon for their opening sequences. Sometimes the element laden with cheese, the repeated laser “007” bursting out of gun barrels in Octopussy comes to mind, and other times it read more like Broadway footlights as in License to Kill’s sequence. A View to A Kill is the only one that gets the neon/laser look right.
A key to that seems to be Maurice Binder finally figuring out how to make it both cool and a bit scary. The blacklight simulation gives it an otherworldly quality that is undeniably unnerving. Some of the strange designs on the models’ would never fly in standard lighting with makeup or face paint. However, with the neon glow against the darkness, they prove very visually arresting indeed.
It does lose a point or two for the literal “dance into the fire” moment, but 007 sequences have definitely provided far more egregious on-the-nose visual moments.
While Dalton’s Bond began the process of re-evaluating the model for a new era with his “monogamous” version and Craig’s interpretation arguably remade the franchise in the most sweeping way, Brosnan’s debut here was, by far, the loudest declaration of “we need to update 007 for now.” While, disappointingly, Brosnan’s Bond would quickly return to baseline in subsequent films, Goldeneye pushed hard at the idea that with the Cold War gone, perhaps the tropes didn’t make as much sense anymore.
The tumbling iconography of the defunct Soviet Union isn’t exactly the most subtle way of opening the first Bond film since the end of the Cold War, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. Similarly unsubtle, but less successful, is the repeated use of the feminine as dominant with women smoking cigars, breathing fire, ingesting and regurgitating firearms, and giant old stiletto coming down hard in the dead center of the shot. Still, when the sequence merges the two and the women starting seemingly taking apart Russia with hammers, the whole thing reaches a kind of sublime ridiculousness.
Goldeneye also manages to make the rather egregious 007 font title of the era work in a way none of the other three films, Tomorrow Never Dies especially, managed. Yes, earlier Bond movies also had some rough or underwhelming font choices, but they’re far enough away now they seem charming. Maybe in another ten years, the Brosnan era font will too. Right now, though, it still feels impossibly lightweight.
An impressionistic near-death experience that shifts so slyly to foreshadowing what’s to come, Skyfall’s opener takes our protagonist and the viewers on an impressive journey.
Its evocation of forces bigger than Bond holding sway over him—best demonstrated by the giant hand at the beginning of the sequence—suggests how M’s big secret will force 007’s actions over and over throughout the film. The weapons falling to become gravestones is a much more severe take on violence than we usually get with the bullets crisscrossing and guns as props most openers give viewers. Even the women, while still sexualized, carry more danger than typical, seeming less like static eye candy and more like potential sirens.
What truly makes it stand head and shoulders above most is the nightmarish swirling water-smoke combination that reveals Skyfall Manor, all manner of skulls, and an open grave. It’s rare that opening sequences don’t just evoke potential danger but are scary independently of anything else that follows.
Die Another Day
Die Another Day tends to be a favorite punching bag of any list of 007-related material. Whether that’s fair or not is, perhaps, a topic of debate for another day. Instead, we can focus on how strong this film’s opening is, regardless of what follows.
One of the immediate appeals is how this credits sequence is one of the few to actually provide a portion of the plot to you. Others may hint at events to come or highlight moments from films past. They may evoke a tone. Die, however, carries us from Bond’s capture at the conclusion of the cold opening to his release at the film proper’s start.
What it depicts is thoroughly harrowing as well. We see 007’s repeated prolonged torture at the hands of North Korean agents, including via shock, branding, simulated drowning, and scorpions’ stings. While the film goes on to suggest Bond never broke, the sequence makes it clear how close he comes as when one of the burning figures, previously only used to depict torture, is shown comforting him. It’s subtle, but its suggestion of Stockholm Syndrome (a phenomenon that has been much contested, but still makes for a very compelling fictional dramatic device) carries weight.
Finally, the fire demon women of the sequence are, by a wide margin, the most frightening visions of people a 007 opener has ever conjured.
Live and Let Die
Like so many Bond sequences, Live and Let Die is quite problematic. There is, of course, the use of the female figure to tell the story. However, that aspect is more or less baked in. Only the first film, plus the one that tops our list, contains no writhing women. Some of them are more or less objectifying but, it seems, to title sequence Bond is to feature silhouetted women.
The exoticization of voodoo practices wasn’t unusual back then, but it does give pause. Especially given how mostly white the cast is in Let Die.
All of that acknowledged, this film has a stunning open sequenced. Far and away, the highlight is the quick cut from a woman to a skull covered in a raging fire. Throughout, however, the titles give the viewer a visually clear but purposely confusing experience full of fire and smoke. Eyes locked in panic is a reoccurring visual that proves far more compelling and memorable than any of the ladies' dancing moments.
Quite a few lists and critics seem to favor Skyfall’s opening sequence above Casino Royale. Obviously, if you look above, I, too, am not immune to the charm of those credits. However, that opener throws so much at you. By contrast, Royale keeps it simple.
So often, 007 sequences utilize two of three visual signatures. For example, Day Another Day using fire, ice, electricity, and scorpions to tell its story. Here, inspired by the cover of the Casino Royale novel, Daniel Kleinman chooses only one visual motif, the playing cards. He also selected a limited color palette. The results convey the film’s more stripped down back to basics outlook.
The action of the sequence is also indicative of Daniel Craig’s more brutal Bond. While real human faces or bodies are rarely glimpsed, the animated figures engage in all manner of violent acts. This sequence foregrounds the violence, rather than reduce it to guns firing into the ether or pure suggestion like most of its peers tend toward.
It is the rare opening that incorporates little to no actual activity from the film and yet fully reflects the tone and events to come. Other sequences are bigger or brasher, but none fit so perfectly with the movie they’re introducing.
Tim Steven is a sad tomato, Tim Stevens is three miles of bad road. He’s also a therapist, staff writer and social media manager for The Spool, and a freelance writer with publications like ComicsVerse, Marvel.com, CC Magazine, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. Feel free to find him @UnGajje on Twitter or in a realm of pure imagination.