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.
The most visually compelling of these signatures is the opening credits sequence. Typically, a mix of impressionistic images, bodies in motion, and explosions, 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.
As not all credit sequences are created equal, we wanted to take a moment to highlight the best James Bond title sequences…and warn viewers away from the worst, too.
The Worst James Bond Title Sequence – You Only Live Twice
Opening credits need to get viewers hyped for the film to come. 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, audiences feel more ready to lay back in the recliner than sit perched on the edge of their seat.
License To Kill
While this one will come in for criticism below, it gets points for one of the more unique visual motifs. While it mixes in other elements, License to Kill centers around photography and components.
The conflation of the camera lens and a sniper scope makes another strong touch. Less successful but still interesting: the sequence uses the classic gun barrel interior to suggest a light reflector. Making it the background for nearly the whole credits sequence is a grace note.
The Spy Who Loved Me
Think of this as the opposite number to You Only Live Twice. While that one offered a visual consistency blandly realized, this one goes 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.
The repeated moments of near shootings between male and female silhouettes that quickly give way to kissing do, on the other hand, echo the events of the plot. One, in particular, features a woman with a grin so wide it even shows up in shadow, conveying a sense of fun amidst all this spycraft.
007 opening sequences, especially during the Moore era, often veered into the cheesy. However, this one embraces that feeling of having 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.
A super cheeky and suggestive set of titles, it also features one of the least physically objectifying sequences of the early era. Women are there, certainly, but not many. Those present pose instead of writhing.
The real highlight, though, is the cat. For a rather obvious movie, shall we say, regarding puns about women’s bodies, this has a visual one that is easy enough to ignore or scoff at, 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 tropes—silhouettes, dancing, the gun barrel, and objectification. Still, Goldfinger puts it all together and adds the biggest Bond signifier, the song, to the mix.
A View to a Kill
Bond films repeatedly tried to utilize lasers and/or neon for their opening sequences. Sometimes, the element is laden with cheese, though other times, it reads more like Broadway footlights, as in License to Kill’s sequence. A View to A Kill gets the neon/laser look right.
A key to that seems to be Maurice Binder finally figuring out how to make it cool and a bit scary. The blacklight simulation gives it an otherworldly quality that is undeniably unnerving. Some 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 are very visually arresting.
It loses a point or two for the literal “dance into the fire” moment, but 007 sequences have 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 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 doesn't make 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 practical. Similarly unsubtle but less successful, the credits repeat the use of the feminine as dominant, with women smoking cigars, breathing fire, ingesting and regurgitating firearms. A giant old stiletto comes down hard in the dead center of the shot. Still, the whole thing becomes sublimely ridiculous when the sequence merges the two, and the women start seemingly taking apart Russia with hammers.
GoldenEye also manages to make the era's rather egregious 007 font title 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.
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.
The nightmarish swirling water-smoke combination that reveals Skyfall Manor, all manner of skulls, and an open grave, turns the sequence upside down. It’s rare that opening sequences don’t just evoke potential danger but are scary independently of anything else that follows.
Die Another Day
Fans love to use Die Another Day as a punching bag for any list of 007-related material.
The credits sequence hints at the plot to come. Other moments allude to events to come or highlight moments from past films. Die carries us from Bond’s capture after the cold opening to his release at the film proper’s start. We see 007’s repeated prolonged torture at the hands of North Korean agents, including via shock, branding, simulated drowning, and scorpion stings. While the film goes on to suggest Bond never broke, the sequence makes it clear how close he comes when one of the burning figures, previously only used to depict torture, comforts him. The 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 has problems. A female figure tells the story. 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 sequence. Throughout, the titles give the viewer a visually clear but purposely confusing experience of fire and smoke. Eyes locked in panic is a recurring visual that proves far more compelling and memorable than any of the ladies' dancing moments.
Several lists and critics favor Skyfall’s opening sequence above Casino Royale.
So often, 007 sequences utilize two of three visual signatures. For example, Day Another Day uses 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 violent acts. This sequence foregrounds the violence rather than reducing it to guns firing into the ether or pure suggestion like most peers tend toward.
The rare opening incorporates little to no actual activity from the film 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.
Okay, so Spectre earned the ire of many Bond fans, given some of its ridiculous plot twists (Brothers? Really?!), but the opening sequence hits all the right notes for a Bond movie. Set to the limp Sam Smith tune “Writing's on the Wall,' (which somehow won an Oscar!), the credits feature a depiction of women writhing on Daniel Craig. An animated octopus–the symbol of SPECTRE–also gets in on the action, symbolizing the far-reaching power of the terrorist organization. Other images of skulls, weapons, and crowd hysteria foreshadow the events of the film, as well as the previous Craig-centric entries in the Bond series. It succeeds as quintessential bond iconography and in creating a sensual tone for the film to come.
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.