The Greatest James Bond Movies Ranked From Best to Worst

For Your Eyes Only (1981) Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet best James Bond movies

For over fifty years, the James Bond franchise has delivered some of the most exciting movies ever released. 

From the fantastic soundtracks, kitschy villains, and indelible action, the Bond franchise has produced some of the most popular movies of all time, from 1963’s franchise classic Goldfinger to 2012’s praised Skyfall. From decade to decade, the series has become virtually synonymous with the spy genre itself, and with a filmography as impressive as some of the series’ most well-known movies, it’s easy to see why.

From the series heights of the 1960s to the most recent additions to the 007 franchise, here are some of the absolute best James Bond movies ever made, ranked from best to worst.

1. Goldfinger

Goldfinger Sean Connery, Gert Fröbe
Image Credit: United Artists.

When we're talking about the best James Bond movies, of course, Goldfinger‘s going to land at the top of the list. After all, famed Italian director Federico Fellini once described it as “one of those films that make cinema carry on.”

If the two previous Bond films, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, helped introduce Bond, then Goldfinger cemented Bond as the new hero of an entire generation of moviegoers, establishing Sean Connery as the standard for 007 to this day. Almost everything about this movie is iconic today — the performances, Bond's love interest, the villain, the henchman, the incredible theme song, everything.

The first Bond film to win an Oscar (Best Sound Editing), it's considered the best movie in the franchise. So many Bond movies have tried to match its success, but they've all come up short. It's that great a film.

2. From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love Sean Connery
Image Credit: United Artists.

Following the events of Dr. No, the villainous secret organization, SPECTRE, sends two of their best field agents (Lotte Lenya and Robert Shaw) to kill Bond and avenge the death of Dr. No.

Whereas Dr. No established the name James Bond and provided many of the principal archetypes found in the best James Bond movies, From Russia with Love expanded on those archetypes, delivering characters grounded in reality, a plot straight out of a Hitchcock film, and a script adapted more faithfully from Fleming's novels.

Unlike its predecessor in Dr. No, From Russia with Love shaped Bond's personality with more accuracy and depth, tailoring it more towards Connery's strengths as an actor, making him a far more likable, sharp-witted hero than depicted in Dr. No.

3. On Her Majesty's Secret Service

On Her Majesty's Secret Service George Lazenby
Image Credit: United Artists.

Sean Connery left a rather large tuxedo to fill when he departed from the franchise after You Only Live Twice. Fans will forever debate whether or not George Lazenby adequately replaced Connery or not, but there's no denying how enjoyable On Her Majesty's Secret Service continues to be.

With a Blofeld brilliantly played by character actor Telly Savalas, the movie revolves around Bond attempting to stop the head of SPECTRE from releasing a virus transmitted from a group of women in his employ.

As ridiculous as that plot is, On Her Majesty's Secret Service never goes full camp, acknowledging the zanier aspects of traditional Bond movies without devolving into a spy parody or spoof. A favorite of quite a few filmmakers (including Christopher Nolan), On Her Majesty's Secret Service has been praised for its tragic ending, featuring Bond's love interest, Tracy, gunned down by Blofeld and his second-in-command, Irma Bunt.

Prior to Secret Service, audiences had become used to seeing Bond triumph and get the girl — but this movie completely diverted expectations, delivering a more somber ending than any other Bond movie before or since.

4. Casino Royale

Casino Royale Mads Mikkelsen
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

Following Pierce Brosnan's departure from the series, the Bond franchise seemed ready to die by the time Daniel Craig stepped into the role in the mid-2000s. Against all odds, Craig's first outing as the character in Casino Royale more than redeemed the weaknesses of its predecessor, Die Another Day, ensuring the 007 name continued to live on well into the future.

Offering a grittier take on Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, appears as a much more faithful adaptation than the original 1967 Casino Royale, blending a realistic presentation of the spy genre with just enough over-the-top action that audiences expected from the Bond franchise. 

5. License To Kill

Licence to Kill Timothy Dalton, Benicio Del Toro
Image Credit: MGM/UA Communications Co.

By far the darkest James Bond movie ever released, License to Kill established itself as a far cry from the earlier outlandish Bond movies made during the Roger Moore and Sean Connery years.

The main story revolves around Bond seeking revenge for the brutal maiming of his best friend and his wife at the hands of a dangerous, psychopathic drug lord, Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi).

It's a much more serious, violent film than the Bond franchise has ever put out, breaking the campy mold that people frequently associate with the Bond series, spelling out the more modern take on the movies of Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. For that reason alone, License to Kill earns a distinguished place as one of the best James Bond movies.

6. Skyfall

Skyfall Javier Bardem, Daniel Craig
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

If the 2006 Casino Royale with Daniel Craig can be seen as comparable to 1962's Dr. No, 2012's Skyfall can be seen as the modern-day equivalent to Goldfinger.

Featuring a one-off story of sorts unrelated to the return in SPECTRE hinted at in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Skyfall focuses on Bond attempting to thwart former MI6 agent turned cyber-terrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). It's a simple set-up illustrating that Bond movies don't need to rely on a villain's hopes to destroy the world or plunge it into chaos — sometimes the simplest story is the best.

Bardem's Silva makes for a wonderful modern-day villain, an evil version of Bond with a similar background whose motives are justified for a change (he was one of M's best agents, she left him for dead, and he's mad). The movie also lends plenty of character development for Judy Dench's M, by far the most nuanced and layered head of MI6 the franchise has ever seen, making you both hate her for her callousness but also able to see her vulnerability and the more human aspect of her character.

7. GoldenEye

GoldenEye Pierce Brosnan, Izabella Scorupco
Image Credit: United International Pictures.

In a lot of ways, what GoldenEye did for the spy genre is what Batman Begins did for superhero movies — delivering a fresh, up-to-date spy movie that contained plenty of nods to the spirit of the original Bond movies. It also allowed Brosnan to portray a more refined version of 007, one true to the original Fleming novels but also palatable for a wider range of modern viewers.

As it turned out, GoldenEye ended up being the only truly great outing for Brosnan's Bond, with each of his three subsequent films never managing to measure up to the success of GoldenEye.

8. The Living Daylights

The Living Daylights Timothy Dalton, Maryam d'Abo
Image Credit: MGM/UA Communications Co.

Timothy Dalton couldn't have asked for a better film than The Living Daylights to make his debut as James Bond. The first two acts of The Living Daylights are just fantastic. It's a fresh, fun spy thriller that set up the tone that the franchise took moving forward (namely, a more realistic, less campy spy thriller), revitalizing the Bond character after the lukewarm reception of the last few Roger Moore films.

The only weak aspects of this film are the two villains, who are albeit more realistic than past Bond films, though they lack the charm and personality of the much more gimmicky franchise baddies like Goldfinger or Jaws. Even though the initial three-quarters of the movie are incredibly fast-paced entertainment, the movie also has a somewhat abrupt, disappointing ending, concluding just when it seems like it should be at its peak excitement.

9. For Your Eyes Only

For Your Eyes Only For Your Eyes Only
Image Credit: United Artists.

After the sci-fi-heavy wackiness of Moonraker, the Bond producers attempted to return to the more grounded realism of the original Bond movies. The results turned out to be For Your Eyes Only, a notably darker, more realistic take on the spy genre that involved Bond searching for a nuclear missile that went missing in the Mediterranean.

With a much more grounded plot and villain than the antagonists that Roger Moore’s Bond had previously faced, For Your Eyes Only serves as a dramatic precursor of sorts to the later films of Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig era. The main problem with the film, however, is the contrast between its darker subject matter and Moore's iteration of 007. He's just too likable, lighthearted, and charming a Bond to pull off a darker portrayal of the character. (It's like watching Chris Evans as Captain America trying to act mean.)

10. Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die Roger Moore
Image Credit: United Artists.

Sean Connery left James Bond at the most opportune time imaginable. Perhaps noting the far sillier turn the character and films had taken in Diamonds Are Forever, Connery departed from the role for the second time in 1971. In his place, Roger Moore stepped up to bat, playing Bond for the next 12 years over the course of seven movies. In Live and Let Die, Moore’s first run at the character, Bond takes on a heroin kingpin based out of the Southern U.S. and the Caribbean.

Though aspects of the movie haven't aged well, it still remains a favorite of some notable filmmakers, including Edgar Wright, and served as a strong initial outing for Moore, who might've been at his best in this film (not to mention the movie's theme is one of Paul and Linda McCartney's most popular songs to this day).

11. Thunderball

Thunderball Sean Connery
Image Credit: United Artists.

The fourth film in the Bond series, 1967's Thunderball had a lot to live up to following Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger. Still, Thunderball managed to deliver an entertaining, action-packed entry in the Bond series, complete with great marvelous sequences, a memorable scene involving a shark-infested pool, and a now popular Bond villain, the eye-patch-clad Number Two, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi).

Some critics complained that the film's climax, involving an underwater battle between scuba divers from SPECTRE and British MI6, ran a little on the long side, but it still made for a fantastic final showdown. It may not be as great as some of the other films in the Bond franchise, but Thunderball has enough thrills to keep viewers on the edge of their seats throughout.

12. The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me Roger Moore, Richard Kiel
Image Credit: United Artists.

Helping the James Bond series get back on track after the disastrous Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me served as a welcome return to form for the franchise, harking back to the tone found of the original Sean Connery movies, balancing action, espionage, and just enough comic-book-style wackiness without overdoing it.

The main villain may be a generic mad scientist type, but his henchman, the fan-favorite Jaws, manages to even it out well enough to provide constant entertainment. It's a fast-paced movie with a plot that's always moving forward, culminating in an exciting final climax aboard the main villain's submarine.

13. Dr. No

Dr. No Sean Connery
Image Credit: United Artists.

No one can deny Dr. No‘s place in James Bond‘s continuity. The first Bond film put out by Eon, Dr. No introduced Bond to audiences, displaying some of the earliest tropes that became so heavily associated with the character — the uniquely-named love interest, the genius villain with a distinct appearance and evil plan, and a singular setting that a majority of the film takes place in.

It's an impressive movie that possesses many strong points, including Sean Connery's performance as Bond. As good as it is, it's easy to spot a few notable sour points here and there. Of particular note is the fact that James Bond appears a rather cold, unlikable anti-hero, lacking the signature charm and playfulness that Connery later gave the character in his later Bond films. Dr. No‘s may be important and an entertaining enough movie, but it also showed that — like every movie franchise — the studio still had some kinks to work out in the following films.

Author: Richard Chachowski

Title: Journalist

Expertise: Classic Film, Contemporary Film and TV, Video Games, Comic Books

Bio:

Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Fangoria, Looper, Screen Rant, and MSN. He received a BA in Communication Studies and a BA in Journalism and Professional Writing from The College of New Jersey in 2021. He has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.