SEAN CONNERY

Best: Goldfinger
Some critics prefer From Russia With Love because it is a more faithful adaptation of the book. But for my money, “more faithful” means “more deadly self-serious.” When you’ve got a motion piture that people are STILL parodying 50 years later, you have got something special. No other Bond captures the perfect dichotomy of action and urbanity, serious stakes and silliness, as this did. Connery should have given SPECTRE a rest and gone after crime lords more often! Do yourself a favor and listen to John Barry’s score too alongside the prototypical Bond song, too. I will say, though, that the barn scene gives off some SERIOUSLY rapey vibes today, and if ever there was an occasion for “Greedo-shot-first” tinkering with a film, that scene is it.

Worst: Diamonds Are Forever
You could argue that Dr. No was objectively worse, but Diamonds is so disappointing because it is less than the sum of its parts. Sean Connery! Guy Hamilton! Jill St. John! John Barry! The final defeat of Blofeld! And yet for all that, the movie is a languid mess. Connery phones it in. The plot is jokey and makes no sense. Blofeld goes out with a confusing whimper. Bond races a cheesy lunar lander. More than anything, I wish that this film and OHMSS could swap Bonds. The hokey jokey tone of Diamonds would be a much better fit for Lazenby. The saddest thing? It’s still a better Bond movie than Connery’s unofficial Never Say Never Again.


GEORGE LAZENBY

Best: OHMSS
One of the best Bond foils ever in Diana Rigg. Fantastic, high-octane alpine stunts. Groundbreaking Moog-based score by John Barry. One of the warmest, saddest songs ever. One of the warmest, saddest endings ever. OHMSS is, by any definition, a hidden Bond gem that is as tragically overlooked now as it was in ’69.

Worst: OHMSS
When you only do one Bond movie, well…yeah. George Lazenby looks the part, but he can’t act it. He’s a black hole in the middle of an otherwise terrific film, and just can’t sell it. Lazenby might have grown into the role, but he clearly felt that he was too hot for prime time and let his swollen ego take him away from a seven film contract (!), even though he’d never make another movie, come crawling back in a few years, and wind up spending his twilight years as the one James Bond who will come to your convention so long as his check clears.


ROGER MOORE

Best: The Spy Who Loved Me
Roger Moore eventually grew into the Bond role just as Lazenby might have, compensating for his awful first two entries in the series with this witty, urbane, and action-packed entry. It brings back the same mix of world-ending stakes and eyebrow-waggling fatuousness that the best Connery Bonds had, but with the added zing of better special effects and a terrific female lead who is every bit Bond’s equal. The movie was so good that they basically remade it two years later as Moonraker. Just try to ignore all the disco-era trappings in the decor and Marvin Hamlisch score.

Worst: Live and Let Die
Like a time capsule from the shagg-carpetiest corner of the 1970s, this film looks and acts as if a blaxploitation film had gotten a few pages mixed up with a Bond film when two copyists smashed into each other. Borderline racist, ridiculously silly, and so campy it hurts, it’s a miracle the Bond series survived the one-two-three punch of Diamonds, this, and The Man with the Golden Gun.


TIMOTHY DALTON
Best: The Living Daylights

Basically concieved as an antidote to View to a Kill, which was quite silly with a geriatric Bond that seemed lost in time. Daylights was framed as a hard-nosed Cold War thriller–the last time Bond would tangle with the Soviets outside of flashbacks–with electrifying action scenes and a dazzling final Bond score by the late, great John Barry. It even used an Ian Fleming short story as a jumping-off point, and its literal jumping-off points in the form of a skydiving intro and finale were also terrific. The subplot about Bond helping basically Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan is a little uncomfortable today, though not as much as Rocky III.

Worst: Licence to Kill
A Bond film that doesn’t seem like a Bond film, it takes an interesting premise and squanders it in an attempt to feel like a stereotypical late-80s action flick. The action is limp until an admittedly rousing final chase, the film is full of bizarre non-sequiturs like a wannabe Gordon Gekko working for a drug lord and Wayne Newton as a televangelist (!). It’s also by far the most stomach-churning Bond ever, even when compared to the face-drilling scenes in Spectre: guys get fed to sharks, fed to maggots, exploded in pressure chambers, and ground up in industrial machinery. Q’s expanded role is terrific, but just not enough to save this mean, gross film.


PIERCE BROSNAN

Best: Goldeneye
Like Skyfall, this is a “revisionist Bond” that successfully marries aspects of the clasic formula with a new geopolitical and sexual reality. Bond is in a world that’s dominated by computers, shades of grey, and no longer has the confort of a monolithic Soviet enemy or easy sexism. In many ways, he’s a man out of time, and Goldeneye takes the time to consider that, and the lonliness it brings, while still packing in explosive stunts and witty one-liners.

Worst: Die Another Day
Like a reverse Roger Moore, Brosnan’s Bonds got sillier and more dated as they went on, and this was by far the worst of them. Squandering an interesting premise of Bond abandoned and tortured, it offers up mostrously silly scenarios without anything to balance them out. Why not have an albino Korean with diamonds in his face drive a gadget car against Bond’s invisible Aston Martin in an ice hotel? Why not give the performer of the worst Bond song ever a cameo? Perhaps the most unforgivable sin of this film is that it led the producers to cast aside 19 movies and 40 years of continuity due to its sheer awfulness.


DANIEL CRAIG

Best: Skyfall
Like Goldeneye, a revisionist Bond about how a man like this can exist in our modern world. But unlike that, it takes him to a deeply personal place and leaves with him deeply wounded. No other film but Goldeneye delved even a little into Bond’s past, and the progression by which Bond brings a technologically-savvy foe every bit his equal in savagery down to his own level is masterful. Add in the best Bond song since, well, Goldeneye and you have easily the best Bond film since, well, Goldeneye.

Worst: Quantum of Solace
Plenty of Bonds are bad. But very few are so bad as to contaminate their predecessors; even Diamonds didn’t do this, as Bond’s hunt for and slaughter of his wife’s killer is the high point of that film. Quantum takes up Casino Royale‘s dangling plot threads and prompty forgets about them in a muddled transition to water issues in Bolivia that makes even less sense in retrospect as it does in situ. Worse, its resolution to the previous film’s cliffhanger is dreadful–it took until 2015 for us to find out what happened to White, for instance, and the whole Vesper subplot is tied up in a hasty three-minute epilogue! Add in a Bond song so misguided it rivals Die Another Day, and you see just why the produers let Skyfall take so many gambles. It was the only way to wash out the bitter taste.

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