The Best Movie Ever | James Bond

It's new school versus old school! Our critics debate which film qualifies as the best Bond movie ever.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Bond… James Bond.

Twenty-four (official) films into the one of the world’s most successful and long-running movie franchises, and our hero seems to show no signs of stopping. When series star Daniel Craig leaves, everyone knows there will be another one. SPECTRE ends, like many Bond films do, with the promise that “James Bond Will Return.” He will, as near as anyone can tell, be with us forever.

More to the point, for most of his fans, he’s been with us since before we were born. Legions of action movie fans grew up with James Bond movies, and all of them have their own personal idea about which film qualifies as the super spy’s greatest adventure. What are The Best James Bond Movies Ever? That’s what we’re here to find out.

Previously: The Best Movie Ever | Sandra Bullock

This week on Best Movie Ever, Crave’s William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold are joined by Collider’s Brian Formo to debate their picks for the best Bond movie of all time, and they’re split down the middle between old school bravado and new school grittiness. 

Check out what they picked, let us know your own favorite Bond film, and come back next week for an all-new installment of Crave’s Best Movie Ever!

Best James Bond Movies List

Witney Seibold’s Pick: Goldfinger (1964)

Goldfinger Sean Connery

United Artists

James Bond looks and behaves a certain way. He dresses a certain way, he talks a certain way, he uses a specific kind of car, he uses a specific set of weapons. Over the years, many actors have played Bond, but James Bond, as a character, has managed to emerge as a unit beyond who might be playing him. He is a generality. An archetype. For James Bond, life is simple: trek the globe, consume the best alcohol, effortlessly land numerous attractive European women, and punch a lot of bad guys in the face, all in the service of Her Majesty’s government. Also, blow stuff up and murder people for fun. James Bond is the ultimate male wish fulfillment fantasy in the Cold War era.

So when selecting the best of the James Bond movies, it’s no contest. I must go to the James Bond movie that first defined the character in the mind of the public, and solidified what he was to become for the next several decades. That movie would be the third James Bond movie, Goldfinger from 1964. This is, most critics agree, where James Bond started. The tone, the pacing, the plotting, and the character of James Bond were all set down in Goldfinger, and the formula remained largely unchanged. Bond would go through several crises of character (GoldenEye questioned James Bond’s role in the post-Cold War era; Casino Royale made the character more brutish and less charming), but Goldfinger is the baseline reading by which we measure all the other movies. 

Its icon status aside, Goldfinger is also an exciting and playful ’60s action flick with interesting twists and turns, a fun thug (Oddjob can kill you with his razor hat) and a notable villain who loves gold, who wants to get his hands on a nuclear weapon, and who commands a cadre of sexy lady super-pilots. It’s a film that carefully – and successfully – balances on that important line between hefty realistic action, and goofy over-the-top silliness. Goldfinger is intriguing, well constructed, well-written, exciting, funny, fun, and features a James Bond we instantly recognize, not to mention one of the best Bond songs. It may never be surpassed (apologies to the Casino Royale obsessives).

Brian Formo’s Pick: Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale Daniel Craig Eva Green The Best James Bond Movie Ever

MGM / Colombia Pictures

William already detailed the issues that James Bond the franchise is having by needing to fulfill 007 the character in his SPECTRE review, so I’ll be brief: James Bond is all beats. You have your opening credit action sequence, you have your babes who cannot resist him, you have your cool cars, and you have your victory over the foreigner. And the cheeky self awareness? Let’s just say the James Bond Franchise was never one to beat around the bush. But then Batman Begins came in 2005, and a once cheeky franchise was given a totally serious facelift and fans loved it. For James Bond to remain vital he needed to shake things up, not just stir them. The director, actor, and screenwriter for Casino Royale did both actions. That might make for a bad martini, but it made for a great film.

Martin Campbell was the perfect choice to bridge James Bond to 2006 because he already gave James Bond a facelift with Pierce Brosnan’s first turn in the suit, GoldenEye, by being extra BIG. That’s the familiar stir. But screenwriter Paul Haggis, coming off two Oscar screenplay wins for Million Dollar Baby and Crash, was most likely the biggest shaker in Royale. For the first time, Bond actually loses something dear to him. He actually feels the weight of the license to kill. He drinks not always to enjoy, but to forget (perhaps the same goes for the sex). Sure, Casino Royale has all the familiar pieces, but Bond is personally beaten because he allows himself to be vulnerable. He attempts to walk away. He gets used.

Casino Royale dropped the drink references and left out nearly all the cheeky awareness of gadgetry and sexual prowess. It even saved the catch phrase for the very end. You’d be completely forgiven if you’d forgotten you were watching a classier spy film than James Bond had ever given us. The name mention at the end is there for rebranding purposes.

Also, EVA #*&^%$# GREEN!!!!!

William Bibbiani’s Pick: Casino Royale  (2006)

Casino Royale Daniel Craig

MGM / Colombia Pictures

Before Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond vanished up his own posterior and became overly convinced of his dramatic significance, he briefly fixed the franchise. Brian Formo is right when he said that Casino Royale was a classier version of James Bond, with greater emotional depth than we had ever seen before. But what he perhaps didn’t have enough space to mention is that the reason Martin Campbell’s second Bond film works so beautiful is because it’s one of the very few movies in the franchise that actually follows Ian Fleming’s blueprints, to the letter.

Read Casino Royale – I highly recommend it – and you’ll find a slighter story, a fiendishly straightforward drama of deception and insidiousness. The plot is basically the same in the film: Bond, not yet a misogynist, meets the love of his life while sabotaging a criminal investor’s plans to win back lost funds in a high stakes card game. The film makes Bond a bit more of an amateur – “a blunt instrument,” as M so perfectly puts it – and adds a corking new action sequence where the vicious Le Chiffre’s “Plan A” goes awry, but otherwise it’s all there. It’s the closest any of the films ever came to realizing Fleming’s vision, and guess what? It works better than all the others.

Goldfinger is great, and Witney is right, it set the template for the majority of the Bond films that followed. I’m just not convinced that it should have. Fleming’s novels weren’t broken in the first place, and didn’t need much fixing to become great films. Besides, adapting source material faithfully has proven in recent years to be a noble and highly lucrative enterprise. It baffles and depresses me that Campbell’s Casino Royale didn’t jumpstart a newly rebooted Bond saga in which the original stories could find new life on camera, especially since many of them had never been properly adapted in the first place. (Read Moonraker sometime, it’s completely different than the film and a LOT better.)

Don’t forget to let us know what you consider to be the best James Bond movies ever in the comments below!

Top Photos: MGM / Colombia Pictures / United Artists