While the producers of the James Bond franchise deliberate over their approach to the next reboot, it’s the perfect time for fans to go back and rewatch the old classics. The first 007 actor, Sean Connery, defined the character’s on-screen attitude and personality with his string of early trendsetting outings in the early-to-late 1960s and the early 1970s. His initial run of six movies established all the tropes and trademarks that Bond fans have come to expect.
Connery’s Bond came out of the gate with three timeless masterpieces – Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Goldfinger – that still hold up today. Some of Connery’s Bond movies, like those three and the climactic adventure of You Only Live Twice, can withstand more repeat viewings than others, like Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever.
6 Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
After ducking out for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which ended up being praised as one of the best Bond films, Connery briefly returned to the role for Diamonds Are Forever, which ended up being panned as one of the worst Bond films. It actually received positive reviews at the time, but public opinion of the movie has soured over the years.
The plot is nonsensical, even for a Bond film: Blofeld is smuggling diamonds so he can use them to build a laser beam in space. There’s a fun segment in Amsterdam near the beginning, but the movie goes downhill after Bond survives a cremation in Las Vegas.
5 Thunderball (1965)
Thunderball is generally considered to be a low point in Connery’s tenure and one of the weakest Bond films overall. It had the tough burden of following up Goldfinger, a universally praised masterpiece that laid the groundwork for every Bond movie that followed. It’s nowhere near as great as Dr. No or From Russia with Love, but it’s still an underappreciated gem.
The movie has a delightfully offbeat cold open in which Bond consoles the widow of an old enemy, only to find that his enemy is alive and well, disguised in his own wife’s stockings and high heels. The main plot sends Bond on one of his sunniest adventures yet to the Bahamas. Thunderball is full of signature 007 one-liners like quipping, “I think he got the point,” after killing a bad guy with a spear gun. The whole thing culminates in a thrilling undersea battle sequence, meticulously choreographed by the stunt team.
4 You Only Live Twice (1967)
Bond’s long-awaited showdown with Blofeld arrived in You Only Live Twice. The movie ends with an exhilarating finale set in the head honcho of SPECTRE’s iconic headquarters located in a hollowed-out volcano. This has since become the defining image of an evil villain’s secret lair. But it takes a while to get there. There wasn’t much to draw from in the source material, since the original novel is practically a travelogue. Screenwriter Roald Dahl didn’t have a lot to work with. As a result, the movie adaptation of You Only Live Twice has a slow pace and a plodding narrative.
It gets off to an exciting start with 007 faking his own death, but Bond meanders around Japan for a long time before finally figuring out where Blofeld is hiding. Still, once he gets to the volcano and confronts Blofeld and his goons, it becomes a high-octane actioner.
3 From Russia With Love (1963)
The second Bond movie, From Russia with Love, is one of the only true sequels in the series. It’s not a standalone adventure like most entries in the franchise; it follows on directly from Dr. No, with SPECTRE training assassins to kill 007 in retaliation for his murder of Dr. Julius No in that movie. Bond spends a big chunk of the movie traveling across Europe by train, and the main villain Rosa Klebb doesn’t make much of an impact until the very end after 007 has already completed his mission.
But From Russia with Love still warrants a handful of revisits, because it’s masterfully crafted by director Terence Young and Robert Shaw gives a wonderfully sinister performance as the secondary villain, Red Grant. Grant’s brutal scuffle with 007 on the Orient Express is one of the greatest fight scenes in movie history.
2 Dr. No (1962)
The first ever Bond movie still holds up as one of the series’ most enjoyable entries. Dr. No is a straightforward spy caper that injected a much-needed dose of fun into the espionage genre, which had become stale and self-serious by the early 1960s. The first movie has none of the superfluous plot threads that would let down some of the franchise’s later films; it’s just a narrow-minded pursuit of a typically megalomaniacal villain.
Dr. No opens with the murder of an MI6 station chief, after which Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate that murder. Before the climactic confrontation with the titular baddie, Bond encounters a car chase, a venomous spider, a flamethrowing tank, and a “Bond girl” who still ranks among the most memorable: Honey Ryder, played by the iconic Ursula Andress.
1 Goldfinger (1964)
From the opening drug lab explosion to the climactic showdown at Fort Knox (painstakingly reconstructed by production designer Ken Adam), Goldfinger is a quintessential spy adventure. It’s the ultimate Bond movie. Adhering to the tenet of “third time lucky,” the Bond threequel perfected the formula and still has yet to be topped.
Goldfinger introduced the globetrotting nature of Bond’s exotic escapades and the franchise’s now-familiar tongue-in-cheek comedic sensibility. It has one of the greatest car chases ever put on film, it debuted 007’s gadget-filled Aston Martin DB5, and Gert Fröbe’s unforgettably eccentric portrayal of Auric Goldfinger never gets old.
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