In 1966, I pestered my father into taking me to “Thunderball,” a wholly inappropriate, thoroughly naughty and completely enjoyable movie for a boy of 8. There I was, thrust into the world of James Bond, the debonair British spy with a weakness for blondes and vodka martinis with a singular flare for disposing of megalomaniacs bent on world domination.
Did any of us think back then that the series would continue another half-century? Since the launch in 1962, there have been 24 films — the latest “Spectre” opens Friday — involving six actors in the title role.
But what makes a great Bond film?
Here are the rules:
Sean Connery in the title role, for starters. With Connery in it, the movie’s watchable. Without him, there was a void — until, at least, Daniel Craig came along.
It would not be a Bond film without a great villain — which happens rarely — a compelling heroine and a droll sense of humor.
The more material the movie lifted from author Ian Fleming’s novels, the better. The producers ran out of Fleming titles and material in the late 1980s, which explains why the Pierce Brosnan era that followed was so flat.
The late composer John Barry gave the series its distinctive sound. Barry stopped scoring Bond films nearly 30 years ago, but even the films that followed borrowed liberally from him.
With “Goldfinger,” the films found a successful formula — right down to what author Roald Dahl described as requiring three women — one good, one bad and one dead. When the series set out in a new direction, it was often daring and not always well-received. But many have aged well.
So if the first Bond film in three years has whetted your viewing appetite for others, here are some suggestions:
1. “Goldfinger” (1964)
Witty. Concise. Tight. Never before had a Bond film so successfully punctured moments of tension with humor. Not a second of screen time is wasted. It took off with what remains the best pre-title sequence in the series and never looks back. This genuine classic is so well-executed, it is considered the blueprint film for much of what followed.
2. “From Russia With Love” (1963)
One of Fleming’s best plots. For the first 10 minutes, Bond is nowhere to be seen while Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and her minions lure 007 into their trap. It has the best cast, notably the late Pedro Armendariz as Turkish agent Kerim Bey. The fight sequence between Connery and Red Grant (Robert Shaw) is graphic, even by today’s standards.
3. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969)
The least commercially successful Bond. With Connery bowing out, the producers were looking for something different. What emerged was director Peter Hunt’s vision of what the series could have become. Different actor (George Lazenby who played Bond only once). Different style. A beautiful Diana Rigg as the doomed Tracy Di Vicenzo. And a downbeat ending the likes of which audiences would not see again.
4. “Dr. No” (1962)
In the first Bond film, the standouts are Joseph Wiseman as the menacing Dr. No, and the mesmerizing Ursula Andress as Honey Rider. Before he took on “Hawaii Five-O,” Jack Lord came as close as anyone in upstaging Connery as the CIA’s Felix Leiter. It also introduced a catchy theme song. You may recognize it.
5. “Casino Royale” (2006)
The beginning of the Daniel Craig era. Not since “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” had the series altered its parameters as much. This time, the new direction stuck. And it was the last Fleming novel to be transformed into a movie.
6. “You Only Live Twice” (1967)
If for nothing else, watch it for the lush cinematography of 1960s Japan, Roald Dahl’s stylish screenplay and Barry’s best score. The title track sung by Nancy Sinatra was never surpassed.
7. “Skyfall” (2012)
Adele delivered one of the best Bond themes in a quarter-century. Judi Dench stole the show.
8. “For Your Eyes Only” (1981)
By the early 1980s, Bond was drowning in self-parody. Returning to basics, this left the gadgets and the camp alone and delivered a classic spy vs. spy story, a great sidekick in Topol’s Milos Columbo and Roger Moore’s best outing.
9. “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977)
It has one of the best pre-title sequences — Bond (actually stunt skier Rick Sylvester) flying off the 3,000-foot Asgard peak and parachuting to safety — Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” theme song and a Lotus Esprit that does double duty submerged.
10. “Thunderball” (1965)
This was released at the height of Bondmania. In 1965, 50 movies — to say nothing of dozens of television series — tried to cash in on the spy phenomenon. Director Terence Young’s last Bond film remains the series’ most commercially successful entry.
What’s the score?
Best Bond performance:
1. Sean Connery “Goldfinger”
2. Sean Connery “From Russia With Love.”
3. Daniel Craig “Casino Royale”
4. Roger Moore “For Your Eyes Only”
5. Timothy Dalton “The Living Daylights”
1. “From Russia With Love”
2 “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”
4 “Casino Royale”
5 “For Your Eyes Only”
Best Bond heroine:
1. Diana Rigg — Tracy Di Vicenzo “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”
2. Ursula Andress — Honey Rider “Dr. No”
3 Eva Green — Vesper Lynd “Casino Royale”
4. Honor Blackmon — Pussy Galore “Goldfinger”
5. Carole Bouquet — Melina Havelock “For Your Eyes Only”
1. Jack Lord — Felix Leiter “Dr. No”
2. Judi Dench — M “Skyfall”
3. Pedro Armendariz — Kerim Bey “From Russia With Love
4. Topol — Milos Columbo “For Your Eyes Only”
5. Gabriele Ferzetti — Marc Ange Draco “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”
1. “You Only Live Twice”
4. (“Nobody Does It Better”) “The Spy Who Loved Me”
5. “Live and Let Die”
1. Gert Frobe — Auric Goldfinger “Goldfinger”
2. Harold Sakata — Oddjob “Goldfinger”
3. Joseph Wiseman — Dr. Julias No “Dr. No”
4. Robert Shaw — Donald “Red” Grant “From Russia With Love”
5. Javier Bardem — Raoul Silva “Skyfall”
1. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”
2. “From Russia With Love”
3. “Casino Royale”
5. “For Your Eyes Only”
1. Aston Martin DB5 (with modifications) — “Goldfinger
2. “Little Nellie” — “You Only Live Twice”
3. Lotus Esprit — “The Spy Who Loved Me”
4. Mini-breather — “Thunderball”
5. Attache case — “From Russia With Love”