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Ranking All the James Bond Movies

By Ryan O’Toole


Photo: Entertainment Weekly — Source


No Time to Die marks Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing as James Bond. No Time to Die is the 25th Bond film, set to finally be released on October 8, 2021, a year and a half after its original release date.


Ahead of its release, I wanted to rank all of the James Bond films from worst to best, all the way from Dr. No (1962) until Spectre (2015). The James Bond franchise has a storied history, one of the longest running franchises that has seen its fair share of highs and lows. And over the years, multiple actors play the iconic 007: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, each with their own interpretations of the character and each representing a different era in the Bond mythos.


It is such a long catalogue of films, so it is hard to discuss James Bond without relying on superlatives. Every conversation about 007 quickly gets into ranking: Who is the best Bond? Who are the best villains? The best gadgets? The best stunts? Bond girls? So here is my entry into that discussion: What are the best Bond movies?


24. Die Another Day (2002)

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Starting off at the worst Bond movie, Die Another Day is Pierce Brosnan’s fourth entry as Bond, and because the movie was so bad, it was also his last. Die Another Day is cheesy, but without charm. A lot of the stunts feel soulless, like the paragliding on a tidal wave or the opening sequence. Brosnan, Halle Berry, and Rosamund Pike do nothing to inject any kind of energy into this. The best thing about this movie is that it caused the franchise to step away for a few years and completely reinvent the character, which they did with flying colors in Casino Royale.


23. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

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After George Lazenby’s short tenure as Bond, Sean Connery returns for one last outing in Diamonds are Forever, although it might have been wise to stay away. Diamonds are Forever features horribly written characters, including stereotypically portrayed “Bond girls”, Tiffany Case and Plenty O’Toole, and features Blofeld in his lowest moment, putting on drag to escape from Bond. The stunts are lackluster, with the best moment being a low speed chase in a crowded parking lot, but the real problem is that Connery seems asleep at the wheel.


22. A View to a Kill (1985)

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A View to a Kill is the first Roger Moore movie to appear on the list, but certainly not the last time we’ll see him on the bottom half of this list. Roger Moore is often thought of as the worst Bond, operating in the silliest and campiest era of the franchise, while also having the most films at 7. And while the start of his tenure has some charm to the goofiness, by the end, it becomes a real slog, long overstaying his welcome. A View to a Kill is the end of this slog, with nothing much to offer. Even Christopher Walken, who is the highlight of this movie, isn’t given much to do. I just watched this movie and can’t remember anything about it. It isn’t as egregiously bad as Die Another Day or Diamonds are Forever, but is easily forgettable enough to land at 22.


21. Spectre (2015)

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One of the most disappointing entries in the franchise, Spectre completely wastes all of the momentum it had. It was following Skyfall, the biggest box office hit of the series and one of its greatest movies, and had an incredible opening sequence in Mexico set during the Day of the Dead. And yet, even after its stellar cold open and even with the best modern henchman with Dave Bautista, Spectre falls flat due to an overly convoluted and misused villain in Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld, a boring plot, and a total lack of chemistry between Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux. One of the greatest things about the Daniel Craig Bond movies is that they attempt to connect the films through Craig’s emotional arc: love and loss in Casino Royale, grief in Quantum of Solace, and finally redemption and aging in Skyfall. Spectre completely abandons this and instead tries to connect them through the plot that Blofeld was behind everything the whole time, which feels cheap and rips away any emotionality the other films had.


20. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

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The highlight of The Man with the Golden Gun is clearly Christopher Lee’s performance of Francisco Scaramanga. Lee is perfectly cast, almost like he was made in a laboratory to one day play a Bond villain. But the movie wastes his talents by having no plot for 2 hours. Scaramanga is an assassin who puts a mark on 007 and begins with a sequence of Scaramanga killing another of his targets in his funhouse home. So the movie is all filler to get Lee and Roger Moore together in the funhouse for one final showdown. Nothing else matters. There’s other setpieces and action elsewhere, but it feels aimless. Lee, much like the movie itself, is just waiting for the climactic battle between him and Bond, which is anticlimactic to say the least.


19. Octopussy (1983)

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Octopussy is less so a movie, and more of a string of disconnected set pieces. The film starts out as a movie about a league of criminals replicating priceless art and fabergé eggs and ends with James Bond stopping the bad guys from using a nuclear warhead in the middle of a circus. And while a lot of these set pieces are slightly entertaining on their own, the lack of any kind of coherent plot makes Octopussy feel so listless and boring. It’s a movie that is much more interesting to describe than it is to actually watch, which probably goes for a lot of the Roger Moore movies.


18. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

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For Your Eyes Only is often considered the “serious” Roger Moore movie, which is saying a lot about how campy and silly his tenure was because this is a movie that features James Bond beating up a hockey team and when he knocks their body into the goal, he scores points on a scoreboard. This is also a movie where in the opening scene, James Bond drops wheelchair-bound Blofeld down an industrial chimney. And this is what’s considered as the serious Bond movie. Topol offers the one bright spot in the film, playing one of the most charismatic side characters to appear in a Bond movie, but the villain, played by Julian Glover, as well as the movie at large, is not very memorable.


17. Live and Let Die (1973)

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Live and Let Die is James Bond’s foray into blaxploitation and exoticism, filled with voodoo aesthetics and spirituality. And this is where Roger Moore’s campiness really falls apart. There’s a world in which a James Bond movie delving into blaxploitation really works, a commentary about a white, British man stumbling through a culture he doesn’t belong to, but instead, nothing is treated with any tact and it feels cheap. But instead, the movie uses race as a shorthand to code its villains as aggressors. There are great performers here, like Yaphet Kotto as the villain and Jane Seymour as one of the most interesting Bond girls, Solitaire, a tarot card reading henchman, but the movie misused them both. Live and Let Die should be a much better movie, but it ends up being a total mess, an interesting mess, but a mess nonetheless.


16. The World Is Not Enough (1999)

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It is easy for people to dunk on Denise Richards playing nuclear physicist Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough. But Richards is not the problem here, in fact, she is keyed into the parts of the movie that work the best. The movie is at its best when it is a dumb, fun 90’s action movie. When there’s a snow chase that ends with a snowmobile parachute, or that the villain is basically a superhero because there is a bullet lodged in his brain. The performances, including Denise Richards, Sophie Marceau as a seductive oil baron, and even Pierce Brosnan are all at their best when they are pulpy, and Brosnan in particular here is dialed up. Where the movie falls flat is in its convoluted plot about oil pipes and using a nuclear bomb to take out the competition. None of it really tracks and feels like an entirely different movie.


15. Thunderball (1965)

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Much like a lot of the worst James Bond movies, the problem in Thunderball is that there is no coherent plot. It acts more like a jumble of scenes than a movie with an arc to follow. The thing that this has going for it is that that random assortment of scenes have a more focused energy in them. In all the non-Diamonds are Forever Connery movies, there is a certain nonchalant energy that Connery radiates that makes him strangely captivating, even when he is at a health spa, just chilling for a couple of scenes. Thunderball’s main centerpiece is all of the underwater photography, which is stunning in its own right and a technological achievement at the time, but it overstays its welcome. The action is too markedly slowed down underwater to be exciting. Thunderball is a very watchable movie even if it isn’t an outstanding Bond movie.


14. Moonraker (1979)

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Moonraker is James Bond’s reaction to Star Wars, taking 007 into space. The most ridiculous of the Roger Moore films, at least in premise (he goes to space for god’s sake), Moonraker is a fun romp that has a more consistent tone than most of the other Moores. The villain is cartoonish in his desire to take over the world, Jaws is completely stripped down to a comic strong man, biting cable cars and even finding a love interest that calms him down. There is a version of this that is more serious, commenting on the space race and dealing more with the cold war era tensions of the time, but Moonraker eschews all of that and is content with being a mindless, fun movie.


13. Dr. No (1962)

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It’s hard to overstate just how important Dr. No is to the rest of the franchise. It’s crazy just how much of the Bond franchise is here from the jump. There were never really any growing pains or finding its footing, Dr. No almost immediately sets up all the hallmarks: the megalomaniacal villain, here played by Joseph Wiseman, Ursula Andress as the stereotypical Bond girl, even the tone setting cold open. But the most important thing set up here is the stellar production design by Ken Adam. Ken Adam is the undersung hero of the Bond franchise, basically designing the visual aesthetic of what a Bond movie looks like. He is perhaps the most dominant voice in all of the franchise, more than Connery, more than early directors Terrence Young or Guy Hamilton. Ken Adams designed what villain lairs, MI6, and exotic locales look like in this universe, encapsulating the tone of 007 in the sets. He is a master of his craft, important to the entire franchise, and even in his first movie, his voice is heard. I also wanted to take a moment to shout out Eunice Gayson, who plays Sylvia Trench in the opening two scenes, and even though she is only in the movie for a bit, she remains one of the best and most empowered Bond girl, actively flirting with Bond and initiating their relationship. There are a lot of solid movies that are so easily watchable, I think “they should just make 20 of these” and with Dr. No, they did just that.


12. Quantum of Solace (2008)

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Quantum of Solace is James Bond’s grief movie. After losing Vesper Lynd, Daniel Craig’s 007 is stripped of everything he’s ever known. The movie takes away all of the suaveness inherent to the character, getting rid of the sports cars, fancy casinos, or spy gadgets, instead opting for a sparse political action film that doubles as a character study of a man dealing with loss. James Bond as a character has always had a dark undertone, leaning into the muder and violence he commits, but Quantum of Solace takes that subtext and makes it the actual text. James Bond is a man taking out all of his pain on the enemies in front of him, leaving no prisoners. The returning players are all excellent here, including the always great Judi Dench as M and Jeffrey Wright as CIA agent Felix Leiter. And the new additions have new takes on old archetypes: Mathieu Amalric’s Bond villain is more slimy than actually intimidating and Olga Kurylenko’s Bond girl has her own arc and storyline, not just someone for Bond to seduce. Quantum of Solace is the only real sequel in the franchise, working more as a follow up to Casino Royale — or as a spiritual sequel to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — than as a standalone movie.


11. GoldenEye (1995)

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GoldenEye is Pierce Brosnan’s first movie and Martin Campbell’s first time modernizing James Bond and bringing him into a new era. And 007 perfectly adapts to the 90s action movies of its era, and has more in commonwith Sean Connery in The Rock (1996) than as James Bond. The movie starts on a high with one of the better cold opens in the series. Bond bungee jumps down a dam and into a secret base, gets in a shootout and has to jump off a cliff to dive into a falling plane and take off with it. It is an insane action setpiece at the jump and introduces us to the 006 agent turned villain with Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan. Although still holding on to the Soviet paranoia from the 60’s, GoldenEye tries to modernize the series in a couple of key ways. One, this film is about the escalation of technology, with its main weapon being a laser satellite that felt absurd in the Space Race era You Only Live Twice, and two, the introduction of a female M. This is the first movie that Judi Dench plays M and is a refreshing, new voice in the franchise, even calling Bond out on being a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur." GoldenEye is a reinvention for Bond and although the rest of the movie can’t live up to its opening sequence, it is a highlight of 90s action filmmaking.


10. You Only Live Twice (1967)

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You Only Live Twice is Sean Connery’s most Roger Moore-esque film, and by far his silliest. It is a movie that features ninjas, a secret volcano base, and the launch of a spaceship. It is also the movie where we finally get Hernst Blofeld as the main villain in all his cat stroking glory. Donald Pleasance is the huge, over the top villain that matches the zany tone set forth by Lewis Gilbert. To be fair, You Only Live Twice gets into a lot of the same problems of Live and Let Die, clumsily falling into exorcism, replacing Harlem with Japan. The infamous yellowface sequence and general cultural insensitivity have not aged particularly well, but still make for a wild movie. You Only Live Twice is the platonic ideal of a goofy Bond movie and the one that Roger Moore most closely tries to encapsulate. And this is the movie that Austin Powers is taking from the most, with its huge Ken Adam designed secret lair, its megalomaniacal villain, and its crazy gadgets, like the one man flying machine Bond uses at one point or the crazy MI6 offices on board a submarine.


9. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

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The Spy Who Loved Me is Roger Moore’s best entry as James Bond and manages to match his pulpier tone and be surprisingly graceful at the same time. It never takes itself too seriously, with an over the top villain, a lavish underwater lair impeccably designed by Ken Adam, and a cartoonish, yet intimidating henchman in Richard Kiel’s Jaws. Roger Moore is having the most fun James Bond has ever had, constantly firing one-liners or pulling off gags, such as finding a corpse and placing an “Out of order” sign on it. But at the same time, director Lewis Gilbert is able to craft incredible sequences. The Egypt sequence is a genuinely fantastic showcase of tension, using the lights to play up the suspense of the cat and mouse chase scene between Bond and Jaws. Even the underwater sequences, which felt lethargic in Thunderball, feel more stylish and elegant in the slow motion of the water. And the climactic final battle in the submarine is really effective; seeing Bond execute a prison escape and lead a rebellion in the hangar of a submarine. The Spy Who Loved Me is the best use of Roger Moore that understands his strengths while remaining a well crafted film.


8. The Living Daylights (1987)

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Timothy Dalton only got two tries to be James Bond, which is a real shame because both entries are excellent. Coming after the absolute slog of late era Roger Moore, The Living Daylights is a much needed breath of fresh air. Dalton’s Bond is a much different take on the character than the three actors that came before him, with Craig’s version being the most similar. Dalton is more mannered than Moore, more charming than Lazenby and without Connery’s philandering nature of throwing himself onto every woman he sees. He is the adult, real world version of Bond we wouldn’t see again until Casino Royale. The Living Daylights is a more adult action movie closer to a Jack Ryan movie like The Hunt for Red October than to A View to a Kill. It is a solid action movie that starts with a great opening sequence that is supposed to be a training mission, but quickly escalates. It is a great introduction to the new Bond. Like in most James Bond movies, the villain’s plot makes no sense and is almost impossible to follow he deceives both the US and the USSR in order to get Bond to kill a target of his, but also wants to sell diamonds to an arms dealer? but it doesn’t really matter. The stunts are great, the chemistry between Bond and cellist Kara Milovy, and Dalton is charismatic in the lead role.


7. Goldfinger (1964)

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Other than Blofeld, Goldfinger may have Bond’s most iconic villain. Gert Fröbe’s no nonsense portrayal of Auric Goldfinger is a high watermark for the franchise, with him and Oddjob accounting for many iconic moments in their one appearance, including the scene in which Bond asks “Do you expect me to talk?” and Goldfinger responds with “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” If Dr. No sets up the formula, this perfects it. The iconic villain in Goldfinger, great henchman in Oddjob, a mesmerizing opening title sequence, and the quintessential Bond girl in Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore. Much like a lot of Bond movies, Goldfinger doesn’t have a ton of dramatic tension rushing the story along. The Connery era in particular was a lot more of a mood piece, with Connery just existing in the world of the film. Here, he plays golf with Goldfinger and spends a lot of the movie just hanging out in Goldfinger’s base. There’s no urgency, stealth, or any deception, just a captivating man chillin’ out in a spy movie for 2 hours. The only reason he saves the day is because Pussy Galore turns on Goldfinger at the last moment. His superpower, much like the movie itself, is not his spy or fighting skills, but his charm.


6. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

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Coming out a few years after the monumental hit GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies is a sleek upgrade to the already well regarded film. Director Roger Spottiswoode exchanges the outdated Cold war politics for a prescient film about the power of media companies. Jonathan Pryce plays a tech magnate and owner of a news outlet who plots America and China against each other for the sake of his own ratings. It is a film about the intersection of politics and news, and presents a new, modern take on world domination, in the hands of a powerful capitalist and not the communism of a previous era. Tomorrow Never Dies was also shot by the great Robert Elswit and, aside from Roger Deakins’ work on Skyfall, is the best looking James Bond film. It is a movie about screens and media and integrates that so well in the aesthetic of the movie. Gone are the sleek Ken Adam designs as Bond ushers in the 90’s tech aesthetic. Another great element is the addition of Michelle Yeoh, who not only has her own personality outside of Bond, but also injects the film with her own energy. Her action scenes beside Brosnan are badass and feel influenced by the work of Jackie Chan, particularly the incredible motorcycle chase sequence where they are handcuffed together, and feel entirely separate from the rest of the Bond canon.


5. Licence to Kill (1989)

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Licence to Kill is the most propulsive Bond movie. The film opens with a brilliant sequence that sees Bond team with his CIA ally Felix Leiteras they try to arrest drug lord Franz Sanchez and still make it in time for Felix’s wedding. And after they parachute in front of the chapel just in time, Sanchez escapes, kidnaps Felix, and kills his newlywed wife. This sends Dalton’s 007 on a path for vengeance. This singular pursuit colors the entire movie; every action and every scene is in response to Dalton’s personal turmoil. Every Bond before Licence to Kill is Bond trying to stop a bad guy from ending the world. In the best and worst of Bond, he just kind of walks through the movie, eventually doing just that, saving the world and courting women along the way. Even in Quantum of Solace, which is so much fueled by his grief over losing Vesper Lynd, it is still secondary to his pursuit of the main villain. This, on the other hand, is all about his vengeance with Franz Sanchez being a secondary figure. Licence to Kill examines the dark roots of a character like Bond. What happens to a contract killer when he goes full tilt? Add in a phenomenal cast of bad guys, including a very young Benicio Del Toro, a great Bond girl in the form of Pam Bouvier’s Carey Lowell, and explosive action set pieces and Licence to Kill remains a high point in the Bond franchise.


4. From Russia with Love (1963)

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From Russia With Love is the second James Bond film and both takes the classic elements set up in Dr. No but also creates its own mythology. Spectre was an organization hinted at in Dr. No, but here, we get a fuller picture of the people behind it and see their plans forming. They are an independent group that wants to pit Britain against Russia and profit from the war between them. We also see an upgrade on the classic elements here: Daniela Bianchi is incredible as Tatiana Romanova, Robert Shaw’s stone faced assassin Red, and the solid action. It’s not at the point where there are jaw dropping set pieces of entire buildings collapsing around Bond, but the fight on the train or the shootout at the gypsy camp are both examples of non flashy, solid action filmmaking. It continues the elements set up in the first movie, but develops them further, the characters are more fleshed out, the action is better, and creates the high point in Connery’s era.


3. Skyfall (2012)

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Skyfall is a film that questions Bond’s place in the modern world, both the character and the films themselves. Where does Bond stand in an action genre filled with superheroes, and now Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt? Even when the franchise modernizes itself, it still has its roots in a classical style that always seems to be behind the eight ball. But the film makes a beautiful argument for why Bond still matters. Of course, Daniel Craig is still kicking ass and is as captivating as ever, but the film itself is dripping with style, the thing that Bond always had. This is largely due to the work of cinematographer Roger Deakins to make the stunning visuals of Skyfall stand out against the rest of not only the other Bond movies but the entire cinematic landscape. Some of the most indelible images of the last decade are found in Skyfall: the burning of Bond’s family house, the skyscraper fight against the neon backdrop, or Bond’s boat entrance in Shanghai. And of course, Javier Bardem is excellent in the scenery chewing performance of Raoul Silvia, an ex agent left for dead and out for revenge. It is the kind of prestige heavyweight villain performance that Bond has rarely seen and that hasn’t worked out with Christoph Waltz in Spectre and what I am cautious of in Rami Malek in No Time to Die. Skyfall proves that Bond still has a place in this world even if it seems like a relic from the past.


2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

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George Lazenby’s one movie as James Bond, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service remains one of the best movies in the series. This is the first film that had a new Bond, replacing Sean Connery as 007, and director Peter R. Hunt completely reinvents the formula while staying true to the tone and style of the Connery movies. The film features great stunts, including a Bond staple in a ski chase down a mountain, and still features Bond going after the iconic Blofeld, but Lazenby’s performance is a far cry from the philandering nature of Connery’s Bond. Lazenby is much more mannered which works perfectly for the story. The thing that really sets this film apart is Diana Rigg’s performance of Tracy Draco and the genuine romance between her and Bond. Even the best Bond girls, except for Casino Royale’s Vesper Lynd, are not as fully formed and don’t have the impact that Tracy does. She more than holds her own, and the more mannered Lazenby effectively makes this movie a two-hander for much of the runtime. It’s a dynamic unlike any other Bond. It’s an emotionally resonant film while also staying true to its espionage core, perfectly balancing the two to make one of the all time great Bond movies.


1. Casino Royale (2006)

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Casino Royale is the best Bond movie, a movie that makes James Bond a real character and not just the embodiment of 60’s masculinity. It is a beautifully textured movie, able to be serious, but not humorless, and able to have both an emotionally mature arc and intense action sequences. James Bond is no longer an unstoppable force directed at whatever supervillain is trying to take over the world. He’s not able to keep up with the parkour in the opening scene. He is a human, with flaws, and who can get hurt. This vulnerability is something that we have never seen before in Bond and haven’t really seen since. Of course, the shining star in this, besides Craig’s career defining portrayal, is Eva Green’s scene stealing Vesper Lynd. With only Diana Rigg’s Tracy Draco even remotely close, Vesper Lynd is the best Bond girl, matching wits with Bond and humanizing him in the process. She is a force that Craig’s Bond and his movies have never really been able to recover from. Quantum of Solace is about the inexplicable grief caused by losing her, Skyfall doesn’t even try to give Bond another woman to contend with Vesper, and when Spectre attempts another romance between him and Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, it only reveals how special Eva Green is in Casino Royale. It’s hard to talk about how great this movie is without just listing off the great moments and performances: the opening parkour chase, the airport chase scene, the poker game, the horrifying torture scene, the climactic fight in the sinking building, and of course, Mads Mikkelson is excellent as Le Chiffre, and Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, and Giancarlo Giannini are all incredible. Every element is working at its highest level to create one of the best action films of the 21st century. Even the other Craig movies have been trying to recapture the magic of this film, but Casino Royale stands alone as the best James Bond film.