Ask anyone who's the best Bond, and the reply, more times than not, will be an emphatic, "Sean Connery." Of course, he was the first movie Bond, and that's bound to make an impression. But it's more than that. After Connery, every subsequent Bond is a mirror in some way. They must be strong like Connery. They must be gallant like Connery. They'll have to persevere and save the day, save the world. And they'll need to do all those things with charisma and charm to spare. Future Bonds can reference their predecessors. But Sean Connery created the big screen version that's been imitated in thousands of movies that aren't even called Bond. He's the original, and while the times may change, his contribution to onscreen heroism will not. We salute him, his Bond movies (Eon Productions Bond movies only here), and we're more than happy to rank them.
(Also, be sure to check out more 007 content, games, and exclusive video on Noovie's The James Bond Experience)
You Only Live Twice
"YOLT" doesn't quite roll off the tongue like "YOLO," but don't tell that to Drake, Lil Wayne, and Rick Ross. Don't say that to James Bond, either. It may not be the best of Connery's Bond outings, but it does pack in the action and romance. That's something to say when you consider that children's author Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay. It also gave Mike Myers more than enough material to riff off of for "Austin Powers." Indeed, "You Only Live Twice" answers the burning question: what's the one thing better than Bond? Bond backed up by a team of ninjas! What's worse than a team-up of Bond and ninjas? Er, well, Sean Connery as Bond made up to look and act Japanese. For all its merits and faults we do give Eon (and Ian Flemming) some credit here for the boldness of placing a spoiler right in the title.
Diamonds Are Forever
James Bond movies are not known for their continuity, but "Diamonds Are Forever" was initially supposed to set up a vengeful 007. Bond's wrath? Aimed at the evil Blofeld of course, who, in the previous adventure, shot Bond's wife Tracy (Diana Rigg) in cold blood. That previous film was "On His Majesty's Secret Service," which starred the other guy, George Lazenby. When Lazenby turned down a five-picture deal, Connery was enticed back with a very handsome salary and a deal to make two movies of his choice. It all paid off.
With Lazenby gone and Connery back in the fold, the plot got reworked. Bond still gets his revenge on Blofeld in the beginning, but the reason is only implied. It even turns out to be (spoiler alert) a red herring that sets up his American escapade to Vegas. "Diamonds Are Forever" gives us better action, a Bond car on two wheels, and a Bond girl that serves more purpose than just to seduce Bond. Charles Grey's sinister Blofeld is also criminally underrated. As for that running thread of Bond the widower? His past love would get referenced a few times throughout the franchise in the Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan films. It's probably the one plot point that loosely connects all those films together.
This was not the first time James Bond jumped from page to screen. But this was the first film to feature Ian Flemming's suave spy. A few hallmarks of the franchise make their debut, including the opening gun-barrel sequence and a highly stylized opening number. It's also the first on-screen utterance of the iconic character intro, "Bond. James Bond." "Dr. No" lays the proper groundwork for the rest of the franchise, not just with these tropes, but also with the casting. Along with Sean Connery, there's Bernard Lee as Bond's boss M and Lois Maxwell as Ms. Moneypenny. Interestingly, the film debuted to mixed critical reception, but audiences chewed it up. Even then-President John F. Kennedy requested a private showing at the White House. He was a fan of the original novels.
The stakes are higher. The action amped up. And Bond is back in the Caribbean. Bond heads to the Bahamas to go undercover, underwater, hunting for nuclear warheads, and evading sharks. These days we may have grown accustomed to Marvel's good-guy Nick Fury and his eye patch, but villain Largo gave the look its more famous chills. "Thunderball" is easily one of Bond's finest adventures. It could have also been the first Bond movie if not for the legal dispute we touched upon earlier. The action never stops and you can easily see its influence in later Bond films. Current Bond producer Michael G. Wilson agrees. In an interview Wilson stated, "We always start out trying to make another 'From Russia with Love' and end up with another 'Thunderball.'"
From Russia With Love
For many "From Russia With Love" is not just the best of the Connery Bond films, but the best Bond film, period. We're bucking that trend here, even if fans of the movie include Daniel Craig and Sean Connery, himself. The Kennedy connections also continue, as "From Russia With Love" was selected as the "Dr. No" follow-up after JFK named the book as one of his all-time favorites. So what makes this such a fan favorite? Perhaps it's because the film is like fine wine. As BBC's Neil Smith said, "it only gets better with age." It's not over-the-top cartoonish with gadgets and villains, nor is it non-stop action, as many of the later Bond adventures. It's smart, on-the-nose yet tongue-in-cheek, and perhaps the truest to the book of any Bond film, next to "Casino Royale."
Interesting side fact: a young Steven Spielberg was so taken by Robert Shaw's bad guy performance here that he knew he had to cast him as the grizzled shark tracker Quint in "Jaws."
"Goldfinger" is the gold standard of Bond films. The cold open, the soulful theme song over the opening credits, the gadgets, the sexy car, the quips, the Bond girl's punny name, the martini order. All these classic tropes were born in Sean Connery's third time as 007. "Goldfinger" was also the first James Bond blockbuster, recouping its $3M budget in two weeks, and landing in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest-grossing movie of all time (a title now bestowed upon Marvel's "Avengers: Endgame."). Other firsts? "Goldfinger" was the first Bond film to win an Oscar for Special Effects. The film's massive popularity would inspire an entire espionage genre boom in the '60s that gave us everything from TV's "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," pop music's "Secret Agent Man," to genre spoofs like the Beatles' "Help!," James Coburn's "Our Man Flint," and yes, even "Austin Powers," baby.
Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.