The Definitive Chronological Viewing Guide To The James Bond Films [Updated]

Your comprehensive guide to every film, story arc, and era of the franchise that’s spanned six actors and more than fifty years.

Marvel, Star Trek, and Star Wars may be considered entertainment bedrocks of today, but James Bond is older than any of them. After more than fifty years, six actors, and twenty four films, 007 is showing no signs of slowing down. Perhaps more enduring than any major franchise before or sense, it’s found a way to continuously adapt to the times.

Despite the fact the franchise always keeps many of the same fundamentals from movie to movie, it does go through eras that change with the times. With those eras come story arcs, recurring characters, and moments of growth for Bond that impact the subsequent films. We’re here to lay it all out for you so you know which films to watch to get the full James Bond experience in preparation for SPECTRE.

Note: We’re only doing official Bond films. So, don’t expect the 1967 Casino Royale or Never Say Never Again to show up on the list. They don’t count, as they weren’t made by the same producing team as the main series and thus aren’t part of the filmography.

[Update] We’ve updated the SPECTRE entry with more accurate information now that the film has been released. Don’t worry. No spoilers!

SPECTRE Era (1962 – 1971)

Dr. No (1962)

Dr. No (1962 British) Directed by Terence Young Shown: Sean Connery (as James Bond)

Who plays Bond? Sean Connery.

Does it tie into the SPECTRE story arc? Yes, it starts here.

What’s it about? James Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the death of a British Intelligence station chief, but discovers the existence of the criminal organization SPECTRE, whose operative Dr. No plans to disrupt the American space program.

Is it worth watching? Yes, though it’s a little dated in places.

From Russia With Love (1963)

FRWL

Who plays Bond? Sean Connery.

Does it tie into the SPECTRE story arc? Yes.

What’s it about? When he’s sent on a mission to recover a Russian cryptographic device in Turkey, Bond finds he’s being hunted by SPECTRE agents in retaliation for disrupting their plans in Dr. No.

Is it worth watching? Absolutely. It’s considered by many to be the best Bond film.

Goldfinger (1964)

GF

Who plays Bond? Sean Connery.

Does it tie into the SPECTRE story arc? No.

What’s it about? Bond is sent to investigate gold smuggler Auric Goldfinger, only to uncover a nefarious and deadly scheme to disrupt the gold market.

Is it worth watching? Yes. It’s fantastic. This is the movie that introduced the precedent for many of Bond’s more outlandish gadgets such as the classic weaponized Astin Martin. SPECTRE is neither seen nor mentioned in the film, but the story is executed so well it’s become more influential to the Bond mythos than many stories in the main arc.

Thunderball (1965)

TB

Who plays Bond? Sean Connery.

Does it tie into the SPECTRE story arc? Yes.

What’s it about? Bond is pulled from an assignment hunting down SPECTRE agents to recover two atomic bombs stolen in the Bahamas.

Is it worth watching? The film has some major pacing issues, but you do learn much more about SPECTRE, their plans, and the people in charge of the organization. So, watch it if you want all the background and story.

You Only Live Twice (1967)

YOLT

Who plays Bond? Sean Connery.

Does it tie into the SPECTRE story arc? Yes. You finally get to meet their leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

What’s it about? After faking his own death, Bond joins a team of Japanese Secret Service ninjas to uncover the force behind a series of spacejackings before they lead to nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union.

Is it worth watching? Yes, though as awesome as the film can be it’s one of the more outlandish entries in this era with some uncomfortable Japanese stereotypes at play. In a way, it’s very much the climax of the SPECTRE era films. We get to see the organization’s main base, meet their leader, and have some truly epic sequences toward the end of the film.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

OHMSS

Who plays Bond? George Lazenby.

Does it tie into the SPECTRE story arc? Yes.

What’s it about? Bond allies with a European crime syndicate against SPECTRE, who’s leader Blofeld is holding the world hostage through threatening to sterilize food crops across the globe.

Is it worth watching? This is a tough one to call. The film makes heavy contributions to the SPECTRE plotline and the Bond films in general. It doesn’t follow the Bond formula very much, features an extremely important Bond girl, and it actually gives Bond a lot of character development. However, the film really drags in the middle and George Lazenby’s performance isn’t very good.

Overall, we’re going to go with yes. However, this is a real love it or hate it film. Some will adore that they tried something different and clever while others might find it boring.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

DAF

Who plays Bond? Sean Connery.

Does it tie into the SPECTRE story arc? Yes.

What’s it about? While on a quest for revenge against Blofeld, Bond infiltrates a diamond smuggling ring and uncovers a SPECTRE plot to destroy Washington D.C.

Is it worth watching? While this does tie up the SPECTRE arc, it’s a very bad movie that’s by far the campiest of the era. Sean Connery seems bored with the role, as he was really on there for the paycheck. Meanwhile, the Las Vegas setting isn’t terribly interesting and the film doesn’t quite capitalize on the strong emotion that came from the ending of the previous film.

Overall, we actually think this one is worth skipping. If you saw On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and need to see how the SPECTRE plotline ends give it a watch. This film has its defenders… but it’s not for everyone.

 

The Cold War Era (1973 – 1989)

Live and Let Die (1973)

LALD

Who plays Bond? Roger Moore.

Does it tie into the Cold War story arc? No.

What’s it about? While investigating the death of three MI6 agents, Bond must take down a heroin smuggling operation near New Orleans.

Is it worth watching? No. While Roger Moore turns in a strong performance as Bond and we appreciate the back-to-basics plot, this film came out during the blaxploitation era and carries a lot of clichés associated with those films. That makes it a pretty racist and uncomfortable watch, so we say skip it.

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

TMWTGG

Who plays Bond? Roger Moore.

Does it tie into the Cold War story arc? No.

What’s it about? While searching for an advanced solar energy cell, Bond is targeted by the deadly assassin Francisco Scaramanga.

Is it worth watching? Not really. While the basic premise is awesome and Christopher Lee kills (pun intended) as Scaramanga… the film is an overly campy and incredibly sexist mess. There’s a fun kung fu interlude in the middle and the final duel between Bond and Scaramanga is strong, but it’s not enough to save a very awkward film. It may be worth watching for fans of “so bad they’re good” films.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

TSWLM

Who plays Bond? Roger Moore.

Does it tie into the Cold War story arc? Yes.

What’s it about? Bond and a Soviet spy must work together to uncover the mysterious disappearance of British and Russian submarines carrying nuclear missiles.

Is it worth watching? Absolutely. The film may be over the top, but it’s a ton of fun because of it. The Cold War plotline kicks off, introducing several characters in Russian Intelligence that become recurring for several films. Bond and Soviet agent XXX also make a great pair with plenty of dramatic tension between them. One of the best Bond films and Roger Moore’s finest outing with the character.

Moonraker (1979)

MR

Who plays Bond? Roger Moore.

Does it tie into the Cold War story arc? Yes, but not heavily.

What’s it about? When Bond investigates the theft of a space shuttle, he uncovers a billionaire’s plan to wipe out the human race and recreate it in its own image.

Is it worth watching? Yes, but be prepared for the silliest Bond film ever. The movie is trying to capitalize on the popularity of Star Wars, so there’s a ton of space and laser gun hijinks. The film also serves as an unofficial sequel to The Spy Who Loved Me, bringing back the classic henchman Jaws and several elements of the previous film in its premise. So, if you’re okay with an absolutely ridiculous film check it out.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

FYEO

Who plays Bond? Roger Moore.

Does it tie into the Cold War story arc? Yes, very much so.

What’s it about? Bond travels to Greece to track down a lost British encryption device before it falls into Soviet hands.

Is it worth watching? Totally. Though it suffers from some of the silliness that plagues all the Roger Moore films, For You Eyes Only is very much a back-to-basics Bond film. No gadgets, no world domination schemes, and no crazy action set pieces. There are some stumbles like the dated soundtrack and the really creepy character of Bibi, but it’s not enough to ruin the film.

This is a cold war espionage thriller that also has a great Bond girl with her own agenda. Roger Moore’s second best Bond film.

Octopussy (1983)

Octo

Who plays Bond? Roger Moore.

Does it tie into the Cold War story arc? Yes.

What’s it about? The death of MI6 agent 006 leads Bond to investigate an international jewel-smuggling operation being used to disguise a nuclear attack on N.A.T.O. forces.

Is it worth watching? This film has a great plot buried under a lot of dumb moments. Though the story being told is complex and dark, the film becomes a tonal nightmare when you have a far too old Roger Moore swinging from vines doing the Tarzan yell or disarming a nuclear bomb while dressed as a clown.

Still, if you can get past those (admittedly large) missteps, there’s a good movie buried underneath. So, you can skip it but it’s worth giving the movie a chance.

A View To A Kill (1985)

AVTAK

Who plays Bond? Roger Moore.

Does it tie into the Cold War story arc? Yes, but only because a few recurring characters show up.

What’s it about? An investigation of an equine steroid scandal leads Bond to uncover a plan to create a monopoly on the microchip market by destroying Silicon Valley.

Is it worth watching? No. At 58 Roger Moore is far too old for the role, the first half is paced like a snail on valium, and it features a cringe worthy scene where Bond snowboards to the Beach Boys. It might be worth checking out for Christopher Walken’s over the top performance, but this is generally considered one of the worst Bond films.

The Living Daylights (1987)

TLD

Who plays Bond? Timothy Dalton.

Does it tie into the Cold War story arc? Yes. It is the last film to do so.

What’s it about? While tracking down a KGB defector, Bond uncovers an arms dealer’s plan to embezzle Russian funds.

Is it worth watching? Absolutely. When Timothy Dalton took over the role of Bond, the franchise took a more grounded and realistic turn. Like From Russia With Love or For Your Eyes Only, The Living Daylights is a Cold War spy thriller first and foremost. Dalton’s Bond is cold, calculating, and relentless in a way that was ahead of the times. The bad guys are a little weak and the third act loses some steam, but it’s an overall very solid film and often wrongly overlooked.

Licence To Kill (1989)

LTK

Who plays Bond? Timothy Dalton.

Does it tie into the Cold War story arc? No.

What’s it about? Bond goes rogue to take down a Mexican drug lord who ruined the life of his best friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter.

Is it worth watching? Too violent and dark for some, this movie is Bond at his most gritty. Dalton turns in a great performance and it’s fun to see him systematically take down a Mexican drug operation, but the film is held back by the era with a little too much 80s cheese. Still, the villains are strong and if you’re a fan of the Daniel Craig era you can see the beginnings of it here. Many will want to skip it, but it’s worth giving a chance.

 

Post-Cold War Era (1995 – 2002)

Goldeneye (1995)

GE2

Who plays Bond? Pierce Brosnan.

Does it tie into the Post-Cold War story arc? Yes.

What’s it about? Bond teams up with a computer programmer to stop a Russian crime syndicate led by a former ally from using a forgotten Cold War weapon to cause a global financial meltdown.

Is it worth watching? Absolutely. While parts of the film may seem a bit dated, Goldeneye takes the Bond formula and executes it with perfection. Brosnan’s Bond is perhaps the most relatable Bond, a discarded “relic of the Cold War” struggling to find his place in a world that doesn’t want him anymore. It’s interesting and compelling stuff.

That and the tank chase is awesome.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Tomorrow Never Dies

Who plays Bond? Pierce Brosnan.

Does it tie into the Post-Cold War story arc? Yes.

What’s it about? Bond must stop a media mogul from manipulating the British and Chinese governments into a war for the sake of information control.

Is it worth watching? You can skip this one if you want. While there’s some very good ideas here, it’s a very average film that brings in some recurring characters and elements from Goldeneye. Unfortunately, there’s really nothing remarkable going on here. The beginning is great and the action sequences are strong, but it’s overall just doesn’t contribute much to the series.

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

TWINE

Who plays Bond? Pierce Brosnan.

Does it tie into the Post-Cold War story arc? Only in spirit, though some characters from Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies return.

What’s it about? While protecting the daughter of an assassinated oil mogul, Bond uncovers a scheme to create an oil monopoly by destroying a Russian pipeline with a nuclear meltdown in Istanbul.

Is it worth watching? No. The villains are terrible, the Bond girls are terrible, and the plot has too many details to keep track of. Like For Your Eyes Only, they tried a more grounded approach but kept sillier elements… only in this film it’s much harder to forgive due to the bad performances and overcomplicated scheme.

Die Another Day (2002)

DAD

Who plays Bond? Pierce Brosnan.

Does it tie into the Post-Cold War story arc? No.

What’s it about? After a year imprisoned by the North Korean military after a mole blows his cover, Bond sets out to uncover the identity of his betrayer only to discover a plot by a diamond mogul to use a space laser against South Korea.

Is it worth watching? No. This film is terrible in almost every way. There’s a pretty decent sword fight in the first act, but aside from that it’s one of the worst Bond films ever made.

 

Reboot Era (2006 – Present)

Casino Royale (2006)

CR

Who plays Bond? Daniel Craig.

Does it tie into the reboot story arc? Yes.

What’s it about? Newly promoted 00 agent James Bond must enter a high stakes poker game to prevent hundreds of millions of dollars from falling into the hands of a terrorist organization.

Is it worth watching? Absolutely. If it isn’t the best Bond film, it’s in the top five. The acting is superb, but Daniel Craig especially just kills it in his first outing as Bond. The story is a gritty spy thriller that puts a twist on all the familiar Bond tropes to make them feel new. While the pacing stumbles a bit near the end, this film sets the precedent for what every Bond film should aspire to be.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

QoS

Who plays Bond? Daniel Craig.

Does it tie into the reboot story arc? Yes.

What’s it about? Picking up moments after the end of Casino Royale, Bond is on a quest for revenge that leads him to discover Quantum, a mysterious and powerful criminal organization trying to stage a coup d’état in Bolivia.

Is it worth watching? Yes, but only to see how the story continues from Casino Royale. Quantum of Solace may have a lot of great character moments, but the 2007 writer’s strike led to this film’s script being extremely sloppy. The action sequences are also messy and hard to follow. Bond’s personal journey and Bond girl Camille are strong, but it’s not enough to make this movie good.

Skyfall (2012)

SF

Who plays Bond? Daniel Craig.

Does it tie into the reboot story arc? It doesn’t continue the main story of the first two films, but it does pick up the personal journeys of M and Bond.

What’s it about? After going AWOL following a mission gone wrong, Bond returns to MI6 after it suffers a devastating attack at the hands of a dangerous figure from M’s past.

Is it worth watching? Totally. Skyfall may have a plot that doesn’t completely hold together, but the character stuff and emotion of the film is so strong it doesn’t matter. The story is surprisingly personal, the action tense, and the cinematography absolutely stunning. Oh, and Adele’s song kicks ass.

SPECTRE (2015)

SPECTRE

Who plays Bond? Daniel Craig.

Does it tie into the reboot story arc? Yes. The film ties together characters and story lines from Craig’s previous films… though at times kind of vaguely.

What’s it about? The official plot blurb: “A cryptic message from the past leads James Bond (Daniel Craig) to Mexico City and Rome, where he meets the beautiful widow (Monica Bellucci) of an infamous criminal. After infiltrating a secret meeting, 007 uncovers the existence of the sinister organization SPECTRE. Needing the help of the daughter of an old nemesis, he embarks on a mission to find her. As Bond ventures toward the heart of SPECTRE, he discovers a chilling connection between himself and the enemy (Christoph Waltz) he seeks”

Is it worth watching? The film is very middle of the road, neither bad nor entirely successful in conveying the excitement and character emotions it wants the audience to feel. Those hoping for a more classic style Bond adventure will probably like it more than die hard fans of the Craig era. Still, it does continue the story in some pretty substantial ways… so we’d say it’s worth watching.

One Comment

  1. Nice write-up. Surprised you didn’t address the tonal shift in Skyfall, which brought back a lot of the silliness and served as a retrospective for the whole series, or the influence of the Bourne films. Apart from that, though, I thought this was excellent.

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