After rewatching the Daniel Craig, Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton eras of James Bond, I went back to Roger Moore’s run as Bond. Moore’s Bond was clearly popular, with him being the actor in the most amount of official Bond movies (7 in total).
I knew going in that his movies were on the campy side, even if you ignored Moonraker, however I enjoyed Roger Moore as Bond a lot more than I thought I would. With that said, his movies are all over the place in terms of quality. With the exception of one film, his movies wouldn’t be among my favourite in the franchise, and there’s particularly a few of his films that rank among the worst in the franchise.
With that being said, I do enjoy most of these movies, and all of them have at least a couple of good aspects to them.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Octopussy going in, but I expected something more. It started off well, establishing itself as being on the campy side of Bond but it gradually got worse over time. Yes, in its attempts to lean more towards camp it has some moments that were “a bit too much” such as Bond Tarzan swinging in the jungle, and most of the humour just wasn’t that funny. However that’s not the main issue that brings down the movie. The most surprisingly part is how dull it all felt. The script is muddled and confused, with the most needlessly convoluted plot in a James Bond movie which is very difficult to follow. There’s something about the movie that feels so thrown together, half baked and underdeveloped, as it lazily falls back into familiarity and old tropes. There’s no momentum in the plot and very little progression, making for a rather sluggish experience. Some aspects of the movie are outright bad for sure, including some of the franchise’s worse instances of racism and sexism, however it’s not like there’s any individual moments which make you give up on the movie by how outrageous it gets. Instead, it wears you down over time, and by the third act it becomes tedious to watch.
It’s unfortunate because there actually are some decent aspects to the film. Roger Moore was getting on in the years and he’s definitely had better performances as Bond, but he’s still effortlessly enjoyable to watch. Director John Glen had delivered better work with the previous film For Your Eyes Only, but he still delivers some good work here. The cinematography is solid, and while the action isn’t that thrilling and leans more into being camp, they are nonetheless quite impressive with really good stunt work. Overall Octopussy just felt incredibly boring and becomes a slog to sit through. Despite some strengths, the script just lets it all down. It’s that rare type of Bond film of being both incredibly dumb while being incredible dull. Even at their worst, its rare to see a Bond movie where it feels like a chore to sit through.
6. A View to a Kill
A View to a Kill is often regarded as one of the worst Bond movies. I don’t dislike it as much as a lot of other people, but I do at least agree that it’s at the lower end of the franchise. The plot feels rather routine and without many surprises, with parts that feel very tired. The first half of the movie is particularly dull, when you’re spending an hour watching James Bond investigating horse race fixing, you’re just wondering why we are here. It picks up in the second half, but only by a little. It doesn’t help that the movie is way too long at over 2 hours long, with that runtime being paced very unevenly and messily. Finally getting around to the elephant in the room: Roger Moore is too old to play James Bond at this point. Moore has come across as being on the older side since For Your Eyes Only but it’s incredibly distracting here. The worst part is how they try to convince us that he’s in his prime, while taking every opportunity to replace him with a stunt double. He comes across as tired, much like the movie he’s in. The reliance of stunt doubles for Moore is felt here more strongly than ever, this negatively affects many of the scenes (especially the action), and it just comes across like the film is trying to film and cut around him, and that’s not a particularly good feeling to have.
So the question is, why do I like it more than Octopussy? For one, the plot is considerably more comprehensible. While it’s dull and far from good, I wouldn’t call the story terrible. It works fine enough and is at least better tuned than the last film’s plot. It also has a fair number of memorable scenes, for better and for worse. Even the dragging first half still had some enjoyable aspects that kept me willing to sit through the movie to see what would happen next. Also as I said earlier, the second half does pick up when the setting changes to San Francisco, and there’s some fun to be had there. Also while both Octopussy and A View to a Kill are both campy, something about the 80s cheese feel of the latter makes it more enjoyable and tolerable. While you wouldn’t rank them among Bond’s best action scenes, the action does have its moments in spite of all the Roger Moore stunt doubles. They’re not all memorable, but some moments like a car chase in Paris, a chase in a fire truck, and a scene involving a blimp near the Golden Gate Bridge nonetheless stand out. The villains as played by Christopher Walken and Grace Jones are very entertaining and memorable, the film picks up every time they appear on screen. Walken is oddly restrained and not peak Walken like he is in the 90s, but he nonetheless shines as one of the most outwardly psychopathic Bond villains, and Grace Jones is entertaining in her role and a great physical presence. A View to a Kill is definitely one of the worst films in the whole franchise but it has its enjoyable aspects. It definitely ended Moore’s run as James Bond on a whimper, but for what its worth, it’s at least better than Octopussy.
5. Live and Let Die
From my rewatches of all of these James Bond movies, Live and Let Die was the most disappointing film. I certainly expected it to be campy, however I didn’t expect it to be boring. Live and Let Die does have an initially interesting premise, but the plot on the whole was mostly boring to watch, not helped by some rather poor and inconsistent pacing. The movie makes the interesting decision to take advantage of the blaxploitation films of the 70s, but it only uses this as a framework for the movie, and the racial politics are distractingly outdated and questionable at times. As for the campiness, it wasn’t nearly silly as I thought it would be, and the campiness itself was hit or miss. Sometimes it would be downright annoying, such as a chase scene on a boat with Bond and henchmen mostly focusing on following a sheriff named J.W. Pepper, who is now firmly one of my least favourite characters in a movie ever. However the biggest disappointment of all was Roger Moore as James Bond, especially as this is his debut as the character. He’s serviceable in the part, he’s charismatic and can deliver the one-liners, but he’s bland and doesn’t leave much of an impression.
That’s not to say there aren’t some good parts to it. The villains are underutilised to a degree but are nonetheless performed well and are very memorable characters. Guy Hamilton’s direction is also solid, there are some good action set pieces and stunt chorography, and it makes great use of the locations. It is certainly a memorable film, from the iconic main theme from Wings, to the enjoyably silly moments like Bond escaping from crocodiles. There are certainly some good elements in the film, and I do want to revisit it to see if it improves on a repeat viewing. However, for now I’ll say that its one of my least favourite Bond films.
4. The Man with the Golden Gun
I’ve seen people call The Man with the Golden Gun one of the worst movie in the franchise. While I can see why and I think its definitely in the bottom half, I still enjoyed it. However I openly admit that a lot of my enjoyment was after being very let down after Live and Let Die, and I was hoping for a silly Bond movie. I certainly got that, and I enjoyed my time watching it. However in retrospect, it has to be one of the most confused and messy Bond entries I’ve seen. The movie does have an interesting premise initially, and there’s potential in a cat and mouse game between spy and assassin (Bond and the main antagonist played by Christopher Lee). While the villain thankfully does have a presence throughout, the film still should’ve taken advantage of that setup more than it actually did. There really isn’t much of a story outside of the first and third acts, it drags in the middle with a lot of padding. Also, even with the increased camp, the tone is just all over the place. It would go from having some of the cheesiest and most absurd moments in the whole franchise, to attempting to be harder edged, and the combination just don’t really work. The biggest examples were any scene between Maud Adams and Roger Moore, which only served to make the scenes more uncomfortable to watch.
The increased silliness and camp could go too far at points (really could’ve done without Sheriff J.W. Pepper returning yet again), but it is kind of entertaining for that. Despite the plot being padded out, it is fairly straightforward. It’s clear that the producers were still figuring out what direction they were going to take Roger Moore’s James Bond, and the harder edged moments only served to make him come across as needlessly mean in this film. That aside, it does show improvement over Live and Let Die, and Moore did fare better as the character. Christopher Lee is the best part of the movie as the main villain Scaramanga. The writing for his character wasn’t particularly strong, but Lee thoroughly elevated the role and he’s compelling whenever he’s on screen. Guy Hamilton’s direction is also decent despite a few questionable decisions, with some good cinematography and action. I’m confident that if I was to go back to rewatch The Man with the Golden Gun again, I would see it in a more unfavourable light. Its definitely a messy movie but I nonetheless enjoyed my last viewing of it.
From this point in the ranking it really picks up, as we get into what I call Roger Moore’s middle peak trilogy, the 3 movies in the middle of Moore’s run as Bond which were his best films in the franchise. Today, Moonraker is often looked at as a joke, given that it’s the moment where Bond goes straight into self-parody by going into space. Despite its bad reputation, I actually enjoyed it quite a lot. Its definitely not without its issues, the pacing can be a little slow at times, especially in the first half where not much happens. It does lean more into humour than the previous film The Spy Who Loved Me, but it isn’t overblown, despite having the odd moment like the double taking pigeon. It doesn’t have one of the strongest Bond plots, but the movie is a lot of fun, and the story is outlandish and silly even before Bond goes into space. When that final happens in the third act, it becomes a real joy to watch as it essentially becomes a B-rate Star Wars movie.
Roger Moore as usual is charismatic and entertaining as Bond, and helps to ground the movie with his passive self-awareness and reactions to the absurdity all around him. Moonraker is also elevated by some memorable villains. Along with the return of Richard Kiel’s Jaws as henchman from The Spy Who Loved Me, there’s the lead villain in Hugo Drax. While he’s similar to the villain in the previous movie (Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me), the mix of an absurdly over the top character with a serious and straight faced performance and delivery goes a long way to make him both menacing and hilarious to watch (in a good way). Lewis Gilbert’s work here as director is solid, there’s some very good cinematography with great locations and amazing set design. There’s a lot of fun and over the top action scenes that are well done and entertaining with terrific stunts. When it does get into space, it’s not much like Bond but it’s nonetheless a blast to watch. One could say that Moonraker isn’t silly or goofy enough given that this movie is where the franchise reached peak ridiculousness, but there’s nonetheless a lot of fun to be had with it.
2. For Your Eyes Only
After reaching peak ridiculousness with Moonraker, the next Bond film would be by far Roger Moore’s most grounded and serious movie. The gadgeteer is reducing, making Bond more vulnerable and forcing him to rely more on his own skills. Even the campiness is downplayed, while still having its fair share of cheesy moments. The plot was more complicated than the average Bond film, but refreshingly so despite some convoluted moments. This is John Glen’s first Bond movie as director, and this is the best of his Moore-led films. For Your Eyes Only is really a globetrotting spy film, it’s very well shot and takes advantages of its locations. The action is one of the highlights of the film, with memorable set pieces, from a chase involving skis, motorbikes and bobsleds, to Bond climbing on the face of a cliff. Roger Moore is also great once again here as a slightly more ruthless James Bond and surprisingly delivers on those harder edged moments very well.
Not to say that there aren’t some notable issues with the movie. The pacing was a bit inconsistent and the plot isn’t always engaging, although it picks up in the much stronger second half. While half the supporting cast and characters are good with the likes of Carole Bouquet and Chaim Tolpi in their parts, the other half don’t work quite as well. The movie has one of the most irritating characters in a Bond film in of Bibi Conti, whose addition is one of the most bizarre decisions in a Bond film (and that’s saying something), and the villains are rather forgettable, with Julian Glover making for a very boring if passable Bond villain. There are also some strange choices made, like the opening having the death of an unofficial Blofeld-like character, and the ending featuring a talking parrot and Margaret Thatcher. With all that said, I do think that For Your Eyes Only is one of the most underrated Bond entries and would’ve been the perfect movie to end Moore’s Bond-run on.
1. The Spy Who Loved Me
The third of Roger Moore’s Bond movies, The Spy Who Loved Me is widely known as one of the best Bond movies, and it’s easy to see why. After two very disappointing Bond movies with Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun, the filmmakers made a genuinely great Roger Moore James Bond movie. Compared to the last movie, The Spy Who Loved Me is tonally consistent, with a balance between the spy and espionage as well as the campiness and light-hearted elements. The comedy and gags are well executed and genuinely funny. At the same time, the story is great and keeps you riveted, with never a dull moment. The plot is predictable and follows the Bond formula for sure, but it nonetheless delivers it really well.
This is also finally the movie where they figured out what take they wanted for this version of James Bond. Moore nails the charisma and humour and is witty and charming, while being serious when he needs to be. Both this and For Your Eyes Only are his best performances as Bond. The direction from Lewis Gilbert is strong and polished. It’s large scale, greatly shot and stunning to watch. There are also plenty of memorable action sequences throughout, and the practical stunts and special effects work are great. The only lacklustre aspect is the main villain in Stromberg, while his big plan is memorable, he’s rather dull and lacklustre by the end of the film. However, in a way this issue made up by the iconic henchman Jaws, who is sprinkled throughout the movie to provide an intimidating physical antagonist for Bond to struggle against. Overall, The Spy Who Loved Me is one of my favourite James Bond movies, and it’s by far my favourite of the Roger Moore era.
What do you think of Roger Moore’s run as James Bond? How would you rank his movies?