This list will include Sean Connery’s 6 official James Bond movies from Dr. No to Diamonds Are Forever, as well as the unofficial Bond film Never Say Never Again which he starred in.
It was an interesting experience getting to rewatch the James Bond movies and ending them with the Sean Connery films instead of beginning with them. Like with Roger Moore’s James Bond, I liked Connery’s era as the iconic spy more than I thought I would, even if they aren’t some of my favourites in the franchise. I’m mixed on some of Connery’s films, I dislike one of them, and there’s only a couple that I would consider among the best in the franchise. With that said, they mostly worked for what they are.
7. Diamonds Are Forever
Diamonds Are Forever is not only my least favourite Sean Connery James Bond movie, but my absolute least favourite James Bond movie (unless the 1960s Casino Royale ends up being worse). Right from the beginning it disappoints, as it doesn’t take advantage of the ending from its predecessor On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It quickly establishes itself as going back to formula, and the events of the last movie aren’t mentioned at all. Even though Bond movies aren’t known for their continuity film to film, it was wasted potential. Even discounting that however, the plot itself just isn’t good. The story is convoluted, boring, drawn out and nonsensical and just jumps from one goofy set piece to another. Diamonds Are Forever also dials up the camp more than the previous movies, it gets so unbelievably silly and stupid to the point that I can’t even praise it for how over the top it gets. That being said, those absurd moments nor the sprinkle of genuinely funny moments like Bond driving around in a moon buggy can prevent the movie from being painfully dull. Even though he previously directed Goldfinger, Guy Hamilton’s work on DAF is disappointing. While the action scenes aren’t usually outright bad, they were boring and on autopilot. There’s also little to no energy throughout the movie, making for a sluggish viewing experience.
There are some bad supporting performances from cast, from the Bond girls to the villains, including the worst version of Ernst Stravo Blofeld. What sinks Diamonds Are Forever for me more than some of Bond’s other worst movies however is the fact that Sean Connery just wasn’t invested at all. Every other Bond actor at least looked like they were trying in their movies. Connery does have some charm to him, but otherwise his performance in DAF clearly indicated that this was a paycheck role for him. Not to say that there aren’t aspects of the movie that I don’t like. The setting of Vegas is different for Bond, if not as interesting, and the production design and technical elements are solid. John Barry’s score is decent, and there is a very good Bond song with the title track Diamonds Are Forever as sung by Shirley Bassey. There’s also a genuinely good scene in which Bond fights someone in an elevator, which is actually tense and effective. On the whole though, Diamonds Are Forever a terrible movie. It’s just as well that Sean Connery was in the movie because otherwise, the James Bond franchise really could’ve just ended here.
Thunderball is a movie that I’m very mixed on, it felt particularly like a let-down after the rather solid first three films of Connery’s run. They certainly increased the scope and stakes of the movie after the immense success of Goldfinger, but you don’t really feel them. In fact, there’s a real sense of blandness to the story and characters, on the whole I wasn’t very engaged or excited with what was happening. The movie slowly moves with a sluggish pace, and it was a really underwhelming experience. It doesn’t help that hanging over the rest of the movie is that extended segment in the first act in a massage parlour, featuring a notably rapey James Bond who harasses and coerces a nurse, only serving to make the rest of the movie uncomfortable to sit through. Much of the cast are a mixed bag too. Sean Connery is confident and charming as usual, and Luciana Paluzzi made for a great henchwoman in Fiona Volpe. On the other hand, Claudine Auger as Bond girl Domino and the villain Largo played by Alfodo Celi were incredibly underwhelming and forgettable.
Thunderball is impressive on a technical level and makes use of the higher budget. It’s well shot, has a great production design and has technically great underwater sequences. With that said, the action is large but not thrilling, and the underwater scenes are rather boring to watch and hard to make out what is going on. All that aside, I don’t dislike Thunderball. There are some entertaining moments and some really good scenes. I liked the moments of camp, and it certainly has some memorable moments and aspects. Perhaps it’s not a popular opinion, but I just couldn’t get much out of Thunderball. Enjoyable moments and a couple of good performances in an otherwise disappointingly dull film. Lower tier James Bond for sure.
5. Never Say Never Again
I don’t know what is more controversial, having Never Say Never Again this high on the list, or placing it higher than Thunderball, the film it is based on. This is the infamous movie that was not only an unofficial Bond film, not only a remake of Thunderball, but also starring Sean Connery (the same year Roger Moore was James Bond in Octopussy mind you). As it is, the movie isn’t all that good, but I like it more than most people. The plot isn’t the movie’s strongest suit; it is similar to the original Thunderball, and knowing the general plot definitely takes away from the viewing experience as it goes through similar beats. The story is forgettable, not engaging, uneven and tonally off kilter, contributing to the story losing focus. It is more clunky and messy but it wasn’t that much worse than Thunderball’s story, I had more fun with NSNA at the very least. The movie was very over the top and silly, and was entertaining as such. It is fully self-aware and only benefits from that. It leans into camp, from Bond duelling Largo in a game of Space Invaders, to Bond ending a fight with a henchman by throwing a glass of his own urine in his face.
Sean Connery returns to play James Bond after a 12-year absence, and while there’s a lot here that would’ve been better had it been performed by Roger Moore instead, he is surprisingly sharp, and his charisma is back on display. He slips back into his role with ease, and ironically Never Say Never Again gives him a better sendoff compared to Diamonds are Forever. It also benefits from acknowledging Connery’s age and instead of trying to hide it, makes it a plot point in the movie. There’s a mix of decent or at least interesting performances, from Max von Sydow’s one scene appearance as Ernst Stravo Blofeld, to Barbara Carrera in a distinctly different and over the top maniacal version of Fiona Volpe from the original Thunderball. However, Klaus Maria Brandauer’s Largo was the standout, much better than the Largo in Thunderball. A menacing and unpredictable villain, who is also a delight to watch. Irvin Kershner’s work as director is fine, definitely lacking a lot of Bond trademarks including the Gunbarrel sequence in the opening. The technical level isn’t as strong as the other Bond movies and the visuals aren’t special. The action was entertaining enough though, and while the underwater sequences weren’t good, they were at least more fun to watch compared to the ones from Thunderball. Never Say Never Again is definitely in the bottom third of James Bond movies, and I’m not sure I can call it good. However I think I went into it with the right mindset and I enjoyed it for what it was.
4. You Only Live Twice
This is the point where the series started leaning more into camp, in fact at this moment it was the goofiest point in the franchise. It was a less a political spy thriller and more a silly spy adventure with a light tone. I do think that it is quite entertaining in the absurdity, even if it borders on self-parody at many times. It does at least help that the movie is self-aware. I was generally enjoying it throughout, helped by the tight pacing and some creative and ambitious moments. Lewis Gilbert’s direction is quite good, there are some great locations, environments and set designs that are visually impressive, and the action set pieces are elaborate and fun to watch. You Only Live Twice also has the first on screen appearance of Ernst Stravo Blofeld, played here by Donald Pleasence. Over the top and cartoonish yet creepy, he’s one of the most memorable and iconic Bond villains.
YOLT has plenty of issues, however. The story is really lacking, especially when compared to most of the previous Bond films. There are plenty of memorable sequences and moments, but I don’t think the film is memorable overall. Sean Connery is once again enjoyable as Bond, but he does seem a little bored and worn down here, not one of his best performances in the franchise. You Only Live Twice is definitely one of the most problematic James Bond movies too, and that’s really saying something. There are weird undercurrents with its racial and gender politics. Even by Bond standards there is a notable air of sexism throughout. As for the racial politics, all I need to say is that it is the movie that has Bond donning yellowface to pretend to be Japanese, definitely one of the most embarrassing moments in the franchise. YOLT is not one of the best movies in the series by any means, but it is still enjoyable to watch.
3. Dr No
Dr No is where the James Bond franchise all started. Released 60 years ago, it is definitely dated when going back to it, yet it managed to be better than I expected. At the very least it was interesting to see how everything started. It hadn’t quite gotten into the Bond formula we know today, it doesn’t have many of its trademarks like Q, the gadgets, etc. It is a proper espionage spy thriller, with more emphasis on intrigue than spectacle. It is not overly campy, in fact its surprisingly low key and simple while having a 60s old school charm to it. Terence Young’s direction is pretty good, and while the movie is definitely lower budget, they pull of quite a lot with what they have considering it’s a movie from 1962, and there are also some quite impressive set pieces. However, it is of course Sean Connery who is the standout, hitting it out of the park as he debuts as James Bond and making a very strong impression. He’s suave and witty, yet very believable as a dark and cold-blooded killer. Connery is front and centre throughout much of the movie, and it only benefits from that.
Not to say it doesn’t have its issues. The plot itself isn’t that interesting, it meanders a lot and its pacing is all over the place, the middle section of the movie is particularly boring. Even the climax is disappointing. The villains are also pretty underwhelming. Problematic casting and yellowface aside, Dr No as the main villain is disappointing, he appears only in the third act and doesn’t leave much of an impression. I wouldn’t call Dr No one of the best Bond movies overall but it is definitely important, and it was interesting to watch at the very least.
Goldfinger is one of the most iconic and impactful James Bond movies, in fact many have called it the all-time best. While I wouldn’t go that far, I do think it is good and amongst the best in the franchise. Sean Connery’s third Bond movie is where the franchise finally came into its own, fully establishing the formula that most of the films would follow, from 007 being given elaborate and clever gadgets from Q, to even having the introduction of the Aston Martin. It has a good cast with memorable characters with some of the most iconic Bond villains in Auric Goldfinger and his henchman Oddjob. It also has a comparatively lighter tone and is very aware of its own absurdity, while not venturing into campy Roger Moore territory. Guy Hamilton’s direction takes Bond on a larger scale, the technical elements from the sets to the action sequences are strong.
Not that it doesn’t have its issues. Goldfinger is outdated in many ways even beyond on a technical level, and some scenes haven’t aged well to say the least. The script is a bit expository, and the pacing can drag, especially in the second half. Also, while Sean Connery is once again good and capable as Bond, he’s not as interesting to watch here, especially as Bond doesn’t have much to do from the halfway point. There are better films in the franchise than Goldfinger and I don’t quite love it, but I do think it is really good.
1. From Russia with Love
Goldfinger might’ve been where the franchise really took off and started the ball rolling. However for me, From Russia with Love is the better James Bond movie. From Russia with Love like Dr No is an espionage spy thriller but is better in so many ways. Whereas parts of Dr No’s story could be shaky, From Russia with Love feels confident from beginning to end. They upped the scope and scale here and they expand on it in many ways, from having no gadgets to having a suitcase full of tricks, the movie takes Bond to many different locations, and it has larger set pieces. The slow burn plot is more interesting, mysterious and intriguing, it could be even Hitchcockian in parts with tense sequences. Sean Connery was great as James Bond in Dr No and is even better here, feeling a lot more confident. There’s also a better cast of characters, Daniela Bianchi was good as Bond girl Tatiana Romonova who works well with Connery. It even featured the introduction of Desmond Llewelyn’s Q. Even though the villains aren’t always present throughout the film, they’re quite memorable.
Terence Young’s direction is stronger here than in Dr No, the action scenes are grander and more fleshed out, particularly the fight on a train which is one of the best fights in the series. Plotwise, From Russia with Love can be a little convoluted, even then it is still well constructed. It also has its outdated moments as to be expected with it being a 60s Bond movie. Otherwise, From Russia with Love is an improvement over Dr No in pretty much every way, from the writing, to the directing performances and characters. It’s Sean Connery’s best Bond movie and also one of the best James Bond movies.
What do you think of Sean Connery’s run as James Bond? How would you rank his movies?