In the first part of this look into the successes and failures of the James Bond film franchise (which can be found here), I discussed what I considered to be the strongest, and worst, movies, as well as my choices for the best Bond actor. In this concluding half, you’ll see my choices for the worst Bond actors and both sides of the spectrum concerning the theme tunes.
Worst Bond Actors
I should probably state that I haven’t actually disliked any of the actors that’ve played Bond over the decades. Some were better than others but the different things they brought to the character when they each played him was always something I appreciated. That being said, I did prefer some less than others, and one of them would be George Lazenby.
I mentioned previously that considering Lazenby’s total lack of acting experience prior to his signing as Bond, he did a fairly decent job, especially seeing as he had the difficult task of immediately following Sean Connery. Nevertheless, he was still very wooden at many times during On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and it was during these times that his inferior acting skills were unfortunately rather potent.
While I do not, for a second, consider either of the two following people as neither bad actors or bad Bonds, I did think slightly lesser of both Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan’s time as the spy. Dalton only had two films to make an impression and while he was mostly good, he really should’ve started at least two films earlier to leave a mark. Brosnan, however, had one good film in the form of Goldeneye and then three average/mediocre/abysmal offerings proceeding it. His Bond felt like a mix of the comical and the dark and sometimes it felt like they didn’t know which direction they wanted it to be.
Best Bond Theme Tune
Bond films are made memorable because of many elements, from the story to the villains and also the theme tune. Composing the theme to a Bond film is almost like an honor that few are lucky to receive, and while some produced magnificent themes over the years, others haven’t. One that stands out amongst the finest of the series, perhaps THE finest, is Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger.
For some, Goldfinger is the ultimate Bond theme tune – the one that all subsequent tunes want to replicate with varying degrees of success. Shirley Bassey’s booming vocals are sublime, the lyrics feel appropriate to the theme of the film, it’s a mix between sultry and dangerous and above all, it just ‘feels’ like the ultimate Bond theme tune. Its gravitas is proven given its immense popularity almost fifty years later.
For Roger Moore’s first Bond outing, Sir Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die did everything it needed to do. It combined catchy lyrics with a fast-paced rhythm that almost makes you feel like you’re the one stood on that small island surrounded by ravenous crocodiles. Also, it’s the first theme tune in the series to take a less serious approach, if that’s understandable, that sort of coincides with Moore’s more comical version of Bond. Along with the aforementioned Goldfinger, it’s one of the many Bond theme tunes that continues to live on to this day due to its catchy nature.
While Live and Let Die began Roger Moore’s era, the one that ended it packed a theme tune that provided the goods. Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill is a fantastic song that is one of the series’ most catchy tunes, as well as being the most successful theme to date (it reached #1 in the US and #2 here in the UK). Its lyrics are a little bizarre but the hyperactive nature of the song is enough to forgive it for that.
After being absent for six years, Bond’s big screen return in Goldeneye hit the right spot in many areas (as discussed earlier) while also providing, what I consider to be, the best theme song in the series. Tina Turner’s vocals are sexy, seductive, unrivalled and a perfect fit for a Bond theme, while the lyrics are simple but incredibly memorable. This was the perfect way to kick-start a new, and crucial, era of Bond.
Daniel Craig’s first round as Bond in Casino Royale was marked with Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name, which was truly excellent. Not only does the song feel very Bond but Cornell’s vocals just sound fantastic as he effortlessly works his way through the appropriately written lyrics. It also helped that the song accompanied a visually impressive title sequence that went hand-in-hand with the score.
Alongside the above mentioned theme songs, a few others deserve mention for various reasons. Sheena Easton’s For Your Eyes Only is a slower, more emotionally charged theme that does sound a little dated when listened to today but is still one of the stronger themes of the series. John Barry Orchestra’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is also a terrific song that managed to capture the atmosphere of the film it belonged to without needing a single lyric. I’m also rather fond of A-Ha’s The Living Daylights, even if the film of the same name wasn’t especially brilliant.
The most recent Bond theme, aka Adele’s Skyfall is also a very strong offering. I initially didn’t think much of it but after a few listens, its strength hit me. Adele’s voice is superb, we all know that, and the song itself is a mixture of epic, atmospheric, ominous and very Bond-like. After Quantum of Solace employed a less-than-great theme, Skyfall managed to raise the bar once again. For me, Skyfall is the strongest theme tune since 1995’s Goldeneye.
Worst Bond Theme Tunes
While the James Bond franchise has enjoyed many a success with songs like the ones mentioned above, it has also spawned many that were, for want of a better word, dismal. Fortunately there aren’t as many to mention but one candidate has to come from Rita Coolidge’s All Time High, which was the theme for Octopussy.
You’ve read what I thought of Octopussy earlier in the post but putting all that aside, All Time High is just a bland, dull song. Coolidge’s vocals aren’t especially fantastic but the biggest issue is that it’s just not memorable at all. While songs like Goldfinger linger in your mind hours, days and weeks after listening to it, All Time High just fades into obscurity as quickly as it takes to finish. It also didn’t help that the first time I listened to it, I thought she was singing ‘Octopi’ rather than ‘All Time High’.
While I don’t consider the following song to be terrible by any means, there’s just something I find inherently irritating about Lulu’s take on The Man With the Golden Gun. I don’t know whether it’s her vocals, which don’t seem strong enough, or the lyrics but I just always seem to dislike it whenever I hear it. For a song talking about the world’s most feared and deadly assassin, I think I would’ve liked something a little less cheerful and upbeat, but perhaps that’s just me.
None of the mentioned themes are any good, really, but they look like masterpieces when compared to Madonna’s Die Another Day. I’m a big fan of Madonna but even I couldn’t excuse this absolute monstrosity of a song. This is, hands down, the worst Bond theme song in the entire fifty years the franchise has existed.
I could simply finish by saying that Die Another Day is awful and that’s that, but let’s take a look at why. Firstly, it’s just not Bond-like. It’s an autotuned, lifeless song that feels like it belongs on a club dancefloor rather than heralding the beginning of a movie. In my eyes, Bond themes are supposed to be grand, epic and powerful, or at least excitingly memorable, and Die Another Day is none of these things. It’s not just a blemish in fifty year’s worth of Bond themes but a huge, permanent, disgusting stain.
I’d also like to mention Tom Jones’ Thunderball which while being decent, felt far too much like an intended replica of Goldfinger, only nowhere near as powerful or successful. Matt Monro’s From Russia With Love was also a little too dreamy and holiday camp-like for my tastes, even if the accompanying film was excellent. I also think that of the three theme songs she worked on, Shirley Bassey’s version of Moonraker was easily the least impressive of them, especially seeing as her previous two were Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever – both highly remarkable theme songs.
So, after all that discussion, I think I’ll finally say which films, themes etc. were my favourite.
For the best Bond movie, I would be stuck to choose between From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Goldeneye, though I’d have to go with From Russia With Love. It’s just vintage Bond from beginning to end and even though I’ve seen it multiple times over the years, it never loses its charm.
As for the worst Bond movie, it should come as no surprise that Octopussy takes that (dis)honor. I cannot say a single thing about the film that doesn’t translate as “it’s garbage”. It looks, feels and plays out so cheaply that at points, it feels like a straight-to-TV movie. I would honestly prefer to pretend that it didn’t exist.
My favourite Bond actor would have to be Sean Connery. He was the first man to play Bond and he did so with effortless charm and skill with occasional humour. I wish he hadn’t returned to the role in Diamonds are Forever, as it was clear that he wasn’t interested at all, but ignoring that, his tenure involved some of the best films in the series involving the best Bond.
Although I did not dislike any of the actors who’ve played Bond over the years, I’d have to say my least favourite would be George Lazenby. Even though he had moments where he shined despite his lack of acting experience, he was mostly wooden throughout On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, though that did not stop the film from being impressive, fortunately.
When choosing my favourite Bond theme tune, I always find myself stuck between Goldfinger and Goldeneye. Both are powerful songs performed by equally strong singers, both feel like they’re at the top of their game and both are long-lasting tunes. If pushed, however, I would have to go with Goldfinger. It’s just utterly iconic in every way; THE Bond song to end all Bond songs. Shirley Bassey sounded incredible, the song was as powerful as they come and its status as the pinnacle of theme songs for the Bond series has still yet to be usurped.
My choice for worst Bond theme song obviously goes to Die Another Day. I can’t listen to it without feeling horrified that it ever came into existence. I can’t understand how anybody could’ve ever thought that it would be a success. As a bog-standard club classic, it would probably do the job but as a Bond theme tune, it sank to depths as miserable as the film it belonged to did.
And with that concludes this look at fifty year’s worth of James Bond. What do you think of what I’ve mentioned above? Please feel free to hit me with your own thoughts on the Bond franchise, your favourite movies/actors etc, and whether or not you hated the Die Another Day theme as much as I did (surely everyone does?).