When considering who was the best James Bond the traditional answer for many would be Sean Connery. There’s definitely an argument for Daniel Craig as the finest 007, and for nostalgia’s sake Pierce Brosnan would be the ideal candidate for my personal choice, as he was the Bond I grew up with. Timothy Dalton maintains a devout cult following and is seen by a handful of fans as the greatest actor to don the tux. And whereas George Lazenby’s performance failed to “wow” audiences, his one outing in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is highly regarded as one of the best in the series.
That then leaves the late Sir Roger. Currently the longest serving actor to take on the role appearing in 7 consecutive official features over a span of 12 years. The Roger Moore era saw the filmmakers deviating from the traditional Bond formula as they began flirting with a number of different cinematic genres, such as blaxploitation, martial arts, comedy and science fiction. The end result is an eclectic mixture of films from the (relatively) straight-faced For Your Eyes Only to the ludicrously far-fetched Moonraker. I love them all. The primary reason I love them all is Roger Moore. After repeat viewings of the entire back catalogue, I find the Roger Moore films to be the most enjoyable and for my money, he’s my favourite Bond.
I found it incredibly sad to read of his passing earlier in the year, particularly as only six months previous I was attending An Evening with Roger Moore. He seemed in perfect health at the time and was witty, charming and hilarious as he recounted tales from his upbringing, his early acting career, his tenure as The Saint and Bond and his charity work for UNICEF. I’ve enjoyed all of his 007 features and found it tricky to pick my favourites. The list can be completely interchangeable depending on my mood, but subjectively, here is my ranking of Sir Roger Moore’s James Bond movies.
7. A View to a Kill (1985)
I don’t like having to select what I’d consider to be the “worst” Roger Moore film as there’s something to love in all of them. However, unsurprisingly it’s his final hurrah in 1985’s A View to a Kill. The whole film is just a tad odd. There’s outlandish moments in all of Moore’s films, but this takes bizarre to another level. The Beach Boys snow-surfing scene. The casting of Grace Jones and the fact that Roger Moore was 58 years old at the time to name but a few. The HD Blu-Ray release of the movie really does hammer home his “maturing”. Not his finest hour, but all the same a camp and frothy Bond romp with a great supporting performance by Christopher Walken. The locations are pleasant enough and there’s glorious cinematic use of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
Theme Song: I’m not a massive fan of Duran Duran or indeed of their title tune. It was refreshing to hear a more upbeat and rock oriented theme which had been noticeably absent since Wings’ Live and Let Die however this one isn’t in the same league as McCartney. (2/5)
The Bond Girl: Watching Tanya Roberts’s performance as Stacey Sutton at times can be like overdosing on sleeping pills and Grace Jones’s May Day just frightens me a little bit. Grace Jones and Roger Moore look uncomfortably weird together and with an age gap of 28 years Moore and Roberts don’t quite have the on screen chemistry required to deliver a believable performance. (1.5/5)
The Bond Villain: Despite all of the film’s flaws, Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin is a joy. It’s a great character and a great performance, and along with Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silver in Skyfall he has really intensely scary hair. (4/5)
Overall Rating: 2.5 / 5
6. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
For a long while The Man with the Golden Gun was my favourite Roger Moore Bond (a perfect example of the interchangeable nature of the list). I often find that with some of the Bond features the plot is overly complicated and the film starts tripping over itself a bit. When it starts losing it’s coherence it’s really hard to enjoy it fully. This is why I love The Man With the Golden Gun. The plot is beautifully straight forward. Bond believe’s he’s being targeted by the world’s deadliest assassin, so he goes to investigate. Naturally there’s a couple of sub-plot strands involving the recovering of solar cell technology, and a few returning characters but the main genesis of the film remains. He thinks he’s being targeted, so he goes to check it out. Done. The only reservations I do have about the film are that certain elements seem to be completely crowbarred in. For example the several kung-fu related scenes seem only to exist to adhere to the martial arts film-craze of the time and don’t serve any purpose. The most unimaginable moment however is when Clifton James’s character of Sheriff J.W. Pepper (a comical Louisiana based law enforcer from Live and Let Die) inexplicably turns up in Thailand, again crossing paths with James Bond. Whereas there were plenty of laughs to be had in Live and Let Die I found the reappearance of his character in this film just rather irritating.
Theme Song: One of my least favourite in the series. Which is a shame as I do like Lulu. That said, she’s only as good as the material she’s working with. Never really a song I listen to outside of the film, but Sir Roger did have this tune playing during the intermission of his Evening With show. It’s not quite offensively bad, just rather naff. (1/5)
The Bond Girl: A great duo of ladies for the series. Maud Adams’s first Bond film as Andrea Anders and the wonderful Britt Ekland in the more prominent role of Mary Goodnight. Ekland’s acting is often criticized and mocked (in a lot of her work) but I’m a huge Britt Ekland fan. As well as Bond, she’s appeared in a number of my favourite cult films of the 1970’s, including a great many European horror movies, Bond, Get Carter and most famously The Wicker Man. (4/5) And speaking of The Wicker Man…..
The Bond Villain: Quite simply one of the best villains in the franchise. Related to Bond author Ian Fleming, and actually considered for the role of 007 himself, Christopher Lee is perfectly cast as Francisco Scaramanga, the eponymous Man with the Golden Gun. (5/5)
Overall Rating: 3 / 5
5. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Here’s where I start getting controversial. The Spy Who Loved Me is generally considered to be Moore’s finest Bond work by most fans. Even by Sir Roger’s own admission, he believed it to be his personal best. As stated earlier this raking is subjective however and whereas The Spy Who Loved Me is a fine film it’s not my absolute favourite. I feel it really is the film that cemented Roger’s status as James Bond. Live and Let Die relied heavily on traits from another genre and in The Man with the Golden Gun I thought Bond was upstaged by the villain. It was Sir Roger’s third flick, The Spy Who Loved Me, that almost molded the film around his persona and from the get go, it’s clear to see that Roger Moore was completely settled in the role of 007. The pre-credit sequence is one of the finest in the series and it’s probably the most “classic” Bond picture of the 1970’s.
Theme Song: My favourite of the series. It just completely encapsulates what Roger Moore’s Bond was about. If Sean Connery was “the fighter”. Roger Moore was definitely “the lover”. (5/5)
The Bond Girl: A handful of ladies to choose from in The Spy Who Loved Me but the definitive “Bond Girl” was Barbara Bach’s Anya Amasova. In terms the role of a Bond girl she definitely has a lot more to do than a lot of the passing fancies from previous installments. In terms of on-screen chemistry with Roger Moore, it’s a fabulous pairing. (4/5)
The Bond Villain: A solid performance by Curd Jurgens as Karl Stromberg, but when compared to more extraordinary Bond villains, overall he’s a tad vanilla. Also he is (literally) dwarfed by Richard Kiel’s character of Jaws, who will always be remembered as the iconic baddie of the film, despite only having a supporting role as the henchman. (2.5/5)
Overall Rating: 3 / 5
4. For Your Eyes Only (1981)
This film also held the title of my favourite Roger Moore Bond for a short while. After the OTT spectacle that was 1979’s Moonraker, which saw 007 venturing out of the Earth’s atmosphere, there literally wasn’t much further the filmmakers could take Bond. For Your Eyes Only was a fine example of a much more stripped down, standard spy thriller. The most sincere James Bond film of Roger’s career was definitely a breath of fresh air, and of all his films, I think it stands out as the most unique. Before the story kicks off, the pre-title sequence is completely bonkers. A bald, wheelchair bound super-villain (who, for legal reasons, couldn’t be referred to as Blofeld) is seen in Blofeld clothing, stroking the trademark Blofeld white cat and acting in a way typical of Blofeld. After a showdown with Bond, the artist formally known as Blofeld tries to negotiate his way out of a nasty demise with the weirdest bribe I’ve ever heard of: “ll buy you a delicatessen! In stainless steel!” Not the greatest of incentives for James Bond to spare him. Mainly because it doesn’t make any sense. One of the many quirks of the Roger Moore era and an iconic quirk in terms of Bond fandom.
Theme Song: A very middle of the road type affair. It would definitely be in the weaker half of the Bond theme Venn Diagram, and not one that I listen to often. (1/5)
The Bond Girl: Carole Bouquet’s Melina Havelock was pretty bad ass when compared to other Bond girls of the Moore era. One of the most intense and inscrutable of Roger’s leading ladies, she had an interesting backstory and motive. After her parents are killed at the beginning of the film, her quest for vengeance really intensifies her performance making her one of the more three dimensional Bond girls of the series. (3/5)
The Bond Villain: Again, not a massively colourful or eccentric Bond villain. Julian Glover’s Aristotle Kristatos is one of the least memorable of the Bond baddies. The fact he isn’t colourful or eccentric though isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case. The film itself didn’t demand it. For Your Eyes Only relies a lot on grit and stripped back narrative and attempts to create a sense of realism that audiences hadn’t seen with Roger Moore before. A perfectly solid performance if a tad underwhelming. (2/5)
Overall Rating: 3 / 5
3. Live and Let Die (1973)
Roger Moore’s debut as 007 James Bond. After Sean Connery called it a day in 1968 and a Sean Connery tribute act in the form of George Lazenby stepped in for 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, audiences, critics, producers and Lazenby himself thought “nope”. Reluctant to return Connery was coaxed back (presumably by his accountant) for one final Eon produced Bond film. Diamonds Are Forever was much lighter in tone than the previous installments and was a premonition of the way the series would ultimately play out over the 1970s. Not particularly suited to this form of Bond film Connery again left in 1971, and Roger Moore was drafted in to pick up the baton. Unlike Lazenby who had his hair cut at Sean Connery’s barber, bought his suits from Sean Connery’s tailor and similarly to Sean Connery was showcased as a much more physical actor, Roger Moore was, for me, the first alternative film incarnation of the James Bond character. Deliberately not adapting any of Sean Connery’s mannerisms or trademarks, Moore took the film series in a different direction and his debut feature is one of the most exciting of his Bond career. Inspired by the current cinematic trend of blaxploitation movies, it’s essentially a blaxploitation film with, at it’s centre, the whitest man in the world. Genius.
Theme Song: A consummate classic in terms of both Bond themes and the Wings back catalogue. I can’t fault it one bit, nor can I fault George Martin’s original score. I even love the Guns N’ Roses cover version from the early 90s. (5/5)
The Bond Girl: Perfectly in keeping with the tone of the Roger Moore era, Jayne Seymour’s Solitaire is a psychic that can only see into the future if she remains a virgin…. Needless to say her powers are short lived. (3/5)
The Bond Villain: Dr. Kananga AKA Mr. Big played brilliantly by Yaphet Kotto is a drug baron with an ingenious scheme to deposit vast quantities of heroin into the U.S. free of charge. In doing so he hopes to double the amount of addicts whilst driving his competitors out of business. Considering the film touches on topics such as voodoo, cults, psychic abilities and black magic, Mr. Big is one of the most rational villains there is, and also has the greatest on screen deaths in cinematic history. (3.5/5)
Overall Rating: 4 / 5
2. Moonraker (1979)
Without doubt the most far-fetched Bond film to date. Cashing in on the popularity of Star Wars, Moonraker descends into a full blown sci-fi epic with laser fights, space stations and a plan to destroy all human life as we know it, in an effort to repopulate the Earth with genetically superior humans. So, a few advances thematically since From Russia with Love. Moonraker has my favourite pre-title sequence of the series, as we see the return of Jaws and a parachute-less plummet from an aeroplane in a genuinely thrilling set piece. Of all the Blu-Ray restorations of the Bond films, Moonraker benefits greatly as, despite the film’s playful nature, the special effects really are very good. Using similar technology to Star Wars and Alien the external space scenes in Moonraker were filmed using models. I’ve always championed this approach compared to modern CGI. It gives the effects a richness and weightiness that’s never been equaled in science fiction cinema. I embrace the films outrageous nature and I’ll be very surprised if 007 ever makes it back into space.
Theme Song: Of Shirley Bassey’s 3 Bond title tracks, it’s my least favourite. A solid Bondian ballad, but essentially uneventful. (2.5/5)
The Bond Girl: Dr. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) is one of my favourites of the Moore era. She seems a lot more capable than your average Bond girl, and as a Doctor, a CIA agent and an astronaut, she has no problem standing toe to toe with Bond on an intellectual and physical level. (4/5)
The Bond Villain: A welcome return for Jaws, this time working for Hugo Drax, played by French actor Michael Lonsdale. I think Drax is a massively underrated Bond villain and I find his on screen presence completely captivating. Lonsdale skillfully mastered the task of appearing calm and self-contained, with hints of an unsettling undercurrent of mystery. (4/5)
Overall Rating: 4 / 5
1. Octopussy (1983)
Many would argue that The Spy Who Loved Me is the quintessential Roger Moore Bond film, however, for me it’s Octopussy. It’s just a hugely enjoyable adventure film. The locations are stunning, there’s a much more “back to basics” feel about the plot, with a lot less emphasis on gadgets and OTT action set pieces. It’s essentially pure Bond with flutters of the Roger Moore quirk. Considering it was his penultimate film his age at the time (56) isn’t particularly bothersome. The age gap between Moore and his leading lady Maud Adams is a lot smaller than in A View To a Kill, and I’m not sure what happened in the 2 years between films but Moore seemed ancient in 1985 by comparison. Daniel Craig for example will be entering into Bond 25 in his 50’s, so an older Bond isn’t an issue in this film at all. Usually found towards the bottom of most critics and audiences ‘best Bond’ poll, I have always championed Octopussy. As far as a stories based around a faberge eggs go, it’s one of the best. And in what other film would you ever see Bond disguised as a clown and a gorilla? With Tarzan jungle cries, musical fourth wall breaks and Steven Berkoff chewing the scenery to within an inch of it’s life. Octopussy has it all. Despite all the ludicrous elements I just named, it’s a relatively grounded film (for Roger Moore at least). I’d be very surprised if you found another ranking of Moore’s film with Octopussy topping the list and The Spy Who Loved Me barely gracing the top 5, but that’s the beauty of Bond. It’s all subjective.
Theme Song: One of the handful of Bond themes that doesn’t actually reference the title. I suppose it’s quite hard for an artist to sincerely slip the word Octopussy into a ballad. Either way, All Time High by Rita Coolidge is a song that grew on me. I didn’t think much of it the first time I heard it, but since then I’ve enjoyed a version recorded by Pulp and the song (and film) are referenced in the 2012 comedy film Ted which reminded me of what a kooky tune it is. (3/5)
The Bond Girl: The eponymous Octopussy, played by Maud Adams is the only occasion in which a Bond film was named after it’s leading lady. Adams’ second appearance in a Bond film is definitely her most iconic. She has excellent chemistry with Moore’s Bond and a lot of the time that they’re on screen together, she’ll often steal the show. (3.5/5)
The Bond Villain: After previously defeating Donald Pleasence, Christopher Lee and Julian Glover, James Bond is no stranger to battling English thespians. Steven Berkoff gives (without doubt) the most eccentric performance of the 4 and his character of General Orlov makes The Joker look reserved. (3.5/5)
Overall Rating: 5 / 5 (Not a film containing the best theme, the best Bond girl, the best villain or the best Roger Moore performance, but in sheer enjoyment terms, it’s one of my favourites in the whole series.)