HISTORY OF JAMES BOND: DR. NO – 60 YEARS AGO
You’ve no doubt heard that it’s the 60th anniversary of James Bond. It was featured at this year’s Academy Award.
But the actual 60th anniversary of the films is today:
October 5, 1962, was the premiere of the first James Bond film, Dr. No.
For historical context, this was the same day The Beatles released their first single, Love Me Do.
The Dr. No Premiere in London
The world premiere was at the London Pavilion, Piccadilly Circus, London. The event was attended by Sean Connery, Zena Marshall (Miss Taro in the film), director Terence Young, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli, and James Bond author Ian Fleming who himself had worked for Britain’s Naval Intelligence during World War II.
Was the Queen there? Queen Elizabeth, who came to the throne in 1952, the same year Ian Fleming wrote his first Bond novel Casino Royale, did not attend a Bond opening until 1967, the premiere of You Only Live Twice.
The U.S. premiere was delayed by the Cuban Missile Crisis during the presidency of John F. Kennedy. Ironically, JFK brought the James Bond books to America’s attention. As a speed reader, he read voraciously. When asked in a 1961 interview with TIME Magazine what his Top 10 books of all time were, he mentioned From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel. Few Americans had heard of these James Bond books until then.
Background of the James Bond films
Canadian film producer Harry Saltzman paid the author $50,000 for the screen rights to all published and future James Bond stories except for Casino Royale and Thunderball, which were legally tied up with different stakeholders.
American producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who had previously made an unsuccessful bid for the rights on his own, now with Salzman, began working on Dr. No under the banner of the newly formed Eon Productions.
Trivia: Broccoli’s family claim that the vegetable is named after their ancestors, the Broccolis of Carrara, Italy
They decided on Dr. No because it didn’t have too many expensive set pieces. They were primarily set in the single location of Jamaica, at that time a British territory that came with additional tax credits for film productions. Furthermore, they considered its villain’s unusually topical scheme, “toppling” American rockets launched from Cape Canaveral, might appeal to U.S. audiences in the same way Fleming had when he included it after reading headlines about the U.S./Soviet “Space Race.”
The cast included:
- Sean Connery as British secret agent 007, James Bond
- Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No, though his voice was dubbed
- Bernard Lee as M, head of MI6
- Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, a Canadian!
- Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench, the first Bond “girlfriend,” also appeared briefly at the beginning of the next film, From Russia With Love. The producers decided to drop the idea.
- Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder, though her voice was dubbed, and she was paid only £1,500 for her role. The white bikini that costume designer Tessa Prendergast created for her iconic entrance scene sold for £41,125 at auction in 2001.
The opening title design by Maurice Binder, starting with the gun-barrel sequence — which recurs in some form in every Bond film that Eon has made to date — features a stunt double, not yet Sean Connery until later movies.
I’ve said before that the right music can turn a good movie into a great one. The iconic themes of the Bond films can cement them into your memory and remind you of where you were when you first saw the movie. Most theme songs were performed by women and added a woman’s perspective to Bond.
Over the opening visuals of Dr. No is Monty Norman‘s iconic Bond guitar and horn theme. It was performed with a more complete arrangement by the John Barry Seven. Confident, strident, and swaggering, the “James Bond theme” was used in subsequent films as almost a fanfare to introduce Bond to a scene. It still gives me goosebumps.
John Barry, OBE, composed eleven of the Eon-produced Bond films. You also know him for his award-winning scores to Born Free, Out of Africa, Somewhere in Time, and Dances With Wolves.
Dr. No cost about $1 million to produce, but its worldwide box-office total was a cool $59 million, mainly from the U.S., its largest market. This is a far cry from the reported $250 million budget of the latest Bond film, No Time To Die.
The Success of Dr. No
Following the financial success of Dr. No, the next Bond film received a green light. Due to its success in the U.S., President Kennedy’s favorite book became the next movie. It was the last movie he saw in the White House before he traveled to Dallas in November of 1963.
From Russia With Love
From Russia With Love (1963) was the next movie released. Connery called it his favorite Bond movie, and it was the last one seen by Ian Fleming before he died. Fleming loved Connery’s performance and added a Scottish background to the Bond character in his novels. This is played up in the movie Skyfall. The budget was twice that of Dr. No. It took in $25 million worldwide.
While Russia is in the name, it starts in Istanbul, and the villains work for S.P.E.C.T.R.E. It stands for SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. This criminal organization first appeared in the Thunderball novel, which curiously features on the slippage of the book the words, “Murder on the Orient Express.” We are treated to a train ride from Istanbul west across Europe as Bond retrieves for British Secret Service MI6, a secret Russian LEKTOR decoding machine.
Twenty-one-year-old Daniela Bianchi plays a Soviet clerk and Bond’s main love interest. Bianchi is Italian, and her voice was dubbed for the film. The film was a financial success and was the most popular movie of 1963 at the box office in Britain. It made Sean Connery a major movie star.
The Music for From Russia With Love
The music was composed by John Barry and sung over the closing titles by Matt Monro, known for his vocals in Born Free and the first Italian Job. His baritone voice was perfect for the early ’60s, though some might say it now sounds like a schmaltzy crooner.
The Iconic James Bond film: Goldfinger
Goldfinger, the third and perhaps most iconic of the early Bond films was released in 1964. The pre-titles sequence alone cost $1 million, the same as the entire budget for Dr. No. Many of the tropes we now associate with Bond first appeared in this film, and many parodies of 007 refer to it, especially Austin Powers. This is my personal favorite Bond movie. It features:
- Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore, a savvy, intelligent female foil for Bond. She knows judo and runs a flying circus
- Harold Sakata as Oddjob, the monosyllabic Korean hitman for Goldfinger, with a deadly steel-rimmed bowler hat
- Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson, the girl killed by being covered in gold paint
- Gert Frobe, the eponymous Goldfinger, is a megalomaniac with a particular fascination for gold. His voice was dubbed. He also played Baron Bomburst in the 1968 movie based on Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Ironically, Bond is occasionally referred to as “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” inspired partly by a 1956 letter Ian Fleming sent to Raymond Chandler describing his Bond books as ‘straight pillow fantasies of the bang-bang, kiss-kiss variety.’
But Goldfinger also has the most amazing toys! The Austin Martin DB5 car with hidden guns, smoke generators, oil spreaders, bulletproof windscreen, side and rear window, a bullet shield behind, a revolving license plate, and an ejector seat. The car has re-appeared in several other Bond films, including the latest, and in parodies. And it has a homing device tracker on the dashboard, presaging current car map display screens.
And Goldfinger has some of the most memorable lines of dialogue:
Bond, while lying on a table with a laser aimed at him: Do you expect me to talk?
Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!
Bond, waking up on the plane: Who are you?
Pussy Galore: My name is Pussy Galore.
Bond: I must be dreaming.
Q, explaining to Bond the Austin Martin DB5: Now this one I’m particularly keen about. You see the gear lever here? Now, if you take the top off, you will find a little red button. Whatever you do, don’t touch it.
Bond: Yeah, why not?
Q: Because you’ll release this section of the roof, and engage and then fire the passenger ejector seat. Whish!
Bond: Ejector seat? You’re joking!
Q: I never joke about my work, 007.
CIA agent Felix Leiter: I told the stewardess liquor for three.
Bond: Who are the other two?
Felix Leiter: Oh, there are no other two.
And perhaps the most ironic line:
Bond, to Jill Masterson: My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to The Beatles without earmuffs!
Paul McCartney of The Beatles would later perform the theme song to the Bold film Live and Let Die.
Music for Goldfinger
The music was composed by John Barry, with lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. You may remember them for their Academy Award nomination for the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory score. Newley was known for acting, singing, and songwriting for hits such as What Kind Of Fool Am I, Who Can I Turn To, and Candy Man.
The theme song, sung by Welsh singer Dame Shirley Bassey was a top forty hit and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008. It sold more than a million copies and was a Top 10 on the charts in Japan, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands.
She’s the only artist to have recorded three Bond title songs. Can you guess the other two?
Thunderball came next in 1965 at a budget of $9 million. Most of the budget was for complicated underwater scenes that comprised a quarter of the film. The film took in $141 million worldwide, more than any previous Bond film or the five films that followed it. This makes it the most financially successful Bond film in North America, adjusted for ticket price inflation over the years. And who can forget Tom Jones singing the title track?
Nevertheless, the film was mired in legal issues. Ian Fleming’s screenplay was based on a collaboration with Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham. They sued, and though settled out of court, McClory was allowed to retain screen rights to the story, organizations (like S.P.E.C.T.R.E.), and some of the characters. Subsequently, McClory created a non-Eon-produced James Bond film, Never Say Never Again, in 1983, featuring a returning Sean Connery as Bond for his seventh and last time. The title came from a famous quote that Connery made in 1971 that he would “never again” play the role of James Bond.
Music for Thunderball
Thunderball was composed by John Barry, with lyrics by Don Black, OBE, and sung by the Welsh singer Tom Jones. He belted it out so powerfully that by holding the last note so long, he said,
“I closed my eyes, and I held the note for so long when I opened my eyes, the room was spinning.”
But this was not the original song recorded for the movie. That song was deemed too short and was missing the movie’s name from the lyrics. That song, originally recorded by Shirley Bassey, was Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The music appeared in the film, but not the vocals. Bassey’s recording was not released until the 1990s.
The Continued Success of the James Bond Franchise
The Scottish actor Sean Connery went on to do two more Eon-produced films.
You Only Live Twice
You Only Live Twice (1967) was filmed primarily in Japan. They had “ninja” training. Bond used chopsticks. There was a volcano. And a pirana pool.
There were spacecraft, and Bond flew an autogyro. Bond fights with The Rock‘s Samoan pro-wrestler father, Peter Fanene Maivia.
The inspiration for Austin Powers‘ “Dr. Evil” was Donald Pleasence‘s portrayal of the villain Blofeld in this movie.
Trivia: As Bond leaves M’s office to fly to Japan and Moneypenny offers him a Japanese language book, he boasts to her that he:
“took a First in Oriental Languages at Cambridge.”
If so, why does he need people in Japan to translate for him?
Music for You Only Need Twice
The music was composed by John Barry and sung by 27-year-old Nancy Sinatra after her father, Frank Sinatra, declined the offer. This was the first non-British singer for a Bond film. It was lush with a capital “L,” using Oriental themes and soaring strings. John Barry recounts that she was so nervous in recording it that he put together the title song from 25 different recording takes.
Diamonds Are Forever
Diamonds are Forever (1971) was set in Las Vegas, not a particularly exotic location compared to the previous Bond films. But the previous film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, had performed so poorly in the U.S. that the producers wanted to appeal to American audiences. Bond’s hair was a bit grayer, or rather his wig was. He had worn toupees or wigs for the entire franchise. But in this, his last movie, they did not trim his eyebrows.
Bond drives a red American Ford “Mustang Mach 1” down Fremont Street in Las Vegas. The first Mustang ever seen in Europe was specially shipped there the year production started to be driven to Jill Masterson in Goldfinger.
The movie featured the return of “lasers,” as “Dr. Evil” would say.
Jimmy Dean plays a Howard Hughes-like character, or rather, overplays it.
The female stars included Lana Wood, Natalie’s sister, as Plenty O’Toole; another setup for Bond to make a double entendre. She stood on a box or wore extra high heels because she was too short to fit the same lens frame as Connery; her voice was dubbed.
Bond’s first American love interest is Jill St John, who is usually a welcome addition to any production but doesn’t quite give a credible performance here. One critic found her to be one of the least effective female leads:
“beautiful, but shrill and helpless”
Music for Diamonds Are Forever
The theme song was composed by John Barry and performed by Shirley Bassey. Her seductive approach to diamonds was intended to be alluring.
After You Only Live Twice, Connery said he was retiring from the James Bond films, and a new Bond was brought in.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Between the two films above, George Lazenby and Dame Diana Rigg made the movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969, shot to a large extent in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland.
Several of the scenes were done at Piz Gloria — then a weather station, now a Bond-themed restaurant — at the headquarters of the evil Blofeld, played by Telly Savalas. Piz Gloria sits atop the Shiltorn summit at 9,744 feet, the traditional start for the world’s longest amateur downhill ski race, the “Inferno,” which started in 1928.
While Australian actor Lazenby was not popular with all audiences, the film was quite faithful to the novel. I loved it because it featured Diana Rigg, who I had been smitten with since she co-starred in the 1960s British secret agent show, The Avengers. Click to read about how I met Diana Rigg in London.
Music for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
The music was composed by John Barry, with lyrics by Hal David, and sung by another American, the incomparable Louis Armstrong. Though he was very ill, he recorded it in one take. It would be Armstrong’s last recorded song, but it would appear again in 2021 in another Bond film.
Connery was induced to return to the franchise and the next film, Diamonds Are Forever, by a salary of £1 million ($1.25 million), which he used to found the Scottish International Education Trust charity. After that, he was financially comfortable enough to film the low-budget Zardoz.
Live and Let Die
One of the early picks for Bond in Dr. No, the English actor, was unavailable then as he had already been contractually tied to the British TV series The Saint. In 1973 he began his run as Bond in:
Live and Let Die costarred a 21-year-old Jane Seymore (Battlestar Galactica, Somewhere In Time), who I had long been smitten with. I once met her in the Red Carpet Lounge at LAX airport. I introduced myself and asked her if she was Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg (her birth name), and when she said Yes, I asked her why she picked as her stage name that of one of Henry VIII‘s wives. She said it matched the “J” on her suitcase.
When I mentioned that I lived in Colorado Springs, the setting for her TV series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, she informed me that none of it was filmed there, but mostly on backlots. I didn’t figure it out until I got on my plane; she has two different colored eyes, heterochromia.
Music for Live And Let Die
John Barry was unavailable to score the movie, so the producers turned to Sir Paul McCartney to write the theme song. Saltzman had declined to produce the first The Beatles movie, A Hard Day’s Night, and was keen to work with McCartney. The Beatles’ producer, Sir George Martin, wrote the score.
Performed with his wife Linda, Paul McCartney’s Wings recorded the first rock and roll Bond theme. As the script wasn’t ready, McCartney wrote it based on readying the novel. I saw Paul McCartney perform this song live in Denver in 2002, with the big screen showing photos from Bond films; the concert audience went wild.
The Man With the Golden Gun
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) starred the deliciously wicked Christopher Lee (Ian Fleming’s step cousin) and Maude Adams as his mistress. Brit Ekland starred as Mary Goodnight (another double entendre). The “Golden Gun” was a prop including a fountain pen, cigarette lighter, cigarette case, and cufflink that were assembled into a gun.
The mid-70s was a time of popular martial arts movies, and various fight scenes were filmed in Asian locations, including Thailand. This movie was the fourth lowest-grossing Bond film.
Music for The Man With The Golden Gun
The score was composed by John Barry, with lyrics by Don Black, and sung by Lulu, CBE, a popular Scottish singer known for acting in and singing the theme to the 1967 Sydney Poitier film To Sir, With Love. The song and the film did not meet with critical success and performed poorly at the box office compared to the other Bond films. It was the last film co-produced with Harry Saltzman, who sold his stake in the franchise after the release of the movie.
The Spy Who Loved Me
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) was a vast production costarring Ringo Starr‘s future wife, Barbara Bach. It had submarines… and a submarine hunter.
By the way, the Lotus Esprit car Bond drives into the sea was based on a wooden model I saw at the “Cars of the Stars Museum” in Keswick, England.
Music for The Spy Who Loves Me
The score was composed by EGOT winner Marvin Hamlisch (The Sting, The Way We Were, Sophie’s Choice, A Chorus Line, Ice Castles), with Carol Bayer Sager, and sung sumptuously by American singer-songwriter Carly Simon over the opening and closing titles. But the movie title didn’t appear in the song Nobody Does It Better. The American Film Institute placed it as the 67th song of the top 100 Years Series. It reappeared in several non-Bond movies. Later in the film, there was a disco-ized instrumental version.
Moonraker (1979), or “Bond in Outer Space,” costarred Lois Chiles and Richard Kiel as “Jaws.” RottenTomatoes called it:
“one of the series’ more ludicrous plots but outfitted with primo gadgets and spectacular sets, Moonraker is both silly and entertaining.”
The fact that Star Wars had been a success two years earlier, in 1977, could not help this movie get off the ground.
Music for Moonraker
John Barry returned as composer, and Shirley Bassey sang her 3rd published Bond theme song, though she was brought in at the last minute after others had declined. She would never perform it in any of her concerts.
For Your Eyes Only
For Your Eyes Only, based on two Fleming short stories, was filmed in Greece, Italy, England, and the Bahamas. The setting went from the previous film Moonraker‘s outer space to underwater. Roger Moore’s unlikely love interest, played by Carole Bouquet, was half his age. Chaim Topol (Fiddler On The Roof) is Bond’s ally against the villain Julian Glover (who at one time had tested for the role of Bond in Live and Let Die.)
Music for For Your Eyes Only
The theme song was composed by Bill Conti and sung by Sheena Easton, the only theme singer to appear in a Bond movie. It became a big hit for the Scottish singer-actress, who did her first tour of America and won a Grammy Award the following year.
Octopussy (1983) featured Maude Adams again, though in a different role. It was a particularly low point for the Bond franchise; in one scene, he disguises himself as a clown.
Although critics at the time panned the movie, except for its spectacular set pieces, nevertheless, it was a commercial success, becoming the second highest-grossing Bond film up to that time, after its predecessor, Moonraker. Over the years, opinions of the movie have improved with age, but Roger Moore was getting too old for the role.
Music for Octopussy
The music was composed by John Barry, with lyrics by Sir Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Aladdin, The Lion King musical), and sung by American singer-songwriter Rita Coolidge. Once again, the title did not appear in the song All Time High, no doubt, for obvious reasons. It became a #1 hit in America.
A View To A Kill
A View To A Kill (1985) was based on an entirely original screenplay and was filmed in and around San Francisco and Silicon Valley. The premier was the first outside the U.K. at the San Francisco Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina District. It featured Christopher Walken as the villain and a delightful appearance of Patrick Macnee from the British TV series The Avengers. It also featured Tanya Roberts as Bond’s love interest and Grace Jones as Walken’s.
Meanwhile, that same year, Sir Sean Connery was starring in Never Say Never Again. This would be Roger Moore’s last Bond film and Lois Maxwell‘s last as Miss Moneypenny. Moore said it was his least favorite Bond film and that he was mortified to discover that he was older than his female costar’s mother.
Music for A View To A Kill
The theme song was composed by John Barry and co-written and sung by the English new wave band Duran Duran, which was named after a character from the 1968 Jane Fonda science fiction film Barbarella. This theme song reached #1 on the American Billboard Hot 100.
The Living Daylights
The Welsh actor Timothy Dalton starred in two Bond films. His first, the 1987 The Living Daylights, based on a Fleming short story, was the last to use a Fleming title until the later Casino Royale. Several other actors had auditioned for the new Bond, including New Zealander Sam Neill, Irish Pierce Brosnan, and even the American Christopher Reeve.
Sam Neill would later star in the 1983 British TV series Reilly, Ace of Spies, a real-life British spy, directed by Martin Campbell, who directed GoldenEye and Casino Royale.
Timothy Dalton had been considered for the Bond role after Sean Connery left following You Only Live Twice. He turned down the role in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, thinking he was too young, and again for the role in For Your Eyes Only because there was no script. Other commitments prevented him from appearing in Octopussy or A View to a Kill.
Maryam d’Abo, who had screen tested for A View to a Kill, played Bond’s main love interest, the only blonde until Spectre.
Music for The Living daylights
This was the last film composed by John Barry; the title song was co-written with Norwegian Pål Waaktaar-Savoy and performed by his band A-ha. But this was the first Bond movie to have a different song over the closing credits If There Was A Man, performed by Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.
Trivia: King Charles III was visiting the set and was allowed to fire a rocket from a ghetto blaster in Q’s lab, though the then Prince was off screen.
License to Kill
License to Kill (1989) was released on the 25th anniversary of the Bond franchise. Based on the film’s violence, it was the first to receive a PG-13 rating from the MPPAA rating board. That rating has been on every Bond film since. Based on inflation-adjusted box-office returns, the film was the least profitable of the Bond films. Shot entirely outside of the U.K., it was not even filmed at Pinewood Studios but on location in Mexico and at Estudios Churubusco.
Robert Davi plays the most powerful drug lord in Latin America, who has been on the DEA’s most-wanted list for years. He plays it with snake-like charm and an affected Columbian accent. You remember him as Special Agent Johnson in Die Hard.
Carey Lowell plays an ex-Army pilot and DEA informant. You may remember her from Law & Order and as Tom Hank’s dead wife who appears to him in a dream in Sleepless in Seattle.
Talisa Soto plays the villain’s girlfriend, who, of course, falls for Bond.
The movie did well at the U.K. box office, finishing seventh for the year. But it did not do as well internationally and became the least financially successful Bond movie, adjusted for inflation.
Music for License to Kill
The theme song was composed by Michael Kamen (Lethal Weapon, Die Hard) and sung by American artist Gladys Knight. You can hear Monty Norman’s Bond theme echoing in her song. The closing credits theme was If You Asked Me To, sung by American singer Patti LaBelle.
While Dalton was otherwise an outstanding actor in several other roles, it was said of his performance:
“he apparently didn’t get the memo that said he could have fun in the role.”
The Irish actor Pierce Brosnan followed with four Bond films. He had been invited to play the role ahead of Dalton, but his contract for the TV series Remmington Steele prevented it. Before the producers negotiated with him, the part was passed on by Mel Gibson, Hugh Grant, and Liam Neeson. There were even discussions with Ralph Fiennes about the role. He would later appear as “M” in Spectre.
Rather than the Austin Martin DB5, Brosnan drove various models of BMWs and wore an Omega Seamaster watch. His first film was:
GoldenEye (1995) was the name of Ian Fleming’s estate in Jamaica, where he wrote the Bond novels.
Trivia: Ian Fleming, an avid bird watcher, got the name “James Bond” from American ornithologist author of the book A Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies. This book was shown as a throw-away scene in Die Another Day.
With the retirement of Albert Broccoli, his daughter Barbara Broccoli replaced him as producer. The movie was released six years after the previous film due to several legal suits that led to the bankruptcy of production company MGM-Pathé.
Sean Bean appears as Agent 006, Bond’s apparent ally in this movie. Ironically, Bean had previously been considered for the role of Bond.
Alan Cumming, who would go on to much more prominent roles, appears as a computer programmer working for the villain.
Dame Judy Dench debuted as “M” to great approval. She said to Bond that he was
“a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appealed to that young woman I sent out to evaluate you.”
The movie was quite successful and considered Brosnan’s best; it grossed 83% more worldwide than its predecessor, License to Kill. Admittedly, Bond fans had been waiting for six years.
Music for GoldenEye
The theme song was written by Bono and the Edge (of the band U2), but he did not want to perform it. American singer and actress Tina Turner sang it instead. Her soaring performance reminded me of seeing her perform live at the Berkeley Greek Theater in the early 1970s. She was electric.
Tomorrow Never Dies
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) was a title inspired by The Beatles’ 1966 song Tomorrow Never Knows. The movie was successful, becoming the fourth highest-grossing film of the year, despite opening the same day as James Cameron‘s Titanic, which became the highest-grossing film of all time until Cameron’s own Avatar surpassed it in 2010.
The film featured two leading ladies. The ever-popular Malaysian-born Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Star Trek: Discovery, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) plays Bond’s Chinese ally. You’ve never seen action moves like this with other Bond ladies. The producers had to call in Jackie Chan‘s stunt team; none of the film’s stuntmen wanted to tangle with Yeoh’s full-contact martial arts, which she had honed in many Hong Kong action movies.
Teri Hatcher, who was quite popular then as Lois Lane in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, plays a former Bond girlfriend.
Music for Tomorrow Never Dies
David Arnold began his run of composing the following five Bond films on a recommendation to producer Barbara Broccoli from John Barry. With lyrics by Don Black and David McAlmont, it was sung by American artist Sheryl Crow, but the closing credit’s Surrender was sung by k.d. lang. Contemporary as all Bond themes, this one leveraged the classic Bond sound with techno music.
The World Is Not Enough
The World Is Not Enough (1999) was based on the Bond family motto seen in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, “Orbis non sufficit.” Historically it has been associated with Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great:
“The world is not big enough for Alexander the Great, but a coffin was.” -Juvenal
The story was inspired by Barbara Broccoli watching a TV program that showed how the world’s major oil companies were competing to control untapped oil reserves in the Caspian Sea in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. She suggested that controlling the Caspian pipeline to western Europe would be an excellent motivation for a Bond villain. How prescient.
Sophie Marceau plays the first female Bond villain Electra King, an oil heiress. Broccoli picked her after seeing her performance in Firelight. She had also previously appeared in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.
Denise Richards plays Dr. Christmas Jones, an American nuclear physicist. Modern historians are at a loss to explain this incredulous casting, except as a setup to a Bond double entendre at the movie’s end. She won a Golden Rasberry Award as “Worst Supporting Actress” for her role in this movie.
Music for The World Is Not Enough
The theme song was written by David Arnold and Don Black and sung by the American band Garbage, featuring Scottish singer Shirley Manson. The closing title song, Only Myself to Blame, was sung by Scott Walker.
Die Another Day
Die Another Day (2002) marked the 40th anniversary of Bond and was the final Brosnan Bond movie.
It features Halle Berry as Jink, an American NSA agent rising from the ocean in a bikini, reminiscent of Ursula Andress in Dr. No. There was talk of her spinning off her own movie, but the project was canceled.
Following the death of Desmond Llewelen in 1999, this was the first and only film to feature John Cleese (Monty Python) as Q. He played “R” to Desmond Llewelen’s Q in The World Is Not Enough. It was the last to feature Samantha Bond (Downton Abbey) as Miss Moneypenny, a role she had played since GoldenEye.
The main villain is the son of a North Korean General, who, through the magic of plastic surgery, becomes Gustav Graves, a British entrepreneur. Toby Stephens, son of Dame Maggie Smith, plays the role with vicious charm.
Rosamund Pike plays the leading lady, cast five days before filming, in her first movie role. She was 22 when filming started and had yet to graduate from Oxford. Her first scene was opposite Judy Dench. She admitted she was intimidated and seemed out of her depth in this movie. She has gone on to more successful roles and an Academy Award Nomination for Gone Girl.
Filming locations were all over the world: South Korea, Wales, Cornwall, London, Pinewood Studios, Cádiz, Maui (surfing), Finland, and Höfn, Iceland (ice).
Twenty sponsors offered up to $70 million to display their products in the film. Talk about product placement: the BBC, Time, and Reuters called the film in jest: Buy Another Day.
Even with a budget two and a half times that of Brosnan’s first movie, GoldenEye, it did well at the box office and was the highest-grossing Bond film up until that date. This is notable, considering it was now competing with The Bourne Identity and Vin Diesel‘s action flick, XXX.
Music for Die Another Day
The score was composed by David Arnold, with the theme sung by American Madonna, who had a cameo in the film as a fencing instructor. The theme was very electronic and dance-oriented. It won a Golden Raspberry Award for “Worst Original Song” of 2002. It appealed to a younger audience.
The Bond franchise was rebooted in 2006 with British actor Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. This was based on the first Bond novel, written by Fleming in 1952 and published the year after. It should not be confused with the 1967 spoof film of the same name, featuring David Niven (another early pick to play Bond), Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, and Ursula Andress. But rather than being set in Monte Carlo, this story was set in Montenegro, among other locations. It again featured Judi Dench as “M” and a newly minted 007 played by Craig.
Before the film’s release, critics dismissed Daniel Craig as a “blonde Bond” who would not be successful. Nevertheless, Craig’s first outing was a smashing success, both critically and financially, revitalizing the franchise. At $616 million worldwide, it was both the highest-grossing film of 2006 and the highest-grossing Bond film until the release of the later Skyfall. Craig brought back a “ruthlessness” to Bond that we saw in the books, but not since Connery. Fleming had once said of Bond that he was
“a blunt instrument wielded by a government department.”
In Casino Royale, Judi Dench, as M, described Bond as a blunt instrument.
Music for Casino Royale
The score was composed by David Arnold, and the opening credits song, You Know My Name, was written and performed by American grunge singer Chris Cornell. The end credits were the original James Bond theme.
This movie was followed by:
Quantum of Solace
Quantum of Solace (2006) was filmed worldwide: London, Mexico, Panama, Chile, Italy, Austria, and Wales. See my review of Quantum of Solace.
Music for Quantum of solace
The music was composed by David Arnold, but the song Another Way to Die was sung by the only Bond duet with Americans Jack White (The White Stripes) and Alicia Keys. Jack White supplied a wicked opening guitar solo to the song.
Skyfall (2012) was an unusually affecting film, returning to Bond’s roots in Scotland. It was my personal favorite in the Craig series. The reveal of the Astin Martin DB5 in this film, which had appeared in several other Bond movies since its debut in Goldfinger, brought a gasp and applause from the theater audience.
Filming locations were around the globe, including London, Shanghai, and Glencoe in the Highlands of Scotland. This was the third movie set in Istanbul, Turkey, following From Russia With Love and The World Is Not Enough.
Albert Finney, the well-known British actor, played Bond’s ancestral home’s groundskeeper Kincade. There was talk that Sean Connery might be invited to take this role for the 50th anniversary, but it was ultimately dismissed. Judy Dench’s role as M was vastly expanded for this story, appearing in much of the movie and exploring the emotional relationship with Bond.
The movie was incredibly successful:
Skyfall grossed $1 billion worldwide, the fourteenth film to do so, and became the then-seventh-highest-grossing film of all time, the highest-grossing Bond film, the second-highest-grossing film of 2012,
Music of Skyfall
American composer Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Perdition) was the ninth composer in the Bond films. The opening theme begins with the Bond horns, tipping you off to what is coming. British singer-songwriter Adele and Paul Epworth wrote the song. The movie was released on “James Bond Day,” the 50th anniversary, on October 5, 2012. It was the first Bond song to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song, as it well deserved. I bought the single; it was that good. There’s a scene where Bond appears in a hallway; he’s introduced with just two identical horn notes: Bond is back.
Spectre (2015) was like Star Wars: The Last Jedi (see review), a movie of such mistaken thinking in its writing that it should not have been in the canon. In the case of this Star Wars Episode VIII, it had to be retconned by J.J. Adams in the next film, Episode IX.
Spectre was so bad I only saw it once. It was essentially the first of two parts, as the characters, including the leading lady Léa Seydoux (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Midnight in Paris, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), flowed into the subsequent film, No Time To Die.
Let me pause to mention:
Monica Bellucci (Matrix Revolutions, The Passion of the Christ) was welcome to see. She’d been previously unsuccessfully considered for a Bond movie.
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained, Inglourious Bastards) is a terrific multi-Academy Award-winning actor, but I’m tired of seeing him typecast as the villain.
Dave Bautista, as Spectre’s top assassin, was delightful to see after his appearances as Drax the Destroyer in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.
Andrew Scott, who plays Moriarity in the TV show Sherlock, brings a delicious ambiguity as to whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy.
Music for Spectre
The score was again composed by Thomas Newman. The theme song, Writing’s On The Wall, was performed by Sam Smith and co-written by Jimmy Napes. Their initial demo, recorded in fewer than 30 minutes, was used in the movie. Sam Smith was delighted that it was based “on the first take.” It, too, won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, though it did not receive the same critical acclaim as Adele’s song.
No Time To Die
No Time To Die (2021) was Daniel Craig’s swan song (see my review).
Ralph Fiennes returned as M, as he had been in Spectre. He first appeared in Skyfall as Gareth Mallory, Chair of the Intelligence Security Committee that regulates MI6. At the end of that movie, he took the role of M as Judy Dench’s successor. Finnes had once been considered for the role of Bond for GoldenEye.
Music for No Time to Die
The score was composed by multi-Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer, who is known for everything, including Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Last Samurai, Inception, The Dark Knight trilogy, Interstellar, Mission: Impossible 2, Blade Runner 2049, The Lion King film, and most recently, Dunkirk and Dune. Interestingly, Zimmer did his composition and scoring in post-production due to the previous composer being dismissed.
The theme song was written and performed by Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell. It was the third Bond song to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Talk about contemporary: she recorded the song at the age of 18. As this was Daniel Craig’s swan song, and a romantic one at that, a reprise of Louis Armstrong’s All The Time in the Wold was played three times in the movie, echoing Bond’s hope, love, and loss from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
I’ve mentioned each of the 27 Bond films, 25 of which are considered “canon” and made by Eon Productions. The film franchise is one of the most successful in history grossing $7.8 billion or, adjusted for inflation, over $19.2 billion in 2022 dollars. It has won six Academy Awards: for sound editing, visual effects, and sound editing, including three for best song. It has been nominated for and won several other awards. It is one of my favorite film franchises, and I’ve seen each movie in the movie theater.
What’s Next for James Bond
Albert Broccoli’s franchise heir and daughter Barbara Broccoli has not revealed who the next Bond will be. But a little birdie has told me it will be German-born Irish actor Michael Fassbender.
We’ll have to wait to see.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian