1983 may have been the year of Peak Bond. That year, not one, but two Bond films duked it out at the box office—Roger Moore’s Octopussy, his sixth outing as 007, versus Sean Connery’s Never Say Never Again, an “unofficial” entry that nonetheless marked Connery’s seventh turn in the role. After the underwhelming coda of 1971’s Diamonds are Forever, Connery had said goodbye to Bond until producer Kevin McLory, who owned the film rights to the Ian Fleming novel Thunderball, backed up the money truck and coaxed Connery back into Bond’s fitted tuxedo. Hence the film’s title, which winked at Connery’s vow to never again play the role.
Octopussy beat Never at the box office, which secured Moore’s status as the decade’s alpha Bond; for Gen-X kids who grew up in the 1970s, Moore was Bond. George Lazenby had already assayed his one-and-done entry in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service when Eon Productions heads Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli offered Moore the role; fresh off his stint as Simon Templar in television series The Saint, the debonair actor had long been seen as a Bond in waiting. Over Moore’s seven entries, his 007 would morph from ruffian to playboy, and the series from serious adventure to overt camp. Few fans consider Moore the best Bond—but he certainly had the most fun with the role.
Here’s how I rank the Moore/Lazenby entries, with Never thrown in for good measure.
1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): Former male model George Lazenby was a competent if forgettable Bond, but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a terrific entry in the canon. The third act alone has enough action for three Bond movies, let alone one: Bond finds himself in a downhill ski chase, a car chase, a mountain avalanche, and a climactic bobsled chase against Telly Savalas, no less! The “Angels of Death” conceit of twelve beautiful but dim women brainwashed by Savalas’s Blofeld hasn’t aged well. On the other hand, Diana Riggs’ Tracy di Vincenzo is among the best Bond girls—she gets to drive point in a car chase and beat up some bad guys during the climax. The film’s tragic ending was echoed decades later in Daniel Craig’s first entry, Casino Royale.
2. For Your Eyes Only (1981): FYEO is, for my money, peak Moore-era Bond, the one film in Moore’s oeuvre that stands with the best films in the canon. After the campy excess of Moonraker, Eon opted for a leaner, old-school approach to the follow up, eschewing hidden fortresses and jump-suited minions in favor of simple Cold War espionage. The result is a film that hits nearly all the right notes: genuinely exhilarating action, real tension, clever homages to earlier Bond films, and a plot that mostly avoids insulting your intelligence. The film winks at Moore’s age (he was 53 at the time of release) by having a jailbait figure skater throw herself him, then having Bond offer to buy her ice cream instead of bedding her. Carole Bouquet’s Melina Havelock is a top-five Bond girl—deadly with a crossbow and able to pilot a clunky Citroën 2CV through a bitchin’ car chase. We even get Topol (Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof) as a Greek smuggler and Bond ally. Still, the franchise had, by this point, become a bit long in the tooth. Released the same year, Raiders of the Lost Ark transformed action filmmaking and left Bond in the dust.
3. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974): TMWTGG is generally regarded as one of the weakest franchise entries—but for my money, it’s still better than most of Moore’s entries. Its ranking here is due primarily to the presence of Christopher Lee as Bond’s arch-nemesis Francisco Scaramanga, an assassin attempting to steal a “solex agitator,” a MacGuffin that can “harness the sun’s power.” Lee was a British Special Forces officer during World War II, a true baddass, and you can sense his bemusement throughout at having to lose a fight with a dandyish actor whose neck he could most likely snap with little trouble. Set mostly in Asian locales, the film features a pointless kung-fu scene designed to capitalize on the popularity of Bruce Lee, a big star at the time. Maude Adams makes the most of her first franchise appearance (she would return in 1983’s Octopussy), but Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight was the most insipid Bond girl since Daniela Bianchi in From Russia With Love.
4. Never Say Never Again (1983): At 52, Sean Connery was actually three years younger than Roger Moore when he donned 007’s fitted tux after a twelve-year absence. What a difference those three years made. While Moore’s competing entry Octopussy is a tired mess, Never is a lean and muscular entry centered around Connery’s supremely confident and wry take on 007. The plot is indeed a remake of Thunderball, with Bond squaring off once against SPECTRE as the terrorist organization kidnaps a pair of nukes with which to demand ransom from the world. The film is aided immeasurably by its cast, surprisingly strong for a Bond film: Klaus Maria Brandauer as nutty villain Maximillian Largo; Barbara Carrera as scenery-chewing femme fatale Fatima Blush; a young Kim Basinger as the Bond girl; Bernie Casey as an African-American take on CIA agent Felix Leiter; even fucking Max Von Sydow shows up as Blofeld. In the minus column, the soundtrack is wretched; the producers couldn’t use the iconic Bond score, and its absence is painfully obvious. A welcome coda to Connery’s legendary take on James Bond.
5. A View to a Kill (1985): After the wretched failure of Octopussy to breathe new life into the Bond franchise, fans might have been forgiven for expecting the worst from Roger Moor’s swan song as 007. The franchise was over two decades old, Moore was pushing 60, and Hollywood audiences had moved on to Indiana Jones, Marty McFly, and Axel Foley. Fortunately, AVTAK is a welcome, if lukewarm, return to form. The plot, in which a very blond Christopher Walken tries to corner the microchip market by flooding Silicon Valley, is so ludicrous that it could only have sprung from the mind of a Hollywood screenwriter. But Walken and Grace Jones’s femme fatale May Day bring so much energy to their parts that they seem to have wandered in from another film altogether. There’s a terrific action centerpiece with Bond and Tanya Roberts trapped in a burning elevator shaft, and a gonzo climax featuring a dirigible, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Walken swinging an axe. A ridiculous but fitting capstone to Moore’s career as Bond.
6. Moonraker (1979): Following the mega-success of 1977’s Star Wars, “James Bond in space” was a no-brainer for Eon Productions. While a box-office success, Moonraker has since been largely dismissed by critics as the moment when the Bond films entered the realm of pure camp. Most of the big action scenes are played for laughs, Richard Kiel’s returning villain Jaws is given an inexplicable redemption arc, and the third act assault on yet another fortress (albeit, a space-fortress) filled with jump-suited goons passes beyond cliché and into parody. I’d long dismissed the film as hopeless junk, but watching it again reminded me that it arguably offers the most fun of any Moore entry. Moore seems to be having a blast, and Lois Chiles’s Holly Goodhead at least possesses agency—even if Chiles’s acting is no better than Barbara Bach’s. Michael Londsdale’s deliciously dry and droll Hugo Drax remains one of the better Bond villains, too. Worth reevaluation.
7. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): A box-office hit, TSWLM was regarded in its day as a return to form after the underwhelming and underperforming The Man with the Golden Gun. For my money, the film has aged badly, with a terrible disco-infused soundtrack and a performance by Barbara Bach, as Soviet agent Anya Amasova, that can charitably be described as “wooden.” The plot is essentially a rip-off of You Only Live Twice, with a third-act climax—an assault on the villain’s fortress filled with jump-suited minions—that had already become a cliché. It’s also the third Bond film to feature a shark-filled pool. On the plus side, Moore finally appears comfortable in the role. The mid-film car-versus-helicopter chase, featuring a Lotus Esprit that turns into a submarine, is pretty great. Notable for introducing the 7-foot-2 actor Richard Kiel as Jaws, who would return in Moonraker.
8. Live and Let Die (1973): LALD, Moore’s first entry in the series, is essentially a “blacksploitation” film with a white man as the hero—which, by today’s standards, makes it the most problematic entry in a franchise filled with problematic tropes. On the one hand, it’s pretty great to see Black actors Yaphet Kotto and Gloria Hendry rock the villain and femme fatale roles, respectively; not until Bernie Casey took over as CIA agent Felix Leiter in Never Say Never Again would a Black actor feature so prominently in a Bond film. On the other hand, you have a lot of dreadful New Orleans voodoo shenanigans that have aged terribly. You also have Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper, a racist caricature who calls all the black characters “boy.” As fortune-teller Domino, Jane Seymour is beautiful but remote, little more than window dressing. The film may be a mess, but we’ll always have Paul McCartney’s baddass title track.
9. Octopussy (1983): By his sixth entry in the franchise, Roger Moore had been playing Bond for a decade, and it was clear that both he and the producers were running out of steam. Hopes were high after the superior For Your Eyes Only; alas, Octopussy is mostly as ridiculous as its name. The action sags, the Indian location gags are borderline offensive, and the screenwriters somehow see fit to disguise poor Roger Moore in both a clown costume and a gorilla suit. To add further indignity, Moore is dubbed with a Tarzan yell as he swings on vines through the Indian jungle. As the title character, Maude Adams is a game presence, but the film saddles her with a flock of female minions dressed like Things One and Two from The Cat in the Hat. The climactic fight on the outside of a flying prop plane is fun, but over too soon. Sadly forgettable.
Read "Ranking Bond" Part I
Read "Ranking Bond" Part III
Rick Ferguson is the author of The Chronicles of Elberon fantasy trilogy. Rick is also a globally recognized marketing expert with appearances in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Advertising Age, Fast Company, the Globe & Mail Canada, the Guardian UK, the Financial Times India, MSNBC, and the Fox Business Channel. He has delivered keynote speeches on marketing principles and best practices on six continents. He is also master of time, space, and dimension.