Julien Neaves, Editor
On October 31 legendary actor Sir Thomas Sean Connery passed away at the age of 90. The news hit me like a ton of bricks and I felt like a kindly uncle had died. I had seen so many of his films and followed his career for so long that I just had to do a tribute article. But just one article seemed insufficient for the magnitude of the man, so I wrote four articles, one for each Saturday in November. For the fourth and final article today I will be ranking the seven Connery Bond films.
I felt there was no better way to end my four-article tribute to Sean Connery than with the film character he originated and was most famous for – super spy James Bond 007.
And for this article I will be ranking his seven Bond films. Wait? Seven you say? Yes, I am including the non-EON production Never Say Never Again. Sure it is not an “official” Bond film, but Connery played James Bond on it, so it makes the list. Enough chatting; let’s load our Walther PPKs, shake our martinis, and get to ranking:
#7 Diamonds Are Forever
Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever share a director in Guy Hamilton and magnificent titular theme songs by the incredible Dame Shirley Bassey, but that’s about all they have in common. Connery was wooed back for this outing after turning down On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and he seems bored throughout.
Tiffany Case is a dull Bond girl whose most memorable scene is hiding a computer disk in her bikini bottom. Charles Taylor’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld is hammy and both Telly Savalas and Donald Pleasance did the character better. The glamazons Bambi and Thumper are ridiculous, the plot is supervillain-of-the-week generic and there is little to no action. The murderous duo of Wint and Kidd are interesting but everything else feels tired and cheesy.
#6 Never Say Never Again
Never Say Never Again was the second time Connery was wooed back to the franchise though this time it was not by Eon Productions but by Taliafilm. It is the second adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1961 novel Thunderball, the first being the 1965 film which Connery also featured in. It is directed by Irvin Kershner, best known for helming The Empire Strikes Back and RoboCop 2.
Background out of the way, is the film any good? It’s not awful. Connery is a lot more energetic than he was in Diamonds Are Forever. There are enough changes from the 1965 Thunderball to make it feel like it’s own thing and not a rehash. Barbara Carrera’s Fatima Blush is a wonderfully flamboyant and bloodthirsty femme fatale. Kim Basinger’s Domino is some great eye candy, Bernie Casey is cool as the first black Felix Leiter, and a pre-Mr Bean Rowan Atkinson delivers a couple laughs as Nigel Small-Fawcett. But the theme song is kinda annoying, the main villain is a bit flat, the video game death battle is silly, and the excitement kind of peters out after Fatima’s gloriously over-the-top death. So yeah it’s a “Bond” film, but the experience is more like Bond-lite.
#5 You Only Live Twice
This film has three things going for it: it is the most action heavy of any Connery outing; Tetsurō Tamba is fun as Tiger Tanaka; and Donald Pleasance is delightfully odd in his performance as the finally revealed SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofeld. But the abundance of action does mask a paper thin plot and the film has some of the most one dimensional female characters in the entire franchise, which is saying something. And Bond’s “disguise” as a Japanese was so cringe-inducing. The inappropriateness aside, he doesn’t even look Japanese. In fact, he looks more like a Romulan from Star Trek than an Asian man.
But the theme is catchy, there are thrilling chases and set pieces, the Japanese setting is interesting, there are ninjas (who doesn’t love ninjas?), and the volcano base is so over-the-top the Austin Powers franchise parodied it. Beware the liquid hot mag-ma! The film’s set up and final act are very similar to Roger Moore’s The Spy Who Loved Me, but the latter did a much better job with it.
#4 Dr No
This is the one that started it all folks. We wouldn’t be talking about Bond films almost six decades later if not for 1962’s Dr No. Connery quickly establishes himself as the super smooth, (figurative) ladykiller and (literal) man-killer. Being from the Caribbean and a lover of Jamaica (wha gwan meh yardies?) the setting is a wonderful time capsule. Quarrel is a memorable sidekick (pour out a Red Stripe for him), Ursula Andress is a goddess and the titular Dr No is an iconic villain. The final act is a bit paint by numbers after the thrilling first two acts, but the film still holds up well.
#3 From Russia With Love
I have seen several people rank From Russia With Love as the best Connery Bond film, and even the best of the franchise. And it is certainly the most grounded of the Connery era and plays out more like your typical spy thriller. Red Grant is quite imposing as a villain and his train battle with Bond is brutal and visceral. Rosa Klebb is a hoot and is the originator of the post-climax bad guy surprise. And I did the enjoy the loaded suitcase which was the first Bond gadget, and I do love my Bond gadgets.
In a previous article I mentioned this was my number two Connery Bond film. But I rewatched it for this list and it did not hold up as well as I remembered. There are some pacing issues with it and the whole gypsy adventure felt like filler. Daniella Bianchi is very pretty as Tatiana Romanova, but she is very weak and ineffective as far as Bond girls go, save for killing Klebb in the end. So while I will say that From Russia With Love is one of the best Connery Bond films, I still think there are two that are better.
Like the Tom Jones theme, this film just gets your adrenaline pumping. From the exciting cold open featuring Bond fighting a man in a dress and escaping in a jet pack, to the epic underwater battle and explosive boat crash in the climax, Thunderball is entertaining throughout. Connery is at the top of his game as Bond and both he (and the viewer) has the joy of seeing four of the most beautiful Bond girls in one film: Claudine Auger as love interest Domino; Luciana Paluzzi as sensual assassin Fiona Volpe; Molly Peters as physiotherapist Patricia; and Martine Beswick as CIA ally Paula. Truly a bevy of beauties. And ladies, you still get Connery in various states of undress, and Rik Van Nutter who plays Felix Leiter and kind of looks like a young Clint Eastwood.
Largo as villain is more memorable for his look and shark tank than his personality, but Volpe more than makes up for him in the baddie department. And you have some iconic scenes, like Volpe asking for something to wear and Bond handing her a pair shoes, and Bond killing henchman Vargas while lying on the beach with Domino. Bond at his best, lovely ladies, action galore, and memorable moments makes for a film that STRIKES! Like Thunderball. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Connery’s third Bond outing is not only his best but one of the greatest films of the entire franchise. Bond is suave and brutal, Goldfinger and Odd Job are cracking villains and Pussy Galore (oh what a name) is a most formidable Bond girl. Throw in superb action, car chases and cool gadgets and you have the quintessential Bond flick.
The moment when a laser is about to hit Bond’s crown jewels and he asks Goldfinger if he expects him to talk and the villain replies “No Mr Bond, I expect you to die” I fell in love with the character. Perfection.
Well that’s my list. What’s your favourite Connery Bond film? For more 007 you can check out my ranking of All 7 Roger Moore Bond Films here. And for part three of my tribute and Remembering Sean Connery in 6 Genre Roles you can click here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film, creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.
I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.