Along with cool gadgets, exotic locations, beautiful women and shaken (not stirred) martinis, a stylish title sequence is a crucial element of any James Bond movie. When done well, the opening credits — which typically mix a tune crooned by a big-name singer backed by lots of silhouetted balletics — can get the audience hyped for the adventure to follow. When done badly, the air just goes out of the room. (On the other hand, there are several notable cases where the title sequence far exceeds the movie that follows. Looking at you, Quantum of Solace.) To mark the latest Bond movie, SPECTRE — whose title sequence falls firmly into the “Meh” category —we’ve ranked the best and three worst Bond title sequences, paying specific attention to the imagery and title design, rather than the music. Because if we were ranking the latter, Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill” would totally win hands-down.
10) Dr. No (1962)
You can’t not include the very first 007 feature on this list, even if the art of the franchise’s title sequence is very much a work in progress at this point. So much so that designer Maurice Binder (who went to create 14 of these) divides the sequence into three distinct “movements,” beginning with the then-new, now-familiar James Bond theme playing in time over a field of blinking multi-colored circles — a direct nod to the gun barrel that has Sean Connery’s Bond in its sights before he blows the unseen shooter away. After that we see silhouetted figures grooving to a Calypso tune, followed by three men strolling across the screen to “Kingston Calypso,” a little ditty that appropriates the children’s rhyme “Three Blind Mice” and applies it to the henchmen of the titular villain. It’s a mishmash of styles to be sure, but the roots of what’s to come are clearly visible.
9) For Your Eyes Only (1981)
The muted tone of this “back to basics” Roger Moore-era Bond, which followed the plus-sized space spectacle, Moonraker, is effectively set by this low-key credits sequence. In a departure from a longstanding Bond tradition, the singer — in this case, Sheena Easton — actually appears on camera crooning the title track, while images of flowing and/or bubbling water ripple across the screen. It resembles early MTV as much as it does Bond, and, in fact, For Your Eyes Only arrived in theaters two months before MTV launched.
8) The Living Daylights (1987)
Your opinion about this sequence will largely be determined by your feelings about the sunglasses motif that runs throughout: Cheesy ‘80s relic or awesome transitional device? We’re firmly in the latter camp, especially when the lenses fade away and are replaced by a set of car headlights. It’s a film school-ready lesson in match-cutting, disguised as a James Bond title sequence.
7) Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The late ‘90s obsession with virtual reality and the digital universe is fully on display in the Tomorrow Never Dies credits, most notably in the appearance of a circuitry-covered female avatar who only looks “human,” when she glides in front of a TV screen. That’s juxtaposed with mocked-up X-Ray imagery that purports to show what’s happening inside ordinary objects like watches and guns. It may be a time capsule, but at least it’s a well-executed time capsule.
Watch a look back at Bond’s goofiest gadgets below:
6) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Taking its cue from an oft-repeated line in George Lazenby’s sole outing as 007 — “We have all the time in the world” — the OHMSS title sequence is dominated by objects that measure hours and minutes, from clock faces to hourglasses. Meanwhile, footage from the Sean Connery-era movies are superimposed in the background, perhaps to reassure viewers that this is still a James Bond movie even if Bond himself looks a little — make that a lot — different.
5) A View to a Kill (1985)
So much neon, so little time! The members of the Bond title sequence dance troupe glow in green, orange and hot pink, while writhing, shooting guns and…skiing? The latter is actually a brilliant touch, as we’ve seen these silhouettes twirl and leap through the air before, but never with skis strapped to their feet.
4) Quantum of Solace (2008)
Don’t hold the largely terrible movie against this terrifically kinetic title sequence, in which the camera zips across a digitally-created desert landscape like its been fired out of Bond’s gun. It’s stylish and sexy, without a trace of the self-serious somberness that drags down the opening credits of so many other Bond movies.
3) From Russia With Love (1963)
For sheer cheekiness, it’s hard to top the way From Russia With Love superimposes the “00” in “007” on top of a pair of eyes, followed by a pair of shaking (not stirred) boobs. But it’s all in good fun, as is this title sequence, which features belly dancers shaking their groove thangs to a jazzy tune while the titles are projected on various body parts.
2) The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
It helps, of course, that Carly Simon’s seductive “Nobody Does it Better” is arguably the best-ever Bond title track. But there’s also a rhythmic grace to the sequence’s imagery, with bodies twirling and leaping (sometimes on trampolines!) toward each other at half-speed. It’s like the Bond-ian version of a ballet — call it Spy Lake.
1) Goldfinger (1964)
Here’s the, ahem, gold standard that every Bond title sequence has attempted to live up to ever since. Building on his From Russia With Love notion of superimposing the credits over flesh-and-blood performers, designer Robert Brownjohn applied gold paint to actress Margaret Nolan and used her body as a canvas upon which to project scenes from the film. How groundbreaking was this sequence? It won a prestigious design award and earned its own exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.
Live and Let Die (1973)
Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” is deservedly celebrated as a great song and not just a great Bond song, but boy, does it accompany some risible images in the film’s title sequence. Take the shot of the lit match that fades into the face of a black woman with a flame flickering above her head, a squirm-inducing nod to the movie’s absurdly dated voodoo theme.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Maurice Binder’s absurdly lazy sequence takes the movie’s title all too literally, repeatedly thrusting a golden-tinged gun into the frame. At the same time, that’s the most dynamic element in a musical montage that otherwise consists of lots of static images of women lying around with rippling water effects washing over their bodies. It’s more of a half-hearted shrug than a thought-out sequence.
Die Another Day (2002)
Hey, here’s a great idea: let’s watch a musical montage of James Bond being horrifically tortured! Said no one ever. True, the notion of 007 falling into enemy hands instead of making a daring escape is the only innovative thing about Die Another Day, but the filmmakers would have been wise to fast-forward past the punishment he receives. As it stands, it’s almost as if Eli Roth hijacked the movie for four minutes to do a training run for Hostel.
Are these the opening credits to a Bond movie or some XXX-rated hentai erotica? The disturbing emphasis on octopus tentacles sure has us thinking the latter. Yeah, yeah–we know that’s the symbol of the titular criminal organization, but watching said tentacles feeling up a shirtless 007 is more unnerving than sexy.
Watch a supercut of Bond’s most outrageous one-liners below: